Sunday, December 11, 2011

#4 Broken Bread, Poured-Out Wine

The fourth entry in my list of Ten Things to Remember is food sitting on the four-sided, four-legged breakfast table I sit at on my three-point (“h”-shaped) chair wearing my two-legged pants that I put on after pushing the one button on my old-fashioned alarm clock.

These words, of course, find their roots in the Last Supper and echo through time and space during the celebration of the Eucharist. "Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you." and "This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 15:24-25, KJV) However, they come to my list of things to remember via an intermediate source – Oswald Chambers as memorialized by his wife in My Utmost for His Highest. Nine times in the 365 entries of this classic devotional, the reader is called to give his or her own life as broken bread and poured-out wine.

C. S. Lewis writes in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer about hanging “festoons” on the familiar phrases of the Lord’s Prayer during Church of England liturgy, contemplating various aspects of each line. This is sort of what I do with broken bread and poured-out wine. Beginning with the nouns, I think about bread and see it as a solid presence. Being bread in the world is simply getting out there and being present, showing up. When I think of wine and its symbolism for blood, I see it as representing life. Wine is the sparkle of life that accompanies the simple presence of bread.

Picking up the adjectives, adds new dimensions. The idea of being broken takes a lot of pressure off my days. I tend toward perfectionism. I want to get life right, keep my promises, fulfill the expectations others have for me, meet standards of excellence. But I fall short. There are more expectations than I can possibly meet. I can’t always keep my promises, and even my best efforts often leave people disappointed and irritated. Besides, there are sad situations I can’t fix; there is needed help I can’t give. I am broken, less than perfect. I not only am unable to be all things to all people, I don’t even get out of the gate in that regard.

And so I go into the world broken yet present. Broken bread is still bread. And brokenness is the best I have to offer. Rather than drawing back from life for fear of being exposed and rejected as broken, I push myself to offer my presence to others even in my broken state. When I am knocked flat and fear I am irreparably broken, it helps to remember that I was already broken and live in a broken world where there is value simply in being a solid, dependable, nourishing presence.

Poured-out wine adds a dimension of being dissipated. Bread is a solid. It stays in one place. Wine is liquid. When poured out on the ground it flows and is gone. It’s one thing to be broken but solid. It’s another to pour out my life energy into others and watch it flow away and be irretrievably gone. When I am knocked flat and it seems life it draining out of me, it helps to see such a state as one to which I have been called. Jesus told us we find life by losing it. When I choose to live as poured-out wine, it takes the panic out of realizing that I am being drained of my life energy.

As I remember this phrase, I pray daily that God will give me to my world as broken bread (a flawed but solid presence) and poured-out wine (life freely and irretrievably given away).

Sunday, December 04, 2011

#3 I am not out of resources yet.

This is the third item on my "Things to Remember" list. The third "hook" for remembering the list is the (three-legged?) chair you sit on at the four-legged breakfast table after pushing the one button on your old-fashioned alarm clock and putting on your two-legged pants.

For this particular list I can't sit on the chair because it's loaded down with stuff, reminding me that I'm not out of resources yet.

It's actually a different image the lies behind this reminder: a memory, a snapshot of a moment in time. I am slaving away in the kitchen, my least favorite room in the house, while my husband and children are in the living room. There may be guests in there with them. I am a most unhappy Martha (see John 10:38-41) working my fingers to the bone washing dishes and feeling sorry for myself while my imaginary sister Mary is sitting in the other room listening to Jesus' stories. (Why does everyone assume Martha liked kitchen work? Maybe she was simply the responsible one thinking, “SOMEbody has to be busy in the kitchen. This work isn't going to do itself!”) I'm exhausted by all the labor.

Really? I asked myself that day. Am I truly overworked? Would I be so exhausted if I weren't alone? Is this about me being overworked or is envy pulling me down?

The truth is, I'm not overworked in that memory. I had plenty of energy left. A little work in a modern kitchen isn't going to do me in. It really was a case of envy because I was working while others were not. I have never in my life experienced complete and total exhaustion, any more than I have ever truly been “starving to death,” and it's disrespectful to those who are driven to the absolute end of their resources to say I am when I'm not.

Well ... there was that one bout with mononucleosis at age 20. I was pretty much wiped out for a week or two. But even then I wasn't unable to move at all. I had to severely curtail my total energy expenditure, but there was always enough energy to stumble through one more task if absolutely necessary.

This reminder starts with physical resources but doesn't end there. Sometimes the threat of exhaustion comes in other areas. The “I can't do this anymore” cry in my heart can be a response to any number of aggravating circumstances. Still, the same questions apply. Really? There are absolutely no resources left? Not even for one more time? Five if the situation is guaranteed to change after that? Ten if someone offers some encouragement and support? The answer has never been, “Yes, I am absolutely and completely exhausted. I cannot take even one more step.” Maybe for some people in some situations, it is. It has yet to be true for me. Every time I hit this item on my list I have to acknowledge its truth to myself.

There is another dimension to this reminder. Thus far, I have focused on personal resources, inner strength to endure one more moment. If I look around, there are any number of alternatives to relying on my own strength. Resources abound! I can recruit help. I can walk away and leave the work for another day or another crew. I can apply some mental energy to finding a quicker and easier way to get done what needs to be done. I can incorporate the ideas of others into my own processes. I can reassess the need. (Is that what Jesus encouraged Martha to do?) I can pray for an extra boost.

Someday I may hit a wall, a dead end from which there is no escape, no rescue. But this far along the journey I have yet to encounter that wall. I always have options. I may feel like I'm running on fumes and about to keel over, but when I look more closely I can say with conviction, I am not out of resources yet! Most of the time I'm not even breathing hard.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#2 My Friendship Is not Merit-Based

This is the second on my list of "Ten Things to Remember" in times of personal distress. By the way, the book I read had a list of "hooks" to memorize as an aid to memorizing other things. The first item on the list was the alarm clock (an old-fashioned type with one button on top and perhaps set for one o'clock) that wakes us up first thing in the morning. I don't need that aid to remember God's love for me as the top item on my list. It's simply a given.

The second item is the pants with their two legs that we put on when we get up. I do use this one, moving from the pants to a teen book series called The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants about four friends and one pair of pants.

And now on with the commentary.

You probably don't want me for a best friend. I am an introvert, which in this case means I enjoy my own company. I shop alone, go places alone, love to stay home alone. I once had a friend who called me to chat when she got a minute to herself. Really? You are home alone and you pick up the telephone just to chat? I was amazed at the idea. The friendship I offer is more of an out-of-sight-out-of-mind sort of thing.

When someone knocks me down, it's tempting to withhold even my weak version of friendship from them. However, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I need to remember his observation in Matthew 5 that anyone can love those who love them back. It's loving those who despise us that is the challenge and brings the greatest reward.

What this means is that I try to offer a friendly smile, pleasant conversation, and genuine goodwill to anyone and everyone whether or not they deserve it. The creepy passive-aggressive library patron. The social butterfly who has plenty of friends and doesn't even notice me. The sour-faced clerk at the store. The rambunctious child. The guy who left his wife, my friend, for a bottle-blond bimbo. The blond bimbo. (And, yes, I'll learn her name and quit calling her names in my head.) And, sigh ... the person who owes me an apology. After all, it's not as though my friendship is such a precious commodity that I have to reserve it for those who have earned it. Nor will withholding it from those who don't deserve it make the world a better place. Although it seems obvious that the way to correct people who are in the wrong is to turn a cold shoulder their way, I don't actually see that approach to be very effective. People seem far more responsive to those who like them. And so I attempt to nurture grace in my living and keep reminding myself that my friendship is a gift, not something to be earned.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thing to Remember #1 -- God Loves Me

I promised to flesh out my Ten Things to Remember list. Thing #1 seems as good a place to start as any.

1. God loves me.

This is first on the list not because it is the most helpful but because I'm sure it ought to be most helpful. After all, the love of God toward someone like me is downright astounding.

In reality, in times of distress I tend to pass right over this item and move on to something more uplifting. There are a few reasons for this:

a. Of course God loves me. God loves all seven billion inhabitants of this earth, including the person or persons responsible for my distress. It's hard to feel special when you're simply one beloved child among seven billion, especially when it's so obvious that at least a few of my fellow inhabitants of earth have some major character flaws that make loving them quite difficult.

b. The Bible may tell me God loves me, but when there are louder voices -- both inside and outside my head -- suggesting I am despicable, it's difficult to put much conviction behind any self-talk about God's love for me.

c. At least as many times as I have heard about God's love for me, I have also heard about God's wrath toward the disobedient and unfaithful. It's hard to associate unfailing love toward all with a God who will commit most of the population (the "unsaved") to eternal torment in hell.


When I was a child, I was convinced that God wouldn't love me if there were a choice, but it would look rather odd to have John 3:16 read, "For God so loved the world (except one particularly unattractive little girl named Marsha) that he gave ..." I was pretty sure God had no love for me as an individual but simply didn't find me worthy to single out as an exception. I have since learned to accept God's love for me as an individual but not enough for my assurance to stand up well against the blows of people who obviously don't see anything lovable about me. No, this thing to remember alone is not going to be able to pull me up out of the doldrums. It will take more.

Still, it's a good place to start on my road back to emotional equilibrium when the storms of life knock me down. It reminds me that I have been convinced in the past that I am not despicable in the eyes of God and I might want to think twice before accepting such an assessment now without question.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ten Things to Remember

Several years ago I read an old book from the library about remembering names and faces. I was hoping for help with my face recognition problem, but got instead mostly a system for remembering lists of items. I had fun memorizing a few lists and then mostly forgot it. Except for one list I developed at the time. I call it simply "Ten Things to Remember". In this post, I will share the list. In the near future on this blog I hope to do some commentary on the "ten things", some of which may be incomprehensible in this version.

Here they are:
1. God loves me.

2. My friendship is not merit-based.

3. I'm not out of resources yet.

4. Broken bread, poured-out wine.

5. Humiliation has yet to prove fatal.

6. Someday I will dance.

7. Life is reflective; choose your source.

8. What goes around comes around.

9. The words are not the message.

10. Suffering produces character.

I wish I could remember to "count to ten" in every tense situation and review this list while doing so. I don't always remember, but it's a blessing when I do. Some lines more than others, depending on the situation.

So there's the list. Follow the links where available for commentary.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

MS and Michael J. Fox

Last week I read Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox. Early in the book he states that if someone offered to spare him from the diagnosis of Early Onset Parkinson's Disease and give him back the ten years between the diagnosis and writing about it, he would tell them to "take a hike". Parkinson's Disease (PD) rescued him from a life of alcohol abuse and the licentiousness that comes with a Hollywood celebrity status.

The message of Lucky Man was what I anticipated based on the title. I chose to read it because I hope to embrace MS as a blessing rather than a curse.

I know many people who respond to every setback in life by calling in the prayer warriors to rescue them from Satan's schemes to hinder them by eliminating the problem. Where would Michael J. Fox be today if someone had "rescued" him from PD?

I lost a good friend a couple of years ago to colon cancer. He didn't exit this life willingly. At his request, prayer warriors from around the world prayed for his healing, for continued life and ministry on this earth. Their petitions were not granted and the world is a poorer place for having lost a fine example of Christian love in action. I have yet to see the blessing in that loss.

And yet ... I have learned from it. I learned that we cannot back God into a corner and force Him to give in to our wishes by rounding up enough good people to throw their fervent prayers into the mix. I have never seen a more impressive example of united prayer, both in quantity of people praying and past effectiveness of the prayers of those praying. This was the "dream team" of prayer warriors. Still, the cancer won and my friend's earthly ministry of love came to an end.

There are those who would help me round up my own minor league dream team of prayer warriors to fight back against the encroachment of MS in my life. Some are already rallying the troops. My pastor would gladly anoint my head with oil and lead in prayer for my healing if I agreed to it. But is that what I want? I certainly wouldn't choose to become personally acquainted with MS but now that it has taken up residence in my life do I want to forcefully evict it? What if it is my ticket out of some of my own lifestyle mischoices? What if it is a blessing in disguise? Do I want to pour my energy into waging what could ultimately be a futile war against it without giving it a chance to bless me?

I know the answers to my questions are obvious to many. They count any misfortune as an agent of Satan to be forcefully driven away through the power of prayer. I'm not so sure. I will soon be starting a disease modifying therapy (DMT) drug to try to keep MS under control for as much and as long as possible by ordinary means, but I'm not quite willing to count it as an enemy of my soul and take up spiritual arms against it. It's a physical problem. For now, I think I'll respond by physical means and wait and see how it fits into my life spiritually.

Back when my daughter was playing high school tennis, we were often reminded that losing against a better player provides more learning opportunity than winning against a lesser foe does. I would gladly walk away from this game if I could, but since life has put me in the court against this formidable opponent, I think I'll play the balls that come my way and try to improve my game rather than spending large amounts of time and spiritual energy trying to escape over the fence.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Value of Space

A couple of dozen periodicals make their way into my home on a regular basis, ranging from fifty times a year for Time to four times a year for the excellent Notre Dame Magazine -- tracing back to when we had a Notre Dame student living here. There is good reading in those pages. A few come unsolicited, but we pay good money for most of them.

There is also good reading on the internet as well as many more books on my reading list than I can read. And my life is full of duty and responsibility. Time for reading is limited and the magazines often get pushed aside unread. Or I read them and find value in them and feel as though I should preserve them. This leads to piles of back issues cluttering the house.

Over the past 31 years of living at this address, I have come to realize that clutter-free space has value in and of itself. Now I face the question of the value of magazine back issues versus the value of reclaiming the space they occupy. The obvious answer is that the space should win. After all, new magazines arrive every week. Keeping back issues doesn't make sense from a household ecology point of view. The only way to avoid being overwhelmed by material goods is for the amount of stuff going out to equal the amount of stuff coming in.

Still, it's hard to give them up. What if I have missed a wonderful article on braiding garlic in Organic Gardening or will someday want to refer back to that article by Eugene Peterson in Christianity Today? Do I still have the issue where the Notre Dame Magazine presented such a balanced discussion of illegal immigration?

What all this adds up to is the personal insight that I could easily become a "hoarder". You know, one of those people who are gradually buried alive by all the stuff they can't bear to discard. Someone who, when retirement and solitary living frees up their hours, spends their time clipping articles and organizing them into extensive files for their children to discard after they are gone.

Okay, the magazines have to go. Yes, there will be a sense of history lost for a while. I'll need to nurture my appreciation for the beautiful uncluttered space they leave behind and convince myself it is truly of greater value than the printed words I discard.

At least I have never subscribed to National Geographic. That magazine must be collected more than any other. (My evidence for that is the multiple offers we have had at the library from people hoping to regain space in their homes by offering the library the wonderful opportunity of becoming custodian of their collections.)

Still, it's hard to give up all those beautiful words. Who knows when Organic Gardening will publish another article on braiding garlic? If I ever manage to grow garlic and find myself interested in braiding it will I be able to figure out how to do it? Sure, I could just go here and find out in much less time than digging through the files, but I'm just old-fashioned enough for the paper file approach to tug at me and slow my steps as I carry old magazines to the recycling bins. Only sucking it up and nurturing an appreciation for clean lines and uncluttered space will enable me to do it.

Back to cleaning. There's a wedding on the near horizon that will bring us house guests and should provide some incentive for sprucing up the place. Maybe I can even persuade myself to give up the magazines.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Identity

I started playing the piano at age 5. In third grade the music teacher had me play a Bach Two-Part Invention and explained to the class that they were seeing something unusual. I was surprised by her words. Sure, I didn't know anyone else my age who could play what I could play, but just figured I didn't know what my classmates did outside the classroom.

By high school, music was what made me special, my identity. Then, in my 20s, I moved into an environment where my musical ability was more of a relational liability than an asset. Rather than force the issue, I reluctantly moved on to other interests. Music was no longer a part of who I was. I was an engineer for a few years, then a full-time mother, and later a librarian.

In 2004 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the initial shock of hearing the "C" word wore off, I decided I would not join the ranks of people for whom "cancer survivor" is part of their identity. I am not a "cancer survivor" any more than I am a "chicken pox survivor". Cancer is simply one part of my medical history. I had a lumpectomy and five weeks of radiation treatment but treated it as just a small bump in my life.

Now it is 2011. In February, I heard the "C" word again. This time my left kidney was the site of cancer. No relationship to the first cancer. Again, surgery took care of the problem, this time without further treatment, and I declined to allow cancer to define me.

On a Friday evening in mid-June, I noticed I was unsteady on my feet. The next day I developed double vision. That led to a new diagnosis tracing back to a case of optic neuritis I had in 1996. The optic neuritis was a sclerosis. The latest MRIs show that I now have more than one sclerosis. In fact, I have multiple sclerosis. MS.

Now it is time to consider my identity once again. There will be no surgery to put MS behind me. It is a lifetime companion. At the moment, I have no more symptoms than before the problems that cropped up for a few days in June and were resolved with the help of steroids. Shall I become an active participant in the MS community or shall I ignore this unwelcome companion as much as possible? What place do I want to give it in my life during this time when it's still invisible to others?

It has been a while since I have grappled with "who am I?" questions. It will be interesting to see how much of my focus MS manages to grab as it becomes a constant companion. I guess if it starts to take over my life I'll at least have a focus for my blog after all this time.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Hard Love

This is last week's "Five Minute Friday" assignment from here. In my first attempt, I learned that I am a hopeless editor at the keyboard. The instructions say, just write, don't edit. I'm not sure anyone would understand what I type without editing, let alone enjoy it. I type faster than my thoughts can gel and have to go back and fix things. However, I do much writing with pen and paper which doesn't lend itself to editing. I decided to try that approach. The next step of publishing those inky words has taken a little longer. But here we go:

START

He needs money. Again. He always needs money. He has no job. What he has is a temper that interferes with steady employment. I think I understand the source of the temper. Life has never given him a fair shake. I wish I could fix it for him. I love him. I want better things for him. But charity isn't the answer. I've helped him out financially in the past, until every encounter started revolving around money and I said I wouldn't give him any more.

Now he's here again with his live-in girlfriend. Her dogs were turned in to the town by her mother as part of a fight between them. Unneutered dogs. $100 needed for registration to get them back. Can I please, pretty please, pay the $100 so they can have registered, unneutered dogs in their impoverished home? They can pay me back next month when her disability check comes in.

Love is hard.

STOP

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On writing -- again

The days are full. I consider the idea of writing here much more than I actually do it. It seems that when the ideas come there is no time. When I finally grab some time, the ideas are gone. If I write them down as they come they grow stale. The things I pondered yesterday seem uninteresting to me today. How can I return to yesterday's mindset?

I think I have a lot to learn about writing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

On Distance


Five minutes to write about distance for this contest. I have already messed up the logistics of one entry -- no writing, only stumbling through the entry process. And now for the actual writing.
----------------
She's married now. Four hundred miles from home. Not many from around here could make it. Her father and I (her mother) and brother and sister were there. My mother and two of my brothers were there along with a sister-in-law and two nephews. We closed the geographical distance that generally separates us and came together for a day -- from Indiana, Florida, and Virginia to Missouri by plane and minivan. We sat together and, amidst the joy, were aware of those not there. Yet, it was good.

And that's how much I can write in five minutes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On writing

As I am subscribing to more blogs, I run across posts directed toward wannabe writers. One such post talked about the hard work that goes into being a published author. I believe it. Even a blog is work. I could put much more time into my posts. Pictures and links would make them more attractive but would also add to the time required. So I just have text. Joining blogging networks would bring me readers, but that would require more time investment than I want to make. So I settle for those who happen by. It's obvious that I need some sort of theme and consistency, an identity for my blog. But I don't have one and just drift from subject to subject.

As I pondered the post about writing being hard work, I realized that I can probably add being published to the list of dreams that aren't likely to be realized in this life. The desire simply isn't strong enough to trump other demands on my hours.

And so, dear reader, I think you will not have any difficulty fighting off the crowds to make comments here. Like much of my life, this place is a low-traffic area, off the beaten path where few find it.

Yet, I upgraded my counter yesterday so I can see more than a small snapshot of the traffic going by. Even out here in the sticks, it's nice to see people stop by now and then and it's tempting to look for ways to attract a few more this week than last week. I'm pretty sure I'm not headed for the big time, but I think I'll at least keep posting now and then.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Strengths and Weaknesses

Someone asked recently in a forum I read if I know my strengths based on the Clifton StrengthsFinder [tm] assessment from Gallup. I do not. I have had my "spiritual gifts" assessed several times. (My "spiritual gifts" have an uncanny resemblance to my natural talents.) I have also done personality assessments. But I had nothing to contribute to a discussion about StrengthsFinder[tm] results.

It turns out there is a book associated with the StrengthsFinder[tm] assessment. No problem. I am a librarian. I'll simply borrow the book and discover my strengths. But, no, the Gallup people are way ahead of me. Each book comes with a single-use access code for the online assessment. There will be no free results for this exercise. If you want results you have to buy a copy of the book.

Still, I have a used library copy of the book and have read the part up to where I'm supposed to take the assessment. There is angst in this book. The author describes a world that sniffs out and treats weaknesses rather than recognizing and capitalizing on strengths. In the view of those behind the book, this approach is far too common, almost universal.

I have somehow missed this anxiety-producing part of life. Or maybe I'm blocking painful memories. I can't remember a single instance where someone said, "Marsha, you are not good at this. You need to undergo training to boost your skills in this area. You can do anything if you set your mind to it!"

A few samples of the many areas where I am weak:

1. Art -- drawing, painting, sketching. I took general art in school and was required to draw so many sketches a week. I did. They came out better than I expected. I guess I learned something in art class. But they were never good. Still, I got an 'A' for effort and was allowed to move on without notice. No one pressured me to become an art major so I could develop my stunted talents in this area.

2. Cooking. I can bring my scientific, mathematical skills to this task and follow a recipe, but I lack all sorts of basic skills for cooking. The most basic of those skills is interest. When I am stuck cooking, I turn on the kitchen television. This serves two purposes: First, it combines two tasks I would never choose so I at least feel like I'm multitasking and not wasting my time on just one of them. Second, when I lose my focus and start to wander away from the kitchen, the need to turn off the television before leaving the room serves as a reminder of why I'm there, that perhaps I'm supposed to be stirring constantly, not wandering off. Yes, there has been pressure over the years to be a normal wife and mother who can whip up delicious meals for her family and for sharing, but the food industry has offset that pressure by offering an increasing variety of alternatives to cooking.

3. Sports. My lowest grades in school were in physical education. Besides have very little spirit of competitiveness, I also have no natural athletic talent. Other than in PhysEd in school, I have never been pressured to develop athletic skills. When we play slow-pitch softball at church, I suggest that I would be an excellent choice for either team. I throw like a girl with no athletic ability, can't catch, and don't run very fast, but I have a glove for the proper hand and can almost always hit the ball -- usually straight to first base thanks to a poorly-timed left-handed swing.

4. Asking others for help. I used to be very bad at this. I lived by the philosophy that if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself. I'm sure people noticed, but no one ever pressured me to take classes on delegation. I had to figure out for myself that there is value in sharing tasks with others -- multiplying the resources available while perhaps saving on the time invested.

5. Making telephone calls, particularly to ask others for help. This is the stuff of nightmares for me. I can't imagine a worse job than telemarketing. It has about the same attraction as dying and going to hell. I turned down many requests when my children were in school to accept a calling list to recruit parental involvement for various projects. Now, I try to include a disclaimer every time I accept the task of making a phone call. It goes, "Never believe me when I say I'll make a phone call. The chances of this call being made are almost zero." I don't remember anyone ever suggesting that I focus on strengthening my calling skills. Usually, they just take their chances because I'm the obvious candidate to make the call. And I guess I actually make those calls often enough to keep getting the assignments, but it's still a definite area of weakness.

I'm left-handed. Back in the dark ages of internet communication, I once subscribed to a "newsgroup" for left-handed people and discovered all sorts of scars among those who had encountered the "hand police" when young. They experienced various levels of persuasion to use their right hands.

There were no "hand police" in my life. Rather there was accommodation. My mother bought an iron with the cord out the back instead of on the side. My utensils were always on the left side of my plate at the dinner table. I'm the one who got piano lessons because I started picking out melodies on the piano with my left hand. I have always experienced left-handedness as something that makes me just a little bit special, never as a handicap that needed remedial action.

The StrengthsFinders[tm] author and associates with their wounds from those trying to fix their weaknesses remind me of those wounded left-handed people. I find their stories interesting but can't identify with them. I was one of the lucky ones. I was given piano lessons so I could develop my natural talents rather than signed up for tennis clinics where I had no hope of success.

I still don't have an official list of strengths to share. I could come up with a list similar to the list of weaknesses I have shared above. My list wouldn't correspond with the terms used by StrengthsFinders[tm]. The descriptors would be more concrete. For example, I am analytical, logical, detail-oriented, and have a natural talent for music. I tend to step into leadership vacuums, leading most easily when people offer to follow. And in this, my sixth, decade I find myself spending substantial time in that sort of environment and voluntarily working on my ability to delegate tasks I'm tempted to do myself.

Still, my analytical nature finds the StrengthsFinder[tm] assessment attractive. Maybe even attractive enough to buy the book just to get an access code. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What is a good length for a blog post?

I have been reading a lot of blog posts lately. One thing I notice is that I go into skimming mode when someone gets too wordy. When I look at my own posts, they meet the criteria for too wordy.

I know a preacher whose sermons are too long. He says he doesn't pay attention to length. How long a sermon lasts is simply how long it lasts. I use the same philosophy for my blog posts. I write until I've said what I want to say. That usually ends up being enough to fill a full page in a word processor. Just as my preacher friend ends up with too many words for his listeners to absorb, I end up with too many words for people to read.

Maybe I need to think in smaller chunks, corral the loose thoughts, trim out the fat.

New goal: for today, for this one post, I will not create a scroll bar in my posting window.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

You can tell a lot about a person ...

I have heard multiple times over the years that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their checkbook. These days I would guess that for those under 30 you can mainly tell from their checkbook that they are under 30 and don't write checks. Maybe that goes up to 40. Actually, I am 53 and don't write many checks. You'll have to look at my Quicken files to find the information that used to show up in my checkbook.

Rather than my checkbook, what you really want to see is my blog feeds to find out what I'm like. I might even be finding things out about myself. I just deleted a couple of blog feeds. Too much doctrine, too long, too frequent, not enough personal observations. The benefit per word just wasn't there. I also added a couple of new ones -- chatty blogs by young adult Christians observing life. I actually read several posts from one and then closed the window in which it was open before realizing I would like to see more from that writer. I tried to follow the path back from current subscriptions to the new candidate and couldn't remember how I got there even moments after making the first trip. I had to look at my browser history to get back to it. I think the original path included a random post from a blog collective, a profile for the writer of that post linking to another blog with comments linking to the third. Or something like that.

The blogosphere has been particularly active and interlinked lately with reaction to a new book by megachurch pastor Rob Bell -- Love Wins. Much of the reaction is negative. (The book's current #1 ranking on Amazon on the subject of faith and #4 ranking overall would support the maxim that there is no such thing as negative publicity.) The comments and comments on comments and links to other comments are good for weaving one's way through the jungle of blog entries. Those who respond with thoughtfulness, grace, and good humor to the negative comments catch my interest. I'm interested to read not only what they write but also what they read.

I haven't ordered the book yet. I will probably read it eventually but have no sense of urgency. I may even wait until I can borrow it from a library rather than making the choice to own it. After all, do I want such a controversial book in my personal collection? What if someone judges me by the books I read?

Okay, that last part was a joke. Anyone looking for evidence on my bookshelves that I might appreciate the writing (and preaching) of Rob Bell wouldn't have to look far. Although I don't see any of his books in my line of view at the moment, the half dozen books by his friend Brian McLaren might be a clue. I may have given away the only Rob Bell book I have purchased and not bothered to replace it. Along those lines, my reasons for not buying the book have more to do with concern that it might not contain enough groundbreaking material to earn a permanent spot on my shelves than fear of what others might think to see it there.

I see from recent posts and responses that a few of my Facebook friends consider Rob Bell a heretic. This is one of the reasons I don't feed my blog into Facebook. Back in the old days, I didn't publish my checkbook register for all to see. These days, I publish thoughts such as these in public places such as this but try not to wave them under the noses of those who see them as evidence that I'm straying from the faith. Fortunately, my profile is low enough that not many of those trying to rid the church of all Rob Bell influences will bother including me in their sweep.

Friday, March 04, 2011

She's plenty able to do what she WANTS to do!

So I'm lying around pampering my body with its closed-up incision and doing only what I either feel like doing or want done enough to do it. And I keep hearing an echo in my mind of the words in my title. There is definitely a huge "want to" factor weighed in to my choice of activities.

What I'm finding is that I have little tolerance for stress and unpleasant tasks. And it doesn't take much activity at all one day to put me off my feet the next. If I force myself to take on unpleasant tasks, I end up quickly exhausted. But I'm sure it looks selfish and inconsiderate from an outsider's point of view.

Scene #1
"Are you interested in going to Walmart to pick up some groceries?"

"No," I reply in a weak voice, "that would be way too big an outing. I'll just stay here on the couch and focus on getting well."

Scene #2
"The sun is out. Would you like to go walking?"

"Sure! Let me get my pillow and walking stick and shoes and socks and I'll be right with you. I'm thinking I can do two miles this time out."

Obviously, I'm able to walk. Why is it so refreshing and healing to walk two miles on our country roads but exhausting to ride to Walmart and walk through the aisles there? Why did I go back to church twelve days after surgery and enjoy two hours there but a couple of days later walk away from less than an hour back in my work environment with less physical activity completely exhausted?

There's a lot more than physical stuff going on here. Fortunately, the words in my title are only echoes in my mind. Less than three weeks after surgery, people aren't applying pressure for me to make their priorities mine. It's just interesting to notice how much the "want to" affects the "able to."

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Listening to my body

Yesterday was two weeks after surgery to remove my kidney. I have been wearing a pedometer constantly other than the two days in the hospital when I didn't have a waistband on which to mount it. And I've been doing a lot of walking. Walking is refreshing, particularly when soft spring breezes start to blow.

Monday I walked 5,800 steps, some inside the house while doing very light housecleaning, others outside, strolling along at my slow post-operative shuffle. It was a good day.

Yesterday, I also walked 5,800 steps. But it was a very different day. I made an outing in a vehicle. It was a short outing. I was never more than two miles from home and wasn't gone much over an hour. The two stops along my route mainly involved pick up and delivery. I declined to be involved in a third stop which was a social gathering. Too much, too soon. I could see that. What I didn't anticipate is that when I said no to the social gathering and mentioned my plans for the day, it would prompt a couple of people from the social gathering to meet me at one of my destinations. Oops. Now I was dealing with well-wishers while upright rather than while sacked out on the couch at home. And for some reason, that didn't work out well. It wasn't according to my plan. I hadn't signed up for that level of interaction in that setting. Plus, the pick up and delivery involved more load than I anticipated. I had to deal with two eccentric door locks I didn't expect to find locked. And, okay, I drove two miles to my destination and the two miles back home. Which wasn't bad in and of itself, but was definitely an extra challenge. Together, those things added up to more energy expended than I expected. Then I took a walk with a companion and ended up walking faster than I would have on my own.

Now it's Wednesday afternoon. I have logged 350 steps today. I'll likely do more before the day is over, but, obviously, I have barely moved for the past eight hours (actually the last 18 hours). And I'm just now to the point where moving seems like a reasonable thing to consider.

Such small things. Locked doors. A pile of mail. A slightly faster pace while walking than the day before. Social interaction that tapped my energy while away from home in an unanticipated manner. A heavy car door to open and shut multiple times. I don't think it's so much that I overestimated my energy level as having so little reserve for unexpected drains. Thankfully, all activity is optional for today so I don't have to push.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Incentives to take a walk

Before my surgery I had this wild idea that if I couldn't drive to work afterward, maybe I could work up to walking the two miles to get there. The idea made me laugh. Then I had the surgery and discovered that walking really is an option. Both my body and my doctor agree that there's no harm in it as long as I exercise some moderation.

Still, exercise for the sake of exercise is always less than compelling to me. I came home from the hospital to a promise of spring and was taking a couple of walks a day. When the weather went back to February dreary and cold and my temporary walking companions weren't exactly signing up for the long haul, it became more difficult to get myself out the door.

Tonight I walked a little less than two miles.

What drove me to it:

1. Someone said, "It is warm out there! You should open a window!" (Warm? That sounds good for a walk.)

2. A good nap that made me feel properly recovered from a couple of strenuous car outings in the past few days and ready to add an activity to my rest/move cycle.

3. Continued encouragement from my doctor for walking.

4. Seeing someone who consistently recovers from serious health issues more quickly and more fully than expected. He's an inspiration to me.

5. Telling someone I was walking less and hearing the "I knew it!" tone in her response as she noted that she had wondered about my initial burst of energy. Who wants to be identified as a "flash in the pan" with no ability to sustain what they start? I am NOT a "flash in the pan"! I'll prove it by grabbing my raincoat and walking stick and heading out the door into the warm misty weather.

6. My trusty ol' PDA and earbuds that make walking a musical encounter with some of my favorite music of all time. (Fortunately, traffic along my walking route is almost nonexistent and, even with the earbuds, cars have no excuse for running me down as long as I pay some modest level of attention to what's happening around me.)

Ah, a good combination. A medical professional giving me full permission to go walking, inviting temperatures outside, a good walking route, and a friend to tell me, "I knew you couldn't get back on your feet this quickly."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Thrill of Accomplishment

OK, I think I'm done with this sitting around stuff. There is huge satisfaction in accomplishment, and walking just a little further today than yesterday isn't quite doing it for me. Nor am I going to find any satisfaction in the "word search" puzzle book someone sent me. It's time to see what trouble I can get into around here.

I'm not even close to being a workaholic. Rather, I am fully capable of filling my hours with activity that looks like work but actually contributes almost nothing to the overall good of the world. Still, when I am able to accomplish worthwhile tasks, there is certainly great satisfaction in it. I'm thinking it's time to conjure up a "lite" to-do list and do it in the name of mental health.

Right after I take a nap.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The power of discontentment

I had a cancerous kidney removed a week ago. When I posted to Facebook that I was taking a vacation, checking into a place with full service amenities -- breakfast in bed, uniformed staff available at the push of a button, etc. -- a friend said she was jealous. She was joking, of course. Still, it's amazing how discontentment with what we have can make another person's lot seem so very attractive. Even the idea of having major surgery can seem like a treat to someone who has to get up every morning and trudge off to another day of work.

I'm lounging at home right now, with a to-do list to die for. 1. Nap. 2. Heal. 3. Recover. That's it. Oh, I should probably take care of a few physical needs. Eat. Toddle off to the bathroom now and then. That sort of thing. But it's still a pretty short list. And I hear that people pay good money for the pills I have sitting beside me. Ah, mine is the life of luxury. And all it has cost me thus far is one kidney, some pain, and a pittance of copay for drugs and lab work. (I'm sure the bills will start showing up soon.)

There is huge power in both contentment and discontentment. I am truly blessed. I have no complaints with life. But I could if I chose discontentment. Contentment is definitely a choice. When I choose it, it's not difficult to count my blessings. When others choose discontentment, they discover they have drawn the short stick in terms of blessings. Then they see me and all my blessings and are truly envious, regardless of my actual lot in life. If I were homeless and living in rags but able to count enough blessings to be happy, there would be discontent people who would look at me with envy, wishing they could chuck all the burdens of responsible living and join me in my carefree lifestyle.

A number of years ago, I was serving time in my least favorite room in the house while others were lounging in the living room waiting for me to produce food for them. I was highly displeased with this arrangement and railing against it in my mind. After all, I was as tired as those people. I deserved to relax as much as they did.

The question that came to me was: Are you really so overworked?

Overworked? Well, compared to everyone else around here ...

NO! Not compared to everyone else. Compared to an absolute scale of exhausting physical demands.

Uhm... well, no, not really. Not when you include the physical demands that come with slavery or other types of servanthood on the scale. It has actually been a pretty easy day. And life. I could expend much, much more energy in a day if I worked up to it and kept myself at full physical capacity. And if the people in the other room were swinging pick-axes and carrying rocks, I would feel quite blessed here in the kitchen.

So why are you complaining?


Hmm... it's amazing how things look different when those lucky others are taken out of the picture. I am blessed to have discovered the secret to being content with the lot I am handed. I wish I could pass that secret on to others who are sure they could also be content with my lot but are not nearly to blessed by their own.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Agh! When was my last back-up?

So I'm convalescing on the couch, laptop on lap. Life is good. But one can only spend so much time staring at a computer screen. I close the laptop. It heads into suspend mode as I lower it to the floor beside the couch. My arm doesn't quite extend far enough. One end of the computer is on the floor, but the other end drops a couple of inches. The hard drive heads are still engaged. End of hard drive. Gone. Dead. All my lovely files. I notice the drop and wince, but don't realize the significance until next time I open the computer, at which time it starts making little whimpering sounds.

I wait for the panic. This is far from my first hard drive crash. I have been through this before with all the classic steps of grief.

1. Denial -- it can't be. Maybe it's not really dead. Surely someone can bring it back for me.

2. Anger -- in this case, at myself. Why did I drop a valuable piece of electronic equipment on the floor? Why didn't I have a decent backup?

3. Bargaining -- HOW much does it cost for data retrieval on dead hard drives? Can I pay someone to bring back my lost files?

4. Depression -- The pictures I will never see again. The data lost. So devastating. So hopeless. So valuable and yet not worth the money to bring them back, even if it were possible.

5. Acceptance -- yes, my data is gone, but life will go on. I won't pay for resurrection. I will accept the loss and start a new collection of data on a new hard drive. I will survive.

So I wait for the panic. Arghh! My hard drive is dead. My data is lost. Let's see. What did I lose?

Uhm... well, I did a new blog post earlier today. Yes, and it's safely stored at blogspot.

Uhm ... mail files. I have lots of AOL mail files and this computer is the official storage spot for them. Yes, and the most recent ones are still on the AOL mail server. Is there really that much value in the old ones?

Data, surely I had valuable data on here. On a laptop? Why would you store your valuable data on a piece of equipment that can walk away in a moment? All the most essential files are stored other places, remember? Haven't you started storing most stuff in dropbox?

Pictures. I have pictures on here that may not exist anywhere else. Maybe, but aren't most of them pictures someone sent you via email? It's not as though you have the only copy in existence.

But always before I've missed most the little things, the files not worth backing up. The applications with no supporting media. What about those? Name one.

Hmm... so, still, I'm convalescing. I can't be expected to sit at a desktop during my time of need. So bring your work laptop home and use it.

That's it? No grief other than the value of the hard drive and the Windows license? This is certainly a change since the last hard drive tragedy.

(Placeholder for summary last line -- I'm still on my mental break.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Taking a mental break

My surgery is over. The growth on the kidney was a non-typical cancer. It's now gone -- the cancer (hopefully), the growth (for sure), and the kidney that was hosting it. I'm recovering quite nicely. The blessings are many. Despite my last post, I'm not listing them. That would require organizing my thoughts, lining things up, managing my thought processes, prioritizing my goals for the day. I'm taking a break from all that. This is a stand-alone post, not one of a series, not part of a plan.

I'm surprised. I arranged to take some time off from life while recovering from surgery. I have 22 staples holding things together northwest of my navel (if north is up and west is to the left). That's the part I can see. I have no clue what lies beneath the surface. There's some pain involved in all that. No surprise there. What surprises me is the message I'm getting from within and without that it's fine to stretch the limits on my physical activities. The only restrictions I have involve driving and lifting over ten pounds. Walking is fine. Climbing steps is fine. The way to return to full health is to be as active as possible physically while getting plenty of rest and not ignoring the messages my body is giving me.

It's the mental process that is surprising me. It was around 18 hours after I arrived home from the hospital and was settled comfortably on the couch with my laptop when someone suggested a little project I could take on while convalescing. It was a project that wouldn't require a lot of mental energy. Gather some information, make a phone call, or maybe just send an email. Nothing much. And it could result in a $50 refund for an event my husband and I will miss this next week. Little effort; tangible reward. What's not to like?

Except my brain declined the assignment. No, I'm taking some time off. I'm not doing research and gathering information. I'm not focusing on completing a task. Not this task. Not the thousand other tasks that would fit this same model.

Here's a short list of things I could do while convalescing:

1. Catch up on email for home and work. Read the new stuff, sort through and delete the old stuff. All from the comfort of my couch.

2. Organize files. Grab a couple of folders out of a drawer and take as long as I want to sort through them.

3. Make a list of topics to research in Google. Spend just one hour a day doing that research.

4. Make some progress on the pile of books and magazines waiting my attention.

5. Learn something new.

6. Write thank you notes for all the many kindnesses coming my way.

The pattern here is tasks that require almost no physical exertion, just mental exertion. After all, it's my body that has had surgery. Why would my mind need time off? It should probably be kept active so I stay sharp.

But no. I don't think so. Life is far from stress-free for me. My various to-do lists for work and home and outside activities regularly threaten to overwhelm the time available for doing them. I think I need a mental break. I can't afford to take a lot of time off, but I think I can afford another week of letting go of my mental focus and giving my mind a vacation. Then perhaps I can ease my way back into regular life while considering ways to perhaps settle at a slightly lower level of stress.

People hear about my surgery and encourage me to lie on the couch for as long as needed for recovery. Taking a mental break while recovering physically is a little more of a challenge, but I think it will be worth the effort.

I would wrap this post up with some summary thought, but that always requires significant mental energy. So I'll just quit.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blessing in the Thorn

Phillips, Craig, and Dean sing a song called "Blessing in the Thorn" that has been a blessing to me. (See title link.)

Having encountered a thorn in my life, I am once again seeing the beauty of the blessings in the thorn. To briefly state the "thorn" (so scholars won't have to spend centuries trying to figure it out), my left kidney has a lesion on it and is scheduled to be surgically removed the day after tomorrow.

I'm not sure I can even begin to catalog all the blessings I am encountering in this thorn, but thought I would record at least a few of them.

1. Symptoms. Thinking back, I wonder how many I ignored before some showed up that drove me to my doctor. What a blessing that they escalated to where I couldn't ignore them any longer. Yet, once I had appointments made and was committed to getting to the bottom of them, they subsided almost completely, allowing me to resume my normal schedule between doctor visits.

2. Modern medicine. I won't even try to be more specific than that. What amazing miracles of healing happen every day in medical facilities around the world.

3. Timing, both the big picture the small. On the big side, it looks like I'll be able to make it to my daughter's wedding in five weeks. It wouldn't have had to work out like that. On the small side, I do bookkeeping for two organizations. My surgery is on the 15th of the month at the start of the least intensive time for bills. In between there are multiple blessings in both the timing of the surgery and how that timing all came together.

4. Friends. It's great to know people care.

5. Prayer. What a gift it is to have people remember me in their prayers.

That's just a start. Maybe I'll find time to add more in the next days and weeks.