Saturday, December 19, 2009

Life Lessons...

(Taken from an email to some close friends written back in March 2007. Edited and revised somewhat.)

Why does God allow the things in our lives that He does?

My daughter said to me one time that God should have never allowed the tree of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden in the first place. I disagree. The way we respond (or don't respond in some cases) to things shape and form who we are, not just here on earth, but our responses transform our very souls. Every circumstance we find ourselves in is an opportunity for growth. It might be that we choose to stubbornly harden our hearts, or that we grow some weeds of bitterness and spite, or perhaps we choose forgiveness and love.

God cares much more about who we are (our spirit) than what happens to us (our flesh). Our spirits will be somewhere forever, whereas our flesh is just a temporary shell. Compared to eternity, this life on earth is like the first day of kindergarten. Think back to that day (or if you're like me and can't remember it, think of how you were as a child). You didn't understand much of anything. You didn't understand physics, correct sentence structure, addition! When we were newborns we didn't even chew our food, we drank it. No matter who you are, unless you have a physical and/or mental challenge, you learn as you age because of what happens to you. It might be a subject in school, manners taught at home, social customs and mores learned from the culture in which you're raised. We take in information and it serves to form who we are, not just what we do. I look back on the person I was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago and realize how far I've evolved. I can't even fathom what my soul will be like 500 years from now, 5000 years from now. This circumstance that I'm in right now won't even seem like a second in time. At the same time, the circumstance I'm in right now, and more importantly, how I handle it and what I learn from it, will impact who I eventually become. But, just like we had a choice in school regarding how much we actually took away from what was being taught, we have the same choice in our lives with regard to how much we take away from the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I'm sure we all had similar experiences in school, the great teacher who could teach the blind to see or the deaf to hear. For me, it was Professor Bolus in college. He taught me history, my absolute least favorite subject. We all had the teacher we hated when we were in his/her class, but after the fact we realized just how much we learned and discovered a new found respect for that teacher we so strongly despised. For me that was Mrs. Thompson, my fourth grade teacher. They are usually the ones who are truly passionate about teaching. Teaching comes naturally to's not what they do as much as it is who they are. They know what we need whether it's to be told that potentially boring, dry story in such a way that will make it seem interesting, or perhaps we need firm boundaries. Think back to your favorite teacher. What did that person do for you? What was his/her impact on you? How long after the fact did you come to the full realization of how much this person affected your life?

God knows how to form us into the "people" He wants us to be. He knows what will bring us to HIM. He knows what will shine through us so that others will come to know Him as a result of knowing who we are. Unfortunately, there are some people that He knows will never "get it". He gives them exactly what they want, a life without Him. I believe everything that happens to us is for our benefit, or for the benefit of another person. Romans 8:28 says that ALL THINGS work together for good, that means nothing is lost. We might not be able to understand it at the time, or ever for that matter, but it's our faith that will bring us through rough times because His Word also says He'll never give us more than we can handle. I think about Job. God allowed satan to test Job because He knew beforehand that Job could "handle" losing everything. In fact, God pointed Job out to satan and then gave permission in stages of exactly what could and could not be done to him. Through that experience, Job's eyes were opened to his own pride.

Many times people try to manipulate their circumstances in an attempt to change themselves from the outside in. They think if they act a certain way or have a certain thing they will be fulfilled. God wants us changed from the inside out. He cares about our hearts first and foremost. Our circumstances don't have the power to change us, ever. God has the power to change us, if we allow Him that opportunity. (Some people choose instead to harden their hearts.) I believe He allows the circumstances in our lives that will bring us to Him, or to a closer understanding of who He is. For some people, like me, it takes remedial training so we can really "get it". We end up going through the same kinds of things over and over again until our eyes are finally opened to the lesson He is trying to teach. That reminds me of my statistics class in college. My professor could explain a theory a hundred different ways. Some people got it on the first explanation; others just didn't, and he would tell them to see him after class. There were yet others that would never even take the class. One girl in that class had to stay late every day, but she passed. That professor wanted everyone to understand what he was trying to teach.

God cares so much about each of us, he wants us to "get it". He will allow anything in our lives that will bring us to Him, or closer to Him, or that will have that effect on the people around us. For me, the process of coming to know God took some pretty heavy examples and "proof". I wanted to hold on to my flesh nature. I liked my sin....I thought I liked my sin. But I came to realize my sin didn't get me anywhere that I really wanted to be. I thought the things I did and the things I sought after would make me happy-but there was never any lasting joy. I had hoped that if I could get my circumstance just right (right husband, right job, right house, kids that behaved just right...) I would finally be fulfilled.

When I wrote most of this, I was recovering from an almost ten-year, failed second marriage that had ended in a very bitter divorce. I had just found out that my ex-husband was getting married. Although I had thought myself "happy" for some time, I was hurt by the news all the same. Rather than wallow in the emotion of the circumstance, I kept asking God to please just teach me whatever it was that He wanted me to learn so I could move on from the pain I was in. Before that whole experience, my heart was as hard as a rock. I was a very angry person. I didn't even know just how miserable I truly was. I blamed all my unhappiness on my circumstances-the finances were tight, my husband wasn't helping with this or that like I thought he should, he wasn't as responsible for things as I thought he should be, I wasn't thin enough, in good enough shape, my job was too name it, I used the excuse. The truth is that it wasn't my circumstance that was causing me to be unhappiness was causing the unhappiness in my circumstances. I don't have joy in my life now because I'm married to the man of my prayers, or because I live in a nice house, or because I'm about to have the job I've "always" wanted. Those things are like icing on a cake. They are extras....GLORIOUS EXTRAS mind you, but if they were suddenly all gone tomorrow, although I would be emotionally devastated, I would still know that my joy would be waiting for me on the other side of the grieving. God is the source of my joy, and He will never leave or forsake me.

I believe living for our circumstances is what it means in Galatians where it talks about walking in the flesh. Wanting that next thing that will "finally" make us happy....a man, a house, a job, a child, a child who does this or that or is liked by this person or that person, proof that we are "worth" something. When the truth is that our flesh is worthless, and as King Solomon said, the things that happen "under the sun" are meaningless. Life isn't about what happens to us, it's about how we respond to what happens to us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What does it mean to be a "writer"?

Everyone has written something.

Everyone I know wrote papers in school. Most people I know have kept a journal or diary at some point in their lives. Some people I know write Christmas letters, updating their friends and family on all the happenings of the previous year. Very few people I know write for enjoyment. In fact, I can really only think of one person I know, personally, that I would call a writer. That would be my beloved darling husband. He doesn't yet have a novel published, but has one short story on the bookstore shelves, and is expecting the contract in the mail any day for a second. He currently writes almost every day. Revisions on his first novel, new short stories, ideas or scenes for future novels, or at the very least he pens elaborate comments on a variety of websites from FaceBook to ReadIt. When we were dating he would frequently send me a creative "Word of the Day", taking the Merriam Webster daily vocabulary-building word and expanding it out to a full paragraph or sometimes a little flash-fiction story. He hasn't done that in a while, but I digress. The magnitude of his imagination is beyond human comprehension.

Thinking about Dwayne, I have to wonder, is creativity a key component of becoming a writer? I certainly hope not, otherwise I'll never make the grade. I read recently that a real writer writes every day. Do FaceBook posts count?! Is there a word quota? If so, do the words I back-space out of existence get subtracted from my tally? It would be nice if all the words I thought about writing were added in!! (I'm not even talking about the words I think-just the ones I think about actually writing!)

Does one need a reader to be a writer? Thanks to my supportive husband, and my sweet sister-in-law, I know I have a couple of readers, but is it necessary to have unrelated strangers read what I've written for me to don the "writer" title? Need I be published? Maybe an unpublished writer is merely "aspiring".

Hey, guess what? Today, I'm writing this and if someone reads it, then I'll have a reader and in order to have this blog floating around in cyber-space...I must first hit the "publish post" button! How about that?!

Today, I declare by the act of doing the thing I love that I am a writer! I hope that anyone who reads this will take my bravery as explicit permission to go and do likewise--do the thing you love and boldly proclaim "I am a...(fill in the blank)!!"

Thanks for letting me get my words out (some of them at least).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm Finally Going to do It!

My life has been filled with things I've started and never finished, sometimes those things have only been started in my mind! Well, I have something I'm finally going to do. Before I get brave enough to put my goal, once again, in writing, I'm going to explain myself for the other uneventualities. (Is that a word? I think it is so I'm going to leave it!)

I'm sure there are many more unmet goals in my life than what I'm going to mention here, probably things that were once so important to me I could think of nothing else for days. Well, at least hours anyway. Thoughts that consumed my mind and caused me sleepless nights, endless lists, plans on how to get to the proverbial "finish line", grand expectations of exactly what finishing this dream would mean for me or to me-only to be later replaced with excuses (dare I say reasons?) why it would never come to pass. Well, "not this time"!

Last week I told myself I would finish a proposal at work. But, see, that's different. I don't exactly have all the fact and figures I MUST HAVE in order to finish it. I did start it at least. And, after all, I'm going to be leaving that job next week anyway so I can't see that it's crucial that I finish ever single proposal that could possibly be needed. I'm finally going to be what I started to be so very long ago-a homemaker! As soon as I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I knew I wanted to stay home. I promptly quit my secretarial job and began my life as June Cleaver. As you guessed it, since here it is 17 years later and I'm about to leave another job, that didn't last long. I would say the "homemaker" goal wasn't met all those years ago because of another failed attempt of going the distance-my marriage-but the truth is that I started working before my (first) husband and I separated. I'm not 100% sure why that was, but it was only part time. Probably an effort to contribute to the bacon my husband was busting his hind end to bring home. Alas, the homemaker goal is not the thing I started out telling you I'm finally going to do...but I guess I can add that to list.

Earlier this year I wrote a FaceBook note, and "published" it, that I was going to 1) write a book and 2) run a marathon in the year I turned 40. That would be 2009. Even though it is only December 14th and the book is about 1/2 way complete, the true marathon runners checked that off their list this past weekend at the Rocket City Marathon. While it's true there is most likely another marathon somewhere in the world between now and the last note of Old Lang Sign, but there isn't another official marathon in the US this year--I just checked. Who am I kidding? There's no way in the world I would run, jog, walk, or even crawl 26 miles at this point in my life!! Besides the possibility of having a kidney stone, there's the not-so-minor-factor of not being in any shape at all right now! To all my FaceBook friends, I didn't give up, I just opted out for the moment on a technicality....the "year I turn 40" has been revised to be literal, and therefore can be more clearly stated "in my 40th year". The marathon might be pushed just a little forward so that I don't have to travel anywhere and can "run" it right here at home. Well, how about that? There are two more things I didn't start writing about, but I'll add them both to the list of things I'm finally going to cross off my list! In fact, that dreadful book I've started so furiously, will most likely be done before New Year's. Mind you, that is not a goal, that is not a promise, that is not even me saying I might think about finishing that project. It's purely speculation (as if I had nothing to do with the outcome!!).

In the last two decades, I have started, and quit, selling Pampered Chef, Creative Memories and Longaberger Baskets. I started a quilt. (I got as far as buying some scraps of material and cutting what seems like hundreds of squares. I even sewed several together. I do think those squares are in a box somewhere...maybe I will finish that now that I'm going to be at home?) Diets, exercise plans (I've joined and quit going to at least three different gyms), on-line chess games, skin care regimens, housecleaning routines, hobbies (golf, beading, sewing, tap dance), heck, there have been potentially millions of sentences started and never finished!! In the last two decades I've held at least nine jobs that I've left behind for one reason or another, one of which I never even showed up for my first day. (It was a telemarketing job-I just couldn't do it even if it meant starvation, which it turns out it didn't!) I've probably taken back hundreds of articles of clothing, or other things, that I decided I didn't want after they got out of the light of the store where they were so irresistible I just had to have them. I even "returned" the time-share in Florida that was such a good bargain at the time I was willing to put it on my credit card. You know, come to think of it, I do wish I'd kept it. Well, on second (or would this be third) thought, I'd have lost it in my second divorce anyway, so I'll just have to convince my darling husband (whom I adore-and will not leave or forsake until death takes one of us away) to go back and get another one. Well, how about that, another thing I can surely say I'll complete-this marriage. I have to be careful here or this blog about completion will be abandoned so I can rabbit trail into how much I adore my betrothed!!

I can't tell you the half-finished projects or goals, or half-started in most cases, I have left in the wake of my first twenty years. Daddy, God rest your soul, I really did mean to finish raking those leaves!! (He should have known better than to advance the money-he'd lived with me long enough to know the risk he was taking on!). Law school became something I just didn't want to do. I never had planned on retiring from the Army Guard. Thank goodness I did get out when I did, or I'd have already been deployed at least once. I have better things to spend my money on than the Jaguar convertible I said I would be driving to my 20 year high school reunion. Heck, I was 17, what did I know then about the value of money? How about all the times I've said "we should get together" to friends, even family, only to realize later just how long it's been since I've seen that person? Not to mention the number of started and never finished, or finished and never mailed, letters. Worse still, the number of times I've thought to myself "I should call _____" (fill in the blank-if you're reading this and you know me personally, your name goes there I can assure you, without doubt!!).

Ideas and goals. I think they keep us going. They keep us fresh and alive and (for some of us) moving forward. People that have one goal and are ever pressing forward to that single "carrot" aren't "normal". Now I'm not saying I'm normal with all of may many "great ideas" that never come to pass. Ideas that I would have bet "five hundred dollars" would be the thing I was really going to do this time--sometimes I would have even bet my right arm! I think I just might be on the other end of the bell curve from my tunnel-visioned counter part. I don't think I'm on the extreme end, after all in my last two jobs, I've given well over a months' notice! Deciding a goal isn't right, or pants don't quite fit the way you had hoped they would, or figuring out once you get started in a hobby that it isn't as much fun as you expected it to be....those are all part of growing as a person. Look at Julie Child-she thought she'd enjoy making hats??!! Thank God she decided to move on to better things. I think the key is not putting trust in the possibility that the next thing is what will finally complete us or be the thing that will finally make us happy. Being complete and joy-filled are what make doing the thing fun. Being fulfilled in my life means I don't have to have that pair of pants or that car or finish that quilt, but strangely, being fulfilled somehow frees me up so that I can sort through all those things and come closer to what is truly important to me-what I truly do enjoy-what really does make me smile! Like, staying home to take care of my home and my family (even if my son lives 7 hours away)....or finishing that book so I can have practice under my belt for the memoir that I AM going to write....or, writing this blog that no one but my husband will likely ever read!!

And THAT my dear, sweet, reader.....THAT is the thing I'm finally going to do....I'm going to FINALLY hit "publish". I'm not going to re-read. I'm not even going to call it "proof-reading" for fear that the "publish post" button will once again allude my ever-straying finger as it has the other times I've started (but never finished) a post. This time I woke up in the middle of the night and decided THIS would be the time I would certainly just do it...and alas........................