Stupidity? Me?

Several months ago some coworkers and I were having lunch at a Chinese restaurant that we visit frequently.  Our custom, after discussing all of our grievances about our jobs, our weight, and other people’s bad decisions, was to take turns opening our fortune cookies and reading our fortunes aloud.

Each of my companions cracked open a cookie and read aloud her fortune.  All were the usual assembly-line fortunes about being blessings to others, taking advantage of business opportunities and traveling the world.  When it was my turn, I opened my cookie, removed the little piece of paper inside, and read this:  Perhaps the problem is your own stupidity.  We were all shocked into silence. Finally one friend said, “No way!  It doesn’t really say that!”  I passed around the paper and let each woman read it for herself.  Then, of course, we began laughing and conjecturing about the person who was hired to write these fortunes.   We decided that he or she had probably had enough of all the sunshine and roses predictions and wrote a nasty one for relief.

One of the girls asked for the fortune because she wanted to plant it secretly on the desk of one of her office mates.  I understood the worthlessness of such “fortune telling,” but I thought about what I had read.  Stupidity?  Me?

I recalled that a few days earlier on my way to work I had observed a female jogger pushing hard against a street sign in my neighborhood.  My first thought honestly was this:  That poor woman is trying to straighten that leaning sign.  (She was stretching her muscles.)  Thank goodness I didn’t stop and offer to help her.

I also remembered those times when I had searched high and low for my eyeglasses while I was wearing them and for my cell phone while I was talking on it.   Then there was the day when I was listening to the song I Know This Much Is True by Spandau Ballet on the radio and trying hard to figure out the lyric that was repeated over and over at the end of the song.  A coworker entered my office while the song was playing, so I asked him what he thought the words were.  He answered, “This much is true.  This much is true.”  “Oh,” I said, “I couldn’t make out those words.”  “What did you think the singer was saying?” he asked.  “Well,” I said, “what I kept hearing was ‘The stars are tripping. The stars are tripping.'”  He gave me a strange look and returned to his office.

Then there was the habit I have of losing my car in parking lots, of pushing hard to enter a door clearly labeled “Pull,” and of updating my Yahoo calendar by carefully marking upcoming events, only to discover that I was using the calendar for last year.  I did one time, when sewing, put in a zipper upside down and backwards, and I cut half a leg off the sweatpants I was wearing while trimming the edges off a pattern piece that I had laid across my lap.

Do those constitute serious lapses in my mental processing?  Should I be worried?  I asked my daughter, who is painfully candid with me at times, what she thought.  “Mom, she said, “on the day that you can’t remember what a toothbrush is used for or recall the names of your children, then you should start worrying.”

I left her house feeling a bit better, until she called to me from her front door as I was stepping into my car.  “Mom,” she said, “that’s my coat you’re wearing.”

Chasing After the Wind

Last Sunday morning, after I was dressed for church, I picked up a glass of iced tea and promptly spilled it down the front of my outfit.  Then as I was leaving the house, my purse strap caught on the doorknob of the front door, jerking me off balance and causing most of the contents of my purse to scatter across the front porch.   After I picked up that mess and moved on to step into the car, I realized that I had left my Bible on the kitchen island.  I left the car to return to the house to retrieve my Bible, forgetting that my front door was now locked and my door key was on the key ring inside my purse inside my car.  I retrieved my door key, went inside the house, got my Bible and returned to the car, only to begin wondering if I had remembered to turn off my curling iron.

Life may be a comedy of errors, but I am not laughing.  I feel like the kindergarten teacher who likened her day to trying to keep 17 corks submerged under water at the same time.  I can’t win for losing.  The hurriedier I go, the behinder I get.

Logic tells me that in order to combat these daily snags, I need to:

(A) Make lists.  I do make lists.

(B) Plan ahead.  I do plan ahead. That is why I make lists.

(C)  Learn to say ‘no’ to some people and some things.  I have learned to say ‘no’ to some people and some things.  My lists used to be longer. 

I tell myself that the fact that life is frustrating is my fault.  On the day that I finally manage to plan better and work harder, life will fall in line and start playing by my rules and utopia will begin.

Thus, I agonize, strategize, and organize, with the goal of gaining control, but the day of serenity never comes.  Instead, I identify with the thoughts of the Wise Man, Solomon, recorded in Ecclesiastes 2:11:  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Life will never play by my rules because I am not now and never will be in charge.  I have power to control very few of the things that life brings my way.  Life, however, has incredible power to control me if I allow it to do so. My task is not to function so expertly that aggravations do not occur, but to recognize that they will occur and then respond appropriately to them.

Tomorrow, despite my good planning and hard work, I will probably once again lose, spill and break things.  I hope I respond to those irritations by calmly looking for, cleaning up and repairing those things.  Believing that through my own diligence and effort I can prevent such occurrences from happening is simply a chasing after the wind.

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Nourishing Words

My friend Jan took her normally sweet-natured dog, Duke, to the groomer this week. Duke has been mad at Jan ever since. He refuses to look at her when she comes through the door after work, withholds his usual wet, slobbery kisses, and in general gives Jan the cold shoulder. Jan misses his companionship, but she understands the situation and knows that eventually their relationship will return to normal.

A statement in an Edward Fudge GracEmail post this week caught and held my attention. Edward was discussing the fact that since God created us for relationship, He wants to commune with us and to be involved in our everyday lives. God desires both to speak to us and to be spoken to by us. Edward said, “Speaking is the nourishment of relationship.” How true that is!

Have you ever been on nonspeaking terms with a relative or friend? I know of family members who intentionally have not spoken to each other for years. Even some spouses talk to each other only when absolutely necessary and then only in the most mundane and unemotional ways, such as to remind the other one to lock the door or get milk at the store. I picture such a relationship as a wilting plant, dying from neglect.

In a grocery store one day I observed a little boy who was about five years old shopping with his mother. Apparently, the child had committed some offense, maybe begged for candy or lagged behind the cart instead of paying attention and staying with his mom. Whatever it was, the mother was “punishing” the child by refusing to speak to him. The little boy pulled at his mother’s sleeve and begged, “I’m sorry, Mommy,” he said. “Please talk to me again. Please. Please say something to me.” Tears ran down his cheeks and he sobbed loudly as he begged for a return of her nourishing attention. The mother moved silently on. My heart broke.

None of the parents I know would intentionally treat their children so harshly, but in recent years I have observed moms and dads giving rapt attention to their cell phones while their children stand nearby, asking to be heard and being told to wait. Many of us have observed couples “dining” together while both are busy texting or talking on their phones. The temptation to tune in to electronic devices while tuning out to people is great.

I am not innocent in this matter of failing to communicate. In our home office, my computer and my husband’s computer are on different sides of the room. Sometimes when both of us are using our computers at the same time, we carry on conversations with each other. The other day in just such a situation, I noticed that Dan got up from his chair and walked to the door unexpectedly. “Where are you going?” I asked. “I’m going outside,” he said. “You aren’t listening to me.” He was right. I was not listening. I had chosen instead to focus my attention upon an email, an Internet search, or even an online crossword puzzle.

Multiple distractions vie for our attention. Determine to shower the people you love with nourishing words. Listen when they talk. Look at them. Touch them. Speak life into your relationships.

Life in the Doghouse

(From my archives)

For twelve years we held our ground. “No animals in the house!” we vowed. Against a steady barrage of pleading from our two children, their dad and I budged not an inch. We stood firm when they paraded past us beautiful beagles, terriers, poodles and mutts belonging to their friends. “A dog will shed,” we reasoned. “It’ll ruin the furniture, keep us up at night, and destroy the carpeting. It makes no sense for this family to get a dog.”

Therein lay our first mistake—thinking that the matter of pet ownership was subject to reason. The kids offered no rebuttal to our logic. “But we want one,” they simply said.

We realize now that we made a tactical error by agreeing to visit the animal shelter for a casual look-see. There they were, the enemy, lined up in cages for us to view: big dogs and small ones, long-hairs and short, quiet dogs and rowdy ones. They looked out between the bars and barked in unison, “Take me home!”

“We’re not set up to care for a dog,” we argued. “We take lots of trips. Our yard is too small. We know nothing about training animals.”

“But we want one,” said our opponents.

That was two months ago. Since then we have been sharing our house with Ginger, a rambunctious, mixed-breed pup. First, she was to stay in the backyard. Then cold weather hit. All right, she could come in but only into the family room. Okay, she would be allowed to roam the house but under no circumstances was she to be on the furniture. Now I practically have to ask Ginger’s permission before sitting down in my own recliner. “You can have it for now,” she barks, “but I get it back when Those Amazing Animals comes on.”

My husband and I look at each other, the stress of constant defeat showing on our faces. “Why do we have this dog?” we ask each other. From another part of the house comes the answer, “Because we want her.”

Many of the things we once valued have now exited our house by way of the trash can. But of course nothing that gets put into the trash can stays there without Ginger dragging it out for one last inspection. I once came home to find two banana peels, a shredded cereal box, a tooth-marked shampoo bottle, and three days’ worth of newspapers scattered across the living room floor. There sat Ginger, innocently tilting her head at me as if to ask, “When are you going to clean up this place?”

Plus, Ginger has provided me with many new experiences. I now know what it’s like to vacuum the house with a quaking dog firmly attached to my right ankle. I have gotten up in the middle of the night and stepped in puddles that did not exist when I went to bed. I’ve attempted to carry on sane conversations with repairmen while having a crazed animal sniffing at my crotch.

A friend of mine often jokes about sending her husband to live in the doghouse. Ha! I live in a doghouse now! I dream of residing in a home where there is no trace of dog hair, no chewed-up furniture, and not a whiff of puppy urine in the air.

Come to think of it, I may know of just such a place. In the corner of our backyard sits a neat little house, never used, totally untouched by canine paws. The printing above the door declares that it belongs to someone named Ginger, but, hey, turnabout is fair play. That little house may be the perfect place for me to curl up and finish that novel I have started reading—the one with the cover ripped off it.

Why and How?

It seems to me that many questions beginning with the word “Why” require the questioner to do no more than think, while questions beginning with the word “How” often require the questioner to take action. That is probably why I prefer “Why” questions to “How” questions most of the time.

Right now a force of thousands of angry, marauding terrorists is summarily beheading, crucifying and otherwise killing anyone who gets in its way in Iraq.  At the same time, the whole world is quaking at the threat of the Ebola virus, which is cropping up in new places every day. Compassionate people are sickened to realize that people in some third-world countries have no option but to drink the same water in which cattle have urinated, defecated, and even died. We hear horror stories about elderly people in this country having to choose each month between buying food and buying medicine.

Why do all of these lamentable conditions exist? Why isn’t someone doing something? Why does God not step in and put an end to suffering and injustice? Why can’t everyone enjoy peace, prosperity, and health? Why is the whole world so out of balance?

Pondering such “Why” questions leads me every time to the same answers.   (1) These conditions exist because we live in a fallen world. Satan, though limited somewhat in the menace he can create, is having a heyday. (2) These conditions exist because people are free to do whatever they want to do as long as they can find a way to do it. People find ways to do some horrible things. (3) These conditions exist because most people in the world have rejected Jesus, who is the answer to every question, and Jesus refuses to force His way into anyone’s heart, thinking, or decision-making.

That is about as far as I can go in answering the “Why” questions. My answers give me no peace. I remain heartsick over the conditions outlined above.

My only hope of feeling any better, of obtaining any peace or sense of offering help lies in my willingness to answer some “How” questions.

  • How am I to respond to a God who maintains control and does not always act in ways that make sense to me? Answer: I am to respond by trusting His promises and by arming myself daily with Scriptures that reassure me of His infinite love for all people and His ultimate goal of saving the lost.
  • How can I make a difference amid all the chaos, sadness and depravity surrounding me? Answer: I can make a difference by knowing, standing for, and proclaiming the truth.  I can make a difference by serving, befriending, ministering to, praying for, and loving to the best of my ability everyone in my sphere of influence.
  • How can I protect myself and the people I love from falling victim to all the dangers that threaten us? Answer: I can protect myself and others from some of the dangers some of the time by being well-informed, attentive, diligent, and prayerful. I can’t protect anyone from everything.
  • How can I keep from being overwhelmed with despair, worry and sadness? Answer: I can keep from being overwhelmed by the existence of evil by choosing to think about those things that are pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8)
  • How can I stop asking the “Why” questions? Answer:   Start asking the “How” questions and acting upon the answers to them.

Until Then

I hope one day to lose the weight I need to lose, establish an exercise routine that I enjoy and will stick with, and stop eating and drinking things that are not good for me. Maybe I will attain these goals, but until then, this is what I will do. I will thank God for my good health, buy and wear clothes that are appropriate for my size, smile, and use the talents and gifts God has given me. I will not make sad comparisons between me and the models pictured on the covers of glossy magazines, yearning for a face and body that I cannot have.

I hope that one day I will master the art of organization. My home will be tidy; my paperwork caught up; my flowers all watered, weeded and well tended; and my days all streamlined for maximum efficiency. Maybe I will attain that goal, but until I do, I will move forward and do the best I can. I will not beat myself up for my many shortcomings, tell myself that I am a lost cause, and resign myself to living in absolute squalor and chaos.

I hope that one day I will master my iPhone, my iPod, and Windows 8, but I know that I am not mentally as sharp as I once was. I forget facts I need to remember, call people by the wrong names, misplace things, and struggle to keep up with technology. I hope one day to function more efficiently, and maybe I will. Until then, though, I will not throw away my electronic devices, stop trying new things, cease challenging myself and become completely dependent upon my children to help me make phone calls, enjoy my recorded music and audiobooks, and post my weekly blogs.

I hope that one day I will listen more and talk less, encourage and not criticize, serve without whining, and surrender my stubborn will completely to God’s purposes. Maybe I will one day reach that plateau, but until then, this is what I will do. I will work on improving myself in all of those areas, striving for perfection but celebrating progress. I will not put a quilt over my head and denigrate myself into a depression that renders me useless.

It is true that I am overweight and disinclined to exercise, somewhat prone to messiness, a bit of a chalkboard thinker in a touch-screen world, and decidedly deficient in all the Christian virtues. Those are not admirable qualities, but they do not cripple me. In fact, they rarely prevent me from accomplishing the things I truly want to accomplish. Therefore, instead of focusing upon my limitations, I will focus upon doing what I can do and helping other people to do the same.

May God help all of us to adopt the attitude of Edward Everett Hale, who said: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”


I’ve learned a few things in my sojourn on the earth:  Dust always returns.  The bank’s numbers are usually right.  Money-saving gimmicks are often more trouble than they are worth.

A few weeks ago, three friends and I had dinner at a local restaurant.  Two of my dining companions had brought coupons, which they wanted to share equally among the four of us.  One coupon offered $5 off a $25 purchase.  Another coupon offered “Buy one entree and get a second one for half price.”

As we buttered and ate our complimentary dinner rolls and drank our glasses of iced water, we strategized.   How could we obtain the most benefit from our coupons while ensuring that all four of us spent approximately the same amount of money?  Cell phone calculators were activated.  The server made two trips to our table to take our orders before we perfected our money-saving scheme.

Finally, we ordered and ate our meals.  When the time came to pay, we flashed our coupons.  The server’s countenance visibly wilted.  “I’m not sure I can divide the bill up this way,” he said.  My friends and I looked at him with irritation and disbelief.  “Why not?” one of us asked.

Then we all began talking at the same time, pointing to various plates and bowls on the table and explaining the specific requirements of our coupons.  The poor man eventually took our coupons, our checks, our money and our credit cards and headed for his register.  For all of our effort, each of us saved little more than a dollar or two.

Clipping coupons, chasing sales and taking advantage of special offers rarely save me money.  Odds are that having a coupon will require me to drive out of my way to visit the particular store that offered the coupon, only to find at checkout that: 1) The coupon expired yesterday.  2) I am 75 cents short of making the minimum required purchase and must add an unwanted magazine or pack of gum to my cart at the last minute.  3) The coupon I so carefully studied and clipped is still lying on my kitchen island next to the crumbs of the bagel I ate for breakfast.

Last week I called a service provider my husband and I have used for several years.  I explained to the person on the phone that since my husband has retired, we have less money to spend and needed to cancel that particular service.  The representative quickly asked, “Could you and your husband afford this service if I lowered the price from $50 a month to $25 a month?”

“What?” I almost screamed into the phone.  “If this service is available for $25 a month, why have I been paying $50 a month?”

I wish stores, restaurants and service providers had ONE FIRM, FAIR PRICE for every item, required no coupons or bulk purchases, and had no sales, blue light specials or reduced rates for qualifying customers.  The price of the blouse or steak or pest control service is $39, no matter who buys it, when it is purchased and whether or not other items are paid for at the same time.

I never seem to grab the brass ring when it comes to money-saving gimmicks.  Stop the merry-go-round.  I want off.

Issues with Reality

I have two granddaughters: an intelligent and beautiful five-year-old with lovely brown tresses and her adorable and spunky, red-haired sister, who is two. I refer to them respectively as Sparkle and Twinkle because they are bright spots in my world, my little Stars.

Yesterday the two girls were at my house for a few hours. Twinkle (the two-year-old) and I were playing with a purple, glittery, stuffed dolphin. With our help, the dolphin leapt from chair arm to chair arm as he sang and danced and entertained both of us. Sparkle (the five-year-old) was doing her own thing with a pink and white stuffed dog.

At one point in our play Sparkle looked critically at the dolphin show Twinkle and I were enjoying and announced, “Dolphins can’t really do those things, Grandma.”

“I know,” I replied, “but your sister and I are pretending and when you are pretending, dolphins can do anything.”

“But I don’t like the way you are playing!” she stubbornly insisted. “Stop it!”

“No, Sparkle,” I replied. “You do not get to tell your sister and me how to play.”   At that, Sparkle’s face clouded over and she ran from the room.

Sparkle had just experienced a momentary issue with reality. Grandma and Twinkle could indeed play however they wanted to play and she could not intervene. Her power and control did not extend to dictating how her sister and her grandmother played, and she bristled against accepting that fact. In fairness to her, she recovered from her little snit quickly. She came back into the room carrying a Dora the Explorer jigsaw puzzle, which she happily assembled as if she had never experienced the momentary annoyance.

I, too, often want to push back against reality. Everywhere I look I encounter miserable situations over which I have absolutely no control, and I bristle against accepting my lack of power. As I write this, Christians around the world are suffering persecution and literally being put to the sword. Close friends are coping with dire sicknesses and injuries and the loss of the people they love most. I am heartsick.

The fact is that short of begging God’s mercy on these people and doing whatever small things I can think of to try to help them, I am useless. My power and control do not extend to remedying the suffering and injustices of this world.

When accepting my limitations becomes a problem for me, I sometimes choose to indulge in my own version of Sparkle’s little snit. Like her, I look for relief from the pain of facing an unpleasant reality. If I am not careful, though, in my search for comfort, I default to an unhealthy way of coping with my disappointment. I dig into half gallons of ice cream or indulge in long naps of escape or zone out in endless games of Spider Solitaire on the computer. I run from one problem area in my life, accepting limitations, to another: abusing food, abusing sleep, or abusing the mind-numbing pseudo-relief of computer games.

The next time I have an issue with reality, I hope I’ll choose a less destructive and more healing therapy. Maybe I’ll take a prayer walk or soak in a hot bath while listening to Christian music. Maybe I will simply work a Dora the Explorer jigsaw puzzle.

You Might Be a Grandma

I will begin by apologizing to any men reading this article. I do not intend to embarrass anyone.

I have a 5-year-old granddaughter who is intelligent, inquisitive and incredibly fun! I will call her Sparkle. Sparkle is like a little sprite. When she is at my house, she pops up unexpectedly wherever I happen to be—in the laundry area, in the kitchen and even in the bathroom. On Monday I was dressing in the bathroom, thinking that Sparkle was busily engaged watching Nick Jr. on television in the living room. I had my jeans on and was addressing my top half, fastening my bra in the front with the intention of turning it around the right way immediately thereafter. Suddenly, from behind me came Sparkle’s confused comment, “Grandma, I think you have that on backwards.”

I am happy to be a card-carrying grandma, and maybe you are too. Suffice it to say: You Might Be a Grandma If:

  • Your patio door is covered with tiny handprints that you cannot bring yourself to clean off.
  • Your shopping cart contains, in addition to Centrum Silver Multivitamins: Thomas the Train Toothpaste, Hello Kitty Band-aids, a My Little Pony sticker book, and a giant, economy size jug of Gazillion Bubbles.
  • You get a 30% off coupon from Kohl’s and decide it is a perfect time to buy yourself some new clothes. You exit the store with a total of six outfits: two in size 6X, two in size 2 Toddler, and two in size 18 Months.
  • Your granddaughter tells you that you look beautiful in your tent-size, sparkly, butterfly print bathing suit, and you believe her.
  • You wear your red and green striped, light-up, candy cane earrings in June because your grandchild picked them out for you that morning.
  • You tie a sheet around your neck, cape-style, and play Superheroes in the front yard while wearing hair curlers.
  • Some of your best friends are Big Bird, Peppa Pig, Max and Ruby, and the Bubble Guppies.
  • You have a bouquet of dandelions on your kitchen table; a collection of pretty, dried-up leaves on your coffee table; and so many crayon drawings on your refrigerator that you’ve forgotten what color your fridge is.
  • You can read The Cat in the Hat without once having to look at the words.
  • You offer adult guests a glass of iced tea and ask if they prefer the Cinderella glass or the Dora the Explorer one.
  • You always have time to have a tea party, play Patty Cake, draw a hopscotch frame on the sidewalk, push a swing, work a jigsaw puzzle, kiss a boo-boo, read a story, color a picture, or rock a baby.

The writer of Psalm 128 speaks blessings on the people of God, and one of them is this: “May you live to see your children’s children.” I have found this to be a blessing indeed. All you other grandmas say “Amen!”

My Quest

Diogenes of Sinope trudged through Greece carrying a lantern and looking for an honest man. Ponce de Leon roamed the earth in search of the Fountain of Youth. My goal is a less lofty one: I want just once in my lifetime to buy the right purse.

I need a new purse, but I hesitate to buy one because my closet is full of wrong purses. I have purses with straps too long and straps too short and purses insistent upon toppling from the passenger seat of the car and landing upside down on the floor if I so much as tap the brake pedal. Several of my purses eat pens while manufacturing paper clips. I have purses that require me, when reaching inside for my sunglasses case, first to pull out my cell phone, wallet, car keys, tissue pack, lipstick, checkbook, hand sanitizer, compact, breath mints, photo of the grandkids and a dozen scraps of paper. I hate every purse I own.

I am not a fashionista. Names like Coach, Gucci and Vera Bradley do not allure me. I choose function over form when it comes to purses and everything else I buy. The perfect purse will stand upright on its own when full or empty, even if that requires some kind of weighted bottom. It will have only one strap and will be made of sturdy material. This handbag will possess an adequate number of compartments and will close securely. Surely I do not ask too much.

Off I go to my local department store and enter the accessories area. My eye is caught immediately by a cute straw handbag in a nice, neutral color. A quick look inside reveals, however, no compartments, meaning that everything I carry would amass together in the bottom like a pile of rubbish. Next, I examine a black handbag made of good quality leather and possessing a suitable number of inner pockets. However, this bag has two straps. I know from experience that one strap would rest as it should on my shoulder and the other one would forever tickle my elbow. I move on to look at a pretty, flower print bag made of quilted fabric, but even on the store shelf it has collapsed in upon itself, looking like a sleeping duck. Is there no purse that meets my reasonable requirements?

In order to clear my head and renew my energy, I determine to leave accessories for a while and browse through home furnishings. On my way to the bedspreads, I pass the hardware department. There, prominently displayed on a shelf, is a tan, leather tool bag. It has a weighted bottom, one sturdy handle, and enough pockets to allow both my lipstick and compact to occupy their own niches. I quickly note that the bag is also available in nylon, canvas, and quilted denim—a new look for every season. The bag has a secure top closure, and even the price is reasonable. My heart races as I realize that the perfect bag for me has existed all the time. I was just shopping in the wrong department.

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.