Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Post-holiday pondering

I might have already confessed here that I don't actually like Christmas very much.

It's over the top, every part of it. Too much spending, too much eating, too much cleaning, too much planning, too much driving, too many events in too short a time.

So, as my family knows, I try to play my role and then, when it's all over and the smoke has cleared, I grin like a cheshire cat.
It is what it is, and I am what I am.

However, after the debris has settled, I have time to really consider why we celebrate Christmas, albeit employing many pointless pagan rituals all the while.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
-1 John 4:9-10

So. The magnificence of this act is disguised in an infant, born in the most rough and humble way. One of us, in a body much like any of ours. Into a world where evil leaders were killing people who threatened them, and inns were overcrowded, and the poor people still had to work/herd on Christmas Day.

But—He was born. He lived among us. He lives among us yet. It's miraculous, and awe-inspiring, and wonderful.

It matters not what season the Savior was born; the day, the exact location needn't concern us. What matters is that He was, and He is.

I'm breathing in that truth this morning, reveling in it, resting in it. I survived Christmas, but most importantly? I have an eternity with Jesus to anticipate.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


As I sat down to breakfast this morning, I gazed with not a little wonder at the plate before me. It held one of my faves: egg-in-the-hole. Yes, a piece of wheat bread with a hole ripped in the middle and a lovely egg resting inside the empty space. Atop it were leftover roasted autumn veggies, tiny potatoes and Brussel sprouts, a few pepper slices, some hunks of carrot... Can you picture it? And then, the crowning jewel atop the veg—a sardine.

Scrumptious, yes? Aren't you jealous?

If you aren't, I won't take it personally. If you'd told me 30 years ago that I'd look upon this as a desirable dish, I would have laughed. I couldn't imagine eating something so savory and unsweet at that point in my life. It was beyond comprehension. I still inhaled ice cream most days, drank sweet tea, scarfed down Ho-Hos for lunch. I distinctly recall my splurge in college being Hostess brand raspberry-coconut coated Zingers.

(Not to say I wouldn't still enjoy those on a daily basis today. I mean, come on—those things are amazing.)

But thanks to sugar issues, changing metabolic rates, middle age, and a more sedentary lifestyle, I was forced to become much more health-conscious in the past decade, and it's been good for me. I've become a better and more creative cook, I've learned much more about our food supply, I actively seeking homegrown and local options for the kitchen... And my palate has expanded exponentially. As it should, since I'm a reluctant grownup now.

I described my breakfast meal only to preface the point of this post—that being, we as humans have an incredible capacity for change through growth. Most of us are constantly changing, and often not by choice; sometimes, however, through limitations or fear of consequences, the changes make us better people.

I've gotten better at budgets because of times when we lacked. I've grown more active lately because of the adopted dog who needs activity. Would I have chosen to go through tight financial periods? Heck, no. It was rough. But I'm wiser now because of it, and I have more faith in God's provision. Would I have picked out a high-energy dog intentionally so I'd be forced to exercise? Good grief, no—I wasn't eyeballing the purse-fitting dogs or anything, but I would likely have gravitated to a couch-loving breed of small beast, and we would probably have grown chubbier together... God knew I didn't need more relaxation.

So, what's the point? I guess what I'm saying is it's increasingly clear to me that what initially looks like suffering or denial will, in most cases, end up being a doorway to a good place that I would never have discovered otherwise.

And the big picture? We have the ability to be altered. We are capable of falling into bad habits, but equally capable of teaching ourselves (or being forced to learn) new, better habits. Our beliefs can shift, our behaviors can change, we can improve. We don't have to let life happen to us.

Isn't that empowering?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

if only I woof known, I'd have done this sooner

So, it turns out I might not need to maintain that fitness club membership. It served its purpose, got me moving, helped me loosen up the bad knee—but what I really needed? An active dog.

We recently adopted a female Vizsla. She came from friends, so it wasn't a completely clueless adoption; we had met the dog several times, had even spent a few days with her when we visited with said friends after Christmas last year. However. I still had some reservations. This type of dog is a particularly energetic breed known for running all day and hunting to exhaustion.

A high-energy, boundless beast? Probably not what I would have chosen for our family. I was thinking of something small, harmless, fuzzy and lazy.

And yet, the plan had been laid; after much preparation and many texted Q&A sessions between the previous owners and us, we brought the dog home. She was confused, we were confused, the already-tiny house suddenly seemed to shrink by half... What had we done? The dog alternately fetched a newly purchased squeaker ball and paced, barked at us a bit, quivered with fear the first night, and seemed generally lonely and depressed. I had doubts, my husband tried to assuage them, and our son watched it all with raised eyebrows.

Fast forward three-and-a-half weeks, and we are all adjusting rather nicely.

She's a lovely girl, well-behaved, polite, unbelievably pretty, and extremely expressive. Her light brown eyes can convey an expansive array of feelings, she accepts a biscuit in the dainty fashion of a fine lady, and we are all three of us completely smitten. The energy level is there, no doubt about it—but heck, we needed some shaking up, right? Who wants to sit around and do nothing? I've been outside more than normal, have been back in the woods and on farms, have smiled more, and have solemnly pondered life and the world much less. Pros, all of those things.

And the timing? Perfect. My son is old enough to help care for her. She gives our little family something else to hug, a warm wriggly body when I want to snuggle my son and he wants only to be left alone. And when he needs comforting or feels cuddly but doesn't want to compromise his newly discovered independence from his overly affectionate parents? There's the dog, begging for a belly rub.

Isn't it funny—and wonderful—how God gives you what you need? Even when it wasn't what you asked for, He knows best.

So, it's been an eventful month at our little homestead. Blessings abound. I have always believed that animal companions lend much warmth to a home, but this darling dog has exceeded my expectations pleasantly.

P.S. Learned the hard way to proactively repel ticks. On her and on us. Also? She's going to cost us a fortune in food, toys, and various accoutrements. Oh, well. I'll get back the fitness club fee, I suppose...

Monday, February 27, 2017

Going back on my word

I don't like to do that, truly—to go back on my word. Say what you mean, mean what you say, or shut up was my phrase of choice for years. Many times, however, I fail to adhere to my own mantra. Thankfully, if I've learned little else, I am finally figuring out that I should never say never... unless I want to end up doing exactly what I swore I wouldn't do. We little humans preach and predict, and God smiles gently and then proceeds to completely rearrange every detail of our lives. He likes to keep us on our toes, I suppose.

I was never going to have kids. (Yeah, I have one.) I was never going to teach again. (Although I'm not currently instructing, I did end up teaching Sunday school after that brash promise to myself.) We were never going to buy another small house... and our current dwelling is the smallest yet (although I do console myself by oft and silently by chanting Location, Location, location).

And I was never, ever going to become one of those smug, smarmy, fitness-in-your-face folks who belonged to a gym. No way. I had the whole world around me, and I could walk and jog and run errands at top speed and that was the only workout I needed, thank you very much. As IF I would pay someone to go tread on a mill with tens of other people, staring sightlessly alongside my treading companions, all of us going nowhere. So silly, thought I.

And then, my metabolism tanked. And doing what I had always done was no longer sufficient. I was forced to up my game, to be more intentional about taking more steps and taking them more quickly. And it seemed to be working (albeit taking what felt like aeons...)

Then? The knees. Especially the left knee, that troublesome bugger. The hands-in-pockets fall I took a few years back must have caught up with me. Suddenly, I found myself gimping around like an old woman, moving at half my normal speed, avoiding stairs, excusing myself from long walks, putting off laundry (washer/dryer in basement, you see). My heart went out to all the people I know who suffer chronic pain combined with weight problems. In a matter of a weeks, it all made sense to me, and new compassion was born.

But I'm not old enough to have these issues! Maybe, thought I, if I found a swimming pool, I could do aqua exercises to loosen the bad knee and rebuild strength lost during my gimp season... But the nice community center with a pool that is nearest me was private, thus expensive. And it was only January; waiting many more months for hot weather, all the time watching my weight creep higher, was not an option.

So I ended up at one of the biggies: one of those clubs that have multiple branches in every major American city. Happily, I chanced to stop in one day before the no-initiation-fee special kicked off. I joined, and after convincing the trainer that I was not willing to pay beaucoup bucks to become a professional bodybuilder, I did begin attending water aerobics. And that helped, a bit.

The whole club culture cracks me up, though. I spent the first few visits just looking around me, watching, waiting for someone to figure out that I was a complete poser. I knew nothing about the machines, I didn't have a lock for my locker, I was worried whether people were watching me get dressed, I felt awkward because I was the youngest person in the water class... I got over all of it. No one is paying attention to me—they're too busy worrying about themselves, watching the big TVs in front of the treadmills, checking out their biceps in one of the countless mirrors, making sure they're wiping the equipment before they use it (because, you know—other people's sweat). The club even has its own soundtrack, every song thumping a beat and featuring often suggestive lyrics... Boom, boom, boom...

And I said I would never join a club. Pshaw.

Anyway, I worked, I rode, I tried. And not much happened. The workouts became a bit easier, and I started having an easier time in general keeping up with the routine, stepping up my speed on the bike... But the knee pain stayed. Some days, it got worse. So, after a clear x-ray, and an unrevealing MRI, I went back on my word yet AGAIN and agreed to a cortisone shot.

WOW!!! That works! I'm back, baby, jogging up steps again, keeping up with laundry, feeling like I should at my age. It's incredible.

But I'm still at the club. Turns out it's not so silly after all. I'm pals with a couple of ladies in their 80s, and I bumped into a neighbor a couple of weeks ago who says she's been coming there for years. I think I'm a tad better at blending in these days. I've even dropped a couple of pounds at last.

My advice to you? Swear you won't do something only if you really want to do it. The Big Man is listening; He might even be smirking.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The choices we make

Last evening began as any typical evening might in our house.

I arrived home, fretting about a jerky driver in front of me at a stoplight who'd been distracted (looked like he was texting), then proceeded to flip me off out the window when I beeped my horn at him. My hubby was in a state of anxious consternation about how to deal with a strange situation in which he's become the unwitting, unwilling liaison between two acquaintances who don't see eye to eye. And my son was in a snit because he'd gotten in trouble at school for horsing around in the hallway with a buddy.

We were all quite justifiably off-kilter as we huffed about the kitchen—or so we thought.

And then after dinner, I received an online notification.

A woman we know had died unexpectedly.

A woman I've spoken to, sung with at church, whose two children are close to the same age as my child.

A woman who was younger than I.

These past couple of months have brought a lot of bad news within my circle of friends and family, mostly news of sickness and death. Each time, though, I've been able to find comfort because those who had passed were older, and had lived good, full lives. Their existences hadn't been perfect or painless, but they'd been satisfying and successful overall. The passing of those people is still sad, but there is much to celebrate as well.

But this loss? A young wife and mom? Without warning, without any chance for loved ones to say goodbye?

This loss is a sobering reminder to me that I must stop giving energy and effort to the wrong things. Each day when I wake, I need to choose gratitude. Each time I start down the path of worry, anger, or self-pity, I must instead think of the opportunities I have been given, the gift of another day. The chance to make things better, to buoy others, to pray for them and extend kindness.

Not one of us knows the hour or day when life will be snuffed out. Our time will come, and our souls will leave this mortal coil and go... on. I must choose joy, and life, and the pursuit of good. I must choose to be thankful for every blessing, and to praise God in all circumstances. I want my life to matter. We're here for such a short time, even those of us who are granted many years of life; a centenarian is also a mere spark, truly.

In the interest of eternity, I urge anyone reading this to think about what will happen to us all, and to prepare. If you don't know Jesus, I hope you'll seek Him and let Him in. A great place to learn more is the book of John in the New Testament of the Bible. He is real, He is alive, and His presence in your heart will change you literally forever. The young woman I know who left us suddenly? She knew Him, and I am so thankful. I hope to sing with her again someday, because as you might know, there is a whole lot of praising going on in Heaven.

Whatever you choose in matters of faith, I hope you will choose not to waste time and life on trivialities; to do so is to squander our precious moments. While I'm sure I'll forget that lesson many times, I trust that God will remind me over and over again. Should I miss His reminders, I'll still be forced to revisit this realization every time someone I know passes on. And seriously? it shouldn't take a death to help me embrace life.