Coming Home to Gratitude

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“God reveals Himself in rear view mirrors. And I’ve an inkling that there are times when we need to drive a long, long distance, before we look back and see God’s back in the rearview mirror. Maybe sometimes about as far as Heaven–that kind of distance.” Ann Voskamp

This afternoon, I remembered something I used to do back in Arizona. It was a wonderful habit of counting out my blessings along with the community that Ann Voskamp started with her wonderful book, One Thousand Gifts. Oh, I remember those Monday posts, sitting there in my cozy home counting out my “thankfuls”fondly.

I have been struggling, really struggling to get words out. Before they used to pour out like an offering……..liquid words splashing like a drink offering on my altar to God. The well seems to have dried up but I have learned as a writer that these times are often as valuable as when words flow freely.

The move we wrestled with for so long is behind us. The stress of me starting a brand new job that I almost drove myself into despair over, behind us. I have arrived at a kind of comfort zone where the blackness now is a gray with a tinge of hope at the edges. We are settled in a beautiful spot by a river where we hear trains often, always a favorite of mine. I missed those in Arizona.

So I wondered. Why can’t I write? Where did the words go? Why, with all this beauty around me does my soul feel dampened? Where is that deep peace I had in the desert?

Could part of it be that I have brought too many other things to the foot of the cross and forgotten my gratitude? Could it be that simple?

So here in this place, on this Veteran’s Day, I will forget all about the craziness going on in the world and concentrate on counting my gifts again, for they are many: 

Little leaves floating down from Heaven, resting circles on the water.

The owl I heard the other morning

The three river otters I saw playing, mouth agape as I tried to run for my camera on Saturday morning

Cherished time spend with a dear friend and laughter that went along with it, and Kayaking on the river. 

My health…..my health…..my health. 

This new job that I wrestled with and at last come to a place of a somewhat uneasy comfort zone. 

A best friend who never stops finding ways to make living in an RV better and more comfortable, and thankful that it didn’t sell so we could live here in this incredible beauty. 

Family who is close, who I can drive or bike to see. 

Friends who have expressed joy and gladness that we are here now. 

God, who has never left me, and never will.

Thank you Ann, for starting this with your wonderful book, One Thousand Gifts. I pray that the Lord continue to bless and keep you and your family.

It’s Friday but Monday’s coming….

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Philippians 4:6-7  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Last night was Friday and now I join the throngs saying, “TGIF.” After having spent years doing 12 hour shifts and enjoying a string of 3 and 4 day weekends at the end, I am now working a five-day week. I do have to qualify that by saying it’s only a four-hour day. Before you laugh yourself silly at my puny four hours, let me tell you that I lost sleep, cried, prayed, and worried myself sick for the first two weeks I was there.

There is a truth about me that surprises some people because I can come off as being very mellow, relaxed and easy-going. The truth is that I can tie myself up in knots over things that someone else may not spend even two minutes worrying over. Even things some people consider fun, I can turn into a turmoil of gut wrenching anxiety. It can be crippling.

It has taken me 57 years to realize that the only thing (person) big enough to handle my anxiety is God Himself. Trying to smother it or medicate it doesn’t work for me, it just comes back bigger than life after the haze wears off. For those of you taking medication prescibed for anxiety or depression, this does not mean you. There are times when this is needed.

This is what I think…….That we are all of us in recovery in some form or another, and I think it starts at birth. From the moment we are pushed into this life, it starts.

What are you in recovery over today? I have learned to embrace my need for help with this thing. I got help. I had five free sessions of counseling when I left Intel and it’s the best thing I ever did. That lady “got me” the very first session. I think God sent her.

Please don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s weak to get help. It’s the strong who realize when they need it and take the hand of support that’s offered.

I am learning not to live for the weekend, but live for the day because sure as anything,  I know that these two days will fly by and I will be set down smack dab in the middle of Monday before I know it. And God will meet me there too. That is what He’s been trying to tell me for 57 years now, and I have made some progress. There was a time in my life when I would have walked, no……run away from anything that put me way out of my comfort zone.

But God waits outside your and my comfort zone. And He’s here on a beautiful Saturday too. Live in the here and now, where Jesus tells us He is.

Forgive me, Father for putting other things on the throne of my life. Things like worrying about my own failure. You have already given me the tools to complete the tasks I need to do. Reel me back in from myself. You are all I ever need. Thank you for a friend who looks out for my good. (Elaine) Everyone needs someone they can spill their worries to without fear. Now I do the same to You, Lord.

Thank you for this good day that You have made. How dare I look at how you hung the moon, placed the stars, keep everything in motion and still not trust you! 

And thank you, Marty Unruh for your artwork, my friend. We did pick the right verse!

But the Lord…….

IMG_4250So far this year has been a year of tremendous blessing and challenge, and letting go. I let go of the first big thing, the thing that had been my financial security for 20 years. My job. My career. My nickname for Intel was “Big Brother” because in a sense it was. It was an umbrella of protection in a way. And it had also become part of my identity I guess. For so long I had questioned, wondered when the right time would be to leave. 

I kept asking God, make me know. Help me to be sure. Then the retirement package rolled out and it was like God was saying, “You asked for it, you got it.”

Since then I have been traveling back and forth to California to help my Mom get through a couple of surgeries, of which she has come through tremendously well.

And on the heels of coming back from California the first time, I lost my best little good fur friend in the world, my Sydney. We lost I should say, because Elaine loved him just as much, and Briggs is still searching some days for his brother.

I haven’t had a lot of time to really reflect on my semi-retirement. I found I didn’t want to get out of bed, and for me that is unusual being a morning person. But I did. I fed Briggs and cheered him up. Made him a little high with a dose of catnip.

I wondered whether I should even write a post because I wasn’t in the best of moods. But then I thought of David, and how blessed I have been by the Psalms over the years. David had his bouts with great fear and depression.

I remembered how many times in the Psalms (and the Bible) where it says, “but God.”

I was ready to close the door and cower in fear……But God. I was ready to throw the covers over my head and not face the challenges of a new day…..But God. I was thinking I had no happy words…..But God. You see, no matter what we are facing today, God is bigger. God is the big But in whatever we face, always! It the most important thing He has taught me in my one little life.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” Psalm 73:26

“But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol,
For He will receive me.” Psalm 49:15

No one has ever actually seen God, but, of course, his only Son has, for he is the companion of the Father and has told us all about him.” John 1:18

The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” Isaiah 40:8

So this morning, I got out of bed much later than usual. I figured maybe I needed the rest. And though I didn’t feel much like doing anything, much less writing, I found that when I started moving through the day, listening to music that sang His praises, my spirit lifted.

The best thing we have as Christians is a hope that is tangible and real because it’s found in the physical presence of a living God who wants and desires to meet our every need. That’s something concrete that we can pass on to others. And it’s the most powerful gift we can give in a world that needs hope more than ever before.

So the next big thing will be letting go of this home that has been our sweet refuge for several years now. It will be hard……maybe the hardest thing yet. But God…….But God……I rest in You.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” Jesus

Shalom!

 

Days when you feel stuck

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Sometimes, when we are in the darkness or someone we love is, we feel paralyzed. We wonder what to do. When it’s someone we love, we reach back into the wellspring of our own memories and remember how it felt being in the bottom of that well. It’s not a good place, we don’t want to go back there.

I remember that a miracle started my walk back to the Lord, and I also remember that even though He provided that huge first step I needed, He taught me that I needed to keep on walking toward Him, no matter how I felt. In my case, I needed to heal my mind before I could cooperate with God in healing my body. I needed to get up and take a courageous first step.

I remember those early days, exercising in the dark of the morning so no one would see me. Faithfully, I went out, day after day. Finally, my body started to reward me by showing me results. My mood improved, my confidence increased, and I started to attend classes with other people. I traded in my baggy clothes for bright colored leotards (and leg warmers, yes forgive me…….after all, it was the 80’s!)

God has never let me forget how it felt to be in that place of darkness and I am grateful for that, for now I can be empathetic to those who are there now. My advice might seem meager and overly simplistic, but there is great power in it. Because I’ve been on the road, I know the road out.

These days when I feel paralyzed, I stop and seek the Lord. I pray. The beauty of prayer is that you can stop and pray anytime and anywhere.

Then I thank God for the new day and I thank Him simply because He is with me in it. It’s a process of reaching for the light, sometimes over and over again throughout the day. That process alone is a conscious effort of choosing joy. Light over darkness. There is plenty on any given day to feel hopeless about, all we have to do is watch the news.

After I pray, I open the Word and ask God to reveal the power and hope in its pages. I always find what I need there. Satan will try his best to keep me from doing that, because he knows once I start giving God gratitude in the midst of my circumstances and opening the Word, he knows he has lost the battle.

Then, I just start moving around in the day, starting with little tasks like cleaning the cat box, starting the laundry, emptying the dishwasher. I have found that Holiness resides in little tasks when it costs you an act of faith just to take that first step.

Then I start looking for the light. In every little thing I can find…….from the frozen bird bath, to the sun shining through Mr. Briggs whiskers……….

There is a darkness called depression and it’s very very real to many people. When you are there in that place, there is nothing anyone can say that will make a difference. Those easy platitudes will only make a depressed person feel worse, almost like its their fault. Believe me, they are usually kicking themselves around the block and back, wondering what is wrong with them.

In those instances, it may be that medication is needed, or counseling, or both. But in all those situations, God is there ready to meet you. If someone you love is in a dark place, pray and keep praying. If you are that someone, know that hope is near. And it’s for you, not for everyone else.

Look to the Light today, take just one step forward and I will stand with you. Together we can walk out of the land of the shadows.

Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us   from Heaven…..Luke 1:78

 

 

Why I took a break, and why I’m back

Sometimes the blogging world gets noisy. And sometimes you even forget why you blog. And you go to a post where you feel you have held your heart out to the world…painfully so, and you get no comments. And you are disappointed. Even though you know you aren’t writing for:
Accolades……Comments……Validation…..and those are all good things, that was never my motivation.
And you read all these wonderful other blogs, and you feel like your voice is just one more and it’s not quite as beautiful, as esthetically pleasing….as skillful, as creative….fill in the blank.
A scribbling on a blank piece of paper could save your life, if it is just what you need to hear in that moment. 
I have also been mad at the “blogger” platform. Different reasons. All of a sudden my playlist didn’t work. It won’t start playing right when you open my blog. I thought I had it set up to do so, but I still can’t get it to work right.
When I noticed myself scrolling to comments right away? That’s when I knew I had lost my way. I needed to remember Who I was blogging for and why I started in the first place.
Only three reasons, but they are big ones. God, the Word, and You the readers.
I have been going through some changes myself, and no doubt this blog will change with me. Change is a good thing. But the one thing about this blog that will never change is the message. It is a little four letter word but it means the world…..and it’s what the world needs right now:
Hope.
And I realized another thing. My little voice means something, and so does yours.
And after all, how many voices are too many for praise to the living God?
This year has been tough, and it still is. Going on two years of care taking and it takes its toll no doubt about it. But Elaine and I are still laughing despite the circumstances. And now I am going through some other things personally, physical changes which I have talked about here.
And even when the moods are incredibly dark? The amazing thing is that at unexpected moments I have this absurd joy. It just won’t stop, because God has me. And He has you too, no matter what else is going on in your life. Because each and every one of us has circumstances we have to deal with. Those will never go away.
But neither will God.
That, my friends is my main message. And this morning, as if to highlight what I was feeling, this song came on and it said: Let my life song sing to you.
Let my life song sing to you. And you and you.
And like those stones along the road to Jerusalem that would not be silent?  I will never ever stop praising Him, because He is worthy.

Two to a car

 
 
 
But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, And He heard me from His holy hill. Psalm 3:3,4
 
This morning I went out to pray like a monk, I was glad there was a hood on my sweatshirt, because all of a sudden it has turned cold…..cold for here anyway. As I lit my “prayer lantern” I sank into my chair and bowed my head. There are so many things I am thankful for, why do I feel such despair at times? I have a good job and people who love me. I am doing some writing and there are actually people who get something out of what I write. I am constantly surprised by joy over that.
 
But there is another thing I have been fighting, and it’s a big one. I hesitate to even write about it because I don’t think I can put it into words. And yet I must because writing is my way out….my way up.
 
I’ve been fighting this thing. It’s called “The Change.” There is a reason they call it that. I wondered and wondered why I have felt this way and it suddenly hit me.
 
I am grieving. Grieving who I was before.
 
Who has taken my old happy life and what have they done with it?
 
As it hit me, tears gushed. And part of it was the relief of knowing. The other part is the not knowing. I don’t know what waits on the other side of this tunnel. Every now and again normalcy touches down and I breathe a sigh of relief.
 
My faith holds me now. I howl like a wounded animal on the inside because I don’t want anyone to hear.
 
I walk down the Christmas aisles at the store and I want to cry. Pumpkin pie filling makes me cry. People being kind to me makes me cry.
 
I drive on the freeway and I feel the white heat of anger lashing out. I call unsuspecting people all kinds of names they don’t deserve. They are just trying to get home, after all.
 
I am losing what I fought so hard to get back when I starved myself.  The part of me that was always a reminder of health…..possibility….promise….life.
 
How do you let go of something you have had all your life? And who will I be on the other side of this…..will it make me less than I am right now?
 
How do you go about going through a change that will usher in the last phase of your life, especially when you still wear Miss Me jeans and buy your clothes in the junior section?
 
I got up and wiped my nose on my sleeve. And God gave me something, just a little vision of hope. I was sitting on the little train I used to ride at the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk. It was two to a car….And in the seat beside me: Jesus rode.
 
And He promised he would be with me all the way through. And I know He will, He’s a man of His word. Yes, there is much comfort in two to a car.
 
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

The Final Answer

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
I smoothed the sheets on my bed this morning and said a prayer of thanks because I didn’t feel like I did yesterday morning. Yesterday I wasn’t ready to enter into the day and I did something I never do on a day off……I went back to bed. Yet, even as I crawled back under the covers, I was aware that it was a luxury.  Just the fact that I could do it. Most can’t.
I pulled the covers up, curled into a ball and slept until 9. For me, that’s late.
After that I went to Walmart, which is my new place between places. I call it my own personal Bermuda Triangle. I sat with my cart amongst the fake Christmas trees and patio sets and smiled at the irony. The depression snaked behind me, but just then I felt I had outsmarted it. I felt cushioned in an island of peace. Even the pink one didn’t bother me, it stood there innocently wearing sparkling white lights. How could I get mad at it?
I sat there playing my Words with Friends like I had nothing else to do. And it was good.
I got back and put everything away. And Joyce was agitated and pacing. I had closed my bedroom door and I think that threw her off too. Alzheimer’s patients are like Autistic kids in that they like routine and they like normal. They don’t like change.
And she forgets that Elaine has a job now and wonders where she is. Imagine never remembering anything? Your mind would have to work 10 times harder than anyone else’s.
Every time I sat down at the keyboard to clack out words…..she came in or out the door. I gave up trying to write. I felt hemmed in, so I went outside for awhile and watched the birds eat the bread I left. The cactus wrens were up to their usual antics and I couldn’t help but smile watching them.
And later the phone rang and it was a dear blogger friend just calling to say……”I have been praying for you.” Never underestimate how important that is. To me it was grace like spring rain.
He told me his frustration about how some of his young friends just don’t seem to get it. That it’s not all about them, but it’s about us and how we are all in this world together. And about Haiti and a world of people in need. And suddenly my problems felt smaller again. And I was able to write about just that very thing. Thank you, Duane Scott. You are a treasure.
Elaine came home after having to call four parents for out of control kids on the bus. They were new kids added to her route. She was exhausted. It was obvious the other driver had been ignoring the bad behavior. And then she sat in a training class where one of the other drivers constantly interrupted the instructor with unbelievably foul language.
Nobody was saying anything, so she finally did.
Then later my Mom called and told me of her friend’s daughter in law. She is in Stanford right now, a mother of three. They were all camping and she came home with a fever. Now something is attacking her liver. She is in Stanford undergoing tests and they can’t find anything wrong, all those very bright minds.
And it was morning and it was evening and God is pulling the shade down on another day.
And the team we were rooting for last night is going to the World Series.
Each day has its own set of wins and losses. Sometimes people get it but sometimes they don’t. And it’s okay……..We do the best we can any given day. And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and prays for us with groans that words cannot express.
And in every conflict, as my friend so wisely said, the answer is always the same……Love.