Praying for Serenity

2ff5af222604bb72ad9fe774e6242c51Praying the serenity prayer this morning.  Over and over again.

Yesterday evening my daughter and her husband, who had been in Houston for doctor’s appointments pertaining to her newly-discovered breast cancer, returned to us.   We were in touch the five days while she was gone, a quick text here, a hurried phone call there, telling me what the last doctor had said, what the last test had revealed, which results we were to wait on.  It’s hard to follow those kinds of conversations.  I felt I had a general understanding of what was happening, but I knew I only had information enough to understand the very tip of the iceberg that is to be her(our) journey from here, on this side of breast surgery and the unknown of treatment, to the almighty there, her final recovery.

It took a few hours after their return, with the everyday business of feeding children over,  before I could actually sit down privately with my daughter and hear what needed to heard.  What I so badly wanted to hear, but what I so badly was afraid to know.  Funny how we both have husbands, and hers had even been with her through each appointment and exam, but when it came time for mother and daughter to address the latest developments, the absolute vital information of the breast cancer, mother and daughter wanted complete privacy.  Only her older sister would have been included had she been with us.

It took going out to her car, parked in my driveway, to get that privacy.  Her husband taped each conversation with the doctors, and so because we couldn’t get the one I needed to hear to play inside on my speakers, we took to the car.  We escaped to the car where we could listen, and where there would be no interruptions.  There, in the dark of her parked car, the security light above my carport  shining shadows around us,  there is where I heard the voice of my daughter recorded on her phone speaking with the man who would remove her left breast.

In that conversation, taped during the second visit to the surgeon/oncologist at MD Anderson, the one where he marked on her breast exactly where the cancer was (most of the breast) and marked what the plastic surgeon would need in order to take pictures for both of them, I could hear my daughter’s voice asking questions. I could hear the doctor providing answers.  I could hear him offer information she hadn’t yet asked for, the way any seasoned doctor can.  I could hear her stress and his professional calm.

There, in the shadows of her car, we listened.  There, in the shadows of that car, we were a unit.  The two of us.  Mother and daughter hearing that a part of my daughter, a physical part of the child I’d given birth to, was to be surgically removed in order to save her life.  I could see her silhouette in the shadows.  I could see her sitting straight, her natural posture, as though we were listening to someone else’s conversation with the surgeon.  As though the percentages and statistics he was quoting were for someone else.  In truth, the numbers are good.  We are encouraged.  Still, listening to those disembodied voices discussing a killer disease inside her body was hard.  Shortly after the conversation started, and I could hear their voices, I took her hand.   I took her hand thinking I wanted to reassure her, as we sat there in the shadows, that all would be fine in the end….on the other side of this journey.  I held it a long time.  At that moment it was important to me that she feel the love coursing through me to her.   I wonder this morning if I may have needed the feel of her hand in mine, needed to touch of my child, as much as I thought she needed to feel my reassurance.  Oh, the things we tell ourselves.  Is there anything more precious than our children?

Now it is Saturday morning.  Two of my daughter’s three children sleep upstairs, my two precious granddaughters who live half a world away most of the year.  I learned yesterday, when I learned the date of their mother’s surgery, that they will leave us on Sunday evening, tomorrow,  and return to their home in Malaysia.  Their dad will fly with them so that they will start their school year, though a few days late, reunite with their friends, and settle into the routine of their lives while we wait for the September date of their mother’s surgery.  Their little brother will stay here, too young to be gone from his mother that long.  His sisters, thought to be old enough to handle it, have no choice.  They will go, whether they are old enough to handle it or not.  When their dad returns alone for the actual operation at MDA, the girls will stay behind to be shuffled between their live-in housekeeper and their closest friends and those parents.  They will be half a world away with no relative anywhere near them.  I pray for serenity.  How I pray for it over and over again.  Each time they make the trip here to visit, the leaving is heart-wrenching.  Each time.  This time I fear their leaving in a way I haven’t needed to before.  This time they leave without their mother.  Routine is good, yes, but there will be no routine until she returns to them.  They are returning home to an illusion, and it is not of their choosing.  She is the sun in their universe.  She is what warms their little lives.  They will enjoy their friends, yes.  They will start school and have the fun that school children have starting a new year, yes.  But it will all be done against a backdrop of loneliness and uncertainty and even fear.  It will all be done with an ache somewhere inside their hearts.  An ache with their mother’s name on it.  Children can feel fear, can sense tension.   It comes in all sorts of ways to them.  One is insecurity.  I, as their grandmother, know all that, of course.  Blessedly, they don’t yet.  I am powerless to change the scenario, so I pray for serenity.  Oh, how I pray.  Separation from these children each time is enough of a heartache for me that bearing it is a trial, a loss that takes a toll and takes time to scab.  This time, with the worry about their mother and the worry about their well-being without her, knowing they are leaving without the sun that warms their little lives, the uncertainty clutching my heart is indescribable.  They will have their dad, true, and yet most of us know that dads are support for Mom, not the center of a child’s universe.  Their days will be cloudy and overcast until their mother returns to them.

Grandmother that I am, I must admit I was for a moment tempted to fly to them when their dad flies here for the surgery.  We all know grandmothers, at least certain grandmothers, can provide the warmth of their mother easily.  My little girls and I have that connection, that bond, that love.  I would be bringing some of the sun with me were I to fly around the globe to be with them.  It was a fleeting thought.  I know my daughter needs me here, but I confess I actually did consider it.

Dread of their leaving has already crept into my heart and taken its place right next to the dread of their mother’s surgery.

Meanwhile, cancer sits in the breast of my younger daughter.  Cancer sits in the breast of the baby I carried and the woman I love.  Cancer sits in the breast of my grandchildren’s mother, who means so much to them, who is the warmth in their world half a globe away from us.  I will take care of her for all of us, and they will once again feel the sun on their faces and in their hearts.  One day.

Again I type while the rest of my house sleeps, nudged awake early even though it was very late when my head met my pillow last night.  I would like to believe it is God nudging me.  I want to think He is nudging me awake to remind me that He has all this (as I know somewhere, somewhere in my conscious mind), and that I can let it go.  He’ll take care of it.  Let go and let God.  How many times have I said those words?  How many times have I meant them for myself or said them to friends?  Oh, how I need to say them and mean them now.  Oh, how hard it is for someone like me to fully let go.

Time to do my morning readings, my daily meditations, and to pray for serenity more powerfully than I have since my mother’s illness and death, or since my grandson left for Basic Training, but those stories are both for other posts.

Maybe even more importantly, it is time to remind myself that eucharisteo precedes the miracle.  Time to give thanks for all we’ve been given, for all the times God has pulled us through other trials.

 

 

 

 

 

LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS

lennon two greenIt’s been some time since I have posted here. I’ve written a couple of posts, but I’ve kept them private, for my eyes only, telling myself that they weren’t quite ready for public consumption. Now I believe that it was more that I wasn’t quite ready to share them. I’m still not ready, so for now they’ll remain private.

John Lennon once said that “Life happens when you’re busy making other plans”, and in some mystical union with the cosmos, I suppose that’s what happened to my family and me this summer. It’s one we won’t soon forget, and it isn’t over. In thinking of that quote often this summer, I realized that though John Lennon might have meant differently, I believe it is God who happens while we’re making our other plans. After all, is God not the creator of our lives? God happens by making His presence known.

In early June my younger sister, my only sibling, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Alarmed doesn’t begin to describe our reaction. She lives about two and a half hours down Interstate 10 from me, so not far enough to keep me from being with her for the surgery. In fact, I’d already been with her for a previous surgery about 18 months before, though that one had nothing to do with cancer. But, as Lennon famously said, plans sometimes don’t necessarily work out.

One of our daughters and her husband with their three children, 9 years old and under, currently live in Malaysia. They visit every summer and at Christmas. We live our days looking forward to these visits, and their arrivals in Houston are grandly anticipated for months by the whole extended family. My husband and I, the grandparents, always, always meet them at the airport. There’s nothing quite like seeing a grandchild run to your arms with a delighted smile on her/his face (yes, just like in the movies) in an international air terminal. It’s addictive. It’s a natural high some people will never experience, and that’s okay. The lows that are the flip side of that high, the heart-ache of the great distance that separates us for most of the year, balances that high all too well. This time the arrival was the exact day of my sister’s surgery. That airport and my sister’s hospital are almost eqidistance from us, in opposite directions. This time I was not able to be with my sister on the day of her surgery.

A wonderful chaos soon enveloped our house and lives, the familiar atmosphere of having our precious visitors from Malaysia, even if somewhat subdued by what was going on down the highway with my sister. I checked on her often by media or phone. She was recovering and waiting for her chemotherapy to begin on August 5. That date was, oddly, the birthday of my older daughter, the one who thankfully chose to live nearby with her family, so it was a date I wouldn’t forget. We were caught up in the swirl of activities that always surround the summer visits, and though I was appropriately concerned about my sister, I was busy entertaining my long-awaited visitors.

July 31 was the date of departure back to Malaysia for my younger daughter and her children. As typical of these summer visits that last about five weeks, the first three weeks or so we’re blissful in our happiness of being together and sharing days and nights. We’re caught up in each other’s company enough to ignore the calendar pages that I tear off each morning. The last two weeks are characteristically somewhat less jubilant as reality sets in, and the last few days leading up to their departure is a play in which we pretend to be as happy as when they arrived, while inside we’re all dreading the date that the plane will take off and fly them back across the world.

One week before the departure, which was to be on a Thursday, my daughter noticed a lump in her breast. She was concerned, but I was almost, almost (but not quite) sure that it was a fibrous cyst. Many women have fibrous cysts, so I felt that was the easy explanation. Besides, my daughter is only 36. I quickly slipped into denial that it could be anything else. Thankfully, she contacted the OBGYN who had delivered her first two children here, and on the Monday of the very week she was to depart on Thursday, I found myself sitting in one of the local hospitals while my daughter had a mammogram and ultrasound on that breast. Those were done mid-morning. Fifteen minutes after the mammogram, the OBGYN called to say she’d already heard from the hospital, and my daughter had an appointment with a surgeon for that same day at one p.m. Have I already used the word alarmed? Yes. The feeling was there again. There was something suspicious on the mammogram films. A detached feeling of surrealism began to creep into my consciousness along with the fear both my daughter and I were experiencing.

We saw the surgeon at one p.m., dutifully carrying the films from the hospital as told. After the examination, he explained that she was scheduled for a biopsy the next morning, two days before her departure home. So the next morning her older sister and I sat, waited, and worried at the hospital while my younger daughter had the biopsy, and not the needle kind. No, we waited for over two and a half hours as her breast was probed extensively. She bled the rest of the afternoon into evening. Upon leaving the hospital she was told that the pathology results on the tissue would be ready either late Wednesday or early Thursday, the very day of her planned departure. Still, the doctor wanted to see her Wednesday morning to check her breast.

Wednesday morning, the very next day, she returned to the doctor’s office. He checked her breast and asked what she planned to do for the rest of that day, the day before her planned departure. When she answered that she was planning to pack as though her results would be good, and nothing would prevent her from leaving on Thursday, he felt compelled to tell her the results of the biopsy, although the results were to come from the surgeon, not this doctor. Compassion couldn’t let him send her away to pack for a trip she wouldn’t take.

Meanwhile, my sister was awaiting her chemotherapy with the dread that all who have done it know too well and that was now less than a week away.

That visit to the doctor, the one where he told my daughter the results, was the only one when I had not accompanied her, and that was simply because I had the children. Also, we were so certain that she couldn’t possibly get results that quickly. We’d been told emphatically the results would not be ready until that afternoon if not the next morning. Plus, we told ourselves, the results wouldn’t come from that doctor anyway. Here we go with life happening in the midst of our plans. She called me from the parking lot of the hospital to give me the news, trying to say it indirectly, under the guise of checking on her children. A mother can read her child’s voice no matter how old the child. It was the day before the departure of my daughter and her children back to Malaysia.

Needless to say, that flight was cancelled. The next morning we saw the surgeon, thinking we’d be setting the date for her surgery. By now, of course, her husband was aware of everything and searching flights to get him from Kuala Lumpur to Houston, Texas as soon as possible. From Houston he would drive to us, the two plus hours it takes. After some discussion, the surgeon here suggested that Leisha, my daughter, have her surgery done at MD Anderson in Houston, the premiere cancer hospital in the world, and (again) only a bit more than a couple of hours down the highway from us. Unfortunately, we – as all patients and their families everywhere – are at the mercy of the timetable of the hospital and its doctors. That visit to the surgeon here was on July 31. Her first appointment at M.D. Anderson is August 12. We wait. Right now, as I type this piece, I am waiting.

Once husband arrived, and we were (and are) here waiting for that appointment in Houston, wanting to tear those calendar pages faster than the days will pass, my sister’s chemo started. On my older daughter’s birthday. Yes, it’s a summer we won’t soon – or ever – forget. This time I was there with her. She is weak, nauseated, and everything else you who know of it would expect from those chemicals invading her already weakened body.

Now it is Saturday morning, the one before the Tuesday that my daughter will meet with those folks at MD Anderson. It’s early. The house sleeps, but I don’t. My sister, some miles down the interstate, stirs in her sleep from the nausea and other side effects that accompany the invasion of her blood stream by foreign and toxic liquids. And a cancer sits in the breast of my younger child, her niece, my 36-year-old baby. Now it sits, but soon it will be removed by the practiced and steady hand of a surgeon. Not soon enough for me. Not soon enough for any of us. My daughter lives with equal dread of the cancer and the coming surgery.

Yes, “life happens when you’re busy making other plans”, it happens all the time. It happens every day. Some days it’s simply more obvious. My sister certainly didn’t plan to spend the last several months feeling ill, having colon surgery, and now looking ahead to months of treatment for it. My daughter thought that on this date, August 9, she’d be back in Malaysia over a week, getting her children ready for their new school year. Instead, my sweet babies sleep upstairs as I type this piece, far from their home half-way around the world, but near the people who love them and can nurture them through their mother’s illness and recovery.

So, yes, I suppose we can say that life happens while we’re making other plans. Truly, God (life) certainly happens. With all due respect to John Lennon, He is what happens while we’re making those plans. He already knows His plan, and mercifully, His supersedes ours. My sister moved to Baton Rouge three years ago. More than once she’s questioned that decision. Had she been here when her cancer showed itself, she might have gone to Houston as my daughter will, or she might have chosen to have treatment here. It’s certainly more convenient to stay here, and she was already feeling sick and weak. Now, in Baton Rouge, she is a patient at the Cancer Center there, one that is building its reputation and soon will be a major destination for cancer patients in that area of the South. She is in good hands. Had my daughter found the lump in her breast one week later, only one week (or perhaps, even worse, on the flight back), she’d now be in Malaysia. She would be facing the decision to come back home where the premiere cancer hospital sits two plus hours away from her parents, or staying there where the expertise of those doctors is unknown to any of us, and her family is half-way around the world.

Is cancer a God thing? I don’t believe necessarily so. Is it a way He shows His glory? His omnipotence? His power? I like to think so. Absolutely. His love and glory will shine through these two illnesses. We must do the hard part of practicing patience and keeping the faith. John Lennon’s quote means, of course, that we’re not really in control of our lives. God has known that since the beginning of time. He gave us free will, but he also can step in and rescue us from ourselves. I will try my hardest to remember that He also calms His children when he places them in the midst of a storm. We are having a stormy summer. We await the calm.

Image

Remembering To Ask

39c1fb04c2aaaab2228a3668bf712028>What do we do when the “busyness” of our lives, even the “busyness” of God’s work that includes reaching out for our church in our community, leaves us tired? What must we think when we find ourselves tired, even as we think how glad we are that we were there, that we were at the school helping show the children a good time (proudly wearing the shirt with our church’s name on it), or maybe the time we’re at the school to read a book to a class of second-graders, or another time to tuck ourselves into a corner there with only one student, to listen to her, to hear about her troubled home life, and then read her a story (thinking the story will distract her, or show we care, or even help her with reading, when we know what she needs is more than what we can give….but we try to give something?). What must we think when rushing to a meeting of the local Habitat for Humanity, planning to build a home for someone less fortunate, talking about a Faith Build in our community, talking about our church’s place in the inter-faith community to make a house happen, postpones our dinner, and causes our stomach to growl? Shouldn’t these activities give us energy? After all, we’re doing the work of Christ, we’re His hands and His feet, spreading His message (not by words but by action) where people need to feel loved. The same thing can be said about helping the elderly, being there for our parents when they need us, showing patience to them and to our children, to anyone who needs us. What can we do about the weariness that overcomes us when it seems everyone needs us, and there isn’t enough of the “us” to go around?

What is the root of this weariness? Is it because the “busyness” of being the hands and feet of Christ is sometimes just that – being the hands and feet, but not the heart? Do we sometimes become so busy ourselves doing God’s work that we forget who is the One we’re representing, the One we’re modeling? Do we forget it isn’t only US out there, attending the meeting, volunteering at the school, ministering in our way to our parents, our friends, and children? Maybe the weariness comes from the our presuming we’re representing God while forgetting to include God? Are we so busy that we forget to ask for God’s help? Do we forget that we are the heart of God, too, and not just His hands and feet? Do we forget that all things we do should be for the glory of God?

Speaking for myself, I know I’m only flesh and blood. I get up every day, drink coffee, and go about the personal business of planning my day, occupied with my concerns and obligations, distracted by the minutia of what the hours before me hold. Most of the time I’m not all that weary or tired…..yet. Most of the time I have the energy, the desire, to live my day out the way I plan. I can always count on a few surprises in my day, and those surprises are sometimes good, sometimes refreshing, making me realize that my plans aren’t God’s plan, at least not as much as I’d like to think. Even when the surprises aren’t the good kind, I’m still reminded to ask of myself, “Who am I to think I control my day”? How good I am at practicing the illusion of control. I’m quite the master.

So, where does the weariness come in, why does the faint feeling of fatigue reach my bones when I’ve spent the afternoon helping children who are, for the most part under-privileged, have fun and know that we care about them? Here’s where.

When I try to do anything, but especially God’s work, on my own steam, my own strength, and with my own enthusiasm alone, then I grow tired. When I’m doing it with God, when I let God power my energy and be the power behind my “busyness” in His name, the fatigue usually isn’t there, and when it is, I don’t notice it as much. If I remember to include God in the activities, to ask for His strength for the things I’m doing for Him, remarkably there is enough energy to handle pushing myself, breaking through the human condition of needing to stop and rest. When I am also God’s heart and not only His hands and feet, I move to a different plane altogether, one where the strength and ability to do these works in His name isn’t difficult, for aren’t I doing them in love? Aren’t I doing them in love for my fellow man the way what He does for me in love?

The antidote for fatigue and weariness when doing what I know to be God’s work is to let God really work through me, to power my hands and feet when I present myself as HIS hands and feet. When I go about my business, thinking I’m doing His work but using my own small store of energy, not asking for His strength to get me through, or His will to guide me as I represent Him, I can grow tired, I can grow weary, I can wonder if I’m doing enough, and mostly, I can grow frustrated. Doing God’s work without including God is much like running on empty. Doing God’s work without including God is more about doing my own work, and no matter how good it may be, it only represents me until I let God in.

So that’s it. The antidote to that fatigue and frustration is God. If I always, always let God do His work through me (instead of telling God, “I’ve got this; You can handle something else today”) I will experience renewed energy, renewed gratitude, and renewed spirit. I will experience God.

This thought process isn’t new. I know better, but the human in me thinks I can handle most things. The human in me forgets that my Father is waiting and willing to fill me with His sprit and His love so that I truly am doing His work instead of mine, truly becoming His hands and feet instead of using mine in His name while actually drawing from my own shallow stores of energy. Well-intentioned I may be, but only half of God’s work is happening. Yes, His servant (me) is serving His people, but I’ve left Him behind in attempting to do it all on my own. I’ve not offered my activity up to Him, have not asked for His guidance and strength. Don’t misunderstand, there are plenty of times when I do just that, when I know I need Him, I need His strength and guidance to do His work. It’s simply that sometimes I get so busy that I’m even too busy to stop and ask for what I need. That simply doesn’t make sense, and smacks of arrogance on my part.

Some of us have to learn the same lesson many times. When will I ever learn?

Oh God, my Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth, help me to always, always remember it is YOU who is guiding my attempts to minister, to help my fellow human beings in Your name. Help me to remember to always include You and ask for Your strength. Thank you, Father, for all the blessings you bestowed upon me, and when I share those blessings with others, may I include You, my benefactor, in my feeble and human efforts. I ask this of you in the name of your precious and holy son, Amen.

BRINGBACKOURGIRLS

BRING BACK OUR GIRLS! That hashtag focused the globe on the gruesome act of kidnapping over two hundred school girls in Nigeria. Before the twitter universe captured the attention of the world, and fostered the outrage we hear now, the kidnapping had largely been ignored. Now, as I write this entry, our country has sent intelligence and investigators there to help discover where the kidnappers are holding the girls.

Since that kidnapping, there has been another one. That one was of eight to ten young girls, and the people in a village were slaughtered for talking to the Nigerian military who are also looking for the kidnap victims. Chilling.

I saw that when the Nigerian military decided to become involved, the soldiers drew lots to see who would go to look for the girls. I guess some were reluctant to possibly face the terrorists.

I can’t imagine that happening here in the United States. I don’t want to imagine it here. I want to think that if two hundred plus girls were taken by terrorists in our country, a)our government would act immediately, and b)our military would be anxious to find us. I want to think that it wouldn’t take the outrage of people half a world away to call attention to the plight of the girls.

As the world waits and wonders, those families wait in agony, in terror, in grief. As the world waits and wonders, the young girls are living a nightmare. May the people looking for them be guided by God. May those who took them face retribution.

The Gratitude Antidote

88ec1c8388a0372b82f0b1881a8fe1fcToday we had a guest speaker at church who stood in for our pastor for Sunday services. She gave a good message, one that addressed fear over faith. Listening to her speak, I remembered a sentence from Ann Voskamp’s book, ONE THOUSAND GIFTS, in which is stated, “It is impossible to give thanks and feel fear simultaneously.” That sentence, one among many that I’ve remembered from the book, seems to make its way to the forefront of my memory often.

Each and every day we all face fears, different kinds of things that make us afraid. Sometimes our own fears are small compared to those others are facing. Sometimes we’re the ones facing the huge, important, life-changing fears. No matter, to remember that point, that when giving gratitude to God for what do have, it is impossible to feel fear at that exact moment, is to remember a way to face the fear without letting it win. I’ve tested the thought more times than I can count. It’s always been true. Whenever I’ve felt fear, whether over something important or important only to me, I’ve noticed that remembering to give thanks for something in my life cancels out the fear.

If we’ve lived to a certain age, at least past our twenties, and maybe into our thirties, we “get it”. Once we’ve grown out of adolescence, and perhaps married and taken on parenthood, we realize how much we have to be thankful for in our lives. Some people take longer to make the connection, to understand that what we consider to be “ours” is actually only ours because God is gracious enough to let us have it, be that anything material or (more importantly) the people in our lives that have become so important to us. I know that’s where I often stumble. I don’t want to be reminded that my loved ones, my children and my grandchildren, my husband, my extended family, my friends, all those I cherish are but gifts from God. He has given me the gift of having those precious beings in my life, but in reality they belong to Him. Many times those very ones who bring me such joy, who have special places in my heart, are the ones who cause me the most fear. It’s at those times, when I can feel the fear taking over and winning, that if I remember to thank God for the very existence of them, for the very opportunity and gift of loving them, that I can no longer fear. Thanking Him for my loved ones reminds me that they are really His, and the fear that is surrounding me on their behalf begins to dissipate. It doesn’t happen immediately, but it does happen.

Doing the gratitude thing to cancel out fear works in all sorts of situations, not only when it comes to our loved ones. For as many times as we feel fear and for as many reasons, there is always something right in front of us that we know is a gift from God. We know it like we know our names, but we don’t always think it. When we consciously take a moment to think it, to make ourselves see it, and to name it so that we can thank God for it, that fear living inside us seems to evaporate. In my case I can feel a type of lightening of my load (which is usually the world carried on my shoulders). It’s nice to give that up for awhile, even if only a few minutes, to that One much larger than I. Later, of course, the fear may come back. When that happens, giving gratitude will once again chase it away.

I’m more than a little glad that I read Ann Voskamp’s book. I’m more than a little glad that I know gratitude can counteract fear. Gratitude can slow us down, make us realize that we’ve been given countless things from God, and that in the larger scheme of things (for after all, in the midst of our fears we seem to have tunnel vision), He cares for us enough to have given us what we already have. Knowing that, it’s easier to realize He is with us in our fears and that those, too, are under His power. Those, too, those scary things that cause our fear, are not insurmountable to God. Nothing is.

So, this morning, sitting there in church, morning light shining through stained glass windows, our guest speaker giving a message on fear vs. faith, I couldn’t help but remember what I’ve already learned about the power of gratitude to God in the face of any fear. Showing our gratitude, naming our gratitude, telling God of our gratitude, is a powerful weapon against any fear at all.

Today I am grateful for the reminder given me this morning. Today I am grateful that I know the power of gratitude. Now if I can only continue to remember it and apply it whenever I need an antidote of a fear I’m facing.

Today I’m grateful for you and that you’re reading this post!

Weeding our Hearts

A couple of days ago I was pulling weeds in one of my flower beds. That kind of activity leaves the mind to wander, to think about all sorts of possibilities, flit in countless directions. Working with nature, rescuing flowers from the weeds that would choke them, is a satisfying (though back-breaking) task, but I find it hard to keep my mind on that task only. As my mind wandered, it took many a turn.

While I was stooped, stalking and then pulling the different weeds, I began to think of the weeds in my heart that needed pulling as well. Although I can’t physically reach in and pull one out by its roots inside my heart like I can in the flower bed, I can consciously work to remove those “weeds” that keep the “flowers” in my heart from growing to their full potential. Removing the proverbial weeds from inside of me might at least allow the better parts of me to remain and not get choked out, the way the weeds in my flower bed want to crowd out my flowers.

As I kept at the repetition of finding, reaching, pulling, discarding, I continued to think of what kind of weeds I might be harboring inside myself. During Lent I participated in two studies geared toward preparing for Easter, and in a religious, spiritual sense, I had been working on growing more aware of my blessings while also growing more attentive to God. Certainly anytime we work outside, whether it’s pulling weeds or planting flowers, whether it’s feeding birds or watering thirsty hanging baskets, we feel closer to nature, and most of the time, closer to God (or whoever/whatever we call our higher being). In my awareness I couldn’t help think about the mission I was on that day, the one of pulling the weeds, pulling out the undesirables from my flower bed in order to let the desirables, the flowers, survive and flourish.

Isn’t that what we do when we rid ourselves of weeds that live inside our hearts? What kind of weeds do we harbor, that might need “weeding” from our very existence? Is it ill feelings toward a friend or relative? Is it a hurt or disappointment we need to let go? Is it a certain arrogance or pride we need to get over and live without? Getting rid of these personal weeds, or others like them, might allow the good in us, the parts of us that need to survive, grow and flourish to do just that.

During this Lenten season, perhaps it’s a good idea to do some weeding inside ourselves as we go about our lives weeding our flower beds or doing whatever else we do. While we’re at it, we might try also adding some mulch to both the flower beds and ourselves. What can we use as mulch for ourselves? What can we add into our lives to prevent those internal weeds from sprouting again? How about time with family or friends? How about quiet meditation to give us time away from the noise of the world? How about time spent in prayer (if that’s your thing)? Because people are so different, each of us must decide for ourselves what we can do to grow as a person the way our different plants and flowers grow in their beds, pots, or planters. How many times have we seen the suggestion to “bloom where you’re planted”? Getting rid of our own weeds will help that to happen, help us to bloom as the people we’re meant to be.

Happy Easter and Happy Weeding!

Day In, Day Out

happysocks1There are days when the sky is blue and the birds are singing and the sun is shining and children are playing. There are days when the wind chimes sing in a soft breeze while the aroma from a grill wafts its way toward hungry noses waiting impatiently. There are days when families are laughing while precious, newborn babies are crying their first breath into our world. These are the days when everything falls into place even when we aren’t noticing, when we eat healthy, get some exercise. These are the days when all the socks come out of the dryer.

These days need to be chronicled, recorded, saved like a treasure to hold now and then, to remember when the other days come. Those other days when gray clouds cover the sky, when the sun has taken a day off, when rain is falling, and no one is playing or laughing or grilling. Those other days when nothing falls into place, when the only people you see are the ones you’d rather not, when everything coming out of your mouth is the wrong thing to say, when everything eaten is unhealthy, and when half the socks refuse to leave the dryer and have hidden somewhere that only other clothes can see.

May you have many more days with blue skies than rainy ones, and may all your socks agree to follow each other out of your dryer on cue.

Insomnia

Insomnia, the inability to sleep, the most unwanted companion in the night. Tonight that visitor comes to me. I pulled the short straw without ever knowing. I lost the bet without ever knowing I was in the game. I am the chosen one, chosen to have no respite from the day. I will be denied sleep. Maybe someone, somewhere, is getting a good night’s sleep solely because I’m not. Is that how the world works? Does the universe operate as in “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” where someone suffers so all can be happy? Certainly my insomnia can’t be compared to the suffering in that story, and yet I feel that it should be my turn to be sleeping, peacefully oblivious, my mind allowed to shut down and shut off for a few hours. Insomnia not only robs me of sleep; it sentences my mind to ceaseless thought. Like a 24-hour news channel, my mind reports my news only to me. All night. Also, like a 24-hour news channel, it repeats often, so that some of the thoughts scrolling through my brain scroll again and again. Yes, I have reporting, and I also have a scroll bar, or at least it seems that way. Such is my weary mind so bent on crowding me with news that it’s filling up empty time with coverage of events past, some good and some bad, and then events to come, so that I may spend part of the night with my old friend Anxiety, too. What a pair, Insomnia And Anxiety;I think they must always travel together. They work for the same imp who steals souls by stealing sleep.

My lids are heavy, and my eyes are tired. My body aches from fatigue, but my own personal cable channel (the one in my head) refuses to quiet. No matter how much my body may scream for relief, it can’t drown out the anchorman/woman in my head.

Will I drift off by dawn? My husband sleeps soundly right next to me. I find myself grateful that he, at least, is resting. By the time his alarm shouts its hideous sound, my mind will finally run out of news, and fatigue will win over insomnia. I’m most grateful that I won’t rise to an alarm in a few hours. I’ve been here before….I’ve been here when a sleepless night was followed by a hard morning to rise.

Perhaps if I put down the computer one more time, click off my lamp one more time, and put my head on the pillow, I will drift off to sleep. I’m willing to try. I’ll hope now that the dog or dear husband doesn’t begin to snore when I do…..

Gratitude – elusive emotion, especially in a high school classroom

Tags

84a534d852bc8fc544609bfd6961cd18(Written last week in a high school English class)

Sitting in the midst of teenagers reluctantly taking a poetry test, I watch them for the wrong turn of the head, a suspicious glance of an eye. Sitting ever vigilant, moving my own eyes across the room, hearing an errant complaint mumbled into the atmosphere, I guard the integrity of Room N103.

What am I doing here? I’m retired. I no longer help the not knowing to know any knowledge. I don’t quiet the talkative, hush the whisperer, correct the cheater, coerce the unwilling. I don’t calm classrooms, study students, or examine the examinees. Not now – not in this, the second year of my retirement. I don’t take a test on keeping the classroom quiet while students take a test on poetry.

I am wrong! I am substituting for a friend, a former colleague who had surgery, and I realize that old habits die hard.

These teenagers will take the test and take it honestly. Sitting in the back of the classroom (the better perch from which to observe), I still notice the tilt of a pony tail, any movement not in sync with test-taking. I’ve only known these students a few days, and yet I’ve known them for decades it seems, the practiced stretch, the distracting cough, the exaggerated head rolls. I have not forgotten the language of their bodies. I can still translate.

Ah! Poor babies! They think the word “substitute” on my name tag means “clueless”; they would never imagine it means “veteran.” They’ve been warned. They took no heed.

Suddenly, in spite of my frustration and fatigue, in spite of my wanting to be somewhere – almost anywhere – else, I feel a shocking rush of gratitude. From nowhere. Gratitude for this day has taken over this moment, gratitude for the opportunity to keep my skills honed, gratitude for the chance to help out a colleague, gratitude for the fact that I’m healthy and able to be here, even gratitude for the few students who appreciate what I’m doing when setting boundaries. I feel gratitude galore for the friendly faces of my friends on the faculty, my family from my teaching years whom I love to this day.

Suddenly, in spite of the nervous twitching around me, the efforts to slip something by me, the energy it takes me to stay vigilant……suddenly I’m reminded from a power so much greater than I that life is good. All really is, at this moment, right with the world.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t grateful when the day was over!

Grandchild, on the way home from the beach

imageShe sleeps –

A blonde head, streaked with various shades of light brown, lies in my lap.
The pale lashes fringe the closed lids, hiding her thoughtful blue eyes.
She sleeps, covered by a large beach towel I put on our seat for just such a purpose……armor against the air conditioner in our rented van that carries my daughters, their children, and me.
Her mind, normally so active on many levels, finally rests. I wonder, looking down, if she dreams as she clutches her new stuffed dolphin close.
Is she dreaming of the beach? Building sand castles and digging for sea shells? Floating in the waves beyond the surf?
Buckled in by her seat belt, she is protected more by my body that cushions her now and would cushion her then.
I am the grandmother seat belt, full body protection. Finally I am thankful for my “extra” cushioning.