Friday, January 12, 2024

My Word for 2024 -- Meditate



In 2018, rather than making resolutions (which held a slim chance of being kept) I began  choosing a word on which to focus throughout the year. With the exception of 2022 in which I focused on songs, I’ve stuck to that practice and feel it has served me well. When the words are positive—joy, hope, community, shine, goodness—it is truly surprising how they can provide inspiration and encouragement throughout the year, even on those days that aren’t going so great. 


For 2024, I first considered the word abide. So many good definitions and Bible verses are associated with that word. In fact, just this morning, our pastor delivered a sermon on abiding, and I was tempted to revert to it. Rather than struggling with writing this post, I could just plagiariz borrow his words—giving due credit, of course.


But I stuck to my final choice: meditate. I arrived at this word because after checking the definitions of abide, I came to the conclusion that dwelling or remaining in the place I wanted required arriving there first. I thought meditation would be one good way--among others--to get to that place. To confirm this belief, I checked the definitions of meditate: 1) to engage in thought or contemplation; reflect 2) to engage in devout religious contemplation, or quiet spiritual introspection. Synonyms include ponder, consider, think, deliberate, study. Some scripture synonyms I found—continue, dwell, remember, muse, treasure, be absorbed, and, perhaps my favorite in The Message translation, “chew on.” 


Attempts at meditation aren’t new to me, but I admit I struggle. The problem comes from emptying my mind of all non-meditation-worthy thoughts. For some reason, the moment my mind receives the message I’m going to meditate, it decides to offer up for consideration every thought, situation, activity, worry, etc. it can conceive of. Eyes opened, eyes closed, deep breathing, different positions, different activities—they all help to a degree but I’ve yet to master the pathway to truly deep, meaningful meditation. Perhaps that's because the method isn't as important as the motivation and the focus of my meditating.


Perhaps how we meditate isn't as important as ...












why and on what we meditate.















I looked up Bible passages that instruct as to why we should meditate as well as on what we should meditate. Here are just a few of the many:


Why


“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3


“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3


“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11


 On What


“I will ponder all your work, and mediate on your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:12


“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2


“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8


I’ll keep you posted on my journey. Perfect meditation is not my goal, and I know it isn’t a requisite for abiding. I suspect meditation and abiding go hand-in-hand rather in chronological order. Maybe working on my meditation will enhance my abiding...and vice versa. And maybe I already have my word for next year!



Sunday, October 29, 2023

Hooked


I was blindsided. I was innocently minding my own business at a book promotion event, when I looked at the table next to me. The vendor was selling writing software. To gather attention and contacts, he was raffling off some amigurumi otters, the otter being the mascot for his company Plottr.

If you’re wondering, amigurumi is the Japanese art of crocheting small, stuffed dolls and animals. I wasn’t the only person intrigued by those adorable crocheted critters. They attracted a steady stream of admirers. Neither was I the only one to try to buy one. But the only way to acquire an otter was through entering a raffle or purchasing the software.

Some examples of amigurumi. You can see the appeal!

The wheels in my brain were spinning. I’m not above steal borrowing a smart marketing idea. The characters in my two children’s books would lend themselves perfectly to this craft. The only thing I had to figure out was how to acquire some amigurumi bearded dragons and frogs.

Excellent candidates for amigurumi, right?


This proved to be more difficult than I’d imagined. Purchasing them was possible (yes, there were even amigurumi bearded dragons), but out of my price range at approximately $30 a pop. After much deliberation, I decided I’d try to make them myself. Way back in the seventies, I’d had some experience with granny squares. How much harder could frogs and lizards be? At the advice of a crocheting friend, I scoured YouTube for instructions. 

 As it turns out, amigurumi is much tougher than crocheting granny squares. Just mastering the “magic circle”—the starting point for all amigurumi—is challenging. But many frustrating hours and failed attempts later, I got the hang of it. With a few bearded dragon and frog heads under my belt, I moved on to other creatures. 

Having mastered frog and lizard heads,
 I was ready to move on!

There are so many options, and they are so cute! So far, I’ve created Halloween ghosts and rats and spiders. Thanksgiving pumpkins came next. I’ll soon be moving on to Christmas stars and snowflakes and Santa hats.
From Halloween goblins to ...

Thanksgiving pumpkins


What's next? Santa Ron?

No one warned me this was going to be habit forming. I’m becoming like those gardeners who chase down neighbors, friends, and people who have the misfortune of crossing their paths to give them zucchini. People see me coming with my crocheted offerings and refuse to answer their doorbells. You’ve probably seen those Facebook memes of crocheted car seat covers and crocheted men’s suits. I used to laugh at those; now I realize they are signs of a sickness. 

I no longer laugh at Facebook posts like these.


Dust is gathering on every flat surface in my house; dishes are piling up in the sink; laundry baskets are spilling over. But the crochet hook is flying. In fact, the other day I could swear I smelled smoke. Does anyone know where I can purchase fireproof yarn?






Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Goodness of Gray-ness


When I made the decision to quit coloring my gray hair back in my fifties, I thought I was on the cutting (or coloring) edge. But funny thing, once my hair was grown out to its full, natural gray, I looked around and discovered I wasn’t quite the rebel I thought I was.


Maybe I found myself in a lot of good company because at the time I decided to embrace the gray, other baby boomer women were also maturing, at least as far as hair follicles are concerned. There were a lot of us, and our number was rapidly increasing.


For this large demographic group, I think part of the decision to go gray was because this generation of women was the first to liberate itself in so many ways. Remember bra-burning and birth control pills? No strangers to freedom, this aging population was now ready to embrace freedom from the time- and money-draining drudgery of hair-coloring.


Whatever their reason for doing so, women who embraced their “natural frost,” suddenly started standing out to me. Whenever we passed in public, I felt compelled to give them some kind of secret sign, acknowledging our camaraderie. After all, we were part of a sisterhood that knew the goodness of going gray. 


Occasionally I consider reverting to my darker hair color. These moments of weakness occur mainly when I see myself in photos, where basically all I see is my “glowing” hair. I guess I could claim that glow was my halo, but I doubt I could get away with that. Those reconsiderations are rare and fleeting, however. When I really think about it, a good picture isn’t worth all the time, expense, and hassle of a dye job. 


I’m further encouraged to stay gray when I observe the beautiful women who have made the same choice. In my exercise classes, I often look around and admire the “fifty shades” of gray appearing there—shades ranging from platinum to salt-and-pepper to steely silver. With a good cut and quality hair-care products, gray can be every bit as lovely as blond, brunette, auburn, purple, pink … In my humble opinion, any color that is shiny, healthy, and well-maintained can be an asset to a woman’s appearance. 


Three of the many beautiful shades of
gray in my exercise class.

These days, the over-fifty, sixty, seventy? woman who decides to go gray doesn’t have to resort to the short, permed, blue-tinted hairstyle of her grandmother. Wearing her "crown" of silver, she can hold her head high and know that she is in the company of many very regal—and liberated—women.




Thursday, August 3, 2023

This One's for the Girls--Barbie and Lucinda (Who the heck is Lucinda?!)


I accepted my daughter’s analysis that I wasn’t the target audience for the Barbie movie and decided not to contribute to the film’s box-office, mega-dollars success. My disappointment over not seeing the movie was minimal. I’d owned the original Barbie in her iconic, black-and-white-swimsuit days and admittedly was smitten by her glamorous appearance and luxurious, bespoke wardrobe. But by the time Barbie got all pink-y and started acquiring houses and cars and yachts, I’d outgrown my Barbie phase (which is a good thing because I never could've afforded to keep Barbie in the lavish lifestyle she'd come to expect).


But then America Ferrera’s monologue and all the brouhaha it instigated—both pro and con—started showing up on social media. I tried to practice restraint and refrain from weighing in, but as I recently read in a book, what good is it to practice restraint when no one knows you’re practicing it? Off to the Barbie movie I went so that I could be an “informed” participant in the imbroglio.


From the moment I entered the theater lobby, it became apparent my daughter’s analysis was spot on: I was not the target audience. I felt no urge to don a sparkly pink hat or drape a pink feather boa around my neck and pose for a picture in front of a giant pink Barbie poster. (Although now I wish I had. Would've made a great photo for this post, and pink is a very good color for me.) Furthermore, if forced to sum up the movie, my response would be “hot mess.” 


I could sort of follow the plot and grasp the themes, but I caught very few of the movie’s nuances, innuendoes, allusions. I thought the music and dancing were . . . meh. There is no arguing that Margot Robbie is beautiful, but the clothing styles, while “cute,” were nothing to excite my “mature” fashion taste. I’m not suggesting these are shortcomings on the movie-makers’ part. Like I said, I wasn’t the target audience. 


Regarding Ferrera’s monologue (I know I’m treading on thin ice here), to me it came across as a bit of a whine. I think a lot of the negative responses sound whiny as well. A few days ago my friend Martha re-posted from Journey of a Mountain Woman Facebook Page which tells of the hardships of previous generations of women. The post reminded me of a poem I taught years ago in American literature about a pioneer woman named Lucinda Matlock. From the grave she told of a life filled with hard work, joys, and heartaches—among the heartaches, burying eight of her twelve children. I’ve linked to the entire poem, but am quoting the final lines here:


What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness?

Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?

Degenerate sons and daughters,

Life is too strong for you—

It takes life to love Life.


This leads to my one, clear take-away from the Barbie movie--a good and important one. Barbie ultimately chooses the “real” world over her perfect but artificial Barbie-land existence, reminding me of yet another favorite literary passage. In The Velveteen Rabbit, The Skin Horse is explaining to the Rabbit what it means to be Real. “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept . . . once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 


Even with its messiness, inequities, and imperfect humans, Barbie deems life in the real world worth the pain and frustration. And just like Lucinda and the Skin Horse, she realizes she will have to be strong and resilient to handle its challenges. That’s a theme this non-targeted, septuagenarian viewer can get on board with.


As luck would have it, right in the middle of all my Barbie-movie reflecting, the instructor played this song in my exercise class. (Note: I work out to be healthy, not skinny. 😉) Hope it imparts a positive message for every woman! 






Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Goodness of Good Neighbors . . . and Chainsaws



A few nights ago in Oklahoma, the wind did not come “sweeping down the plain.” Instead, it came ripping and snorting with the fury of a rodeo bull charging from the gate. I’m no stranger to strong winds. I’ve experienced hurricane- and tornado-force winds, so Mother Nature doesn’t easily scare me (except for snakes and bears). But I’ve never heard wind howl as loud as it did that night, and although I wasn’t exactly panicking, I was working myself into . . . let’s just say an elevated state of concern. 


Around 1 AM, my husband Bill informed me the tree that used to be beside our driveway was now in our driveway. (Oh, the difference a tiny preposition makes!) But hearing the wind settling down and being fairly certain no other trees would be crashing to the ground, I fell asleep. Around 7 AM, I got up and went outside to inspect the damage.


As it turns out, the tree had landed partially in the driveway and partially on our roof. Moving it and freeing our cars from the garage was going to be no small job. The thirty-year-old Bradford pear had towered approximately thirty feet tall, and if you’ve ever dealt with a fallen tree, you know the space it occupies when standing exponentially increases when it hits the ground. I estimated it would take at least a couple of days—depending on how soon we could get someone to do the work—and anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars to make our driveway passable.



I went inside to get some coffee and change into work clothes. By the time I got back outside, neighbors from two different families had joined Bill and were hard at work. Armed with clippers, pruners, handsaws, and a hand-sized chainsaw, parents and kids were all excitedly sawing, clipping, and dragging limbs into a pile. Our next-door neighbor climbed onto the roof to wrap a rope around the branch that rested there. Cheers broke out when the huge branch eventually fell to the ground.


It soon became apparent that in order to make further progress, we would have to call for reinforcement. Our neighbor from the opposite end of the street answered the call, arriving on the scene with his seven-year-old son and a heavy-duty chainsaw in tow. Now things were really buzzing. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) We were beginning to attract a small audience because what better entertainment than men with chainsaws and axes? After wielders of chainsaws and axes had done their work, everyone—moms, dads, sisters, brothers—loaded the heavier pieces of wood into a pickup and toted them away. In a matter of a few hours, our driveway was cleared and our cars liberated.

 





This entire account just oozes with goodness. In times when media in any form would have us believe people's favorite pastime is fighting, this was a prime example of people coming together to help. No bickering, no thoughts of political or religious differences. Just good-hearted people happy to help out a neighbor with a difficult task.   


But here’s the real goodness. This incident took place on a Sunday morning that also happened to be Father’s Day. I know these families normally attend church on Sunday mornings, but this Sunday they had taken time to put their faith into action. I couldn’t help thinking the entire time we were working how these dads—and moms—were teaching their children by example the joy that comes from helping a friend. And I know for a fact this wasn’t the first time those children had witnessed that lesson. 





Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The Goodness of Medical Maintenance

The first half of 2023 (is it possible it’s almost half over?!) has    played out pretty much as I expected—devoted to maintenance. Not house or car maintenance, but body maintenance. The sad truth is that no matter how much we exercise and eat healthy, old bad habits take their toll and body parts wear out. 


January began with a small surgical procedure—MOHS—to remove some cancer cells on my back. It was followed  in March by one performed on my leg. Such is the payback for many carefree and clueless days spent in the sun before SPF became a thing.


Maintenance continued last week with cataract   surgery on my right eye, followed this week with surgery on the left eye. 

 

(I'm not the model in this photo!)

                    

Am I complaining about all the maintenance growing older requires? Most definitely not. On the contrary, the surgical procedures that I have undergone these past few months remind me even more of God’s goodness. 


Miracles of modern-day maintenance abound. How is it that a surgeon can cut through layers of skin, remove a clump of cells-gone-rogue, sew the incision back up, and send the patient on their way in a matter of hours? How amazing are the tools and skills that allow an eye surgeon to poke a beam of light into the eyeball—yikes!—and replace a cloudy, worn-out lens with a shiny, new artificial one. Once again, in just a few hours.


The icing on the cake is that these maintenance procedures are performed with minimal pain to the patient. In the case of the skin cancer, I felt nothing more than a tiny, initial prick. Afterwards, pain was nonexistent. Didn’t even need a Tylenol. Ditto with the cataract surgery. A mild valium relieved any pre-surgery anxiety, and local anesthesia—while keeping me slightly aware during the procedure—ensured nothing about it hurt. And afterwards? Once again, no pain.


For me, recovery after all the surgeries was nothing more than an inconvenience. Had my daily exercise routine—also a part of maintenance—not been limited by the doctors’ instructions, I would’ve resumed it within a matter of days instead of weeks. Such quick recovery boggles the imagination . . . or at least it boggles mine.


Each time I underwent a maintenance procedure, I couldn’t help thinking about previous generations. I thought of how they had to live with fading sight or had their lives cut short by cancers that today can be eliminated. I also thought about how much suffering was endured in those cases where surgery was available. 


I understand that growing older can be more challenging for some than for others. Every body behaves differently, and not every malady can be solved with quick surgery and minimum pain and recovery time. But with many of the health issues associated with aging, the strides made in medical care are nothing short of miraculous—evidence of God’s goodness. I’m truly thankful to be living in a time when scores of dedicated healthcare professionals have made my maintenance journey much more pleasant than it would’ve been even a generation ago. 


NOTE:

Concerning the results of my cataract surgery, the news is both bad and good.

The bad news: With my newly restored vision, I’ve discovered I have a lot more wrinkles than previously thought.

The good news: So does everyone else!  









Thursday, March 23, 2023

Searching for the Goodness in Goodbye



In a Mennonite community in Bolivia in 2009, women--young and old, married and single--divulged that they had been victims of sexual crimes, perpetrated over years.  The accused men were brought to trial, but whether justice was or ever will be achieved is still up for question. 

Women Talking is a powerful novel--and now movie-- inspired by this event. While the fictional account of what ensues after the crimes are discovered differs from the actual one, the book reveals truths and raises probing questions in ways that only fiction can. 

In the novel, several women gather secretly in a barn to determine their reaction to an unspeakable crime from which they and their daughters will never fully recover. Their debate to leave or stay presents difficult and heart-wrenching considerations. Staying could enable further abuse. It could keep them tied to a life where they forever will be considered lesser beings, deprived of education and the opportunity to "think." On the other hand, leaving will present serious risks to their physical survival. It will involve abandoning sons, husbands, fathers . . . . It will isolate them from the only life they have ever known. For this conservative, religious group, it even raises questions concerning their eternal existence. 

Among the many issues this book had me contemplating, the act of leaving and all that it entails resonated most with me. A conclusion I arrived at is that leaving is hard.


Even when leaving is necessary and comes as a relief, pain is often involved. For the women in this book, the status quo had turned ugly and threatening for them and their children. Still, leaving would present formidable obstacles and overwhelming uncertainties. It also would require making agonizing decisions about family and faith. 


Likewise, partings that are rife with hope and possibility—such as a young person leaving home to attend college or pursue a career—can carry with them the angst of leaving behind family, friends, and all that is familiar and comfortable. 


Women Talking was  a timely read for me. For many years I have been a United Methodist, and now United Methodists around the globe find themselves facing the decision to part. Some see this as a clear-cut and necessary decision, albeit not any easy one. For others, it raises questions about the best way to practice their faith. In both situations, it carries uncertainties and the hurt of saying goodbye to people cared about and worshiped with for years.


But parting is nothing new in the Christian faith. Indeed, Christianity seems to be one long narrative of partings and goodbyes--from those commanded by God to those brought about by humankind's own lack of obedience. While some might see this as evidence of an uncaring God, I see it as a testament to his goodness. Whether we humans are following God's commands or are suffering the consequences of our own disobedience, God continues to accompany us on our journeys, both real and metaphorical, and finds ways to use them for good. We are told in Romans  8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”


As Christians, we trust God's goodness will prevail even in our hard goodbyes.