Monday, February 27, 2012

Gratitude Journal #127

Today, I am grateful for the Oscars. Best line of the night came from Billy Crystal, who said, "Nothing can take the sting out of the world's economic problems like millionaires presenting each other golden statues." Ohmygosh, I love me some Billy Crystal at the Oscars!

Today, I am grateful for finding a new theme song in church yesterday. A very talented teen sang This Is the Stuff, and I'm learning the song for myself. Not that anyone wants to hear me sing it, but I'd like to get that chorus in my head for times like last night, when I couldn't find the cable remote and OSCAR was on! You can see the official video of the song HERE.

Today, I am grateful for shelf liner, bag clips, and other useful stuff.

Today, I am grateful for sunshine.

What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Things on Thursday: Diverse Interests

A reader recommended the newest biography on Martha Washington, and as I'm always open to new things and had just finished reading Water for Elephants, I immediately looked for it out on my Nook Tablet. Sure enough, it was there. I bought it and started reading it. It's really good. Thanks, Mary!

I've been wanting to read Tina Fey's Bossypants for a while. Then I saw this pin on Pinterest, which made me shout Amen, sister!, especially the part about doll tits. Who really has these...without the aid of a plastic surgeon?!?! 

Click on the photo to see it bigger.

An elephant (who was smart and vengeful), Martha Washington (who was smart and stacked) and Tina Fey (who is smart and funny).

My world is smartly diverse. 

Please share with the internet an example of your diverse books or other things.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Adding Good

Disclaimer: Today's post is about Lent, and therefore explicitly Christian, unlike many of my other devotional posts that strive for a sort of spiritual inclusivity. I know that many of my readers follow other faiths or no faith at all. It is not my wish to clobber anyone over the head with my religion, so feel free to skip today's post if you want.

Years ago, I heard a church member bitterly remark that no one gives stuff up for Lent anymore. Lent and Easter, she thought, ought to be a Christian's favorite season on the Church calendar, but people get sucked into the commercial celebration of Christmas and ignore Easter, except for the candy and bunny and eggs (which are all pagan anyway, harrumph).

Her point, I think, is that Christ's death and resurrection opened heaven for us, and we are ungrateful wretches about it. The least we can do to acknowledge that enormous debt is give up chocolate for Lent.


As I study the Bible, I am struck by Jesus' repeated and firm insistence on the importance of inward state of being rather than outward show. Think of the parable of the widow's mite. God values a small gift given out of love higher than a big gift given to impress.

Some people, like the bitter church member, judge other people's inward state of heart by looking at their outward public actions. That judgment involves a pretty big assumption. How many serial killers have neighbors who say, "I'm shocked. He was so nice and quiet and grew beautiful orchids!"

Instead, let's flip the assumption around: our inward state of heart should dictate our actions. What we do for Lent should rise up from inside us, from that place that houses our values and faith.

And because we're all different, our actions will be different.

Instead of worrying about following rules this Lent, rethink Lenten sacrifice. Try doing something personally meaningful to celebrate the life and resurrection of Jesus. The outward show of sacrifice isn't what's important. What's important is the inward focus on your relationship with God.

For some of you, it will indeed be giving up something, sacrificing a luxury or treat to remind you daily of another, much bigger, sacrifice. If you are one of the many people who benefit spiritually from Lenten sacrifice, that's wonderful. Stick with it. 

I, on the other hand, like the idea of adding something. I preach and whine about busyness, but that makes me all the more certain that keeping my inward eye on God involves refocusing that outward busyness. Adding something to my schedule, something that feels worshipful, makes sense to me. That's why I've started a daily devotional and recommitted myself to sending more cards to people.

When I asked Nick about this, he took it in a different direction entirely and without hesitation decided to strive to be more cheerful even when he doesn't feel like it. That's pretty cool, don't you think?

What's your widow's mite? How will you honor Lent? While telling the world in a blog comment might feel contradictory to the message of inward focus, I do think others benefit from shared ideas. Your idea might spark something meaningful in someone on the other side of the world, so please share.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gratitude Journal #126

Today, I am grateful for presidents and most especially for George Washington, who rejected the offer to be king. Washington was a gentleman cut from the finest cloth. Following the battle of Georgetown in early October 1777, a dog with a name tag on its collar identifying it as the property of British General William Howe, fell into American hands. General Washington found out, dictated a letter to Howe via his aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton, and sent the dog back to its owner under a white flag of truce. A copy of the letter resides with George Washington's papers. Washington loved animals of all kinds, especially dogs. While a love of dogs isn't a prerequisite for being president, it's interesting how many presidents--good and bad--were suckers for pairs of big brown eyes and furry wagging tails.

And yes, I could carry that last line into jokedom, but I won't out of respect for Mr. Washington.

Today, I am grateful for the weather that has brought us sun and warmth, at least for today.

Today, I am grateful for coffee.

Today, I am grateful for friends on the internet who send me nice notes when I need them most.

Today, I am grateful for ink.

Today, I am grateful for this lamp, which now lives in my library.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things on Thursday: Furniture and a Mess

We had a buyer for our new house for a few days, and then they skedaddled over a (to us) rather stupidly insignificant thing. The builder of our new home has to buy our old one if it doesn't sell by April 9th, so it doesn't bother us too much.

It just bothers the builder.

Yesterday, the news of the skedaddling came just an hour after I took delivery of this furniture.

Yes, that is my Nook Tablet resting on the table. I still love it, too.

The library, when it is finished, will be my favorite room in the whole house...even more than my craft room. My craft room isn't perfect and right now has carpet ripped up and holes cut in drywall following a leaky toilet incident. See?

This mess will require at least a week to get straightened out. Probably two. But even without the mess, the craft room isn't ideal. It's too isolated from the family. I don't like the fact that I can't hear what's going on in other parts of the house when I am in there. It's not a problem during the day, when I'm here with the dog. Just in the afternoons and on weekends when I feel like I'm ostracizing myself in there. I'm considering moving all this stuff to the alcove of the basement with the sliding glass door. Then I'll be "part of things" while stamping my art out.

Even so, as you can see, the craft room's decor is dominated by plastic storage. It's not pretty. Functional, yes. Pretty, no. And not the sort of thing you want to lay eyes on when you walk down the stairs and into the basement rec room. It's a dilemma.

The library, on the other hand, will contain not single plastic storage bin, drawer, or basket. Our desks may arrive as early as today...they are the mission desks from LLBean. We still need chairs for the desks and bookshelves for the, um, books, and accessories, such as a Tiffany-style lamp for the table between the chairs, curtains for the windows, etc.

I'm in love. So is George. It's sort of sad that we bought this whole big house and will spend most of our time quite happily in a 14' x 13' room.

I exaggerate. But only a little.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sinking into the Spirit

At last Sunday's worship service, a couple named Eric and Emily sang their original songs. During their first song, I closed my eyes and listened, just listened, as they sang of God's goodness.

And I sank into the Spirit.

No words accurately capture these moments of trust and faith and intense awareness of connection to the divine. If you've had such a moment, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven't, well, let's just say that it's rapture, warmth, comfort, peace, trust, joy, and love pouring into and out of every cell in your body all at once. And that doesn't do it justice by a long shot.

The ecstasy didn't last long (at least for me...perhaps mystics and monks can maintain it longer), but its aftermath left me feeling refreshed, strong, and tuned in to and trusting God, and filled to the brim of my soul with gratitude for a song-length moment of spiritual saturation.

You may remember my Word of the Year is Gratitude. Oh, yes. I'm grateful for that song Eric and Emily sang, for the Spirit that closed my eyes all the better to listen, for a moment of new creation.

Years ago, worship services made me fidgety. My mind wandered often, and I would write notes on my and grocery lists, mostly. I found it hard to concentrate on God. Even during prayer, my mind would wander to things I needed to do, things I worried about, things I wanted to fix. I would stop talking to God and start talking to myself.

It's hard to sink into the Spirit when you can't hear It whispering in your ear or feel It tapping on your shoulder in the first place.

And it's always whispering, always tapping.

Our faith journeys proceed at an uneven pace, don't they? Sometimes we enthusiastically surge ahead in our faith. Sometimes we limp along or get stuck. Sometimes we fall backward. Sometimes we make progress without even realizing it.

At some point during the past eight years, I stopped worrying about my to-do lists on Sunday morning. The notes on my bulletin now feel like they are tapped in Morse code on my shoulder by the Spirit. Oh, that mother has surgery scheduled, so call to see if the family needs meals from the church's meal ministry. Write down that prayer request for the baby with Down syndrome who is having surgery on her heart. Gee, you need to remember that verse of the hymn or that turn of phrase from Pastor Suzanne or that prayer.  Write it down so you don't forget.

There are no more grocery lists on my bulletin on Sunday morning. That's why I sank into the Spirit last Sunday. I paid attention to the moment. And it was good.

My faith journey in many ways still feels like it's in its late adolescence. I have lots of energy and enthusiasm for the work I feel called to in the world, a youthful vigor at odds with my gray hair. But there is still lots of maturing to do. Although I pray at least several times a day and try to spend time listening to God (not just giving Him a to-do list, please, if it's Your will), my mind still wanders far too often, indicating a need for focus and attention there. My friend Lally inspires me on that score.

I also still need the discipline of structured classes to stick to studying my Bible as I want. My mother and uncle Darius are my examples for that, but in the meantime, I'm signing up for our church's Tuesday morning Bible study for the fourth year in a row. I can't wait for it to start on the 28th!

Sinking into the Spirit last Sunday reminded me of how far I have come in my faith journey, and how far I have to go. It also reminded me that I'm not alone. Not ever. Not even for an instant.

The Spirit is there, helping, guiding, lifting me up, pulling me in, comforting me, challenging me.

Thanks be to God.

Please share your own reflections on sinking into the Spirit. How are you aware of the Spirit moving in your life? What can you do to pay attention to it more?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Gratitude Journal #125

Today, I am grateful for steak and bacon and pork and homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Today, I am grateful for Prilosec.

Today, I am grateful for an offer on our old house.

Today, I am grateful in advance for workers who WILL fix the leak in my brand-new basement. I'm trying so hard to be positive about wet carpet and tile....

Today, I am grateful for smiles and laughter, friends and family, and furry golden dogs who eat socks.

Today, I am grateful for this picture Nick took of the furry golden dog (mid-yawn) who eats socks:

Her Real Personality...Goofball.

Today, I am grateful for worship services that reset my attitude.

What are YOU grateful for today?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Funny Words, Words, Words

A few pins from Pinterest that I thought I'd share....

Pretty much everything Sheldon says makes me laugh. Bazinga!


"You came here in that? You're braver than I thought."


Civilized doesn't have to be an oxymoron.


May your weekend be filled with laughter and fun!!!!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Things on Thursday: Email

This week's Thing on Thursday is email. Generally speaking, I love email. It brings me comments on my blogs, notes from friends, funny videos from GodTube, alerts that my son's lunch account is low, and messages from my honey when he's traveling. I can use email to send out family news, answer questions, ask questions, and connect with friends and family and blog readers in wonderful ways.

Yep, email is good.

Sometimes, though, emails make me sad, like the three unsubscribe notices I got within hours of yesterday's post going out in email. Ordinarily, these notices don't bother me. There are lots of reasons someone might unsubscribe from a blog, and many of them are not negative commentary on the blog's content. But a cluster like that coming so soon after a particularly lively post feels...weird.

I hope that the Busyness Syndrome post wasn't what made them flee. Recently, I've had several friends express their frustration at having a million obligations and the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and guilt those obligations cause. As they've talked, I've empathized completely. Been there, done that.

The essay's intent was to encourage people to think about why they do what they do. Sometimes, life is just busy in rich and wonderful and natural ways. Sometimes, we bring busyness on ourselves in unhealthy ways, getting sucked into society's version of how we should live our lives rather than doing what works for us and our families. I sure have been sucked in over the years. Freeing myself from that was hard but oh so worth it.

Also, one person's busy is another person's bored. We all have different tolerance of busyness, and within our own range, we can be happy and healthy. I certainly don't presume to judge others' motives for their busyness. I just know I've had problems in this area and so have a number of people I know.

If I offended or hurt anyone with my post, I am sorry. It is my intent to get people laughing and thinking at the same time. Based on the post's comments, I succeeded with at least a few people and am glad the post touched them. Hopefully, the unsubscribers left for other reasons.

Anyway, today I'm celebrating email by contemplating its many good qualities...bringing distant friends and family closer, easing communication, giving us lots of laughs and entertainment. Oh how I love that ding my computer gives when there's new email!

How about you? What are your feelings relating to email? If you've ever been the victim of hacking or phishing or simply a mean email from someone you know, you've seen the seedy underbelly of email. But do the benefits outweigh the costs for you? Why or why not?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fight the BS

In this age of "disorder du jour," you might roll your eyes when you hear of a new affliction crippling many otherwise intelligent, well-educated, people. But I assure you, there is one syndrome you need to know about because if you don't suffer from it yourself, you know someone who does. I promise.

It's called Busyness Syndrome, or BS for short. Many of us suffer a mild form of BS at least once in our lives and eventually figure out how damaging it is or limp along with a low-level chronic infection that doesn't interfere with our ability to be, generally speaking, happy. For many others, however, BS is a life-long struggle.

The people most susceptible to severe BS are smart, self-motivated high achievers who never learned to say no. These men and women sacrifice themselves on the altars of work and/or volunteerism and/or family. They over-commit themselves (and their families) to "organizations," "sports," "school," "activities," "experiences," and "accomplishments."

Aren't egregious quotation marks annoying? My point in using them here is to emphasize just how meaningless these otherwise worthwhile pursuits become when a person suffers from BS.

You see, in their frenetic drive to achieve everything they think they need to achieve, sufferers of BS lose their pleasure in life, their sense of purpose and self-worth, their healthy and justifiable sense of accomplishment, their satisfaction in a job well done. They move from one activity to the next with little thought of why they are so busy or what they truly need to be doing to feel happy and fulfilled. In filling their life with busyness, they become empty and dissatisfied.

Ironic, that.

I've observed two distinct variations of BS.

1. Megalithic BS occurs when one specific area of life completely overwhelms us. An attack of M-BS occurs when sudden events throw a person's life out of balance temporarily, most often through no fault of their own. When Jack was diagnosed with autism, that megalith took over our lives for a time, which, given the seriousness of the situation and our urgent need for self-education and quick action, was entirely appropriate. Eventually, the panic subsided, we figured things out, and a healthy balance reasserted itself in our lives.

Another example of M-BS occurs when a workplace fails to recognize that people have, you know, actual lives. In these cases, it may simply take a little time for a person to wise up. I have a very close relative whose workplace quite abruptly became so dysfunctional that she was working 14 or more hours a day, sacrificing sleep and sanity and family time, on the promise from supervisors that "it would get better." Wisely, after a period of sheer craziness, she applied for another job, got it, and now makes more money doing far less work.

Megalithic BS, though painful and serious, should go away naturally as sufferers move beyond the crisis that provoked it, but if they don't recover on their own, professional intervention may be necessary. (That's not a joke, by the way.)

2. A completely different variant of Busyness Syndrome is Task-Saturation BS. TS-BS happens when people just can't say no. Sometimes, they can't say no when people ask them to do stuff. Sometimes, they fruitlessly collect accomplishments and experiences to pad some sort of imaginary resume that will win them a plaque on their tombstone labeled "Busiest Person Buried in This Here Cemetery."

TS-BS sufferers are addicted to doing too many things. They forget how to breathe because they are simply too overwhelmed to slow down and think, to prioritize, to delegate. They do not regularly take stock of their to-do lists and make decisions as to what tasks are truly important and need to be done, and which ones are optional.

Like any addiction, the habits formed in sufferers become deeply entrenched in their brains. Even when all evidence points toward stopping a particular activity or establishing healthy limits to the number of activities one person or family can reasonably do, TS-BS induces feelings of guilt that perpetuate the illness.

"I worry that if I didn't volunteer to do this, no one would."

"All my son's friends are taking tennis, acting in community theater, playing football, and building Lego robots. He'll feel left out if he doesn't do all these things, too!"

"My three-year-old simply must take this $400 computer class so she doesn't fall behind her peers!"

"If I don't stay up late and finish this post, my readers will be disappointed!" (Oh, wait. Was that my outside voice?)

Anyway, as someone who finally learned to say no (and was tired and went to bed last night without posting to either of her blogs), I can assure you that, if you suffer from TS-BS, there is hope. Just follow these three steps.

1. Start small. Identify one activity you can purge from your life or your family's schedule. Question why you are doing that activity. For instance, paying $400 to teach a toddler how to use a computer is just silly. Why would anyone waste money and time on that? Kids absorb technology even when we don't want them to in an insidious and unpreventable osmosis. You don't have to pay for it.

2. Once you have identified one activity that you can live without, purge it. Just quit. I know, I know. You don't want to be a quitter. But do it anyway. Quit. And don't replace it with another activity.

3. After you have achieved a slightly lower level of TS-BS, go back to step one. Repeat the entire process as many times as necessary to achieve balance in your life and find yourself again.

Each repetition becomes easier than the last, until eventually you will do these steps without even thinking about them. They will become a life-long habit just like the BS was a habit...only healthy and good for you.

Image Source

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Letter of Note

Ordinarily, Lowering the Bar makes me laugh out loud and roll my eyes at legal stupidity, but today's post sent me to another blog where I did not laugh out loud but rather snorted in deep satisfaction at brilliantly ironic justice.

Letters of Note posts, well, letters of note, such as this gem of a letter written by a freed slave named Jourdon Anderson to his former master, Col. P.H. Anderson. The Colonel had the audacity to ask Jourdon to return to Tennessee to work for him in 1865. The letter is a rhetorical tour de force, and I wish I could invent a time machine to go back and shake Mr. Jourdon Anderson's hand.

We actually live near a stop of the Underground Railroad near Dayton, and when I saw that Jourdon lived in Dayton (although he was freed in Tennessee by Union troops), it drove home to me the reality of basic rights denied to so many people during slavery's terrible reign. Jourdon Anderson asks for nothing unusual or unwarranted, and his strength and dignity and a certain ironic sense of justice shine through his rhetoric.

Take that, Col. P.H. Anderson!

Jourdon got his wish that his children be educated. Follow the links at Letters of Note to read a bit of what happened to Jourdon and his descendants.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Gratitude Journal #124

Today, I am grateful for tissues. Still.

Today, I am grateful for a husband who cooks me good food and takes care of me when I am sick.

Today, I am grateful for auto mechanics who freely admit when they make a mistake and fix the mistake.

Today, I am grateful that I don't have to do anything except take Jack to school and pick him up. In between, I plan on napping, staring at Pinterest, and drinking hot lemon tea.

Today, I am grateful for sunshine and stunningly pretty sunrises.

What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Things on Thursday: A Recliner I Can Live With

George and I had an excruciatingly painful weekend of furniture shopping last weekend. You see, we have opposite styles of shopping. George is a hunter: decide what you want, pull the trigger, wait for delivery. I, on the other hand, prefer to browse, compare and contrast, weigh the options, consider the big picture of long-term practicality and short-term affordability, ponder how well each piece fits with what we have and what we still want to buy.

Basically, we drive each other crazy. We settled on an entertainment center only because George gave up and said, "Go by yourself and get whichever one you want." Which I did.

And yes, I changed my mind twice while doing so but got there in the end.

One thing George and I completely and totally agreed on, however, was this incredibly comfortable chair.

We liked it so much we ordered two (along with a mission side table to put between), scheduled for delivery to our home library on the 15th. I have to clear out some boxes to make room for them, as the library currently looks like a banker's box warehouse.

Next, we need a pair of desks and some bookshelves, and the library will be finished.

Heaven help us.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What Are Your Diamonds?

Watching a jewelry store commercial got me thinking about my China Policy. That policy states that people should buy only what they truly need and want, not what other people or society tells them they should have. George and I don't have fine china or crystal. We don't want any, don't need any, and would much rather spend our money on ping pong tables, bookcases, and new knees for the dog.

And his and her Nook tablets. Let's not forget them.

That's just how we roll.

Other people love their china and crystal, and that's great.

Which brings me to diamonds. Last summer, my sister-in-law told me how some of her co-workers lust after ever-bigger diamonds. My sister-in-law has a lovely wedding set she will wear until she dies, but apparently her co-workers buy bigger diamonds every few years and show them off at work, and spend quite a lot of time talking about them.

It sounds to me like this diamond buying might be some sort of incredibly expensive, grown-up version of the add-a-bead craze. Remember those? When I was in junior high school, everyone--well, all the girls, at least--had add-a-bead necklaces. Who has the most beads? Ohmygod did you see Caroline's 32-inch chain completely filled with alternating gold and bloodstone beads? Eeeeee, I want those sooooo bad!!!!! My mom is so mean. She won't buy me any more! It's just not fair!!!!

I have no idea what happened to my add-a-beads, and in retrospect, I find the entire concept a tad silly. But then, I was in junior high and quite as silly as any other teenage girl who desperately wants to fit in and impress everyone.

As an adult, however, I've stopped trying to fit in and decided to be myself. Just as I'm not a china person, neither am I a jewelry person. Part of me completely understands why someone would want a big piece of pressurized coal on her finger. It's so shiny! But I can't stop my brain from calculating how many rubber stamps that much money could buy.

Yum. Rubber.

That yum was figurative.

Since that conversation with my sister-in-law, I've met several people who really love fine jewelry. One even works at a jewelry store to get the employee discount and spend her days surrounded by beauty.

That's the same reason I worked in book stores.

Which leads us to this week's question. What are your diamonds? What are the not-entirely-necessary items you thoroughly enjoy spending money on? Have your diamonds changed over the years?

Books and rubber stamps are my diamonds, and at an earlier times in my life, so were add-a-beads, clothes, and fountain pens.

How 'bout you?