Category Archives: inspiration

Weirdest Lent Ever

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A church service and a phone call…

This year on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, our choir at Ebenezer UMC did not assist in the service there, so I took the opportunity to attend the service at the last church where I sang and served.  It was a joy to worship with the congregation at Messiah Lutheran, one of my church homes, and folks I will always consider family.  My patient husband was chauffeuring me around at the time because my vertigo had flared up, and we agreed with the family doctor that I probably shouldn’t drive until I was feeling better.  So Sweet Pea picked me up from work, we shared a tasty supper at PF Chang’s, then headed across Kingston Pike to the church.

”You are dust, and to dust you shall return…”

It was a beautiful service, contemplative and solemn…and just as we were leaving the church my silenced phone began to vibrate.  My cousin Hazen was calling to tell me that Aunt Helen was in the hospital and her situation looked pretty serious.  “Aunt” Helen is actually my first cousin, but because she was so close in age to Mama, and because they had grown up like sisters, we always called her Aunt Helen, just like all the other Aunts we were blessed to know and love on Mama’s side.  It was probably late in grade school before I figured out the actual family math on that relationship.  But she always functioned as an Aunt for me.

Because my vertigo was flaring I knew that a drive to Johnson City on my own was not possible, so I asked Dad if he might be up for a visit with Aunt Helen in the hospital on Sunday.  My cousin Stacy had told me that we should probably visit soon if we wanted to.  So Dad, bonus mom Carole and I made the brief trip up on The First Sunday of Lent, in beautiful sunshine and coolish temperatures.  Signs of spring were evident along the roadside as the landscape began to green up.

We arrived to find my cousin Lisa talking with the doctor, and Aunt Helen’s frail frame in the bed.  She was awake and recognized me before I fully made it into the room.  We exchanged “I-love-you’s” and I asked the questions I always ask at such a time as this.

”Are you afraid?”  She said no.

”Are you in pain?”  She said yes.

And I swear, it was like seeing Mama in her hospital bed, living that scenario all over again.

In the days that followed, our phones blazed with text messages and calls.  How was Aunt Helen doing?  Was Lisa eating?  Did anybody sleep last night?  Might they send Aunt Helen home?  What exactly would hospice entail or provide?

That Tuesday night, Aunt Helen went home with hospice care.

Wednesday morning, Hazen called again to tell me that Aunt Helen had died about a half hour before. Stacy was texting while Hazen and I talked.  I was at my newish job learning a very new task, and Amy, my trainer, who was aware of Aunt Helen’s condition, let me have her office for a while to make phone calls and cry.  It was a kindness I will always remember.

The Second Sunday of Lent was Aunt Helen’s memorial service.  Years ago she had asked me to do her eulogy, and I agreed.  My cousin Lisa asked if I could sing as well, which I also agreed to do.  I never sing well at funerals.  But I do it anyway, with the understanding that, while it won’t be beautiful, it will be loving.  I’m doing the best I can.

Rumors and speculation about coronavirus had already started to churn, and looking back now, I am grateful that we had the chance to gather as Aunt Helen’s family, by blood and choice, to honor and remember her.  I was able to hug my people, cry, sing, and laugh.  The church was packed with others whose lives Aunt Helen had blessed.  If a couple more weeks had passed, we wouldn’t have had the chance to be together like that.

The remainder of Lent saw us all self-isolating, exercising caution, and avoiding crowds as much as possible.  Many of our workplaces shut down, or drastically curtailed their activities and staffs.  A trip to the store became a major event. Toilet paper, of all things, became almost impossible to find!  And our church buildings have sat empty.

But The Church has, in many cases, been more vibrant and active than it was before coronavirus flipped everything sideways.  Technology has allowed us to stay connected to our church families via live streams and Zoom calls, for example.  I was privileged to assist my own congregation in worship on Palm Sunday and Easter, with a few other musicians and our pastors, from our mostly empty sanctuary, properly distanced from each other.

I miss hugging people.  I miss sharing space with my church family and my kinfolks. And Lord, how I miss Aunt Helen.

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(My last photo with Aunt Helen, February 2019, during #OperationTakeAMinute.  She was my first stop on a month-long road trip, and the days and nights I spent at her house are memories I will cherish forever, especially now that her New Home is someplace I can’t visit.  YET.)

Waiting

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Once upon a time…

It was Saturday, the Eleventh Day of April, in The Year Of Our Lord Two Thousand Twenty, and the day before Easter Sunday.  Known in many Christian traditions as Holy Saturday, this day was, for me, a bit different from the fifty-plus Holy Saturdays in my life that preceded it.  Our world was in a quieter state than most of us had ever experienced before because of a viral pandemic called Coronavirus that ground much of our activity to a standstill.

It hit me even as I typed the word “standstill”…

STILL.

Not moving, suspended, stationary.

But not inactive.

As with the first Holy Saturday, our world seemed on this day to be holding its breath, waiting for something.  A change.  A revolution.

A revelation.

As I found myself waiting on Holy Saturday in The Year Of Our Lord Two Thousand Twenty, I reflected on exactly what it was for which I was waiting…Easter Sunday celebrations, of course, even though I knew my church’s building would be nearly empty.  But we would connect through the gift of technology for which we all gave thanks.  The glory of Jesus and the hope of new life through Him would still be preached and revealed.

But I also waited for my world to return to “normal”, whatever that meant now.  My suspicion was that my definition of normal would never be the same.  Gone were the days of long-range planning for…anything, really.  Life was now taking place in real time, one day at a time, heartbeat by heartbeat and breath by breath.

And I imagined the body of Jesus, lying in that small, dark space that was both tomb and womb, having experienced death, waiting to rise up and emerge into a world that would be changed forever.  Good Friday was about Death.  Easter Sunday was about New Life.

Holy Saturday was about Waiting.

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Church On My Couch

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It’s not about the building…

This morning I went to church.  On my couch.  The flippant, sarcastic, class-clown side of my personality wants to call it:

The Fifth-Sunday Singing Service at The First Church of St. Social Isolation.

The trusted-Jesus-in-my-childhood side of me knows that it is, in truth:

The Church Is Not About The Building.

My childhood church had a motto that was printed on our bulletins.  It read, “Enter to Worship—Depart to Serve”.  That is ringing more true to me in these days of social distancing, self-imposed isolation, safer-at-home.  Thanks to the Interwebz, we can still participate in worship, work from home, see about our friends and family.  We can stay fairly well connected.

We can donate to causes, including the local church, that are working to provide necessary resources to our neighbors in need.  We can share music, humor, insight, and even our own original thoughts, in an effort to keep our loved ones engaged, lifted up, and encouraged in the days of COVID-19.  We can drop non-perishable necessities off onto our neighbors’ porches.  We can call, text, Zoom/FaceTime/Messenger Chat to stay connected.  I think that all of these efforts are “church”.

I completed an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in 2012.  The ages of my peer group ranged from mid-40s to late 60s.  The eldest member of our group was participating at the recommendation of a ministry of his church, a well-established, well-heeled, and well-respected faith community here in Knoxville.  Toward the end of our time together, Bob remarked that he was “seeing more church happen inside the walls of the hospital” than he had ever seen at “church”.

Which illustrates the point, once again, that it’s not about the building.

Church is loving our neighbor, whoever they are, wherever they are, however we can, without trying to judge whether or not they are worthy.  When we are unable to gather face-to-face, church can still happen.  Loving our neighbor from a distance is still love.  Prayers, financial support offered online, front-porch drop-offs, whatever we can do…we can still love our neighbor.

We can be the church.

We ARE the church.

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Fifteen Pounds Of Words

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And sometimes I STILL can’t find the right one…

It has been over a month since I wrote a post here.  I have wanted to write, but it has been difficult to find the words for my emotions lately.  The thoughts I want and need to convey, are sometimes beyond words.

For five months I worked as a temporary contract employee at the Oak Ridge Public Library.  It was only supposed to be a three-to-four week assignment, but some changes in library staff, illnesses, and retirements allowed me to stay far longer than the original time frame. It was only part-time, certainly not enough to live on.  But the assignment was more enjoyable than I ever imagined, so I stayed as long as there was funding for my position.

Early in the assignment, I assisted with processing items being withdrawn from circulation.  On one of the carts I was to stamp and sticker one day was an ancient and ENORMOUS dictionary.  I stamped and stickered it, and inquired as to what happens to items when they are withdrawn.  William, the reference librarian who was working that day, told me they are either donated to the Friends of the Library for their book sales, or, in some sad cases, destroyed. I asked about the huge dictionary, (having fallen quite in love with it) and he said it might go to the FOL, and might be available to purchase.  When I returned to work the next day, he had pulled it out for me.

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I placed my donation into the “bird box”,  a bird feeder on the wall in the Friends of the Library nook where people place their donations for the books they purchase.  Then I brought in a sturdy bag to contain my new/old treasure as I carried it out to my car.  A regular grocery bag would never begin to hold a volume of its size and weight.

Not long after, I visited my Dad and Bonus Mom Carole, taking along my dictionary for them to see.  The copyright pages are gone, but the illustration pages all have “1934” printed on them…before Dad was born.  I thought they would get a kick out of seeing such an artifact, and they did.  We actually weighed it.  It weighs fifteen pounds!

As a lover of words and language, this dictionary is far more than just a book for me.  It is a work of art, with line drawings and sketches adorning its pages to illustrate many of the words therein.  It is a piece of history as well, especially considering that it lived in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project and Cold War years.  I imagine what hands might have turned its pages, whose brains may have searched its contents…scientists, perhaps, or educators, as well as students seeking the right words for their research papers and university applications.  Old books have a scent and feel about them that appeals to people like me.

And to my friend, Isaac, who rejoiced with me over my find.

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To answer his question…1934 smells like history, nostalgia, a mixture of curiosity, knowledge and wisdom…its pages are smooth and yellowed from age and use.  Its  contents are the very foundation of communication.  Fifteen pounds of words…and still sometimes, I can’t find the one I want.  But at least I have a tool that can help me as I search.

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(My hand is for scale, to show how thick this dictionary is!)

I found a similar but not-nearly-as-nice volume online that was destined for the trash heap and bought it for a song.  It is now destined to be repurposed into art and craft projects.  Its pages will find their way into the homes and lives of others who, like me, appreciate the beauty of words and language, even if not as originally intended.  I still like to think that some knowledge and wisdom will go with them.

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Practice Makes…?

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The old adage versus the new perspective…

We’ve all heard the old saying:

Practice makes perfect.

Here’s the thing, though.  “Perfect” is impossible for human beings.  Whether the pursuit is related to our health, profession, or artistic endeavors, perfection is an unrealistic goal.

I am primarily a musician, but I also enjoy several other creative pursuits including paper crafting, photography, and writing.  When I commit myself to a project, I want my efforts to be the best I can make them, realizing that my best is never going to be perfect.  Coming to grips with that is an ongoing process…and it is a change in paradigms.

So often we are goal-oriented, when perhaps it is better to be process-oriented.  Case in point: a student who crams at the semester’s end to receive an “A” on an exam, but forgets the information soon after the test is over. Process orientation is more focused on learning bit by bit, along the way, and letting the exam take care of itself when the time comes.  Information learned along the way tends to “stick” better.

I have begun to realize, and to share with others, an adjustment to the old adage:

Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Practice makes progress.

When I was young, I thought my life was going to be all about the destination; as I have gotten older, I realize it’s really about the journey…the process, and the progress.  As long as I am growing, moving forward, doing my best (whatever my best happens to be on a given day!), I am on the path that is meant for me.

That’s really the best I can ask for.

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(Pictured above, a recent creative project…in progress!)

Body, Mind, And Spirit

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It’s all connected…

First of all, I AM NOT A MEDICAL OR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.

I recently posted a question on social media regarding the connections among body, mind, and spirit.  The few responses I received were insightful, and in line with much of my own thinking, although from a different angle than I was originally considering.  I have always wanted this blog and its content to be positive and uplifting, but never at the expense of authenticity.  My thoughts on the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit were leaning in a different direction when I posed the query.

For months I have been dealing with some health issues in my body.  The tests I had in the fall revealed no major problems, only a diagnosis of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).  I have followed doctor’s instructions in order to treat those symptoms, without much success.  But I’m doing what I can and, frankly, since I am still seeking a full-time job, I am not inclined to go spending a lot of money on more tests that won’t show anything wrong with me.  I am managing the best I can.

But as my body has started experiencing other symptoms in recent months, my mind and spirit have also taken a bit of a beating.  Scripture tells us that we are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14).  We are also told that, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.”  (Proverbs 17:22). I understand that to mean that, among other things, all our systems are connected to one another.  One system cannot be impaired without others also being altered.

My family doctor and I have discussed this delicate balance more than once.  Ongoing physical pain can exacerbate problems like depression and anxiety, both of which I have dealt with for decades, as well as concentration and the ability to learn and retain information.  Conversely, ongoing depression and anxiety (or other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, obsessive/compulsive disorder, etc.) can manifest physically, increasing symptoms such as headaches, digestive disorders, appetite changes, sleep disturbances, and chronic pain in any or all parts of the body.  Spiritually, it can become difficult to pray, read and study scripture.  Sometimes a person can begin to question their faith in the God Who made them.

It’s all connected.

The question sometimes becomes like the “chicken/egg” riddle: Which came first?  It can be difficult to figure out.  Does one’s body hurt all over because they are depressed, or is one depressed because they hurt everywhere?

There are no simple answers.  It’s all connected.

The Bible shows us many examples of imperfect heroes of faith.  The prophets Elijah and Jeremiah appeared to suffer from depression (possibly situational, possibly clinical, or even both).  The Apostle Paul talked about his “thorn in the flesh”.  The Psalmist(s) sometimes despaired of life.  And poor Job…that guy suffered in every way imaginable.

I heard someone once say the following:

“I’ve heard it said that we are human beings having a spiritual experience; I submit to you that we are spiritual beings having a HUMAN experience.”

It’s ALL connected.

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Tides

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A week of extremes…

As I write this, I am in a northwest Florida condo with a gorgeous view of the Gulf of Mexico.  The temperature is 66 degrees, the sun is bright, and the surf is a bit more active today than the Gulf is most of the time.  Foamy whitecaps dot the surface of the blue-green water, and the sugary white sand is completely devoid of people.

Five days ago I was working at my current temporary assignment at the library and watching a postcard-pretty snow fall just beyond the reference desk windows.  Oak Ridge was whited out, but the streets and pavement were clear and safe, just wet.  It was every bit as beautiful as the setting I enjoy now; it was also about as opposite as one could imagine.

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It has been a week of extremes.  My #FirstEverWorkHusband Martin’s mother passed away on Halloween.  Fort Walton Beach was their home for many years, and Charlotte was a driving force behind the local Stage Crafters Theatre company, so it was decided that her memorial service would be held there.  Hence our trip to Florida in December.  Even though a month and a half has passed since she died, it is still a fresh grief for them, and the gathering of family and friends from decades gone by and miles away seems to have brought a fresh tide of emotion.

At least, it has for me.  I grieve the death of a woman I never met, but feel like I knew.  I grieve because my friend/person is grieving, and, as Truvy said in the film Steel Magnolias, “…no one cries alone in my presence.”  I grieve remembering my own Mama’s death, the anniversary of which was a week ago today.  December always brings a fresh tide of memories.

Since we had not seen each other since I visited him in February during #OperationTakeAMinute, Martin invited me to go with him to his dialysis session on Friday, so we could talk and visit away from the crowd of family and friends.  When I arrived to collect him, he presented me with one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received…a pair of large, beautiful feathers he had found during the months since my last visit and had saved for me.

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We arrived at the clinic, did paperwork, got him connected and me gowned up, and, as much as possible, we enjoyed short periods of conversation mixed into wordless times of simple shared presence.  About halfway through treatment he began to have some chest pain and, long story short, we ended up taking an ambulance ride to the nearby hospital to have him checked out.  Fortunately, his heart is medically all right.  I am grateful.

While we were in the emergency department, a portable X-ray unit was brought in to examine him in his triage space…and a fresh tide of memory flooded over me as I relived a moment from when Mama was in the hospital and a portable X-ray unit was brought to her room to check her, a moment when she was not stable enough to transport to them, so they came to her.  It was my sweet husband’s one meltdown moment during the whole of Mama’s hospital stay.  A moment of his deep attachment to my Mama, and his mother-in-love.

It is an odd thing, how present grief can churn up past grief, like the foamy whitecaps of a turbulent surf.  The tides are constant, sometimes tranquil, sometimes violent.  But the ebb and flow never cease.

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