Surrounded By His Glory

It is Easter weekend and I hope you all have a great time with family and friends. If you have little ones I wish only the best of weather, so the egg hunt can be carefree and fun. Our youngest is entranced by the idea that Easter comes on April Fool’s day this year. I do not know what he is planning but he sure is having fun thinking about it.

Last week we took the youngest to see a movie titled “I Can Only Imagine.” When the movie was over, he looked up at me and said, “I think I left a wet spot on your shirt.” I hugged him close. It is nice that in all of the violence and hate of his world he can still cry at a movie. And I cried all through the movie and I believe dad might have had a moment or two.

This Easter weekend might be the appropriate time to take in a movie which looks at the idea of making changes in our lives so that we quit hurting others, and so that we get things right before we move from this world into the next. I Can Only Imagine is also a song which asks its listeners to think about what will happen on the day we enter heaven.

This song has long been one of my favorite songs and I have yet to sing it without crying or trembling for it is one of the things I often think about. What will happen when I stand before Jesus and give an account of my life? Bart Millard, the writer of the song, gives suggestions as to what he think might happen. Will I Sing? Stand? Fall on my knees? Shout? Be silent? Will I look for loved ones whom I haven’t seen in a while? Is it silly to think I will get to see them?

While I can only imagine what will happen on the day I enter heaven, I don’t want to ever forget that there is another possibility and when I see Jesus I might have tears of sadness running down my face and agony in my heart because of the choices I have made. Perhaps He sent someone for me to help and I ended up ignoring them or turning against them. Perhaps He put me in situations where I was to shine for Him and I ended up bringing everyone down with all my fussing and complaining. I can only imagine.

When we were young not only were we encouraged to think about what it would be like to live in heaven, we were also encouraged to think about what it might be like if we did not make it into heaven. The possibility of hell was just as real to me as heaven. Because the idea of hell has significant ties to accountability, hurtful things, punishment, and other yucky consequences, we often gloss over it and neglect to tell the next generation.

I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on things, but isn’t that the real beauty of celebrating Easter? We know that there is a way for us to avoid the pitfalls of hell. It does take some effort on our part to be accountable, to be loving, to be unselfish, to be kind, and to be gracious towards others, but not really that much effort when I look at the bigger picture.

When I listen to the song I am reminded why I do the things I do and why I make the choices I make.

Surrounded by Your glory What will my heart feel

Will I dance for You, Jesus Or in awe of you be still Will I stand in your presence Or to my knees will I fall Will I sing hallelujah Will I be able to speak at all I can only imagine

And that is why on this weekend we celebrate. Without the death of Jesus on the cross, there would be no reason to imagine.

Happy Easter!

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If I Could…

When I was a child I listened to Paul Harvey. Each radio article began with “Hello Americans.” He would tell fabulous stories, but he would hold back a little bit of information so that his audience could ponder and think about what had already been said and anticipate the last bit of information which completed the story. And then, of course, he would famously say, “And that is the rest of the story. Good Day.”

I loved his stories because they were often stories of triumph. They were stories of redemption. They were stories of a common person fighting all odds to become a hero, or inventor, or history-maker. He brought ideas that we could count on and ideas that were based, not only on research, but also on common sense.

We need men like Paul Harvey to remind us that once we were a great nation and that we can be again if we just listen to ourselves and to common sense. It seems we have become scatter-brained, bloated, and bigoted. We don’t think through things and we certainly don’t listen to others. Rules, regulations, and laws are pushed through so that someone somewhere can make another buck.

As such, our education system is in a mess. Other systems are just as messed up, but I am an educator and so that weighs on my mind. While I don’t proclaim to know everything, I do think there are things that can be done to improve the school systems. Here is my list of things I would change IF I were in charge:

I would re-instate God in every classroom.

The Pledge of Allegiance would be said every morning. If you want to be educated in this country, then you will have to listen to the citizens say the pledge every morning.

I would remove all televisions, news channels, streaming services, and other media which spouts out the opinion of the media in a constant manner to our children. Let them learn to think things through without the influence of a negative media.

I would re-instate Physical Education AND recess five days a week. Let them run around for a bit. Let them play chase and get their energy out. Physical Education could have programs, but recess would be to play. Just play. 

I would re-move all cell phones from students. They can check them at the door. Millions of Americans have been educated without a cell phone by their side. The kids lived, and their parents lived.

I would re-instate all vocational programs. Let them learn to cook and sew and fix their cars. Let them mine their creativity through wood-work and building programs. Let them weld and cut hair and manage their money.

I would re-move all standardized testing so that the teachers can go back to teaching what makes sense. Before I leave this point I must say all “Common Core” stuff – should it still exist – could no longer be used in any school system.

I would have a required garden at every school. The kids can learn all about science while  growing their food. They can learn economics by selling their extra produce. They get out in the sun and they exercise. Every kid works in the garden part-time and the kitchen part-time. Schools could also have animals to teach responsibility and so that kids know where their food comes from.

I would re-instate elocution in every school. Look it up. It means clear and precise speech. Let’s teach our children to think before they speak. Teach them to stand firm on a principle because they understand the background and not just spout whatever someone else is spouting. No more mumbling or inappropriate talk in schools.

I would bring back the debate teams. It would be required. Let the students learn how to debate with knowledge. Let them learn to listen to the position of others and form new decisions without violence.

All forms of Art would be re-instated. Band. Choir. Painting. Film-making. Drawing. Calligraphy. Typography. I would require a time each day for listening to different types of music or viewing different types of art. Learn why art and music move us. Students could learn the psychology behind color or sound and why they influence us. Students could learn to appreciate.

Each student could be given 30 minutes to an hour every day for dreaming and quietness. They could sleep, dream, draw, meditate, write stories, paint, plan a city, sew, pray, doodle, invent a new language or listen to music. They would learn that being by themselves is OK and that creativity often stems from the hours we are quiet. A settled mind works more efficiently than an agitated mind.

This is a short list and could use some help I am sure. The fact is that all students are unique individuals and it is difficult to make an educational program that fits all. I am not claiming to have all the answers and some of the solutions on my list have their own list of problems. But it would be a start.

I forgot manners. I would have required classes in manners and how to eat at a table without sounding and looking like a pig at a trough. And that is the rest of the story. Good day!

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

As many of you know, when I am not raising the kids or writing articles, I am the office manager for an up and coming Psychiatry office. While there, I pretty much do everything and keep things running on an even keel. If the phone rings, I answer it. If there is a problem with the bank, I deal with it. If one needs an appointment, I search the calendar and get them signed up. If a patient is down and low I often come out from around my desk and give a hug or offer chocolate candy.

All in all, I am busy most days hating insurance companies, running/breaking different equipment, and listening to stories. I like to tell stories and in my (many) years of teaching I listened to students tell their stories or act out their stories. In my capacity as office manager of an up and coming Psychiatry office I believe one of my greatest tasks is listening to stories.

When someone calls they are usually at some level of distress – or they wouldn’t be calling an up and coming Psychiatrist office now would they? – and they often need to explain why they don’t really need to come but they really need to come but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are crazy or anything like that but they do need pills and their family doctor thought that they should come and see us but they really don’t need us but can they get in as soon as possible. Whew! Take a Breath!

Parents call. Spouses call. Friends call. Nurses call. Therapists call. Patients call. Each call represents a story waiting to be heard. A person with a unique look on life. A person with a unique way of responding to pressures and words and gestures of others. A person who has a story like no other. Oh, sure, some stories can run parallel for a bit, but each story is totally unique because WE ARE ALL totally unique.

Some people have an easier time getting along with others. Some people have an easier time of letting go. Some people have been abused. Some have been abusers. Some have guilt. Some have anger. Some are anxious. Some are depressed. Some no longer want to be here. Some do not want to get out of their house. Some have funny/happy stories. Some have sad stories. All are worth listening to.

This is not National Suicide Prevention Week or National Psychotic Week or National Go to Your Shrink Week, but I don’t really need “A National Week” to talk about how much we need to listen to others. Really listen to their stories. Most folks want to share the “why” of what they do and who they are. For example: Why am I sort of crazy? Easy. I have eight kids and my chin hair is getting darker and stiffer. Why do I write? I can’t NOT write. It is what I do. It helps me explain myself to myself.

Instead of questioning individuals perhaps we need to question bigger systems. Why is mental health still a taboo subject in some areas? What are religious and educational organizations doing to help? Why do many insurance carriers DIS-clude mental health in their medical coverage? Why is Mental Health an entire separate branch for most medical insurance carriers? I call to get coverages and I hear, “Oh, that’s mental health. You have to call a different number.” It is like mental health is some undefined “other” that must be treated separately and put over to the side.

I am here to tell you that everyone – EVERYONE – I meet has a mental health problem of some kind. Church goers come to see us. Educators come to see us. Nurses, bankers, physical therapists, accountants, IT geniuses, lawyers, and CEO’s come to see us. Cashiers, clerks, drivers, stay-at-home moms, teenagers, young children, and work-too-much moms all come to see us. Their stories are fascinating and sad and courageous and wonderful and horrible and just like all other stories out there, waiting to be heard. 

Sure, some people need a little medication to help them conquer their stories. Some need time in a safe place dedicated to helping them. Some need understanding for the choices they make in their lives. Some don’t need medication, but just want to be heard, to explain themselves out loud. Some come because they want to, and others come because they are being forced to.

Perhaps in the future, we can all learn to listen more, judge less, be happy for others, and be content that we are who we are: A unique person with a unique story.

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Reality Strikes

Happy March to everyone. It was warm for a day or two and now it is back to cloudy and cool. Well, cold actually, but isn’t that the reality of late February and early March? We get a few days of sun and the trees begin to bud and open. Our peach trees are sprouting a few pink blooms as well as the cherry trees. While I enjoy the blooms immensely, I fear that March will sweep in some cold weather and the blooms will be blown off completely or the cold will come in and snatch the life right out of them.

Our college age teen swept into the house last week in shorts and skimpy tee. She was exuberant with the warmth of the day. I did try to warn her that it would get cold again and to keep her jackets close by.  We all enjoyed the day and even opened a window or two.

Two nights later, reality struck, and we nearly froze because of the forgotten windows. Now, we are back in our heavier winter clothes and jackets with all windows firmly closed and the heaters back on. In a few days, I am sure we will begin the coming of spring dance where the windows are open one day and closed the next.

My reality came crashing down one fine morning when I went out to feed the cat. Just as I bent over to pour out her food, my foot hit some very thin ice, or frost, and whoop! I was sprawled all over the deck with my arm caught in the outdoor furniture. The cat was trying to climb over me to get to her food while I tried to heave myself back up. Because of the warm days, I forgot to be cautious of slippery spaces. Now, I sport a large bruise on my left arm, a few cat scratches, and am once again cautious when I feed the animals in the mornings.

Sometimes, things really bring us back to reality. I would love it to be spring, but the reality is that it is still cold and will be for a while longer. I would love to be younger and not concerned about falls but my reality is that I must be more careful. When I get down it is much harder to get back up and generally not all is well.

Early last week, before the fall with the cat, my world was rocked by a different, much less pleasant reality. I received a text from college age teen telling me that she was in a lockdown because there was a shooter on her campus. “I am safe and under my bed. Don’t call. I will text.” That is NOT what a mother wants to see on her phone.

I was upset, and dad was upset, and she was upset, and I am sure hundreds of other parents were upset and the elementary school was locked down and it was a scary morning for all of us. That is not a reality I want to have repeated. That is not a reality I want anyone else to ever have to go through. 

One person did get killed but it was across the street from the campus and all the kids at the university and elementary school were safe. All are safe, but my worry is that our children are living in a fearful, what-if kind of world. Sure, my daughter is safe, but she was terrified for that two hours hiding under her bed in her dorm room not knowing what was going to happen.

Thankfully, the university administration was texting updates and that was helpful, but I do NOT want this to be a reality for my child or any child out there. And yet it is fast becoming a reality that we live with. I want to blame social media. I want to blame gun sales. I want to blame a technology driven culture. I want to blame folks in political positions.

I suppose I can blame anyone or anything I want, but that does not create change.

Accountability. Responsibility. Integrity. Faithfulness. These attributes would better serve us than blame. Think about this quote from Rumi: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

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The Church Music Debate and My Funeral

Over the past few years, I have seen many articles written about churches and what churches ought to do to get with it or what churches need to quit doing to get with it. One of the most controversial issues has been about the singing/praise part of church service. I certainly have joined the fray with my facebook comments. I have aggravated some and encouraged others. I definitely have put my opinions out there.

Many want to have a loud, hand-clapping, hand-raising, swaying experience much like when they attended rock concerts when they were young. They carry on about attracting the young and being real and on fire and with it. 

On the other side are the ones who want only traditional hymns which tell a story or teach a lesson. In other words, singing and praise with hands lowered, a slower tempo, and an overall more serious feel to the church service. This group espouses the idea that all the loud noise and repetitive phrases are distracting and not true worship.

The loud group espouses the idea that the young want to be in an environment where the band members all sport tattoos and wear modern clothing. The young want to fit in. They claim that no one ever left the church because it was too loud, but many had because it was too quiet. This group feels that they are authentic and really worshipping. 

I grew up in a quiet church. No clapping. No swaying. In fact, we made fun of those who did raise their hands and clap. We wondered where in the world they had been raised to act like that in church. And we were OK to think those things because we were in the “right” church.

Now, I attend a church full of tattooed young people pounding out the rhythm on drums and guitars and singing at the top of their voices. I raise my hands and for a while I played drums on the stage every Sunday morning. I loved it. I have attended a church where the music evolved into a bluegrass revolution every week with the crowd clapping along. I loved it.

I love music. I love loud rhythms. I don’t mind the repetitive phrases because I can always close my eyes and pray until they quit singing. I also love old hymns sung accapella. When I do my dishes or work around the house I find that I hum the old hymns while I work. When I quilt I listen to the hand-clapping, ear-banging versions of church tunes and sometimes I revert to Neil Diamond or John Denver. They don’t sing church songs, but I like their music.

My concern with the church musical issue is not that it is an issue – I am a believer in good, mind-bending issues – but rather that it has almost become an either/or issue and it is going to directly affect me in the future. I like old hymns and I like them to be sung with no instruments. I believe there is a time and a place for this type of music. I like the new, repetitive, rock concert style music and I believe there is a place for this type of music.

My worry is selfish I know, but I worry about who in the world will sing at my funeral. I have traditional hymns picked out. My husband knows which ones. Hopefully, I won’t need them for a while, but I am thinking with all this shift in church music there won’t be anyone who knows how to sing the hymns that I want. I know I shouldn’t worry because, truthfully, I won’t actually be there, but I do think about it now and then.

I really, really like some of the old songs but perhaps they are more comforting for me here, now, rather than in the distant future. Perhaps I should go out with pounding drums and cymbal crashes. It might reflect my life better than solemn hymns sung with fervor. At any rate, there might not be any singers of old hymns left on the day I go.

I thought it might be wonderful to have the Gaither’s sing at my funeral, but I am not certain that they will still be here on that day. They might have already auditioned for someone with higher authority. I thought that we – the funeral planners actually – might use CD’s of my favorite singers but quickly realized that CD’s might have gone the way of the 8 track and my current favorites won’t be able to be played.

And so, I have decided not to worry about the church music debate. I like all kinds of church music. On the day I depart I hope there is music playing behind me and music welcoming me to come on in. And if I am lucky, maybe I can catch a glimpse of the Gaither’s when I get there.

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Advice: In Case You Need It

I had a very young lady in my office last week. She was crying and upset because her car hadn’t started, and she was a few minutes late to her appointment. She was shaking so badly that I didn’t think she would be able to sign the papers. All she could talk about was being a few minutes late and that her car had trouble starting and THEN she had to call to find the office. She was so embarrassed.

I tried to console her and make her feel better while sitting in an office with huge fans blowing and thick electrical cords hanging down from the ceiling. Over the weekend our office had flooded because the office above us had a leak or a pipe break or something that caused it to rain all over our reception area and front desk.

We had signs pointing all patients to a side door, with a quick route through the kitchen area, and on into my “new” office. It wasn’t ideal because the credit card machine and the scanner/printer were still hooked up in the front area. For me to print, scan, or take money I had to go through a zippered plastic protector thing, perform my tasks, and then back through the zipper to my desk.

Men were coming in and out and I was listening to the kitchen door to see if a client was perhaps traipsing through the kitchen looking for us. I heard the young girl come in and steered her to my office space. I handed her a clipboard and asked her to fill out a few forms. I took her ID and insurance card and ran copies. She said, “Do you need my payment?”

I said “yes” and told her how much it would be.

She flopped into the chair and bawled and said, “I may have to cancel my appointment. I have to call my dad.”

I agreed and worked on other things while she called her dad. She was visibly upset and did not understand the basics of how insurance worked. She had never heard of a deductible and was not sure her dad had either. I assured her that her dad knew what a deductible was. I suggested that perhaps her dad had always taken care of any medical bill that was not fully covered by insurance. She got really upset at this and said, “I pay my own bills, he does not pay for anything.”

I was looking at an insurance card taken out in the dad’s name with her name listed as a dependent. Hmmm…I thought. Maybe you don’t pay for everything.

I tried to reassure her and told her that I would file the insurance and see what they would pay but I thought with it being a new year she would eventually have to pay the full amount because not a penny had been used of the deductible for this new year. She told me that I didn’t understand and that she already paid for things a little bit at a time.

Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I said, “I do understand. It is OK to have to pay for things little bits at a time.” She blew into her tissue and I added, “Life is hard, and you are very young. It will get easier.” I don’t think she appreciated my free advice because as she was called to the back she threw out under her breath, “What an interesting way to meet someone.”

We WERE, after all, sitting in a flooded office making do the best way we could that morning.

I have this same story every week, several times a week. I feel for these young ones, but I also can’t help but wonder how does one get through life without expecting some hard knocks along the way? Are parents not teaching their young ones about the practicalities of life? When I got married at a very young age and our parents said that we would have to make it on our own, they were not kidding. And it was difficult much of the time.

Life is hard, and life is complex, and I am all for helping my kids, or other kids, along but I am also a big believer in sucking it up and moving forward.

Here is some good, parental advice, in case you need it.

  • You will have to work more than 15-20 hours per week to make it.
  • Everything is taxed. Car, property, food, clothes…
  • Insurance is mandatory, and it costs. School, car, kids, property, office space, homes…
  • The newest phone/laptop/notebook are NOT necessary to survive
  • Go to work everyday even if you think you have a headache. Make the effort.
  • Learn your own business. What is the deductible on all your insurance policies? What does that mean? What does it mean to be overdrawn at the bank? Yes, cars must be inspected yearly to get a registration tag. Find out how to do that.
  • Keep records.
  • Don’t use credit cards except for emergencies.
  • Notice that there are many others in this old world. See what you can do to help them.
  • Get back up and do it again each day.
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Winter Freeze

 

I hope everyone survived the winter freeze that seemed to run rampant across the country last week. I saw a film from a swamp in North Carolina that showed alligators, and maybe crocodiles, with their snouts frozen and sticking up out of the water. Several, including myself, have had frozen water pipes and some even went without electricity for a bit. And, of course, there were many jokes about climate change and the earth melting. So, I guess winter is off to a good start!

We did try to entice the dog into the house one evening. He lasted about twenty minutes and then shot out the front door and back into his man cave. We had some old carpet and put carpet on the floor of his little house and then we bought an extra blanket and swirled it around in his little bed. And the whole contraption sits on the covered porch. The cats spare it a glance now and then, but generally walk by as if it does not exist. 

The chickens don’t mind the cold and do their best to pester both the dog and the cats. They hop on anything and everything, poop, and then sing about it. We have a diverse backyard with an evolving pecking order. We got the dog before the cats were born so he was king of the yard for a bit. The cats got bigger and tended to ignore him. He can bark and run in circles all he wants but when tired of him, they jump over the fence – which makes him even crazier because he knows they are on the other side!

Last summer we added some dark red hens. At first, they were tucked away in their little house, but as they grew we added fenced-in areas for them to forage. The dog would sniff his way around their pen multiple times a day, strutting and charging them. He felt so safe. Finally, the day came when I thought the hens were big enough to be set free. I opened the pen and let them out into the yard. The dog was brave until a hen looked at him and ruffled her feathers. He took off for his man cave on the porch.

The fall went well because the hens stayed pretty much around their pen. The cats come and go, and the little dog can jump onto the top of his house and pretend that he is ruler of all he sees. And for a while, all was at peace. Early on, the little dog would eat out of the cat food bowl and ignore his own bowl. The vet told us that is because dogs prefer cat food. So, we had a bowl of cat food for him on the ground and a bowl of cat food on the outdoor table for the cats. All were happy.

When we have scraps or bones I divide it between the bowls. But alas, we have a shift in the order of things. The chickens, not content with their scratch, all the bugs in the yard, or their laying pellets, have ventured to the porch!!! All manner of barking with not dissuade them from hopping up onto his sacred terrain. They squawk and cackle and he barks and acts like he is going to run them off the porch. The chickens have circled his bowl and are eating his cat food and there is nothing he can do about it. 

So, now I feed the chickens first on their side of the yard. I feed the dog second, so he can eat while they scratch and hop through their corn, and I feed the cats last because they can do what ever they want. This morning I had several bowls of leftovers and I decided to divvy them up.  I tossed the green stuff to the chickens and went around to take some old spaghetti to the dog. He sniffed and licked and OK’ed my selection. No sooner did the first drop hit the bottom of the bowl than there was a hen tilting her head, waiting for a taste. I shooed her away and moved the bowl to the back fence. He gulped down a few bites and then there were six others. I was surprised that the hens would eat spaghetti. One grabbed an old noodle and it was hanging out of her beak. She ran in spurts around the yard while the others chased her. I suppose they thought she had a juicy worm.

As I watched the animals in our mixed up back-yard world, I thought about how mixed up and crazy our human world is, because there ARE days I run around like a chicken with a noodle in my beak. I go here and there, and I feel as if I am not getting anywhere. There are days I feel like the dog. I bark and bark and no one listens. There are days I am like the cats. I saunter by with a haughty attitude, fill the tub, lock the door, and ignore the world.

On the days I wake up and find myself living in a crazy mixed-up world that I don’t understand, I am thankful for friends my age who understand my confusion. I am thankful for my kids who will listen and try to steer me down new paths of understanding. And on the days I wake up to find that the water is frozen solid in the pipes, I am thankful that at least the electricity is still on. 

Happy Winter! Bundle up and stay warm!

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