Blessings in the Making

Blessings arrive in many forms.  Some are easy to recognize and are happily accepted.  For example, the birth of a healthy and extremely wanted baby or the marriage of two people who are very much in love.  Other blessings are disguised and hard to recognize. Our desire to initially reject them is strong.  For example losing a job or fighting an addiction.

As I age, I realize more and more that a “blessed life” doesn’t always mean an easy life. Society’s view of a “blessed” life can be unrealistic and make some of us feel like we are falling below the bar…..and blessings are so much more than this.

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I’ve had days (and even years) when life just didn’t seem to be going my way.  Heartbreak, disappointment, and stress have all tempted me to lose hope.

Thanks to the internet I began to discover the talented writing of some incredible people sharing their private moments.  I have read stories of joy, stories which include photos of nature’s beauty, and stories of the love of family and friends.  Truly these are blessings that are easy to recognize and accept.

Then there are stories of emotional or physical abuse, alcohol addiction, and unresolved issues which are all discussed with passion as well as cries for understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, and healing.  Some of these stories have happy endings. A few of the writers have arrived at a place of peace in spite of the incredible pain they have endured.  Some have been granted the “serenity to accept the things they cannot change.”  Some have realized that they have been given the opportunity to experience a blessing in the making.

I occasionally read a blog written by a young mother who has a special needs child. During her pregnancy she often wrote about her joy as she waited for the day her child would be born.  She also compassionately wrote of the agonizing moment shortly after giving birth when she was told of the struggles that lie ahead.  She speaks very candidly about her child (who is now about 10 years old) ~ the heartbreaks, the joyful moments found in the small things, and how much she has learned through her precious child.

Another blog I follow is written by a woman whose husband is declining due to Alzheimer.  She writes of her journey as she learns how to cope with this dreadful disease.  I so admire her determination to rise to this challenge and how she looks for and appreciates the joy she and her husband can still find in life.

Yet another blog I follow is written by a person who is battling alcohol addiction.  Her moving stories of success and failure as she trudges through relapses, or speaks of the negative and positive changes in her life as a result of her choices, yet her faith stays strong.  She speaks of the people from all walks of life she has met through this journey and how they have helped each other.

Yes, the journey’s of each of these women are incredibly tough, but the deep love, the huge amount of inner strength they probably never knew they had, and joy they have found within themselves as well as in and through others are blessings that are continually in the making.

Making the choice to seek the presence of Christ among the trials instead of giving in to the temptation to grumble and sigh help me (in God’s perfect timing) meet the challenges I encounter in my life. I seek clarity where there is obscurity and strength where there is weakness. Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to watch You turn trials into (sometimes unexpected) blessings!

Psalm 9:1 – “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart.”

Isaiah 43:2 – “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Pay it Forward

Once a week, during the school year, I treat myself to a special coffee or a pastry. Starbucks is one of the places I occasionally visit.  This morning at the drive thru I asked the barista if I could also pay for the order of the person behind me. He smiled and happily said, “Of course!”

As I pulled away I glanced in my rear view mirror and hoped, that in that small way, I made someone’s day a little better.

Has it ever crossed your mind that we really do have the power to make a difference? 

Can it really be as simple as following our hearts, taking action, and paying it forward?

We may choose to blow off the ideas that come to our minds because we think they’re silly or they won’t matter, so why bother? Every time we rationalize away an idea, someone loses.

Life can get tough, it is not always fair, and people are not always nice.  All it takes is a cross word or action from someone and my day can suddenly go from good to miserable.

When people feel good, they tend to do good. As people do good to others, chances are the receivers will also do good to others. This then creates a cycle of kindness and charitable acts.

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Drawing by, Brad Aldridge

No matter how small, I believe each act has the power to turn someone’s day around for the better.

Burden? A personal story

Alzheimer's Seasons

1 Timothy 5:4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.”

I remember my mother saying she did not want to live long enough to be a burden to her children.  As I age, I can relate to that statement more and more. I am accustomed to being the caregiver and the prospect of a role reversal is very disconcerting.

In the final years of my mother’s life, my wonderful sister stepped up to the plate and welcomed Mom into her home.  Mom was a widow and even though she did not want to give up the independence of living on her own, she understood the necessity of living with my sister.  Mom terribly missed our dad; they were married almost 60 years. He died very sudden and unexpected and part of her went with him.  She was sad and depressed and began spending a lot of time in her bed and just feeling out of sorts with the world.  Mom began to slowly come back to us and, for a while, started to enjoy life again.

In addition to caring for our mother, my sister and brother-in-law owned and operated a very demanding business.  Each weekend they would escape to their beach house for some well deserved rest and relaxation.  They would occasionally offer to take my mom with them, but she would usually want to return to her own home to spend the weekend. My brother and I both work full-time during the week so we would alternate weekends and take turns staying with my mom at her house.

My brother and I treasured these weekends with Mom and appreciated the one on one time with her. We shared many conversations, took her to church, out to eat, and sometimes drove her around the town where she grew up so she could see the changes.  We would often hear the same stories over and over, but it never bothered us at all.  We just smiled to ourselves and kindly sat there as we watched her face shine as she relived her precious memories.

As time continued to pass Mom began to experience days of darkness. On these days her will to live was low, she wanted to be with our dad and she was sad and depressed.  We believe our mom was beginning to suffer from dementia possibly even early stages of Alzheimer and as this disease slowly progressed it became extremely difficult for my sister to manage on a day-to-day basis. It was hard for all of us to watch this wonderful, loving, caring woman we loved so much become this person we were beginning to no longer recognize.  My sister was becoming emotionally and physically drained and I can only imagine the effort it took to take care of my mom.  After a while it became necessary to put her in an assisted living facility where mom lived for several months. Mom was not happy with this decision, but it did provide her with socialization and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  We were eventually able to move Mom to a private home right down the street from my sister in what turned out to be the final weeks of mom’s life.  We hired a 24/7 caretaker and my sister was able to see mom several times a day.  Mom was comfortable and happy during these final weeks and died peacefully surrounded by her loving family.  After four years she was finally with my dad.

Was Mom a burden to my sister?

My sister is the type of person who would view her service to my mom as a ministry or labor of love.  M. was an example of never allowing the cares of the world to overshadow the things that are most important—serving God through serving people, especially the people in our own families.  I am forever grateful to her for her devotion to our parents as they aged.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, but it is my desire I will not live long enough to become a burden or labor of love to anyone.

Exodus 20:12 “Honor thy father and thy mother: that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God is giving you”    

Savoring: Read Aloud

I never realized how much wisdom can be found in children’s literature until I became an elementary school teacher.

Every year for the past ten years or so I read one of my all time favorites Charlotte’s Web out loud to my class. If you have never read this story it is about the remarkable friendship between a spider and a pig.

I love to imitate the voices of the characters as I read this beloved tale. Glancing up from time to time, I marvel at how focused the children are and I often wonder how they are visualizing the scenes and characters in their minds.  Their laughter or giggles at the antics of some of the characters are music to my ears.

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The chapter called “Last Day” always chokes me up during the scene when Charlotte dies and I always have a hard time reading those lines aloud.  The children are taken by surprise and all sit very still and look at me unsure of how to react.  Some smile sweetly, some even walk up to give me hug as I dab the swelling of tears from my eyes.  They offer words of comfort such as “It’s only a book, it really didn’t happen.” “It’s okay to feel sad.” I smile and assure them I am ok and I can see the relief on their faces.  I think it leaves a good impression though, that it is ok and yes, even teachers cry.

Throughout the story the author, E.B. White, offers many delightful and insightful quotes that speak to me now ~ I never noticed when I was a child. I have to share a few of my favorites:

“Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.”

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing…after all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die…By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

“THE BARN was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell—as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world.”

“Most people believe almost anything they see in print.”

“The night seemed long. Wilbur’s stomach was empty and his mind was full. And when your stomach is empty and your mind is full, it’s always hard to sleep.”

As I read aloud the final lines of this wonderful story: ” She was in a class by herself.  It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.”  I am usually fortunate enough to look up just in time to see the smiles emerge as the children break into the sweet sound of applause.  It thrills my heart when this happens and it gives me hope that they will always remember this sweet story and these most precious days of their lives.

Serving Others

The summer I was 16 my friend Cathy and I were Red Cross volunteer’s at a VA hospital two mornings a week for about four weeks.  Our job was to mostly push patients here or there around in a wheel chair.  Occasionally we would deliver flowers, escort visitors to rooms, or offer to get cups of water or coffee for families waiting on a loved one having surgery.  At the end of our shift, we both felt appreciative for the chance to help and be of service to others.

As I approach retirement I have begun to research opportunities to volunteer. Living near a large city provides an abundance of choices such as assisting at a hospital (both regular and children’s), becoming a foster grandparent to a child, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels (I love to cook and would really enjoy preparing these meals), helping out at an animal shelter and the list goes on. If I decide to get more adventurous there is Global Volunteers.

A young friend told me her parents volunteer at a nearby hospice.  It takes a very special person to volunteer in this environment. What an excellent opportunity to provide emotional and spiritual support to both patients and their loved ones during this truly precious and delicate time of life.

Our school system allows people to become mentors to our students. Filling all of the slots for this volunteer position can be challenging because a lot of people don’t know this particular opportunity is available. The men or women usually come once a week during lunch time. They will sit with the child outside at one of our picnic tables or inside at a reserved section of the lunchroom. Sometimes they come during the day and they will usually go to the library to talk, read a story, or play a game. These children may lack social skills, have private issues, or their home life may not be the most stable environment. Often all these students need is an adult (or anyone) to listen to them and let them know someone cares. Both the mentor and the student look forward to this special time together.

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Becoming a volunteer can be an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and may also change someone’s life (maybe my own) in the process.

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  1 Peter 4:10

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”  Isaiah 6:8 

The Beauty in Differences

The dinner party was fun! There was soft music, much laughter, lively conversation, delicious food, fine wine, and a superb dessert.  When it was over ~ I was pretty worn out.  I could not understand why as I had not over indulged in anything that evening.  Then I had a very interesting discussion with my daughter.

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The beautiful table our hostess set!

My daughter and I have had several discussions about introvert and extrovert behavior. She seems to have a better grasp on this whole topic, but here is my takeaway from our discussions as well as personal observations.

As I reflect back on the couples dinner party, I began to mentally identify the introverts and extroverts.

The extroverts were good at capturing and maintaining the attention they received. They were a delight to be around and I enjoyed their lively and quick witted humor. They were masters at keeping the conversation flowing.  As they shared experiences, I marveled at how many other friends and acquaintances they have and how often they seem to stay connected with these friends.  I can see why this personality type is often viewed as a positive trait by our society.  I am truly thankful for friends like these.

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From the introvert perspective (speaking for myself) I was more comfortable when I was engaged in one on one conversations.  It was an opportunity to express myself better and got to share what I wanted to say.  Otherwise I tend to sit quietly and do what I do best…listen.  I did my fair share of listening that evening but, still had fun laughing, listening, and talking to the other guests.

This introvert enjoys the company of other people, I just need to recharge with some alone time after being with them!

Surprise is often the reaction when people who don’t know me well find out I have said or done something out of introvert character.  I tend to act differently around different people. My comfort level with the situation as well as the people involved are the main reasons. I act differently around family, very close friends, and the children in my classroom than I do in my book club and social situations where there is a large group. Is it possible to possess qualities of introversion and extroversion simultaneously?

I found the following quote and think it is a beautiful way to contrast extroverts and introverts:

Extroverts are bright and colorful rainbows, immediately capturing people’s attention with their beauty and shine.”

“Introverts are the gentle wind in the trees that touches your soul in profound, contemplative and peaceful (though less visible) ways.”

How enjoyable is it to embrace all of the beautiful rainbows and gentle winds that enter life.