Monday, March 31, 2014

Gratitude Journal #231

Today, I am grateful for the series Cosmos. It makes me think, teaches me interesting things, and makes my brain hurt...but in a good way.

Today, I am grateful for Moms and Doughnuts and so very grateful it's no longer Moms and Muffins. Doughnuts are so much tastier. I'm also grateful to Susan Fort for taking this picture of me and my Jack.

Today, I am grateful for warmer weather, shades of green on lawns, and birds flitting everywhere.

Today, I am grateful for healing. Several people I know and care for were recently hospitalized and they are now home and doing better. Yay!

Today, I am grateful for books.

Today, I am grateful that Jack received a speaking part in the 5th-grade musical Pirates. Way to go, Jack! I am also trying to be grateful that he has decided to play the trumpet in the 6th-grade band.

Today, I am grateful that George is gainfully employed and appreciated by his employer because he's one heck of a great guy. I am grateful that several friends who were recently unemployed are now working. I am hopeful that several more friends who are still searching for employment will find it soon.

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Organization Is a Process

It's true.

Organization is a process. Not a destination. Same goes for cleaning.

How I wish this were not so!

I want to organize and clean up my life and have it stay organized and cleaned up forever. I don't want to have to keep organizing and cleaning. It's tedious. Boring. Overwhelming. Frustrating.

Why can't we just organize and clean up, and be finished? Move on to more interesting things, like reading mystery novels and stamping pretty cards.

There are certain battles we fight over and over and never, ever win. The battle to be permanently organized and clean is one such battle. How stupidly some of us tilt at these windmills. When our frustration peaks, we feel like giving up. Perhaps we do give up. And let all around us devolve into chaos.

You have one guess as to the current state of my house.


So since my March word is Process, I'm going to try to accept that the process of organizing and cleaning up my life will last my whole life long, no matter how sad this fact makes me. Because a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and I'm done with the crazy tilting at this windmill.

Organization is a process. I will never be finished. Cleaning is a process. I will never be finished.

Will someone pour me a glass of Malbec, please?

I need it.


What windmills do you tilt at? How can you accept the natural, unavoidable processes of life (aging, parenting, edging your sidewalks, plucking your brows) with grace and perhaps a glass of wine? How can you fall in love with the process?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Happiness Is a Process

"Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude." Denis Waitley
Do you know anyone who embodies Waitley's definition of happiness? I do. Several people, in fact. They shine like beacons in my life, models for me to emulate and gifts to be appreciated.
Our community recently lost a well-loved woman, part of an old family whose name is on businesses and ball fields all around our town. I arrived at the four-hour visitation fifteen minutes after it started and had to wait in a line that snaked through the funeral home for over an hour before reaching the family to offer my condolences.
Watching the grieving family greet hoards of people hurt my heart. I knew how exhausted they would be at the end of the day, how their heads would ache from the tears, how their hearts would hurt from loss and the hard, hard process of helping a whole community say goodbye.
Part of me felt guilty for being in the line and adding to their work of grief. After all, I wasn't a close family friend. I had never even met the deceased, though I'd prayed for her for months. Her eldest daughter is the principal of my sons' elementary school and has done amazing things for both boys. One of her daughters-in-law is a fellow Stephen Minister named Anna, one of the most spiritually happy people I know, a blessed example of Waitley's version of happiness. I wanted to be there for them.
So many people wanted to express their sympathy...both a blessed outpouring of love and a burden of social obligation at the same time. I know how it feels to simultaneously appreciate the condolences of friends and strangers and also want to curl up in a ball and be left alone.
While I waited in that long line, I prayed for peace for this family. Peace, peace, peace like a river. God's peace that passes understanding.
Anna always knows what to say to make people feel appreciated and loved. I wish I had that gift. I'm a writer, and words come easily sitting at a keyboard, but with people, words sometimes feel so emotion, by love, by my certain knowledge that they are both powerful and empty at the same time. Anna was first in the receiving line and when she saw me, she pulled me into a never-ending hug and said, "You're here! You waited in that line! I felt a calm coming from somewhere, and now I know where. I felt it. Thank you!" She sounded so happy to see me.
Anyone who says prayer doesn't work is spiritually blind, deaf, and dumb. I am not exactly what you'd call a calm, peaceful person...I'm fidgety and talk too fast and too much, and my brain goes off on its own at awkward times down strange rabbit trails. But that day, my prayer turned even me into an agent of God's peace. Me!! And Anna felt it. Anna, who habitually taps into love, grace, and gratitude, knew.
There were so many prayers going up for that family, and Anna knew how to be grateful for them, to feel them, to let them touch her and to turn them around and use their strength to bless and comfort others. Anna is so much further along in her spiritual happiness than I. 
She blessed me that day more than she can know. 
Happiness is a process...the series of experiences that come when we are actively looking for ways to feel love, grace, and gratitude. Hard times happen, hard losses break our hearts. But if we look and listen, if we expect love and grace to come to us, they do.
Thanks be to God.
Are you spiritually happy? Who is your spiritual happiness role model? Please share your experiences with this sort of happiness process...either experiencing it yourself or seeing it in others.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gratitude Journal #230

Today, I am grateful for my friend Leslie, for our meetings that involve unrestrained talk about stamping, and for her generosity and kindness.

Today, I am grateful for space heaters and open windows...both of which I've used in the past week of wacky weather.

Today, I am grateful for doctors who care and follow up.

Today, I am grateful for service, for the privilege of serving in times of need, and for those who always find a way to help.

Today, I am grateful for community, for feeling connected to something larger than myself.

What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Word for March: Process

Formal education teaches us to focus on the product: turn in your work, get a grade, those grades will be averaged, and you'll get a piece of paper that tabulates your averages for a term, and then, once you've accumulated enough pieces of paper, you will receive another, even fancier piece of paper in an equally fancy ceremony that says you are graduated! Yay! You're finished!

Not by a long shot.

I wish someone had told me this when I was a teenager and totally obsessed with pieces of paper that quantified my education in what turned out to be utterly meaningless ways.

My grades on those pieces of paper were generally quite good, and I used to be proud of this. If real life gave us grades, however, I'd have little to be proud of. In fact, I suspect I'd be dead from the pressure of it all, mulling my life over in Purgatory (let's pretend I'm Catholic), deeply disappointment with my performance. I'd be obsessing over all the C's, D's, and F's I'd made regularly in the years since I earned my masters degree with all those A's. Oh, how nice it would be if life were like graduate school.

But it's not. It is what it is. My Stephen Ministry friend Barbara taught me this saying. Y'all know how much I like a pithy aphorism, and this one has it all: poetic rhythm and symmetry, terseness, wisdom, and the wonderful ability to really piss me off when it's at its most true.

It is what it is.

And grades are what they are...artificial measures of small bytes of progress in a process that goes on and on in entirely unquantifiable ways until we breath our last.

Why don't they teach that in schools?

Watching Nick go through eighth grade right now dredges up all sorts of thoughts about what it means to learn, to be successful, to grow, to live. It reminds me how utterly stupid I was at his age, and how utterly stupid I am now. Funny thing is, it doesn't bother me much to be stupid now. Back then, it was torture.

So what's the difference? How do we move from grade-grubbing our way through life to happiness, balance, peace, success? How do we learn those real and valuable lessons that allow us to put one foot in front of the other each and every day, mostly with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts?

Lots of pithy aphorisms claim to answer these deep and complex questions, but at this point in my life, I'm a big fan of this one:

Life is a process, not a product to be evaluated, graded, ranked, and graduated. Think about all the truly meaningful life lessons you've learned. How many of them happened in school and how many came with a grade?

For the past five years, I've taken a Tuesday-morning Bible study at our church. There are no grades. You'd think after five years, I'd know something about the Bible. Graduate school was just two years, and I'm considered a Master of medieval literature, but truth be told, there's an awful lot of medieval literature that I've not read...still an enormous amount to learn. Thus it is with the Bible. The process of learning about the Bible shows me just how little I know about it. It's delightfully complicated and weird and confusing and sometimes I feel a bit like I'm beating my head against a brick wall, but in a good way.

That doesn't really make sense, I suppose, but it is what it is. Because as I learn, I change, and how I see the Bible changes, and my relationship with God stretches and deepens. The process of coming to know God through Scripture leads to dizzying heights of understanding and incredible humility and awareness of our ignorance at the same time.

In other words, the more I know, the more I know that I know nothing. And this is the very best thinking that could happen to a person, to understand that it's not the knowing we should aim for, but the learning, the doing, the process.

The depression I suffered in my teens was incredibly educational. Retrospectively, of course. When you're depressed, it just sucks. When you come out of it, you realize that life is what it is (which is not so bad after all), that depression is what it is (which sucks), and you're walking around still breathing and grateful for it.

You stop worrying about results...about getting good grades and being a success. You start the process of living well. And you fall in love with the process. You fall in love with waking up and breathing and walking around. You fall in love with eating peanut M&Ms and fresh strawberries and drinking coffee. You fall in love with people and places and doing stuff that has meaning for you. You fall in love with learning and growing and failing and succeeding and just being alive.

What results from that process of loving life? Good stuff. Some bad stuff, too. You'll get hurt, you'll stall out at times, you'll lose your way, and you might even lose faith occasionally. It's all part of the process.

Sometimes, I trust the process. Sometimes, I don't. Sometimes, I just want a grade so I can graduate and move on. But life doesn't work like that. It is what it is...a process.

And that's why my word for March is Process.

Do you love the process? Where in your life could you use more process-oriented thinking? Where in your life is results-oriented thinking getting you down? What can you do to remind yourself that loving the process leads to better results?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Gratitude Journal #229

Today, I'm grateful I found the Guys & Dolls pictures to share on our network drive.

Nick was in the Mission Band, so he spent a lot of time
on stage marching around with a trumpet.

When he delivered his line.

Photo Op after show.

Cast and crew.

Today, I am grateful for this picture of Daisy before she got groomed. Those furry ears make me laugh, but those eyes look into your soul with love.

"Dad, what are you doing on the floor? Get on the bed and pet me, please."

Today, I am grateful for a month of celebrating coffee in February. March's word will be equally fun to celebrate, but in a more cerebral sense.

Today, I'm grateful for sunshine and warmer temperatures. I know Winter is just messing with us, but I appreciate the break, nevertheless.

Today, I am grateful for Lent, with its preparation and reflection.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Carried Away by Imagination

What would a fourteen-year-old boy do while wandering the woods alone, armed with a pocketknife and too much imagination?

Throw the pocketknife at an imaginary bear. Of course.

Unfortunately, the real--and open--pocketknife disappeared into the dried grasses covering the ground of a pass-through area in the woods. After searching fruitlessly for the knife, Nick decided he needed to call in his parents to help.

Perspective is thin on the ground when you're fourteen, and I applaud him for having the courage to tell us what he'd done and ask for help. A lot of kids would have gone to the grave without confessing something like this, but Nick both wanted his pocketknife back and knew that an open knife hidden on the ground could hurt someone. He's not the only kid to wander these woods.

After George had helped search for a while and found nothing, we decided to rent a metal detector. By coincidence, we live about two minutes from a store that sells them, and when I called to inquire about rentals, the employee told me I could have one for an hour at no charge.

I love small towns. He let me take that detector without leaving a name, number, or any proof at all that I would bring it back. I'm going to take him a plate of brownies as thanks.

In the woods, we searched. I swung the detector back and forth over dense, dormant vegetation, while George and Nick used rakes to clear the area. The detector occasionally beeped, and we would get excited, only to discover that George's rake had set it off.

As the hour came to a close, my arm was trembling, and George took the detector to sweep an area that clearly served as a path one last time. We would all feel better knowing the knife wasn't in that higher-traffic area.

Quite literally with one minute to go, the detector beeped again...and I bent down to uncover the knife, buried completely out of sight under flattened, matted, brown grass.

There was rejoicing throughout the kingdom! The evil bear was vanquished and the Magic Blade of Truth rescued from the wicked gnomes who had carried it off to their lair.

Okay. So the kid's not the only one who can get carried away by his imagination. Still, it was a happy moment.

When I returned the detector, the employee and his wife asked how our search went. I told them, and they shared with me stories of their last-minute finds. I suspect that, in the metal detector business, stories of loss and recovery are a kind of currency themselves, exchanged freely and generously with enthusiasm.

The employee asked how the knife was lost in the first place and chuckled when I told him.

"Boys will be boys," he said.

At least this boy did the right thing, no matter how embarrassing it was to confess and no matter how much trouble he might have faced. The bear might have been imaginary, but the heroic boy faced down his fears and did what needed to be done.

Thank you, God, for my boy, his imagination, his honesty, and happy endings.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Gratitude Journal #228

Today, I am grateful for Junior High Show Choir, for its teacher Mrs. Wylie who created order from chaos to pull off an amazing show, for its cast who worked hard and showed talent beyond their years, for the crew and numerous volunteers who made Guys and Dolls come to life on set, and for Nick who had fun and did a great job! So proud of my son, his school, and our community!

Today, I am grateful for computers, even on days when they baffle me and I can't get to the pictures I want to post. They are still better than no computers.

Today, I am grateful for George's photography skills, which I will one day be able to share with you.

Today, I am grateful for how calmly everyone dealt with our latest snow-and-ice storm.

Today, I am grateful for delayed start at school because I needed a little extra rest today.

What are you grateful for today?