Gratitude

joy

So, I get back from a walk with the dog and am sitting on the couch on the laptop writing on Facebook about how awesome it was to see a deer and how scared I was about the big black dog off his leash, when my husband comes in from his man cave. He says, “I love you, thank you for all you do.” I said, “Am I dying?”

He said he posted something on his wall about happiness, and I should watch it. I watched a video created by Soul Pancake, a really great maker of You Tube videos. They’re the ones who do the Kid President videos, which are awesome. This video showed an experiment, and talked about how the more thankful you are, the happier you are. It had a few people write about someone who had made the biggest impact on their lives. After they were finished, the people were surprised to find out that they now were going to have to CALL the person they’d written about and read to them what they had written. One man could not, because he was an older man and the person he’d written about was a teacher of his, who would not possibly be alive any longer. The funny one for me was the lady whose letter subject, a friend, lived in England, and when she called she apologized because it was 4 a.m.

The video said that those who were able to express their gratitude had their happiness increase profoundly. And, it has been proven, according to the video, that people who are having difficulties in their lives, who are the most unhappy, can benefit extremely by expressing gratitude to someone.

SO, even though I try to express gratitude on a regular basis, it can’t hurt to do it more. The problem I had when trying to think of someone who had influenced me the most is that it is hard to choose. My thoughts went immediately to Amber. She is the one who changed me the most, who was my closest friend in many ways, my heart and my soul.

But, there are other people who’ve made a huge impact on my life — many others. My thoughts immediately went to my husband, whose sweetness, humor, positive outlook, creativity and gentleness renew me every day. I can be having the worst day ever, and then he walks in the room and I feel better. Being with him is the best thing in the world. He is fun, considerate, loving and cheerful. I adore him and am so thankful we met in that algebra class so long ago.

Then, my sister Sherri popped into my head, because every time I talk with her on the phone, my world lights up. Being with her is something I love so very much. She is a ray of sunshine in the form of a person. We can talk forever and never get tired. I trust her completely, and she trusts me. We are nothing alike on the surface, even though we physically resemble each other (except she is in better shape). She is a whiz with interior decorating and gardening. She is also an artist, with art right now on display as part of an art jury prize competition in Grand Rapids, where she lives. She is full of energy, so bright and bubbly, so effervescent, and very kind and loving. I am kind and loving, I hope, but, my idea of decorating is throwing a blanket on top of the sofa so nobody will see the crumbs. I have to be nagged to remember to water my house plants. And, I don’t have much energy it seems. Just hearing her talk about what she’s done all day is enough to make me want a nap. I am a writer, she is a painter. I like science fiction and fantasy, she likes romantic comedy. Yet, our spirits are much alike, in that we think about the world, care about what is happening, and believe that God is in control and can spur us to make the world better. I talk to her, and it’s like I have just been infused with lightning. It’s a great feeling.

Then, there is my sister Sandy. She is much quieter, a thinker, and a wise, wise woman. I admire her. The way she has raised her kids to be such kind, wonderful, polite, but free, fun-loving, good-natured, adorable people, amazes me. When I need someone to be there for me, well, it is my Super Sisters I know I can count on. Sandy has a way of knowing what someone needs and trying to provide that. After Amber died, she took me to her home for awhile, and she just cared for me. She let me use her whirlpool bath because we just had a shower due to Amber’s needs, she watched old, classy movies with me, and let me revel in playing Rock Band with her kids. She is a doer, not afraid to put herself out there to help someone. I adore her.

My mom, wow – talk about a lady. She is so precious to me. Her love, in the hard times, has been healing for me. She showed me, by example, what it means to reach out to people. She was a tireless helper for elderly and infirm people all my life. She was a first grade teacher to kids who didn’t have the advantages, economically, that a lot of kids have. She loved those kids, and she invited us to love them too. She invited them to our home, out in the country, to pick pumpkins from our garden in the fall, to eat popsicles in the summer, and to get out in nature, where they could find some joy for awhile. She taught us to care about other people, and I will always be thankful for that.

My in-laws are just like second parents to me. My mother in law is the sweetest woman. Her cooking is out of this world. She makes you feel welcome, comfortable and loved whenever you are with her. And, my father in law is someone I completely admire. I am sometimes jealous of my husband, that he had a dad like Glen Blackburn, because I think Glen is a great dad.

I have had great teachers too. My favorite high school teachers were Mr. Cheek, who saw that Jolly and I needed to not be separated in algebra, even though we talked a bit too much (and he told me that he kept us together because he knew something wonderful was happening there), and Mrs. Strugar, my creative writing teacher. She really encouraged my writing and understood when my papers looked more like road maps than homework assignments, with arrows and words crossed out.

I’ve been so blessed by so many people that I think if I tried to write about all of them, my fingers would fall off and my blog post would be humongous. I think I might just be the happiest girl in the whole U.S.A. Oh wait, that’s a country song, isn’t it? 😉 Oh well, move over Donna Fargo.

I Don’t Know How

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I don’t know how to disagree with people I love. I wish I could agree with everyone. It would make life so much easier. But that is not what life is about, is it? Life is complicated and messy and somehow beautiful and I just wish I could stop trying to please everyone.

One of my problems is that I feel very passionately about certain things and people think that because of this, I haven’t also thought through my positions – that I’m going entirely on emotion. Yes, I do have a great deal of emotion, but goodness knows it does make me sort of irritated that this is what people see of me and dismiss that I have a brain as well.

Yet, posting facts to back up an argument, statistics and expert opinion, and evidence, just seems cold and really useless. Because, the thing is that people make up their minds about subjects and then hold fast, immovably, to those opinions (including statistics and facts and evidence)(It is really pretty vexing that everyone’s ideas seem to find evidence to back them up, so that if we go purely by statistics, everyone is right and how can that be?) and they never, ever change. Except me. I am starting to wonder if there is something wrong with me.

I used to be very solidly of one opinion about things in life. I had my opinions neatly cordoned off to fit well within what was expected of me, so that I didn’t ruffle feathers or bother any of the people I regularly associated with.

Then, I joined the Army, saw the world, met all sorts of strange people (and saw that they were awesome), had a child who was born disabled, lost my precious child, and somehow, I don’t care that people expect me to think a certain way because even though their disapproval pains me, I cannot be convinced I am wrong.

AND, I believe that all of this change that has come over me is a result of my trying to carefully listen to and follow God. It’s where he’s led me (though I didn’t want to go and he had to drag me kicking and screaming) and I have no choice. He has convinced me that I am where he wants me to be.

So, though I have peace with God, I still keep ticking people off and I still have this horrible, horrible craving to NOT do that. I hate confrontation more than I hate onions, dancing shows, getting lost or floral prints. I hate it more than I hate just about anything.

What I really wish is that I didn’t care what people thought. But, I do and there’s the rub. I don’t know how to reconcile my passions, my strong convictions, with other peoples’ varying passions and convictions. I was raised where a difference of opinion often resulted in scary things happening. The last thing I ever want is for people to get upset with me or others. I have had enough of that in my life.

So, perhaps I should bury my head in the sand and try not to see what is happening in the world. But, I can’t do that either. So here is what I have to do. I have to take the risk. I have to express my deep convictions — convictions that I feel have been arrived at through reason, lots of thought, and yes, passion.

I hope my friends know that I love them, even if they disagree. I also hope they understand that I just can’t argue. It’s not in me and when confronted, I will often just shut down. That is a fear response, it’s automatic and I can’t control it very well. I pray someday I will learn how to discuss controversial subjects. But, for now, I really don’t know how.

Follow the Leader

cross on my apartment door

I’m going to get religious again. Sorry to all my non-religious friends. Maybe I’m crazy, but these are the things that surge through my brain and spirit quite regularly. So, please bear with me.

The thing I’m wondering lately, especially after the anniversary of 9-11 when I read so many angry folks talking about never forgiving, is who do Christians really follow? The reason I ask is because when I brought up the fact, to Christians, that Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, I was told that the Old Testament is different and that Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law and that not one “jot or tittle” would fade from the law. They love the jot and tittle quote. But, what I want to know is do we cling to that quote, and shuffle around for more, to justify our own bitterness and disobedience to what Jesus clearly taught?

Are we like the Pharisees, splitting hairs over “law” to justify ourselves, because that is what they did and what made Jesus so angry? Should we just ignore Christ’s teachings on forgiveness, and the part where he says if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven? Should we ignore the fact he regularly ate with the disreputable people that society couldn’t stomach? Should we ignore his parables about finding lost sheep and lost coins? Should we ignore his famous parable about the Good Samaritan, in which he tries to teach the religious scholars what a neighbor is – that it’s the people we hate, the people we call enemy? If Jesus were around today, would the parable be called The Good Muslim, The Good Homosexual, The Good Welfare Mom? Should we ignore that he washed the feet of the man who would betray him, knowing full well what he was going to do? Do we ignore that he forgave those who were killing him AS they were killing him?

Should we ignore the voice of God that told people more than once that “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”?

Jesus came when Israel was occupied by Rome, an oppressive regime who many Jews hated with a passion and wished to overthrow. Did Jesus hand out weapons to his followers and tell them to make sure they could protect themselves? Did he help them make plans for revolt? Weren’t they the ones Jesus talked about when he told them to love their enemies?

Did Jesus come to make sure his followers had fancy cars, big houses, lots of money and were never sick? I’ve seen all manner of twisting of the message of Christ, but this one really baffles me. Did he come so that people could protest funerals and announce to the world who God hates?

Didn’t he come – as the famous verse says – to save the world not condemn it? Didn’t he tell Peter to put away his sword?

Why do people call themselves by Christ’s name and ignore what he said and the example he set? I mean, it seems to me that if you are going to call yourself a CHRISTian you should at least TRY to live like Christ, and respect the things he said and did. But, it seems to me that many who call themselves by this name act as if what Jesus said about turning the other cheek was misguided and ignorant. They act as if Christ was naive, and didn’t know what real evil is, that he didn’t know what he was talking about when he told us to love our enemies and pray for them. They act as if they know better, as if the world is more complicated now than it was when he was living in an enemy-occupied country, hated by the leaders of the religion of the region, hounded, plotted against, and arrested, beaten and killed. If he didn’t know what real evil is, who does?

Or do we think he didn’t mean what he said? Do we think those things he said about being merciful, about not resisting evil, about making disciples, were just nice suggestions for other people, but not us?

I may sound like a broken record here. But, it is my honor to point to my Savior and say to those who say they follow him, “Behold, your king!” If you claim to follow him, stop being so obsessed with revenge, with making sure your “god-given” rights are protected (are they really god-given?), being patriotic, being political, sniping at leaders (whom we should pray for), and making snarky remarks to people on Facebook. We are better than that. We have been called to serve, not be served. Are we ready to take up our cross or are we exchanging the cross for a flag? Or are we still searching jots and tittles for ways to boost our own arguments? Satan did that at least once (tempting Christ). Perhaps we need to remember who it is we follow and start acting like it. The way is simple, yet it costs everything. Are you willing to give Him everything or not? If not, you might want to think about changing your label because you’re sending out false advertising.

On Birthdays and Heaven

My grandmother used to bake wedding cakes, and she baked the best birthday cakes ever. This is one of mine.

My grandmother used to bake wedding cakes, and she baked the best birthday cakes ever. This is one of mine.

On Thursday I will have another birthday, if all goes according to plan (my plan anyway). When you get to the age where you start getting AARP invites, it makes you reflect and think about your life. How did I get here? How did I get so old? Where’d I put my glasses?

Mostly, I think I got here by a series of fortunate events and unfortunate ones as well. The fortunate ones have won out over the unfortunate ones because I am still here and able to find a reason to smile most days. The funny thing about getting older is that internally, in my heart and soul, I don’t feel old at all. Outwardly, I am no spring chicken anymore, though I don’t think I look too ancient. I still have only a couple of well-hidden slightly gray hairs and not too many wrinkles, though my flaws are pretty obvious so no need to mention them here.

For many years, I have said that age isn’t so terribly important when you are destined to live forever. Now, I know that not everyone I love believes in this thing called eternal life, so forgive me, but I do. I always have and always will – eternally. 😉 I am a smart aleck, aren’t I? I have never been convinced that this is all there is to life. My childhood, which I feel was sort of taken from me by circumstances beyond my control, can not be all the childhood I will get. My child’s life here, confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or sit or feed herself cannot be all that she got, as happy as I tried to make her. If so, life’s a gyp and I want a refund.

But, I am not writing here to argue about theology. Ugh. I would rather watch Miley Cyrus’ VMA award gyrations on an endless loop than do that. So, just bear with me and let me hope and dream a bit, I beg you.

First of all, since Amber left I think about heaven a heck of a lot, more than once a day. I never know when a thought about heaven will enter my mind, but when it does, it is always pleasant. Awhile back, I remember talking to God about it, and because he is my friend, besides being in charge of everything, I felt I could relax with Him and just laugh about what heaven might be like and what I wanted to do there.

I have read that we will have meaningful jobs to do there, things we will love, because, contrary to the picture that we will always be worshipping forever (and to many that means chanting or singing or something), worship takes many forms. I worship God doing laundry sometimes. So, I dare say that heaven will be a lot more interesting than just one long church service. At least I hope so.

So, as we were chatting, I told God I would like the job of feeding the horses. I’ve always loved horses, since I was a kid. We had ponies for a couple of years when I was little, but then had to give them to a farmer when we moved into town. And, since then I have longed for a horse, and for some reason, since Amber’s death, I have felt this longing to spend some healing time with a horse. For some reason I am certain that touching one, maybe even riding, would heal me somewhere in my broken heart. There have been times, especially since Amber’s death, that I have seen horses on TV and just wept, wishing I could be there with them. There’s something so free about the way they run, and there is also something comforting about their presence.

So, I’ve put my request in to management and we will see how it goes. That may sound irreverent, and I hope it doesn’t, but, I know God understands what I mean and doesn’t take offense. But then today, as I was waiting for someone in a parking lot, listening to music and singing, I realized that I really love singing.

I may not be the best at it, though I don’t think I’m bad at it. I have a nice voice, but, I am not trained in singing except for choir practice and that is amateur at best. But, that doesn’t matter. I get great joy from singing either by myself at home while I’m cleaning, while I’m driving, showering, or with the choir at church. It invigorates my spirit and I feel very connected to God, to heaven and even to Amber. So, I thought, that idea of singing praises to God for eternity actually doesn’t sound too bad at all to me. So, I might try to join that heavenly choir and if I get that chance I will really appreciate it, because in heaven, I believe my voice will never get tired, my throat will never hurt, and I might even never hit a wrong note. One can only hope.

I may not know everything about heaven. I doubt anyone but God does, but it is still a lot of fun to think about when my brain needs a vacation from this old place, or when I’m feeling old because I remember that when you live forever, 54 years is not such a long time at all.

My neighbor Louise

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Louise and her wonderful husband, Paul rang our doorbell about six years ago, bearing an apple pie, and a neighborly welcome. We had just moved into our new house, our first house after spending our lives moving around in the military and other situations that kept us in apartments.

They lived across the street and had ventured across, inviting us to their church and chatting. It was a nice visit but I was resistant to the idea of changing churches. We had lived in our previous apartment, 30 miles away, for six years and I was still unwilling to think of attending any church but the one Amber and I had gone to for so many years – the place where she met her best friend, where she’d had her 18th birthday party, and where my husband and I had renewed our wedding vows. Still, my husband thought I should think about attending closer to home.

Even though I didn’t take her up on her invitation to church right away, we did get to know she and her husband over the next couple of years. We tried to help them as much as we could. The entire neighborhood loved them, it seemed. The foster child of our next door neighbor mowed their lawn, the next door neighbor on the other side helped fix their mailbox when it got hit, and their neighbor who lived behind them pitched in to help them push their trash bin back and forth on trash day.

I started to develop quite a love for this lady, and respect for her quiet husband. We were out of town when we got the call from her that her husband had fallen and broken his leg. Sometime after that, her dashing husband of 54 years passed away, and she was left behind, broken-hearted.

It wasn’t long after that my husband and I suffered our own tremendous loss, when we took our daughter to the emergency room and didn’t bring her back home. After that, I started attending Louise’s church with her, and was glad I did.

Today, I went to see her. She’s now in a nursing home but will soon be transferred to an assisted living facility. She is nearing 90 years old, but she is still sharp, fun to be around, and tells the best stories. Sometimes, she talks about how she and Paul first met, at their church youth group so long ago. Sometimes, she talks about her time working in missions in West Virginia and trying to open up their teaching of the miner’s kids to the African American children and the opposition they faced. Sometimes, she talks about the children’s home she worked at for a year, caring for a handful of 7 and 8 year old boys and how she came to love them. She talked about how they had the rough breaks in life, and needed extra attention. She talked about how Paul would come to visit in his Navy uniform and the boys’ eyes would light up, and how her handsome fiance’ would teach them manners by example, opening doors for his sweetheart and helping her with her coat. Sometimes, she talks about her children, and the funny things they did while growing up. She also talks about people from church, a place she’s belonged for 50 years. Today, she talked about how lonely she is, though, without her husband. She talked about how she still can’t believe that when he tripped over a rug getting up from his chair, and broke his leg, that it would mean she would lose him. She talked about fighting to get her husband in the Naval hospital, and about how they called her on the telephone, asking for permission to take blood, and how moments later they called to tell her he had passed away. She talked about how matter of factly they gave her that news and how they didn’t understand how much she was hurting, how badly she wanted to be there, though they talked about wheeling his body away to the morgue and how she demanded that they let her say goodbye.

“He was the love of my life,” she said, and my heart broke with hers. “54 years is not enough time.”

I am about to turn 54, and I really do understand how hard it is to accept loss. And, I am beginning to understand that getting old is not for the weak of heart. It is hard, it is humbling and it is often heart-breaking. I hope we can all have some respect and compassion for the older people in our neighborhoods, churches, and lives, and understand how difficult it is for them to face the changes that life throws at them as they age. Louise laments the day she had to stop driving and had to sell her beloved little red VW. She also struggles with the idea that she has lost her independence, and the ability to make choices for herself about where she lives and what she does, and even what she eats. She longs to go back home, where she and her family lived for so long, where she and her handsome sailor raised their three kids, and where she has neighbors who love her. As much as we all know that she now needs to be someplace safer, I pray we can at least understand her feelings and let her express her sorrow once in awhile without telling her what is best for her.

I love my neighbor Louise. I love her laugh, the twinkle in her eye when she sees someone she loves, and how she enjoys the little things in life, like the chance to pet a dog, a hug, a church bulletin… She has enriched a lot of lives by just being herself, faithful, neighborly, inviting, and respectful. I pray that she has happiness and peace for the rest of her days, and that she will one day be reunited with her love (but not too soon – for my sake).