The Blessing of Forgetfulness

I often complain about my memory becoming worse as I get older, and I’ve tried everything from Ginkgo to Prevagen with no success as far as I could tell. However, I realized today that perhaps forgetting can be a blessing. I was bullied quite recently on social media by a complete stranger, and I tried to remember other times when I felt insulted and harassed. It’s happened before, but the memories are dim…those I remember at all, and I suddenly realized that forgetfulness can be a good thing. Consider how you would feel if all the verbal abuse you’ve experienced from others or every bad day you’ve had were etched on your memory. While it’s certainly true that the words and actions of others can have a profound effect on us when they occur, the memory of these events fade with time, providing relief and a way to carry on.

When I was reflecting on this earlier, I couldn’t help but think of my mother who lived with dementia in the last couple years of her life. Sometimes, she seemed quite happy and carefree when she thought she was young again, asking me if mom and pop were downstairs or if John (her older brother) had gone back to the base. She sometimes thought she was a kid again which meant she didn’t have the memories of some of the sadness and trauma she endured later as an adult. Because of what I observed in my mother, when I meditate, I often picture myself in the back yard of the home where I was raised. I picture myself sitting on the back step petting our outdoor cats on a spring day with my mother’s daffodils and roses blooming nearby. The grass and the leaves on the trees would be so green and everything smelled fresh and new. The wild cherry tree in the center of the yard would be covered in blossoms, and I loved to hear the wind in the dozens of trees bordering our property on two sides. This is my escape now, and I relish this time to remember.

I look forward to the time when I no longer have to face the hatefulness of this world, and I feel only the love, joy, and peace of the next life. For now, I will carry on, blocking the bullies of the world the best that I can.

Photo by Sebastien Gabriel on Unsplash
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Counting My Blessings

It’s New Year’s Eve again, which means it’s time to count my blessings and, quite literally, count the slips of paper I’ve put in my blessings jar this year. (See photo at the end of this post.) I can honestly say that this year was better than the one before it, though it has been a bit of a mixed bag. Whose life isn’t? As far as the blessings go, I think the major highlight was going to Ireland in November with my sister-in-law. I’ve always wanted to go and was not disappointed. It was cold, rainy, and my ankle hurt (little did I know then that my Achilles tendon was tearing), but the sights and sounds of the southern half of Ireland were amazing.

Bunratty Castle

Next, my husband is still working full-time and has been since May. He even accumulated a few days off. Additionally, this summer, I not only spent a few days with family in the Ozarks but went hiking with them at Devil’s Den. The kids, who seemed reluctant at first, had a wonderful time exploring the main trail, skirting waterfalls, and splashing in Lee Creek. I also have a new great-nephew! One of my blessings I wrote down was “cold winter days for enjoying stew”, but another was “unexpected warm days in winter for going to the park and grilling”. I also wrote down summer break and rollerskating…not how I tore my Achilles by the way. I am going to try to put off surgery until June when I’m off for summer break since I’ll have to be off of it for a few weeks.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned came this year from my sister Valerie. She taught me that we should show people grace when they ask us for forgiveness, and not just grace, but the grace that God grants us. It was extremely hard to put this into practice. When you’ve been hurt and abandoned, it’s not easy to forgive and accept the person back, but I usually feel like this was the right thing to do, albeit there are days when I struggle with this decision.

So what does the new year bring? Very little can be predicted of course, but I do know that I will not be switching jobs as planned (due to surgery), and I will be attempting to use my time more wisely. I even uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone! In this last year I felt like I drifted away from God a bit. I still pray to him each day, but I feel like my prayers have been repetitive and hollow. I miss the closeness I felt to God when I had cancer and my mother was dying. I had to lean into him for strength and comfort and now I feel I’ve become too self-sufficient again, if that makes any sense. I need to take what I learned during that year and put it into practice, helping others who are now going through a difficult time, and I plan to return to spiritual disciplines such as reading scripture and devotions each day.

I don’t know about you, but I look forward to seeing what 2020 brings, not with trepidation as I did this time last year but with renewed hope and purpose, trusting that God will provide for my needs and that the good will outweigh the bad.

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Coming around Full Circle

After I graduated college, I couldn’t find a teaching job right away, so I worked full-time in my college library as a clerk for two years. The pay was terrible, but the work was light. I got breaks during which I would go to the break room and sit, just reading and drinking tea as most of my co-workers did. During lunch, I would go outside and people watch under the red-leafed maple trees in the quad or occasionally go to the Student Union and eat a slice of pizza, but I was restless. I felt like I couldn’t be content until I got a teaching job, so I could make a difference in the lives of kids. I craved a grander sense of purpose. Subsequently, I applied for English teaching positions in Texas, and I’ve been in education for over twenty years, first as a teacher and now as a school librarian. I’ve taught some great kids and hopefully made a difference, but it’s certainly not all sunshine and rainbows. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of disillusionment, and I experience exhaustion on a daily basis.

At the beginning of last month, I had a revelation after going to a new doctor. Even though I’m not facing any life crises at this time (thank God!), I was filled with worry. I was having difficulty sleeping, and I was crying a lot. My memory has been malfunctioning, and it’s been difficult for me to piece my thoughts together coherently when I speak sometimes. When I talked to the doctor about what I was feeling and why, he said, “It’s time to find a new job.” I’ve considered this myself several times, but the idea was like taking a step off a cliff into the unknown. However, hearing this from someone else, a professional no less, I thought, Yes, I know it is. It really is time. I can’t yet, of course; I’m under contract until the end of the year, but accepting that this is my final year in this job has lifted a weight off me. I feel like perhaps my life, or at least my work life is coming around full circle, and I can do something less taxing that allows me to enjoy my personal life again.

I still want to get a decent evaluation and do right by the kids, so I submitted a grant proposal yesterday, and I’ve been doing makerspace activities, teaching lessons, helping kids get connected to books they’ll enjoy, blogging about books, facilitating technology meetings, Tweeting, etc., but I feel like I have permission to enjoy life again without worrying so much about the work-related things I could be doing. My husband is out of town for work this weekend, so this morning I went to Barnes and Noble and then sat and drank a chi latte in a cafe. Since then, I’ve spent the last few hours re-reading Doctor Sleep by Stephen King even though I never re-read books because there are so many other books I have to read like the fourteen review books I’m supposed to read and all of the TAYSHAS winners. I didn’t realize how much I missed revisiting books! I’m also looking forward to getting back to writing. I’ve come to realize that anxiety kills the imagination. It’s extremely difficult for me to write when I’m experiencing stress.

We will see what the future holds, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is time to step out on faith and seek a different path, knowing that God will look out for me and will intercede on my behalf.

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Does it really matter?

This past weekend, I was honored to attend my niece’s baby shower in Tennessee. It was a reason to get together with my four older sisters, and we had a great time eating BBQ on Saturday night at Corky’s world famous BBQ. One thing I realized the next morning, however, is that it’s probably not a good idea for a devout Baptist and a devout Catholic to stay under the same roof.

When I went into the kitchen Sunday morning, two of my sisters were debating whether or not Mary, the mother of Jesus, remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. Both of them cited their own textual evidence for their position based upon their bibles, one a protestant bible and one a Catholic bible. Voices started to get raised and I let them know that this bothered me. They lowered their voices, but it wasn’t long before they were in a heated debate again. I finally said, “Does this really matter?” One sister responded, “Well, yes because…” She then explained why it mattered to her. I then asked while pointing at the other sister, “Do you think she’s going to hell for not believing as you do?” That took her back, and she admitted that she didn’t. I then asked the other sister if she thought the first sister was going to hell for not agreeing with her. She also said no. I said, “See..doesn’t matter, so why argue?” I got up and went upstairs for a couple minutes to finish getting ready to go.

Later, when I came back downstairs, they were debating the Catholic sacrament of Confession and whether or not a person must go before the priest and confess his or her sins to be forgiven. My Catholic sister cited her textual evidence and my Baptist sister countered. As the debate continued, I finally felt the need to witness…something I would never have thought of doing a few years ago. I’ll spare you the details since this post is already running a bit long. It’s nothing I haven’t shared in previous posts. Anyway, things were fairly peaceful after that, and we enjoyed the rest of our weekend.

That being said, I think that our conversations with other Christians need to focus on the core tenets of our faith as Christians (e.g. because God loves us, he sent his son to die for our sins, for instance) and in following his greatest commandments of loving Him with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It’s bad enough that we have all of these different denominations dividing the body of Christ. Do you truly think God is happy when he sees his children arguing? Wouldn’t our time be better spent in showing the love of Christ to others? Is it better to be loving or to be “right”?

rocks

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Where charity and love prevail,
there God is ever found;
Brought here together by Christ’s love,
by love are we thus bound.

With grateful joy and holy fear
God’s charity we learn;
Let us with heart and mind and soul
now love God in return.

Forgive we now each other’s faults
as we our faults confess;
And let us love each other well
in Christian holiness.

Let strife among us be unknown,
let all contention cease;
Be God’s the glory that we seek,
be ours God’s holy peace.

Let us recall that in our midst
dwells God’s begotten Son;
As members of his body joined,
we are in Christ made one.

No race or creed can love exclude,
if honored be God’s name;
Our family embraces all
whose Father is the same.

https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-where-charity-and-love-prevail 

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Mockingbirds

If you’ve ever read the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, you’ll remember the part at the end of Tom Robinson’s trial when Jem and Scout are shocked that Tom was found guilty of a crime he so obviously couldn’t have committed. This was a pivotal moment for the children of Atticus Finch; it was the moment in which they lost their innocence. When Tom is found guilty, the kids realize that even those who seem like good people, can be biased and that they can be blinded by that bias. Jem likens his former innocence to being in a cocoon. He had thought the people around him were “the best in the world”.

This week I can relate to Jem and Scout. I truly felt that the delegates voting at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church would vote for the One Church Plan, allowing individual Methodist churches the choice to ordain and marry LGBTQ members. Our motto after all is “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” But instead, the majority of delegates voted for the traditional plan. I wouldn’t have been surprised 25 years ago, but I am a bit surprised today, but I guess that may be due to my own experiences.

When I was young, I was brought up to believe that homosexuality was wrong, but while I was in college, my best friend told me that she was gay. This was a person who had been there for me when I’d been upset, angry, frustrated, and depressed. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to reject the ideas I’d been raised with and accept her for who she was. She has now been with the same woman for over twenty years and married to her for seventeen. I, on the other hand, got divorced after six years of marriage to my first husband so, according to Jesus, I am an adulterer. Who am I to point fingers? I would be a hypocrite, indeed, if I rejected her and said she was doing wrong or that she can’t be in love. All of us have done things that go against scripture…whether it be lying, drinking too much, having lust, cheating someone, disrespecting a parent, not keeping the Sabbath holy, etc. Is sexual immorality wrong? Yes. Is being in a loving, committed relationship with someone who is the same gender wrong? I don’t think so. And let’s face it, Jesus didn’t even say anything against homosexuality. St. Paul is the one who talks about it. This is the same man who said that slaves should be obedient to their masters and women should be quiet in the church and never teach. Let’s not forget also, that homosexuality in Paul’s time mainly took the form of pedophilia, rape, orgies, and temple prostitution, all of which are about lust and not love.

In reading blog posts from several Methodist ministers, I am comforted that they are also disappointed with the outcome of the general conference vote. They talk about how all are still welcome at the table. While that may be true, I worry that members of the LGBTQ community feel as though they are being singled out and excluded even though no one else in our church is being singled out. As I sat in church, listening to my pastor speak today, however, I realized that it may be a bad idea to leave the church as I had been considering. How can I affect change from within if I leave the church? How can I let my voice be heard if I am not present?

Even though Atticus Finch knew all along that he would lose the case, he still represented Tom Robinson. And, surprisingly, the jury was out for quite a while. In fact, one of the Cunninghams from Old Sarum was even pushing for an acquittal. (The Cunninghams had tried to break out Tom Robinson from the prison in order to kill him before the trial.)

I think that one of the statements the author of the book, Harper Lee, was trying to make was that change can happen. It often comes in “baby steps” as Miss Maudie put it, but it can happen. But it won’t come if people remain quiet and don’t speak up for others. What Atticus Finch did in representing a black man accused of raping a white woman placed his business in jeopardy and put his family in danger, but he knew he couldn’t hold his head up if he didn’t. I hope that many in the church who agree with me will speak out against the traditional plan and push for a more inclusive church that recognizes God’s love for ALL of his children.

mockingbird pic

Photo is in the public domain and may be found at https://www.maxpixel.net/Florida-Sings-Mocking-Bird-Grey-Mockingbird-Bird-2296056 

 

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Enbrel

Three weeks ago I had my first shot of Enbrel for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Besides the fact that the autoinjector hurts quite a bit, it seriously lowered my immunity. I felt relief from joint pain the day after my shot and for the rest of the week, but by the end of the week, I had a horribly sore throat and knew I was coming down with something, so I skipped my next dose. By the following week, I felt like I was getting over what had ended up being a seriously horrible cold, and because my joints were aching again, I gave myself another shot of Enbrel. By the end of this week, I had relapsed, and I had a respiratory infection and bronchitis. Therefore, I am not giving myself another dose of Enbrel. I will see my rheumatologist in a week and will let her know that I want off the Enbrel and back on the Arava which is MUCH cheaper and doesn’t lower my immunity so much.

Of course, it didn’t help that I had to present to a group of teachers Tuesday afternoon which meant spending last weekend creating a presentation…or rather, seriously revising an old one. It also didn’t help that I had to stay late on Wednesday, so someone from HR could talk to us about how we shouldn’t take off work…among other things. It certainly didn’t help that I had a meeting at church from 3-4 on Thursday followed by another meeting at church I facilitated from 7-8. This meeting was enveloped in the middle of a function at school, so I had to go set up before my meeting and then go back to school afterwards and put things back where they belong. Then, because I like helping people in need, I heeded the call to judge speeches at an academic competition at my school from 3:15 – 9:15 Friday, but I didn’t get to leave until just before 11:00. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed listening to the kids’ speeches, but I was bone-tired when I left, and I felt exhausted and horribly ill all day yesterday. At least now I’m on antibiotics, so hopefully I’ll feel better soon.

Am I meeting my resolution to take care of ME? Not so much. I’ve hardly gone for any walks or bike rides, and I haven’t put very many notes of gratitude in my “blessings” jar. My husband quit his job AGAIN, so he’s home all day everyday AGAIN. The silver lining…the house is cleaner and the laundry is done. I have found time for a few long baths with soft music and have been praying Psalm 23 on my way to work most days. These and the fact that my bible study was canceled Wednesday night helped me to make it through a rather tumultuous week. Otherwise, I think I may have ended up in the hospital.

So I’m hitting the reset button. This week should be much easier than last week with only two after-school engagements, and one of those is a spa event our district cosmetology students are hosting which one of my regular library visitors asked me rather kindly to do, BUT I have got to say no when asked to take on more work though. I don’t know why I’m having such difficulty with this.

How I feel right now:

old-woman-574278_1920

How I want to feel:

water-1245677_1920

Photos courtesy of Pixabay

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Peace like a River

Now more than ever, I feel the need to find peace. My body (which has been plagued by immune system problems) yearns for it.

My main problem is that I’m a perfectionist with a type A personality, but looking back over the past 24 years that I’ve had autoimmune diseases, I realize they were red flags that I ignored. I worked too hard for much of my adult life, worried too much, and misspent so much time. I’m not sure if I’m having a mid-life crisis now at the age of 44, but I want more out of life…not more stuff, just more simplicity and solitude. I don’t want to fill up every part of my day being active. Instead, I want to take long hot baths and lie in bed just listening to some soft music or writing or reading each day.

So here’s my plan for this year (we’ll see how it goes). First, less energy spent on being a perfectionist. I don’t need to get outstanding scores on all areas of my evaluation rubric at work. So far I’m doing a pretty good job this school year just being proficient which was hard to accept at first. (It’s hard for a perfectionist to accept just being good enough, but for my sanity, I have had to do just that.) I will also make time for a bike ride and/or walk each day after work if it’s over 50 degrees because light activity makes me feel good. No more yoga for now since my rheumatologist pointed out that downward facing dogs and planks are too hard on inflamed wrists and fingers which I guess I kinda knew but didn’t want to admit. Instead, I will try tai chi which is offered at my church. (I may go back to yoga if the Enbrel I’m about to start taking for Rheumatoid Arthritis significantly reduces the inflammation because I truly do love yoga and I miss it.) I will practice my harmonica and continue writing my novel, but I will not pressure myself to do so and feel guilty if I don’t. I will do these things when I miss doing them. I will recite Psalm 23 each morning and picture the beautiful imagery within it as I drive to work. At least once a week, I will write down a blessing and put it into my blessing jar to read at the end of the year. (I did this a couple of years ago and don’t know why I didn’t do it last year again because it was truly a positive experience). I will continue to listen to calmer music which is already making a world of difference for me. (See playlist at the end of this blog for a sample.) When I feel stressed, I will not only listen to calm music but practice deep breathing and other grounding techniques. By the way, you can find a good article on some of these practices at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-empowerment-diary/201705/are-you-grounded-centered-or-both Most importantly, each day, for at least half an hour, I will seclude myself in my bedroom or the bathtub with a do not enter notice to my extroverted husband, and I will listen to soft music during that time. I will say no to people who ask me to take on long-term volunteer commitments, and I will not feel guilty. That’s the plan anyway. 

If you’re looking for a playlist of soft music, you can try the YouTube list I compiled which is linked below, or you might try starting your own playlist. I’ve also come to enjoy the Soundscapes channel that comes with my Spectrum cable subscription. It’s nice to listen to on the weekends as I sip tea or hot cocoa.

One other thing you might try is listening to the same song that truly gives you peace over and over again. I started doing this after someone else mentioned this on her blog, and I’ve been doing this a lot with Hymn of the Cherubim by Tchaikovsky. Now when I feel stressed at work, I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and start listening to it in my head for a minute or two, which is easy because it has become ingrained in my memory. (It’s a nice way to detach from the chaos and remember my place in the universe…as a child of God who is only in this world for a little while.)

If you’re the type of person who needs to be doing something in your free time and can’t sit still, try to do something relaxing like doodling, coloring, journaling, bike riding, walking, lifting weights, or fishing. With or without music, you may find this helpful. If you have any suggestions for unwinding aka de-stressing aka becoming grounded, please include them in the comments below.  I’d love to hear what works for others. I’m certainly no expert. I’ve just done a lot of reading on the topic and many of these techniques are helping me a great deal. 

Calm Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqZz90PuYYaN9di6Zels_Ols9R7ePaEhS 

martin-sanchez-391082-unsplash (1)Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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