No Complain November 2019

Welcome to Day of 1 of NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER 2019! (Yes, we’re at it again!)

To be perfectly honest, I had been thinking about NOT doing NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER (NCN) this year. There were several reasons:  we’ve got a full plate right now in this season of our lives, it’s been a bit since I blogged on that regular a basis (see season reason #1), and I really wasn’t sure anyone else would care if I let it slide. Was I pushing this thing further than it needed to go? Maybe it was time to drop this public challenge and just make it a private one. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking on it, you understand. It was more of a passing thought that led me to a “wait and see where you are then” resolution…

…right up until I started hearing from a few friends. It seems I’m not the only one who recognizes the need to stop what has become the “norm” for our society and make a difference the only way we truly can:  one person at a time, starting with ourselves.

So! Here we are! At the very beginning of another NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER! While the goal for this month is to eliminate complaining from our own lives and, perhaps, to influence those around us to do the same, I want to suggest a secondary theme for this year’s observance, as well. It is the idea of “Progress, not Perfection.”

I lose count of the people who tell me that they didn’t make it past the first day every year. My response is always the same:  “That’s fine. Try it again tomorrow.” I always say that because sometimes the results of doing something that’s actually GOOD FOR US isn’t always what we think it will be. I am the perfect illustration of that and, perhaps you are, too.

I’ve been naturally strong my whole life. It wasn’t something I ever truly had to work for; it was the result of great genetics and God’s own good pleasure. Over the last couple of years, however, I noticed that my strength wasn’t as consistent as it had been. I wasn’t worried. I was still plenty strong and had energy–until that started slipping, as well. Hmmmmm…well, that’s different. Maybe it’s just part of getting older. Yep, that’s probably it. That, and stress…lots and lots of stress. My doctors agreed and I just tried to rest a little more.

It didn’t help. Not only was I feeling weaker, I was getting larger and heavier than I had ever been and my body was becoming more susceptible to injury. Again, the doctor said it was just a normal part of aging, but what she didn’t know was how much I no longer felt like me. The stress was piling up and I needed an outlet.  I prayed about it. I blogged about it. I thought about it. I talked to friends about it. None of that helped ME feel any better about it, but I decided that I needed to do something just for me. I decided to get out and walk as a way to recover from a back injury.

When I was growing up, my mother’s family would gather regularly and after lunch, most of the girl-cousins would get out and go for a walk. It was always a sweet time of fellowship among us. Later, I had walked with friends for improving my fitness levels and it was a great benefit in losing some excess weight. I set out to walk with those two things in mind. I didn’t push. I just decided to stroll and remember. That led to strolling and thanking God for such great memories, then thanking Him for my family and friends, and on thanking Him for all of the other blessings I have received. The thanksgiving led to prayers for specific needs that I knew about and, almost immediately, my walk became one of the highlights of my day.

Over the months I have gradually increased the speed and the length of my strolls with God, but the prayer time has remained a constant unless He sent me a neighbor to share my time. Even then, I was often praying for them. My already active prayer life was being taken to a new level! Definitely an unexpected result of deciding to start walking!

Another unexpected result was that, almost immediately, I gained 18 pounds. Yes. You read that right. I wasn’t getting bigger, I was just getting heavier–because muscle weighs more than fat. While I know that in my head, I was still discouraged about that number for awhile. Some days I still am. For awhile the weight gain settled down, but it didn’t drop off right away. It just STAYED. If I hadn’t also been aware that I was also becoming stronger, having more energy and greater endurance, and didn’t huff and puff so much coming up that slight hill…well, I think you see where I’m going. Six months later, I’ve lost about 12 pounds–something that I actually discovered just this morning because I had refused to get back on the scale for awhile! (HA! Like that made a difference!) My clothes fit a little differently now and I’m grateful for all of the positives because they literally outweigh the overall weight gain for me. This is a process. It will take time for me to get where I’m going. The very fact that I apparently NEEDED about 18 pounds of muscle and the improved tone from the walking and the stretching, well, that actually makes me grateful for this unexpected result. My strength and energy are returning and increasing! THAT is worth celebrating!

I’m sharing all of that to say this: NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER can be celebrated even if you (or I!) can’t do it perfectly, even if no one around us seems to notice or join us in our efforts, even if we’re under a tremendous load of stress, and even if it doesn’t turn out to be what we expect it to be. The point is this:  The goal is to use this month to start making a difference the only way we truly can:  one person at a time, starting with ourselves.

While this is definitely a personal challenge, be sure to invite your friends and relatives, your coworkers, and fellow adventurers into the unusual idea of a trying to go a whole month without complaining! Whether or not they join us, if we work this right, we’ll become a more positive influence, make the world right where we live a better place to be, and, hopefully, glorify God in the process.

Who knows what else we’ll gain in the process! (grin!)

Remember:  Progress, not Perfection. You can do this! WE can do this. Give it a go–even if you have to go it alone where you are for awhile! This effort is contagious and it WILL pay off in ways we may never even see this side of eternity.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (CSB)

Grace and Peace–and Happy NCN 2019!!!

 

Dementia Chronicles (part 4)

Dementia–the gift that keeps on taking. Every time I think we’ve got a few things figured out, we find out there’s so much more that we don’t know about this nastiness. The fact that no one else knows either is no comfort at all! Some of the things you expect to lose. Some of the things…well, you just never see them coming. 

It was a great weekend. We took an extra day off to roam through the mountains on the way to see our loved one and other family members. We were excited to see her new placement in a fantastic memory care unit. Advised to come after lunch since that would allow our loved one to remain on schedule for most of the day, we showed up when and as instructed.

Routines are important. (for all of us!)

We arrived and were met with great joy, got an opportunity to see the new digs, and were then led to a private sitting room off the main unit. We had a wonderful visit! The conversation lagged a bit at times as we ran into memory blocks or losses, but we quickly diverted and changed subjects when needed. Finding new ways to share information is tricky these days, but we made it work. I took pictures and they turned out looking ready for framing. Everyone looked happy and healthy.

FACT: You can’t always see dementia…even when it feels like you really ought to be able to do so. That is a deceptive gift.

As we returned to the unit, our loved one was excited to see the new storyboard lovingly created by her daughter loves to scrapbook. It is gorgeous! Filled with family photos and facts from happier times, storyboards help identify each resident’s lodging place and gives others on the unit an opportunity to get to know people in ways they can no longer share for themselves. Our loved one stood there smiling, pleased, and said she remembered some of them. It was a gift for all of us as we took our leave for the day.

We returned in time for breakfast the next morning and found that we were surprise guests again…with no memories of the day before, but it was ok because we were able to have real conversations again. Moments of lucidity are a gift that none of us take lightly anymore. We shared the photos from the day before as proof that we had indeed been there and were rewarded with smiles and shoulders shrugged with confusion about why she didn’t remember. Another photo was taken to document this visit, as well. The storyboard was a brand new surprise…again…and I breathed a prayer of thankfulness for the delight it brought and asked God to let it always be a source of joy.

My check-in call today wasn’t as joyful. It was painful as we once again went down the questioning pathways that led us to where we are. I did my best to bring comfort that God is still in charge and is in the process of providing even when our loved one finds it difficult to accept and can’t remember why this provision is even necessary. I was grateful that just talking it out and being heard seemed to help calm things down. Ending our call on as high a note as possible, I still texted the following to a friend afterward.

Had the hardest realization today… She said, “I just need something to look forward to!”–and I realized that Dementia has stolen this gift from her. When you can’t remember what happened, you also can’t recall what is supposed to happen…and it just broke my heart. 😭 What a horrible, horrible thing this stuff is!!! What she can’t recall, she fills in with error, so she feels abandoned. No memory of our visits this weekend at all today.

Some days it is as hard to be the forgotten as it is to be the one who is forgetting.

Comfort us all, Father God, as we do our best to keep honoring You and our loved ones even as we lose them, as they lose themselves, and as they eventually lose us all before they’re actually gone.

Remind us that in You nothing and no one can ever be truly lost, God.

We need to remember that. We desperately need to remember that.

Dementia (part 1)

I asked my mother why she raised me to be a “fixer.” She laughed. She knows what that means: to be efficient and competent at so many things…and the frustrations that come when all of that isn’t even close to being enough.

My husband didn’t laugh when I told him about our conversation. He just looked at me and said, “that ability has stood you in pretty good stead over the years and we’re both better off because of it.”

He’s right, but I can’t fix this…and if ever there was a list of somethings that I wanted to fix, well, this would probably be right up there near the top. I have grown to hate even the word that names the demon: dementia.

It is evil and hateful and cruel. It steals life both past and present from patient and loved ones before time of death. At times it feels almost alive as we watch the effects of it sweep away in a rage the memories and function and peace of mind in one we love. It is like being unwilling participants in a horror movie that you can’t leave or turn off and God alone knows the ending…and He’s not talking.

That last sentence isn’t quite true. God DOES know the ending…and He IS talking, but for today, at least, He’s not talking about the ending–when it will come or how long it will take. That leaves us reeling from phone call to phone call and gives new meaning to “praying without ceasing” as I remind God of His promises and cling to all that I know about Him.

If God wasn’t an option, I might just lose my mind, as well. I cling to the gift of Him and cry out prayers even as I walk silently among the people around me, desperately walking out my faith even in my sleep these days. I wake in the night to check messages and find myself blogging and not publishing because it feels too real…and too raw to lay out where others can see and touch it.

I have to write it, though, and give voice to the struggle against it, share the every-moment bravery of those who fight it alongside loved ones who may no longer recognize them…and may even be frightened of them as they provide care.

Dementia affects much more than just the individual with the diagnosis. It is agonizing with and for those who are able to be on-site, feeling selfish when you cannot be there to help in any physical way possible…and dreading the time when it will be your turn.

Quilted

I’m cleaning out again. This time, I started with my linen closet…errr, closets (Plural. Eye rolls..Plural…again.) I love linens. There’s something about thread counts and coziness, colors and cleanliness that makes me smile.

As I’ve sorted through my collection of goodies, I unearthed a stack of older quilts. Several of them were purchased from various antique dealers across the South, a couple were gifts, and a few more were created by my maternal grandmother and one of her sisters. Those are the best!

I have a stack of more modern quilts that are larger and made to fit up to a king-sized mattress. While I find them to be useful and comfortable, my favorites are those smaller ones that are pieced together from colorful bits of cloth that served a different purpose and used to cover up people I know and love. Seeing a family quilt where the makers can tell a history of who wore what and when…well now, that is special.

There is the one with the big multi-colored corduroy squares made by my grandmother that wrapped me up and kept me warm on more high school football/band trips than I can count. It went with me on through college and was one of the first things I spread over that mattress on the floor in my first–and mostly empty!–apartment after grad school. Though it is ragged along the edges and in need of repair now, it is far more valuable to me than any of the others.

IMG_20190514_120636948Another one, made by one of my grandmother’s sisters, shows off the double wedding ring pattern and is full of bright, colorful rings on a cream background with scalloped edges. Aunt Pearl did this as one of her last quilts and I consider it a prized possession even though she missed a stitch or two due to failing eyesight. I love this quilt because she refused to quit doing what she loved just because it became more difficult. It now adorns the foot of a guest room bed so I can see and enjoy it regularly.

There’s something about resting under a handmade-with-love or out-of-necessity quilt that the store-bought and machine-made ones just can’t provide. There’s the love that came from the making along with the love that came from my daddy as he purchased another Aunt Pearl quilt with little Holly Hobby-like silhouettes because it reminded him of me and a Girl Scout project I did in elementary school. I also have a couple made by a beloved cousin and a treasured friend.

There’s the one my grandmother made out of scraps from clothing worn by all my aunts and uncles when they were growing up. I can’t tell you who wore what patch, but she could have… probably because she made those clothes for them, as well.

As I’ve sorted through these beauties I’ve begun to sharpen my focus. I’ll be keeping the love and passing along some of those I just purchased because something about them caught my eye…even the handmade ones from someone else’s family that ended up in the antique stores.

IMG_20190514_120846943Of those that are departing, there is one that reminds me a little of what my life looks like right now. While one side is a smooth and somewhat faded floral, the other side shows a definite pattern. Unfortunately, it looks like it might have been someone’s (or even several someones!) first shot at quilting. The pattern edges aren’t clean and clear. The points don’t always join where they’re supposed to join. It’s what I’d call a life lesson quilt–more than a little messy, but still capable of getting the job done. I still like it, but I think it’s time for the lesson to be passed along…now that I’ve been reminded to keep doing what I can for the people I love even when it gets hard and looks messy on the surface. Despite my perfectionistic tendencies and desires to be in charge of the results, God will have the job of sorting the outcome. I just need to keep covering up my people with love…and lots and lots of prayer.

Wishing all of us a day pieced together with love…even if it looks a little wonky or in need of some repairs!

Grace and peace!

 

Beautifully handmade for service

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris 

I am a self-confessed Pinterest photo-junkie/stalker. I couldn’t care less about making most of the things I find there (unless it is the food!), I just love looking at all of the beautiful photos. As a result of spending time there, I got one of those emails from Pinterest this morning suggesting that I check out some additional pics for one of my boards. Since that particular board is a collection of things that appeals to me “just because”…well, let’s just say that their selections were far-ranging. (ha!)

One of their suggestions actually led to a selection that made my board, but it took some time to find the article it was attached to and, though the photos were very nice, the premise of the article made me laugh a little. It was on how to make a shiny new kitchen look old–and that brought all KINDS of things to my imagination. (grin)

As I looked around my house, I saw some things that reminded me of my favorite William Morris quote and made me smile because they actually ARE old–not just made to look that way–and I am fast joining them as we gracefully age together! (insert chuckle here) In particular, there were two items that caught my eye: a small wooden stool and the wooden tray on my coffee table. (Nevermind that I needed help removing the dust DINOSAURS from around the stool before I could take that photo!–I can’t for the life of me figure out how they escaped the vacuum yesterday!?)IMG_20180426_063354990_LL

These two items are the first things I ever purchased just for me and “just because.” I bought them–and a handmade ornament that still hangs on my tree every year–at a Christmas craft fair while I was in college when money was beyond tight. (And I think that may be why I like taking my creations to Christmas arts and crafts fairs even now!) I can’t tell you how grown up I felt. I’m sure the vendor thought I would never make up my mind as I checked each item thoroughly and finally made my choices. It was important for me to get it right. Those few dollars had come to me dearly and I chose the spending of them to actually make them last.

IMG_20180426_063947191_LLIt worked. I still love—and use–these pieces regularly. The stool is held together with wooden pegs and made without any glue or even a single nail. It remains tight and sturdy after all this time and got dragged into service as a low coffee table the last time my sister-in-law needed a place to put her coffee cup. The tray has held everything from breakfast in bed to rocks shaped like hearts, drinks on the porch, and giant white seashells…and, obviously, my favorite red hymnal. Like the stool, it remains sturdy and ready for use at a moment’s notice.

I’ve often thought about painting these pieces and giving them a new look, but I always decide to leave them in the state that appealed to me originally: plain, servicable, and obviously handmade. They have a few dings here and there, but they still make me smile. They were a good investment for me then and I love them still.

They remind me that I, too, am handmade, bought with a price, and still able to serve in variety of ways. My Maker carefully crafted me–and you!–on purpose and carefully placed us for service and ministry to Him and those around us. He has a long-term plan for us that is for our good and, if we’ll cooperate, we get to bless others in the process.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

It’s time to quit talking and get busy walking now. There’s work to be done. Let’s make God smile today!!

Grace and peace!

(P.S. A quick shout-out to my Mississippi friends Craig and Tracy Wilson at Poplar Ridge Pottery for making the gorgeous–and very functional!–coffee mugs that I love so much! William Morris would be SO proud!)

My own New Year

I had another birthday recently and, as usual, began the process of evaluation for what I want to get accomplished the year to come. I’ve always ignored the traditional New Year’s resolutions in favor of starting my own New Year on my birthday. I’m weird like that. (grin)

What I found this year was a bit surprising: I don’t have as many new goals as I used to. I’m not saying that I’ve finally lived up to that “Most Likely to Succeed” superlative from high school, but I would say that I’m making progress–and most of it is in the direction that brings me joy. Hopefully, my progress is also making God smile a bit more than He used to, as well.

Sometimes we get all caught up in what other people expect from us or, perhaps more accurately, what we think they expect from us. I know I used to, anyway, but the older I get the more excited I am about my life. I’ve been blessed with a good one–despite the challenges, which we all face in one form or another. I’ve found that the best way to face them is to remember that those challenges are temporary and I am eternal, not because of anything that I have done, but by virtue of the very One who made me in His own image. By the way, the same can be said of you since the same God made us all.

34136This past year, I’ve already seen progress in some specific areas that I’ve been focused on for the last several years. I’ve exercised my “no” a little more and created some necessary margin in my life. I’ve cleared out a bunch of “stuff,” opened up my home a lot more, and made some more room for the people in my life to kick back and relax here with me. As a bonus result, I’ve been able to breathe a little better, as well. I’ve chosen to be more deliberately creative–and yes, you can do that! I’ve dug deeper into my study of what God wants for me and loved it as He has continued to turn some of that innate stubbornness into a more tenacious faith-life. I’ve prayed more with and for others and celebrated more of the small things in the everyday schedules I make for myself. I’ve laughed more this past year and enjoyed my husband and our marriage more. I’ve made deliberate choices to look past the faults of others without unsolicited commenting, but more importantly, I’ve managed to give some more of that grace to myself. To be honest, I’m having a lot more fun being me than I used to…and I’ve always liked being me. (HA!)

As I look back at that last paragraph, I see that this past year could most accurately be labeled as “a year of more.” I want to keep going in that direction in the year to come. I like what God is showing me about what He can do when I’m more focused on enjoying Him and the life He’s provided than when I’m just trying to “do the right thing,” check all the right boxes, and being too concerned about pleasing others.

As in years past, because I’m an optimist serving an Almighty God, I expect this new one to be a good one, but I am determined that it will be a more-God one. I look forward to what my new year will bring. I’m fiercely resolved to be a better steward of the life God has given to me. The following verse just feels like what I’m hoping for out of this new year:

“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12 (CSB)

Perhaps I should have just started–and stopped–with that. Oh, well. I didn’t say anything about this year being less “wordy.” Looks like I’m off to a great start there, too. (grin)

Grace and Peace!

25

I’ve heard it said that people only put their best lives out on social media. While there may be some truth to that, I’d prefer to think that most of us are just celebrating the good parts. What many people forget, however, is that we need to celebrate the ordinary parts, as well. My husband and I recognize a lot of those, so I guess that makes us “extra” ordinary. I’ve always loved seeing those two words next to each other because they remind me that when we choose to celebrate our all of our extra ordinaries, we realize that our lives have actually become extraordinary.

IMG_20180219_120533263A few of days ago, we packed up the big red truck and drove off the mountain on our way home. We took the scenic route: farm land, forests, majestic views, patches of daffodils at places we imagined long-ago homesteads, cows, and towns small enough to pass through in under a minute. No interstates crowded with commuter or big box stores and restaurant chains for most of the way.

Like our getaway, the trip home was a reflection of who we are:  generally peaceful, decidedly ordinary…and plenty ok with it. We’ve been celebrating 25 years of marriage this week. Actually, we’ve been celebrating all along the way for the whole 25 years. We learned to do that early on in this thing when with just a few months before our 5th anniversary, we heard the dreaded word, cancer. Since then, we’ve heard other dreaded words like infertility, job loss, heart failure, death of loved ones, and so much more. That doesn’t make us that different from you, does it? It makes us ordinary or maybe, even extra ordinary/extraordinary…just like you. We decided long ago to take each day as it comes, so our lives have been a reflection of just what Scripture tells us in Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” 

We’ve also learned a little about the flip side of that verse from Matthew 6:34 (ESV) which says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 

img_20180219_120424062.jpgWe’re a lot better about not worrying than we used to be. We’ve seen God show up and show out for us so many times that even those dreaded words don’t seem to feel as dreadful as they used to. We’ve learned the joy of being together and knowing that we both belong to God. Whatever else happens, we’ve decided that those things are our non-negotiables. We’ve gotten stubborn about them and that’s ok, too. It’s good to get stubborn about the things that are most important to you. By the way, being stubborn about knowing you’re completely loved and accepted by an all-powerful and all-knowing God has led to some pretty stubborn faith, as well, and that stubborn faith has stood us in pretty good stead.

IMG_20180219_121246248_HDRSome of what was important to us at the beginning has changed over the past 25 years. We’re more apt to focus on people rather than things now. We’re still learning to be good stewards of our resources and we’re choosing to focus on more of the little ordinaries and celebrate them rather than waiting for the big extraordinaries to come our way. Those are still happening, by the way, we’ve just learned that an impromptu date in the middle of the week with friends, an unplanned side trip, daffodils blooming in February, or taking the time to just sit and look at the mountains from a peaceful place in the woods might ought to be counted as one of them.

Other things are still the same…or at least so slightly changed that they appear that way. We still crack each other up, finish each other’s movie references, and love getting off the beaten path and “eating local” when we’re out on the road. We’re aware that showing love is even more important than just saying it…and that still saying it, is critical. We still have times when we agree to disagree and when that happens, we both walk away KNOWING we’re the one who has it right and being ok with being married to the one who got it wrong. (grin) Home is still our favorite place to be…and home is generally wherever the other one is. We still value the family and friendships God has blessed us with and we’re still newlywed enough to hold hands most of the places we go together.

In short, we’ve been blessed with a most ordinary life filled with the most extraordinary gifts from an even more extraordinary God. May we all be so blessed. Here’s to the next 25!

Grace and Peace!