Making the Ordinary; Extraordinary

October in Seaside, Oregon

October in Seaside, Oregon

February is my birth month, and in the words of my Mom, “I’ve done a ‘heap of livin’. From her I learned to be highly motivated; always working on a new project, and to never quit.  From my dad I learned to approach each day as if it were an adventure. Most days, living an adventure is the way I would characterize these past sixty-three years.

The word adventure is a main-stay of my vocabulary.  To my ninety-four-old mother-in-law, I propose, “Let’s have an Adventure.”  To my grandchildren, “You wanna’ go on an Adventure?” To my husband, “I need an Adventure!”  The Bible says, “this is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”  I tend to think of this verse as an invitation to have an adventure.

Some adventures are exciting, some not so much.  Just as “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”, so is adventure to those who choose to approach the ordinary in an extraordinary manner.  An extraordinary adventure I launched just before my fiftieth birthday, was the return to  full-time college student status after a thirty-year absence.  This adventure, though exciting, held ingredients of fear, insecurity, and a great amount of anxiety.  Of that experience I wrote in my journal the following observations.

 January 1999
Panic attack.   I can’t do this!  I don’t know what all these other people know!
As I take my place in the classroom full of strangers, I tenaciously look around, noticing telltale signs that they too are uncomfortable. Seeing fixed smiles, nervous twitches, tapping feet, I wonder – facade of security?   Anxious about this experience?  Are they feeling the same first day anxiety I feel?  Perhaps all of us are insecure in some particular area of life.

The Students –
One student, though smiling, continually picks at an almost invisible blemish on his face.  Another student seems to be anxious that his embarrassing tremors might begin at an inopportune time.  Is the boy seated in front of me thinking about his poor writing skills, wondering if he will feel foolish in front of his peers?  The girl across the room appears to be thinking only of the rejection I observed only moments ago when in the hall  her boyfriend broke-up their relationship. A quiet young man seated in the corner seems to be feeling inadequate about his physique as his gaze darts back and forth to the body builder seated beside him. One student appears ill-at-ease because she alone represents her race. The foreign exchange student sits tall, pensive, and quiet.  Is she worrying about her faulty English skills?

The Teacher –
The teacher approaches the classroom with first day jitters – experienced though he may be, he knows each new class evolves a little differently than the one before. There’s that unknown element as he faces the new class.  Is he concerned at all whether we, his students, will like him?  Is he as prepared as he hopes to be as he prepares to present his lecture? And the students . . . we all sit here wondering about the teacher.  Will he be clear in his method?  Will he be fair? Will he be interesting?

The Class –
I begin to realize we all have insecurities of one sort or another.  We each possess some wonderful strengths and feel high levels of confidence . . . each in different areas. I begin to feel less vulnerable, more energized, and am discovering a growing confidence with this thought.  This is the day the Lord has given me to return to college…to rejoice, and to have an adventure, and to be glad in it.  From my individual strengths and weaknesses, I will boldly approach this new learning experience with an adventuresome spirit.  We as individual students will tackle the assignments with an enormous amount of energy and we will all grow into a group.  We will succeed and we will learn.  All our unique insecurities will pale against the brilliance of the accomplishment of learning and new academic achievements. We will gain strength as we each recognize our individual frailties and move beyond our own insecurities.  We will recognize that we are all unified in purpose, we are learners in life; we are pilgrims.  We are masters simply because we have dared to take the risks of simply being students. We have embraced learning as an adventure.

Have you ever experienced a time when you almost missed an adventure simply because you lacked confidence or felt insecure?  Whether your calendar for today is booked with routine, mundane, or stressful activity, how about making it an adventure?   Who knows, the ordinary just might become extraordinary.

I Can’t Hear You

IMG17                                          I TAN’T HEAR YOU!

“I tan’t hear you!!!!!”….My two-year-old grandson shouts this phrase loud, louder, and loudest as he     voices his complaint at my admonition for him to cease his whining. Finally, my silence causes his silence.  He then asks, “Nonna, what did you say?” I repeat quietly that he should stop whining and must speak to me in a nice voice.

His abhorrence to hear that which he doesn’t want to hear, brings a renewed second round of screaming out, “I tan’t hear you! He raises his voice over mine, screaming in protest from his car seat.  This chant continues until suddenly he realizes that I’m no longer listening to him.  In the silence, he giggles, “Nonna, I’m being silly, aren’t I?”  We laugh, and the adventure of Nonna and grandson continues.

We converse about things we are seeing on our adventure, until he suddenly begins singing loudly, “God is bigger than the boogie man.”  He sings verse after verse, each becoming more distorted as he experiments with the many possible sounds his little set of vocal cords can produce.  Finally the sound has become a gravelly whisper as he attempts to sound like a tiger.

As I listen to all these renditions of God is bigger… I am reflecting on the Psalmist, David, when he wrote, “what time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee (Psalm 56:3).  Perhaps we should quote that verse when we are frightened, or perhaps we should sing Connor’s little song about God being bigger than the Boogie Man.

Often when the boogie-men of my life get closer, I find that I do what Connor did in my car that day.  I yell out, “I tan’t hear you!”  I yell louder and louder as the boogie men surround me.  Soon I am just being silly because I discover that if I become quiet, I will discover the sweet silence after the raging fear-storm and realize that God is bigger than all the Boogie Men that Satan can send my way.

Sometimes Boogie Men have come at me physically in the monstrous rains and boisterous winds as in the case of  Tropical Storm Isaac.   Perhaps it has been the fear of today’s schedule of “to do’s” and “what ifs” that sit heavy on my heart and emotions.  Maybe I allow the dread of the future to  overwhelm me and leave me exhausted; unable to cope with the now.  Instances of sheer exhaustion have sometimes taken a toll and I desperately need rest.  Physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion may have left me without reserve to fight the boogie men that come crashing through my door.  It is then that I have discovered how to fight these oppressive boogie men. I need to be quiet.   I need to be still and  snuggle down in my quiet little place where God waits for my silence.  When I arrive…He is always there, just as He promised. And yes, God IS bigger than all the Boogie Men!

Have you got Boogie Men chasing you today?  Do you have a plan of attack?  Can you spend a little quiet time with God just listening for His voice of quiet assurance?

What’s in Your Cup? The Ingredients

Picture for What's in your CupWhat’s in Your Cup ?
(Part 2)

TOO BUSY TO TAKE PERSONAL TIME
Vance Havner, an old time preacher asked the question in a sermon, “Have you lost the wonder?”  As life gets busy, schedules get hectic, sorrows mount, pressures increase, personal time vanishes away with deadlines, it’s easy to lose the wonder of just being alive. I recall an evening when I was terribly burdened down with schedules, deadlines, and the expectations others had on my life.  I picked up the phone and called my mother to cry out my pain.  I had lost the wonder of living and needed some help in finding my way.  Her counsel transformed my life.

“Ritchie, what is it that you aren’t doing that you desire to do?”

“Mom, I just need time to go out in the woods and walk in the crunchy fallen leaves.  I need time to just think, be still, commune with God, and be in awe of nature.”

“Then go do it’” she said.  “Just go do it.”

I did…and I’ve never stopped since. Perhaps walking in the woods isn’t your way, but rediscovering the wonder, the zest for living, the enjoyment in everyday, ordinary things, well we all need that.  It’s about having an over-flowing cup,and enjoying the journey.

DISCOVERING THE WONDER ALONG THE WAY
When I was four-years-old, there was a big rain storm that caused waters to run down the small gulch beside my house in Langdale, Alabama.  The minute the rain stopped, I was out there in the mud, launching my toy boats at the top of the hill.  They sailed away down the “river” to unknown destinations.  I ran to the bottom, scooped them out of the water and launched them again and again.  Cheap fun, but a memory that still brings me joy now sixty years later.

Mr. Otto, the Veterinarian who lived down the street tried to fix the wing of a downed robin I had found on the side of the road. I often took him small, injured creatures, and he was kind-hearted, always promising me he’d do the best he could to patch them up.  I was five-years-old.  My memories of these events have brought me joy, and a little laughter now looking back at some of the requests I made of him.

Wonder is all around us…sometimes we need just the time to remember. I was awed with life and the everyday pleasures it brought.  I remember chasing, and catching a stray cat, dressing him in my dolls clothes, getting scratched terribly in the process, and wondering why he didn’t like his new dress.  During that same time-frame of my childhood, I climbed to the top of our TV antenna and sat on the roof to think…I was a child full of wonder (and mischief too, I suppose!)

There was a Coca Cola Club at the neighborhood general store, and for a nickel I was able to purchase a coke once a week.  I’d get that cola, go out to my front yard, sit on the steps and wait for the semi-trucks to pass by.  It was the thrill of the day when the drivers would pull those ropes and make the horns blow as they passed by.  (Remember doing that?)

In our kitchen, Mom had a world map beside our table.  Each morning before leaving for Kindergarten, we would pray for missionaries in far-a-way countries.  We prayed for the Parkman’s.  They had moved away from our neighborhood with their five children – our friends, and now were missionaries in the Philippines.  When I looked at the map and found the country, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how all seven of them could fit in that small little space on the map.  I also was full of questions how the food I was wasting on my plate could get from my table to that place Mom was pointing to.  You may remember, “Don’t waste that food.  There are children around the world who don’t have anything to eat.”

REMEMBERING WHAT MAKES LIFE WONDERFUL
By the time I was in first grade, I’m sure Mother was wondering what sort of child she had brought into the world.  I found the simplest of things to amuse me; creating places for fun and wonder.  One such place was an old outhouse in the woods behind our home in Leroy, Alabama.  I discovered that by dragging old boards across parts of the inside frame, I could create a perch just high enough to dangle my feet, make the boards bounce, and pretend I was riding on a covered wagon.  I was Annie Oakley…cowgirl extraordinaire.  I doubt it was Good Housekeeping approved, but I had hours of joy playing there.  We didn’t worry much about what it USED to be – we just enjoyed it for what it was NOW. (It all worked out well until I fell and had to spend the night in the hospital with a concussion.)

Do you remember SPOT?  Sure you do. “See Spot? Run Spot, Run.  Jane can run.  See Jane and Spot run.”  Learning to make sense of those words was a little difficult for me at first, but there was the wonder of learning to read and the wonder of the big world opening through the printed page.  And now that I can read quite well, I get too busy to read God’s Word and cry out, “WONDERFUL!”  I’ve lost the wonder!

I grew up in church, and was especially excited that my second-grade teacher, Miss Hooten, sang in our church choir.  It always thrilled me when she walked in wearing the beautiful burgundy robes, singing “The Lord is in his holy temple…let all the earth keep silent.”  I’d always give her a little wave, and get a small little smile in return.  Church was an exciting place, and from earliest childhood, I listened, and felt close to God.  At the age of seven, while visiting my Grandmother’s home in Owensboro, Kentucky, I knelt in her bathroom while dressing for a revival meeting, and asked Jesus to come into my heart and make me His child.  WONDERFUL!  I wanted to tell everyone I met what Christ had done for me.  I told the girls who rode my bus, I told the man who collected the garbage, I told the school bully, Paula, who kept pounding me to a pulp…until one she too asked Jesus to live in her heart.  I had wonder!

MEMORIES HELP ME FEEL REFRESHED
My cup was overflowing with joy and life was good!  When I remember, I am refreshed. When I forget and get too busy, the wonder dries up and settles to the bottom of my cup.  I often need to stir and refresh the cup to enjoy the aroma of memory.  I need to drink deeply, and taste the wonder of life.

In a rural area outside Owensboro, Kentucky, there were three yellow barns behind our house.  In the evening when the farmers had gone home, my sisters and I played there in the hayloft.  One of the most wonderful, and dangerous things we did, was to stack tobacco sticks from the floor to the hayloft rafters in such a way as to create a log cabin, with many “floors”.  (I’m sure it was precarious and a miracle we survived such…but we had months of joyous times in that old barn.)

That time in my life wasn’t all about mischief.  It was a time when God was working in my heart, and bringing me closer to Him.  The early morning hours were the best.  I’d get up before my family was awake, go out to the fields barefoot, just to walk across miles of freshly plowed cornfields.  Those were times when God spoke to a little 9 year old girl, – and she listened.  I felt awed by the smells, the dew on the overturned corn stalks, and the dampness of the soil as my feet pressed upon and left footprints.  I would stand in quiet awe as I watched the new day approach.  I had wonder in my life.

MY CUP IS OVERFLOWING
When David said in the Psalms, “my cup runs over”, I believe he said it from the vantage point of wisdom.  Having the wonder of life doesn’t mean there won’t be difficult spots along the way.  I remember one of those times when I was in the fourth grade.  A boy and girl, twins in my class, died in a house fire during our Christmas break. I had not treated them very well.  Our entire class had ostracized them because they were smelly, raggedy in their appearance, and social outcasts.  Into my adulthood I have carried sorrow over my lack of being their friend.  God took this bitter-tasting cup to transform the course of my life.  He showed me that “all are precious in His sight.”  God took a bitter cup and turned it into an abundant overrunning cup.

When I was 29, I ruptured a disk, and then another. The news from the neurosurgeon was grim.   We had three adoreable children, but there would be no more.  Once again, God took a bitter cup that was sorrowful, and filled it with abundant joy.  Over the next twenty-five years, God sent us 25 precious foster children who called us “Aunt”, “Uncle”, “Mom”, and “Dad”.  There was Michael, Jimmy, Tony, James, Jessie, Joseph, Bethy, Ray, Billy, Stephanie, Melaine, Elvis, LH, Kellie, Amanda, Paul, Angel, – to name a few.  We saw several of these children trust Christ as Savior.  Each brought wonder into our hearts as we watched the transformation of God’s love change their sad, haunted eyes into sparkling diamonds of joy – just being loved. (I’d have never gone for 25 children by birth – I assure you – and yet, God caused my cup to overflow)  He changed my sorrow into laughter. My cup continues to overflow with joy as on occasion I see tiny snapshots of “my children” in their adult roles.

CHECK THE INGREDIENTS IN THE CUP
Cups come in many shapes and sizes.  Textures, raw material, and uses vary widely.  Some are golden, silver, alabaster, or glass.  So it is when we investigate the cup of our life.  Though we cannot determine the infinite variety of the raw material of which our lives are made, we are responsible for the ingredients inside our cups.  If the ingredients are right, they will taste just as sweet from an earthen vessel, as from a golden goblet.  We must remember that Christ drank from a bitter cup to bring us an abundant overflowing cup of salvation.

What’s in your cup today?  Have you lost the wonder of living?  Is your cup empty?  Have you allowed it to become full of pain, bitterness, anger, or discontent?  Is it overflowing with joy, peace, trust, and confidence?

Take hold of God’s promise that “He is our Shepherd, we shall not want.”  “It is He that has made us.”

“He will supply all our needs.” Everything He does, He does in overflowing bounty.  His ways are always characterized by multitudinous and overflowing bounty.  In nature – we see profuse color.  The ocean shows us majesty.  Every molecule of matter is filled with wonders that defy the mind of man.

God sent Jesus that our joy might be full.  So what are we waiting for…go experience the wonder of being alive.  Live life abundantly, let the cup overflow.  Go walk in the woods and let your mind travel across memories of great things God has done for you.  Richard Blanchard’s 2004 song says it all. “Fill my cup, Lord, I lift it up, Lord, Come and quench this thirsting of my soul…..fill it up and make me whole.” What’s in YOUR cup?

What’s in Your Cup?

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A CUP / A VESSEL / A CONTAINER
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to gather together with friends during a frightening storm and sing away your fear like the actors in The Sound of Music?  “I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel – so sad.”  It seems a little simplistic, but actually God has a lot to say about our thought processes.” He is concerned about our feelings of fear, insecurity, apprehensions, and anxious moments. As I ponder these thoughts, many Bible passages I learned as a child are spilling out of my data memory bank like an over-flowing cup. “Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, of any virtue, praiseworthy…think on these things (Phil4:8). “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). II Corinthians 10:5, asks us to “cast down imaginations and bring every thought unto the obedience of Christ.” My husband often makes the statement, “what we see and hear influences what we think about, and what we think about influences what we believe, and what we believe determines how we behave.”  It seems that our mind-set, whether negative or positive, will effect what overflows from the cup of our lives.

In Psalm 23:5, the writer states simply, “my cup runs over.” I think on the word cup, and perceive it to be a vessel – something used to contain something. A cup can contain pressures, depression, joy, sorrow, worry, anxiety, hope….endless possibilities.  When my youngest daughter was about two or so, she had taken a small cup and filled it with “treasures”.  To me it looked like a bunch of little scraps of paper, but she told me these were her “twesures, and her doe-ing to teep dem.” (“treasures and she was going to keep them”in case anyone needs an interpreter) If I were to take a cup and fill it with my own treasures, it might look just as strange to the person who discovered what I had in that cup.

WHAT I WOULD PUT IN MY CUP
I’d possibly add to my cup a set of praying hands to remind me that Jesus wept in the garden asking God the Father to “let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done”  Out of that very bitter cup – overflowing with pain and the anguish of sin being placed upon His shoulders, came forth an overflowing cup of salvation. I’d place a cross in my cup to remind me that the cross gives me the gift of abundant life. The cross brought Jesus pain and sorrow – but gave to us eternal life.  Sometimes I will have a cup of sorrow and pain, but II Corinthians 4:7-9 helps define our existence.  “we have this treasure in earthen vessels…we are troubled on every side, yet not distressed, we are perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, cast down, but not destroyed…that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” I believe I’d want an anchor – the symbol of hope inside my cup. I want to remember that God is in the cup with me and He can turn my sorrow into gladness.

In 1982, my three-year-old nephew was diagnosed with leukemia.  On one occasion when we were driving him to the hospital for a painful bone aspiration and treatment, his voice suddenly burst into song, “Ding dong bell, there’s gladness in my well, who put it there? God.”  Often during times of discouragement when I’ve felt my cup overrunning with sorrow, I have heard that sweet trusting voice in my memory, and remembered that God can change heartbreak into gladness.  How?  God can put it there.

Jesus says that he came to give me life…not just eternal life, but life ABUBNDANT, joyous, and full! Regardless of my present circumstances He desires joy for me. I want a bottle of bubbles in my cup to remind me of the little song, “It’s bubbling, it’s bubbling, it’s bubbling in my soul, there’s singing, and laughing, since Jesus made me whole.  Folks don’t understand it and I can’t keep it quiet, it’s bubbling bubbling bubbling bubbling bubbling day and night.”  A “Pollyanna smile” is not the ultimate goal.  Life has hard stuff that we must walk through – dying parents, disease, separations, divorce, broken bodies, misunderstandings….stuff that fills our cups with sorrow.  I’m so glad that God gives me some mind- altering promises in Romans 12:2.  “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds…”  I have sought various methods of renewing my mind.  Sometimes it’s in  reading scripture, talking to Christian friends, listening to children talk about their joys, or by simply remembering a life journey. Vance Havner, an old time preacher, says that often we get so busy with life and heavy issues, that we lose the wonder of living.  Sometimes, I do lose the wonder, and I plod along with an ol’ empty, dirty cup.

WHEN THE CUP IS FULL OF SORROW
Nearly 20 years ago I had an event in my life that suddenly filled my cup with sorrow, bitterness, darkness, and doubt.  Through this dark time, I discovered that by renewing my mind, following God’s plans for my thinking processes, my bitter cup was being replaced with an overflowing cup. God was giving me an abundant overflowing joyous cup of His presence.  I learned to drink deeply from the abundant life cup, and to treasure each day.  I began to jot down memories from my earliest childhood – the good memories that were in my cup.  In other words, I began to find the wonder in living once again.

As you read this today, why not take a moment to check out the ingredients in your cup.  Is it overflowing with heartache and despair? Do you find anger, bitterness, resentments, and hurt feelings in the dregs at the bottom?  Does the cup need repair, and cleansing?  Is it full of joy and the abundance of zest for life?  Why not take hold of God’s wonderful formula, and fill your mind with those things that will cause your cup to overflow and spill out upon the lives of all those around you as you begin this new week? I’d love to hear how this post encouraged you to “renew your mind” and transform your day.

One More Mountain

One More Mountain

 I sat on the front row of the balcony overlooking the crowded auditorium.  When the participants in the center section stood, I eased forward to the edge of my chair, holding my breath, as if by doing so I could prolong the moment.  “Sheldon Hale.”  An involuntary shout escaped my lips and I applauded triumphantly.   It had taken him seventeen years to complete his Master of Divinity degree, and I wanted him to hear my joyful exultation.  Suddenly shy and embarrassed, I realized that I alone was standing while all others were sitting quietly, watching the ceremony.   I sat and glanced at the card my Mother-in-law had handed me a few moments earlier.  On the front cover were the words, “Son, you finally made it . . . .”   Inside the message was completed, “. . . but I always knew you would.”

Nine years later it was my turn to finish at Murray State University, what I had begun at Western Kentucky University nearly thirty years earlier; my degree.  Those intervening years had been chock full with rich and rewarding pursuits.  Our three children were grown,  I had sewed wedding gowns for both my daughters, was enjoying the grandchildren as they came along, had parented twenty-five precious foster children and already taught first grade for twenty-four years.  My role as Pastor’s wife had taken me down intricately complex paths as I juggled children’s choirs, speaking engagements, and many church responsibilities. Sometimes my brain seemed about to explode with overload of data intake, and I wondered if I were about to lose my memory.

One day on the campus of MurrayStateUniversity, I lost my car in the middle of a parking lot located roughly a mile from the nearest building on campus.  As I stood searching not only the parking lot, but also my memory, I felt like a little girl I had once taught in first grade.

She had come into my classroom that first day, knowing nothing about my class rules and routines.  By the end of the day I had taught her, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”  The next morning she tearfully approached my desk, and between broken sobs, explained to me that she had forgotten where to put some of her things.

Surrounded by hundreds of cars, I became that little girl.  This very morning I had parked a small white car somewhere in this massive asphalt jungle, and now I was unable to sort through my mind and remember where exactly it was that I put it.  I felt afraid, confused, and insecure.  It was good that no one offered me any sympathetic words of consolation.  I feel certain that the gathering fears would have become liquid and streamed down the furrows of worry that etched my face.

My frustration had started that morning when I arrived on campus wearing heels and feeling very professional.  I got into the line that I thought was the path toward my goal.  Forty-five minutes later the person at the desk told me I was supposed to first “go to that line over there.”  Okay, I thought, no problem.  So I moved my satchel over to the next line and waited patiently for the fifteen people ahead of me to finish their business.  When I described to the pseudo-friendly person at the counter what I needed, she informed me that I must go to the desk in the basement.  I’m generally a flexible person, so I gathered up my things and trekked to the basement.  The line there was about ten people long, so I waited, patiently.  Yes, I really did.   Ah, finally it was my turn and I could even sit in a chair while I related my “problem” to the receptionist.

“Oh no,” she said. “You can’t do that here.  You need to go to the Registrar’s office up on first floor.”

“But upstairs sent me here,” I reply.

“I’m sorry, but they were in error.  You simply must go there before I can help you.”

Back on first floor I ask a lady behind the counter where I should go to speak with someone about a registration question.  She points out the direction, and I arrive there just in time to hear a student receive the bad news.  “You can’t graduate this spring because your paper work is not in order.”   As I see the tears accumulate around the inner edges of her eyelids, I ache.  Just as I begin to feel empathy for that student, the bearer of the bad news turns to me.  “May I help you?”

I explain the problem.  Even before I finish, she informs me that her office has no authority in this matter.  “Go to the basement.  They’ll take care of you.”

“I was already there.”

“Well, I’m really sorry . . .” (which I am beginning to seriously doubt), “. . . but that is the only place that can help you.”

One more time I return to the basement.  This time the line is all the way out the door.  Never mind all the manners I have learned over the years.  Gently pushing my way through the crowd, I tower over the secretary in a bit of an obnoxious way.  Finally she looks up and asks, “Yes, what is it?”

“They say that I must see you to get this problem resolved.”

“Let me see the paper you have.  Hmm, yes, just a minute.  I just need to sign this form and you’re home free.”

 Home free.  That would be nice about now.  Home.  Free.  Free of all this nonsense.  Finally I have all my necessary paperwork complete and the first day of classes arrives.  Never being one to do things the simple way, I schedule for twenty-five hours.  My commute is over eighteen hours a week, and I have a bit of a life outside school time.   Did I mention that I am also teaching full-time?  At the conclusion of the first day I know I am in over my head, so I drop one class.

Now we are in the full swing of things.  Homework is beginning to mount higher and higher, as are the stack of dirty dishes and dirty laundry at home.  Each evening as I face my computer to sort through my accumulation of notes, I find that a little invisible demon sits upon my shoulder.  He begins his nightly negative message recital.  “You can’t do that,” he whispers. “You know how difficult learning has always been for you,” he taunts.  “You’ll make horrible grades,” he jeers.

I reach out across time and grab hold of a fleeting memory that bobs upon the many waters of a lifetime of experiences.   My memory settles on the story of the Little Engine that thought he could.  “I think I can . . .  I think I can . . . .”   I’m claiming the strength God promises me in Philippians 1:21. I’ll need something beyond my own ability.  My stamina isn’t what it was when I was twenty years old.  As Minnie Pearl always said, “My get up and go has got up and went.”

My feet ache as if the bones are protruding through the bottom of my heels.  My calf muscles are tight. Fire burns my lungs as I gulp down icy air. Surely passers-by can hear my heartbeat as the blood races through my veins.  My back is as effective after an hour and a half of sitting in a lecture as a rusty bicycle chain. Each link is so rigidly fixed and inflexible that I dread having to sit again in the next class period.

There are visible spasms as the muscles play chase up and down my arm from the elbow to the wrist.  Semi-permanent indentations mark my fingers where I’ve held too tightly to my pen while taking notes.  My elbow craves an ace bandage, an application of HEET, and perhaps a full day of grace without carrying a twenty-four-pound bag of books.  Am I complaining? You betcha’!  Do I want to quit?  Absolutely not!  I’ve come too far to quit!  Oh sure, there are always things to complain about, but in the end those things are small potatoes compared to the goal I have in my sights.

I love the exhilaration of learning new things, or of re-learning old things, long forgotten.  There’s nothing more nostalgic in my memory than the sound of chalk hitting the board and the occasional sound of the chalk as it squeaks irritatingly across the surface.  Those noises of an empty classroom coming to life as first one, then two, then a dozen or more students enter, fill not only the room, but fill my memory with the pleasant thoughts of “school days, good ol’ golden rule days.” Learning is about to happen. 

 Though the crisp breeze has pushed, pulled, and tempted me to skip class and to come out and play, I have resisted the urge, and been a serious student.  I attend all my classes, finally find my car, drive home, fix supper, sort the mail, return phone calls, and start my homework.  A lifetime of adult commitments, time schedules, deadlines, and responsibilities has taught me to use my time efficiently, setting priorities and then working within those parameters.   Finally, homework completed, I can fall into bed. There is no time for a late night television show, leisure, or play.  Tomorrow begins the process all over, and the homework load will be just as heavy.  I’ll dream of an afternoon away from the school routine . . . maybe this Sunday afternoon, or then again, maybe next summer.

There is a persistent, irritating sound.  I knock over the nightstand and almost break the alarm clock as I grope in the darkness, reaching for the source of the noise. I realize as I come more fully awake that the phone is ringing.

“Hello?”

 “Mom, did I wake you?”

 “Uh, Son, what time is it?”

 “It’s 10:30.  Are you already in bed?

 “Yeah, I’m bushed.  My classes are about to get the best of me.”

 “Well, I won’t keep you.  Just wanted to let you know I’m proud of you for going back to college.”

 I hang up, feeling refreshed, though tired.  I’m fortunate.  I have a wonderfully supportive cheering squad, my family.  They seem to understand that this is important to me.

 Perhaps someday when I cross the platform and receive my earned degree for the work I’ve completed, my children will send me a card.  I’ll open it, and with tears of joy and satisfaction I’ll read, “Mom, you finally made it  . . . but then, we always knew you would.”

These thoughts were captured almost eighteen years ago.  I finished my goal and walked across the platform to receive my diploma at the age of fifty. My family was all there to celebrate.   I’ve continued teaching first and second grade children until my retirement this year, enjoyed playing with my ten grandchildren, and have decided to be serious about writing my book.  However, technology just keeps changing and I’m already far behind.  Though I finally switched from my Royal typewriter, graduated to a Word Processor, and then into Windows XP, I have discovered I must once again move forward.  Today, I bought Windows 8, and am already feeling a bit apprehensive.

The phone – it’s my youngest daughter.  “Mom, you can do it.” 

“I don’t think so, honey, it’s just too hard and after all, at my age, I don’t think I can learn all this new stuff.”

“Mom, you’re talking like an old person.  This isn’t like you.  You can do anything you set your mind on.”

And so, a new journey begins – again.  New things, new challenges, new mountains to climb….and the thrill of climbing. 

How about you?  Are you reaching out to learn new things?  Are you enjoying the mountains you already climbed?  Look just down the road and you’ll see yet another mountain just begging for you to experience, explore, and enjoy.  Go for it, be a little engine that thinks he can…and start up that mountain. 

 

Refreshing Waters

"As the deer panteth for the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. " Psalm 42:1

“As the deer panteth for the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. “
Psalm 42:1

Apples on a Silver Platter

Bro Bob Norman with Ritchie Hale

Bro Bob Norman with Ritchie Hale

Though most of us would rather not attend funerals; the funeral home is often the place where reunions occur.  This was the case for me last week when I attended the services for a friend, Bro. R.B. Precious friends and family members spent the time catching up with memories of days gone by as we laughed and cried together.  The occassion was to celebrate the life of our friend who had passed away, but in so doing, the gathering had an almost surreal atmosphere of joy mingled with sorrow. Though many of the people who came to visit didn’t know each other, we were all bonded together because of our shared grief of this precious loved one.
 
A young lady, who I didn’t recognize, came to me during the evening.  She wanted to tell me what a difference I had made in her life when she was just a teenager.  I was astounded.  I couldn’t even think of her name, or how I had known her until she filled me in on the details and I realized who she was and how our lives had intersected so long ago.  What a joyful reunion.  I had NO IDEA that my life had meant anything to her life.  

As I saw one after another of the friends I had known since my teen years, one in particular , Bro Bob, was such a joy to my heart.  I met him and his wife, Elaine, at a pivotal point during my teen years.  As I stood talking to him, it occurred to me that I may not have ever told them how much they had influenced my life, what they had meant to me as a teen, and how they continue to bless my life as an adult. 
 
Often times we want to say something, but then we don’t.  For whatever reason, we hold back and  the opportunity passes us by.  Here I was standing at a funeral home with a visual at the front of the room that life is brief, and opportunities will not always present themselves “later”.  So why not speak now.  I spoke up then, and I do so here today as a reminder that there are others to whom I owe a word of gratitude. These two dear friends gave of themselves sacrificially to me, a young teenage girl. That gift of love, encouragement, guidance, godly counsel, patience, and acceptance made a difference in my life. That young lady who had spoken to me earlier during the evening said I had made a difference in her life, and in so saying, her words of thanks touched my life.  The gift of gratitude is an on-going, unending gift. She could not have known that just that very day I was feeling a bit like a used-up, “over-the-hill” retiree, wondering what I had done that was in anyway worthwhile. She couldn’t have known that her simple words went to my heart and whispered, “keep at it, it’s worthwhile.”  Her words were like the proverb, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver ” (Proverb 25:11NKJV). 

How about you?  Has there been a time when you have thought of someone who has profoundly touched your life…and you’ve told them so?  Or maybe the opportunity passed you by and you wished you had?  It’s not too late to take action today and share a simple thanks.

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