Regrets, Resolutions and the New Year

New Year’s resolutions are a norm in our society.  January 1st is a good time to “draw a line in the sand” and make life changes.  Unfortunately, those changes often don’t last as long as the month of January.  I know that goal setting is an important part of a successful life.  So, how to we set goals that are attainable and that make it through the ENTIRE year?

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” 

Proverbs 16:9
My hallway view

I can’t begin the journey into the New Year without looking back.  Actually, there’s a part of me that looks back every day.  When I awaken in the morning, I see my husband and am reminded of the life we share.  But, from my bed, I can also see a photograph of my life the way it was in 2005.  It’s a photo of Terry, Zac, Gracie and me taken just a few weeks before Terry’s death.  Each morning, I have the opportunity to give thanks for what I had yesterday as well as what I have today.  Most goals begin with a look back. 

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

While memories can be seductive, I cannot live in the past.  There was a time when all I wanted to do was live in the past.  I didn’t want to move forward.  January 1 was a horrible day that marked another year of loss.  Setting goals for myself was the only way to move forward.  Simple goals were all I could handle:  going to work every day; walking around the block; journaling every day.  These very simple things were things that I could accomplish and enabled me to move forward with my life.  I couldn’t change the past, but with God’s help, I could live in the present and influence my future.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” 

Luke 14:28

Some of the most common resolutions concern losing weight, getting fit, saving money, etc.  The first quarter of the year is known as “the fitness season”.  It’s during this time that people are most interested in getting gym memberships, buying fitness equipment, hiring trainers and other avenues of getting fit.  It’s easy to set lofty goals.  When you are trying to lose weight, seeing the scale drop only a pound in a week is discouraging.  Yet, the healthiest and best way to maintain your weight loss is losing an average of a pound per week.  Some weeks, the best you can achieve is not to gain weight.  But, I know I get discouraged when there aren’t BIG changes to see.

Money Management is another good place to goal set.  Its probably not be realistic to set a goal of saving a $1,000,000 this year.  (Especially if you don’t have a net income of more than that!) But, there are ways to save.  Having money taken immediately from your paycheck to a savings account is a no-brainer for me.  I don’t have to think about it and the savings will add up. For me, I need a savings method that I can access, but not too easily.  I have a small investment account that is accruing interest and dividends.  The money is deducted each paycheck and I’m often surprised when I look at the amount I have saved. 

 “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” 

Proverbs 16:3

One area of goal setting that is often overlooked is tithing.  One of the hardest things for me to implement was tithing from the “first fruits”.  I wanted to be sure that I had enough money to cover the month BEFORE I made my tithe.  What I have learned through the years is the importance of making the sacrifice and tithing first.  My husband is very conscientious about tithing on every bit of income we have.  Being able to make an online payment has made this much simpler.  We give the first part to God.  Period.  I truly believe that tithing should be an integral part of every believer’s budgeting plan. 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” 

Philippians 4:8   

As I look at the possibilities of 2021, I have set a few new goals:

  1.  Daily goal setting and journaling.  I’m not good at this.  I’ve been through several classes that taught the importance of handling each day as an investment.  This year I have invested in a Christian planner to use and I hope that it will keep me on track.
  2. Read through the Bible again (or more precisely, listen to the Bible).  I have started an audio study that will take me through the Bible in a year.  It’s amazing to me the new things I learn each time I do this.
  3. Find new ways to serve others.  I will continue to serve on my church’s prayer team.  I am also in discussions to begin a grief support group.  I want to help support others who are dealing with the death of a treasured family member.
  4. Build the “artist” in me.
    1. Refine my watercolor painting skills with on-line classes, etc.
    1. Continue to quilt and sew to create usable pieces of art
    1. Learn to use my embroidery machine

What goals/resolutions have you made for 2021? 

Have you subdivided your yearly goals into manageable monthly (or weekly or daily) pieces? 

Will you be a more complete person at the end of 2021 by reaching your goals/resolutions?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” 

Hebrew 12: 1-2a

BUT. . .

 “I’ll Follow You Anywhere” is a popular Christian song that we sing during our worship services.  The song is wonderful, but I have to ask the question:  Do we really take those words seriously?”

When I was growing up in youth choir, we spent quite a bit of time READING the words we were singing.  Mrs. Stapp wanted us to understand what we were saying through the songs.  We were made aware of the words, the punctuation and the meaning behind each verse.  That training has stuck with me.  If I am going to sing a song, if I’m going to say the words, I want to understand and stand behind those words. 

” You make it easy to love You
You are good and You are kind
You bring joy into my life
You make it easy to trust You
You have never left my side
You’ve been faithful every time

All I want is You
Jesus, all I want is You”

From “I’ll Follow You Anywhere”
Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Brett Younker
Follow You Anywhere lyrics © So Essential Tunes, Be Essential Songs

The first verse of the song ends with “all I want is you.”  So, if everyone I loved walked away, would I be satisfied with Jesus alone?  After losing my first husband unexpectedly, I can state quite emphatically that my heart wasn’t echoing this verse.  I desperately wanted my husband back.  I wanted my old life and my old family back.  It took quite a bit of time to accept his death and to come to the point that Jesus was enough for me.  That may sound a bit sacrilegious.  I’m just being honest.  My human heart was broken and I wanted so much that I couldn’t find solace in Jesus alone.  It was my faith in the eternal plan of Christ as my Savior that moved me forward to find that peace and comfort once again.  So, I can sing those words, again.  I admitted to adding the following requests, though: 

  1. Keep my family safe
  2. Don’t allow pain in our lives
  3. Keep my lifestyle comfortable

The central message of the chorus is no matter where you lead me, I’ll go.  Is that true? 

“You are the refuge I run to
You are the fire that leads me through the night
I’ll follow You anywhere
There’s a million reasons to trust You
Nothing to fear for You are by my side
I’ll follow You anywhere”

From “I’ll Follow You Anywhere”
Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Brett Younker
Follow You Anywhere lyrics © So Essential Tunes, Be Essential Songs

So, many times in my life, I’ve been willing to go anywhere, but (insert here.)  I would serve anywhere, as long as it was still in: 

  • At first the USA
  • Then in Texas
  • Later in the Houston area
  • And when I had kids, in the same school district

My qualifications grew more restrictive as my life was more complicated.   I didn’t want to leave the comfortable nest I had created.   I didn’t want to rock the boat.  Raising my children was a priority.  I’m not saying that it was wrong, but I’m admitting that my parameters did change because of my children.  Truthfully, I believe that I followed the call and was serving exactly where I needed to be at the time.  But, I continually asked myself “Are you truly willing to go ANYWHERE?” 

” Oh Jesus, You came to my rescue
Took my place upon that cross
You redeemed what I had lost
Now my whole world revolving around You
Yes
You’re the center of my life
You’re the treasure, You’re the prize”

from “I’ll Follow You Anywhere”
Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Brett Younker
Follow You Anywhere lyrics © So Essential Tunes, Be Essential Songs

My husband and I have built our marriage around our faith in Jesus Christ.  We constantly seek His guidance in our lives.  Five years ago, I got very angry with God.  I had prayed and begged for a particular outcome and for some reason, He didn’t come through.  He said “NO!”  During that time of anger and upset, I was not treating God as the center of my life.  No, I was treating Him more like a Big Blue Genie or Santa Claus.  I made my wishes known and they were supposed to be granted.  I didn’t “treasure” my relationship with God.  I was just mad that I didn’t get my way.  There are still times that I question that “no”.  And, honestly, I haven’t stopped asking for favors from God.  However, I have come to understand and accept that the journey is often too important to avoid.  I need the time of growth. Or there is someone that I need to meet on the journey.   Or both!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:14 NIV

Living the Christian life is hard.  Christ carries the burden of our guilt and shame, but living in a world filled with corruption and sin is difficult.  We want immediate gratification, recognition, comfort.  Christ doesn’t offer that.  In fact, we have been promised persecution, suffering and required self-denial as Christians.  Many call themselves Christians, but how many are really followers of Christ?  How many can say, truthfully, I’ll follow You anywhere.  That’s who I want to be, an unabashed, totally dedicated follower of Christ. 

What about you?  Are you ready to go ANYWHERE? 

Three score & One

Today, I am 61.  I am 31 years past the dreaded 30th birthday.  Hard to believe, but I’m still a living, functioning member of society.  Life does exist beyond the 30’s.  In this time, I have been a daughter, a student, an employee, a wife, a mother, a widow, a Mumzy, a 2nd wife and a stepmom.  I’ve experienced many things, both good and bad. In my 3 score and 1 year, a lot has happened. 

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

RRoman’s13:1-3 MSG

I was born during the Eisenhower administration.  In my lifetime, there have been twelve US Presidents:  one was assasinated,  one resigned, one survived being shot, two were been impeached. The Supreme Court has seen 26 justices.  Politics are never more evident than in today’s social media world.  As I type this, one more justice is awaiting confirmation and the possibility of a 13th president hangs on the November election.

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3. NIV

I followed the NASA missions and celebrated the triumphs  and mourned the disasters.  I remember the Apollo 1 fire as well as the Challenger and  Columbia disasters.  Before Tom Hanks brought it to life on the screen, I sat in my 4th grade classroom and listened as Apollo 13 made it safely back to earth.  Skylab was launched and crashed to earth and  the International Space Station was built. 

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.

Psalm 30:2 NIV

Todays young adults have never experienced measles, chicken pox or the mumps. I’ve had all three. I also have a small pox scar on my left arm. (I tried to explain the process to my kids and they just don’t get it.) I remember the sugar cube with the polio vaccine.  AIDS, Ebola, Zika, Bird & Swine flu and now the coronavirus have all become part of our normal vocabulary. 

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.

Psalm 127:3 NIV

In these 60+ years, the nuclear family has moved from the normal to the exception.  In my teen years, if you were having sex it was a secret.  Today, if you are NOT having sex it’s an embarassment.  Marriage is a convenience that is shunned by some and fought for by others.  In the process of raising strong women, we have taught them that it’s “your body and your choice” even if that means murdering a part of yourself.  I believe in choice.  I just differ on the point at which that choice should be made.  I have to join those that opine what would happen if our government supported adoption as strongly as it supports abortion rights. 

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Colossians 3:13

I’ve watched (and participated) in the social media growth.  I love being able to stay in contact with friends and family on a daily basis.  I despise the vitriol that is evident across the pages, however.  I’ve watched as a good friend attacked another dear friend over a perceived political slight.  I’ve been unfriended for being too “religious”.  I’ve had to hide or unfriend some newer acquaintances that are just too militant and/or negative.  I miss the days when you could have an opinion without being afraid of the attack.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2

My college days were spent in east Texas at SFASU.  In the early 80s, coming “out of the closet” seemed to be the thing to do.  I did not always understand, but I have always believed that you have a right to love and be loved.  So, while I may not have embraced the lifestyle, I still chose to embrace the friendships.   I had an older friend and family member ask me how I reconciled my gay friends with my personal beliefs.  She had been the recipient of an unexpected and unwanted sexual overture with a roommate during her college years.  As a result, she was struggling the some of her favorite student’s lifestyle decisions.  I explained that I loved these friends for who they were not their orientation.  I have since realized that this is true of many things.  I can love my friends even if we disagree about politics, religion, sex or any other difference.  If I am invested in the person, the rest is just “window dressing”.  I would hope that is reciprocated. 

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

EECCLESIASTES 4:12 NIV

I’ve lived in the country and the city and learned that there are good and bad aspects to both.  Community is where you decide it is.  No matter how large or small the city, you live in your own small world.  You make your home where you choose to find your contentment. 

A person’s days are determine;  you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.

Job 14:5 NIV

I have no idea how much life is left in the 61 year old body.  I do plan to continue to expand my horizions.  I’ve taken up watercolor painting and quilting since my 60th birthday.  In the past year, we’ve added two miniture goats to our family.  They have been an education.  I’m still active in my church and strive to be more than a “religious” person and I will conintue to share my beliefs.  I love our blended family and look forward to our family continuing to grow.  I continue to treasure the friendships I have from all of my years.

This is Sixty-one.  This is me.  I’m more comfortable in my skin that ever.  I look forward to the journey around the sun.  I hope and pray you make the trip with me. 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

PSALM 139:13-16 MSG

How do I “Fear Not” when I am Afraid?

2020 has been a year we never expected.  Since March, our country and in many cases the entire world has been locked down.  Schools were closed.  Stores were tightly controlled. Offices were all but abandoned.  Traffic was non-existent.  The daily Covid-19 updates have become as important as any stock market or oil price index.  We’ve been told not to wear mask and then mandated to wear a mask or be fined.  Businesses count people to be sure the “magic” occupancy number is never passed.  Restaurants struggle with full costs with 50% capacity requirements.  Churches have been shuttered.  Weddings have been postponed or greatly reduced in scope.  Trips were cancelled.  We have hidden away in an effort to escape the corona virus. 

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  

Psalm 56:3 NIV

I will say that I have been amazed at the fear (and honestly the panic) I have witnessed among my friends and family.  Maybe because I’m a numbers person, I’ve not been as alarmed by the daily counts.  Statistics are just that:  statistics.  Without clearly defined parameters, statistics are often useless.  I have read the daily Covid-19 updates.  I have seen the upticks in positive tests.  It seems that the media uses raw numbers to fuel the panic.  I can’t help but ask about the parameters:   How many of the positive tests were retests?  What is the % of positive tests to the total number of tests?  What is the false positive/negative rate used to normalize the data?  Why are we not using the Diamond Princess (a quarantined, microcosm) for forecasting and comparisons?

“For the Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them.” 

2 Timothy 1:7 TLB

The schools are beginning to open up to the great relief (and even joy) of many parents and students.  There is still great fear.  But, if we look at previous years, the beginning of school always signaled the spread of colds, viruses, flu, etc.  This year, with sanitation as the focal point, I would think they students and teachers are safer than ever.  I fully expect that the Covid-19 virus will move from epidemic to a part of regular life.  It will never fully disappear.  We have to learn to live with it and its varying mutations much as we currently do with the various flu strains.  Just as we had to build an immunity to the viruses that caused measles, mumps, smallpox, chickenpox, polio, etc., we will have to find a level of immunity to this virus.   

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me..”  Psalm 23:4 NIV

Psalm 23:4 NIV

I know that this virus is virulent and can be deadly.  (I know the same thing about the measles.  I survived my 2 week bout with the measles during the outbreak of 1977.) For those that have lost loved ones to this pandemic, I have the deepest sympathy.  I know others that have recovered but are still suffering the after effects.  I have truly sorry.  But, at some point, we have to allow people the freedom to live the best life that they can.  We have to move forward in the best way that we can. 

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 

Matthew 6:34 NIV

Today, I have a selection of masks to wear when I leave the house.  I have hand sanitizer in my purse, in my car and on my desk at work.  I’ve have grown accustomed to “attending” church in my living room.  I’ve learned to use Zoom and have actually connected faces to names in my weekly Zoom prayer meeting.  I’ve enjoyed the lack of traffic as I journeyed to the office as an “essential person.”  I’ve tried take-out from new places with varying degrees of success.  Curb-side pickup was already a favorite of mine and that hasn’t changed. I’m doing my best to be safe and free of fear.  I’ve grown accustomed to asking for permission before entering an elevator with another person. 

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” 

Psalm 34:4 NIV

I hope the day comes (very soon) when masks are an option not a mandate.  I look forward to seeing friends and hugging or shaking hands without hesitation.  I’m praying for all businesses to fully reopen and for people to be allowed to return to work.    

These are my goals for today:

  • To live my life as fully as God will allow
  • To follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in every undertaking
  • To be sensitive the fears and concerns of other with feeling guilt for not sharing those same fears and concerns
  • To avoid the frenzy that has become the media
  • To ask questions, seek the fact, act on the truth

What are your goals to get through the next few months, weeks, days or even hours?  How will you move forward?

Partnership or Merger

I’ve read several articles recently about celebrity couples that are divorcing.  Most of them contain a statement similar to this:  “they still love each other very much, but. . .” The current quarantining was listed as the turning point in many of the articles.  One entry said they have “felt more like brother and sister”.  All I can do is shake my head. 

What is Love?  Most of us begin our relationships in breathless anticipation.  The butterflies and warm bubbly feeling is intoxicating.  You don’t want to be separated from your beloved and eagerly anticipate your next encounter. Is that really love?   Although there may be some love involved, I think it has more to do with infatuation and even lust.  Infatuation is defined as “falling in love with or becoming extremely interested in someone or something for a short time.”  While the definition of lust is “a psychological force producing intense desire for an object, or circumstance fulfilling the emotion while already having a significant other or amount of the desired object.”  Not very romantic, but very often this is the starting point of love. 

How many marriages do I know that were built on the intense desire to be married? It’s being married, part of a couple that is the focus.  The “who” in the relationship is often secondary to the need to have someone to love.  The picture is all rosy and blissfully wonderful. It’s all about living happily ever after. The object is finding “A” person willing to become “THE” person.

When we are caught up in the excitement of a new connection and the possibility of finding that “one” person, we are able to overlook anything and everything.  There are no obstacles that cannot be overcome in claiming this relationship.  Much like the fog covers the challenges of climbing a sheer mountain, desire masks the issues that may cause problems in a long term relationship.  We disregard the things that would normally signal a need for caution.  Repeatedly, the warnings are dismissed.  It doesn’t matter if there are hints of anger, unfaithfulness, insobriety, detachment, or domination.  The tendency is to ignore differences in faith, questions about step-parenting roles, and the handling personal finances.   The hard questions are left unasked rather than risk lifting the curtain and ending the dream. 

There is a very big difference between infatuation and being in love. Infatuation is when you first see someone that you are attracted to and immediately feel there is a connection based on that whereas love is knowing the good and bad of someone and still loving them all the same.  One cannot be truly in love and be unable to acknowledge the negatives in the relationship.  Unconditional love, the love we all say that we want, means we face the good and the bad and love in spite of it all.  We are willing to work through the difficult things.  We are able to love through the darkness and get to the light. 

I understand the “brother and sister” statement.  I remember thinking this very thing about my first husband.  Our relationship was good, just not very exciting.  We had two very active teenagers.  Life was busy.  We spent our time together, but after 18 years I wasn’t breathless when he walked into the room.  Still, we looked forward to the future together.  There are worse things than being married to a really good friend.  Trust me.  Burying that friend, the husband I planned to live with into old age was far worse.  It had been so easy to take our marriage and our love for granted, that I had lost touch with how deeply in love with him I was.  I made a promise to myself to never allow that to happen again. 

Marriage is characterized as a partnership.  So, what happens if:   

  1. the partners fail to cooperate?
  2. they don’t participate equally, or don’t agree on major life decisions?
  3. they are no longer physically or emotionally attracted to each other?
  4. when one of the partners treats the partnership unequally?
  5. when one of the partners becomes too sick to do their share?

Do you dissolve the marriage partnership? 

I recently read an article by Steven Berman that states: 

“Real marriage is not an equal partnership.  It’s not a partnership at all.  It’s a merger, a permanent joining to create something new.

If you look at marriage as anything other than a lifetime commitment to a mate, you’re looking at something other than marriage.  You’re looking at a friendship with benefits, a shack-up, a good time, or a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend.  Adding a piece of paper to it labeled “marriage license” adds nothing to the relationship except a tax break.”

Steven Berman

Both of my weddings included the vows:  “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part,” Sounds pretty permanent to me.  Don’t get me wrong, if you are in an abusive relationship – get out!.  If you are in danger, you are not being cherished.  However, not getting your way, not being happy, or (especially) finding someone more interesting are not reasons to divorce.  Marriage is not about what feels good.  Marriage is about commitment.  Marriage is about giving up everything to join together. 

So, what happens when you miss the spark, when the grass looks greener somewhere else?  What’s a person to do?  Basically, fertilize your own grass and make it the greenest thing around.  Put in the work.  There’s a psychological term:  “Fake it till you make it.”  Basically,

“Faking it until you make it only works when you correctly identify something within yourself that’s holding you back. Behaving like the person you want to become is about changing the way you feel and the way you think.”

Psychology Today

Accept that you only control yourself and not your partner.   Understand happiness and contentment are a choice you make for yourself.  Stop placing blame and accept responsibility for where you are in this marriage.  Offer love with no conditions, no reciprocation.  And, I think most importantly, immerse yourself in God’s love and continually pray for your partner.  Not what you want to see changed, but for true God’s guidance for your partner.  In the best marriages both people are giving more than themselves, which is impossible if you don’t believe in anything more than yourself.  A union of two people beyond the physical requires something beyond the physical to bind us.  Emotions are not enough.

 “Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV

Looking for the best that God has for you will bleed into your relationship(s).  As you focus on Him and His plan for you, the greener pasture becomes your own.  You are able to love even the most unlovable.  You will find happiness & joy in a way you never imagined.  Even if your marriage partner doesn’t get it.  God will and He will honor your faithfulness. 

“Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.” 

1 Peter 4:7-8 MSG

Doom, Despair & Agony

Is that all there is?

I have a confession:  I’m tired.  It’s not too little sleep tired.  Rather, it’s mental and emotional exhaustion.  There’s too much being said, too much noise and no one seems to be listening.  The issues seem to circle around and attack again and again with no solution. I feel helpless and out of control. Does anyone else feel this way?

I’m tired of the constantly second guessing anything I say or do to be sure I’m not about to offend or upset ANYONE.  I recently witnessed a good friend attack a mutual friend on Facebook for a post that was meant to be a call for peace.  The attack wasn’t about the content of the post, but the motivation of the one who posted it.  The anger displayed stunned me.  And quite honestly, the pain I felt at seeing this attack was as real as if I had been slapped.  When did friendship become only for those that agree completely?  When did we lose the capacity to talk, discuss, debate and even disagree while maintaining a level of respect for our friend?

I’m exhausted by the basic selfishness of people.  Sometimes, I think the old rhyme I used for spelling has been changed.  It’s no longer “I before E except after C”.  The mantra now seems to be: “I before We and only for ME!”  Has common courtesy and caring are been eliminated?  The actions that we see highlighted day after day in the media (social and otherwise) would lead one to believe they are extinct or at least severely threatened.  Our world contains extremely selfish people.  I refuse to believe that they are in the majority.  So where is the majority?  How do we change the focus?

I’m drained by the politics of today.  I remember hearing State Representative Bill Heatly and Senator Jack Hightower give talks.  Even as a high school student, I was amazed at how little could be said with so many words.  I also knew there was great power wielded by both men.  Because, power is the real issue, isn’t it?  We fight about who has the most power, the most influence, and the best ideas.  Mud-slinging is a full time and expensive occupation.  No wonder very little gets accomplished.     At what point, do we as the electorate demand that things change?  When do we expect the posturing to end and the cooperation to begin?  There’s enough blame for all sides in this.  None of the parties or their figureheads are innocent. 

I’m worn out by trying to keep up with the “latest” pandemic information.  Truthfully, we won’t know the real data for many years.  Yet, we seem to have only two options:  1) total fear and panic or 2) complete dismissal of it all as over-exaggerated nonsense.  I do not want to live in either extreme.  Having grown up in the 60’s & 70’s, I’ve contracted and survived measles, chicken pox and mumps.  My small pox scar is still visible on my left arm.  I was a child during the Hong Kong Flu Pandemic of 1968 that killed over 1 million people around the world.  As an adult, I have witnessed the panic brought on by the Swine Flu, the Bird Flu, the Ebola virus and now Covid-19.  As a result, I take my annual flu shot as well as other recommended vaccinations.  I keep disinfectant spray in my purse, on my desk at work and in my car.  I wash my hands often and try to social distance.   I’m doing the best that I can and have no idea if any of it matters.

I’m weary of not being able to appreciate people as individuals.  I don’t care where you trace your racial heritage, how you dress, what god (if any) you choose to worship or your sexual preferences.  I want to know YOU.  What makes up YOU? If other topics come to light as we develop a relationship, that’s find.  But, I don’t need to know any of those things up front.   I want to get to know you and treat you as a person of value first and foremost.  And, I would hope to receive the same consideration.  I don’t expect that we will always agree, have the same thoughts or desires.  Our backgrounds may look similar or very different, and that’s what makes life interesting.  I want the opportunity to like or dislike you based on who you are at your center. 

I’m just tired.  I’m trying to be genuine. But, I’m drained by the accusations and the hatred that is spewed from every direction. When will the rhetoric be replaced with sincere dialog and meaningful action? Can we “fix” things and get along?

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep, dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Buck Owens & Roy Clark The Hee-Haw TV Show

No Beauty Queen

When I was 11 years old, I desperately wanted to have glasses or braces or both.  My friends and I would talk about it at school.  It would be so cool to be one of “those” kids. I would look at my bottom teeth, and I was sure I needed braces to straighten them up.  On a routine visit to my dentist, my mother asked him about the possibility of braces for me.  He looked at me and said that although my teeth were crowded, there was really no need for braces.  “After all”, he continued, “She’ll never be a beauty queen.”  Obviously, that statement has stuck with me.  (And before you get all bent out of shape, my dentist was not being cruel.  In the early 70’s not everyone got braces.  Only the most crowded, out of alignment teeth endured the torture of the orthodontist.  Cosmetic orthodontia was something that only those with dreams of the competing in beauty pageants or performing on stage would receive.  That was not where I was headed and thus the comment. )

I was disappointed that I would just be a normal kid with crowded lower teeth.  Later that year, I would get my wish and bifocals!  And so began the next phase of my journey, explaining why I wore bifocals and trying to get “OUT” of wearing glasses.   Through the years, my love affair with glasses has changed.  As a high schooler, I decided I wanted contact lenses.  The optometrist told me that I could see “too well” for contacts and to just wear my glasses when I needed them.  So, I went to a part time glasses wearer.  After college, I pursued the contact lens idea again and wore them for several years.  But, I could see almost as well with them as without them, so I went back to my glasses.  I’ve bemoaned the expense of glasses and the inconvenience.  And, I’ve come to accept that I can neither read nor drive without my glasses.  They are no longer an option for me.  I have my “regular” glasses, my computer glasses and my sunglasses.  All are important to me. 

There are so many things throughout a life time that we believe we really need.  Through the years, my “needs” have changed.  Many times, I’ve applied the “beauty queen” reality to my “need”.  Do I really need this to complete my life?  Do the benefits outweigh the struggle to get it? 

Sometimes, I’ve answer with a resounding yes.  I’ve never regretted getting married.  I’ve been married, widowed, and married again.  I’ve been blessed with two fabulous husbands.  Life as part of a couple is difficult.  Marriage is my ‘beauty queen” moment.  It’s worth every struggle, every tear, every sacrifice to celebrate the joy and the fulfillment of being with my husband. 

Sometimes, I realize I don’t really need or want that desire.  There are so many relationships that crumble and fail.  Many times, the failure is rooted in spending more time looking around than looking inward.  There was a time in my first marriage, when our kids were both toddlers that I began to look around at my single friends and the freedom that they had.  They didn’t have to hurry home to take care of kids.  They didn’t spend their “extra” cash on kid’s stuff.  It was a dangerous time for me.  Discontent was ready to swoop in and take over.  But, I was reminded that I was on the “beauty queen” track.  All the struggles were worth it in the long run.  I just had to focus on the goal. 

And, there have been other times that I pushed forward anyway only to regret my decision.  Have you ever wanted that new car that was just a little out of your price range?  Or what about the bigger house?  Or maybe a snazzier wardrobe?  It’s easy to get caught in the trap of “keeping up with the Jones’”.  You spend too much money, you over extend, you cheat on your spouse.  You ignore the path you’ve been following a veer off in another direction.  You throw caution to the wind and pay no heed to consequences or costs.  It’s all or nothing, come hell or high water.  You lose sight of the crown and pay the price.  There’s no do over.  There’s only the choice to pick up and move forward, to get back on the right track.

My dentist knew the pain that would come from braces.  He knew the best orthodontist in the area had a reputation for being mean.  He knew I was not destined for the beauty queen stage.  As a result, I’ve lived my life with a perfectly good set of crowded teeth.  I’ve never had braces. 

But, I keep hearing about the new invisible braces that come through the mail. . .

 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Matthew 6:34 MSG

An Extra Piece

With all that is happening in our country and in our world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  Today, we hear & experience concern about our jobs, our health, and our safety:  Do I wear a mask?  Will I still have a job next week?  Is it safe to venture out?  All of these questions are valid for some or all of us.  So what is to be done?

 I feel like a very small piece in a very large machine.  Honestly, I feel like the one item that isn’t really required.  You know exactly to which item I refer.  It’s that piece that’s left-over when you build or repair something. That ingredient in a recipe that you just don’t have.  Or the extra dish with no matching cup.   It doesn’t seem to matter and everything works without it, so it must be superfluous.  I identify with that item. 

But, with time, we may discover how important that one item, as small and insignificant as it seems, really is to the whole thing.  Have you ever had washers left over when putting together a project?  You wonder if you missed a place for a minute.   But, it’s just a washer, right?  The problem comes later when the screw pulls loose because the washer wasn’t there to keep it tight.  The entire project may collapse because that one, insignificant piece wasn’t used. 

I enjoy baking sour dough bread.  When I first began learning how to bake sour-dough, I had some pretty dismal result.  Once, I didn’t have enough all-purpose flour for the recipe.    So I used self-rising flour as a substitute.  It looked the same and I’d seen baking shows use it as a substitute.  The bread was dense and had a very salty taste.  Self-rising flour has salt added.  I didn’t adjust my recipe to account for that because it was such a small amount.  Another time, I was in a rush to get my bread into the oven. I didn’t wait for the sour dough sponge to double in size.  I rationalized that it had grown some and that was enough.  Again, the bread was very dense and not particularly pleasant to eat.  The smallest ingredient, or the smallest amount of time, can make all of the difference.

So, how does that relate to my life today?  I live in my own little bubble.  How do I make a difference?  I make a difference when I treat others the way I want to be treated.  I don’t have to wait to see how I will be treated to be kind, polite and helpful.  If wearing a mask in public makes others feel more comfortable, then I’ll wear a mask.  If spraying my credit card or cash with disinfectant makes the cashier smile, then I’ll do that.  Others may not be able to see me smiling behind my mask, but a pleasant hello and a wave may convey the thought.  There’s so much going on around us and so many emotions that are being rubbed raw by the current news, common courtesy and consideration goes a long way. 

 I’m realize that I am not going to make a huge difference in the political arena.  It doesn’t matter how loudly I talk or how passionate I am about the current climate, I’m probably not going to be “known” to the people that make decisions.  But, my voice, my letter or my phone call, when considered in context with many others, will be recognized.  I don’t understand all of the race issues.  But, I try my best to see people as who they are.  I want describe others as nice, beautiful, helpful, kind, grumpy, rude or just weird instead of black, white, male, female or any other racial/sexist designation. 

I may be too simplistic in my ideas.  But this is the only place I know to begin my battle.  I change my little bubble which may affect another little bubble and continue on down the line.    I can only change myself and try to have an impact on others.  Sometimes, you need the extra dish for the special treats. That’s my hope, anyway.

‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ 

Mark 12:31 MSG

Fishing or just Fishy?

I have heard different versions of the idiom “fish or cut bait” for as long as I can remember.  If someone is dragging their feet in a situation, fish or cut bait was a way to tell them to get busy or get out of the way.  There are so many times when it’s easier to stay busy or “fish” without really committing to anything.  For some, it’s hard to understand why it’s so difficult. 

Change is hard.  When change is thrust upon me, I have been known to dig in and do my best to stay put.  It’s not always possible to avoid or to predict change.  When my husband died, my brain knew he was gone, but my emotions were in denial for a very long time.  I went through the motions of moving forward.  I put on a good show.  The reality, however, was that I just chose not to face things that were too difficult.  My house fell apart around me.  I spent money on things I didn’t really need.  I buried myself in my kid’s activities.  I refused to really engage in moving forward with my life.  And, I did a pretty good job of fooling everyone, including myself for almost ten years. That’s when I realized that I wanted to live again.  Love again.  And to do that, I had to commit to pulling my life together.   

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

The decision to love again was a simple one for me.  The reality of opening up my heart and confronting ALL of my feelings was a lot harder.  I had to admit that I loved Terry with all that I had for a very long time.  I had to face the pain that comes with that kind of love.  I had to sort through the various emotions and process them.  My husband had been gone almost ten years, but allowing my heart to love again felt dishonest, disrespectful.  Again, my brain was very logical about it all.  It was my emotions that were struggling.  I had to make the decision to move forward.  I had to decide where and how I wanted to live my life:  in the past full of memories or in the future adding new memories to my list.  It kind of sounds like a “no brainer” as I type these words, but the struggle to fish or cut bait was very real to me during that time.  I could continue to sit and watch my life as a spectator or I could commit to accept the joys and the pain that come with actively participating in life. 

There are people everywhere that struggle with making similar decisions.  And, unfortunately, many of those people are in an unending cycle of martyrdom.  The need for attention, support and even adoration from others because of their ordeal (real or imagined) is more important than living, changing or progressing.  Have you ever had a friend that keeps reconciling with an ex?  There may be a list a mile long of the problems that come with that particular relationship.  All logic is superseded by the need to have “someone”, even a bad someone in their life.  For a while, things may go well.  Life is great.  But, those bad behaviors resurface.   And, it’s now your responsibility to sympathize with your friend, to encourage her to be strong, to relieve her of any blame.  The cycle will continue, over and over, as long as the game is played.  It’s easier to sit on the bank and pretend you are fishing with a knotted and tangled line than it is to cut the line and move to another spot. 

“One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.

 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in disclosing what is on his mind.”

Proverbs 18:1-2 NEV

Our world is more interested in the sob stories than in the happy endings.  Check out what you watch for entertainment.  I grew up watching Gunsmoke and Bonanza.  There were sad story lines, but the good guy always triumphed in the end.  There was always an upside.  In every episode, decisions were made and life moved forward.  In some of my favorite shows today, it’s sometimes hard to decide who the good guy is.  We root for the anti-hero; the brooding, suffering guy that’s just doing “the wrong thing for the right reason.”   We adore and celebrate the darkness.  And, we seem to need to emulate it. 

I believe that we can grow and mature through our trials and mistakes.  In an attempt to reconcile ourselves with the flaws that come with being human, we too often elevate these very flaws and venerate them as favors.  We become enamored with the cracks that appear in life due to the struggles we endure.  We seek the compassion and tenderness that is provided by our support system rather than strive to advance and perfect our own lives.  It’s not easy to admit mistakes and correct the path forward. 

When we are told to fish or cut bait, it doesn’t mean you have to walk away and start over.  It just means you have to be committed to the path you choose.   Invest fully in life choices.  Stop complaining and looking for sympathy. Embrace your decision and don’t apologize.

So what will it be?  Do you fish where you are; or, do you cut bait and move forward? 

“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” 

James 3:17-18 MSG

WHO NEEDS PEOPLE?

“People,

People who need people,

Are the luckiest people in the world”

“People”
Jule Styne (music)
Bob Merrill (lyrics)

There words are from the 1964 song by Barbra Streisand.  I have come to a greater understanding of the meaning during the past weeks.  While I have been very grateful to keep in touch with my small group, my prayer team and my church family through Zoom, WebEx, Email and Streaming platforms, I have missed the physical connection.  I miss the greetings and interaction with Billy and Carol every Sunday in “our” seats at Regal.  I miss the hugs, laughter and discussion time with Otto, Sharon, Richard and others in our small group time on Wednesday.  I miss sharing the joys and concerns of others during prayer time every Sunday with Dawid, Jane, Robert, et al.  I miss hearing all of the voices together with the worship team in corporate worship time.  I crave the actual physical interaction that comes with each of these groups.  Hebrew 10:25 states:

 “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:25 TLB

Attending church services has been a part of my life for years.  But, I now realize how very precious that time together truly is. 

The Pandemic has also highlighted a few other things in our lives (some good and some not so good.) We have seen firsthand how self-serving actions can cause others to suffer with the toilet paper shortage. Panic came to the forefront and hoarding was the name of the game.  I’ve lived through a few hurricanes and floods that caused Houston to shut down.  But, I don’t think I’ve ever see things quite as bad, especially when there were no real shortages.  There were people out to make a buck through stockpiling, but there were also people that were willing to give.  One example is “Katy Neighbors Helping Neighbors”, a Facebook page started to share needs.  If someone need baby wipes, or formula, or cleaning supplies or anything else, they could post their need.  Usually, someone would offer to share or knew a store that had it in stock.  I saw LOTS of sharing and meeting needs on that site. Food pantries were stretched to the extreme, and people stepped up to help and meet the needs. 

Families have been forced to be together.  Kids are doing school on line from home.  Parents may be working from home.  There’s no escaping with restaurants only serving take-out and malls and movie theaters closed.  I’ve seen parents step up and get involved with their kids school time.  Game nights (or afternoons) have come back into style.  This has been an opportunity to learn something new through on-line classes.  I’ve heard of some grandmothers that have done sewing and/or cooking lessons with their grandchildren via facetime or other apps. There has been time for family walks or bike rides, family meals, or just family time. 

How wonderful and pleasant it is
    when brothers live together in harmony! 

Psalm 133:1 TLB

As we begin the process of reopening Texas and the rest of these United States, I hear mixed messages.  There is frustration that things are not moving faster.  And, there is the fear that we are moving too fast.  I hear about the need to return to work as well as the complaints from those who receive more on unemployment than they do at their job.  I see the excitement for the return of socializing mixed with concern over the continued social distancing guidelines.  It’s easy to fall prey to fear and depression that accompanies the seemingly overwhelming task ahead of us.  We are approaching a “new” normal.  Masks will continue to be the accessory of choice for many.  Hand-washing has moved up in priority (where it should have been all along.)  I’ve joined the ranks of actually USING the hand-sanitizer I carry with me.  Fist bumps will replace handshakes.  Air hugs and kisses may be the “thing” for a while.  We will survive this time.  We will adjust.  I refuse to give into fear mongering. 

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. 

Matthew 6:34 TLB

What has your experience during the Covid-19 pandemic been?  Have you found meaning in some of the “norms” that you took for granted.  Have you spent time with your family and strengthened those ties?  Are you ready to step back into the reopened world? 

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.

     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.

 Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.

 You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.

 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23 TLB