Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Problem Solving

Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.

By this definition, I'm so very crazy.

How many years have I chosen One Little Word to guide my year? When has it ever worked, really? Okay, the year I chose Gratitude worked out pretty well, mainly because I was already successfully grateful for the many blessings--large and small--in my life and in the habit of cataloging them regularly. That year was rigged for success.

Honestly, I can't even remember my word for 2013. It might have been Intentional. Hold on a minute while I check the blog archives.

Doh, dee, doh....

Yes! It was Intentional. Sort of ironic now, don't you think?

I'd completely forgotten about the One Little Word project until a relative mentioned last week that she's chosen a word for 2014: Time. Then a stamping friend commented that her word was also Time.

Weird coincidence, that. At least they chose the word for different reasons. If two such wildly separate parts of my life synchronized so perfectly, my head might explode.

As I contemplated the Einsteinian insanity of choosing yet another word to forget, into my mind popped The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Each month for a year she explored a different avenue to happiness and recounted the experience in a single chapter.

A month.

A word a month.

Do you think I could remember one little word for a month? Is my attention span capable of holding a thought that long? Clearly a year exceeds my mental endurance, but a month? That might be do-able. It might also spice up the content of this blog, which has languished (to my thinking, at least) for a while now.

Of course, the new challenge will be remembering to choose a new word every month. This, too, might exceed my endurance. But at least I'm doing something different. The choices might be endlessly random and fun, meaningful or silly, serious or sublime.

Perhaps there's hope for my sanity yet.

What do you think? If you like the idea, what words would you suggest? What do you want me to write about?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Gratitude Journal #219

Today, I am grateful for a joyous Christmas! Here's how it started, courtesy of George's photography skills:

Today, I am grateful for God, from whom all my blessings flow, and His Son, the Prince of Peace and Light and Love and Salvation.

Today, I am grateful for our family, immediate and extended, and the love we share.

Today, I am grateful for our friends, near and far, who enrich our lives so beautifully.

Today, I am grateful for our church and the freedom we have to worship and believe.

Today, I am grateful for plentiful food, well prepared.

Today, I am grateful for our home, comfortable and warm.

Today, I am grateful for our country and those who serve it.

Today, I am grateful for my readers, who make this blogging thing worthwhile.

What are you grateful for today, this last Monday of 2013?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Love Came Down

This is my fourth and final Advent post. We've prepared our hearts to welcome Christ with hope, peace, joy, and now with love.

What is love? Such a big question! Poets and philosophers and theologians have tried to answer it, but their attempts seem somehow inadequate, don't they?

The Apostle Paul makes a valiant effort to define love in 1 Corinthians 13 when he writes, "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends."

Hmmm. Somehow, even Paul can't nail this thing down satisfactorily. I suspect love is just too big, too much for words to define. I can't say what love is, but I know it when I see it.

I know love when my husband rubs my shoulders that are so very tight with the stresses of the day and when I rub his shaved noggin as he goes to sleep at night.

I know love when people pray for me and when I pray for them.

I know love when my mom listens while I talk myself off a metaphorical ledge and when I listen while she talks herself off one, too.

I know love when someone trusts me with their pain and when I trust someone with mine.

I know love when a friend sends me an email with a link she knows I'll enjoy and when I send a link to a friend.

I know love with every hug and handshake and smile.

I know love a million times a day, a give-and-take love that feeds me and others with kindness.

But sometimes love comes in ways that I don't deserve, can't repay, or can't help.

I know love when Jack's teacher tells me he needs more one-on-one time with her and asks if she can keep him after school for at least an hour each day. She brings skills, knowledge, and instincts to educating Jack that I could never provide for him.

I know love when the hard work and wonderful gifts of the musically talented in our church bless the worship service with heavenly voices and instruments. Trust me. No one wants to hear me sing.

I know love when professionals who are good at what they do bless me with their talents...from the plumber to the banker to the auto mechanic to the physician to the x-ray technician to the barista at Starbucks.

I know love when soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines serve my country and protect my freedom, and when any person or organization anywhere does anything to further freedoms for all.

I know love when police, firefighters, and emergency responders do their jobs...any time, any place.

I know love at Christmas when we celebrate how Love came down to live and walk among us, live with us, die for us.

Jesus came into a world where people had forgotten the most important lesson of God. He came into a world where priests walked past broken and beaten people lying on the side of the road without touching them because they had to stay ritually "clean." He came into a world where the poor sat starving outside mansions full of over-fed guests. He came into a world where kings committed injustice to preserve their power at all costs. He came into a world that had forgotten spiritual things are more important than material things.

He came to teach us how to love...to love God and to love each other as we love ourselves. And He came to love us, undeserving and ungrateful as we often are, with a perfect, gracious, merciful love, bigger than anything we can even imagine.

Thanks be to God for this unspeakable gift.

Merry Christmas!

Food for thought...and feel free to share in the comments! How do you know love? How do you show love? How do you experience Christ's love today?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Graititude Journal #218

Today, I am grateful for meeting one of my blog readers--who happens to be Jonah's nana--as well as other extended family members as I delivered cards to Jonah today. He is doing well, looking great, making gingerbread houses, and enjoying Christmas with his family. I'm also grateful Nick went with me for the visit.

Today, I am grateful for attending the Cincinnati Ballet's Nutcracker with Jack's class last Thursday. We had a wonderful time!

Today, I am grateful for lunch with my honey on Friday.

Today, I am grateful for each and every card I've received this holiday season. I know people are busy and it's hard to make the time for sending cards, but for those who are able to make time, thank you.

Today, I am grateful for almost making my good friend Karen spit diet coke through her nose.

Today, I am grateful for the wonderful choir and bell choir at First United Methodist church, for all the hard work they put in to make worship a glorious celebration to God.

Today, I am grateful for small kindnesses and simple things.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas and all that it means for our salvation.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Joy to the World!

This is my third Advent post for 2013. The third week of Advent celebrates the idea of joy and how it comes to us not from the world but from God, and often in the midst of great difficulty.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Since I became a Stephen Minister, I have tried to make sure we had a box of tissues on the table during our meetings. Most of the time, the box is already there, but occasionally I have to go in search of one...just in case.

You see, I'm a crier. Always have been. I rarely get through a church service without reaching for a tissue during some prayer request or hymn or sermon, and I knew that during Stephen Ministry meetings, I would need those tissues.

Stephen Ministers help people through extremely difficult situations, and during our meetings, we discuss the care we're providing through peer supervision. We ask questions about how to improve our care, ask about resources that are available to help our care receivers with specific problems, and share how we're coping with the caring situation. We also have a time of continuing education, which includes all sorts of tear-inducing activities, such as role-playing difficult conversations, watching training videos from hospice, or studying subjects like spiritual gifts and forgiveness.

Of course we need tissues. Every. Single. Meeting.

What surprised me most (though it shouldn't have) was the amount of laughter in our meetings. Several people who've walked past our meetings at church have wondered aloud what we laugh about given how serious our ministry is. After all, when you're caring for someone who's dying or going through a nasty divorce or coping with a loved one who's an addict or caring for a parent with dementia, what could you possibly have to laugh about?

Turns out, quite a lot of joy surrounds our ministry to those who are suffering. And if you think about it, joy ought to be a part of it.

Our laughter flows from two different sources. First of all (and by far the most plentiful) is the self-deprecating laughter. We are flawed human beings, every single one of us, and Stephen Ministers have plenty of opportunities to make mistakes, doubt ourselves, and wonder if we're doing any good for our care receivers. We confess those screw-ups that happen sometimes no matter how careful we are, and we receive kind, sympathetic, absolving laughter. At least several of us have made the same mistake, and the universe didn't come to an end.

During our role-play sessions, we say things one should never say to people in pain, we go completely blank and have no idea how to respond, we break character. We drop our guard and expose our weaknesses, and honestly, there's nothing more cathartic or more educational than screwing up in a safe environment surrounded by people who love you and know...know in their bones...that because of your flaws you are chosen by God, His child, to be useful to others.

Feeling safe in the company of others, even in difficult circumstances, leads to support, forgiveness, learning, and abundant joy.

The second source of our laughter comes from seeing God at work in our lives and the lives of our care receivers. When you put your arm around people who are suffering and allow God's love to flow through you to them, you will see results. You see Christ's healing work take place in bodies, minds, and souls. You witness beauty and goodness and light in the ugliest, darkest places.

But you don't just witness it. You are a part of it, a part of God's love and light on earth.

I dare you not to bubble over with joy at that privilege. I dare you not to laugh when, even in the midst of suffering, God shows up and sheds love all over everything like a golden retriever shedding fur. You can't escape it.

You don't want to.

Happiness can be bought. A peppermint mocha makes me happy, a new stamp set, a warm pair of gloves, my golden retriever (fur and all). But joy? True, unfiltered, unfettered joy? That comes when we let love flow through us to others, and this joy, like hope and peace, is found in the most unlikely of places.

The third Sunday in Advent, we light the joy candle and acknowledge that the source of our joy is the Light of the World. Jesus brought this joy into the world, and we are His beneficiaries.

Joy to the world! Thanks be to God for this unspeakable gift!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gratitude Journal #217

Today, I am grateful I am not a teenager.

Today, I am grateful for store-bought Christmas cards, for having all my Christmas shopping finished, for white lights, for elves on shelves, and for space heaters.

Today I am grateful for the snow on the ground...not too much, but enough to make addressing Christmas cards festive.

Today, I am grateful that cards continue to pour in for Jonah and his family and for every person who has taken him and his family into their hearts. I am grateful that the news from Jonah's scans was good (no matastasis) and that he's eating well.

Today, I am grateful for dogs that are dorks.

"It jumped on my face! Not my fault!"

Today, I am grateful for worship services that lift me up and fill me up.

Today, I am grateful for joy and wish it for everyone.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, December 13, 2013

This Is Why

This post also appears on my other blog, Simplicity, but I wanted to share it here for my readers who aren't into stamping.

This is why we send cards.

This smile, beaming. This joy. This awareness of love...of loving and being loved.

This child we have taken into our hearts to love and encourage and hurt for.

Jonah enjoys opening his cards and packages. There are so many that he's opening a few a day. Molly, Jonah's mom, texted her mother the following:

Jonah is "reading" some of his cards as he opens them [please realize Jonah can NOT read! but here is what he is saying:] "You are smart, Jonah" "You are my hero" "And heaven and nature sing and heaven and nature sing" " J, O, N, H I, Ha-ha Hee Hee."

Heaven and nature sing in Jonah's voice.

For those of you not following Jonah's Facebook page, there was great news this week. Jonah's scans last Friday were free of metastatic disease. Praise God! Praise the healing hands of the doctors! Praise his parents who are taking such great care of him! Praise the brave boy who is, indeed, our hero in this journey.

May this state of affairs continue.

Last week, I had lunch with my friend Mary. Mary had colon cancer, and she's now well three years later.  When I told her about Jonah, she thought about those things people did for her that had the most positive impact on her state of mind. At one point, she and her mom counted the number of states where people were praying for her. The number gave Mary great comfort.

That got me thinking. What if Jonah had a way to keep track of who was sending him cards? Wouldn't that be cool? I went to a local education supply store and bought the map you see in the picture above. The reverse is a map of the whole world. Using a sharpie, I marked the states and countries from which cards had come. Molly can add the new ones as I deliver them each week.

When I made the delivery on Tuesday, Jonah had received cards from 22 states and four foreign countries.

We can now say 23 states.

Let's grow those numbers!

You can check out the list of cards received HERE. If you send something, check that posting to confirm that I received your mail.

The USPS has let me down before. Just sayin'.

If you want to send a card (handmade or store-bought...doesn't matter!), please use this address:

c/o Susan Raihala
7430 Waterway Dr.
Waynesville, OH 45068

Once again, many thanks to all who have sent and all who are sending cards to this family. Know that when I check my mail each day, the kids and I are even more excited about "Jonah mail" than our own...and several of you have sent me some amazingly beautiful Christmas cards! But the Jonah mail is extra special.

I also want to thank all of you who are praying for them. As my friend Mary experienced, prayers mean something powerful and wonderful is happening.

Let's keep them going up for Jonah, Molly, Ben, and the rest of the family. They need them. They need comfort and courage and peace and joy and hope and love.

Thank you.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Words, Words, Words from Anne Lamott and Rabindranath Tagore

"I have seen many people survive unsurvivable losses, and seen them experience happiness again. How is this possible?

"Love flowed to them from their closest people, and from their community, surrounded them, sat with them, held them, fed them, swept their floors. Time passed. In most cases, their pain evolved slowly into help for others. The great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, 'I slept and dreamt that life was joy. / I awoke and saw that life was service. / I acted, and behold, service was joy.'"

--Anne Lamott, from Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Peace

The second week in Advent celebrates the idea of peace. Today's post is adapted from my presentation promoting Stephen Ministry in our church. Although I removed all references to SM here to keep the focus on Advent, I will be happy to answer any questions about it. It's an amazing ministry of care for people who are in pain.  

What do the words “Christmas peace” mean to you? The first thing that pops to my mind is the song “Silent Night.”

“All is calm, all is bright.”

“Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Christmas peace sounds wonderfully…peaceful.

Yet if you think of the story of Christ's birth as it’s told in the Gospels, it’s hard to find the heavenly peace of “Silent Night.” There’s actually a lot of cause for fear and anxiety. We have an unwed teenage mother who could, under the law, be stoned. We have her fiancĂ© who is—to say the least—embarrassed. We’ve also got huge crowds traveling around an empire supervised by armed Roman troops, a human baby born in the unsanitary setting of a stable, a bunch of shepherds who fall on their faces in fear, three crazy men who travel great distances through deserts and over mountains to follow a star, and an insecure king who wants to find that little baby and kill him.

And if all that weren’t enough, it’s tax time.

Still, on the second Sunday in Advent, we light another candle and celebrate Christmas peace.

When Isaiah prophesied the birth of Jesus, he said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
When that child grew up, He told His followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

For Joseph and Mary, heavenly peace came to them in the midst of chaos and danger because they trusted God. As Christians, our peace is found in Jesus, but the world keeps intruding on that peace, and our hearts are troubled and we are afraid.

We experience a lot of stress during the holidays. For many of us, though, that stress is artificial. We worry about buying the right gifts, finding time to bake and wrap and decorate, and fighting the crowds at Best Buy to get whatever i-gadget we absolutely must have under the tree because little Billy's Christmas will be ruined without it!

For others, however, the stress of the season is so very real. Perhaps someone is celebrating the season for the first time without a loved one...or the second or third or tenth time...and the pain of grief is fresh and sharp. Perhaps someone is suffering an illness or watching a loved one suffer. Perhaps a family is falling apart. Perhaps the economic recovery hasn't come to someone who is still under-employed or unemployed.
Real pain, real suffering...made worse by everyone else's joy.

How can we help those who are suffering during the holidays and throughout the year? Well, that stressed-out, dangerous first Christmas gives us a huge clue.

Notice how no one that first Christmas was left alone. An angel comes to Mary to prepare her. She has a belly buddy in her aunt Elizabeth, who is pregnant with the boy John who will grow up to prepare the way for the Messiah. Joseph stands by Mary's side through pregnancy and birth, and he flees to Egypt with her and the baby to escape Herod. The Heavenly Host appears to a number of shepherds who go together to see the baby and go out to share the good news together. Those crazy wise men have each other's backs.

No one is alone.
You see…God doesn’t want us to be alone. He blesses us with community. He calls on us to love one another as Jesus loves us, to celebrate good times together, and to support one another through hard times. Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We share blessings, and we share burdens.

Every Christian is called to be with and support others in their pain. Sometimes, though, people worry about saying the wrong thing or being overwhelmed by other people's suffering. The worst, most hurtful thing you can do is ignore someone in pain.

Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. A priest and a Levite walked past a beaten, bleeding, naked man, but a Samaritan--his enemy--stopped and cared for him. How awful that victim must have felt watching his own people walk past and ignore him, and how relieved he must have been when his enemy stopped and helped.

If you're worried about following Paul's charge to mourn with those who mourn, it might help to remind yourself that it isn't your job to fix their pain or make their problems go away. Your job is to be with people in love and kindness, to listen, and to encourage.

You can help.  
When you're the one who's hurting, please be open and willing to accept help from others. By doing so, you bless them far more than they bless you. When you refuse help or shut out kindness, you deny others that blessing of service.
That's part of the miracle of Christmas peace. Blessings abound and rebound and pop up unexpectedly, no matter the circumstances. When we choose to be a part of those blessings, when we trust Jesus, we find  Christmas peace.
Christ's peace be with you today, this season, and always.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gratitude Journal #216

Today, I am grateful for Christmas trees, for a funny employee at the Christmas tree farm who introduced me and George as "my dear friends Linda and Todd," and Santas who are really good at what they do.

Today, I am grateful for Advent and for Peace...the second week's theme. Our Stephen Ministry group handed out handmade ornaments to the congregation this weekend. The theme for the ornaments this year is Christmas Peace. What a privilege to bring the peace from Christ--peace that passes all understanding--to those who are hurting all year long!

Today, I am grateful for the 42 individuals who have already sent mail to Jonah and his family. To check if your mail has been received yet, please click HERE. I add names as the mail comes in, so if you sent something and don't yet see your name, please check back.

Today, I am grateful for the following comment from Jonah's grandmother:

Susan, it really has been humbling to see the list of all the people who have taken time to send Jonah a card. When I first read of the response, I was feeling something like guilt because I have no way to repay or thank these people personally. No words. I fell overwhelmed at even thinking of making each person a thank you card. You replied to me once with three words that have been my mainstay: Let God repay. Thank you for that freeing thought. In the midst of all of this - God has prompted my heart to realize afresh what He has done for me -- a grander gift of salvation to be sure, but just as undeserved and leaving me equally unable to adequately thank Him or do anything in an effort to repay Him. I know salvation is free and cannot ever be earned -- I am just having a fresh appreciation for being the recipient of something so valued and feeling helpless to express my gratitude. Jonah's Nana~

Today, I am grateful for those who have said how blessed they are to be able to lift Jonah and his family up with cards and prayers. We are blessed as we bless, and it makes hearts overflow.

Today, I am grateful for this reminder that my life doesn't need to look like it belongs on Pinterest...it needs to feel good.

 May your Christmas season be one that feels good on the inside!

What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, December 5, 2013


This is my first Advent post for the year. For those of you who follow other faiths or no faith at all, I hope these posts will give you an idea of what Advent is and what Christmas means to Christians.

What do you hope for? Tuesday, at the junior high choir concert, I heard, once again, the song "My Grown-Up Christmas List." Take a listen to Amy Grant singing it. I'll be waiting until you come back.

Grown-Up Christmas List

What I love about the song, what moves me most, is that line about everyone having a friend. Most of us can't stop wars, or speed up time to heal hearts, or make right always win. But every last one of us can make that grown-up wish of friendship come true for someone.

Be a friend.

Friendship takes so many forms it's hard to define. It's a fluid concept. When we try to create rules about friendship, or pin it down, or expect it to be only a certain way, or set limits on it, we damage the friendship or kill it completely.

Each friendship is unique, and each friendship goes through good times and bad. Sometimes one friend needs more, then the other. Over time, friendship generally balances out, but some very kind people were my friends when I had very little to give back to them. They never asked me to pay what I owed them on the scale of friendship, and so I've tried to pay their gift forward. It's become quite a joy to be friends to others who need more friendship than I do.

Any two people can be friends. I've had friends who were atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Jewish, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Missouri-Synod Lutheran, and most other Protestant persuasions. I've never had a Hindu or Muslim friend and consider that something I need to correct. I've had friends who were much older, much younger, similar to me, completely different from me. I've even had a few friends who didn't like to read.

Can you even imagine?

Have you noticed that we must put energy into friendship to keep it flowing. Over our many moves in the military, incredibly close friends drifted away because I was no longer in their daily sphere. It was too much work to stay connected to me. We lost touch. The final death knell of the friendship...being cut from their Christmas card list.

That hurt a bit, at first, to realize I still wanted to work at the friendship and they did not, but I eventually learned that it's normal and natural and even good to let go and move on. I treasure the memory of friends like Deena and Becky, though I doubt I will ever see them or hear from them again. They made a wonderful difference in my life, and now, I am certain, they are making wonderful differences in other people's lives.

Occasionally, those lost friends do reconnect. What a joy that is!

Christians sing, "What a friend we have in Jesus." There's a different sort of friendship for you. Talk about one-sided. He does all the work. Freely. He accepts us as we are, flaws and all, and loves us without ceasing and beyond our understanding. All we have to do is show up in prayer and faith and trust, let Him wash our feet and hearts, wrap us in a hug, lift us up from our sickness and sorrow. He's not a transient friend who fades from our lives and forgets about us or doesn't have time for us. He's always there. Eternally.

How it breaks His heart when we lose touch with Him, when we cut Him from our Christmas list!

During Advent, we anticipate and prepare for His birth, the birth of our Savior and Friend. It's our time to reconnect with our Friend, to remember what He does for us and with us.

God with us. Emmanuel.

It's my hope...my grown-up Christmas wish...that we pay His friendship forward, and share that selfless, compassionate, kind, loving friendship with the world. Let's not put rules on that friendship; let's not expect others to be just like us or become just like us.

Let's be friends for a world in need.

What's your grown-up Christmas wish?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Gratitude Journal #215

Today, I am grateful for my mom's visit and that she brought my nephew with her. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I hope you did, too.

Today, I am grateful for overhearing the following conversation...

Jack: I don't want to be on the naughty list.
Nick: There's no such thing as the naughty list. It's just a scheme invented by parents to get kids to behave.
Jack: There is TOO such a thing as the naughty list!

Today, I am grateful for the outpouring of cards for Jonah and his family. Anyone who wants to confirm that their card arrived at my house, please check HERE. I hope Jonah will be doing well enough later this week for me to make the first drop-off! If you want to keep up with his progress, check out his Facebook Page.

Today, I am grateful for rest.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gratitude Journal #214

Today, I am grateful for 47 years of breathing in and breathing out, and for celebrating the accomplishment by eating shrimp and rib-eye steaks and cheesecake expertly prepared by my own personal Iron Chef. Yum.

Today, I am grateful for the incredible outpouring of love and kindness for Jonah and his family. I had hoped to gather a few dozen Christmas cards. At this point, we have people from three continents sending cards, at least two teachers who are having their whole classes make cards, and six or seven card-making groups who are spreading the word, in addition to about 55 individuals who've emailed for the mailing address. I've been sniff-sniffing repeatedly reading the emails from so many wonderful, kind, and generous people. It's awesome and humbling to see the Holy Spirit in action! (If you missed Jonah's story, please read this post.)

Today, I am grateful for the Junior High Show Choir performance Sunday. We had front-row seats and what a wonderful performance! Our son Nick is the one in blue.

ETA: Photo by George, who insisted that my failure to acknowledge the
source of this photo represented copyright infringement.

Today, I am grateful for a holiday visit from my mother and nephew. So happy to have them join us for Thanksgiving!

Today, I am also grateful for parties with friends, for the kindness of strangers, and for a warm and comfortable home.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, November 22, 2013

When God Drops Something in Your Lap

A few weeks ago, I posted on my stamping blog about keeping Christmas simple and asked readers to comment about their own plans for simplifying Christmas. One of the more than 50 comments stood out. Here's what a reader named Jane wrote:

Well -- on Sept. 28th my husband fell out of a tree while trying to help his 98 year old mother by trimming her trees. He broke 7 ribs in multiple places and his wrist. A week later we found out that our 4 year old grandson had a cancerous tumor on his kidney and within four days they removed his kidney and adrenal gland. After a second surgery for a bowel obstruction he is now starting chemo and radiation for his stage 3 cancer. So Christmas by necessity will be simple. The first thing I did was to give myself permission to not make my Christmas cards this year. So I have a good start on next year's cards! The other thing is to ask for help. So my son and his wife are coming tomorrow to help us decorate our Christmas trees. I think our simplest Christmas was the two years when we were missionaries in Africa.... we could not give or send cards or gifts... so it was very freeing. Yes we missed family terribly but the tension of the holidays was gone and the focus was where it should always be!

I asked Jane to send me her grandson's address so I could send him a Christmas card, and she did. I stared at that address for at least a minute without blinking. Then I prayed.

Seriously, God? What do You want me to do with this?

Because Jane's grandson, whose name is Jonah, lives ten minutes from me. Could this be a coincidence in the big, big world of the World Wide Web? Perhaps.

But probably not.

I believe God dropped information on my hurting neighbor in my lap, and as I prayed about what to do that might be useful, I realized Jane was my best guide.

Fortunately, Jane shared that Jonah's family is surrounded by the love and support of family, friends, and church. His mom, Molly, started a Facebook group for Jonah. You can read it HERE. Molly combines their daily experience with Jonah's cancer and an amazing witness for faith and leaning on God. Jonah and his parents are facing an unimaginably challenging situation with grace, courage, and generosity.

Most efforts I could make to help are unnecessary and would probably would feel intrusive. But card making brought me and Jane together, and card making feels like the best way to respond.

Because who doesn't love getting happy mail?

I'm asking my readers to shower Jonah and his family with cards for Christmas. Store-bought, hand-made...doesn't matter. If you have children, perhaps you could ask them to draw pictures or make cards for Jonah.

Let's shower Jonah in love and support as he fights this thing.

Email me at susanraihala at roadrunner dot com for my mailing address, or you can click here for an email link. I will collect all the cards and drop them on Jonah's doorstep periodically. If you choose to continue sending cards after the holidays, I'll keep delivering.

Sending cards is one small thing we can do to lift this family up. Another is to pray for them. If you pray, please add Jonah to your prayer list and to your church's prayer list.

God's grace, peace, love, and healing mercy are descending on this family in their time of trial. I'm so happy to be a small part of that. Will you join me?  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gratitude Journal #213

Today, I am grateful for my fourteen-year-old son, a young man with a kind heart and strong will. He's discovered that school isn't so bad after all, that working hard gets results, and that kindness is  important. He's into comic books, action movies, dancing, and Minecraft.  I love you, Nick. Happy birthday!

Today, I am grateful for a week spent with my in-laws. I've always said I am most fortunate in my in-laws, and this visit was one more example of that. What a blessing they are in our lives!

Today, I am grateful for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and for the stores that have stuck to their principles and are not opening for Thanksgiving Day. 

Today, I am grateful that my younger son, Jack, has been released from speech therapy at our local children's hospital. Starting when he was four, he spent three years in physical therapy, five years in occupational therapy, and now seven years in speech. While he continues to receive speech and occupational therapies at school, this release represents the huge progress he has made, the hard work he has done, and the amazing skill of the therapists he has had. Way to go, Jack!

Today, I am grateful that my birthday is coming up, and for some reason I don't even care that it's an odd number...and a prime number at that. I love my 40's. Picasso said, "It takes a long time to become young." Well, I'm a slow learner, but I'm finally starting to understand. THAT is certainly something to celebrate!

Today, I am grateful for all the prayers, aid, and assistance pouring into the Philippines (finally). What horrible conditions the victims of the typhoon have suffered, made even worse by infrastructure problems. I am also grateful for the help and prayers going out to victims of the tornados yesterday. May all who are suffering the loss of homes and loved ones receive the help they need.

Today, I am grateful for the story I'm going to share later this week. God works in amazing ways!

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why Are We Doing This?

If you are reading this in email, please scroll down for Monday's post.

What do the holidays mean to you? Do they mean mangers and stars and shepherds and a baby born? Do they mean menorahs and temple dedication? Do they mean solstice? Do they mean gifts and lights and shopping and Santa? Do they mean lots and lots of good food, parties, and family togetherness?

The holidays are huge on every level of our lives, no matter our religious faith (or lack thereof). That's why I think it's important for each of us to take stock well before we start and ask ourselves why we do the holiday stuff we do. When we truly understand why, we can more easily and intentionally decide what we need to do and what is (surprise!) actually optional.

Like many people, I find that I set the standard of the holidays a little too high. I want to do more than time allows. I underestimate how much time wrapping presents or baking cookies or addressing Christmas cards will take. I then lose sight of what is really important to me and get lost in the busyness of it all.

Of course, each one of you will answer the "why" question differently. There is no one right way to celebrate the winter holidays, although I would argue there are wrong ways. It's wrong to go into debt and it's wrong to be Scrooge. It's wrong to focus on things and not people. It's wrong to be ungrateful. These behaviors are wrong all the time, not just for the holidays.

So, how do we find a right way to celebrate the holidays for ourselves and our families?

I recommend starting at the heart of the holidays for you. Because I am a Christian, Christmas is about Christ's birth...the birth of God, self-limited, who came to teach us about love and sacrifice, mercy and faith. I need to keep my holiday activities centered on Christ. This isn't easy in the land of shiny tinsel and iPods, but it's worth it.

Your center may be quite different. Perhaps you want to focus on your family and friends. Or perhaps on community service. Or entertaining. Or giving.

Perhaps you're not in a happy place right now, and all the joy and excitement you see starting up around you simply makes you sad. Perhaps you're grieving or have lost your job or are going through a nasty divorce. Perhaps you get exhausted simply thinking about all the "pretending to be happy" you need to do for the next two months.

Whether you're entering the holiday season with joy or dread, think about what those holidays really mean to you, what is truly good about them for you. Write down a sentence or two. Then, think of what you need to do to focus on the good in the holidays.

Here are some things I will do to keep Christ in the center.

1. Worship in faith community. This means signing up to be liturgist during Advent and spearheading the Stephen Ministry ornaments for our congregation.

2. Teaching my children about Advent and Christmas and what it means to give, especially through Operation Christmas Child.

3. Writing about Advent and the Nativity for my blogs to help myself and other Christians keep their focus.

4. Reaching out to our community and the world through donations to missions. (I--and lots of other Methodists--give to the United Methodist Committee on Relief every Christmas.)

5. Remembering Jesus' birth with gratitude in all aspects of holiday activities.

For right now, think about what is most important to you for your holidays. Then, list 2-5 activities that are central to honoring that most important thing. Don't worry about a plan yet for achieving those activities, just think about what they should be...those non-negotiable things.

I'd love it if you shared your thoughts in the comments. Who knows what wonderful ideas you might spark for other readers or for me!!!?!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gratitude Journal #212

Gratitude overflows today.

Today, I am grateful for all our veterans and those who currently serve our armed forces. I am particularly grateful for my veteran husband, who spent 20 years committed to his country in the United States Air Force. Thank you all so much for your service and sacrifice.

Today, I am grateful for my mother- and father-in-law, who are visiting. They are always fun to have in town. We've gone to the Dayton Art Institute and the Cincinnati Zoo, and hiked in a metro park. We've stuffed them so full of apple fritters, chocolate chip cookies, steak tacos, tex-mex trail mix, and turtle cheesecake that they say they're going on a water diet when they get home. Food is love, people. At least, according to George.

Today, I am grateful for this amazing autumn...the gorgeous colors have stayed around for what must be a record length of time.

Today, I am grateful for our school district, for the hope of better cooperation between the school board and teachers, and for the many teachers who make a daily difference in my children's lives. So very grateful.

What are you grateful for today?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gratitude Journal #211

Today, I am grateful for doctors and medicine, having been in need of both this week.

Today, I am grateful for gorgeous fall colors. Ohio colors are peaking, and we had a wonderful walk in the woods of a metro park yesterday. I so love autumn!

Today, I am grateful for an inspiring All Saints worship service, with a straight-to-the-heart sermon from Pastor Suzanne Allen.

Today, I am grateful for my friend Barbara, who is one of my faith-inspiring saints...for her kindness and encouragement and wonderful example.

Today, I am grateful for my Stephen Ministry leaders, Karen and Zandra, and for all the good work our Stephen Ministers do each and every day, whether they have formal care receivers or not.

What are you grateful for today? Please do share!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Words, Words, Words about Perpetual Thanksgiving

"I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite--only a sense of existence." Henry David Thoreau

What do you think?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Case for Books

In September, I joined a new book club. In our first organizational discussion of the club, everyone agreed that it would be fun to read a wide variety of books, from classics to the silliest genre fiction, old books and new, popular and literary.

Our first two selections were contemporary popular novels, so for some reason my brain immediately jumped to The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I tentatively suggested this Victorian classic for our November meeting, and everyone got excited. We'll see if they are still excited once they've read all 646 pages of it. Attention spans these days are not what they were in 1860 when Collins' brilliant novel was published. I was, in fact, shocked at how I had to rearrange my own thinking to get into the right frame of mind to savor its leisurely style.

I first read The Woman in White in graduate school and wrote a lengthy--and trendy--feminist paper examining how Collins portrayed women and power in what is essentially one of the first crime/mystery novels ever written and one of the finest novels of all time. I wrote the paper because I loved the story and the characters and because it is an excellent piece of prose.

But it is a Victorian novel, originally written and published as a serial in a literary magazine run by Wilkie's friend Charles Dickens. What, indeed, will a 21st century book club make of it? Will its leisurely prose and descriptive passages seem tedious to electronic-age eyes? Can we slow down enough to see how relevant and modern this novel really is? Will the women in our group enjoy the experience?

Oh, how I want them to enjoy it!

I searched B&N.com on my Nook for free copies of the classic. Reviews indicated that the free e-book versions were riddled with typos and errors, and it seemed silly to pay $5.95 for a decent e-book when I already spent $5.95 in 1993 for the paper copy on my shelves.

I retrieved my old Penguin Classic and noticed a couple of faded post-it notes peeking out the top. One post-it is stuck to the page following the book's end notes and so might have made flipping to them easier, but the other seemed randomly placed in the middle of the novel and served no knowable purpose. Both post-its are no longer yellow but burned brown from the acid in the paper.

As I thumbed the copy more, noticing notes and underlining in red, pink, and purple ballpoint ink, I uncovered a bookmark whose source is a mystery.

I cannot remember ever visiting the Ozark Folk Center in Arkansas. George cannot remember it either. We both remember driving through Little Rock once, long ago, but no other details come to either of our minds. How I acquired the bookmark and how it came to reside in my copy of The Woman in White will remain a mystery. I am using it now, in this re-reading, and will likely leave it here for whatever future the book will have.

All sorts of interesting ephemera turns up between the pages of old books. In The Woman in White, Laura cuts a lock of her hair and tucks it into a sketchbook. She asks her sister to send the book to the man Laura loves if Laura dies before him. When he finds the lock of hair, he will know she loved him.

I once found a single strand of my dog's fur in my hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings. The dog, a Samoyed named Shemya, had died years before, and when I found the single, long white fur from her gloriously furry tail, I teared up, returned the fur to the book, and left it there.

The thrill of mysterious discoveries and the sentiment of mementos lovingly or accidentally placed between the pages of old books will become a thing of the past if paper volumes continue to be replaced by electronic books.

I enjoy my Nook tablet. It is convenient, easy to read in most lighting conditions, and allows me to play Sudoku and check Facebook at the swipe of a finger. It's also lightweight, fits in my purse easily, and holds more books and movies than any backpack I could carry. I can also download a new book at midnight from the comfort of my bed, which, I assure you, is pure bibliophilic hedonism.

But the Nook's not perfect. The battery dies. Reading in bright sunlight is difficult. In the rush to get books published electronically, quality has suffered. Many e-books are poorly proofread and edited, making the reading experience somewhat akin to grading freshman composition essays rather than escaping into a fine and carefully printed volume.

We pay a price for convenience, just as we pay a price for printed books. I only hope, in the long run, this brave new world of electronic books doesn't take away more than it gives us.

Only time will tell.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Gratitude Journal #201

Today, I am grateful for old books revisited.

Today, I am grateful for blue fall days of flaming trees and sweater-weather temperatures.

Today, I am grateful for my son's trip to DC and safe return.

Today, I am grateful for a clean bill of dental health. Yay!

Today, I am grateful for fish chowder. Thanks, George.

Today, I am grateful to the service people at the Mazda dealer who did not laugh at me when I showed up and said my diamond ring was lost in the gear shifter. I am also grateful for the man who finally got the diamond ring out of my car and back on my hand.

Today, I am grateful for this picture from Pinterest because it is true and made me laugh.


Today, I am grateful for this saying from Marianne Williamson because it is true and aimed straight at me.

What are you grateful for today? Please share!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Left Behind

Tuesday night, my firstborn climbed on a charter bus and rode through the night with his eighth-grade class to Washington, DC. It was his first trip without his family. Nick seems to be having a wonderful time although he got lost at the Holocaust Museum and I'm dying to hear the details of that.

Some of the best things happen to us when we're lost, you know.

I miss him. George and Jack miss him, too. George even commented last night, "I wish we'd bought him one of those little Cricket phones for the trip." "I thought that, too," I replied.

Part of missing him is rather selfish. I wish I were having the experience with him. I haven't been to the Holocaust Museum yet. I've never walked the Mall at night to see the monuments all lit up. I've been to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum (most recently with Nick) but not the American History Museum or National Cathedral. In fact, there are plenty of cool places in DC I've never set foot in. I'd love to do these things with him and George and Jack, and see everyone's faces as we share the experience.

I see a family vacation to DC in our future.

Being left behind is no fun. George once left me at home in Michigan while he took a B-52 to Key West. His jet broke, and he was stuck for two weeks sailing and swimming and getting a sunburn. Meanwhile, I shoveled two feet of snow while the water on my eyeballs and in my nasal passages froze and I muttered the lyrics to "Boat Drinks" behind my scarf in a very grumpy voice.

I've often joked that the Rapture will leave me behind because I don't believe in it. At least, I don't believe in it the way literalists say it will happen. The Book of Revelation gives me the heebie-geebies if taken literally, and I prefer to focus on the fact that God wins in the end, which is a very happy thought whether I get raptured or not.

But being left behind is definitely part of life. We leave others behind, and they leave us behind all the time, figuratively and literally. Some women have lots of babies because their babies grow into toddlers and leave them behind. Break-ups sometimes happen because one partner's love grows in a new direction and leaves the other behind. Children leave the nest, loved ones move to Liberia, and a flood of misunderstanding quickly sweeps one best friend miles away from the other.

Loved ones die, leaving us behind in the most complete way possible.

We feel the losses; in fact, we get lost in the losses. But when we are lost, we have an opportunity to find ourselves.

I hope that's what Nick is doing right now...finding himself. At least a little bit. Finding out who he is and what he wants to be and how he wants to be it. Because we--his mom, dad, and brother--can't give him that. He has to discover the options and choose for himself. All we can do is show him where he comes from, cheer him on, support him as he moves forward, and love him through it all so he doesn't feel so terribly alone.

Because the love...he will never leave that behind. It'll go with him every step of his life, every step away from us.

That's what family is for.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Doing Something Nice for Wounded Military Personnel

Every year, a bogus email/FB post makes the rounds telling people to send Christmas cards addressed to "Any Wounded Soldier" to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Do NOT do this. Anything sent to "Any Wounded Soldier" or the like will NOT be delivered by the US Postal Service.

It will be destroyed.

Which is sad and wasteful.

But here's the good news: there is a wonderful and legitimate way you can show your support for our wounded troops during the holidays!

Just visit the American Red Cross website for details of its Holiday Mail for Heroes Program. The Red Cross partners with Pitney Bowes each year to collect, screen, and deliver Christmas cards to troops in medical facilities. This year's deadline for cards is December 6th.

Your donations--as long as they follow the guidelines on the website--WILL be delivered and WILL brighten the Christmas of men and women who've given so much to our country.

Cash donations are also a lovely idea. The American Red Cross does amazing work helping our troops and their families in many real and meaningful ways all year long.

Instead of going shopping on Black Friday, I'm going to sit down with my kids and make a few cards to show our gratitude for the sacrifices these men and women have made on our behalf.

I hope you'll consider participating in this lovely program, too!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gratitude Journal #209

Today, I am grateful for plastic storage bins.

Today, I am grateful for my husband's cooking skills, which were exercised this weekend on rib-eye steaks; chicken with mint, cilantro, and jalapeno (sounds gross but is DEE-VINE!); and all-meat Texas chili.

Today, I am grateful for leftovers to last a week.

Today, I am grateful for our pastor, Dr. Suzanne Allen, who is amazing in how her sermons preach directly to my heart...each and every time. Makes me wish we Methodists were hand-raisers. I'd be doing the Touch-Down every Sunday for sure.

Today, I am grateful for allergy medicine.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Stuff I Don't Understand

1. Why so many new television comedy shows are so mean. What happened to The Cosby Show ethos? If the zeitgeist of the 2010's is sarcastic meanness, count me out.

2. The comments section of news websites, YouTube, and other mass public websites. Absolutely horrifying. A major science magazine website recently closed its comments completely because too many wackadoodles were posting. How did things devolve so badly? Or am I too optimistic about mankind? I've always thought the wackadoodles were the minority.

3. Why God invented fleas. Seriously? Are there not enough pests in life? We have to have fleas, too?

4. Why God invented (or caused a kind and portly housewife to invent) apple fritters. We don't deserve such deliciousness.

5. Why my favorite stamping magazine is moving to purely electronic publishing. I hate reading magazines on my Nook, my big laptop is not in my craft area, and this irritates me hugely. I don't care if it's better for the bottom line to eliminate print issues. Print is good.

6. Why there's a competitive cooking show on which children cook and pitch fits. As George said recently, "I think cooking shows have jumped the shark." Amen, honey.

7. Why I didn't start a book club years ago. My friend Tina started one, and it's beyond fun. What a marvelous group of women she pulled together from all sorts of places in her life. I totally love it and appreciate that she included me. I've met new people, read new books, and enjoyed the discussions so very much!

8. Why George feels it's never too early to have a plan for the day. Yes. It's way too early when I haven't had at least three cups of coffee. Duh.

9. Why dogs have such incredibly sensitive noses and yet enjoy the most disgusting smells. Things stink for a reason, Daisy.

10. Bullying. An adult I know admitted that she's being bullied online, especially on Facebook. She's a mature grown-up and baffled by it all, but it's got to hurt. Bullying isn't limited to playgrounds and teens. I just don't understand how grown-ups think it's at all acceptable.

11. How my baby got so big that he's going on a school trip to DC next week without me. When did that happen?

Now it's your turn. What don't you understand? What leaves you shaking your head in bafflement? Please do share!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gratitude Journal #208

Today, I am grateful for my lunch date yesterday with my honey.

Today, I am grateful for all the wonderful fall colors I see as I drive around town.

Today, I am grateful for chemical warfare in the fight against fleas.

Today, I am grateful for my vacuum cleaner and washing machine.

Today, I am grateful for breathing in and out.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Words, Words, Words from the Buddha and the Bible

"Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others." Buddha

Modern scientists have done extensive work on cognitive dissonance and the problems that develop when a person's words and actions are at odds with their deeds. When a person values helping others and their deeds don't express that value, then unhappiness and serious psychological dysfunction are the result. When a person's words and deeds match their values, happiness and mental health are the result.

That idea of a mind/body connection, which science is just now proving exists, has been around for a long time. It made sense 2,500 years ago and makes sense today.

A couple of Bible verses, one from the Jewish scripture and one from the New Testament, express similar thoughts.

"I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live..." Ecclesiastes 3:12

"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." James 2:26

Of course, James doesn't refer to happiness explicitly, but that connection between what we believe and what we do is clear enough. What is the point of faith if it isn't acted out in deed?

Cognitive dissonance, indeed.

There's also Gandhi's oft-cited quotation: "Happiness is when what you say, what you think, and what you do are in harmony."

So there you have it. Four of the world's major religions all saying basically the same thing: do good, be happy. 

Here's something to think about on a lovely autumn day...or spring day if you're in the southern hemisphere. How are you living out your values in word and deed? How are you doing good? Who benefits from your good? Do you need to do more good in some way? How might you go about doing good deeds in keeping with your fundamental values?

As always, I appreciate your comments and sharing!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dog Smarts

Our golden retriever Daisy is not entirely smart.

She's also not entirely dumb.

So when she's either smart or dumb, it still surprises me.

When she was a puppy, she ate rocks. And socks. And mulch. This did not bode well for her intelligence. She still eats socks and other textiles when she can get them. This, combined with the fact that so many people in this house leave socks on the floor, means poor Daisy has to stay in the crate when we're not home.

On the other hand, last year, Daisy was trained to the invisible fence in lickety-split time. The collar was on its lowest setting, which was startling but not painful (as I found out for myself), but Daisy learned VERY quickly that she did NOT like being startled and will not go near the boundaries of her realm.

Of course, she is a dog and is easily distracted. Nick accidentally threw a tennis ball for Daisy across the invisible fence. "Oh, a BALL! Running away from me!! I must RETRIEVE it!!!"

"Yip, yip, yip, yip!!!!"

And now Daisy will not retrieve balls in the yard.

At all.

One day, I let her outside through the garage. After she'd been out for a while, I called her in from the front door. No dog. I called some more. Still no Daisy. I started to panic, thinking maybe she'd run out of the fence, but then a small voice of reason inside my head whispered, "You let her out through the garage. I'll bet she's there."

I walked through the house to the garage and opened the door, and there she was, staring at the door expectantly. When she looked up at me, she seemed to say, "Oh, hi! What took you so long? You kept calling and calling, and I've been right here."

Oh, Daisy, my golden-butted ray of sunshine. The breeder said you'd be sensible.

When Daisy wants something off the kitchen counters or table, she's smart enough to wait until no one is around. I've sneaked peeks, and she actually looks around for people before putting her paws on the counter. She's eaten kale, guacamole, lasagna, cheese, egg shells, sticks of butter, chicken bones, napkins (used and unused), and an entire tub of Brummel and Brown yogurt spread.

It's surprising how rarely she barfs.

Eventually, we learned to build impromptu barriers between Daisy and food on the counter using large bottles of olive oil, wine, the toaster, the knife block, the coffee pot...whatever is at hand. She has us reasonably well trained by now, although occasionally we get distracted and walk away from the kitchen and ohmygosh! A doggie feast!

"No, no, no! Bad dog!"

Monday this week, I let her outside through the sliding glass door in the basement. (Our basement has a small walk-up beside the deck, which comes off the main floor of the house.) After a while, I needed to leave to pick the boys up at school, so I called Daisy inside through the same door since, well, that's how her brain usually works.

She did not come. I called again and heard a noise. Looking up at the deck, I saw her looking down at me. Expectantly.

"Daisy, come here!"

She cocked her head and looked at me, puzzled. Her tail wagged.

"Come here!"

Her expression clearly said, "I want to come down there, Mom, but I don't know how!!!"

When she came inside (through the upstairs deck door), she was very excited to be reunited with me. I said out loud, without really thinking and in a very cheerful voice, "I'm going potty and then you're going in the box!" She got even more excited and ran straight to my bathroom, occasionally glancing behind her to make sure I was following.

You see, she often accompanies me to the potty because I'm just sitting there so I might as well pet her, right? But I had no idea she knew the word in relation to that room. She knows it in relation to the yard--her potty--and when we say "Do you want to go potty?" she runs for the front door. This time, however, she understood the context as it related to my potty habits and went straight for my bathroom.

Smart dog.

Daisy is the sweetest dog we've owned. She loves everyone and assumes everyone loves her right back. She's also on her way to having the largest working vocabulary of any dog we've owned.

But when it comes to spatial relationships and problem-solving that does not involve food, she's got a long way to go before she's even sensible, much less smart.

She makes us laugh, though, and that's a pretty smart thing for a dog to do.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Gratitude Journal #207

Today, I am grateful for not living in Rapid City anymore. This weekend, Rapid received two feet of snow, high winds, 10-foot drifts, blocked roads, and extensive power outages. At the air force base, they were handing out MREs (Meals Ready to Eat...nasty things, really). I was wearing shorts and wondering when fall would get to Ohio. My thoughts and prayers go out to friends in South Dakota for safety, for warmth, and for patience given all the mud this will generate.

Today, I am grateful for rain. We've had a lot of it.

Today, I am grateful for sleep-overs with teenage boys. So much quieter than with girls. Our boys got wild and crazy playing Dungeons and Dragons, watching Big Bang Theory, and drinking Hawaiian punch.

Today, I am grateful for friends who come into our lives. Sometimes they have to move away, and it is sad, but how lovely they were here in the first place!

Today, I am grateful for Communion.

What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Perspective on the Randomness of Shutdowns

Yesterday, while driving to and fro with my children and dog, I listened to NPR because that's how I roll. All the radio talk was, of course, about the government shutdown...the unintended consequences, the annoyances, and the major headaches of a government that cannot get its act together.

However, while driving Nick home from dance class last night and feeling utterly sick of our government and the radio hype, I switched my audio system from Radio to Bluetooth and listened to the Beatles sing "Help!," the Eagles sing "Hotel California," and Jimmy Buffett sing "Hurricane Season."

The H's on my iPhone are full of angst.

Oddly enough, the lyrics of "Help!" made me think about the movie My Cousin Vinny. Go figure. At the end of the movie, two characters share an exchange that relates to the message of "Help!" and to our current events quite well and also confirms that sometimes the Oscar really does go to the right actor.

Mona Lisa Vito: So what's your problem?
Vinny Gambini: My problem is, I wanted to win my first case without any help from anybody.
Mona Lisa Vito: Well, I guess that plan's moot.
Vinny Gambini: Yeah.
Mona Lisa Vito: You know, this could be a sign of things to come. You win all your cases, but with somebody else's help, right? You win case after case, and then afterwards you have to go up to somebody and you have to say, "thank you."
Mona Lisa Vito: Oh my God, what a f*****g nightmare!

And the Oscar goes to Marisa Tomei!

What we want, as human beings, is to be independent, to win on our own, never to need help in any way. Sadly, that's not how life works. Life makes us need each other. Democracy, by its very nature, makes us need each other to keep our feet on the ground, forces us to work together to win case after case.

What a nightmare!

"Hotel California," on the other hand, made me think that drugs are not the solution. How weird can song lyrics get?

So why do I know all the words and why can't I stop singing along with it? I'm just a prisoner of my own device and can check out any time I like...but I can never leave.

What does it mean? It's a mystery. Or maybe allegory. Figuring out who the beast might be and who's wielding the steely knives hurts my brain. 

Which leads me to Jimmy, of course.

Something about the calypso poet always returns me to a state of equilibrium. I'm so prone to take things too seriously, to get pulled into storms, to feel like I have to stay on the island while the volcano blows because I can fix this!

Of course, I can't fix the shutdown, so my sticking around listening to NPR's verbal circus must stem from the sheer entertainment value of watching this entirely unnatural disaster take place. But I've had enough of Hotel DC and its craziness. I'd rather sing along with Jimmy, now...

Well, the wind is blowin' harder now
Fifty knots or thereabouts
There's white caps on the ocean
And I'm watchin' for waterspouts...

Must be all that hot air in DC.

It's time to close the shutters
It's time to go inside
In a week I'll be in gay Paris
That's a mighty long airplane ride

This will all be over eventually, but the ride will be deeply uncomfortable. Which brings us to an entirely appropriate scatological conclusion of mixed metaphors.

And now I must confess, I could use some rest
I can't run at this pace very long
Yes, it's quite insane, I think it hurts my brain
But it cleans me out and then I can go on
Yes, it cleans me out and then I can go on

Like a bad meal, this, too, shall pass.

But in the meantime, what a nightmare!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Gratitude Journal #206

Today, I am grateful for the Ohio Renaissance Festival and the fun time we had there on Saturday. We saw a silly play with lots of Shakespeare in it, visited interesting shops, ate fair food, saw Captain America walking around, and generally enjoyed ourselves.

Our front-row seats at the jousting made that event extra-impressive, although we all missed the actual unseating of one of the knights because it happened so fast. The unseated knight was, thankfully, fine. The really big horses struck me as quite anachronistic, seeing as they were so very kind and gentle. Real knights didn't ride kind and gentle horses; they rode horses trained to kick your brains out. But when Jefferson poked his enormous head over the rail and into our faces, we were delighted, not terrified. What a sweetheart!

Sir Jack of the Kingdom of Raihala is quite a fearsome knight, don't you think?

George was called on stage during The Swordsmen's performance. (He's the one with the sunglasses on the bill of his cap.)

These good sports put on quite the show, presenting legs and bowing and lifting their chests to God...

And pointing to the one whose fault this was.

All in good fun. And I got a rose out of the deal. Win, win all around.

Today I am grateful for a gorgeous fall day of frivolity.

Today, I am grateful for tasty cow grilled over open flame.

Today, I am grateful for pumpkin spice lattes. Seriously, people, autumn happiness in a cup can't be beat!

Today, I am grateful for my friend Audrie, who invited me to play along with her card-making challenge this week as a guest designer.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Celebrating an Educated Life

Recently, I read an entirely horrifying article on a conservative Catholic website arguing that women do not need a college education. After venting my religious spleen about it in the post titled "Kingdom Come?" on my other blog transforming common days, I started contemplating what a difference higher education has made in my life. How has it shaped who I am and directed me to where I am and guided how I think about, well, pretty much everything?

We'd need a really long bullet list to cover this subject fully, so for this post, I'm going to share just a few random observations celebrating how education changed my life, and then you are invited to share your own.

*Education lifted me up. In my teens, when depression was eating my soul, I found amazing comfort in textbooks. Every time a book opened in front of me, an adventure awaited that would take me out of my misery and into places I could make my own. The world of Math taught me the certainty of numbers and formulas, the Pythagorean theorem that always gives the right answer, the joy of tangents, and the calculus needed to find the area under a curve.

The world of Chemistry gave me a glimpse into the secrets of matter and a healthy understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle...a principle that applies to a lot more than just electrons, actually. Being in the world of Chemistry also taught me the value of clean beakers, Bunsen burners, ventilation hoods, and sniffing very carefully so as not to burn your sinuses.

The world of Literature gave me human truth in the form of story and verse. It showed me how people relate to one another and how and why those relationships go wrong, get made right, grow, change, end. It showed me how other people think, the value and strength of humility, the high price of arrogance, and the consequences of actions and words. It showed me human dignity, human dignity denied, and human dignity recovered. I learned that bawdy millers tell better stories than squires with fancy footwear, that boarding schools can be dangerous places, and that killing your brother and marrying his wife might sound like a good idea at the time, but it can only end badly for you and everyone else, too.

The world of History gave me my past, our past, our collective story of triumph and despair, nobility and nastiness, evolution and devolution. In that world, I saw how the pharaohs built the pyramids and how hieroglyphics worked and how a hooked tool could remove brains through a nose during mummification. I learned how important leadership is and how important trust, honesty, loyalty, and common goals are. I learned why it's important to vote and why the words life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are more than just words.

The world of Biology gave me an understanding of complex systems and showed me the miracle of life in all its diverse forms should never, ever be taken for granted. It showed me that there's a universe in a single drop of pond water and therefore never to assume what I see is ever the whole picture. Biology showed me how muscles contract at the molecular level and how the health of a reef on the other side of the world matters to me here in Ohio. It taught me that even if you name your fetal pig after a perfume, it will still smell like formaldehyde, but that doesn't make it any less fascinating.

How can anyone get bored or stay depressed in such worlds as these?

*Education humbled me. The more I learn, the more I know that I know nothing. Socrates said that first. He was right. Every time I think I have a full grasp of something, new perspectives pop up, new ways of looking at the thing. Just think how biologists used to believe that animals didn't have feelings until they looked at animal brains using functional MRI and discovered they do. Just think how astronomy has changed now that we know how to look for planets orbiting other suns. New information, new ways of seeing, are constantly being developed and change what we think we know.

I will never know everything about anything...and this is wonderful! It means I will never, ever run out of stuff to learn. Which brings me to another point.

*Education turned me into a lifetime learner. Let's just say I have skillz. Put me in a library--the local public library or a major university research facility--and I will find stuff out. No, I'm not a library science expert, but I know how to use the resources available to me to find an article from 1823 on microfiche or rummage the stacks in the 398's in a Dewey library or the PT's in a Library of Congress system and find a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. I scan indexes like a boss and effortlessly charm librarians to help me find out anything at all.

I also know enough, thanks to higher education, to know I can't trust anything I read on the Internet, or in a magazine, or a book. In fact, all information is subject to bias and slant and spin. Words can and do manipulate us daily. Being aware of this makes for better critical thinking skills and alerts us in the first sentence or two that the forwarded email is an urban myth.

There's a process to educated thought and learning, and it's pretty simple to explain. Collect evidence from multiple sources and points of view, apply reason and critical thinking skills to the mess, draw your own conclusions...and always, always, always keep in mind that more information might just change your mind.

That is how higher education taught me to be a lifetime learner.

*Education turned me into a writer. Some of you might be wishing it hadn't at this point. Thank you for staying with me this long.

Now it is your turn. What does your education mean to you? Did life somehow deny you a formal higher education that you wanted? What did that do to you? Did you happily end your formal education or do you yearn for more? Have you found your experiences as a lifetime learner more or less satisfying than formal education? Do you wish you were more of a lifetime learner? If so, how could you be?

Please discuss.