Front Porch Friendships

What comes to mind when you think of a front porch? A swing? A rocking chair? An old dog asleep with one eye open? I think of relaxing conversations, sweet tea, and laughter.

For the first time in my life, I live in a house with a front porch. In this coronavirus climate, a front porch is a great place to meet your neighbors and develop relationships. People can stop by for chat and not feel like they’re intruding on your space or time. After all, you must want to talk or you wouldn’t be sitting on the porch, right?

Like most people in my age group, I’ve felt quite isolated during the past four months. My church conducts services on line and my book club meets through Zoom. Even my Wordweavers’ meetings are conducted through Zoom. I’m thankful for technology, but when I have an actual face to face conversation with a person, I feel happier.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
– Albert Schweitzer

Pause and think about the friends you have made over the years who rekindled your inner spirit. Friends encourage us to keep going through the hard times. Here are some of the benefits of friendship:

*Friends increase your sense of belonging and purpose.

*Boost your happiness and reduce your stress.

*Improve your self confidence and self worth.

*Help you cope with personal trauma.

*Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Of course developing and maintaining a friendship requires effort. I’ve had access to a front porch for three weeks and I must admit, I think I’ve sat out there three times. But each time I’ve venture onto the porch, someone always stops by to talk. And I know the investment of my time is worth it.

People need other people, now more than ever.

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”
– Zig Ziglar

Dear Reader, I hope my post has encouraged you to reach out to those around you. Until next time…

When Does a House Become a Home?

Welcome back, readers. I apologize for my absence from cyberspace. During the month of June, Herb and I immersed ourselves in the process of downsizing to move to a new location. Under the best conditions, moving is emotionally and physically exhausting. Add ninety degree temperatures and moving becomes unbearable. Now that we have settled in our new home, I’ve rewarded myself with a nap every afternoon.

Yes, piece by piece we dismantled the old homestead and carried all the things which passed the “keep test” to our new digs. As each picture came down and each knick-knack packed, the old place lost its charm. And when Two Men In A Truck came to carry the furniture out, the empty shell no longer seemed like the same home we’ve known for the past sixteen years.

I highly recommend Two Men and a Truck to anyone making a move. The team carefully handled our belongings and listened to our requests. They also wore face masks in compliance with local Covid-19 mandates.

We were ready to go. Perhaps it was the impact of the pandemic that encouraged us to let go of our sentimental feelings. After all, when you’ve been staring at the same four walls for months on end with no opportunities for travel, you get a little stir-crazy.

Buddy whined the first two nights, but eventually he acclimated to his new environment. Beagles are happy if they can continue to eat, and Buddy never missed a meal. Since we were doing most of the moving ourselves, we involved him in the process by allowing him to supervise.

Once everything was out of the old location, it took awhile to determine how to utilize the space in each room. Even though I thought I’d downsized, I sorted and gave away more clothes when I couldn’t squeeze another item into our closet.

After a few days our family became more comfortable in our new home. We hung a few pictures and placed potted plants on the front porch. During my youth, it always took awhile to break in a pair of new jeans. When you brought them home from the store the fabric felt stiff. After washing and wearing them a few times the jeans softened. In the same way a house becomes a home by living within the space.

“Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.” —Cecelia Ahern

A home is made by the people who live there and the love they share. Home is where the heart is. May you be happy in yours.

True Confessions of a Memory Hoarder

“Your home is a living space, not a storage space.”

I never thought of myself as a hoarder. After all, I can still walk through my house. I take the trash out regularly and rarely keep something because I might use it “someday.”

However, I’m beginning to feel differently about myself. We are moving to a smaller place and the process of packing has taught me I am a hoarder. What do I hoard? Memories.

I have saved photos, awards, and every cute drawing each of my children gave me. I saved record albums, tapes, and compact discs. I’ve saved souvenirs from every family vacation. I could go and on. Over a period of forty years I continue to move these “treasures” along with me. Somehow I have failed to realize a person always collects more memories every year. Each year the number of boxes increases. Unless I rent a storage unit, I am out of space.

And what is the point of a storage unit anyway? I can’t imagine spending a few hours visiting the unit to gaze upon my treasures. After all, most of these valuables sit untouched year after year.

I’ve come to the end of the road. The moving van will pull up in two weeks. I’m facing one of the biggest decisions of my lifetime: How to let go.

I’ve got to get back to work. Taking a break to write this post has helped me process my plan. As I examine each artifact I will question its value to my family. Anything my children might want is important. If the item doesn’t pass this test, it can be donated, recycled, or worst case scenario, trashed. I love this quote:
“Your home is living space, not storage space.”
― Francine Jay

I’m ready to live more and remember less. Are you a memory hoarder? Leave a comment and tell me how you freed yourself.

Is Your Anchor Secure?

After Florida began Phase 1 of the reopening, I visited my dentist because I was experiencing pain from TMJ . During the exam my dentist said I was not alone. He has seen more cases of TMJ than ever before. People are not sleeping well and grinding their teeth every night.

I told him I didn’t know why I was so stressed. After all, I’m retired. I haven’t lost my job like some people.

“Well, all you have to do is watch the news to become stressed.” He responded.

During the past three months we’ve viewed images of the global pandemic, economic despair, and social unrest marching across our TV screens each night. We’ve been told to stay in our homes and wear a mask if we must venture out. Most churches, museums, and concert halls remain closed and are still grappling with how to plan for the future.

Today as I pondered what to write about, the image of a great ship came to mind and I remembered this verse of scripture:

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, it enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain where Jesus who went before us, has entered on our behalf.” —Hebrews 6:19,20

I’ve always wondered how can an anchor keep a ship from drifting out to sea?

Here are the facts: The anchor digs into the seabed and creates resistance which secures the boat.

As a follower of Christ, my soul is anchored in him. In the world there is tribulation, but he has overcome the world. I cannot anchor myself to anything else. Christ is my strength and my hope.

The next part of this verse makes reference to the most holy place in the Hebrew temple. Beyond the curtain was God’s special abode. The hope of the Christian is that we will live eternally with God. This is only made possible through saving faith in the resurrected Christ. Our hope looks to the world beyond this one.

Years ago I visited a resort on the Gulf of Mexico. As I stood on the shore and gazed across the seemingly endless water, I thought, “I can’t see the land on the other side, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

Hope is like that. I can’t see heaven from where I am. Neither can I know what might happen tomorrow. But I am thankful to know the person of Christ, who has promised someday I will join him in heaven. God has planted a desire for perfection in every human heart. Yet, this desire can only be fulfilled by him. No earthly pleasures or achievements can suffice.

Did you know setting an anchor can be difficult? To be sure an anchor is set, a sailor puts the boat in reverse. There is no way to ensure an anchor will hold unless you test it.

This applies to everyday life. Current events have shown me a deeper faith is needed in order to not drift into a sea of despair. By trusting Jesus and relying on his promises, my anchor will hold throughout the trials of this life.

Our Escape to Lake Louisa

Like many of you, I’ve done my share of whining during the past three months. The pandemic has left me stressed, angry, and bored. If you’ve read many of my past writings, you know the one activity I’ve missed most is travel.

Herb and I felt disappointed when the Florida State Parks closed in March. Later, when they reopened on May 4 we were excited until we learned the campgrounds would remain closed. In spite of this information, I reserved a site for Memorial Day weekend at Lake Louisa —a short thirty minute drive west of Orlando. We were ecstatic when the campground opened on May 21, one day before we were scheduled to arrive! We packed our clothes, food, and beagle into the jeep and hitched up our Viking trailer for our great escape.

The weather was hot, after all this is Florida. But we didn’t let the weather phase us. Like all happy campers we couldn’t stop smiling. We set up camp before a tremendous rainstorm hit. Did that bother us? Not in the least. Snug inside our tiny trailer we munched our homemade cheeseburgers and laughed about our good fortune.

Our little home away from home.

The ninety-five degree temperatures continued on Saturday. Fortunately, we were able to cool off under the shade of our awning and a large beach umbrella we brought along.

We made Buddy more comfortable by setting up a fan at either end of his pen.

Ahh… this is more like it!

Over fifty campsites sit upon a strip of land between Dixie Lake and Lake Hammond. As night fell we were treated to a beautiful sunset above Lake Dixie.

And of course, no campout is complete without a campfire.

Even so, the warmer temperatures made it necessary to sit farther away from the flames.

Sunday morning we hiked on one of the park’s lovely trails. Buddy had a great time exploring the area.

Hmm… Who has been here before me?

We measure our distance, and when Buddy has walked one mile, Herb carries him in our doggie backpack. What a good Dad!

Wow! I can see new sights from up. here! I always wanted to be tall.

Although we’ve camped at Lake Louisa before, we noticed a new addition. Three Luxury Carefree Campsites are for rent.

These air-conditioned tents are furnished inside like a hotel room. (No private bathrooms, however.) Sad.

No trips to the real Florida are complete without a gator. Herb took this photo of a baby below the dock on Dixie Lake.

If you are looking for an escape, and don’t mind the Florida summers, consider camping. No face masks required.

In Praise of the Lone Lantana

Behold the primeval forest

enduring the tests of time

sheltered under towering oaks

Life survives.

Defended by vast armies

of raised palmetto swords

shielded by a green stockade

Life grows.

A confident lantana

performs a solo act

arrayed in pink and yellow

Life creates.

As if on cue, a butterfly

flutters across the scene

to sip the sweet fresh nectar

Life thrives.

Lacy ferns sing anthems

in time with steady rain

in praise of the lone lantana,

Life rejoices.

Patience is a Virtue

Hello friends,

How are you getting along this week? Have you counted the days since our National Emergency began? That’s right. Forty-five days. Many of us have been quarantined in our homes for most of those days. I can’t believe I’m still here looking at the same four walls. Herb suggested we change the pictures in the living room in order to see some new scenery.

It hasn’t been all bad. I have plenty to do. Remember the song, “Flowers on the Wall” by the Statler Brothers?

“Countin’ flowers on the wall
That don’t bother me at all
Playin’ solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo
Now don’t tell me I’ve nothin’ to do.”

I sing that song to myself sometimes…but I haven’t started smoking and I don’t think this would be a good time to start.

Now, back to the subject of waiting. We’re all waiting for our stay-at-home orders to be lifted. I dream about going shopping, visiting friends, and worshipping with my church. (in person!)

But we might have to wait longer. So I try not to dream too much. That’s like inviting Mr. Discontent to come into your house and take residence. No thanks.

Waiting doesn’t mean you’re inactive. Instead you’re harnessing your mind, will, and emotions to work for you within the boundaries of your circumstances. Each day I try to do the following:

Accept the reality there is nothing I can do to change my circumstances.

Pray for the emotional strength to endure until my circumstances change.

Determine to use this time as productively as I can.

On March 13, I didn’t believe I could endure spending six weeks in my home. Although it seems like I’m stuck in time, something is happening. Even if my circumstances don’t appear to be changing, I’m different. I’m learning patience.

“Indeed, this life is a test. It is a test of many things – of our convictions and priorities, our faith and our faithfulness, our patience and our resilience, and in the end, our ultimate desires.” —Sheri L. Dew

Today I remembered a baby cardinal which was trapped in our courtyard a couple years ago. Its little wings were too small and weak to lift its pudgy body any higher than the patio table.

After several failed attempts to fly, the mama cardinal coached the baby higher. First it flew from the ground to the table, then from the table to the top of the garage door. Finally, it took off into the wide blue sky.

“Here I go!”

Re-opening America will be like that. Little by little we will find our way forward and enjoy all the wonderful freedoms we used to know. We will fly!

Until then, keep counting those flowers everyone.

Still Waters

Are you tired of sitting at home because of COVID-19? Are you ready to travel somewhere, anywhere?

Come with me on a journey. Although I’ve lived in my neighborhood for sixteen years, I didn’t really become acquainted with this pond until last week.

Beautiful, isn’t it? This view is very near my front door. On previous occasions, I was usually too busy to notice. Maybe I was walking Buddy, or riding my bike. Maybe I was getting the mail. I have to say, COVID-19 has forced me to pause and consider my immediate surroundings.

Our local stay-at-home order permits walking outdoors, but I wanted to keep my walk short (since I am recovering from a back injury). I discovered it takes twenty minutes to circle the pond. So let’s get started.

These bald cypress knees aren’t always visible. During the summer rainy season the roots of the tree are under water.

White ibis photo courtesy of Herb Burton.

The shallow water provides an ideal feeding ground for the white ibis. These birds use their long beaks to probe the soft mud in search of insects.

white egret

This spring the water is so low, little islands are rising. They make me think of continents pushing up out of the ocean. The islands attract snapping turtles who are eager to warm themselves in the sun. Soon after I took this photo, the egret perched itself upon the sandy mound to scan the water for its next meal.

This is the view from the western end of the pond. There have been years when the water recedes even more and the island becomes a land bridge.

Here is one of my favorite views. Standing in this spot I feel like I could be on a trail in some remote area, away from the confines of our Orlando neighborhood.

Unfortunately, my desire to walk closer to the water resulted in disaster. I picked up some dog poo-lution on my shoe. Lucky for you, a virtual trip doesn’t include this hazard of the trail.

Blue heron photo courtesy of Herb Burton.

As we near our starting point, we are delighted by the stately blue heron. During moments like these, I realize how fortunate I am to live in such a beautiful place. My walks have provided me the opportunity to thank God for his love and care, even during this time of despair.

I’m reminded of Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside the still waters,

He restores my soul.

I hope our journey around the pond has helped you relax a little. True, the pandemic has taken much from our lives. I trust that in this season of loss, something will be gained. My walks around the pond have inspired me to remember how God still provides for each of us.

Have you experienced God’s provision during this season of loss? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Lessons from a National Emergency Part 2

“A major disruption has occurred in our lives.”

By now you might be tired of reading anything related to our war with the coronavirus. Can anything be said that hasn’t already been said? I’m asking myself the same question as I sit down to write today.

When I walk outside the sky is still blue, birds are tweeting, flowers are blooming. The sunshine warms me. Somehow it seems like a perfectly normal spring day. It’s as if nature didn’t get the message. Doesn’t the natural world know the shadow of death is upon us?

When I wrote my last post I shared my initial reaction to our national emergency. We’ve all experienced many more setbacks since then. As the number of COVID-19 cases rise, more businesses, churches, and schools close their doors. Opportunities for socialization and recreation have diminished. Like many of you I’ve felt trapped in my home. It’s a good thing I like my husband or this could really be bad.

Herb and I enjoying another evening at home.

I commend the health professionals who risk their lives to fight the pandemic on the front lines. Those of us complying with local stay-at-home orders also play an important role. Social isolation holds back the enemy’s advances. But isolation does have a negative impact on our emotions. Every day we must put on our armor to stand against the anxiety which assaults our minds.

I think by now most of us realize a major disruption has occurred in our lives. We have changed. Maybe we don’t trust people as much as we used to. Last week my level of distress had actually escalated to the point I’ve had trouble focusing. Is this the “fog”of war?

Then I read an email from Dr. Valerie Allen, author of the self- help book, Beyond the Inkblots: Confusion to Harmony. A trained psychologist, Dr. Allen shared tips in her email for coping with the anxiety associated with the pandemic. Here are some suggestions:

Keep reaching out to people. Commit to at least one phone call, email, or text a day. Share your concerns and feelings with people you trust.

Engage in physical activity. Take a walk, ride a bike, lift soup cans if you are stuck indoors.

Develop your Creativity. Cook a new dish made from ingredients you have in your pantry. Write in a journal. Take an online class. Read about a topic you’ve always wanted to know more about.

Increase your level of spirituality. Watch live streaming videos of worship services. Pray. Engage in Bible study.

Tackle a Project. Clean out a closet. Organize your photos. Reorganize your kitchen cabinets.

I’d like to add a tip of my own to this list:

Make a Positive Statement. Encourage others by sharing something up-lifting. Post positive quotes on social media. Hang up Christmas lights in your window to send a message of encouragement to your neighbors.

Our daughter and son in law hung these lights on their apartment balcony.

Christmas lights send a message of hope. Leave a comment and share how you’ve received encouragement during these dark times.

Lessons from a National Emergency (Part One)

What have you learned about yourself over the past week? There’s nothing like a good old fashioned global pandemic to show us what we’re made of. Americans have been fortunate to escape the wars and epidemics which may have affected the rest of world. But this is different. As many have already said, we are all weathering Covoid-19 together.

It’s hard to feel a sense of “community “when you’re told you need to stay home to protect yourself from a disease capable of killing you or members of your family. Although I have not been “quarantined,” I’ve felt lonely, fearful, and exhausted this week. I’m sixty-six years old, my husband is sixty-nine, and my mother is eighty-six with an “underlying health condition.” My decision to practice “social distancing” has been for my own and my family’s protection.

I’m exhausted from trying to ensure we have enough food and supplies to last at least two weeks. When I encountered empty shelves at my local Publix I became anxious. Why? Because we’ve always had enough, in fact we’ve always had more than enough. I’m not a fan of hoarding, especially if my behavior keeps others from getting what they need. Fortunately, I managed to purchase what was necessary, and made substitutions where I could.

The image of my newly planted flowerbed is my effort to gain control in a world that’s gone out of control. Even the Florida State Parks have closed their campgrounds for two months. If I’m going to be expected to stay home, at least I’ll have something pretty to view.

So far here is my list of seven lessons I’ve learned about myself from this emergency.

I don’t like feeling out of control.

I am spoiled.

I hate having my plans cancelled.

Disease is scary.

I take “the good life” for granted.

What I think is necessary, might not be necessary.

I don’t like limitations placed upon how I can choose to spend my day.

As the next two weeks unfold, I hope I can adjust to my new life. I hope I can see the hand of God in the midst of the storm. There is no way I can come through this without being changed, and I pray it’s a change for the better.

Sometimes it helps to remember those people who have lived before us. This morning I thought about Anne Frank, who hid in the Secret Annex for two years along with her Jewish family. She spent her time writing about her thoughts and feelings. Her diary helped her make sense of her situation.

When I think of Anne and the suffering she experienced, I realize what a “spoiled baby” I am. This is a time like no other time. It could be an opportunity for me to grow up. (even at my age)

I entitled this post part one, stay tuned for more lessons as they unfold. How has the pandemic affected your life? Leave a comment.