Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year


I've been thinking about this blog post for a few days, because, well ... I'm not much for resolutions.  I spend a great deal of time reflecting and rearranging my life throughout the year in an attempt to be a better person; consequently, writing down a few quick resolutions which I will certainly break in the first two weeks of the year seems  like I set myself up for failure from the get-go.  However, I do like to take the time to look back over the last year and look forward into the next.  It gives me perspective.

Isn't it wonderful that on January 1, 2012 we didn't see all of the crazy things that would happen to us throughout the next year?  How many of us would have simply pulled the blankets up over our heads and begged to sleep through it?  Some of them were absolutely amazing, some were stressful; some brought sorrow, some brought joy.  I wouldn't have missed a single one of them, but if I'd known they were coming, I might have run away rather than deal with the growing up that occurred.


This next year has the potential to be a lot of fun for me and I look forward with excited anticipation. I know there will be all of those struggles and sorrows along the way, but I also know that as I face them and release them, they slide away, leaving me with good memories.

Over the last year, I've built some wonderful relationships, rediscovered and re-anchored old friendships; I've uncovered some wells of creativity which I was afraid had been lost and made decisions which will allow me to close books and open others.  It's been a pretty good year.  The next year promises to bring finality to some things and open doors of possibilities in other areas of my life.  What wonderful things to have happening!

I have learned that it is never to late to live a dream and make it real. I have learned that friends are always friends, no matter how much time you have together. I have learned that people really don't change all that much, but what changes is how you accept them and love them either in spite of or because of who they are. I have learned that life cycles. What was important in the past might not be now, but might again be in the future.

I have learned that tomorrow holds enormous potential, today is the time to fulfill that potential, while yesterday was the motivation to find that potential.

What will I learn next year?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It's a Christmas Tired


The good thing about starting Christmas late in the morning is that complete exhaustion shows up later as well.

I'm tired and I had a pretty mild Christmas compared to some of my friends.  Honestly, I think 'tired' is a really good way to spend the end of Christmas Day. I'll bet Mary and Joseph were tired after the delivery of the baby, God's Son.  I suspect the shepherds were pretty tired after spending the night watching their flocks and then all the excitement that surrounded the announcement of the angels.  The baby Jesus? Of course he was tired. Every baby alternates between activity and sleep.  He spent a lot of that first day on earth sleeping.

Pastors are tired. They've been doing church for a lot of hours in the last few days. Musicians are tired. They've been playing Christmas music over and over.  Shop owners are tired from keeping their stores open so people could buy last minute gifts.  After all of the insanity, at the end of this day, we're going to be tired.

Yep, tired is a good place to be at the end of a Christmas Day. A few naps throughout the day, a good long sleep after everyone has returned to their own homes and before we know it, tomorrow has arrived.

With all the anticipation for Christmas, we are never really prepared for the day after.  For some of us, the Christmas tree and all of the decorations come down immediately. There are no more brightly wrapped gifts under the tree, the wrapping paper has been relegated to the recycling bin.  Christmas cookies and treats have been pawed through and only the worst of the best are left on the plates. Christmas carols are finished for the year, with just a few people attempting to draw out the epiphany carols and help us keep the spirit of Christmas going.  When I was growing up, that next day seemed like such a let down.

I see posts begging us to keep the Christmas spirit all year long.  We do everything possible to draw the feelings of peace and joy out beyond the twenty-fifth of December.

But, I see something very special about the 'tired' that happens after all the gifts have been opened, the meal has been eaten, the songs have been sung and day is nearly over.

We rest. We rest in the knowledge that Jesus Christ was born over two thousand years ago.  We celebrate the day of his birth, but he has not only been born, died and risen again; he lives within us so that we have that something to celebrate.

We will all sleep tonight and in the morning when we wake up, absolutely nothing has changed.  We still celebrate living our lives with the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor.  We might not talk about the nativity, the shepherds and angels or how Joseph and Mary walked to Bethlehem, but we talk about Jesus Christ, who is alive and living within our hearts.  None of that changed with the celebration of his birth.  We still have that wonderful anchor to hold on to.

So, I've quit feeling let down on December 26th, because I know that from that morning until next year on the morning of December 25th, I live with the knowledge that Jesus Christ lived and died, and rose to live again just for me. He did it for you.  He even did all of that for those who don't believe. Even if Christmas is nothing more to them than a chance to gather family together and exchange gifts, Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth for everyone.  It's the same as it has been for these last two thousand years.

For the rest of the day I will be tired and then tonight I will sleep.  Tomorrow, I will wake up and look out at the next year and see that it is filled with opportunities for me to celebrate Christ's life in my own life and to tell others what that life means to me!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Love


Love

This last weekend has been filled with stories of love and caring as well as hate and anger. After hearing about the terrible tragedy in a Connecticut elementary school, everyone has quite varied reactions to it. Some hug their children closer and have found it difficult to send them off to school.  Others have reacted with vitriol, hate and anger against all sorts of people.  I read an article this morning by a man who was attacked simply because Ryan Lanza (not the shooter, the brother of the shooter) was his friend on Facebook. The guy didn't know Ryan, but assumed he had requested to be friends because Ryan appreciated his art.  There were plenty of people ready to spew their hate-filled ugliness all over a random person because he was linked on social media to someone associated with an act of craziness.

There are arguments about gun control all over the internet; these come up every time there is a shooting. There are actually no good answers to that issue and as long as there are humans on earth, this issue will not be fully settled.  There is talk about how autism is the problem; but that isn't a full and complete conversation either because we understand so little of it.  We read about mental illness and though we all know that it is a problem, we don't have a good way to manage our way through it.

Schools try to erect protections for their children and install metal detectors; but those aren't going to stop someone intent on destruction.  You can't legislate your way around problems like this and build enough lines of protection between us and trouble that happens in the world.  It will just never happen.

There are no good answers, no matter how many pundits speak on news channels, legislators try to come up with rules for society to follow or people condemn the actions of those associated with great crimes.  There are no good answers because we live in a world with people.  People who are different and who think differently. People who were raised differently than we were or have different physical chemistry which may or may not disrupt what we deem to be acceptable thinking.  We will never be free of other people and we will never know what might trigger anger or rage or fury in another person.  There are no good answers.

And while it might not be the only answer to heal the pain of families who face loss, whether in a school tragedy such as the one in Connecticut, or senseless shootings in Omaha, child or spousal abuse, or any other loss that many of us have faced in our lifetimes, we must love and forgive.

Every expression of love that you offer touches someone's life.  Every time you forgive, you remove pain from both your own heart and the person who has harmed you.

We can do these things. We must do these things.  We must teach them to our children and live them out in our communities. We must share love with everyone we encounter, from the driver who cut you off at the intersection, to the harried clerk in a grocery store; from the annoying pest in our workplace to the boss who seems intent on making us miserable; from the neighbor who is much too snoopy to the woman at church who thinks she knows it all; from the person who shot up an elementary school in Newtowne, CT to the people we love the most.  We must show love and we have got to learn to constantly and consistently offer forgiveness.  It isn't fair, it doesn't seem right, it makes no sense when we're angry and in pain, but these are the only ways in which we can overcome hate and anger.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Lines On a Map


I've been looking at how towns are laid out for a project I'm working on.  In doing so, I went back to look at the layouts for some of the towns I lived in over the years.  I have lived in some great communities. Most of my early years were spent in very small towns in Iowa until I moved to the Omaha area in 1984.  

One thing that struck me as I looked at these layouts was how finite they were. There are only a few streets in these little towns.  But, they seemed infinite and immense to a little girl.  My world was pretty small in those days.  I could walk to a friend's house and all of the activity for us seemed to center around the church, which was often right next door.  It was usually only a couple of blocks to school and I could land at anyone's house between there and home and they would know who I was.

There may have only been a few streets in town, but I never felt like my world was small.  There were so many interesting people and so many things to do within the limitations set by a map.  A creek, a tree stump, the dog behind the fence, the strange old lady who stared at everyone from her porch and never spoke, the elderly woman who lived next door and invited me in to look at her immense collection of salt and pepper shakers, the banker who lived down the street and was the only person in town with color television, the woman with way too many cats, the old guy with mowers on his front lawn.

The older I got, the bigger my world became. I could walk farther or maybe even ride my bicycle. This opened up any number of possibilities to me. I could get to friends who were a little further away and I found parks and abandoned buildings; I spent more time with interesting people who lived in the community: Old Doc Hensley who raised chickens, another woman who lived in a very small home, but probably had more money than nearly anyone else in town, there was always someone saying hello to me because they knew my family, I was never alone.

There was always something going on, something to see, something to do, something to experience.  I took it all in and I grew up.

By the time I graduated from high school, I was itching to get out of the small town.  Finally, I felt the limitations of those few numbers of streets.  I was tired of everyone watching me and being able to tell my parents where I was all the time. I wanted more anonymity than that.  I wanted to be able to live in a place where there were limitless streets.  I went to college and Mom & Dad moved again. The town wasn't much bigger, but it was close enough to a small city that I didn't care. I had room to expand my horizons.  I moved out and into a community that was bigger than anything I'd ever lived in.  I didn't know anyone. I met my neighbors, but since I didn't go to school with them and they didn't attend my church, I never really knew them.  My world got bigger and smaller all at the same time.

Then, we moved to Omaha.  I had access to everything. I could go for days without running into someone I knew. There were still a million things to explore, but now those things were all found in buildings. I could go to the museum or the zoo, I could go shopping or out to eat, there was always somewhere to go and something to do or see.  I could fly out of Omaha and go to New York City or San Francisco. I could drive to Kansas City or Minneapolis.  There seemed to be no limits to what I could do.  The city streets went on for miles and miles. A person could get lost in Omaha trying to find their way from one point to another.  My life had gotten immense!

Or so I thought.

I didn't know my neighbors ... at all.  I knew the people I worked with and the people from church.  That was it. I didn't know their connections to other people in the community or who their families were or how they had grown up or why they were in the business they were in. I didn't know what made them happy or about the enormous sadness they carried because they might have lost a child.  I had no relationship with these people other than the very tenuous connections we built in limited conversations. I dug in with a few people here and there and we became close enough for me to know about their lives and I am thankful for that, but it occurs to me that as immense as my life seemed to be, it really had more limitations than ever before.

I couldn't walk to see my friends or even ride a bicycle to their homes; I had to get in a car and fly past all of the interesting things I might have seen along the way.  The woman who spends every waking moment of her day working with the plants around her home - I don't know her.  The man who walks everywhere - I don't know where he is going.  The wealthy man who lives several blocks from me - I'll never be in his home.  I will never wander through Omaha and know for sure that 3 doors down lives someone who cares for me simply because I'm alive.

Those few streets in the towns in which I grew up may look small on a map, but they are filled with treasures I can never find anywhere else.  It's taken me 30 years to recognize that my world never really got bigger when I left them.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fear in the Country? Nope.


I spend a great deal of time in our family's cabin in Iowa. There are people who live within a mile or so of me, in fact, some friends live just up the hill, but for the most part I feel pretty isolated down in this valley.  There isn't much traffic on the gravel road that goes past our land, I have a river just to the west of me and hills to the east and south of me.  The sounds are very different here than they are in Omaha, where I am constantly distracted by sirens and tires screeching on the street outside our house.

My nights here the last several weeks have been interrupted by yelling and howling. Coyotes must be in the middle of mating season or something.  The first night, I woke up and had no idea what was happening. I had to open the window so that I could make out the sounds.  I was glad to be able to close it quickly and feel safe again.  The next night, there was more noise and a lot of howling happening. I opened the main front door and the sounds were coming from the meadow, maybe two hundred yards from me.  I listened for a few moments, got myself totally creeped out, slammed the door and crawled back under the covers.  The third night, I was coming back after dark, drove in the lane, turned my car lights into the meadow and the coyotes were in the wood pile, right there in my meadow.  Sigh.  I had to think really hard about whether my laundry was going in with me then or if I was going to get it out of the Jeep in the morning.  Sanity reigned and I opened the back seat car door, grabbed the laundry basket and ran for the cabin.

Coyotes aren't the only things that make noise around here.  There are several hoot owls up in the hill and when they are calling to each other, it is seriously spooky.  One morning in the early dawn, I heard deer making noises in the meadow. It took me a while to be able to identify that sound.  Another night, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by dogs (probably coyotes, but who knows), screaming and barking up in the hills.  It sounded as if they had something treed and were trying to get to it.

Several people have asked how I can be out here by myself.  I guess I'm a lot like my father. He loved being alone and fear of the outside world just isn't going to mess with that.  At the same time, I know that Dad built this place and once I am inside, it is solid and safe.  Dad didn't build things to fall apart.  We used to laughingly tell him that the things he built would withstand a nuclear holocaust.  The man used nails and screws and if there was the smallest concern, he would use more nails and screws.  He built a loft for Carol's college dorm room. It was stronger and heavier than anything you can imagine. I still don't know how they got that thing up to her floor and then back down again.  It's now here at the cabin.  He used a lot of lumber while building it. His construction may not have been perfect, but it was solid.

Fear of this world just isn't something I can let control me, though.  Carol and I lived on Park Avenue in Omaha for several years.  It wasn't in the best part of town, but the apartment was beautiful. We loved it, but always said we would move out the first time we heard gun fire.  Well, we moved to a much nicer part of town and one Sunday we came back from church and Carol went into her closet to get something different to wear.  She brought several items of clothing out to me and said, "What do you suppose did this?"  There was a hole through them.  We tried to brainstorm anything. We had problems with mice, maybe one of them had gotten into her clothes. Snakes? Who knew?  Then, she found the bullet hole in her closet window and we followed its path through the clothing into the wall.  It had finally exited in the closet on the other side of the wall, in our neighbor's apartment.

Carol had heard a car backfiring the night before and didn't think anything of it.  We called the police and they were asking us questions about people that might hate us.  Are you kidding?  We'd never been in those types of relationships and didn't encounter people like that in our business either.  We were completely freaked out.  Fortunately, a couple of days later, the police department called us back.  Two brothers down the street about three blocks (we were at the top of a "T"), got into an argument and started shooting.  A stray bullet had come that far to our place.  But, Carol and I didn't move out of there. Fear wasn't going to reign.

Max came home one day and found the back door standing open with the window broken out. His first worry was the animals in the house and then he saw that we'd been robbed.  Joy. The fear from that experience lasted for a while, but at some point, I quit worrying, even though we were sure it was just kids breaking in and taking what they could.

Several years ago, a young clerk at the convenient store which is located a half block from our house was murdered after the end of her shift.  I woke up to lights flashing and when I looked out the window, there was police tape everywhere. It hadn't gotten as far as our house, but was strung through our neighbor's yard.

Living in the city, with its noise and craziness is much more frightening to me than living in the country with loud animals. I know what their reactions will be ... to light, to sound, to me and I know that I'm safe from them when I close the doors and shut the windows.  I'm not scared of these animals ... much.  I wouldn't want to be in the meadow in the dark and startle one of them.  I willingly admit to jolts of fear that send me tearing inside and slamming doors shut behind me.  But, I wake up in the morning and they've all returned to their dens and nests. It's a good equilibrium we've found.

Monday, November 19, 2012

This is Thanksgiving Week


Many college kids are already home, having started their break last Friday.  School teachers are looking forward to Wednesday evening and cessation from kids, grading, testing and everything else. Business people are desperately trying to get everything done before the long weekend, families are planning to travel, people are planning big meals and yet others are preparing for the big shopping day that happens on Friday.  It's one of those crazy weeks that is a holiday for practically everyone.  How can you not enjoy a holiday that simply requires you to say Thank You!

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was one of the few big holidays that didn't require us to be at church.  Dad generally planned his Thanksgiving service for Sunday evenings and everything else was canceled for the week.  By the time Wednesday evening rolled around, everyone just relaxed because for the next twenty-four hours, there was absolutely nothing going on

Living in a Pastor's house at Christmas and Easter isn't necessarily the best place to be holy.  Prior to those holidays, Dad turned into a bear and Mom wasn't much better. There were programs to prepare, choirs to rehearse, extra services to design, volunteers to wrangle, then don't forget all of the family things that had to happen. Christmas was always stressful because Dad knew money was going to flow out as quickly as he could bring it in and so he would fight and spit with Mom over every little thing.  She was quite frugal and there were many years she spent hours creating wonderful gifts for us rather than spending money in the stores.  And honestly, I'll tell you that those gifts are the ones we three kids remember the most.  By the time we got to the Christmas Eve service our nerves were all frazzled and we acknowledged there was one more Christmas in the books and it was time to move on.  Christmas Day would come and go and everyone relaxed because we had some time before the Easter craziness kicked off.  That week was nuts with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter sunrise and then two regular services.  Once again, tempers were frayed and we just waited for it to be over.

Thanksgiving was just not like that.  We didn't travel anywhere, we just stayed home and relaxed and enjoyed the day. Dad wasn't stressed out because Mom had spent money on gifts, He didn't have to talk to people or manage services.  Mom wasn't upset about anything, it was just a nice day.

Because legend had it that the Pilgrims had five kernels of corn that first Thanksgiving in the New World, Dad began a tradition of giving thanks for five things.  He would get five kernels of seed corn and place those on our plates.  Then, we went around the table; each giving thanks for one thing and eating a kernel.  Mom began serving cooked sweet corn and he would put five kernels of that on our plates, that was much better.  Then, all of a sudden, Dad's sweet tooth kicked in and we got five pieces of candy corn on our plates.  Those were the good years.  But, each year, before the meal started, we sat down to a plate with five kernels of corn and we remembered that we had a great deal to be thankful for in our lives.

We still have a great deal to be thankful for.

I'm thankful for my family. They love me.

I'm thankful for friends. Those whom have known me for decades and those whom have known me for just a short time.  They all bring color and depth to my life.

I'm thankful for a mind that allows me to learn and find joy in learning.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to live in a country where I am free to be who I am, to worship the God I love, to associate with people I care for and to express my thoughts without fear of reprisal.

I'm thankful for a life lived knowing Jesus Christ personally.  There are so many other choices I could have made and I'm grateful that He continually drew me close.

Can you come up with five things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hands


I love hands.  One of the first thing I look at on people is their hands.  They tell me so much about a person.  Strong hands, delicate hands, wrinkles and lines, callouses, arthritis, manicures, scars.  There are so many stories that can be told by looking at a person's hands.

My father's hands were strong and even when he had to manage with Parkinson's, he continued to work with his hands to keep any flexibility possible. I see those hands gripping a pulpit on Sunday morning as he preached, or pulling a hook out of the mouth of a fish. They strum a guitar or grasp a hammer.  In small ways, they can be seen in my hands.

My mother's hands were beautiful. She never had manicures or did anything special with them, but they were always feminine with strength and beauty.  She used her hands to spank my bottom and wash my hair. I remember her hands flying across a typewriter or covered in clay at her potter's wheel.  She held paintbrushes in those hands and sewed late into the night.  Her hands were everywhere in my life.

I remember my Grandma Greenwood's hands, as she washed dishes, kneaded bread, put clothes out on the line, played games with me or held my little hand in hers.  I remember the hands of my friends, while they age, they never change. I would recognize their hands in a heartbeat.

Last week, I used a picture of hands holding the world in one of my Pour Out a Blessing blogposts.  I had actually found many different images, but the one I used struck me because of the hands.  These aren't perfectly manicured, but are strong, hard-working hands.  The type of hands I believe God has. His hands would be rough and worn from the work they do, they would be gentle and strong so He can touch our hearts.

I've always loved the image of gnarled hands clasped in prayer. Albrecht Durer's "Praying Hands" drawing is one of my favorites and there is a beautiful story that has been told around this image.  The story is told of Durer and his brother. They came from a family of eighteen. Both brothers were talented artists, but the family could only afford to send one to Nuremberg to study.  The two, after many discussions, worked out a pact.  A coin toss would settle which one went first, while the other worked in the mines to support him.  After four years, the brother would return.  Either sales of his art or work in the mines would support the second brother in his studies.  Albrecht Durer won the coin toss and left for Nuremberg while Albert spend four years in the mines, ensuring payment of his brother's education.

After the four years had passed, a celebration was held to celebrate Albrecht's return.  At dinner, he told his brother that it was now his turn to pursue his dream, but Albert began to cry.  It was too late.  Work in the mines had smashed every one of the bones in his hands, some more than once.  He could barely hold a glass, much less draw with a pen or brush. It was too late.    In honor, Albrecht Durer drew those damaged hands as he regularly saw them, in prayer.

Whether the story is true, the beauty of this drawing remains for me.

I've watched my own hands age.  They are no longer smooth, but are now filled with lines and scars.  My nails are always kept short, so I don't spend a lot of time with manicures. Sometimes they ache, but they continue to be my link to the world, whether I am playing the piano, writing letters to friends, working on classwork or writing a story.  You know, my father always told me I was never going to be allowed to own a power saw.  He made his entire body shudder at the idea that I might hurt my hands.  He loved listening to me play the piano and the thought that I couldn't do that any longer scared him. My fingers aren't quite as beautiful or as limber as they were when I was seventeen, but they have their own strength.

I am thankful for all the hands that have been part of my life.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Happy Birthday, Frank!


Today would have been my father's 79th birthday.  That just seems crazy. Time goes by much too quickly!

Dad and I had a tough relationship.  I actually look at him from two separate angles.

First of all, there is the Dad I am so proud of I can hardly stand it.  He was one of the most amazing pastors I've known in my life.  He delivered good, strong messages on Sunday mornings, but that wasn't what made him such a good pastor. It was everything else that he did.  Dad was smart ... wicked smart.  He loved to read, even though he complained that he was terribly slow at it.  He'd watch Mom or me tear through a book and just snarl at us in envy.  But, he read a lot and he remembered what he read.  Dad was an athlete, so physical things didn't scare him.  He started taking kids on adventure trips early on in his ministry.  For a while he was involved with Boy Scouts and took those kids all over the place, but then he realized that the youth groups in his churches could enjoy trips and all he had to do was make sure everyone was safe.  He could do that.

There were things our family did that I would never consider doing now ... because Dad made them seem easy and if they weren't easy for anyone else, he just took care of them.  I thought I loved to go fishing, but what I discovered was that my love of fishing came about because Dad did all the hard work.  We'd walk the river at the cabin fishing, he'd set out trot lines and wake me up several times throughout the night to walk them with him.  But, he cleaned all the fish and then told everyone how much work I'd done.  We went on fishing trips into Canada. Every morning at 4 am, he'd knock on my window and I'd crawl out of bed, bleary-eyed and wander down to the dock so that we could get out on the lake where he just KNEW there would be a school of walleye.  I'd try to drag myself awake for 45 minutes while he quietly motored out to a location he'd spotted.  Then, when I was nearly awake, he'd hand me a fishing pole and let me go.

The first time we went, he knew I might be squeamish about baiting the hook (he believed in minnows), so he did it for me.  Then, when I caught a fish, he'd take it off for me.  Well, the lasted for a very short time.  I have fairly sensitive fingertips and once he taught me how to feel the fish hit and then set the line, I was hauling them in, one after another.  He wasn't getting any good time for fishing himself.  Finally, he asked if I would learn how to either bait the hook or remove the fish from the hook.  I just laughed.  "I'll learn them both!" I said and so I did.  When we got back to the camp, he still told everyone how I out-fished him.  That was a pretty big deal, because Dad was an amazing fisherman.  He cleaned all the fish and let me go back to the cabin and take a shower.  I can't imagine fishing with anyone else.  No one would take care of me the way he did out there on that lake.

Camping?  Dad was a master at camping.  We didn't have a motor home, he had designed a tent when he was very young and commissioned a tent maker to create it.  It's heavier than sin.  In 1982, Dad, Mom, my brother and I traveled into Canada.  Dad's plan was to drive as far as the road would take us.  He'd looked at the map and found a camping spot on a beautiful lake.  He was pretty sure no one else would be around.  He was right.  We drove our van, with a canoe on top all through the night.  All four of us changed seats and kept that trip moving.  Dad had packed the back of the van so that two people could sleep on 8" foam mattresses which were held off the floor by crates filled with every single thing we would need during that trip.  He had packed the food in coolers and crates, had all of the tools necessary and when we arrived at the campsite, he began setting things up immediately.  The tent went up, a tarp was strung between trees to keep our table clear and protected from most rain, a toilet seat came out from under the beds and he dug a pit between two downed trees, then set the seat up far enough away that we had privacy and were still safe.  He turned that campsite into a home for the next week and we had a blast.  He and Jim stayed in the tent. Mom and I didn't like the noise wolves made around the campsite and slept in the safety of the van.  I tried sleeping in a tent one more time in my adult life and realized that without Dad there to think of every little thing and ensure that his family was safe and comfortable, it wasn't very much fun.

He did the same thing in his churches.  He made it safe for people to attend.  There is so much garbage that happens in a church, but Dad deflected it all ... or as much as he possibly could ... knowing that if it was on his shoulders, no one else would miss the good things that God had for them.  If there was conflict, Dad waded right into the middle of it with no fear and made sure that everyone recognized that right was right and wrong was wrong and right was going to win.  He believed in the power of prayer and spent hours on his knees.  Every Sunday morning before worship service, Dad walked to the altar to kneel and pray.  Worship wasn't going to begin without prayer.  He invited others to join him and every single Sunday, there were always people who were willing to be visible in prayer because he was so open about it.

Dad was an introvert, but no one would have ever known that.  It was God's love that flowed through Dad to other people.  He was just a conduit and he acknowledged that.

Dad wasn't afraid of hard work.  From painting a very high steeple at his first church in Gravity, Iowa (a story that people told for a long time because he scared them to death), to making sure that the Board of Trustees didn't have to show up at the house every time an appliance broke down or a window was broken; Dad was always first on the line to do the hard work which came from owning property.  We continually heard from people that they were always surprised to see Dad already working on a problem when they showed up.  They were used to the pastor just calling a repairman and submitting the bill. If Dad needed extra help, he called on the people he knew could do the work and then they dug in and did it.

He took every church that was in the red into the black within a year.  He knew how to cut back on expenses and tighten up the budget until he had encouraged people to support the ministry of God in their midst. He was the first to tithe from his salary and though he never said a word about it, people recognized that when his generosity far outpaced theirs, they could be a little more generous with their church.

I've been in a lot of different churches under a lot of different ministers since Dad moved away from the Omaha area.  I've experienced both amazing and horrid pastors.  But, I don't believe that there are any who had more integrity and compassion, dedication and commitment to leadership as my father.  He was never going to be a mega-church pastor, but for the lives he touched, he was the best pastor people would ever know.  He's the best pastor I've ever known.

The rest of the story?  Well, he was as human as they come.  Thank goodness he had my mother around to temper his behavior with his family.  He could be strident and unforgiving, legalistic and forceful.  She balanced him and the two of them managed to have a home with kids who grew up pretty well.  My problem was, I was very much like him (but do not think for a moment I accepted that when I was young).  I quit talking to him in high school at some point.  He just pissed me off every single time I approached him at home.  The man needed to just loosen up and let us live a little bit.  I suspect that all three of us kids had our issues with him.  It wasn't easy being Frank Greenwood's kid.

I have a lot of funny stories about my life during those years with him ... one of these days I'll let you in on some of them!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Nothing to Say?


Sometimes I feel as if I have run out of words.  For those of you who know me fairly well, you would be quite surprised by that statement.  I seem to always have an opinion and there isn't really that much that stops me from stating it out loud.  Ok, I take that back.  I do try to temper my vocalizing of opinions based on how much it will change the situation (if it's not going to change anything and will probably make someone feel bad, I shut up) or the level of importance my opinion will hold in that situation.

There are days, however, when it seems as if there is nothing left in my brain to say.

I have spent the last five months restructuring how I spend my days.  It's been a wonderful exercise in understanding what it is that I want to do, what it is that I actually do and how to bring those two things together so that I can achieve some goals that I've had in front of me for what seems to be a lifetime.  I started out by creating a list of all the things I wanted to do in the next several years.  That list included everything, from crazy-dream goals to practical things that just need to happen.  Every time I think about that list, I come up with several more things to add to it.  It has become a very scary list.

Once the list was in place, I built a daily schedule out for two weeks.  I figured that I should be able to hit nearly everything in that list over a two week period.  I committed to writing one thousand words in a journal every day ... no matter what.  For the last 126 days, I've done exactly that.  I look forward to the time I spend writing and since technology is so amazing, I can tell how much more I need to write in order to achieve the minimum and I can tell when it is ok to finally stop writing.  I refuse to write one word less than one thousand words.  Just this last Friday, I lost control of the day and when I woke up on Saturday and realized I hadn't written in my journal, I realized I was going to have to write two entries ... one for Friday and one for Saturday.  I did it and felt great about it.

There are several random classes that I am taking online.  Everything from learning new techniques in Photoshop and Illustrator to learning Excel tips, Wordpress and then my favorite is an Ancient Greek History lecture series by an amazing Yale University professor. It's the course he teaches at Yale.  I've spaced these courses out across the two weeks so that I can keep learning.

Along with those courses, I've also committed to reading several motivational and encouraging books.  I don't read them through like I read other books; I take my time and work through creative exercises that are assigned to me.  I hope to be reading these books and others like them over the course of the next year.  Books such as: The Complete Artist's Way by Julia Cameron or Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield or Writing Your Way by Julie Smith.  By slowing down while reading these, I allow myself to be continuously energized by their words, finding motivation each week that keeps me excited about meeting my goals.

There are several other little things that have to happen every day.  I write my Pour Out a Blessing blogpost each day and if I know there is a day coming when I won't have time to write, I ensure that it is written early and posted so that I stay consistent.  It is a commitment I have made to myself and to those who read the blog. Though there have been times when I've had to drop away from it for a period of time or days when I've missed and had to catch up; this is one thing I've really tried to stay committed to doing.  I almost ended that sentence by adding the words 'without fail,' but since I've obviously failed several times in the past couple of years with it, I won't be that bold.  Let's just say that this is one commitment I never forget and always try to accomplish.  There are plenty of days when I open my Bible, read the passage I've selected for the day and realize that I have nothing to say about it.  I stare at the verse or passage and wonder if it is worth it for me to continue.  Terrible moments of failure fly through my mind.  Then, I settle down, pray about it and after a while the words come.  The words always come.

Finally, it has become quite clear that for me to accomplish the massive writing goals I've set before me, I need to write in those areas much more regularly, so I've set a goal of three thousand words per day, at least four days a week.

I generally have a paper due for my class every Wednesday.  Those put me in a panic, so I won't expect myself to write for my goals on that day.  Weekends are nuts.  Since I stick my head in the computer all week, there is always something that has to be cleaned, washed, cooked, baked or straightened up.  If I travel, it happens on weekends.  So ... rather than feel like a failure, I refuse to set the three thousand word writing goal on one of those days.

The great thing is that if I can't write one of the other days of the week due to something going on, I can pick my word count back up on a weekend day.  Flexibility has to be primary or I'll go insane.

So ... every week, thousands of words pour out of my fingers onto the screen and some days I wonder if I'll be able to fill up the tank enough for more to come out the next day.  So far, they come and sometimes it is quite a struggle for me to find them.  I think they run away and hide when they know I'm looking.

There's always something to say, which means the title of this blog is a fallacy. I just need to get started.  Now that I've told you about it, I guess it's time to quit babbling and get started on today's next batch of words.  (Huh, this post has ended up being over eleven hundred words ... I hope I don't run out before I get started!)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Who Do You Admire?


Last week I worked through a creative exercise from Julia Cameron's "The Complete Artist's Way."  I was to list five people I admired, then five people I secretly admired, then finally to identify the traits these people have which I could cultivate further in myself.

Next, I was to list five people who were dead that I wish I had met and then, five people who are dead whom I'd like to hang out with for a while in eternity.  From them, I was to identify traits I could look for in my friends.

This was a fun exercise and gave me a lot to think about it.

I won't give you the names of the people I admire, but I will tell you about some of the traits (in no particular order) that leaped off the list.

Independence.  The people I admire the most are independent in what they do, think and how they respond to the world.  They have made choices that others would question because those choices are risky and might disrupt the status quo.

Intelligence / Brilliance.  I am addicted to brilliant and intelligent people.  My life is filled with them. Not only my friends and family, but those whom I admire are absolutely brilliant.  They love to be exposed to new and fascinating information and find creative ways to make that into something that is their very own.

Courage. Those independent, brilliant souls whom I admire have the courage to stand up for what they believe, while never crossing the line into negative behavior.  They also have courage to step out and try new things, make decisions that will set them apart from others, embrace the different and take on new challenges.

Compassion.  One thing that really stood out was how this was so ingrained in the lives of those I admire.  There might be independence and courage, but at the same time these people are concerned for those whom they encounter and they actively live so as to ensure others are cared for, whether emotionally, physically, spiritually or mentally.

Transparency.  This is a rare trait and one that tends to get most people into a great deal of trouble, because the world simply can't be trusted.  Once you expose yourself, you set yourself up in so many ways.  I don't trust the world for the most part because people try so hard to find your weakness and then stomp on you.  This is a very courageous trait.

Tenacity.  One of the things my father taught the three of us was perseverance.  He never gave up ... on people, on ideas, on projects, on churches, on anything!  Those people I admire have stuck to their beliefs, their ideas, their dreams ... no matter the struggle that faces them.

I learned a little bit about myself and about what it is that I find to be so wonderful in other people.

Now, as for the people I wish I'd met who are dead, my list becomes a little odd.  I'm just going to toss it out there with no explanation for now.

Freddie Mercury
Katherine Hepburn
Isaac Asimov
J.R.R. Tolkien
Anselm

Who would I like to hang out with for a while in eternity?

My grandfather, Mac (James McFarlane) and his brother Gene.  Together, because they loved being together and were quite entertaining.

C.S. Lewis
Louisa May Alcott
Lawrence of Arabia
Peter, Jesus' disciple

What qualities do I see when I look at that list?  I see courage, independence and tenacity.  But, I also see immense minds - open to so many possibilities.  These people saw beyond the obvious and found ways to live outside the world's expectations.  They enjoyed life.

The other thing I saw after I finished my lists was that I love story-tellers.  You know ... I grew up with parents who told our stories over and over.  I loved hearing them ... it didn't matter how often. My grandfather, Mac, was an extraordinary story teller and I didn't get the chance to experience the best part of who he was. I re-read books all the time.  If a story intrigues me, I want to read it again and again, just for the joy of the story.

What would your responses be to these questions?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Security in Adventure, Change as Life



Last week, I began a new class called "Leading Through Crisis, Conflict, and Change."  This is the kind of stuff I simply thrive on.  The first thing we talked about was this quote:

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power (Alan Cohen).

There has been a lot of conversation around these words.  What do you think?  Some people disagree heartily with the last sentence.  They don't find security in the adventurous and exciting because they have a different idea of what security looks like.  For them, security looks like a big, soft sofa with pillows and comfortable blankets. Or maybe it looks like a fortress where nothing that is unknown can enter.  Maybe security looks like the same routine every single day. Wake up, go to work. Come home, eat supper, watch television, go to bed. Next day, same as the first.  Cohen says when things are no longer meaningful, security doesn't really exist.  It's an illusion.

God, as Creator, made us in His image. If we, like Him, are continually creating ... we can't be stuck in the same place.  He gave us imaginations and creativity so we wouldn't continue to do things the same way over and over so that they become meaningless.  There is no security in the meaningless.

I watched a lecture on Ancient Greek History yesterday. The speaker talked about the Spartans.  These people did nothing all day long except train for the next battle.  They had massive amounts of slaves who took care of their every need.  They had differing levels of these slaves as well.  Some managed the business of the city, trading and farming; others managed the households, taking care of every need.  Now, these slaves were furious. They did not like the lives they were forced to lead.  The speaker then compared this to the antebellum South and slavery that was in place there.  Why am I telling you about this?  Because every single moment of the lives of both the Spartans and the Plantation owners involved, at some level, fear of an uprising by the slaves.  Their security was based in slavery and yet that security was an illusion.  There was no real freedom, even though they acted as if they had everything they wanted.

This is the same stranglehold I believe a false sense of security has over us.  We are enslaved to the status quo, to the sameness of our lives.  We live in pain because it is familiar. Anything that might be unfamiliar is set aside and ignored because we might have to do something about it.

Yesterday's leap from the stratosphere by Felix Baumgartner thrilled me.  Even though he experiences claustrophobia and was scared to do that jump, he took the risk.  He crawled into a capsule that carried him 128,000 feet into the sky.  For him, the sky was no longer the limit.  For us, the sky is no longer the limit.  He changed the way we look at the skies. He did something so completely different than nearly everyone else on the earth.  His security is in the adventurous and the exciting.

I will never leap out of a capsule at 128,000 feet, but I will find my own adventure.

So, I've been thinking about what I believed security felt like.  For a long time, I would have said that it looked like my Father.  He took me / us on some risky adventures, but because He was there, I was secure in knowing I was safe and he could take care of anything.  As I grew older and understood my relationship with God more, I transferred a lot of that sensation of security to Him, knowing that He was taking me on some risky adventures ... things that stretched me, caused me to live a bigger life than I probably would have preferred, taught me to look at challenges through His eyes ... on and on.  All of the time, though, I counted on the fact that if I followed him, I was secure.

You see, It is His plan in my life and it will never be safe as long as I'm prepared to be fully alive.  Security doesn't look like safety.  Security looks like adventure ... it is exciting, there is movement and life, there is change and there is power.


Monday, October 08, 2012

Puzzles and Life


This afternoon I suffered through a Lego model for you.  It was a sacrifice.  Max knows how much I love Star Wars and Lego, so I tend to get some fun models from him for birthdays and Christmas.

I also love puzzles.  When I was still at home, one thing we would do was to open a large puzzle on Christmas afternoon and spread it out on our large eight-foot dining room table.  Dad was a little obsessive and taught me to be the same, I suppose.  The first order of business was to flip all of the pieces so they were right side up and while we were doing that, pull out the edge pieces.  The edge was assembled and the picture on the box set up so we could know what our goal was.  Dad and I would argue about how to lay out the rest of the pieces, bringing colors together in a cluster, or aligning all the same shaped pieces.  But, from the moment the box was open, the family spent time pulling those pieces into order, creating a beautiful picture.

All of the pieces seem random and inconsequential until they are joined to another piece.  As each piece gets joined with those surrounding it, the picture is uncovered.  My Lego Star Wars model is much the same and one day, as I thought about it, so are the relationships in my life.

When we are born, all of the relationships that are to come are loose and out there; creating their own links to the world (they probably don't have a big cat trying to scatter them, though).  But, from the moment we begin interacting with people, those pieces begin coming together.  First, it is just our immediate family.  For me, I was the first child, so all I had in my life were my parents.  But, since Dad was a pastor, I began building relationships pretty early.  Mom always kidded me, telling me that even when I was in my playpen, I flirted with the Boy Scouts whose troop met in our home.

When I went to school, I started creating more relationships, so more pieces of the puzzle of my life began filling in.  I remember only a few from the first two years of school. We moved just before my second grade year and I had an entirely new pile of pieces to sort out and shuffle into place.

What has been so fascinating is that the pieces of this puzzle are so adaptable as long as I am.  We moved again, just before I entered Junior High.  One of the biggest blessings of all those moves was that I learned how to meet new people; how to allow different puzzle pieces to sort themselves into my pile.  I'd turn them right side up and figure out where they belonged on the table. Then, as the relationships were built; they all worked together to make my life into something very interesting.

I had friends, I had teachers. There were piano teachers and band directors, voice coaches and more piano teachers.  My parents' friends became my friends; their children and I grew up together.  I went to college and met more friends, then transferred to another college and met even more.  I had more piano and voice coaches, more choir directors and professor.  Each relationship became a glorious piece of the puzzle.

Pieces on one side of the puzzle don't necessarily touch each other, and that's alright, even though I really think that my friends would love each other.  How could they not? I absolutely adore them!

At my sister's celebration party this summer, I sat down with two other couples whose only connection was that they knew me, but then one said to the other.  "I saw you at an ice cream shop a few weeks ago. I wanted to yell and say hello, but figured you might not know me.  I know you mostly through Diane's Facebook page."  They'd met a couple of other times at parties Carol and I hosted, but never enough to become friends.  However, from that moment ... those two pieces were connected and it made my puzzle even more interesting.  From a two-dimensional image, a three-dimensional relationship had formed and I could only smile.

Some of the pieces are dark, they've been difficult times, but they are as much a part of the picture as those who bring flowers and sunshine, and vibrant colors. My life isn't always easy and some of the relationships I've built over the years weren't all that healthy, so I have to accept that they don't bring me joy, but they do bring me another dimension of life.  Some of these pieces have gone dark as people I've loved have died.  Some of those pieces representing people who have died, though have remained vibrant and filled with emotion as I recognize how much of my life they touched and how the changes that continue to occur in my life are because of their influence.

I finished the Lego model.  Ewoks and stormtroopers and trees, oh my.  Once I got all the pieces together, it was a pretty wonderful representation of a life puzzle.  Everything is just a little bit different.  When it started out, all of the pieces were chaotic and wild and differently shaped.  As they came together, something beautiful happened ... a unified piece that makes sense.  My life makes sense because of those relationships ... those that include you.

P.S.  the reason it was a Lego model and not an actual puzzle?  Can you imagine my frustration if a puzzle sat out on the table and TB decided that pieces were his to play with?  Oh yes ... it would be a very bad day.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Adventures


There are a group of people who plan to start reading The Hobbit today as part of the Nammynools Book Club.  You can join us if you'd like.  The book is great fun.

One of the first questions that comes up when reading about Bilbo Baggins is that of adventuring.  Tolkien says that the Baggins' were respectable not only because they were rich, but because they weren't the adventuring type of hobbits. Gandalf thrust the adventure of a lifetime on the poor hobbit.  Bilbo wasn't ready for it, he hadn't prepared for it, in fact he was a little upset by the whole thing.

I began looking back over my life and thinking about some of the adventures I've been on. Honestly, even though I haven't done crazy things like scale Mount Everest or swim the English Channel, I've had some pretty incredible adventures.

In another conversation, a friend asked me about the difference between adventuresome and adventurous.  They are synonyms, but most people understand that there is risk involved and sometimes even danger.  Merriam-Webster says that adventuresome entails more danger, others believe that adventurous is the more dangerous word.  Whatever the reality is, risk and a hint of danger go along with adventure.

My father believed in adventures.  He took his youth groups on adventure trips, sometimes on week-long canoe trips through the Canadian and Minnesota lakes, portaging, paddling and camping our way through beautiful scenery.  He took a few canoe trips on white water rivers.  He took adults on fly-in fishing trips.  He took many, many groups of people to Kentucky and Tennessee on work camps to live in strange places for a week while helping people rebuild their homes.  Building our cabin was an adventure for he and mom ... and for the three of us kids.  Starting a printing business was an adventure for us.  Maintaining it after Mom died continued the adventure.

It never occurred to me that going to college was an adventure because it was something everyone expected me to do.  But, as I look back on it, that's exactly what it was. I was faced with the unknown at every turn. Some of it was awful, some of it was extraordinary, much of it was wonderful.  I started another adventure a few years ago when I began the process of getting my Master's Degree and considered a life that was different from what everyone expected from me.

Bilbo was respectable.  He liked the ease of his life. He liked not drawing attention to himself. He liked waking up every morning, knowing exactly what was going to happen that day. While I fully agree that type of life makes things infinitely easier, I believe it makes things that much more boring as well.  While I may never desire to fall out of airplanes strapped to a big piece of nylon or dive the depths of the ocean, I do enjoy waking up in the morning knowing that something new might come my way.

A friend decided she wanted to live the rest of her life as an author, rather than as a public relations executive at a small college. She put everything on the line; quit her job, maxed out her credit cards and allowed a publishing company to critique the work that was closest to her heart. Another friend knew she wanted nothing more than to teach children.  She started a second degree so she could do that. In her mid-40s, everything changed. Her adventure had begun. Yet another friend knew that music and children would somehow combine to fulfill her life. The first part of her adventure took her to Africa.

We can sit in our hobbit hole, hoping for nothing greater than a beautiful day outside or we can ...



What about you? Are you ready for adventure?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gratitude


Gratitude

I've been working my way through Julia Cameron's "The Complete Artist's Way" over the last few weeks and have enjoyed some of the exercises she recommends.  One was to write out ten tiny changes I'd like to see happen in my life.  That took a little bit of thinking, but I finally settled on ten.  After listing those, I was to choose one and begin implementing it immediately.  The one I chose to do right away was a daily list of things I'm thankful for.

Today marks Day 6 of listing things I'm thankful for.  I'm trying not to make it a great big deal, because I want it to be sustainable, so I just write down five things that immediately pop into my mind.  I decided that to keep writing down things like my family, friends, love, health, God, etc. would take up my list of five each day, so those are planted in big letters across the top of the note.  I'm always thankful for those.

There are so many things to be thankful for and so many people to whom I should say thank you, so it is never difficult to uncover five each day.  Sometimes it's as simple as fresh sheets on the bed, or a chance to sleep in while snuggling a kitty or as profound as a friend finding me after thirty years.

I've actually created these lists several times in my life. The first time was when I was in high school.  I got the idea from my father.  He had received a phone call late one night from a man whose family came to our church, but whom I had never met.  The man was on a beach in Florida and intended to kill himself. He hadn't been much of a husband or father and decided it would be easier for everyone involved if he just went away.  Dad asked him to wait another day and while he was waiting, come up with ten things he was thankful for.  The man promised to do that and then promised to call Dad the next morning.  The phone call that next morning came from the airport.  The man was coming home to renew his relationship with his family and to begin a relationship with God.

That story struck a chord with me. Though I was nowhere near suicide, it did occur to me that an attitude of gratefulness would overwhelm the negativity that I had in my life. As a high-schooler, negativity pretty much went hand in hand with growing up and I was tired of Mom telling me to change my attitude.  It was time to actually do something about it.  The fights with her were more difficult than simply trying something new.  So, I did.  Every night as part of my devotional time, I began writing out a list of things I was thankful for.  I won't tell you that it caused as radical a change in me as it did for my Dad's friend, but I will tell you that it is an exercise I am glad to return to on a regular basis.

Gratitude opens the mind and heart.
Gratitude takes me outside myself.
Gratitude is bigger than problems.
Gratitude spills out on others.
Gratitude brings perspective.
Gratitude lifts others up.
Gratitude lifts the heart.
Gratitude is a journey.
Gratitude is a lifestyle.
Gratitude is humbling.
Gratitude is a choice.
Gratitude shows love.
Gratitude brings joy.

What are you grateful for today?  How will you share that gratitude today and tomorrow and the next day?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tattoos and Piercings and Love, oh my!



Last week I took my Jeep in for some TLC at Jiffy Lube.  The young man who checked me in and the out at the end of the session had some nice tattoos on his left arm, but it was the tattoo on his right arm that caught my attention.  Across the side of his forearm was simply "Joshua 1:6-9" in a nice, clean script.  I was in the middle of signing my credit card slip and was trying not to stare so as to ensure I knew what I was reading.  I probably was making an idiot of myself, but as I was ready to walk out the door, I finally had my wits all about me and said, "Be strong and courageous."  His eyes lit up, he smiled and said, "I will ... thanks."  (The picture isn't of his tattoo.)

The night before, I was at a restaurant with some friends. My friend, Fran, had just gotten a tattoo on her right forearm / wrist with the word "Believe" tailing off to a dragonfly.  It's gorgeous.  Our waitress also had a tattoo on her wrist and Fran asked about it.  The waitress was embarrassed about it and tried to toss off the conversation. I wonder how many times she's gotten harassed about that tattoo by those who don't like them.  All Fran wanted to do was make a connection, not give her any trouble about it.

When Max worked at CompUSA, their policy for piercings was that the employee had to remove any facial piercings before coming on to the floor.  I think the bright red holes in a person's eyebrow are much uglier than some of the jewelry worn.

I've teased some friends with the words from Leviticus 19:28 where the law states you aren't to put any tattoo marks on yourself.  In all honesty, I can look at many other laws from this section and recognize they have no place in today's society.  We have to be very careful of standing on OT law. Paul clearly tells us that if we choose to live by one, we must live by them all.

I have friends with tattoos and I have friends who abhor tattoos.  I have friends with pierced ears who think that any other type of piercing is also abhorrent. Me? I'm fascinated by the whole thing.  I'm not big into pain or permanent body decoration, simply because I don't want to have to maintain it through thick and thin.  My ears were pierced years ago, but I just don't wear that much jewelry and honestly, I suppose the holes are still there, but I have no desire to wear earrings these days, so I don't.

The point of all this isn't just about tattoos and piercing, but about our ... my attitude regarding those who choose to do this.  I remember my mother being quite rude about tattoos, asking whether a young person was really going to want to have that decoration on their body as they grew older.  It was believed that people wouldn't be able to get higher paying jobs if they were tattooed where it was visible.

Then I began asking myself why it mattered to me at all what another person chose to do.  It is not my concern whether or not they work in a job I think they should work, or pierce their bodies, or wear spacers in their ears or tattoos on their body.  God doesn't actually call me to make those judgments in their lives or tell them how to live their lives.

God tells me to love.  That's pretty much it.  I don't have to make everyone adjust to my perception of what life should look like and then ridicule them if they don't.  Sometimes I think that is one of the most courageous things we can do.  Love people where they are, no matter what ... even if we encounter them only one time in our lives.

So, as I got in my Jeep and drove away, thankful for freshly vacuumed carpet, clean windows, and an oil change and thought about the exchange, it occurred to me that the moment he and I made a connection over that scripture verse tattooed on his arm, we had shown each other a little love.  It probably wasn't a world-changing moment, but it was another step on the path toward love.

In my class today we had to answer the question about what is non-negotiable in our lives.  For me it is love.  I'll get into that another time.

So, do you have a tattoo? What is it? Do you want a tattoo? What do you want and where do you want it?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Facebook and Birthdays


A few weeks ago, I read the article "Saying Happy Birthday to Your Friend on Facebook Is Meaningless." What a snarky, mean-spirited, shallow and sad look that person has towards life.  You see, I believe in the power of social networking and relationships which are built because it exists. There are people I would never have been able to reconnect with were it not for Facebook (I'd talk about MySpace, but that causes most people to groan, so it can stay in the background of my thoughts).  I also have several people whom I consider to be amazing friends today because of Facebook. I would never have met them in person, our paths would never have crossed; but because of various circumstances, we made connections and those relationships astound me every day - they mean the world to me.

So ... Saturday was my birthday.  What a wonderful day I had. I was really looking forward to seeing who would just jot down a few words to let me know that my name and face had crossed their mind that day.  It was kind of an extraordinary experience.  You see, I know that Facebook puts my name in front of you all day long until you deal with it.  If you ignore it, that's fine.  I don't ignore things like that very well.  But, I get it that Facebook pushes for you to say something.  However, it was your choice to actually type the words and the moment that you did so, I smiled and a quick connection was made.

A great many of my friends on Facebook are there because we knew each other years and years ago.  I'm thankful to have found them and so grateful for the opportunity to see that their lives are filled with wonderful things, whether kids or grandkids, exhilarating job or exciting new adventures.  These are connections that would never have been made and friends who would have been lost to time because we had no possible way to discover each other in the immense morass of people that interact in our lives today.  For some, my memories are locked into short periods of my life and until Facebook, only a picture in an old yearbook  reminded me we once spent a great deal of time together.

Because of the way I grew up, as an itinerant preacher's daughter, I lived in several different communities and built different circles of friends. I attended three different colleges the first time around and at this point, I have made friends in two different universities as I get my Master's Degree.  I have friends from so many different churches that I have attended, the idea of taking count is a little overwhelming and I've made friends in varying organizations that I've belonged to throughout my life.  As one thing supplanted another, friends and circles of friends transitioned and I lost contact with many people.  That I've found any of them again is a joy to me.


All of this means that every year I anticipate my birthday because of the moments I connect with my friends on Facebook.  I choose to believe that everyone's intentions regarding their comments to me are as good as mine are.  When I type Happy Birthday to someone online, flashes of our past interactions happen in my mind. It brings me joy every time.

I believe that building a community is intentional, whether it is face to face or online. It is just as easy to avoid relationships with people when you see them face to face every day as it is online.  I believe it isn't as much about the location as it is the intention of the individuals involved.

It might take only a moment for you to type the words 'Happy Birthday' to a Facebook friend, but for just that moment, you have made a connection. It might take only a moment for you to read those same words, but instead of believing them to be meaningless, consider that connection between the two of you.  However you know that person, you can build on the connection today or tomorrow, but it's still a part of the world in which we live.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Overwhelmed? Scheduled.


No wonder I multi-task. There is much too much to do, learn, read, take in, experience in a single lifetime. And even when I do multi-task, I feel like I miss out on so much.  The other day I actually cried when I realized how much there was in the world I know nothing about, yet fascinates me completely.  For a person who loves information, the internet has given life to my mind.  So, how will I manage to keep filling my mind with information and still be productive with all of the things that I want to do?

My goal was to build a tighter, more organized schedule so I could begin achieving some major goals which are important to me. The first part of this project was to begin listing all the things I do, the things I need to do and the things I want to do.  Right now there are nine categories with multiple activities in each of the categories.  By the time I typed the last word in the last category (at which point I added three more blank categories because I'm nowhere near finished), tears threatened to squirt out of my eyes.  To be honest, I'm not sure if those happened because I was overwhelmed by excitement or utter terror at the immensity of this.

I started this post six days ago and yesterday I finally created a schedule offering flexibility and structure.  I tried it out and when evening arrived, I had accomplished everything from writing a bit of fiction to listening to a 75 minute lecture on Ancient Greek History. I wrote my blogpost, a thousand words in my journal and walked. I spent time posting responses in my class forum and continued the task of inputting hundreds of pages of handwritten notes into  a format where they will be searchable and useable.  All of these items were finally in a format which would act as a reminder to me as well as offer a sense of accomplishment when I checked them off the day's list.

Writing this blog?  It's finally on a list of things to do each Monday. Of course, I could avoid it, but in order to continue to grow and achieve goals, it's time to find a better way to delineate my goals and challenge myself to meet all of them.  If this works for me, I'm going to be a very happy girl!

I built a two week schedule that cycles through all of the things I should be doing.  I wanted to ensure that I didn't overwhelm myself during a single day, because I've found that I can rebel against myself as much as I ever rebelled against anyone else telling me what to do.  I needed to be honest with myself about exactly what I would do and what I would just ignore.  If I thought there was a chance I'd ignore something, I either moved it to a day with fewer responsibilities or really considered whether or not it was something I want in my life.

For instance, Wednesdays always need to be spent writing papers, which means Tuesdays require a great deal of research and reading.  Those two things take more time than nearly anything else I do and even so, I am great at wasting time as I try to avoid doing them. I know that about myself and am willing to admit that it is true, so I build time into the schedule for procrastination.

This has been coming at me for quite some time. For the last three months I've been laying the groundwork for a more succinct system.  I began with a very flexible structure in June, knowing that as time passed, I would tweak things and continue to build in more layers. Discovering it was working for me allowed me freedom to actually move forward. It took a while to figure out exactly what things would look like, but finally, my creative little brain found its way.  I thought I'd build this in Google Calendar, but then I wanted a more limited framework ... something that would look the same week after week, with variations to keep it interesting.  My calendar is a reflection of the big activities that show up in my life, the schedule holds the little, day to day activities.  Activities must be organized by type, not just by the hour of the day, because that type of flexibility is important to me.  I didn't want to be bound by a clock, knowing that if I missed writing my blogpost by nine o'clock, I've screwed up the entire day.

The schedule is a work in process, an organic outgrowth of myself. Even as I was writing about it here and looking at it, I realized there were a couple of things I could do to make it more cohesive, so I made the changes and am happy.

It is a little strange to come to this point in my life and finally have an idea of how to organize my world and work.  But, now that I'm on task, you should be hearing more from me!  And I actually have some things I'm looking forward to telling you!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Patriot Guard Overcomes Hate

I drove down 72nd Street in Omaha today past the Braman Mortuary. As I approached from the north, I saw American flags and wondered what was going on.  The closer I got, I realized that for the first time I got an opportunity to see the Patriot Guard (or Freedom Riders, not sure which group) in action. These men and women stood on the corner with pristine American flags on clean white poles. I glanced down into a parking lot filled with shiny motorcycles.  I couldn't believe that I didn't have my camera, because this is a sight I don't want to forget.

Tears choked me up as soon as I got near enough to realize who I was seeing and they didn't stop any time soon. In fact, even now as I consider the power of that gift they offer, my throat constricts and tears threaten.

The funeral was for an Army veteran and to ensure that the family is guarded from hate-mongers, these men and women freely offer their time.

When I got home, someone had posted that they'd seen picketers at another funeral in Lincoln.  For her, the focus was on the hate that filled those hearts.  That's all she saw as she drove by that funeral. The reason that the Patriot Guard exists is because of that group that is filled with hate and venom.  So, I guess that in the end, even though they intended evil, it has been turned to good.  A group now exists that never would have except for a need that was created by hate.

I was so proud today - for no good reason. I have nothing to do with these men and women and will probably never encounter them as a group in my life.  But, we live in a country that has freedom of expression and one of the greatest things we do with that freedom is to counter evil with goodness.

That will make me emotional every day.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My Desk

I sit at a desk that used to be a study carrel at Harvard University. My grandfather was head of the university's printing facility back in the 40s and 50s, so somehow we managed to snare a few nice items.  There are stains and gouges on the desk top, as well as the imprint of a pair of small scissors.


My imagination runs wild when considering this small desktop filled with piles of books, with just a little room left for a stack of paper and a pen.  Over and over that image repeats as young people studied and wrote paper, answered questions, or researched topics. Sometimes the books were so boring heads would nod until eyes closed and sleep would come.  Other times, great ideas were born. Maybe a single moment of clarity would open an entirely new world for a young mind.  Who knows, maybe a young man wrote an awkward piece of prose to express his love.

This desk holds a couple of computer monitors (the piles of books lift them to eye level), speakers and a keyboard now.  I have been known to fall asleep leaning back in Dad's chair when the books get exceptionally boring.

The number of books that I have available to me through electronic means would startle those young students.  I often feel like a lazy slug when I click open a few windows and have reams of information available to me without the need for a librarian.

I get a little intimidated if I think too deeply about the users of the desk fifty or sixty years ago.  There was so much potential and they were about to enter the world at an amazing point in our recent history. So much was happening in the world around them.  All they had to do was reach out and grab their future.

We're in the middle of our own future right now.  In the last 50 years, some amazing things have occurred.  I experienced the beginning of the internet and free flowing information. Technology seems to have no end. I saw men land on the moon and build a space station. Communication is cheaper and faster than ever before.

I look at this little desk and think of the people who have sat in front of it as they learned.  It no longer resides in one of the oldest and most respected universities in the US, but through the wonders that have come alive in its future, it holds the tools for learning on its table top.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Getting Old

Yesterday I worked on filling out my profile information at Grand Canyon University.  I wandered along, inputting information about owning Insty-Prints, typing in the years I was there and the years I worked at different churches, etc.  Then ... THEN, I got to the education section.  I wanted to enter my undergraduate information.  Hmmm ... let's see ... maybe I'll just enter the last college I attended and the one from which I graduated.  Ok ... good, that's a great idea.

Coe College.  I started in the fall of 1979.  1979.  Ummm ... 1979.  Are you kidding me?  There was no year earlier than 1980!!  Oh, for heaven's sake, I graduated in 1981!  Talk about destroying a girl's heart.

Max and I have often laughed at the fact that we are running out of radio buttons.  You know those little buttons you select on surveys, etc.?  They mark off your age for you quite nicely.  Let's see.  23-35 - Nope.  36-42 - Nope.  43-51 - Nope.  52 - ? - WHAT??  I'm in the last radio button?  That kind of stuff just kicks me in the head.

Why can't these companies recognize that the Baby Boomers (yes, I'm at the tail end of that group) comprise one of the largest population entities out there and we don't plan on dying in the next seven years.  For heaven's sake!  Let's make those radio buttons go out until at least the age of 120!

Sometimes the world makes me feel really old ... even when I'm not.

So, I logged onto the Grand Canyon University's Tech Support page on Facebook and asked about the whole '1980' thing.  They asked that I send my query in to an email address which accepts feedback for the website, because they know they have students of all ages. I did.

But, whatever ... when they say 'all ages,' I know that they are talking about old people like me ... all of those ages that might have gone to college prior to 1980.  Sigh.

Someday I'll rant and rave about the relentlessness of time and all the profound thoughts which revolve around that idea, but for today, I'm just whining.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Count Your Blessings

The other morning I woke up singing an old hymn.

Count your blessings, name them one by one.
Count your blessings, see what God has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one.
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

I wondered what had been going on in my dreams that brought me to that song, but it seemed like a good way to start the day.  I showered and then decided that I needed a little bit of time away from my normal day, so I got in the car and drove.

I hadn't gotten too far up the gravel road, when I saw a deer nibbling on fresh corn leaves in a field. I stopped for a few minutes to watch and pretty soon, he (she?) came closer to the fenceline.  I moved forward so as to continue watching and the deer moved again.  Pretty soon, one of us had to make a decision.  Either I moved on, or the poor deer did, but just at that point, he turned to look at me.  I had rolled the car window down to see if I could capture a picture, so I did just that, told him 'good morning' and drove on. The picture stinks - he was too far away for my camera phone - I really need to remember to take my real camera when I decide to go for a drive.


Just down the road another half mile, a beautiful cardinal rose up out of the ditch and as I was watching that glorious red color in awe, a cluster of birds flew up in front of me.  More cardinals and several goldfinches. It was glorious!  I felt like color was exploding in front of me.

All I could think about was the fact that I was experiencing an awful lot of those blessings in a few short minutes.

But, there was one more.  I hadn't yet gotten off the gravel road (which is only a 2 /12 mile stretch) and I came to a stop again.  A gorgeous male pheasant was standing at the top of the ditch, resplendent in his color.  I slowed to take it all in and was thankful for the many blessings that fill my day.