The birds are resting on the limbs of a nude curly willow tree. They look around, move to another branch, then another tree. They return in a few minutes and I imagine them tweeting to each other, “Something’s missing. Where are the leaves?” ” That’s what it was wondering,”responds another. “How am I supposed to make a nest on a naked tree?”
I watch every morning as they return. It is as if they know they cannot nest there, but somehow they need to. Right there, in the same tree they have called home for three years.
Confusing, in the same way my life is. The things I know I should do, yet can’t complete, I keep trying to do. Defeat, try again. Defeat, try again. Repeat cycle.
It’s hope isn’t it? The birds, and I, know that spring comes, buds form, leaves grow, weather warms and conditions become right for our task. Hope springs eternal in the hearts of man and bird.
Yesterday, in Concord, North Carolina, a group of women made a discovery that could revolutionize women’s health care. After studying five aspects related to health for several months, they agreed they had all the information they needed to revamp their individual health profiles. They also agreed, that even with the knowledge they had gained, none of them had made any consistent progress in changing their behaviors. Was this program just like all the others they had tried? Was there a vital element of the program they had missed? Was it too late for them to make changes to feel better?
After a short discussion they decided the missing ingredient was ACCOUNTABILITY. Busy women, living miles from each other, they had been trying to change habits with only a-once-a-week check-in. Not enough. To make changes, everyone needs accountability, feedback and encouragement. The decision was made to use “group texting” as their tool for sharing efforts, activities and encouragement. The test to begin immediately.
In spite of 30degree temperatures and snow (which should have been a perfect excuse to start later)the women began today. The group text was set up and signals went out throughout the day alerting them of each others efforts. Stretching, dancing, running, any type of sustained movement counted. One Mom was even outside sledding with her kids who were out of school on a Snow Day. So far a success. We’ll keep you posted on the progress. TEXTING! THAT IS A REVOLUTIONARY CONCEPT, for some of us.
January 1, 2016. Sitting on the couch, coffee in hand, fireplace on, dogs curled up on each side of me and my new devotional open to Day 1.* The title of this first entry is “Unsettled”. The recommendation to pray that God unsettles my life so He can change me, causes panic. I paid good money for a book that suggests I pray for my worst fear to happen. Pray I would lose control. Would you do that? Could you deliberately ask for your life to be turned upside down so you could be a better person?
Change has that ripple effect like dropping a pebble in water. Changing anything, changes everything. Here’s the dilemma-I do want God to change me. What I don’t want is the effort and discomfort. Like Cinderella, whose fairy godmother waves her wand, sings a catchy tune and turns her into a princess, I want an easier softer way. Alas, there is no change, in the real world, without work and uncertainty. God is so much more than a fairy godmother, a granter of wished. The changes He wants to make in me are deep heart changes, altering my character, my attitude and thus my actions. These are changes I cannot make on my own strength and am often unwilling to give to Him.
Becoming unsettled must be the beginning of change. First, I begin to notice thoughts, words, behaviors about myself I’m not liking. I try to ignore them. They keep popping up and upsetting me. I resist. Eventually, I am willing to become the person I am meant to be. I turn to God and ask for help. He grants my wish.
*”Made To Crave Devotional” by Lysa Terkeurst
Tilly sat quietly, staring out the train window, as she drew closer to London. Not being very good at gossip or chitchat she hoped no one spoke to her. Soon, Mrs. Ingram, the lady in the seat across from her started a conversation when she asked, “So, is this an ending or a beginning?” Tilly didn’t fully understand the question but it did start her thinking. “Am I running away or running toward something.”*
When I read this paraphrased passage in the book, I asked myself the question, ” Do I think of the New Year as a blessed ending or a shiny new beginning? 2016 has been a year of health issues. I’m optimistic that the initial diagnosis and disruption to my life will now settle into a predictable routine. My brother-in-law and sister have been living with his kidney disease for three years. The New Year will bring him a transplant, a new set of meds to deal with and the freedom from dialysis. My daughter and her husband are expecting there first child in February. As I pray for her safe and healthy birth I can already envision the joy and pleasure this new person will bring to our family.
I have witnessed decades of New Years days full of hope and resolve. I have several that follow me into each new year: 1- I will worry and pray for family and friends. 2- My love/hate relationship with food and exercise will continue. 3- Reading and writing will take up time and bring me pleasure daily. 4-My financial quandary will still be, “To spend or not spend?” They are like old friends. We struggle in our relationship and make progress every year.
Recently I asked a friend if she had made any New Years Resolutions? “Yes” she replied, “to accept myself just as I am.” I was impressed. Self-acceptance is difficult for me. It believe that total acceptance would be settling, not trying to do better. There is a saying I have heard that is applicable here. “God loves you just the way you are, but He cares too much to leave you there. That’s my resolution. To accept myself just the way I am today with love and kindness, while I admit my shortcomings and putting effort into changes that improve how I live the one life I have.
Here’s to 2016, a year of endings and beginnings that arise from hope and love.
*”A Memory of Violets” by Hazel Gaynor
I love to read!!! Reading is a pleasure, an obsession and an education. Fiction or nonfiction, current or classic, decorating or travel. Real books with covers and paper pages. Material objects that can be held, touched and smelled. Though I often borrow books the best one are the ones I own; dog-eared, reread, underlined, margins noted and shared. The characters and authors are like old friends waiting for me to take them off the shelf and visit again.
A new book is a gift. I hold it, examine the cover, read the flyleaf and author’s biography eagerly anticipating the adventure about to begin. When Chapter 1 is finally open the journey begins. Each time I begin to read I get excited. I know I will learn, I will question, I will relate and I will be immersed in another world.
I discovered the secret powers within the pages of books when I was nine years old. Like magic, reading rescued me from loneliness and boredom. Lost in a story I escaped difficult situations surrounding me. Learning about other times and cultures expanded the narrowness of my own world. The female characters were role-models, examples of what women could do that I had never seen nor imagined. Reading nourished my mind, my soul, my imagination by offering me ideas, options and information that encouraged me to grow beyond my beginnings. I am me because I read-past, present and future.
No way I haven’t posted in two months. I write all the time. Where have I been and what have I been doing? No idea. The shift from summer to fall includes tons of changes and activities that detract me from my usual day. Maybe that was the glitch.
First, school started and my grandchildren returned to their routine leaving my days lonely but quiet. The heat wave continued until late September when it rained for days. Weather kept me inside, and since I was feeling sorry for myself I watched HGTV. Didn’t do anything to beautify the house just kept hoping Joanna Gaines would drop by. Everyone in the family, except me, went to California for the wedding of a BFF and stayed for Disneyland. When they started sending pictures of the Pacific ocean my self-pity increased. That always leads to eating, reading and crossword puzzles.
Meanwhile, in seven days of nonstop rain I took care of five dogs. Each had to be taken outside individually to “potty” and fed in separate corners to avoid sibling tensions. Once back at home with only my two dogs it was like vacation. That means I continued to pretend I was still at my daughters house and watched HGTV.
I guess October has been a bit more organized. I started teaching a study called “The Daniel Plan” on Thursday mornings at church. Monday breakfast with friends is up and running for me again. The heat eased and I am out of the house and trying to put the yard to rest before frost or snow. Not only did I neglect this blog but most of the TO DO’s on my list from June are now on my list for spring.
Not a productive summer but a very relaxing one and that’s something to be grateful for.
We look like any two stay-at-home women enjoying the rare cool morning of this summer. It is nine-thirty and we are sitting on her white-railed southern front porch, breeze drifting by, sipping our iced tea. Passers-by may assume we’re chatting about our children, plans for the weekend or any topic that is normal for “women like us”. In fact, we get together to share and support each other in our decades long struggles with mental illness; anxiety and depression. No one would guess it – laughing, sipping tea, care-free and content looking. Looks can be deceiving.
Months go by and I feel and function normally(whatever that is anyhow). Then like a monster in the closet that jumps from hiding I recognize a mood, a fear, a shift in my head. All sense of safety and normality is obliterated. The illness has not been cured, just resting and building power to strike. “I cannot do this again. I’m too tired. I’m too old. It will never end so why try?” Defeated before the battle begins.
No beauty. No joy. No Hope.
It is not the end, of course. You knew that because you have people or issues in your life that bring the same reaction of “I can’t go through this again”. No matter how tired, how discouraged, how impossible it seems to conquer this enemy, I must persevere. Eventually the emotional shock wears off and I appraise the seriousness and depth of the recurrence. I bring out the tools I have used before and face the monster again. Each time I fight the battle I get stronger because I have fought and won before. It is critical to remember victories. Like any chronic illness or recurring event it is exhausting and dramatically interfers with life. Life does that in some way to everyone. Victory is not in the healing. Victory is in the character we build as we continue to fight.
Beauty is found in our willingness to share our struggle
Joy is found in developing perseverance
Hope grows in remembering our victories and expecting more
Do you know what a doplar is? Actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, or how to spell it, but I know what it does. It is a kind of microphone or stethoscope the doctor put on my daughters tummy yesterday and we heard my granddaughters heart beating. Joy, beauty, hope, awe, tears, miracle, AMAZIMG! Part of my excitement is that the sound never gets old. I heard it every month through my two pregnancies and during my other daughters two pregnancies. Every time, it has moved me in that indescribable, mysterious way the soul itself rejoices. A joy that bypasses the mind and heart and goes straight to the core of my being; that invisible intelligence call spirit.
I was hearing a life, a sixteen week old person. A girl who is the size of an avocado, about 5 ounces in weight, 4-5 inches from head to rump, all parts accounted for and she can hear. In five months I will meet her. It will be a new adventure in my life and the beginning of hers in this complicated world. A new relationship is a gift to be taken seriously and enjoyed thoroughly. I am so blessed, as are my daughter and her husband.
Each life, each human being is precious, valuable and important. Each person has a purpose only they can fulfill. I can immediately see the beauty and potential in babies and small children. These qualities are not always so easily seen in adults who have layers of living covering the innate beauty we are each born with. I believe the miracle of a new life, my granddaughter, will open my eyes to see the miracle in everyone around me. I pray it will.
I am outside having my coffee, enjoying the time I have before it is too hot and I go inside for the day. Another Tuesday morning. I have finished my daily journal, my schedule is set and I am ready to make the entries in my Gratitude Journal when I hear an odd cheeping that sounds awfully close. Curious, I raise my head and there it is…a hummingbird. Last week I saw two of them and they were making the same noise. I had never heard a hummingbird sing, only the sound of their wings beating the air. New experiences are especially precious as I age.
The real surprise this morning wasn’t the noise. For the first time this summer instead of flitting from tomato plant, to Leyland Cypress to the Creeping Charlies s/he went to the bright red hibiscus and had breakfast. Full, the bird flew toward me, hovered four feet from my face, said “Thank You” and flew away.
There is something special about an intimate encounter with a wild creature….it is really an up close and personal glimpse of God. Definitely a gift that brought me beauty, joy and hope on a morning I needed it. I am grateful!
In the “About Me ” section of this blog I mentioned that one of my careers was as a High School Counselor. I didn’t mention that I counseled at an alternative education setting known as “Community School”. The students were enrolled at our site when they were no longer allowed to attend either traditional or continuing education sites. These students were at the highest risk for dropping out of school and every other risk known to man. This was my favorite job ever.
Once I stopped being afraid and intimidated by the students I loved them. They were honest, rough and experienced in life beyond their years. They were defensive of the systems of our society and the people who controlled them. That included me. I identified with how imperfect they were and as soon as I relaxed they did too. Most of the students were at the school because events and circumstances in their lives, and the decisions they made to cope with them, were harmful to either themselves, or others or both. These cycles of bad decisions and negative consequences are very difficult to interrupt. It is a merry-go-round often impossible to get off without help. The job of every school staff member was to teach them new ways to think and act to change their patterns. Sometimes it worked and inspired. Sometimes it didn’t and saddened.
How can we find beauty in these children? They act in ways that challenge our beliefs and standards. Where is the hope in generational poverty and cultural permission for teen pregnancy, drug use and violence? It is easy to see good in nature, people and places we love and are like, social norms we believe in. Not so easy to find beauty in people and behaviors we don’t understand nor approve of. Behaviors and attitudes that have been warped and darkened by pressures and circumstances we can never understand.
Finding the GOOD does not mean excusing behaviors that hurt, condoning anti-social attitudes nor ignoring entire segments of our cities population because we don’t approve. It also does NOT mean changing them to he like us. We find the good , like we do for friends and family, by actively looking. We go beyond the surface seeking the uniqueness in every individual and culture until we find what we know to be good in ALL people: Love, purpose,, dreams, needs not met, safety, relationships and God. God created all things—ALL PEOPLE. Look for Him in others and He will show you their beauty as He highlights yours to them.