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. 


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.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

New Tricks are Getting Trickier

In January I declared my word for 2023 to be "goodness," and so far this year, I have had many opportunities to be made aware of how God's blessings abound. 

While many people consider February to be their least favorite month, I've always been a bit partial to it, not least because it's when my birthday occurs. While some folks might not look forward to another birthday, I'm long past that nonsense. These days I view birthdays as opportunities to celebrate another year of living--an opportunity not granted to all.

Some of the "goodness" I celebrated in February 2023:

An opportunity to gather with family. My sister, brother, and I are scattered across the U.S., but in February we managed to gather in San Antonio for a fun reunion. And it just happened to fall on my birthday! 

Celebrating my birthday with friends. When I joined an exercise class eight years ago, I had no idea what a blessing these ladies would become.

Celebrating Sydney's graduation. Residents who complete the program at Exodus House are such an inspiration!

Birthday greetings from friends, valentine roses from my husband, and a beautiful valentine and little birdhouse from my sweet next-door neighbor, Eva. 

Daffodils blooming by my front porch. They remind me that spring is just around the corner!

My 2023 birthday picture

Remember when we were kids and each year had a birthday picture made? Well, I began my seventh decade by posting a "birthday picture" of me doing a tricky yoga pose--tricky for me that is. God's goodness has allowed me to remain healthy over the past three years and continue with my exercising. However, I must admit those tricks are getting . . . well, trickier. While this pose may not look complicated, I promise it presents a challenge to 73-year-old knees. That might or might not be a grimace rather than a smile on my face. 😝

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Looking Backward for Inspiration to Go Forward

Last year I shifted from my usual New Year’s tradition of choosing a word to choosing hymns or songs to focus on in the upcoming year. This year I’m returning to selecting a word. And just as the month of January serves as a connection between the past and the future, I chose a word from a song I discovered last year to inspire and sustain me throughout 2023. 

The song The Goodness of God was released in 2019, but I first heard it in the fall of 2022. I love its lyrics and melody. I often find myself humming it at those moments when I’m “surprised by joy”—those moments when something as simple as a cardinal alighting on my bird feeder 

or as spectacular as the sun setting in the Oklahoma sky fills me with delight and awe. 

The song also comes to me at more somber times when I’m feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, reminding me that God is ever faithful and I have much to be thankful for.

And so the word I’ve chosen for 2023 is goodness. In times of happiness, contentment, or smooth-sailing as well as times of trial, disappointment, or bumpy seas, I want a word that challenges me to look for God’s endless, matchless, never-failing goodness in the midst of all situations. Want to join me in this delightful endeavor?

There are many renditions of The Goodness of God. I hope you enjoy this one performed by CeCe Winans. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Christmas, A Time for Sharing

Christmas decorating is done inside and out, and the shopping and baking are currently under control. Finally I have time to post on my long-neglected blog. 

For this post, I decided to do something I've never done in my blog--share a scene from one of my books. The idea came to me when I saw a Facebook post of people telling their favorite scenes from Christmas movies. In Christmases past, I've revealed my favorite Christmas story to be The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. The scene of little Imogene Herdman crying over the manger scene moves me to tears every time I read it. But while this remains my very favorite Christmas scene from a book, I still think mine from Some Form of Grace is pretty good. So, I thought, why not share it?

To "set up the scene," here is a brief explanation. Recently released from prison, Gracene, a resident at Transformation Place,  is transitioning back into society. But she has a secret. Transformation Place is supposed to be for Christians, a concept Gracene is not too sold on. But she loves the people at Transformation Place, and they have provided her employment with a landscaper which she enjoys, and so she remains there. In late November, she and her foreman Tony are working on an off-season job putting up Christmas decorations.


“So how was your Thanksgiving?” Tony asked. 

“Good,” I said and meant it.

On the mild Monday following Thanksgiving, me and Tony were putting up Christmas decorations in someone’s—a rich someone’s—yard. For the past two weeks we’d wrapped about a million lights around every twig of the bare trees. Now we were assembling a nativity scene. 

“How about yours?” I asked. 

“Good . . . good.” He patted his belly. “Ate too much.” 

“I hear ya’.” 

We worked for a while on an angel choir. I held stakes while Tony pounded them into the ground, and then we attached ten-foot angels to them. 

“I understand that they’ll have music playing as people drive by,” Tony said. 

I stretched and massaged my aching back. “Seems to me if people wanted to spread the Christmas message they’d spend their money on food for the homeless or toys for kids rather than waste it on fancy decorations.”

“Who knows? Maybe they do that, too.” Tony knelt and began assembling a manger. “As far as spreading the Christmas message, these folks have put up this nativity scene for the last five years. By Christmas Day, hundreds of people will have driven by it. Most of them will know the Christmas story, but not all. Maybe this display will start some conversations. Besides that—” he looked at me and winked—“if they didn’t pay to have these ‘fancy decorations’ put up, you and me might not be making extra cash.”

I didn’t want to admit he had a point. “Is it time for lunch?”

A breeze was picking up, so we sat in the cab of Tony’s truck and ate our sandwiches.  We never talked much when we ate, but as I looked out the windshield at that half-finished nativity scene, I couldn’t keep quiet. 

“You go to church, Tony?”  

If he thought this question was strange, he didn’t show it. “Almost every Sunday.”

“Which one?”

“I’m Hispanic and have six kids. Which one do you think?”

I laughed. “Your kids excited about the holidays?”

“Oh, yeah.” He sipped from his thermos. “I try to keep the focus on the true meaning of Christmas, but, you know . . . they’re kids.”

The only sounds in the cab were me and Tony chomping our food.

“So you buy all that?” I said. The question sorta popped out before I knew it was coming.

“All what?”

“All those stories about Christmas?”

“You mean Santa and the elves and the North Pole?”

“No, I mean a baby and the wise men and the stable.”

He took another swig of coffee and screwed the lid on his thermos. “Yeah . . . yeah, I buy it. I mean, I don’t think it happened like the scenes on Christmas cards. But I believe there was a baby. And I believe there were signs and clues that showed it was a special baby—God’s Son.”

I let out a sigh. “It’s a lot to get your head around, isn’t it? A virgin birth. Angels singing.”

Tony stared out the windshield and rubbed his chin. “I guess it is. If you’re looking for scientific proof, Gracene, I can’t help you. But for me, there’s more reason to believe that God exists than that He doesn’t. And if I believe in a God powerful enough to create the universe and smart enough to design the human body, then it’s no problem to believe he could manage a virgin birth.” He nodded at the decorations. “Or an angel choir.” He packed up his leftovers and his thermos in his careful, organized way and opened his door. “Ultimately, it’s a matter of faith. And that’s a decision we all have to make for ourselves.”

For the rest of the afternoon, our conversation stuck in my mind. Tony hadn’t given a lot of facts to back up his explanation. But it made more sense than any I’d ever heard.

This past year I posted about my favorite songs and hymns, so I guess this would also be a good time to share my favorite Christmas song, "Mary Did You Know?" While I've heard some people respond to this title with "Of course, she knew," I still love its message of hope and its beautiful melody. And this performance by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd remains my favorite rendition of it.

Have a favorite Christmas scene from a book or movie? A favorite Christmas song? Please share in the Facebook comments!


Unto You a Child is Born!"

                                -Gladys Herdman in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Sunday, May 29, 2022

 On January 16, I announced my intention not to choose a word to focus on throughout the year, as was my habit. Instead, inspired by a hymn our choir sang that Sunday morning, I decided to spend 2022 listening for either familiar or newly discovered songs/hymns that--in my mind--give me a "fleeting glimpse" of the divine. 

Since that morning, I've been consistent--consistent for me, that is--in posting about such songs, but I've yet to blog about the hymn that instigated this series of posts. Incidents kept occurring which made the messages of other songs seem more urgent. But two recent happenings make it abundantly clear that the time to blog about "Wonderful, Merciful Savior" has come.  

Dawn Rodgers and Eric Wyse co-wrote this song in 1989, and hundreds of recordings exist. Because of the beautiful  melody which lends itself so perfectly to harmony, I've loved every rendition I've heard. But as I said in my initial post, to allow me a peek into heaven, a song must be the perfect union between music and words. 

This past week, yet another school shooting occurred in the US. I cannot fathom a horror that guts us so completely as does the senseless slaying of innocents. As I reflected on this evil act, words from this hymn played over and over in my mind: "You offer hope when our hearts have hopelessly lost our way." 

In the raging battle over gun control, many social media posts have declared prayers are not enough; actions are required. I'm not weighing in on either side of the gun control argument, but I know this: Whatever action we do take will be totally ineffective if unaccompanied by prayer. It is only through prayer that we can cling to the hope of healing when it seems that as a country we have "hopelessly lost our way."

The second event that makes posting about this song timely is the temporary loss of Lucas Fabio as choir director at our church. The very person who awakened in me the beauty of this hymn and others, Lucas came from Brazil as a doctoral music student. In the time he has been with us, he has faithfully and lovingly worked with the choir to add inspiration and meaning to the traditional worship service. I have heard nothing but admiration for Lucas and his family in the years they have served our church. 

Sadly, the visas for the Fabio family are about to expire. Efforts are being made to secure permanent living for them in the US, but those efforts won't get through bureaucratic red tape before the visas run out. Later this week, the Fabios will return to Brazil.

I'm calling this loss "temporary," however, because I'm resting in the assurance that prayers will bring the Fabio family back to us soon. This isn't "Good-bye." It's "Farewell until you return."

This version of "Wonderful, Merciful Savior" is my favorite because I like the saxophone solo in the middle of it. This one is my daughter's favorite. There are many to choose from. Choose the one that "speaks" to you.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

My mother, Gladys Jo Robertson Fink, passed away on January 20, 2022. With family scattered far and wide, it took a while for relatives and friends to assemble in Yachats, Oregon, for a memorial service, but the day came at last. 

In 2013, my father Joseph Fink preceded Mama in death. We held a memorial service for him at the time but waited until Mama's passing to follow their wishes of having their ashes released into the ocean. On April 3, family and friends gathered on a temperate spring day at the banks of the Yachats River and let its gently flowing current carry Mama's and Daddy's earthly remains to the Pacific Ocean. Then we made our way to my sister’s house to remember the happy, sad, poignant, funny times that we had experienced with our mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt, friend. 

Two circumstances alleviated the sadness of this occasion. The first was the long and productive life Mama had been granted. She was ninety-six at the time of her death, and most of her years had been healthy and active. Those who knew her often spoke of her humor, wit, love for family and friends, and—a word that came up often—“spunk.” 

Even in her later years, Mama's "spunk"
came through!

Mama had served as the inspiration behind many of my prize-winning contest essays and stories, all of which contained an element of her humor. In her last three years, however, failing health and progressing dementia deprived her of her enjoyment of life. She often mentioned to me she had “lived too long.” She was ready to depart this world for a better one.

The second circumstance to lessen the pain of Mama’s death was knowing of her steadfast faith. As a longtime Christian, she believed in life after earthly death—a life in which she would be reunited with loved ones; a life in which she would be released from the shackles of pain and fear brought on by age; a life in which she could spend eternity in the presence of her Savior. One Sunday when she was in her early nineties, she and my sister were leaving church where “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)" had been sung. Hobbling along with the use of her walking stick—for her, a form of “chains”—Mama remarked, “I want that song sung at my funeral.” I know she was thinking of the day she could throw away that stick. 

Mama also loved the old gospel song “I’ll Fly Away,” finding great joy in the lively tune and comfort in the words of assurance of the better life awaiting her. The first comment I read on this rendition of “I’ll Fly Away” was “If this song isn’t sung at my funeral, I’m not going.” It sounded exactly like something Mama would say. 

As friends and relatives said our earthly farewells to Mama, the melodies and lyrics of these songs rang in our ears, reminding us of the hope and assurance Mama had. My prayer is that as you listen to them, you are reminded of the same.

Gladys Robertson Fink 1942; 2021