An Imperfect Vessel

Maybe a broken pot serves an important purpose.

Excuse me, where is the gardener at a time like this? Isn’t it time to repot these plants? Haven’t they outgrown their broken container?

I snapped this photo on one of my recent walks in Leu Gardens. The scene is an affront to my desire for perfection. At first glance, one might consider the pot and its contents, ugly. Yet, the succulents continue to thrive.

I wondered how a cactus could survive in a subtropical climate like ours. After all, Leu Gardens is located in Orlando, Florida. This year we received 52 inches of rain. Doesn’t a cactus need to live in a desert?

Water aside, Florida has much in common with the deserts of the southwest. Both have sandy soil and receive lots of sunlight. Our average number of days with sunshine is 236. Roughly 2/3 of our year is sunny. Sounds like a great place for a cactus, except for the frequent rainstorms.

Let’s get back to the broken clay pot. Although one side seems to be missing, maybe the broken pot serves an important purpose. Since cactus plants will not grow well in standing water, did the gardener intend to use this imperfect vessel? If the water has a way to drain, a mini-desert environment has been created. This imperfect vessel could be just what these plants need.

Maybe this was part of some greater plan. The gardener actually planned to use a broken pot. Or maybe he broke it on purpose.

The more I think about it I realize I could apply this visual to our world. We are the like the cactus, trying to thrive in a broken vessel. The clay pot with one side missing represents loss. So far the year 2020 has taken lives, marriages, and income from many people. Often we wonder, where is the gardener? Has he forgotten about us? Why doesn’t he redeem all we have lost?

We hope science can save us. We expect our government officials to rescue us from the losses of this year. Still, we wait. But there is one greater than science or government. One who will wipe every tear from our eyes. The gardener will return and great will be our joy. He will make all things new!

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God; we trusted in him and he saved us. This is the Lord we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in our salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

Dear reader, I am hoping the days ahead bring joy and prosperity to your house. Never give up on the gardener. He knows what he his doing. Trust him.

Music Makes My World Go Round

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

How important is music to you? My passion for listening to music began with the purchase of my first record. In 1964 I scraped money together from my small weekly allowance to buy the Beatles 45, “Please, Please, Me.” I listened to it over and over and practically wore it out.

When I was old enough to babysit for the neighbors, I saved my fifty cents an hour salary to afford albums. One of my early purchases was “Disraeli Gears” by Cream. What an amazing album cover! Cream blended rock, blues, and jazz into a unique sound. The group consisted of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton. This powerful trio created a blueprint for every super group to follow including Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

The sixties brought forth a renaissance in music. Every month a new group surfaced. Each group seemed to build upon the creativity of others. In my opinion, this golden age of music has not been replicated since.

Like most teenagers I spent hours in my bedroom listening to music. It seemed like I was doing nothing but there was a lot of dreaming going on in there. For you see, music gives flight to the imagination.

In my post, True Confessions of a Memory Hoarder, I shared how difficult it is for me to give up my record collection. Guess what? My problem is solved. I’ve discovered Spotify! Granted, I might be late to the party, but I’m thrilled that the party waited for me.

Herb and I learned about Spotify from our adult children. Think about it. Every song ever recorded can be downloaded to your phone, and for a small monthly fee, you can listen anytime you want. Spotify enables you to create your own playlists of your favorite songs. You can make a high energy playlist for exercising, or a slower mix for times of relaxation.

When it comes to music, we all have our likes and dislikes. Spotify has organized the hits from each decade. Scrolling through the sixties list helped me remember songs I liked on the radio but never purchased. How could I ever forget “Spooky” by the Classics IV?

Herb and I enjoy playing our own version of “Name that Tune.” One of us will play the beginning of a song and the other person must identify the title and artist. (Fortunately, we both grew up listening to the same music.) Often we talk about what was happening in our lives at the time. “Radar Love” was popular the year we met at Lum’s Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.” However, we did not consider it “our song.” That honor was reserved for Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

I always wanted to be a song writer. I think my love for poetry really began by listening to music. Remember the lyrics to “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel?

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Remember me to one who lives there.

She once was a true love of mine.

In addition to inspiring and entertaining us, music offers a refuge from the hardships of life. Work songs like “Sixteen Tons” break the monotony of manual labor through a repetitive rhythm. Blues songs like “The Thrill is Gone” empathize with those in despair from a lost love. Hymns like “Amazing Grace” lift our spirits to worship God and deepen our faith. Music is a vehicle for the expression of every human emotion.

Leave a comment and tell me your favorite musical artists. How has music made your world go round?

The Benefits of Being Still

Morning walks are great. The reflection of the bridge in the water demonstrates simple beauty created in stillness. In this post I want to explore how science and faith complement each other.

First, what causes a mirror image?

Reflection happens when light bounces off an object. If the surface is smooth and shiny, the light will bounce back at the same angle it hits the surface. The Latin root, reflectere refers to bending back. We see a mirror image.

The word reflection also means careful consideration or meditation. When I reflect, I allow my mind to think before I act. I hold my tongue before speaking. I seek wisdom before deciding which path to take.

Stillness is essential to receiving wisdom. Job was a man of God who experienced many trials. When trouble abounds, as it did in Job’s life, his friend told him to “Stop and consider the wonders of God.” (Job 36:14) NIV

When we pause long enough to see the wonders of God around us, we get a new perspective on our troubles. We stand face to face with someone bigger than ourselves, our creator. It’s only when we see ourselves in relation to him that we can be free from our misperceptions. God is God and I am not. The water reflects the bridge. It is not the bridge.

Who or what does your life reflect today?

A Little Encouragement Can Go a Long Way

I think everyone can agree 2020 has been tough. Has the pandemic erased your hopes and shattered your dreams? The economic slowdown has affected most of us, including writers. If you feel discouraged, consider the negative voices affecting the way you think about yourself and your work.

What messages influence your thoughts? If we listen to the news media we might wonder if our circumstances will ever change. Will the pandemic last for years? Will we ever be able to make public appearances again? If you’re like me, you can’t even think about scheduling any future events.

Eventually, all the bad news from the media begins to influence the way we think about ourselves. The voice of our inner critic grows louder. It is the voice which brings to mind our past failures and limitations. And if we compare ourselves to others who appear to be more successful, we hinder our own progress because we no longer feel like trying. I never thought the launch of my second children’s book would take place during such challenging times.

Return to Blueberry Street follows Buddy the beagle into a new adventure. When a porch pirate steals his dog treats, Buddy decides to organize a dog crime watch to catch the bandit.

But Buddy has a critic. A Doberman with an attitude bullies him at the dog park. Blitz constantly makes fun of Buddy because he can’t run with the big dogs. How could a loser in red booties like Buddy ever catch the bandit? The little beagle starts to doubt himself and considers giving up.

Buddy’s friend Max tells him, “Don’t worry, with your nose and my feet, we’ll catch the bandit.” Max didn’t ignore Buddy’s weakness. He knew Buddy couldn’t run because of a previous injury. But he recognized Buddy’s amazing sense of smell and encouraged him to not give up. Then Max came alongside to help.

Everyone has limitations. Personally, I started writing late in life. I don’t have a background in business and I struggle with marketing and technology. Everyday I must choose whether or not I will listen to the naysayers who tell me I’m doomed and the inner critic who tells me to quit.

My hope arises when I remember all the people in my life who are like Max. People who encourage me to utilize my strengths and never give up. People who read this blog, and share my posts. And once again I open my laptop and begin to write.

Think about this scripture: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

Maybe the Apostle Paul knew when hope is absent, love can lift us up and help us fulfill the calling upon our lives. If you find yourself in a dark place today, think about all of people God placed in your life to encourage you and give you hope. Remember why you started writing in the first place and reconnect with your creativity. A little encouragement can go a long way.

Join Buddy as he learns about the power of friendship in my second book.

Return to Blueberry Street is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon. Click here to purchase.

(Ha! I had to get that last line in somewhere.)

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.

Reading: Just Do It!

People who can read, should.

Are you a reader? Do you enjoy losing yourself in a book? This week is Read Across America Week. Teachers all across the country are shining a light on the benefits of reading.

REMEMBER WHEN READING WAS FUN ?

When I was a child I loved to read or hear others read. Yertle the Turtle, by Dr. Seuss was one of our family favorites. My mother read the book to us so often, my brothers and I memorized most of the lines.

In elementary school I enjoyed the Boxcar Children. Author Gertrude Warren amazed me with her tale of four orphans surviving on their own in an abandoned boxcar. I admired their ingenuity and the way they cared for one another.

A memorable character I related to was Anne Shirley, the dramatic imaginative Anne, spelled with an E of course! I felt a connection because like me, she got in trouble for talking too much. I read Anne of Green Gables again as an adult. L.M. Montgomery still delighted me with her beautiful descriptions. A few years ago, I enjoyed posing with “Anne” on a trip to Prince Edward Island.

HOW I LOST MY LOVE OF READING

As a parent, teacher, and now as a new author, I’m still talking to children about the importance of reading. Books contain insight, information, and inspiration. Books help us grow mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Parents and teachers encourage their children to read, but do they read for themselves? If not, what happened?

Sometime during my high school years, I was forced to read for information only. The entertainment value of books decreased. My classes demanded I read in order to pass a test, or write a term paper. This continued throughout college. The joy of reading evaporated like a puddle on hot pavement.

After college I became busy with my teaching career, managing a household, and transporting my children to their activities. I always hoped I would have more time to read without interruption. Sigh. Does reading a lesson plan count?

I remember when elementary schools used to have D.E.A.R. time during the school day. Everybody, including the teacher, was supposed to Drop Everything And Read. It was a sacred time when teachers were supposed to model good reading behavior. That’s a great idea in a perfect world. The reality was much different. It was hard for me to ignore the children and sit with a book when Johnny was writing with a Sharpie on his desk. Well, like many short lived programs, D.E.A.R. was dropped for learning goals and standardized testing. How sad.

Fortunately for me, retirement brought an opportunity to read more. Right now I’m reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Author Kim Michele Richardson tells the story of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the prejudice they encountered during the 1930’s. As someone who is”blue,” Cussy Mary Carter had plenty of reasons to hate white people, but instead responded with love. Cussy worked as a “packhorse librarian.” She carried books to some of the poorest and most remote shacks in Appalachia. The packhorse lending library was sponsored by the WPA of the Roosevelt administration. Cussy’s patrons grew to appreciate her love for books and gave her the name Book Woman. This book made me think about the importance of reading and how I often take it for granted.

START NEW HABITS

I love sitting down with a good book. If you would like to spend more time reading, I’ve come up with five tips.

Read for fifteen minutes every night before you go to bed.

Order books from the public library. Most libraries lend ebooks these days.

Join a book club. You’ll read books you wouldn’t normally read, and make lifelong friends.

Join Book Bub, an online service that emails you daily with reduced prices on Amazon ebooks that suit your interests.

Dedicate one night a week to uninterrupted reading. Stay away from your phone, or better yet, turn it off.

Hopefully I’ve encouraged you to get busy reading, but keep reading blogs, too! (I think that counts.) What are you reading lately? Leave a comment about a book you’ve enjoyed, or offer a reading tip of your own.

Are You Finishing Your Race Well?

The clock is ticking and 2019 is almost over. Were you able to achieve a goal you set for yourself last January?

If you’re like me, you stopped making New Year’s resolutions because you failed to keep them in the past. Why do some people fail while others succeed?

Setting Realistic Goals

One reason people succeed depends upon the goal they set for themselves. They choose a realistic attainable goal which they deeply desire. Achieving any goal requires an investment of time, energy, and sometimes money. In order to stay motivated a person needs to care enough to invest themselves.

Before setting a goal, decide if you’re willing to make sacrifices. If additional knowledge or skills are needed, can you obtain the resources to help you advance?

Recently, I watched thousands of runners cross the finish line in the Orlando half-marathon. Clearly these champions had set a realistic goal for themselves. They were physically healthy and committed to months of preparation. Some of the runners may have sought advice from other athletes or hired a personal trainer.

Visualize Success

Finishing a long distance race depends upon remaining focused and committed. I’m sure there were days when some of these runners wanted to do anything else but run. They had to say no to distractions which pulled them away from their training schedule. They had to get up early to work out when they wanted to stay in bed.

In order to press on mile after mile, runners may have visualized someone taking their picture as they crossed the finish line. They imagined the cheer of spectators and the glorious moment the shiny medal is placed around their neck. Very often our goals are achieved by picturing what we will look like when achieve them.

Be Honest

Take the time to evaluate your progress along the way. Honest evaluation doesn’t mean putting yourself down because someone else is faster or better than you. Seek help identifying any misconceptions you have regarding the way you are running your race. Often runners team up with a pacer who helps them maintain their speed.

If you are disappointed in your progress, find out what steps you can take to improve. If you hit a roadblock, or meet a setback, don’t let it tempt you to quit. Celebrate the small victories. If you’re attempting something new, you will not finish first, but you can finish the course.

Be Inspired

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as for working for the Lord, not for men.” Colossians 3:23 (NIV)

Scripture honors hard work and diligence, a concept often learned by participating in sports. I may never attempt to run a half-marathon, but seeing the joyful faces of the runners at the finish line inspires me to give more effort to anything I decide to do.

I’m looking forward to 2020. Are you?

In Defense of Daydreaming

My favorite part of camping is sitting by the fire. When the logs crackle and orange flames flicker, I visit my pondering place. I love to daydream. I think of my daydreams as a kind of reality waiting for me in the future. Dreaming plants the seeds which will eventually grow to maturity and bear fruit.

Is dreaming a waste of time?

As a child, my teacher reprimanded me for looking out of the window during class. The outdoors seemed much more interesting than what was happening on the chalkboard. She tried to keep me from daydreaming by calling me up to the front of the room to work math problems in front of the class. I felt embarrassed. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop daydreaming.

Scientists describe daydreaming as “short-term detachment from ones immediate surroundings.” Think of it as a pleasant mini-vacation from your immediate location. When you daydream you use your mind instead of brain. Far from being a waste of time, mind-wandering allows us to think differently. Recent research has shown that daydreaming can be useful.

Here are some benefits of mind-wandering:

People who daydream are happier because hope and anticipation are related to the practice of imagining the achievement of our goals.

Daydreaming lowers blood pressure due to less stress.

Letting our minds wander can promote our creativity and problem-solving abilities. (I don’t think my math teacher understood this one.)

Time spent in reflection can help us become more compassionate because we can contemplate what others are feeling.

Daydreaming improves our working memory.

What did King Solomon know?

King Solomon is considered one of the wisest men who ever lived. Proverbs 29:18 reminds us “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Although daydreaming isn’t one of God’s commandments, resting from our daily routine is. Resting provides an opportunity to let our brains function differently. When our brain is relaxing, we are free to allow our minds to create and problem solve in new ways.

There are many settings conducive to excellent daydreaming. What is your favorite place to dream?

The Buzz about Busyness

“Hello, how are you?”

“Busier than I’d like to be.”

Is this your response when you meet a friend? Everyone’s busy. In fact, our culture becomes busier everyday. As Americans we’ve become a nation of multi-taskers who find it difficult to wait at a stoplight without texting.

Our schedules are so crowded we’re uncomfortable with down time. We link our self-importance to our level of activity. The thought of too many blank spaces on our calendar makes us feel unneeded. We complicate our lives further by projecting our self-image through social media. We are addicted to non-stop interaction in a virtual world.

Even before the rise of Facebook, I was busy. As a mother of two children, mastering the ability to multi-task helped me survive the demands on my day. When I got home from work, I usually prepared dinner while I helped my kids with their homework. As an elementary teacher, I became a pro at taking attendance, listening to morning announcements, and monitoring the students simultaneously. Every year I became more goal driven in my efforts to be a good teacher, mother, and church member. On Sunday mornings, after I sang with the worship team, I raced to help with children’s church. I was beyond busy…and eventually I burned out.

Retirement ushered in a major lifestyle change for me. After considering several creative interests, I decided to pursue one hobby—writing. I also cut back on my volunteer work. In this season of my life, my old self tries to make me feel guilty about how happy I am. (I’ve also discovered it’s impossible to multi-task while I write.)

Is all busyness bad?

Bees are busy. They work all day flitting from flower to flower collecting pollen in order to fulfill God’s plan. I’ve never seen a stressed-out bee. They’re focused on the one mission they were created to do. Like the bees, each one of us has God-given talents which he purposed for us to use. When we stray from our destiny, we flounder.

The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things.” —Kevin DeYoung, author of Crazy Busy.

In addition to working hard at the wrong thing, we can also work for the wrong reason. In my case, compliments from others about “what a good job I was doing” encouraged me to work harder, and take on more responsibilities. I was trying to please man more than God.

A familiar story comes to mind from Scripture. Jesus came to visit Mary and Martha. Upon his arrival, Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” She complained about Mary not helping her.

Jesus answered, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:41,42 (NIV)

Was Martha working hard at the wrong thing?

Was she working for the wrong reason?

Either way, Martha had not chosen what Jesus thought was best. She busied herself with what she thought was important, instead of spending time with him.

We cannot get off the treadmill of busyness until we make the decision to keep our relationship with God our number one priority. After all, isn’t that why he created us?