Monday, December 29, 2014

And All Through the House (Dream Save Do, week 12)

Ahhhhh . . . the week after Christmas. Usually, this is a time of calm and quiet in my home. The get-togethers are behind me, as are the "extra" church services, various Christmas concerts and programs, and the general busy-ness of December. I putter around the house, nibbling on whatever Christmas goodies are left, snug in my pajamas, and I spend this time relaxing with good books and cups of hot chocolate and enjoying the house all decked out in its Christmas splendor.

This year, though, things were quite different. My daughter and I celebrated Christmas quietly (we had celebrated a few days earlier with my son, while he was home for 3 days for Christmas), and the next day I began boxing up the Christmas decorations and returning the apartment to its normal "look".

Normally, I don't take down the Christmas decorations until January 6. My mom always waited until then because that's when, in the church, we celebrate the arrival of the Magi and, of course, their giving of gifts to the Christ-child. With January 6, the Christmas season ends.

I'm a traditionalist, and I cling to family traditions like a barnacle, but this year I had a wonderful reason for disregarding such a major one. My daughter decided a month or so ago that she was going to move home, and I needed to make some major changes to the furniture arrangement so there would be room for her things.

Off the tree and into their little boxes went all the ornaments, packed away went all the decorations, and before I knew it, the apartment was back to its pre-day-after Thanksgiving look. Except for one thing. My largest Nativity set is still in place; I just couldn't bring myself to put it away before Epiphany.

Saturday evening, my daughter left to meet friends, and I settled onto the couch with a new book and some goodies to nibble on. I looked around the living room, and I missed the Christmas decorations. I went to bed feeling a bit guilty about my decision to take everything down instead of just squish the tree over into the corner.

Sunday afternoon, a fairly new friend, a wonderful older woman I work with in a volunteer opportunity, shared with me that the coming year is going to be very busy for her. As we talked, I learned that after 40+ years in her present home, she and her husband will be moving in the Fall to a condo in a retirement community. She was quick to explain that the move is purely their choice and that they put their names on the list for a to-be-built condo 3 years ago.

I couldn't help but notice as she talked, that she seemed more resigned than excited about this change, so I asked her how she felt about it. She paused before saying something quite simple yet quite profound.

"No matter what age a person is, change is inevitable. I've found, though, that as we age, change becomes more and more hard to bear. People who resist it or refuse to change become bitter and brittle. Looking ahead, accepting change with grace, and adapting with a positive attitude are the keys to remaining mentally and physically healthy."

She went on to explain that she's accepted the change and is working on looking ahead with a positive attitude. That last part is, she explained, something she has to work on day by day -- sometimes hour by hour.

My older friend is very wise.

My daughter's Ugg boots sit by the door, just a few feet from where the Christmas tree stood. A reason to celebrate!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Adore

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

Adore

Of course, with Christmas less than a week away, my first thought was "O Come Let us Adore Him", a beautiful Christmas hymn.

Adore

It's an interesting word, one I don't hear as often as I used to. Now it's simply "love". We love our dogs, our children, our favorite television show, and on and on.

But adore goes beyond love; it's love seasoned with worshipfulness.

Sometimes my worship -- my adoration -- is somewhat formal. Take church worship, for example. My denomination is known for its very low-key worship style. While I don't know for sure, something tells me we may have been the very last hold-outs against contemporary church services.

My worship style varies much more outside the walls of the church. I sing along quite energetically to the contemporary Christian music on my favorite radio station. I pour my heart out quite expressively in my prayer journal. I laugh out loud in adoration of the beauty in the world around me.

I may be wrong, but I imagine that God doesn't care about the style or outward expression of the adoration.

I believe that instead, God looks at two things. Of course, it's important that I adore the right thing, that I not worship anything or anyone other than God. The sincerity behind the adoration is also key.

And that,

 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Learning to Idle my Motor (Dream Save Do, week 11)

"Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears."  I like this definition of patience shared by Barbara Johnson, one of my favorite authors/humorists.

I will save you the trouble of hunting down my sister, son, daughter, or anyone else who has known me for any length of time and just confess it outright -- until 5 years ago, patience was never my strong suit.

For the first 40+ years of my life, once I determined an idea was a good one, I wanted to act on it right away. It wasn't so much that I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. It was more that I didn't like loose ends, and to me, a project on the table was a loose end. Things would not be neat and tidy again until the project was completed.

This tendency (my sister is wrong -- it was not an obsession!) had more than a few benefits. My husband loved it when I got the urge to rearrange the living room in the middle of the afternoon while he was at work; I'd huff and puff, struggle and strain, but it would be done before he got home that evening. Bosses generally loved it. Given a task, I'd have it done -- and done correctly, I want to add -- right away. No waiting until the deadline for me!

My lack of patience also created problems. Waiting in line or sitting in a traffic jam was torture for me. No matter how calm I might make myself appear on the outside, I was emotionally itchy.

That all changed when my husband passed away. For awhile, of course, I was simply numb. Once the numb wore away, I was left with a very new, healthier perspective on what is and isn't important.

I haven't become a procrastinator by any means, and I still complete assigned tasks and paperwork as quickly as possible; however, I've become more comfortable with allowing things to unfold in their own time.

The concept of patience has been on my mind these past few weeks. Now that I know what I want to do in this next stage of my life, I'm eager to get started. I hear the voice of John Wayne saying, "We're burning daylight", and I begin to feel a bit antsy.

I'm ready. Ready to move from where I am to where I want to be.

The problem is, I don't know where that where will be. I know what lifestyle I want, but not where I will be engaged in that lifestyle.

And so . . . I wait. And I prepare. And I practice patience.

Oh, how I want to load up my car, jump in the front seat, and roar off. Instead, I remain here, my engine idling.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Do I Have a Group for You!

Are you a blogger? Do you have a book lurking inside you, just waiting to be written? OR have you already started (or even finished -- if so, I applaud you) a book?

If so, I hope you'll check out this Facebook group, recently started by Trish McClintock McAllister (www.notesonthefridge.com).

I know that Trish shares my hope that this group will grow and become a gathering place of women who share, support, seek and receive advice/hints/tips, etc., as they write. We need a community like this, and we need your participation!

I hope you'll join us. :)

Five Minute Friday: Prepare

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

 

Prepare. What a perfect word for this time in my life, this week, today!

For over a year, I've been meandering through the process of redesigning my life. I've dreamed and imagined. Pored over books and magazines and websites. Dreamed and imagined some more.

I've slowly worked through the process of determining the life I want for this next stage of my life.

Finally -- hallelujah! -- I have a very clear  (albeit somewhat flexible in terms of where) vision of what I want.

In the past month, I've been taking more distinct steps to prepare for that new life. More and more things have departed my home, and my debt-free home fund has grown just a tad with some of those departures. Additionally, I've been applying for jobs in areas of the country I prefer to live in.

I've also been praying. But in all honesty, my requests for guidance and a new job have lacked focus; "direction" and "an open door" -- 2 items that I have prayed for so often that my request has become almost automatic -- the footnotes to a list that includes safety for a friend's son in harm's way, healing and strength for another friend battling cancer, and so many other urgent, heart-felt petitions. And my prayer life in general has been inconsistent.

But just last night, I made the decision to prepare more seriously for change by committing to more focused, more intentional prayer and Bible study.

To that end, I'm taking a 40-day fast from Facebook (other than what I call my "writer page"). For some, that may not be a huge change, but for me, it is. Between the lack of interaction with friends there and with coworkers (the semester ended yesterday), my social life is going to be pretty nonexistent.

But that, I believe, is the point. To cut away the distracting chatter so I can communicate with the One whose voice I really need to hear.

To prepare for what He has in store for me now.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's Not the Fruitcake . . .

This incident occurred 25 years ago, and every Christmas since then, I've been reminded of it.

I jerked awake. Fruitcake! I woke up my husband. He was a much better sport about being woken at 2 in the morning than I would have been; instead of fussing, he simply asked what was wrong. I told him that we needed to get a fruitcake. He just looked at me and then reminded me that I didn't like fruitcake and neither did he. But when I explained that it was for my father, he understood.

That afternoon, my parents had arrived from Missouri to spend Christmas with my husband, son, baby daughter, and I in our Texas home. Their arrival had been a shock. Not because we weren't expecting them. What we weren't expecting was my father's appearance.

Dad had been diagnosed with cancer at the end of September. My mom and he had been at our house for Thanksgiving; he'd had several rounds of chemo, but his spirits were great and he'd looked fine. Less than a month later, though, that wasn't the case. When the doorbell had rung that afternoon, and I opened the door, I almost didn't recognize my own father. Both he and my mom had been telling us for weeks that he was doing great, but that obviously wasn't true.

His face was gaunt and his eyes hollow-looking. His once-dark brown skin was gray, and his thick, wavy black hair had been replaced with sparse gray hair that looked dry and coarse.

I remember telling myself to keep smiling as I got Dad and Mom inside and settled, my son chattering at them nonstop the entire time. Mom immediately picked up my 9-month-old daughter from her blanket on the living room floor, and I went to the bedroom to call my husband, who was at work. I started crying as soon as he picked up the phone and told him that if he could, I wanted him to come home.

He didn't ask any questions. He was walking in the house 10 minutes later.

Twelve hours later, when I told him my dad loved fruitcake, he again didn't ask any questions.

He immediately got up and began getting dressed. I asked him where he was going, and when he said he was going to go to the 24-hour Walgreens to see if they had fruitcake, I assured him it could wait until morning. I apologized for waking him up, and he assured me it was okay, that he understood and that he wanted to have it already there when Dad got up the next morning.

Maybe it was because it was 2 a.m. and we weren't thinking clearly, but neither of us thought to call Walgreens to see if they had any fruitcake. Instead, my husband finished getting dressed, slipped out of the house, and went in search of something neither of us could stand.

Well over an hour later, he returned, triumphantly holding a round tin. Walgreens had been sold out (both of us were shocked by that -- that many people like fruitcake?), so he'd gone to several Circle K convenience stores until he found one that had what he was looking for. He put the fruitcake on the kitchen counter, and we both went back to bed.

We had planned to sleep in a bit the next morning, but my son and daughter were up bright and early as usual. Even though they were fairly quiet, my parents heard them, and they joined the four of us. We chatted while I fixed coffee and my husband fried bacon and eggs; I nudged him and pointed with my eyes to the round red and white tin on the counter. He'd done the work; I wanted him to have the honor of offering my dad fruitcake, and he did.

The look on my dad's face was priceless. He was surprised we'd thought of it since, as he said, he knew the rest of us "turned up our noses" at it, and he was obviously very touched that we'd bought it for him. He said that a small piece would be the perfect start to breakfast.

A few minutes later, we were all sitting at the table together. I looked around. My mother, who had tried so hard to shield me from how sick my father was. My son, who absolutely adored his grandfather and was as excited about him being there as he was about Santa arriving in 2 more days. My daughter, who I knew with certainty would have no real memories of her own of the grandfather who cherished her.

My focus, though, was on 2 men -- one at the head of the table, the other to his right.

My dad. The man who had always been my hero. The man who patiently and lovingly encouraged me to try new things, who taught me to play poker and cribbage and all sorts of games and never "played down" to me. The man who I could write pages and pages about and never get it all said. The man who throughout my life gave the me the best gift of all -- his love.

My husband. The man who was a fantastic father to our children. The man who respected and revered my father. The man who got up without complaint at 2 in the morning to drive around town looking for a fruitcake. The man of few words who gave my hero the best gift of all -- his love.

We never again bought a fruitcake. But every December, when I see my first fruitcake of the season, I'm taken back to that day. It wasn't the fruitcake that mattered at all . . . it was the gift of love.

I so wish I could have told this story much better -- its main characters deserve that. I've never shared this story before, and it was harder to do than I thought it would be. Thank you for letting me share it with you. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Oops! (Dream Save Do, week 10)

Picture this scene:

A sunny July afternoon in the parking lot of the small (but very nice . . . and free) Alamogordo, NM city zoo. The loving, thoughtful mother starts the car and lets the air conditioner run in an effort to cool the interior before placing her almost-one-year-old son in his car seat. The mother and son sit on a blanket in the shade of an awning, sipping from (respectively) a water bottle and a sippy cup.

The mom checks the car one more time and, finding it nice and cool, places her son in his carseat, hands him his sippy cup, and closes the car door. She smiles at her son and walks around to the driver's side of the car and pulls up on the door handle. Nothing. The door doesn't open.

She reaches in her purse for her keys but then realizes they aren't there. They're dangling from the ignition. Inside the car.

Does she panic? Not at all. She calmly smiles and waves at her son to let him know mommy has everything under control, and then she walks back around to the passenger side again. She pulls up on the handle on the door she closed just a few minutes before, after putting her son in his car seat.

Nothing. That door doesn't open earlier. Her habit of pushing down on the lock before closing the door has come back to bite her.

Does she panic? No, not at all. She tensely smiles at her son to let him know mommy is working on the problem and rushes to check the other doors. Then all of the doors again. Then she panics.

Long story short, on that pre-cell phone afternoon 27 years ago, the mommy -- okay, I admit it, it was me -- called the police from a phone booth just a few feet away from her - car and explained to the police officer what had happened. I also explained that my Air Force Captain husband and possessor of the other car key was deployed who-knew-where, and I needed help.

I was only sniffling a bit when I made the call, but by the time the officer arrived -- bless him, he used his lights and siren to get there sooner -- I was standing at my son's window, sweating profusely and crying, while smiling crazily to convey to my son that everything was okay. The officer didn't lecture me on my incompetence, and throughout the whole ordeal, my son laughed and smiled and drank from his sippy cup there in the nice air-conditioned car while both the officer I sweated profusely and one of us cried.

Eventually, the door was unlocked, the nice police officer went on his way, and I promised my son I would never lock him in the car again. Addled by the heat, I tried to bribe him not to tell his daddy, but then I realized that he only said a handful of words, none of which included "car", "locked", or "inside", so I was off the hook.  (By the way, I confessed within 3 minutes of my husband walking in the door 4 days later)

I'd almost forgotten about that incident. Until last Wednesday.

I decided to clean up the files on my laptop. I opened the "Documents" window and began deleting things I no longer need. I zipped along quite happily, feeling pretty darned good about ridding my life of some electronic clutter.

When I finished, I glanced at the clock and saw I had about 30 minutes until I needed to leave for an appointment. Plenty of time to make a dent in cleaning out my bookmarks folder. Four years of bookmarking pages and sites and blogs had led to over 30 folders with goodness-knows-how-many sites per folder.

I'll be merciful and get right to the point. Somehow, at some point, when I thought I was deleting a folder with 5 sites I visited 3 years ago before a visit to South Carolina, I actually deleted ALL  of my bookmarks.

Yes, you read that right. ALL of my bookmarks.

Bookmarks for tiny house sites that are chock-full of information, sites for scrapbooking ideas I loved, sites for leaving my slothful ways and exercising my way to a whole new me, sites for . . . well, I think you've got the idea.

When I realized what I'd done, I was stunned. I simply sat there and looked at the screen in total disbelief. Suddenly, I recognized that feeling. I flashed back to that day at the zoo, and I remembered how stunned I felt when I realized that I'd locked my son in the car. But this time there was no nice, patient police officer who would race through the streets to my rescue.

I turned off the computer. And I'll admit that I turned in back on and clicked on "Bookmarks" one more time. Just to see if all of my bookmarks would somehow, by some Apple wizadry far beyond my comprehension, reappear. They didn't.

When it dawned on me -- finally -- that over four years' worth of searching for sites, combing through who-knows-how-many, and then amassing a virtual file cabinet of resources was gone, the numbness wore off and feeling returned.

The first to surface was regret, followed by disappointment. Followed by a moment or two of frustration.

And then I made a decision. A simple but very important decision.

I decided to consider my mistake a blessing. I wouldn't have to spend what would surely be hours looking back at every site and, undoubtedly, getting sidetracked by reading and looking at pictures. I wouldn't have to reorganize them into a more streamlined, usable set of bookmark folders.

Instead, I get to start with a clean slate. This time, I'm going to be more discriminating in what I bookmark and more organized (no more folders titled "untitled", "Untitled", and "untitled2").

An oops? Yes. A blessing? Aboslutely!