Sunday, November 22, 2015

My One & Only Gratitude Post for 2015!

November is, of course, a month in which we focus on what we are thankful for. Television commercials spotlight happy families preparing for Thanksgiving Day festivities, and various social media venues are filled with posts by people participating in a myriad of gratitude challenges.

Every year since I joined Facebook, I've participated in a "30 Days of Gratitude" challenge in which, each day, participants share one thing they are thankful for. I decided not to participate this year, but if I had, my very first post would have been about my son and daughter. Nothing -- absolutely nothing -- brings as much joy to my life. As in previous years, I would have gone on through the month to list the good health my children and I enjoy, my home, living in the United States, extended family, etc.

But this year's "gratitude list" would, no doubt, include a new addition -- friendship with my 90+-year-old pen pal. I've shared before about how I came to visit PB, as I'll refer to him, this summer after he moved to a local nursing home after surgery in which his right leg was amputated. Over several weeks between his move to that nursing home and his subsequent  move to a different home near two of his daughters several states away, I was privileged to get to know PB as we chatted several times a week.

After PB moved, we began corresponding. Letters from PB are like conversations with PB -- intriguing and engaging and, I don't mind admitting, often far above my head.

To my reference to a desire to someday take sailing lessons, he responded with several discussions on the design and building of sailboats and sails (PB has designed and built several sailboats and everything needed for those vessels). We've discussed politics and even poetry. With every letter, I am amazed at the depth and breadth of PB's interests and knowledge and at his intellectual vigor -- his passion for learning even more exceeds that of the vast majority of people of any age.

His last letter is, without a doubt, the most amazing so far. Three typed pages -- single-spaced at that -- in which he shares with me his thoughts on the theory of relativity. I don't mind admitting that until I began reading PB's latest missive, I hadn't given a single thought to this topic in my entire life. I took the bare minimum of science courses through high school and college, and if an instructor ever spent any time at all on the subject, I must have been daydreaming.

PB was a college professor, and it is evident as I read his letters that he was a great one. Through his discussion, even I could make sense of quite a bit of what he shared concerning the theory of relativity. When I refolded his letter and slipped it in my letter box, I was smiling with the satisfaction that comes from grasping concepts that until then were unclear and seemingly beyond my grasp.

PB makes me chuckle, and he makes me think. He gives me a reason to look forward to checking the mailbox and a reason to do something I've always loved to do -- write real, honest-to-goodness letters.

He causes me see my own life, my own circumstances, from a broader perspective, and in doing so, he makes me appreciate anew the many blessings I have.

He's the reason I give you a very important piece of advice today. I know you're busy; I know that, in fact, this is probably your busiest time of the year. You have turkeys to baste and pumpkin pies to bake, presents to buy and wrap and adorn with bows, school concerts and Sunday School programs to attend, and perhaps even activities to plan for a pesky Elf on a Shelf.

Those are very important things -- admirable, even. So much so that I hesitate to ask you to do another thing, and if it weren't so important, I wouldn't even mention it.

But it is.

Reach out to someone that you otherwise wouldn't. Not just once, but make them a regular part of your life. That elderly widow who sits alone in church every week? Sit with her next Sunday and invite her to your home for lunch afterward. The young college student who interns part-time in your office? Take her out to lunch this week. The middle-aged empty-nesters that moved in down the street this summer? You know -- the ones you kept intending to take cookies to but now it's too late. Build a fire in your outdoor fire pit and invite them over for hot chocolate or a glass of wine one evening. Whoever you reach out to, make them a part of your family, of your life.

I can't guarantee that the elderly widow or the college intern or the new neighbors will be the blessing to you that PB has been to me.

But I can guarantee you that reaching out to others will in itself enrich and bless your life.

So while I'm not participating in a Facebook gratitude challenge this year, if I were, my list would start like this:

  1. my son and daughter

  2. my pen pal -- PB


 

I'm also very, very thankful for you. I know how busy you are and that you have so many blogs you could visit. I do not take your being here lightly. I am thankful every day that I have the opportunity to write here and that others choose to read what I've shared. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

 

 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Friends on Paper

Although I had friends and even a best friend as a child, my closest friends weren't flesh and blood, nor were they imaginary. Instead, talented and gifted writers created the girls that I, a young girl who lacked self-confidence and never seemed to master all the social dos and don'ts the other girls were so adept at, was comfortable with.

Some of those friendships were fleeting; Cherry Ames, for example, was a dear friend until I realized there was no way I could draw blood or empty bed pans.  But there were other girls, girls who were longtime pals. There was Nancy, an intrepid and confident teenage sleuth who drove a convertible, and Anne, a young red-head orphan whose fiery temper masked a heard that was tender and easily bruised, and Trixie, who was always getting herself involved in all sorts of mysteries and was a member of a girls' club.

I grew up and left Nancy and Anne and Trixie behind. I continued to read voraciously, but until recently, the characters in books were just that -- interesting protagonists who entertained me for awhile and who, other than Kinsey Millhone, existed on the pages of only one book.

And then, in 2006 or so, I discovered Rainey Valentine, who led me to her sister Charlene and a wonderful group of people who live in Valentine, Oklahoma, and finally to Marilee. In the pages of her "Valentine, Oklahoma" books, author Curtiss Ann Matlock has created women who struggle with the same things we real-life women struggle with, whose parents age and pass on, whose hearts get broken, who have endearing quirks, who work hard and love much and have faith. Women who are sometimes strong and other times not so sure of themselves, women who are are busy raising young children and women who are navigating the middle or even latter years of their life with vibrant intention. Matlock quickly became my favorite author.

Last year, I discovered Paul Osborne, a retired dentist and avid fisherman living in a small town on a Milwaukee lake, My acquaintance with Paul was almost very short-lived; I've rarely been all that captivated by male protagonists, but there was something about the writing of Victoria Houston that made me want to read just one more page . . . and then another. Before I knew it, Paul and I were sharing lunch -- well, I was eating a sandwich while Paul was helping his new friend and eventual love interest, Sheriff Lewellyn Ferris, solve mysteries and fishing at day's end. Houston creates such an enticing picture of Wisconsin in her "Loon Lake" series that I, a die-hard winter-hater, am even a bit tempted to head north. And a real-life Paul Osborne? Well, if anyone could tempt me to be interested in dating again . . .

Just recently, through a free e-book, I found another friend I almost walked away from after a very brief introduction. Rose Brownlee lives in the 1800's, and (other than a few mysteries and a book here and there over the years) I've never been all that fond of historical fiction. But like Victoria Houston, Vikki Kestell created characters and a story that kept me reading. And reading. Through, so far, six "Prairie Heritage" books and the companion "Girls from the Mountain" series. I've followed Rose and her husband Jan and then their daughter Joy through various trials and triumphs and have enjoyed the journey immensely. The Prairie Heritage books have not only captured my interest, they've enriched my spiritual life in a way novels usually do not.

If you are sitting there, brow furrowed, concerned about my sanity, you aren't a Reader (yes, the R is capital on purpose -- there's a difference between a reader and a Reader). You don't open the pages of a book and fall into the story told on its pages. You don't wonder about what happened to the characters after that last chapter comes to a close. You haven't wished the characters lived next door to you. You don't have favorite books that you read over and over. Books that you can pick up, open to any random page, and read for a few minutes while you take a quick lunch break.

These characters -- and a few more I'll write about soon -- have helped make lonely evenings less lonely. The lovely folks of Valentine, Oklahoma, even helped me move through the weeks and months in the first few years after I lost my husband. I can't explain it -- I just know it's true. And if you're a Reader, you don't need me to explain it. You know exactly what I mean.

These writers -- Curtiss Ann Matlock and Victoria Houston and Vikki Kestell -- are who I want to be when I grow up. Heck, I want to be their personal assistant!

Instead, I'll read their books and enter the worlds they've created, and I'll enjoy every single moment I'm there.

If you haven't yet read any books by these 3 very talented writers, you can find get them through your local bookstore or, of course, at amazon.com. I didn't even begin to do them justice here -- trust me, I could talk for hours about each series I wrote about here. You'll just have to read -- and enjoy -- them for yourself, and I hope you do!

I also want to add that I received absolutely no compensation, not even any a single book, from these authors or from amazon.com in exchange for this post. These authors don't even know I've written and posted this. :)   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Neither Hate nor Fear

In recent days, I (and those who share at least one of my convictions) have been accused of being "haters"; others have accused me of being consumed by or motivated by fear.

Why? Because I believe that the laws of this land are exactly that -- laws. I believe that our elected officials and our judicial system (those who rule on laws and determine their constitutionality) have put into place a system of immigration laws that are fair to those attempting to enter the United States *and* that serves to help safeguard the safety of those living here.

When I stated that yesterday, someone not-so-nicely reminded me that the current immigration policies haven't always been in place. My response is three-fold:

  1. I know that! And I don't care what the laws used to be. We don't enforce laws that are no longer "on the books", nor should we. But we must enforce those laws we currently have. If we're not going to follow these laws, there's a few I don't want to follow, too. (No more federal income tax bites for me!)

  2. There's a reason the laws today aren't the same as they've always been. Laws change -- as necessary -- as society and its needs and the context change.

  3. If you do not like the current immigration laws, get off Facebook and other social media and work through the proper channels to bring about the change you would like to see.


More importantly, though, I want to respond to those accusations that I am a "hater", acting out of fear.

First, I do not hate the Syrian refugees. In fact, I feel great compassion for them and pray for them (and not just once a day out of habit). BUT, and this is important, no person, no country can fix every problem. The US already takes in 70% of immigrants taken in world-wide. We've hardly turned our backs on those in dire straights. But just as we should and must welcome with open arms those who enter legally, we must protect those who already reside here. I know I've said that last part before, but it bears repeating because some of you seem to be missing (or perhaps conveniently ignoring it for some reason?) that point.

Secondly, I don't fear a terrorist or terrorism. I know Who is in charge, and I know that I will die someday. I'd prefer to go peacefully -- preferably in my sleep after close to 100 years of vibrant living, but if that's not the plan, so be it. But I'm not going to worry about death between now and when it comes knocking at the door. Oh, I'll eat right and exercise, to maintain a good quality of life, but that's about it.

In fact, on Thanksgiving Day, I'll be attending what is, according to the experts, an event that is every terrorist's dream -- an NFL game in Dallas, Texas. If I were really afraid, I'd stay home. And I'd be keeping my beloved son and daughter home with me. Trust me!

Do I sound grumpy? Just a tad? Well, I am. I'm tired of people ignoring the facts, conveniently ignoring what is actually said, and taking it upon themselves to tell me what I think and feel. Those people overstep their bounds and common sense.

They are also hypocrites.

They accuse those of us who want immigrants vetted as the law requires of stereotyping, of lumping all Syrians immigrants together into one big lump and labelling them all "terrorists". And while I've already explained that that isn't true, the greater point for this paragraph is that they do this while at the same time lumping together all of us who advocate vetting all immigrants as the law requires into one large lump and calling us "haters" and even racist.

Definitely hypocritical!

And please, don't tell me what God wants me to do. I read the same Bible you do. Yes, we're to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But Luke 10:19 says, "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you."

According to every concordance I've consulted, "serpents" and "scorpions" refer to those who do evil.

If individuals who burn other humans alive while watching and laughing and filming the act are not evil, I don't know who is.

If individuals who put a group of people in a cage, submerge it in water while watching on underwater cameras so that, when it appears their victims are almost dead, they can pull the cage out of the water, let their captives get their breath for a few minutes and then submerge the cage again . . . and again . . . and again aren't evil, then who is?

If individuals who rape and torture and maim and kill women and young girls, who torture and maim and kill little boys, young men, and the elderly aren't evil in your eyes, I'd like to know how *you* define evil.

So stop it! Stop the second-guessing and the name-calling. Contact the immigration folks and tell them you are more than willing to sponsor a houseful of Syrian immigrants. Fix up the basement; better yet, put a couple of extra beds in each of your bedrooms. Bunking parties are so much fun!

What? You can't do that? You don't have the financial resources? You don't have room?

Well, neither does this country!

Oh, it's not that? What is it? You don't know these folks and don't want to invite into your home and the home of your kids people you don't know, whose backgrounds you don't know, and whose intentions you don't know?

Hey! What are you afraid of?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

What's a Person to Do?

I try to avoid controversial topics here for several reasons. Today, though, I'm going to broach an issue that I've struggled with from time to time over the years. You may well disagree with what I say here, and of course, that's fine and natural. I hope though, that no matter how vehemently you oppose my view, you will treat me with grace. Remember that I am only a human trying to muddle her way through this very sensitive issue. If you share your opposition via a comment, please disagree respectfully. Thank you so much!

In recent days, controversy regarding the infamous "red cups" has dominated social media; yesterday, the cups became unimportant in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

As different as the two events seem, as trivial as the first is in comparison to the other, a very definite, very troubling connection exists between the two. At least, it exists in my mind. :)

Early in the red cup discussion, I began seeing posts connecting that issue with the issue of fostering and adopting children. As best I could tell, the premise behind those comments, posted by those who are (and rightfully so) very passionate about fostering and adopting children in need of homes, goes along the lines of "why are we arguing about something as trivial as the color of coffee cups when there are desperately hurting children in need of our love and a home?"  That's a good point and one I definitely agree with. Until Starbucks puts a truly offensive symbol or message (a swastika, for example) on their cups, I'm not going to get even slightly riled up.

The pro-fostering & adopting posts went further, though. They quickly went from "this is more important than red cups" to comments in which those who haven't fostered or adopted were chastised -- sometimes gently so, other times more strongly -- for not fostering or adopting a child.

And that's where, to me at least, the connection comes between the red cup controversy and the tragic events in Paris yesterday.

You see, when I was younger, I planned to foster children and eventually even adopt a child. I wanted children of my own (and was blessed with two), but I hoped that, God willing, to open my home to children in need of one.

When I shared my dream with my then-new husband, he was adamant that he would never foster or adopt a child. I was aghast that the man that I had known to be a loving, Christian man was so heartless. I tried to explain to him that he was wrong. But I finally closed my mouth, opened my ears, and listened to why he felt as he did.

Long story short, in the case of every fostering or adoption situation he was aware of (and granted, his experience was relatively limited), the foster/adoptive family had endured tremendous difficulty -- physical, emotional, financial -- as a result of taking in a child (or children in need). In all honesty, I had to admit that I could think of only a few situations, of the many I was aware of both in my extended family and as a teacher, that contradicted his experience.

I know my experience and that of my husband was limited -- and mine still is. But in all honesty, I have to admit that I can think of only a few foster/adoptive families that have not experienced significant damage of some sort because they opened their homes and hearts. Yes, I know more than a few people who have faced similar issues with their biologically-born children, but by nowhere near the frequency or severity.

In fact, one woman in the small community my husband and I lived in for several years (the one he grew up in) was murdered in her kitchen by the 2 boys she and her husband had fostered and were in the process of adopting. The more I observed, the more I understood my husband's concerns.

Yet, Jesus tells us to love our brother, to feed His sheep, to practice hospitality to the orphans and the needy. He also calls on me to follow Him and trust Him for all the rest. But the pragmatic side of me shuddered at the thought of exposing my children to the risk of true harm.

So what does that have to do with Paris? Many are now speculating (perhaps prematurely) that yesterday's attack is a result of the influx of middle-Eastern refugees. That may prove to be true. And it raises a moral dilemma.

How do we, as compassionate human beings who care about their fellow man, balance that compassion with other issues such as physical safety, financial issues, etc?

How does a family, already struggling to make ends meet perhaps, add more children to the mix? Similarly, how does a country already under a heavy financial burden that comes from providing health care and a wide range of assistance to thousands, perhaps millions, of people already, take in hundreds of thousand, perhaps millions, more who will need those same services?

How does a couple that rightfully makes every effort to provide a physically and emotionally safe environment for their children bring in children that may well put their safety at risk? How does a government that has an obligation to protect the public welcome immigrants that pose a very real potential threat to the citizenry?

There are other considerations, of course. And it's not a black-white, right-wrong issue. Far from it.

It's an issue we grapple with all the time, even on a smaller, more daily scale. Bear with me for just one example.

You see a person by the side of the road, holding a sign saying they are homeless and have a wife and 5 hungry children. Do you stop? You lost your job and your husband's hours have been cut; you've cancelled cable and other luxuries and are still living paycheck to paycheck. Do you give away money your family needs to someone who might be a scam artist? Do you roll down your window and expose yourself to the risk of violence? Doing so has result in injury and even death to some Good Samaritans.

I struggle daily with the balance between compassion and prudence on a personal level and in my job.

I don't have the answers. Oh, how I wish I did.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Weary . . . of Weariness

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 "weary". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set,

Once again, the word Kate has chosen is, for me, ironic. You see, I haven't written on my blog (or participated in FMF) for over a month. Not because I don't love the FMF group or love to write. I've just been so darned weary.

You see, 2 months and 4 days ago, I entered my 7th year of widowhood. The first year was rough; the second year was actually worse; the third year was almost as bad as the 2nd. But I've moved on from the sharp grief, with it's ragged edges that scraped relentlessly at my heart and soul.

Somewhere in the past 3 years, that sharp grief faded away, although it comes back to life from time to time, like a horrible phoenix. I noticed it's lessening; I noticed something else as well.

My soul, my heart are proof of what a very smart person (probably a scientist) determined long ago -- nature abhors a vacuum. You see, when the gut-wrenching, mind-numbing grief departed, something moved right on in to the space left behind.

Like water dripping on a stone, weariness began to erode my spirit and my heart.

Oh, I put a good face on it. I go to work and even a social event from time to time. I smile and laugh and converse as if all is well. I'm really good at it. Heck, if I had a dollar for every time in the past 6+ years someone has told me how "strong" I am, how impressed at how I've soldiered on . . . well, I'm not sure how many dollars I would have collected, but it would be quite a few.

I even pretend that my days are filled with productive activity. When asked, and that rarely happens when you live alone, what I did all day, I can recite a list of activities that make me sound like a dynamo. But between you and me . . . my recitation is fabricated. Things are not getting knitted, the kids' scrapbooks are not being created (really? look at all those reminders of what is no more?), books are not being written.

But enough is enough. I'm tired of being weary. I'm tired of just getting by. I want to wake up every day invigorated and excited to see what the day will bring. I want to go to bed every night, tired in a good way, in a way that speaks of a well-lived day, a day not just survived, but lived.

How do I get to that point? Sheer determination, one moment at a time.

Can I do it? I sure hope so.

Thank you for reading. I realize this wasn't the uplifting, inspirational post you would prefer to read, but you stuck with me to the end. I hope I haven't scared you off, that you'll come back to see how my journey continues.