The written word

In an era marked by sore thumbs from rampant texting and Tweeting, the written word seems to have faded into the communicative background, or at best, been shortened, squeezed, and compressed into an abbreviated form of its former self. Sure, the written word still has its place. But as the price of postage rises, and the convenience of communicating by email, social media, and cell phones continues to improve, how many of us really write?

Not many.

This is not necessarily all bad. I’m very grateful for the advent of blogging. As someone who constantly corrals whirling notions in her brain, my blogs are a great creative connection to the world at large. And despite the frustrations resulting from Facebook’s unnecessary and frequently annoying technical changes, I’m grateful for opportunities to reconnect with old friends, family who live in other places, and former students and colleagues.

Writing, for me, has evolved into something new. I’ve embraced the way technology has affected the way I connect with others. But I am one of the stalwart, stubborn few who still insist on sending real thank you cards. I send my grandma handwritten cards and letters. I love nothing more than receiving handwritten sentiments from loved ones in the mail.

In my desk drawer sits a stack of lovely assorted cards and letters I’ve received. Periodically I file these away and save most of them. There’s nothing better than reading a card from a friend 10 years later. As I perused the pile a few days ago, I found a thank you card from a former patient.

“Dear Bethany,

I still see your beautiful face with the tears and have seen it many times as I looked at my dear husband and best friend . . .  Keep your compassion. God will indeed bless you.”

These written words mean something more to me every time I read them. They seriously impacted me then, and they continue to impact me now. They remind me that God uses me even when I don’t know He’s using me. They are little inky impressions from God, reminders of how important words are, spoken and received. Whether I send a handwritten card or a thoughtful email, the words I speak and write matter. And the words you speak and write to me matter. I’m grateful for them.

 

Just wheat

I’ve never been spiritually motivated by the idea of being good, doing the right thing, or proving how holy I am. I can’t recall a single time when I made a decision, spiritually speaking, based on these things. Right or wrong, I am driven simply by God’s love.

Over a delightful decaffeinated version of my favorite drink, I had an in-depth conversation with a good friend a few days ago regarding this matter. She admitted that if anything, she had always been too intimidated to screw up and had probably missed out on what God could have done in her life as a result. I could not relate–I have lived my life, until recently, on the other extreme. I’ve never been concerned with what others thought about my choices, and for a long time, I wasn’t even that concerned with what God thought about my choices. I lived my own…

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Positive opposites

I catch myself worrying constantly.

I know I’m not the only one. Last week, a friend of mine expressed the high level of anxiety she’s been feeling and the thoughts that have been churning in her brain related to her daughter’s situation at school. Another friend admitted that in preparation of her big move overseas, she’s been plagued by multiple worries despite her efforts to battle them by doing her best to prepare for the move.

Much of the time, I don’t even realize how plagued by anxiety I really am. The mental dogs begin to bite. The bees sting. And I catch myself making agreements with the negative, pessimistic, cynical worries rummaging through my brain. As a Christian, I believe this is a form of spiritual warfare. Each time I make an agreement with Satan, I negate what God is trying to do in me.

“You’re gaining so much weight while you’re pregnant. You will never look the same after this.”

“You’re going to be tied to the house forever after having this baby. You won’t ever get to do anything fun or adventurous again, and you will be alone doing it, because your husband will be able to go and do as he pleases while you’ll be stuck at home.”

“Don’t you think your husband is going to find some younger, prettier, skinnier, non-pregnant woman to pine after?”

On my worst days, my response to these nagging negative thoughts is, “Yes. You’re right. I am fat. My life is going to be miserable. My husband will probably find someone else.”

The minute I succumb to these thoughts and agree with their negative messages, the minute I’m forfeiting the truth that God is ultimately in charge, and only He knows what lies ahead. I’m choosing to align myself with darkness rather than light. I’m also giving up my peace of mind and making room for more anxiety in its place.

I don’t want to give up what God’s given to me. I want to be free from insomnia caused by anxiety. I don’t want to spend my time contemplating upcoming events and decisions, attempting to plan out what I have no control over. But how can I fight such a pervasive force? How can I overcome a problem that is so subtle that I often overlook its onset?

This morning, I read Philippians 4:6-7.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

When I read these verses, a spiritual lightbulb turned itself on inside of me (either that, or my one daily cup of coffee kicked into gear). Ah. Positive opposites.

In the anonymous 12-step recovery program I’m part of, we utilize the tool of practicing positive opposites in order to overcome our own negative tendencies or to counteract character defects. Am I feeling extremely critical of my boss? I’ll do the opposite and choose to praise her for the good things I notice instead. Do I tend to wallow in self-pity because of the difficult situation I find myself in at home? Instead of eating a gallon of ice cream, watching a sad movie, and tearing through boxes of Kleenex, I’ll do the opposite and invest my time in paying attention to the needs of others and making efforts to help them through their difficulties. I’ll volunteer with a local non-profit or pray for friends who are hurting.

It’s quite simple.

And this morning, I noticed it’s also quite Biblical. Am I anxious? Instead of letting anxiety overwhelm me, I will actively pray (repeatedly) with gratitude and thanksgiving. Instead of focusing on the what ifs, I’ll focus on what is. God Is. And He has showered me with countless beautiful blessings, some obvious and others donned in clever and humorous disguises. And thankfully, God promises me that if I combat the anxiety with grateful prayers, His peace will guard my heart and mind.

I need that.

Barber Dan

A few weeks ago, my husband invited me to join him on a trip to town to run errands and eat lunch together. One of the to-dos on our list that day was to stop by Barber Dan’s barbershop in Desha, Arkansas. Even though this barbershop was not conveniently located in relation to our home, my husband continued to remain loyal to Barber Dan because of the quality and consistency of the service at his shop.

I honestly never understood why he felt compelled to drive so far and spend so much extra time and gas money for a $10 hair cut and shave. After sitting in the hard-backed chair reading the classified ads, affording me the opportunity to be a fly on the wall for a while, I understood.

First of all, let me just say that I was completely fascinated by the entire barbershop experience. It’s completely different from a typical salon, and as a woman, I’d obviously only had salon experiences. I’d never stepped foot in a real barbershop. I’d never smelled the hot soap spilling out of the dispenser. I’d never watched a barber work meticulously and fluidly and rapidly, not missing a beat or snipping in error. I’d never seen my husband getting shaved with a straight edge razor.

But more importantly, I had no idea what kind of subculture the atmosphere of a barbershop conjures up. I had never listened to so many elderly men discussing everyday life with such depth of insight and amusing perspectives on things. I’d never seen a customer, at a salon or any place, walk into a shop and begin sweeping up excess clippings from the floor as a simple friendly gesture to help. I have rarely met someone like Barber Dan who ran his business with ease and seemed to genuinely enjoy himself on the job.

After my husband had paid for his haircut, and we headed to lunch, I remarked at what a great experience I’d had and how fascinated I felt by the subculture of barbershops.

“I wish I’d brought my camera! I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded if I’d taken a few pictures. Oh well, next time.”

There won’t be a next time, though. Barber Dan closed his shop a week later due to a personal illness.

I’m grateful I had the opportunity to gain insight into my husband’s strong preference for barbershops versus salons. Most of all, I’m grateful for the opportunity to see a great man at work and get a glimpse of the great American barbershop tradition. Like all good things in life, I don’t know how long I’ll have them. But I plan to make the most of them while I can. And next time, I’ll take pictures.

 

Kicked out of the box

*Thanks to my friend Debra Dickey-Liang for serving as today’s guest contributor!*

Have you ever gotten kicked out of your ‘box’?

Sure you have! You know, the one in which you have planned and worked very diligently to make the pieces of your life fit just so, created precisely the right amount of wriggle room, and stocked it with just the appropriate assortment of ‘cushion’ accommodations so that you think that you are fully prepared for any and all contingencies that probably won’t, but just might, pop up!? Actually, I’m quite sure that most of you were in that box shouting, ‘Let. Me. Out!!’ — but not me! ‘Some are born to change, some achieve change, and others have change thrust upon them’! (slight paraphrasing)

That’s me, at the end –kicking and screaming all the way! At least at first. As I have never been a terribly adventurous soul, naturally, the most effective avenue for dislodging me personally from my familiar, and more or less comfortable ‘box’, was for something to haul off and kick me out. It has been stated that women, more especially mothers, continuously live their lives in a process of change. For us, adapting is a necessary commodity, a reality really. For without that resource, managing and coping with all that the world of work, family, society, and the universe in general throws at us would be almost more than we would be able to handle! Reflecting on my own existence, it seems that my odyssey has been one very long series of changes. An existence that seems always to be moving, transforming, re-acclimating and adapting. One of my daughter’s favorite commiserations when faced with change and challenges is: “I don’t want to be a grown-up!”

I hear ya! Yet circumstances have a way of propelling us in directions that require us to grow in our comprehension, mature in our attitudes, stretch our minds to new ideas and competencies, travel unexplored paths, learn to do more with less, and most particularly, to decide how to go on when the road before us seems overwhelming. To put all that in context, we must be able to visualize the future so that the present becomes part of the big picture, rather than the entire canvas, then make the best of it, despite our fears and apprehensions. Sometimes the changes I experience are gentle nudges that prod me to make simple adjustments to my accustomed routine; frequently those changes are more complicated shoves that require some fancy footwork and extraordinarily creative adaptations on my part! But most fearsome have been those changes that have knocked my feet out from under me and slammed me to the ground.

However, at each level, the bottom line requirement remained the same — for me to discover the labyrinthine degrees of competencies accorded me from the Giver of All Gifts, along with the multitudinous (good word, huh!) score of capabilities measured out for me to put into place and apply to the adaptation process. Gradually or suddenly, those changes were ushered in, patterns were modified, emotions were altered, and situations were refashioned, in the end, becoming so much a part of me that I hardly remember what I was like before the change took place. Stubborn changes that I was forced to make arising from occurrences that were beyond my control – yet with each hurdle and at each juncture, demanding that I GET OUT OF THAT BOX!

When Jesus commanded His disciples, “Go ye…” could that be what He had in mind??!!?

Worth

*Thanks to Linda Unger, inspiring writer and photographer, for serving as today’s guest contributor. To view more of Linda’s amazing photography, visit her website.*

I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, a wife and many other things. But the most difficult to believe “role” has been child of God. So many times I calculated my self-worth by the grades I got in school, by the scores I got in sports, and by the looks of others. My heart just felt unworthy of the love of God.

Today I am treated no differently than anyone else in recovery. I am no lower than child of God. I am afforded the same opportunity to recover as the next person. My words are heard and acknowledged. I am valued as an employee and as a friend. Today I have a new appreciation for the hard road I have traveled, as it has brought me to this point of self-examination.

Photo by Linda Unger

I’ve learned to look for the beautiful things in other people, and by doing so, I find beautiful things in me. I’ve learned to be grateful for time spent with friends and family as time is the most valuable gift. I’ve learned to pick out one special thing about every person I meet, keeping me from sinking into anger over minor issues. I am forever amazed at the changes in perspective that the program has given me. If I spend my time being grateful for all the people that have brought me to where I am today, good or bad events, I can keep a better handle on “life’s terms” when they arise!

 

If I ever doubt who I am, the truth is as close as the words spoken to me by God, through you.

Signs

*Thanks to my friend Jonathan Weigt for serving as today’s guest contributor!*

So lately I’ve been struggling with several prayer agenda items. I keep asking for answers, or guidance, or clairvoyance, or whatever. You know… things you recite over and over and over daily. And these things, to me, have not been revealed in any way that I have been able to ascertain for going on several months now. Honestly, I’m frustrated.

Last night, in an ultra rare instance, Laura and I found ourselves sitting on the couch doing absolutely nothing a little after 8. I mean, this never happens! I forget how the conversation started, but we got on the subject of “How do you recognize the answers to prayers, or how do you know you are being led?”

Sometimes doors open, and it’s pretty obvious. Short of being hit in the head, you are basically an idiot if you don’t see it. But other times, it can be so much more esoteric in nature. No answer at all really… or maybe it is, and you are just not looking in the right direction and literally missing the writing on the wall. Who knows?

Laura and I have been church shopping since after Christmas. At the time, we had different church homes and preferences. I guess we still do to some degree. Her kids seemed to be struggling at the church they attended; they didn’t really seem to be learning anything about religion. And my kid is a whole different story… I digress… It appeared on the surface, and through questions, that Sundays were a mere social experience for them. Not that church socialization isn’t important, but when pressed for “What did you learn today,” the answers were usually “Uh….there was a story about a guy that, uh….”

We talked and wanted to find a place that would fit all of us well, including kids, and not to mention me. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed with that place either. In fact, I didn’t like it for some purely personal reasons… not that it was a bad place or had faulty theology or anything. So we’ve church hopped since then. Several weeks here, a couple weeks there, a couple of “spray and pray” attempts. (For those who don’t know, spray and pray is basically going somewhere random in hopes of an epiphany.) And the whole time, I’ve been extremely frustrated. I mean geez… of all things, why wouldn’t God make this blatantly obvious? (In red letters: YOU SHOULD GO HERE is what I guess I expected to hear each Sunday.)

Then, we learn via Twitter, that her oldest, the one who seemed to be struggling the most with religion in general, not to mention developing any sense of personal relationship, got saved the other weekend at the first place via some conference that someone else coerced her to attend. Now she wants to go each Wednesday night and the weekends. Odd really. Did I just get a sign?

So. How do you recognize it? What signs does God use in your life? I’d like to hear.