Friday, February 28, 2014

So Much to Learn

{I hesitated writing this post as I feared many of you would think I had gone off the deep end.  Writing about dying?  Who wants to read that?  But then, as the days wore on and I wrestled with the decision, I heard two two songs in succession: "One Sweet Day" and "Safe and Sound."  The first song's theme is rooted in the passing of a beloved friend while the second cries out the lyrics, "You could be my luck. Even if we're six feet underground, I know that we'll be safe and sound. We're safe and sound."  I figured if that wasn't my answer on hammering this post out, I'm denser that I originally suspected!  So keep an open mind...and enjoy.}

This morning I was steaming Braden's clothes for school, and I wondered about finally dying and going to Heaven.

I can't wait.

Now, before any of you go calling the suicide hotline on my behalf, please hear me out.

For years and years I was terrified of dying.  More than just fear of pain and sickness itself, I was afraid to leave this Earth.  Fear of the unknown has forever been my Achilles heel. (Okay, okay, more accurately "lack of control" is my Achilles heel...potato, po-tah-to...) But ever since living through the pit of depression, awakening my heart to glory moments all around me each and every day, finding a grace in His love that I had never known, my feelings have changed.  Don't get me wrong.  If I got a terminal prognosis at my next doctor's appointment, I wouldn't be dancing in the street.  I would be devastated to leave my family. But I wouldn't be fearful of "the unknown" anymore because, you see, I no longer consider it "unknown."

I have known it, in little moments here and there.
And in those tiny glimpses of His glory, I can only imagine what the real deal is like...
How glorious and angelic and profound and overwhelming the blessing of it all.

Deacon Shane spoke recently in his homily about the Kingdom of Heaven.  Also known as the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God, this is not Heaven itself; nor is it earth.  He said it could be best considered Heaven on earth.  That realm where the presence of God is palpable, real, true you can almost taste it.  The place where He resides in us most fully as we bring that light to those around us.

The best example I can muster is the time preceding and just following my dear Daddy's death to new life: watching him see angels all around; finding sweet messages from him to us girls after his passing; miracles and love and healing and song all mixed together to make the perfect recipe of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Yes, we were devastated.  But it was all so sacred that, somehow, I've never felt closer to God's grace.

For a time after, though the grief was profound, I ached to get another taste of that precious fusion of Heaven and earth.  I guess it was there that I finally just threw up my hands, proclaiming, "I can't wait!"  I was no longer afraid of life

So, back to the steaming...

Directly after I thought of going to Heaven, saying to myself, yet again, "I can't wait!," I had a little girl moment of impatient awe, thinking, "I wonder when it will be?"

Then that voice...that still, small voice in my heart, whispered...

"You still have so much to learn."

Ah, yes.  
The learning.  
The growing.  
The trials which strengthen us.  
The joys which sustain us.
The sharing of wisdom.  
The love and the family and the music and the flowers and the ocean and the children and their children and the successes and the failures and...well, all of it.

I am learning.  Growing.  Yet I still have so much to accomplish in His name.  
But this thought, rather than making me wistful, suddenly brings utter delight to my heart. For He is doing a work in me...a great and powerful work that I am honored to share.  
So come to think of it, yes, I can wait.  
I can wait until I have learned all He wants me to know...
I can wait until I've shared all He needs me to share...
I can wait to finally see Him as I venture forward in life, actively watching for Him...
glimpsing moments of His grace all around me...
moments of Heaven on earth.

{Thanks for not calling the authorities.  
And for those of you with a fear of what's to come, 
I hope this post helps to ease your burden.  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gratitude...It's Not Just for Thanksgiving Anymore

(As of yesterday I'm participating in a "7 posts, 7 days" challenge through Jennifer Fulweiller's "Conversion Diary."  Should get interesting with the four days of gigs I have starting tomorrow!  So don't be surprised if one of the posts reads: "Love your neighbor as yourself!  Bam!"  I may get short on time but want to stay faithful to the challenge!  For today's purposes, however, I wanted to expand on yesterday's theme of "Focus on what they are instead of what they're not."  We're talkin' gratitude people!  Here are some thoughts...)

I glanced over at the ""gratitude board" I lovingly made for the 2013 Thanksgiving season.
Shoved in a corner.
Converted to an events reminder board at the close of Thanksgiving.
I guess I figured only month of the year warranted a written reminder of all I have to cherish.
Shame on me!

You see, it all started in an effort to send my eldest away to college next fall with some good habits in place.  Those years between 18-23 can be so riddled with angst, challenges and worries...same as the teen years but without the cushion of a parent to bounce frustrations off of.  (Do you like the way I made "bounce frustrations off of" sound like a pleasant thing?)  Starting the morning with a written account of each thing for which you are matter how an amazing shift in perspective.  It's the difference between thinking, "I didn't sleep a wink last night...this day is gonna stink!" and "I'm so grateful that I have a light day of homework today."  Subtle but powerful.  So I bought the board, cut some paper, made it pretty and away we went.  

Little did I know that I was actually changing my own life and habits in the process.  It's amazing what happens when you need to model behaviors for someone else.  It shouldn't have been a shocker when each and every one of my days was made infinitely better by a scrap of paper, a few words, and discerning prayer (plus alot of "thank You, Jesus's") over what to write.

Poor, forgotten gratitude board...

Today's gifts to cherish...

I really liked this Thanksgiving graphic, but I wanted to start over totally fresh...
So this is what I chose...a message totally worth waking up to!!

So I'm resurrecting the board and re-instituting the challenge to myself and my family.  And in keeping with my post yesterday, until such time as the philosophy, "Focus on what they are instead of what they're not," becomes ingrained, at least one, if not all, of my written words of thanks will be directed toward my husband.  They may be simple.  They may be deep.  But they will be heartfelt and loving regardless.

Today's started with a feeling of gratitude toward Drew who opened the newly scrubbed refrigerator (it took me two hours to clean yesterday) and exclaimed, "Wow...Xanadu!!"  The best!!

If you, too, are like me and have trouble consistently focusing on the good...the blessings in your're welcome to join me.  I'd especially encourage you to share the things for which you are grateful in the comments below.  It would be wonderful to feel our community come together with a mutual purpose.  Because gratitude, folks...well, it's not just for Thanksgiving anymore!

{Thanks for reading...
and sharing your gifts below!} 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Post to a Know-It-All Wife

The thought I had on marriage this morning - specifically on how wives see their husbands - is not new in the vast and varied studies on the matter, so why it struck me deeply for the first time, I cannot say.  (Though the enduring phrase "terminally dense" does leap to mind.) But once it sprung to my consciousness, converting next to a whisper on my lips, it took root and began to germinate.  So the hope is, if I write about it, surely it will flourish, yes?  Ready for it?  My relationship thought for the morning was...

"Focus on what they are instead of what they aren't."

I know, I know, I really don't want to even hear it myself.
But I've gotta address it, if only for myself.  So here goes.

I've heard this phrase many different times in many different ways through many different marriage philosophies purported through the ages.
There are times I've adhered to it and times I have not.
There are times I've been so affronted by the sheer inability of my spouse to see my perspective that I've decided to not be kind anymore or confess my own responsibility for actions and consequences (enter our discussion last night).
There are times I've lain down, a doormat, keeping the peace simply out of utter hopelessness that he would change. (Aka, apologize.)
You see, none of these actions are the right choice.
Because we're both miserable at the outcome, even when one spouse seemingly "gets their way."
It turns out inconsistency is not truth and justice is not love and cowardice in marriage is not fear of God. 
Who'd of thunk it?!?  

Of course, for all of you women who are reading this and rolling your eyes (don't worry, feel free...I've felt the same way in the past and probably will again somewhere down the line), you may be in the midst of an internal (or outward!) battle for right on your side.  I've been there...I know how helpless that can feel.  I'm not suggesting that you roll over and happily take another kick in the pants.  But neither can I advocate for a perpetual state of unforgiveness.  Again, been there...done the tattered, black T-shirt.

Enter the phrase: 
"Focus on what they are instead of what they aren't."

So, where will I direct my focus?  After all, what is he not?
He's not a woman or a nurse or an empathizer or a sentimentalist?
"Yay!" and "Boo-Hiss!" all at the same time.
Okay, what else?
He's not a philanderer or a pathological liar or a drug/alcohol addict or an abuser.
Most difficult realization of all, though, is one that should seem obvious:
He's not ME.  
Therefore, he doesn't think like me, act like me or need like me.
(How dare he?!?)

So, what is he?
He's loyal.
He's true.
He's calm.
He's a problem solver.
He's hilarious.
He's a hard worker with an incredible work ethic.
He's flawed and scared sometimes.  
(This may sound like a "what is he not" to you but for me, it is a saving grace...a glimpse into his very humanity, his vulnerability.)
He's incredibly bright and talented, capable and creative.
He's a steadfast father and helpmate.

Most importantly, however, I must always remember, he is sacred.  
He is sacred to me.  
He is sacred to our Father.  
He is sacred to this family.  
And without his differences and foibles, he would be too much like me and we would eventually reach a crossroads of a different sort.  

"Focus on what they are instead of what they aren't."
Focus on what he is rather than what he's not.
Just as our Heavenly Father does each day for me.

{This was repeatedly on my heart this morning, 
so I have to think it was there to share.  
Praying for a season of Godliness in my marriage
 and those of all I know and love.  
Praying for my focus to be on all good things.
Praying in gratitude for my beautiful husband.
Thanks for reading.}

Sunday, February 16, 2014

All You Have to Do is Call

I was saying goodbye to my mother at the end of our weekly phone call last week when she said, "Tell everyone there I said hello!"  I opened my mouth to respond in kind and had to choke back those duplicate words.  It's a reflex, this response...even though it will be two years in May the last time I said those words, knowing that she would deliver the message to my dad.

I think back on those phone conversations sometimes.  
Daddy wasn't much for small talk so the telephone wasn't his first choice of communication, especially not the weekly catch-up call.  He was my "go to," however, anytime I needed advice or to share my deepest joys or sorrows.  Then, no matter the distance, he listened compassionately and delivered the most beautiful, heartfelt advice and support.  These moments more than made up for the moments we suffered through together with the mundane "So, what's going on there?" 
"How's the weather been?" 
"What are the kids up to?"

Not often, much later in his life - but every now and then, I'm ashamed to admit - 
I would occasionally and secretly hope that he would be napping when I called...
or eating lunch...
or just not in the mood to talk.  
It wasn't often, mind you, but there were moments that provided such a reality check, trying to converse with him in the later stages of his Alzheimer's.  Those moments could be difficult to navigate without sounding patronizing.  But most times that were lovely, and I would sometimes jot down our conversations as we spoke...
just little highlights that would strike me as poignant or amusing.  

I found a documented snippet of one of those conversations in my desk drawer two days ago. Daddy had asked about "the children and your husband." I knew most days he may not know which of his five daughters he was speaking to or what that daughter's family's names were...he may not have even known my name that day, depending on his clarity of mind. But in this instance, at least his mood was terrific. He clearly thought this a message worth conveying:

"They take care of you and you take care of them.  And if someone comes around and does this for me, I'll get lunch!"

Then he cackled gleefully in his very Irish manner, and I laughed right along.  Leave it to Daddy to end our conversation detailing his intention of showing generosity in repayment for a kindness.  That was him...just life.

As I fingered this little note, jotted on a scrap sheet of paper detailing my choice of business card designs from Tiny Prints, I realized how much that wrinkled, mess of a piece of paper had come to mean to me.  
That it chronicled, I think, the next to the last conversation I ever had with my dad.  
I thought of how I would give almost anything to be able to say to my mom these days, 
"Tell Daddy I said hello" 
"Give Daddy my love"  
"Can Daddy talk a minute?  I just want to hear his voice."  
I wish I had asked every time.  
I wish I had waited to call till after his nap every time.  
I wish I had listened to the frequent whisper on my heart, 
"Be still...
just speak...
and listen...
the content doesn't matter, only the reaching out," 
each. and. every. time.

What I wouldn't give...

I wrote this today, not just as a reminder for me, but for each of you, dear friends.
To encourage you to make the time for those you love and who love you in return.
To remind you to be still.
To listen.
To reach out.
To hearken to the sound of your heart each and every time it whispers for you to take a moment...make a call....make the time...say I love you.

You'll be so very happy you did.

{Squeeze someone you love today.
Thanks for reading.}

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Finding Warmth in Winter

Sometimes the sunshine just stops me in my tracks.

I'll be hurrying to my car to get to work or run errands.
Or I'll be rushing out back to switch over the laundry.
And it just grasps me, those rays striking at my very core, the warmth spreading to every part of my body.
It makes me stop.
Suddenly I must take a moment to lift my arms out to my sides and raise my face toward the light, a smile spreading slowly, the balminess a balm to my soul.
Anxiety melts.
Schedules pause.
The residual chill I feel from dipping nighttime temperatures in the still of my house subside, goosebumps standing on flesh, a road map of relief. 
I find myself recharged in these precious moments.

Mama said a few weeks ago, "Cynth, it's never been so cold here.  I know everyone in the country thinks we (Southerners) are ridiculous, but our houses just aren't built for this kind of weather.  I can't remember a time in my life when I had my heater turned up to the very highest setting, and still, even with that, covered head to foot in blankets...
I just can't get warm."

I thought of Mama's words today as we face a high of 81 this week in Southern California...
As I mourn the quick passing of winter here...
As I run from desk to studio, focusing on tasks, executing chores...
As I rush and multitask, schedule causing anxiety to pulsate.

When the sun stops me in my tracks yet again.

I think of the times I just couldn't find warmth in the perpetual winter of my heart.
When life seemed bitter and frigid.
When I chipped away at hope frozen in a solid block, no thaw in sight.
When I didn't yet understand how in the world I could manage to defrost my glacial heart.

I wish I had known then what I know now, even as I hurry to and fro, the urgency an electric current that requires severing.
I needed only stop in my tracks.
I needed only look up.
Up to the Son shining brightly down on me...
Up to the Heavens calling me to lift my arms out to my sides and raise my face toward the Light, a smile spreading slowly, His balminess a balm to my soul.
It's here I find pause.
It's here I am warmed.

Photo credit:  swanksalot on Flickr

{Encouraging you to warm yourself today ...
Whether by sunshine or fireside or fuzzy blanket...
Yet always by the Light of the Son and the hope of His Word.
I hope it stops you in your tracks!
Thanks so much for reading.}