Sunday, January 31, 2016
If the normal chaos of the first week of classes wasn't enough, a somewhat nasty storm system dumped several inches of snow just before Wednesday's afternoon rush-hour. Less than 1/2 of my 5:30-class students showed, and by the time I left campus at 6:45 for, the interstates were covered and treacherous. My entire drive -- interstate all the way -- was made at no more than 45 mph on snow-covered lanes, and my normal two-hour commute stretched to double that. Thankfully, roads were cleared overnight and the next morning's commute was back to normal.
Finally, while driving home from a night class on Thursday, I felt the frenzy of the past two weeks was over and everything was finally settling into place . . . for me, at least. It will take some students much longer to get into a routine that works for them. Sadly, some never will.
I contemplated that concept -- that some will make the adjustments necessary every semester and be successful while others will do neither -- much of the drive home, and I considered that the same thing happens in and outside of the workplace.
Some people adjust to a new boss or a new job; others do not and end up leaving or, worse, being asked to leave or fired. Some people adjust easily to a move to a new neighborhood, town, or state (even country), and make new friends, find a church home, and become part of their new community quite quickly; others never make their new home a true home.
That led me to ponder what makes the difference. What is it that causes some people to adapt to new situations easily while others struggle and even fail.
One important difference-maker is attitude. We've all read quotes and see posters about the importance of attitude, and while they might seem cliched, the idea that what you expect is what you will get is, by and large, true.
Another difference-maker is work ethic. Adapting to new circumstances takes work. If a person is content to sit back in their new cubicle or office or home and wait for others to come to them or to somehow magically learn about their new environment while being sequestered from it, they will never learn and make the necessary adjustments. Instead, they must get out, meet new people, learn the new territory, and make it their own. Some people find that an easy task and are invigorated by it, but others find it to be daunting.
Self-image and self-confidence are other factors. A person who lacks self-esteem is far less likely to make the proverbial steps outside their comfort zone needed to learn about and fit in their new place.
Another factor that came to mind was flexibility. We've all known or worked with the person whose mantra was "Well, at my old job/town/church/______ we . . . " While it may be helpful, when brainstorming a new procedure or plan, to share an experience from a prior job/church/etc., the time to do that is after you've settled into the new. When adapting to the new situation, it's important to be open to and accepting of new ways of doing things.
There are other factors, of course, but these were the four that stood out to me on my drive home. I jotted them down, and I'm putting them out here so I can come back to them in June or July, when I'm settling into and adapting to my own new environment.
This impending move has been on my mind throughout the month of January as (to complete my 16 in 2016 January challenge) I opened and sorted through every box, bin, closet, drawer, etc., in the house -- even the stuff in the basement -- and donated and threw away anything I don't love and/or use.
I wanted to lighten my physical load as much as possible. It's going to be hard, though, to lighten the emotional load. But for now, I'm not going to worry about that. Instead, I'm going to enjoy every day I have in this house, in this town.
And in June, I'll adjust my attitude, roll up my sleeves, square my shoulders, and prepare myself for change.
16 in 2016 -- I completed my challenge!!
Write 365 -- I wrote every day these past 2 weeks, primarily in my journal, but this coming week I plan to add "in my new book".
52 Books -- I actually read more than 1 book per week; books are my antidote to chaos.
January 17-23 Tombstone Courage and Desert Heat -- both byJ.A. Jance
January 24-31 Murder in Gramercy Park and Murder on Lenox Hill -- Victoria Thompson
A Killing in the Hills -- Julia Keller
A Window Opens -- Elisabeth Egan
Monday, January 18, 2016
But I digress.
Last week was my lull before the storm of a new semester. When classes ended in December, I was a week away from my son and daughter's visits and from all the Christmas festivities. As soon as I submitted final grades, I rushed home to get started on my company's-coming to-do list, and after their week-long visits, I stayed busy working on various projects around the house.
Last week, though, I turned into a sloth. On the days I didn't have to go into work for pre-semester meetings, I sat around in my sweats/pajamas (they become the same thing when a person doesn't change from one to the other at bedtime) most of the week, not venturing out into the bitter cold unless there was good reason.
(Confession within a confession: When I drove to McD's one evening for a large iced tea with light ice, I merely threw a hoodie on over my sweats/pajamas and went through the drive-through. Wearing my Uggs house slippers.)
I didn't use that time productively, either. Instead, I made a significant dent in the shows saved on my DVR, read several books, added more than a few pins to my Pinterest boards, chatted on FB, and basically was a lazy bum.
And I don't regret it a bit.
I know that, starting tomorrow, my life will become filled with class prep and responding to emails and, the largest time-sucker, grading papers. Last week, then, was my lull.
Tomorrow, let the storm begin!
January "16 in 2016" challenge to ruthlessly sort through all my possessions: nothing -- not a single thing. I was a sloth, remember?
Write 365 (write every day) -- journaled every day
52 Books in 52 Weeks -- Read The Bette Davis Club by Jane Lotter (published posthumously) -- a fun novel about a woman who is sent to retrieve her runaway-bride niece (and more), accompanied by the jilted groom-to-be.
Friday, January 15, 2016
As we transition from one year to the next, we typically focus on time. How did we spend the time we were given over the past 12 months; what do we want to accomplish or do or become in the coming year?
This past week, most people moved from focusing on time to thinking about and dreaming about money. With all the talk of the mega-million lottery, many people were spending their time in lines at their local convenience store in order to buy that coveted winning ticket.
I spent some time thinking of what I'd do if I won, and I actually couldn't come up with much of a list. I'd tithe every year (no lump payment here) pay off my son's and daughter's student loans, pay off my SUV, buy a class B camper, buy a very small house, and quit my job. That's it.
I don't want more stuff. I want more time.
And while time can't be purchased, time can be freed up through money. You need more time on the weekends to do what you love? Hire a house cleaner so you are relieved of that time-consuming chore. Have a huge yard for the kids to play in but you'd rather play with them than mow and edge it and take care of the garden areas? Hire a lawn service to take care of those things.
Time can't be created; it can be re-allocated.
I read the book The Other 8 Hours a year or so ago and gained some interesting perspectives about time and some new ideas about how to better utilize the time I'm not either asleep or at work. Self-discipline is required.
Lots of it.
I'd rather buy a lottery ticket.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
In that blog entry, Rory shares that his beloved wife has in recent days told Jesus she's ready to go "home". When I read that, my heart dropped, and I was taken back 6 years, 4months, and 2 days ago, to the living room of the home my husband built. Where just 6 weeks before, my then presumably-perfectly healthy husband and I had talked of buying cattle and other dreams for the future. Now, instead of dreams for a lengthy future, my son and daughter, a hospice nurse, and I surrounded my husband's hospital bed, dreading what was soon to come.
My husband, who had dozed much of the night while our children and I kept watch, talking to him and reassuring him of our love when he would wake briefly, woke again about 7:00 a.m. and, without opening his eyes, said, "I want to go home."
Unsure as to his clarity of mind (he was on morphine drops) and thinking he might be confused as to where he was, I responded, "Home to our house or," I almost couldn't get the words past the lump in my throat, "home to Heaven?" I heard both of my children gasp slightly. Steve answered very matter of factly, "Home to Jesus."
The tiny part of my heart that hadn't yet broken, shattered.
He left us less than 30 minutes later.
I'll draw a curtain there; the rest of the morning and the next few days were beyond difficult.
Over the next 10 or so months, every time my mind wasn't actively focused on my job or some other task, it was filled with an endless loop of memories of the 6 weeks and 1 day of my husband's illness. Scene after scene ran through my head.
But there was one memory that, when it began to appear, I resolutely shut down. Yes, it was the moment when my husband quietly said he wanted to go home. Like a child flirts with the idea of touching their tongue to the gaping hole where a tooth recently was, I began to inch closer to remembering that moment, always jerking back at the last second.
And then, one day, I finally let that scene play itself out in my mind.
Of course, I cried. But with the tears came something very important. Words and sentiment that had been part of my entire life came to mind.
"I'm but a stranger here; Heav'n is my home," which I'd sung countless times ("I'm but a Stranger Here" from The Lutheran Hymnal).
"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2).
These words, which (if truth be told) had been little more to me than platitudes throughout my life, became amazingly, startlingly real.
I'm not going to lie to you. I still grieved, and I still missed my husband. But at the same time, the sense of controlled panic I'd felt much of the time since his passing was gone.
In its place was a sense of calm, of peace. Steve was home. Not just figuratively, not just theoretically.
Really, truly Home. With his Family, Who love him beyond my wildest imagining. Free of pain and stress and toil.
And so, a few days ago, when I read Rory's post about his wife's imminent passing, my heart did drop for just a few seconds.
But then, I remembered that she will be going Home.
Yes, there will be grief. But let there also be great joy.
I realize that the thought of finding joy after a person's death may seem repugnant to some people; it certainly would have been to me just 5 or 6 years ago. Please feel free to share your thoughts via a comment or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org); of course, all views are welcome, but I ask that they be shared in a respectful manner. Thanks so much!
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Truth be told, though, I'm more a Post-It note lover than a Post-It note user. I love having them on hand, and I love how they look all neatly -- and colorfully -- organized in my desk drawer. But I can't remember the last time I used one here at home, and I ordinarily only use them at work to flag a stack of papers as "to be graded" or "to be returned" with the appropriate course section noted.
Some people, however, are Post-It note users extraordanaire. Maybe, like my sister, you're one of them. If you walk into my sister's kitchen, the first things you would probably notice is her beautiful built-in oak desk with tall cabinets on the wall above it. The reason your eye would be drawn to it, as opposed to the matching but much-larger cabinets that grace the two much longer walls in the room, is the dazzling array of Post-Its that adorn the lower half of the wall cabinets.
Orderly organizer that I am, I am impressed at the uniform spacing and alignment of the yellow squares of paper, each note ordered by (according to my sister) the priority of the information on the note.
I'm so in awe of my her system that I've attempted a few times to replicate it in my own home and/or office. But I can't. I simply cannot abide, on a daily basis, the cluttered-ness of the array of Post-Its and the fact that, once the note on it is no longer needed, it is relegated to the trash can, leaving no record of the accomplishment or when it took place. And so, I always return to my well-loved and trusty planner and my Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto pen with 5 cartridges of ink (blue-black, pink, red, green, and orange).
I don't need Post-Its.
Neither does God.
For a very long time, I thought He did. Oh, I knew he didn't need the kind of reminders available online at amazon.com or found, if needed right away, at a local office supply store.
No, I thought He needed reminders in the form of prayer. I was a strong believer in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: "pray without ceasing".
And so I prayed "without ceasing". My version of "without ceasing" involved making a list of prayer requests that I rattled off to God -- grocery list style -- when I prayed. Sadly, my prayers often consisted of just a quick "thank you" followed by my list followed by "amen".
In other words, I nagged God.
And then, when in a women's Bible study about 23 years ago, the leader talked about putting a need in God's hands and "letting it go". No fretting, no constant reminders to God. Just leave it in His hands, trusting Him to handle it in His way, in His time.
The heads of every other woman in that group nodded and murmurs of assent filled the room; I didn't have the nerve to ask what I was thinking, "But what about 'pray without ceasing'?"
Instead, off and on for 20 years, I'd think about the contradiction that I thought existed between the two -- between praying without ceasing and leaving things in God's hands -- both of which are supported by Scripture. Mostly, though, I'd simply vacillate between the two, trying one method for awhile and then switching to the other, figuring that between the 2, I had the bases covered.
For those who are careful readers and who are now hung up on the idea that I flip-flopped for about 20 years (!), I must admit that, yes, that's exactly what I did.
And then came the day, in the Fall of 2006, when in a Bible study group, a lady openly shared that she had never been able to reconcile these 2 ideas! I was so impressed by her candor -- this lady wasn't hiding behind a facade of having it all together and understanding all the Biblical concepts like I'd been doing. I wanted to lean over and give her a high-five!
Another participant admitted that she, too, had struggled with that dilemma until her pastor preached on the issue. He said that "pray without ceasing" means that we should be in constant communication with God and that we should pray about everything, giving thanks for our blessings as they occur, asking for guidance when needed, and requesting help when problems arise. He explained that once a prayer request was made, we should leave it in God's hands, only bringing it up again if circumstances changed in some way or if we felt exceptionally anxious and needed God's reassurance. According to him, "pray without ceasing" does not mean that, like a dog with a bone, we take the same thing to God day after day after day.
In short, we shouldn't nag God.
I went home and, over the course of several weeks, I consulted several Bible translations, checking the passages I found using Bible concordances and online searches. While Jesus never specifically addressed the difference directly, everything I read supported a mixture of the two approaches. Prophets in the Old Testament often prayed about the same thing over and over, beseeching God to answer their desperate plea. I found, though, that the Prophets did this in a time of great distress or calamity, and they prayed with fervor. No rote recitations of a list of requests from them. More often than not in the New Testament, Jesus simply says that we are to "ask" and our prayers will be answered, that we are to trust Him and fear not.
What I found brought me peace, and it still does.
Because it's not how often we ask God for something, it's the nature of our heart that matters.
We can bring something to God in persistent, heart-felt prayer. It's perfectly fine, too, to petition God one time and, in complete trust in Him, leave the matter in God's hands, confident our request won't be lost in the midst of all the other requests He receives.
He doesn't forget our requests; He doesn't forget us.
He doesn't need Post-Its.
January 16 in 2016 challenge to ruthlessly sort through all my possessions:
- sorted my entire closet (shoes, winter & summer clothes, purses, etc), files and paperwork, my jewelry (had never done that before!), and 5 plastic bins & 1 box from the basement
- discarded a large paper shopping cart of unneeded, outdated papers; filled a large trash bag with clothes, shoes, etc, to be dropped off at the Safe House for Women resale shop, and added well over 30 items to the "try to sell" pile
Write 365 (write every day) -- journaled every day and am blogging today (Saturday's end of the week post to be published tomorrow)
52 Books in 52 Weeks -- Read Practicing His Presence; actually, I read it again, which is allowed in the challenge. Fantastic book that I read at least once a year.
Friday, January 8, 2016
"See ye first the kingdom of God" comes to mind, as well as the phrase "put first things first"; of course, for Christians, the two are linked, maybe even the same.
My mind flits to the idea, the one we're all so familiar with, that it's so hard sometimes to really put first what should be put first. So many fires need to be put out, so many things demand our attention, we live on autopilot so often . . . we don't have time to stop and "put" anything anywhere.
But lurking below those thoughts, those very "right" and virtuous sentiments, there lies a much less noble one. It's one I imagine flits across the minds of many people from time to time . . . maybe even pretty frequently.
We don't say it out loud. Heck, I'm even a bit embarrassed to acknowledge it to myself, and here I am, about to share it with anyone who stops by and reads this entry.
Sometimes I long to be first in someone's life again.
Now before you consider writing a gentle comment reminding me that I am cherished by God, let me assure you that I know that. But sometimes, human that I am, I want to be first to another human
I used to be first. For much of my life, I was first or tied for first.
As a child, I felt like I was tied for first with my sister.
As a new bride, I felt like was first with my husband.
When my children were small, I was tied for first with their father.
Being first is really nice. The people to whom you are first spend as much time as possible with you, they express their love with hugs and kisses and snuggles on the couch, they take care of you when you're sick, they make an effort to be a part of your life. They come to you for advice because they admire and respect and love you.
I'm not first anymore. My children are grown and have appropriate "firsts", and that is as it should be.
So, selfish as it sounds, I try to treat myself as a first. I treat myself to a manicure or a big bowl of hot buttered popcorn and a movie, for example. Don't tell my kids, but for New Years' Eve, I bought a box of Ding Dongs. I hadn't had one in several years, but I not only bought a box, but I ate 3 of them in one day!
Will I ever be first to someone here on earth again? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. But I'm not going to worry about that. Instead
Well, time's up!
Sunday, January 3, 2016
When I stumbled across this quote while reading yesterday, Chambers' words stopped me in my tracks.
You see, several years ago I joined my then-congregation in a 40-day reading of a best-selling book by a renowned Christian author. The premise of the book is that God has a grand purpose for every single Christian, and once we discover that plan and live accordingly . . . well, wonderful things will happen.
I devoured that book, hi-lighting and underlining and annotating in the margin. I met with a small group each week to discuss the week's reading and how it was applicable to our lives, and I listened carefully every Sunday as the pastor preached on the topic of discovering and embracing God's plan for ourselves.
The 40 day study came to an end; I prayed and prayed for God to reveal His grand plan for me. No grand revelations; no doors to wonderful opportunities opened.
I figured I was doing something wrong. I read other books by other renowned Christian authors, convinced that one of them would reveal what it was I needed to do to find out what my big plan was.
Still, no grand revelations and no doors magically opened.
I eventually decided I was pestering God. I had been operating on the "pray without ceasing" principle, but then I read that this referred to praying in all things, not praying about the same thing ad nauseum.
I switched to the "leave it in God's hands" principle. Still no grand revelation or opened door, but I then I realized that while I hadn't been actively praying about my grand purpose, I had been *thinking* about it quite a bit. I reasoned that since God knows everything I'm thinking, I was still, in a not-so-direct way, pestering Him.
I'd like to say that I became spiritually mature and truly left the matter in God's hands, but that isn't the case. In truth, I just got tired of asking and not getting an answer and, in the busy-ness of work and home and family obligations, the idea of a grand plan faded to the background. I focused simply on getting through the little things that make up every day.
Then I saw this quote. I immediately remembered how, when my first child was born, I saw being a wife and a mother as my calling, at least for that stage of my life. I remembered how I tried to think of cooking and cleaning and changing diapers not as chores, but as integral parts of the grand purpose I had. As a result, I felt very fulfilled, at peace with where I was in the grand scheme of things, even when I was picking dried play-dough out of the carpet.
Both children graduated from high school and went away to college; no longer did being a mom fill my days. I joined my congregation in reading that best-selling book, and I began to wonder what God was calling me to as an empty-nester. Then my husband passed away, and for several years, as I navigated through my new life, I didn't give much thought at all to any grand purpose or plan.
In the last couple of years, though, that has changed. I've yearned to know what God's plan is for me in this new stage of my life. As before, I prayed and prayed; then I remembered to leave it in God's hand, so I did.
No grand plan revealed. No doors opened.
And then yesterday, I read "You have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets among the ordinary people."
Perhaps that is my grand purpose. Maybe God's plan for me -- right now, at least, and maybe for the remainder of my life -- is that I drastically alter how I go the ordinariness of each day.
Part of me protests that I do try to be exceptional in my job and as a mother of grown children. And I do, although I'm not always successful.
But what about in other areas of my life? As I navigate rush hour traffic, as I stand in the slowest-moving line in the grocery store, as I wait 2 hours to see a doctor for 5 minutes.
I must admit that being "exceptional" at those times never crosses my mind. Yet those are the ordinary things of life.
I googled this quote, to read it in context, and I found that Chambers didn't stop after the word "people". He goes on to say . . .
"and this is not learned in 5 minutes."
I'm relieved. God doesn't expect me to be "extraordinary in the ordinary" right away. He's going to teach me.
Isn't that a grand plan?
Even though there were only 2 "January days" this week, I wanted to post my first challenges update:
January 16 in 2016 challenge to ruthlessly sort through all my possessions: sorted everything in the living & dining area, the living room storage closet, and the kitchen
Write 365 (write every day) -- worked on my book January 1 and blogged on January 2 (so far, so good)
52 Books in 52 Weeks -- Read A Hearth in Candlewood by Delia Parr and have begun reading Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman
Friday, January 1, 2016
I don't want to run out of steam or weinie out of my commitments, so I'm publishing them here for the world -- or at least, my own little blogging world -- to see. My hope is that forcing myself to be honest in a public forum about my progress each week will be additional incentive to accomplish what I've set out to do this year.
- To live more intentionally and fully (see my post from December 31, 2015)
- To complete each of the 12 monthly challenges I've set for myself
- To write every single day -- all 366 of them (Leap Year!) -- by working on my book 6 days a week and blogging every Saturday night.
- To read 52 books -- 1 each week of the year Information about "52 Books in 52 Weeks"
- To chronicle my progress at the end of each week's blog post
There you have it. My commitments to myself. For myself. I hope you'll subscribe to my blog so you receive my weekly posts on how I'm doing in my quest to live up to these commitments. I also hope you'll comment frequently -- I love receiving your feedback, hearing your thoughts, and reading of your own experiences.
And with that, I need to turn off my trusty little MacBook Air and get started -- I have a book to start and a room to sort.
* In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I must confess that while I have adamantly resisted all peer pressure to make New Year's resolutions each January 1, I have still made my own kind of resolutions. As a student for 19 years, the mother of students for 17 years, and a teacher for most of my adult life, my "year" rotates around the school year. So while you were rushing around buying school supplies, a backpack, and new clothes for yourself or your offspring, I was setting goals for the next 9 months; while you were anticipating the end of another school year and your or your children's freedom for the summer, I was compiling a summer to-do list of family outings, home organization (once and for all!), and personal improvement.