Finding Joy?

One of the saddest sights: the red truck, driven by my husband, heading back to Ohio.

Nelson and I had a wonderful visit. We worked on projects together. We cleaned out the shed (again). We cooked together. We laughed. We “attended” church together (online).

But today, he left for Ohio. He’s still needed there. And I’m needed here. It’s hard—I know, I’ve said that before. But doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing.

When I left to go walk dogs at the shelter, he left for Ohio. I cried. He cried. We waved and blew kisses until we could no longer see each other.

After I was done at the shelter, I came out on the porch to work on my fall class syllabus and write a bit. Being out here made me happy because one of the projects Nelson completed was putting up the two fans (with lights). I can work out here because with the fan on the humidity is no bother! I love it.

Before I started this reflection, I read a post by a young writer who has a medical condition that makes life difficult when it flares. And she’s in a flare, but in spite of the pain and the medical questions, she was finding joy in simple things—like wearing a new t-shirt with the cutest donkey on it. And she asked the question, “Where do you find joy?”

My initial thought was that there was no joy in this day. But after a moment of quiet, I realized that’s not true at all. I just had a wonderful visit with my husband and the plan is for him to be back in December—for Christmas! I can sit outside, no matter the weather, because of these wonderful lighted fans. I was able to walk two dogs this morning, and get a bunch of doggie kisses from two dogs as well. I had a really nice talk with one of the other workers. And another checked on me since she remembered this morning might be difficult for me.

I need to be reminded sometimes that joy is not dependent upon my circumstances or even the situations I find myself in. For even in the darkest of times, if I will look or pay attention, be present in the moment, I can find reason for joy, and for peace.

On a morning like this, will I only see the red truck driving away, or will I look for the joys, the blessings that are here with me? And while December may seem a long way off, there will be multiple daily Facetime calls to keep us connected. Calls where questions can be asked, jokes can be told, and problems can be solved. And those connections hold their own special kind of joy.

I may not be able to “count it ALL joy” (James 1:3), but I can find joy in the moment. And I will live Moment by Moment.

Moment by Moment is an old hymn, a favorite of mine and Nelson’s. Here are the lyrics:

  1. Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine;
    Living with Jesus, a new life divine;
    Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
    Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.
    • Refrain:
      Moment by moment I’m kept in His love;
      Moment by moment I’ve life from above;
      Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
      Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.
  2. Never a trial that He is not there,
    Never a burden that He doth not bear,
    Never a sorrow that He doth not share,
    Moment by moment, I’m under His care.
  3. Never a heartache, and never a groan,
    Never a teardrop, and never a moan;
    Never a danger but there on the throne,
    Moment by moment He thinks of His own.
  4. Never a weakness that He doth not feel,
    Never a sickness that He cannot heal;
    Moment by moment, in woe or in weal,
    Jesus my Savior abides with me still. (Daniel W. Whittle)
(A “family portrait” painted for us by Jim Lemasters)

Purpose

(I wrote this during Lent in 2009. Even more true today)

For a while I thought I was depressed.  Life changed drastically for me when I lost my job.  In part, I think the trauma was due to the to the fact that I found my identity in what I did.  The challenges of the work gave me purpose.  I felt vital and alive.  Losing my job meant I lost my sense of purpose.

I used to teach groups of people how to write their mission statements.  We didn’t start with that.  We would back up and talk about finding their passion in life and for life.  When it came to putting that passion into a working purpose or mission statement, I would teach to the difference between a goal (short term) and a mission statement (life- long driving force).  A mission or purpose statement is something you can see devoting your whole life to.  It is true now and will be true in twenty, thirty, even fifty years.

Reflecting on this, I wasn’t really depressed.  I was just adrift and going nowhere because I had taken my eyes off the map.  I thought that without the job I wouldn’t be able to follow my purpose and mission.  I forgot that the job wasn’t the only vehicle to get me where I needed to be.  I forgot that the whether I’m teaching or cleaning toilets, it is the purpose or mission God has for my life that matters and he will provide me with the opportunities I need.  I forgot that it is God who gifts me and directs me to use those gifts.  

I was reading about John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel.  I don’t think there are many who would sign up for John’s job—especially if they knew how it was going to end for him.  Yet, even in the briefest of ministries, John paved the way by preparing the people for the emergence of Jesus’ life-changing ministry.

It reminds me of relief pitchers in baseball.  They will never pitch a whole game.  That’s not their job.  It’s not why they were hired.  Some of those guys will only throw a few pitches and the next thing we see is the coach headed to the mound.  Those couple of precisely placed pitches are what the reliever gets paid the big bucks for.  It’s their purpose.  

Now, dust off your imagination and try to picture this: your favorite baseball team has made the playoffs!  They did this not just on their bats, but because of their pitching.  But now that they’ve made it to the biggest games, the team’s relievers and closers have decided they want more playing time and have threatened to not play at all if they don’t get the opportunity to pitch a whole game.  How crazy is that?  How dare they hold the game hostage for their whims?

The apostle Paul, in his discussion of gifts, makes this statement: But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it (1 Corinthians 12:18, NLT).  Right there with the assurance that we all have a part, we’re told that we are placed right where He wants us. 

That’s why we really need to bloom right where we’re planted!

Prayerfully ponder: How’s the soil where you are? Are you focused on how you want to use your perceived talents? Are you more concerned with what you want than what God needs from you? Are you discouraged because you feel like you’re riding the pine and you can’t understand why God is wasting your abilities? Are you aware of what God’s doing around you so that when the time is right (God’s specialty) you’ll be ready to pitch your inning?

Unlikeliest Hero

It is a rare thing that the moment I start to write, my eyes fill with tears and the truth of what I’m thinking overwhelms my heart and mind.

But it just happened.

This morning during breakfast, Mom made some comment about heroes. I can’t even recall what it was because it immediately sent me into my head where I began formulated this post. I was so into it, I excused myself from the table and hurried to jot down some notes I could come back to after I was done cleaning up from breakfast.

Heroes. We all want them…need them. And if we would get honest, want to be one.

This past year while we’ve done battle with a raging pandemic, we’ve lauded the efforts of first responders, medical professionals, and those researching for a vaccine. Politically, we’ve sought for a restoration to civility and accountability. Emotionally we’ve longed for answers, peace, and a return to normal or comfort or familiar.

Many years ago, my husband and I watched a television program called the Equalizer. Then there were two movies with the same premise starring Denzel Washington. Now Queen Latifa has reprised the role and hooked me once again.

I stopped typing and called my husband (keeping in mind the 3 hour time difference). I told him what I was doing and then asked him why the original show hooked him? What was it that appealed. He put words to what my heart was feeling: it was like a modern Robin Hood of sorts. Robert and Robyn McCall as the equalizers brought/brings help for the oppressed; help for those who can’t help themselves.

Thinking about his statement sent me down another path—a spiritual one. Imagine that.

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday. I made a reference to the Christmas song, “How Many Kings.” As we move through Holy Week toward the resurrection, a phrase from that song keeps going through my mind. Referring to the baby Jesus, the words describe him as the “unlikeliest hero” for he was wrapped in his mother’s shawl.

This week, Jesus is wrongfully accused, murdered, and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Talk about an unlikely hero.

Our heroes don’t die. Or do they?

Shouldn’t our heroes be the ones who give up their lives. Jesus tried to explain this to the disciples: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13, NLT).

Paul described this to the Philippians this way: You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8, NLT).

Jesus gave up the fullness of his super powers and maybe that’s what made him an unlikely hero. But the way lived, died, and rose again demonstrated God’s power to the max! Those powers may be overlooked by the world that is mesmerized by flash and boom. But Jesus, like the Equalizer, was and is more concerned about helping those who can’t help themselves…about bringing relief to the oppressed .

That’s the kind of hero I want to be. The kind of hero this needs more of. We may seem to be unlikely heroes…but we can change the world by following Jesus’ example, by having his mind.

He gave his all…all for me…all for you…just like the song says.

Monday Morning Magic

My alarm went of at 5:15AM. I leapt up, made my bed, grabbed a shower, dressed in the clothes I set out the night before, and raced out the door. Between getting dressed and dashing out the door I did pause to make sure that Mom’s meds and breakfast were set out exactly the way she likes them.

Once out the door I headed for the the place I love to be on Monday mornings: The Animal League of Green Valley. Choosing to volunteer on Monday mornings is the best thing I ever done. My week starts out with lots of wags and puppy kisses. I walk whoever I can, and love every moment whether I’m being pulled along or stopping to smell every leaf. Then when every dog is walked by all the volunteers, we hang out for socialization and some training.

There are times when I ache for my dogs back in Ohio. I would rescue in a heartbeat, but Mom can’t handle the stress or the dander. I’d volunteer every day, but Mom can barely handle me being gone for one day. So I suck the life out of my time away and give thanks for this respite that feeds my soul.

As I was reflecting back on my morning doggy therapy session, I had a pang of sadness. For a brief moment I was reminded of the Syrophoenician woman who had a conversation with Jesus. It went like this:

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her with even a word. And His disciples came up and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us!” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” Yet He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord; but please help, for even the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed at once (Mark 15:21-28, NLT).

I love this story. She wasn’t asking for the world. She was, in her own mind, willing to settle for “crumbs that fell from the table.” The scraps. The castoffs. Jesus commended her for her persistence and her faith. The Apostle Paul said it this way: little is much when God is in it.

So while others are dreading Mondays, I’m ready for the “crumbs.” They more than satisfy.

Lessons Learned From Mom: Control Is An Illusion

How many people do you know who try to control everything? Who have meltdowns when things don’t go according to plan? Who micromanager their lives and the lives of others?

How many meltdowns have you had this week because you couldn’t orchestrate things the way you wanted?

I’ve had a couple.

Yesterday, I mentioned how Mom let me put her calendar away. Relinquished a little control.

Today it was the bathroom scale.

For as long as I can remember, Mom has been obsessed with her weight. The issue was never the size of her clothing, it was how much she weighed. Her second husband was just as obsessed, and I saw him shame her for eating too much or not being active like he was.

I bit my tongue on more than one occasion and sat on my hands (a technique I learned in school to keep from talking, because everyone knows I can’t talk without using my hands…but I digress.)

Mom had to move the bathroom scales to accommodate her new shower bench. She wasn’t happy with what felt like crowding. I asked her if she really needed to keep the scales in the bathroom. She stopped talking, and became pensive. I could tell there was an inner dialog raging inside. I waited.

Then she looked at me and instructed me to take them out of the bathroom. They have disappeared into the bottom of her closet.

Letting go of habits is hard. Especially if they have been life-long. When Mom came home from the hospital last January after a very serious bout with pneumonia, she had lost some weight. She was weighing about 92 pounds. She was ecstatic. It was like she had finally reached her life goal. Over the year she put on eight pounds. Somehow, in her mind, it was too much.

Giving up the scale was huge. For her.

I wish I could find that kind of freedom.

While I was still in high school, Mom wrote in the baby book she kept our milestones in a prediction that impacted my thinking in the most damaging way. She declared that I would weigh 140 pounds when I turned 18. I remember hearing the statement as a negative pronouncement regarding the horrendous direction my weight was trending. I fought against her vision. I fought and I fought and I lost and I lost.

I want to be healthy. I want to feel better in my body. I don’t want to constantly be battling to achieve a number.

But like Mom…I’m not sure I know how to be another way. Maybe control comes more by not trying so hard to control.

Lessons Learned from Mom: Letting Go, Part One

So I’ve been here, living and caring for Mom one year, two months, and eight days. But who’s counting.

Life has been interesting and frustrating. I have spent a considerable amount of time playing mindless games on my phone and ipad. I haven’t been able to concentrate enough to read or write. I haven’t finished reading a single book clear through. And my writing feels pointless and overly repetitive.

So why am I trying again?

This week we began working with hospice. The team is absolutely tremendous, compassionate, encouraging, and gentle with Mom. I don’t feel quite as alone in this process.

The one word I have always associated with hospice and end of life is intentionality. Serious conversations and light-hearted remembering. Laughter and tears. And a clear willingness not to sweep things under the carpet. Finally, naming the elephant in the room. Giving up control. Relaxing a little.

All of those things are happening. And I’m among other things, I’m going to include some of those reflections here.

This morning Mom had an appointment for her pacemaker check. We weren’t sure if we needed to keep the appointment. We did the check and we have a follow-up with the cardiologist next week. We’re going to talk to him about whether we need to keep doing this. And ask him the question our hospice nurse asked: what about shutting the pacemaker off?

After the pacemaker check we went to LabCorp for blood work. This was for the cardiologist, too. They were running behind. Several people were waiting. Mom nearly fell asleep. I’m getting better at maneuvering the chair and the portable but cumbersome O2 tank.

After lunch Mom took a long and hard nap in her chair. She always looks so uncomfortable. She woke up hard. After a trip to the bathroom, when she was settled back in her chair, I checked on her. She was troubled by how long and hard she had slept. She looked at me and asked, “Is this how it’s going to be?”

I told her I don’t know, but we’re not going to go back to how things were. We talked for a bit about how things were changing and how hard it is for her to relinquish control. Her comfort has always been in her rigid schedule. On a MBTI she bleeds J. Her calendars have been the constant proof of her adherence to schedule and routine.

Today she told me to put her calendar away, she just didn’t feel like writing in it any more. So I did.

I guess I’m in charge of the schedule now.

Wednesday’s Word—A Day Late…Again

All right. I did it again. I feel a little like the Reese’s Cup guy: Sorry…not sorry.

There was no way I was going to get the weekly word posted yesterday. I thought maybe. I thought several times: I need to get to it. But I was glued to my TV all day. I needed to be.

I needed the return to decorum. I needed to feel the healing that comes from change. I needed ritual. I needed the ceremony. I needed to feel connected to something bigger than me…and something positive.

I went to bed thankful. And I woke up literally formulating this post. My first thoughts at 4:12AM were this post.

My prayer is that you can see and feel hopeful.

One of the highlights of the day was the reading by the Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. Her words bring me to tears…in the best kind of way.

Hope will make us brave enough to be it.

Wednesday’s Word: Miracles

Today’s word comes to you courtesy of my dear friend, Mary Hofacker.

When I think of miracles, I am reminded of a song Nelson and I heard at a Steve and Annie Chapman concert way back in the 1980’s. Living far from family with two toddlers and very little income, we felt desperate and prayed for God to miraculously reveal his power and grace. The song was a constant ear worm: things are looking right for a miracle.

When I went to WordSwag to create the pic for today’s post, I used a font I rarely use, but it fit perfectly. Miracles quite often come in very plain and obvious ways: a miracle healing, the perfect job, etc. But sometimes the miracle we need comes disguised as something else and we appreciate the gift or improvement to life, but we don’t see God’s intervention coming in a way we couldn’t have imagined or even begun to ask for. We missed the backstory completely, claimed the gift, and moved on.

I think that’s why I appreciate Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (see Eph. 3:20): Now to the One who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond anything and everything we could ever ask or even imagine…

And that God knows me best and loves me most. You, too.

Things are looking right for a miracle.

Wednesday’s Encouraging Word

Today’s word was suggested by my friend, Deborah Helm Liffick.

I want to apologize for not getting this out on Wednesday (1/6/21). I don’t know how your day went, mine was an emotional roller coaster. My husband had to return to Ohio. We had a wonderful visit. He also accomplished several “honey do” items that will make my stay here easier. But good byes (even for a few months) are hard.

Then there was all the insanity in Washington with the attack on the Capital. I was up until after midnight watching the news. I grieve the loss of life and the loss of our ability to engage in civil discourse. Accountability and consequences for deplorable and illegal behavior is a thing of the past.

But I had determined that I was going to establish a weekly post utilizing the encouraging words given to me by friends. I couldn’t allow yesterdays emotional obstacles to deter me from my goal.

So, here it is. The post. I don’t feel all that great about it, but the feeling may come as I build upon the weekly achievements and prove to myself I can finish this goal.

Hopefully that’s what we’ll see together.

Stepping Back on Goals

My mind is churning on creating goals. I’m feeling good about it and then I read this in my morning devotions: “Have you ever “gone out” in this way? If so, there is no logical answer possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, “ What do you expect to do?” You don’t know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. Continually examine your attitude toward God to see if you are willing to “go out” in every area of your life, trusting God entirely. It is this attitude that keeps you in constant wonder, because you don’t know what God is going to do next (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Special Updated Edition, edited by James Riemann).”

So I sat there on the floor of my bedroom wondering. Maybe I struggle with setting goals because I’m a very strong P on MBTI. (If you don’t know MBTI, that means I “fly by the seat of my pants.” This also describes my writing preference: I’m a ‘panster’ not a ‘plotter.’)

What if I’m not wired to map, plod, plan, or calendarize everything? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know how to do those things. I can keep a calendar, sort of. I can function on a schedule—I have to work harder at it, but I can do it. I don’t like it. I feel confined, and like I’m not at my best. I resist and procrastinate until I have no option but to capitulate…so I do.

Serendipitous, free-floating, unscheduled, unplanned, unfettered. The very words make my heart happy.

I can teach others the steps to creating goals, and writing vision/mission statements. I can help them peal back the layers and really get to the heart and meat of their goals—who and how they want to be and function. But I suck at it for myself.

For example. Yesterday I mentioned in my worksheet the goal of riding my bike 50 miles a week. It’s a totally SMART goal. If goals were attractive to me at all. The problem for me is that as soon as I quantify and feel I have to measure up, bike riding loses all it’s joy for me. It’s a job. It’s something I have to check off my list and resent it. (Okay. Right now there are tears in my eyes as I think about this—I must be getting close to my truth).

That takes me back to the OC quote and something I talked about in my message last week. One thing. In the Bible there are 5 places where we’re told that God seeks one thing from us:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (Psalm27:4).

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Mark 10:21).”

“…but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:42).”

He replied, “whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see (John 9:25)!”

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

Matthews George in an internet article (Five One Things in the Bible, mathewsgeorge.medium.com, April 4, 2017) shows how these 5 verses help us know God: Psalm 27:4 helps us know God through a heart of prayer; Mark’s verse helps us know God through a heart of surrender; Luke’s helps us know God through a heart of service; John’s helps us to know God through a heart of witness; and Paul’s directing us to a hear of ambition.

What if (I’m doing a lot of that right now…) my goal is to focus on having a heart for God and to do that I’m to incorporate prayer, surrender, service, witness, and ambition. And to do this intrinsically—to come from within instinctively and naturally. Instead of having x amount of goals ranging over an array of time, to live daily. Live with eyes wide open for how and what God wants to teach me, or use me. Then at the end of the reflect, thank, and rest.

Okay, I’ve meandered and pondered enough on this for now. More to come.