Is It Beautiful? Is It Good?

A new year has rolled around.  Did you make a resolution? I normally do, but this year, I am resolving to keep things simple and that includes not making a resolution.  Too often my to-do list overpowers what is really important in my life, so this year I am merely going to seek beauty and goodness in the world around me and in the troubles I encounter.  I know there is good everywhere, if I open my eyes to find it.  That is something simple I can do that does not feel like an extra task on my ever-lengthening to-do list. In fact, finding the good makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Here are some examples of the beautiful and good things I witnessed and experienced over the past week: 

  • Walking in nature and smiling as the sun brightened the frigid winter day. 
  • Sweet friends surprised us with homemade treats.
  • I marveled at the large snowflakes falling all around me (and I may have twirled and stuck out my tongue to catch a few as they floated down).
  • I relished making memories with my family, especially the seemingly insignificant times together like working puzzles or watching a favorite show.  (Those days are fleeting as a family of four under one roof and I won’t forget that.) 
  • I was perfectly content as my dog napped peacefully on my lap. 
  • I was filled with inspiration, hope, and goosebumps as I listened to Amanda Gorman’s poetry. 
  • A good medical report made me abundantly grateful that each person in my family was healthy. 
  • I rejoiced in answered prayers. 
  • I swelled with pride upon hearing good news.
  • Seeing random acts of kindness in my community warmed my heart. 

The list of the beauty and goodness I found during my week was much longer than anticipated. It is amazing all the good you can find when you look for it. The beauty in these little things is what I savored and want to continue to take delight in all year long. 

If 2020 taught me anything, it is to seek the good and enjoy the simple. That is my plan for 2021. How about you?

Don’t Forget 2020!

We are all anxious to leave 2020 in our rearview mirror. We are tired of being six feet or more apart. We wish we could be together again with family and friends. We want to go to school, work, sporting events, and concerts. We are itching to travel the world. We long to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and graduations in large groups. We need hugs. Community is what we desire. How fast can we speed away from the year that has been filled with distance, devastation, and death?

Hold on! Should we quickly leave 2020 in our dust and erase the memories of this wretched year? Should we be so hasty to forget what we have been through?

After 9/11, we often said “let’s not forget”.  After that tragic day, the whole country came together.  Flags were flown everywhere.  Patriotism was palpable.  We wept together.  We prayed together.  It was a beautiful time after that horrific day.  But slowly, all of that faded away.  The feeling of community and national pride quietly disintegrated.

After the initial panic at the onset of Covid-19 (and hoarding of toilet paper), many positive things started happening around us.  We began to notice and applaud the essential workers. Hats off to teachers, healthcare workers and grocery clerks!  We shared good news in the world on the news and in social media.  We extended kindness more than usual.  We looked after our neighbors.  Generosity was abundant.  There were many stories that warmed my heart and brought a tear to my eye.

We learned what was truly important.  We soon realized how necessary touch, company, and gatherings are to our mental well being.  We missed contact with others.  We made due with phones, FaceTime, and Zoom because that is what we had (so grateful for this!), but realized that having others in our physical presence was a paramount connection that technology simply could not substitute.  

I pray that once Covid-19 is a distant memory, we don’t soon forget what we walked through.  Let’s not take community and togetherness for granted.  We should continue to bring good to the world and those stories should be highlighted for all to see.  We need to keep looking out for others and continue offering kindness and generosity.  As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”  Let’s not forget what we have learned and continue to do better as we leave 2020 in our rearview mirror.

To Gift, or Not To Gift?

To gift, or not gift?  That is the question.

When it comes to giving gifts at Christmas, I tend to overbuy for my loved ones. I want to give an abundance to my kids because we have the means to do so, but I don’t go ridiculously overboard. I simply enjoy spoiling them a little during this time of year. Why do I do this?

My dad was a coal miner so, yes, that makes me a coal miner’s daughter. We were not Loretta Lynn poor when I was growing up, but we were definitely not well-to-do. When I was in sixth grade, my dad got laid off from his job. Miners often went on strikes that were short-lived, but unfortunately, that time he ended up being laid off for over three years.

When my dad was out of work one Christmas, a family from our church brought us groceries.  The kids in that family were in Sunday school with my sister and I.  We were mortified when they brought us food because they now knew we were needy, if it wasn’t apparent already.  I tried to hide while they were at my home, pretending they wouldn’t know I lived there.  However, once the family left, I was so excited to look through all of the bags they had brought.  I was thrilled to be getting fresh oranges!  Because fruit is more expensive than chips or snack cakes, oranges were a luxury item we rarely had.  As embarrassing as it was to have peers bring us food during our time of need, it was truly appreciated.  

Cabbage Patch Kids were the hot ticket item for Christmas that year.  My sister and I unwrapped homemade Cabbage Patch Kids that Christmas morning. They definitely did not have a birth certificate or Xavier Roberts’ signature on the butt cheek like the originals, but they were fine dolls just the same.  We got Christmas presents each year even when my dad wasn’t working.  Maybe we didn’t get name-brand toys, but I never felt like we were deprived.  My parents saved up and pinched pennies to ensure Christmas morning was special for us (really, it was my mom, because dad had no idea what was going under the tree).

When it comes to giving, especially at Christmas, I choose giving every time because I can. Even though I was still a child when my family experienced financial hardship, I understand those who are struggling to make ends meet and how the oranges and Christmas presents are luxury items that can be hard to come by. Looking back, this period in my life helped mold me into who I am today. I am incredibly grateful for what I have, give generously to those in need when I am able, and am cognizant of how others feel when they are going through a similar experience. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”–Hebrews 13:16

So to gift or not to gift, there is no question.

What Lies Ahead?

We are all ready for 2020 to end and 2021 to begin.  The new year can’t come soon enough. This dumpster fire has been raging forever and a day.  We are ready for this horrible, deadly virus to be gone. We long for togetherness.  We desire “normalcy”.  Many people decorated for Christmas early this year (us included) because we need more joy in our lives and Christmas trees, wreaths, and lights give us some of the joy we are craving.  

A new addition to our Christmas decorations this year is a nativity Advent candle holder that was gifted to us. In this time of Advent, we are preparing for and anticipating the celebration of the birth of Christ. We light a candle each week leading up to Christmas. The four candles symbolize hope, faith, joy and peace.

We hope for our days to be filled with less illness and fear and more joy and community.  Hope came as a baby, our Savior, many years ago and remains our hope today.  

We have faith that with Christ, we can get through anything, including this pandemic and 2020.  2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “I will walk by faith even when I cannot see.”  We sang “Lord I Need You” by Matt Maher during our virtual church service this past Sunday.  I sang it with tears in my eyes as I need Christ more than ever during these trying times. I surmise we all do.  

Joy is something we often have to search for or create, but we should have great joy because Christ came to save us from our sins.  “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King”.

I pray that as this virus lingers and uncertainty continues, that you will have peace this season.  Draw near to Him to find the perfect peace.  “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

The calendar will soon turn, but unfortunately I think we realize that this pandemic will not go away as the ball drops in Times Square.  However, I think we see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We have hope.  We see vaccines being created that are about ready to roll out.  We anticipate better days ahead.  We will come out of the darkness of this difficult period and we will again find light in our lives.  During this time of unease about what lies ahead, I pray that you will be filled with hope, faith, joy and peace.  Merry Christmas!

Broken Not Shattered

One evening this past spring, I went for a walk after dinner while my daughter took a bike ride with a friend.  When I was at the furthest point from my house that I could be on that particular walk, I got a call from my daughter.  Those of you with children know that if you get a call from your child instead of a text, it is probably not a good thing.  She had panic in her voice as she told me that she had fallen off of her bike and broken her arm.  She can be dramatic and tends to exaggerate, but my mama instinct knew she was hurt badly.  I learned that she was a mile from home and a mile and a half from where I currently was walking.  I immediately turned around and started to run.  Unfortunately, I am not a runner or in good enough shape to run that far.  As I was running, I called my husband and tried to explain the situation through my labored breathing.  He drove to pick me up and we went to get her. 

When she broke her arm, it was in the midst of the pandemic and it was scary.  It was scary that when I got to her, her arm was visibly broken.  It was scary that we were going to have to go into a hospital with Covid lurking around.  It was scary that they could not set her arm and would have to do surgery.  It was scary to stay in a hospital overnight while wearing masks and trying to avoid germs.

There was much to be frightened about.  My girl had broken both her ulna and radius.  “Nails” or “rods” had to be inserted to fix the fractures.  She was scared and so was I, but I put on my brave mama face for my girl.

Even though it was distressing that this happened to my daughter and that it happened during a pandemic, it really ended up being the best possible time for this to happen, if it had to happen.  Since schools were closed for Covid, she only had virtual classes.  She did not have to navigate the hallways or open her locker or carry books with a broken arm.  She could do most assignments on the computer.  I had to help with a few written assignments since she had fractured her dominant arm, but for the most part, she could do her school work independently.  Also soccer season was cancelled so she did not miss any practices or games and that was huge for my soccer-loving girl.

Her arm has now healed.  Where each bone was broken, the bone has formed a “callus” and the rods are about to be surgically removed.  Interestingly, the calcium concentration in the permanent scar is higher than the normal bone making it usually stronger than the surrounding bone.  Once it has healed, she is more likely to break the bone elsewhere than in the bone scar.  (Thanks Uncle Rex for explaining this!)

In recent years, my girl has been through several adversities.  She has had to work hard each time she was told no to get to where she wants to be. Just like her fractured arm, every time she faced a disappointment or setback, she was broken, but not shattered.  She was able to heal and get stronger than she was before.  These were lessons learned the hard way.  All of our wisdom, toughness, and courage does not come from the smooth path before us, but how we manage and grow from the bumps and breaks along the way.  I am convinced we are not only molded by adversity, but we are stronger after overcoming it.

Do I Have to Be Thankful This Year?

This year has been filled with uncertainty, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, disappointment, and, at times, downright misery.  Do I have to be thankful this year?  Thanksgiving is all but cancelled for many, as are most other activities.  The weather is turning colder.  Covid lingers and continues to spread.  Some have lost jobs. Some have lost loved ones. Some have lost hope. The struggles are real. Is there really anything to be thankful for at the end of 2020?  

In my line of work in social services, I understand how a glimmer of hope and a feeling of gratefulness can affect someone.  Hope, positive thinking and gratitude can go a long way to bring someone out of a dark place. I find myself pointing out to my clients the good in his or her situation, but it surprises me how many times my client will be the one to say how they are thankful for what they have.  I am often amazed at their attitude and perspective despite the adversity they are facing.

I have seen a homeless man with no living family members and multiple health problems point out how his life was good. At the time, he could not walk very well and was quite ill.  He repeatedly told me that he was extremely blessed to be getting the care he needed and thankful for all that he had, which was very little.  He did not wallow in his troubles, in his lack of possessions, in his major health problems, in his inability to walk, or in his absence of family.  

I also met a lady who had not just one parent with Alzheimer’s, but both parents.  By the time I met her, she had her parents living with her and both were fairly advanced in the disease process.  I could not help but marvel at her outlook.  Although it saddened her that her parents did not always recognize her and that she had to provide 24/7 care for their health and safety, she could still see the good in the situation. She told me many times that she was grateful to have the opportunity to stay home, be their caregiver, and be able to give back to them for all they had done for her throughout her life.  

It is normal for people experiencing these and other similar circumstances to feel sad and hopeless, especially when the situation seems impossible to manage.  I can’t blame them.  I see some pretty sad cases.  But if I can help steer my clients to seek the positives in their story, perhaps their worries will lessen and their joy will multiply.  Same with you and I.  Even if our plight isn’t as dire or extreme as what my clients were enduring, it would be advantageous to search for the good.  Look at all you do have, not what you don’t have.  It gives you power over the gloom. Come on, if my clients can find the good in their lives, so can you!  

Thanksgiving may not look or feel the same this year, but we must “let our lives be full of thanks and giving” no matter what.  God is good, faithful and trustworthy. Psalms 9:1 says “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”  Gratitude changes perceptions and outlook and fills you with optimism and gladness. I love this quote from Eckhart Tolle about gratitude: “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation of all abundance.”  Do I have to be thankful this year?  No, but I choose to be thankful.  In this season of thanksgiving, may we each be filled with gratitude especially in this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I have dreamed of having a screened-in porch for years.  I was told by three different contractors that we could not put one where I desired at the back of our house for architectural reasons.  I was bummed, but I settled on creating a patio in that same space.  I wanted it to be a beautiful, relaxing retreat while at the same time being a place to hang out with family and friends.  

Last fall my patio was built and I got new furniture to make the place cozy and inviting.  I was completely in love.  I was able to have a few friends over for drinks and conversation one night before the weather turned too cold.  I was excited at the prospect of late summer nights filled with laughter, food, and wine with my friends.  I was also thrilled for my kids to have a place to hang with their friends.  Now due to the pandemic, the patio basically sits there lacking merriment.

I miss cookouts and gatherings with my friends, their spouses and their kids.  That was our norm on weekends during the summer.  We would hang out until the mosquitoes finally chased us inside.

I have learned that my introverted self likes having this space all to myself.  I enjoy having this comfortable haven to write, read, daydream, pray, and nap.  It gives me room to breathe and think without three other people right under my nose like they are in the house.  To be honest, I am tired of my husband and kids being home all the time.  I like having a little time alone without others cluttering our home with noise and activity.  Having this extra room outdoors, has been a wonderful escape for me.  

It is funny how the pandemic has simultaneously made me miss being with my friends and miss being alone.  I guess I need a balance of both in my life and right now I have neither.  I need to be grateful for my beautiful outdoor space and the joy that it currently brings me while I long for days of sunshine and sitting together in the company of friends and family.  I am truly blessed to have so much, including the patio my heart has desired for years.  “The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us.”–James E. Faust  “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.”–Proverbs 17:22

Watch Out! Maybe Messy Ahead

One cool, breezy day when I was a little girl, my parents took my sister and I to fly kites on my grandparents’ farm. My parents were concerned that if we tried to fly them in our own yard or neighborhood, they would get stuck in an electric line. At the farm, however, there was plenty of room to run with our kites without fear of them getting stuck in a tree or powerline.

My parents led us into the cow pasture to launch our kites all while repeatedly telling us not to step in any cow patties.  Well, when a young child is trying to steer her kite, her full focus is on the soaring toy above her head and therefore, she will not be watching the ground for potential hazards.  The inevitable happened and my sister had dung thickly smeared all over her shoe.

Even though it was a mess for my sister and my parents to deal with, the manure was also something my grandparents put to good use to fertilize their garden.  They grew pretty flowers and a bounty of fresh vegetables to nourish many in our family during the summer and beyond.

My friends, there is a lot of poo all around us right now.  Pile after pile that we are trying to avoid on a daily basis.  We will unfortunately stride right through it unintentionally every now and again while navigating a landmine of crap.  At times I feel knee-deep in noxious excrement.  It can get really messy, unpleasant and, sometimes, downright rank.  The question is, how will we use those missteps to guide us going forward?  Perhaps doing the obvious to avoid the poo, such as not flying a kite in a cow pasture, would be a good first choice.  We can gain insight from our past mistakes and can use the waste, like my grandparents did on their farm, to produce something beautiful and beneficial.  Let’s learn from our trials and grow something good.

Overpowering the Sleep Thief

Does this happen to you too? I go through phases when I just do not sleep well. I’ve heard from other women that this is their experience as well. I usually fall asleep without a problem, but then wake up a few hours later. The sleep thief quickly steps in and exploits my momentary wakefulness to bring up daytime concerns in the darkness of the night. My mind starts going a hundred miles an hour. I fret about my to-do list. I am unsettled about what was or was not said in a conversation and I replay it over and over again. I worry about the multitude of happenings in my life. I am tormented by significant and insignificant thoughts. This middle of the night insomnia most often occurs when I am stressed or anxious. At 3 a.m. even trivial things appear urgent and life-altering. Before dawn, everything appears more pressing. Common sense, realism and sanity often fly out the window. I can’t turn off my thoughts. I consider EVERY. SINGLE. SCENARIO. of what may or may not happen (the majority of these notions are unreasonable and unlikely.)

My mind swirls.  I toss and turn.  My heart races.  My stomach flip-flops.  

I read somewhere that deep breathing exercises help to calm the mind and body, restoring sleep.  I have experimented with these, but they often have not worked for me.  I have also tried reading and muscle relaxation techniques.  I have even turned my clock around so I don’t watch the minutes tick by reminding me that I am not sleeping and how tired I will be tomorrow.  There has not been a guaranteed way for me to return to slumber.  

I recently remembered the saying “Give it to God and go to sleep” so I’ve started praying in the middle of the night when my mind is a vortex of irrational thoughts.  In all honesty, when I start praying, frequently my thoughts wander to whatever I was worrying about before the prayer, but I stop myself, get back on track, and pray some more.  Upon waking in the morning, I often realize that I fell asleep mid-prayer.  I started feeling guilty about this.  How rude of me to fall asleep when I am communing with my Maker!  I have now come to the conclusion that God would probably say, “My child, you have handed over your troubles and found peace and rest in me and that is exactly how I want it.”  Matthew 11:28 NIV “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  

Sleep thief, please stay away.  If you do return, I will overpower you by finding rest in the only one who can give true peace.  Philippians 4:6-7 ESV “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Continued Lessons from 9/11

Have you seen the short documentary called “Boatlift” that has gone viral? I will attach it below so you can watch it now if you haven’t already. Get the tissues ready. I can wait while you watch.

If you can’t watch right now, I will give you a brief summary. It is the previously untold story of the maritime evacuation of lower Manhattan on 9/11. Over 500,000 people were transported off of the island after the Coast Guard put out a call asking for any boat to come if they could assist. Within minutes there were at least a hundred boats that converged on that area to assist in getting people away from the horror of Manhattan that day.

This story really showed 1. People want to help and 2. The marvel of what can be done if we all work together.  

Oftentimes when we are struggling with something difficult in our lives, we resist asking for help.  There are many reasons for this such as feeling like we should deal with things independently, feeling too apprehensive to ask because we don’t want to bother people, and feeling like others should already know what we need.  We need to overcome this trepidation and just ask for help.  Don’t carry your burdens alone. People have a desire to lend a hand when needed.  The assistance obviously blesses the receiver, but it also blesses the giver.  We should not deny ourselves the support of those that care or deny the giver the opportunity of providing that support.   It feels so good to help, doesn’t it?

When all hands are working together toward one goal, it is amazing what can get accomplished.  The boats coming together to help in New York is a prime example of that.  One call is all it took to get the rescue in motion.  What seemed an insurmountable task, was completed in nine hours. 

Watching this documentary reminded me of how redwood trees work together to strengthen each other to do something seemingly impossibly.  These enormous trees can grow more than three hundred feet tall, but their roots only go to depths of six to twelve feet.  So what makes them so strong and durable?  Their root systems spread to lengths of fifty feet or more and intertwine with the roots of other nearby redwoods.  The trees are able to withstand high winds or whatever nature throws their way by holding onto each other and working together to create a firm foundation.

Picture from our 2009 trip to California

Imagine if we were more like a redwood forest: strong, solid, and hardy by holding onto and supporting one another.  Imagine the multiplied blessings if we asked for assistance when our burden is too heavy to carry alone. Also imagine if more people would heed the call to rescue others in times of need just like the vessels from “Boatlift”.  There is strength and power in unity, collaboration and cooperation.  Let’s not forget.