What Is It?

Most of us have an IT. Some of us have more than one. ITS job is to torment you. IT hangs over you like an ominous cloud and robs you of peace. IT tells you that IT can never be overcome or even managed. Above all else, IT demands to be hidden, because if ITS presence in your life were made known to other people, those people would reject you. IT is your enemy.

I don’t know what your specific IT is.  But I know what some of the biggest and worst ITS are. I have also learned a few things about handling ITS.

If IT is an addiction that you are working to overcome, keep working to overcome IT. If IT is a secret, a monster within you that you feed daily by letting IT eat your insides, reveal that monster to someone you trust. Monsters thrive in darkness but lose power when exposed to light.

If IT is a horrible injustice that has been done to you, know that some people in concentration camps have managed to hold onto hope and joy.  The abuser, not the abused, is the loser.

If IT is a terrible health diagnosis for you or one of your loved ones, know that we will all die sooner or later.  None of us who knows Jesus will die alone.

If IT is sin on your part, know that every single one of us is in IT up to our eyeballs.  Never doubt God’s willingness and eagerness to forgive IT.  Not only does God forgive, but the people who have truly learned to love are happy to forgive too because they realize how dependent they themselves are upon forgiveness.

If IT is just the drudgery and overwhelming fatigue of limping through life in this broken old world day after day while fighting demons within and without, KEEP LIMPING!  That is the best any of us can do.

I don’t care what IT is.  IT doesn’t change by one iota how God feels about you.  IT doesn’t invalidate all that you have lived your life to accomplish.  IT doesn’t define who you are.

And I know who you are–YOU ARE ME in a slightly different form.  I think the same way you think.  I feel the same way you feel.  I judge myself in the same way harsh way that you judge yourself.  I have been brought low by the same things that have brought you low.  We share the same fears, the same desires, the same disappointments, and the same undeserved self-contempt at times.

We are both stumbling and banging and clanging through this life in the same awkward way.  BUT, as long as we continue to stumble, bang, and clang along together, we’ll be okay.  For a certainty, we are all united in this “human race.” Some days you may have to carry me. Other days I will carry you.

Do you remember the beautiful image of the Special Olympics kids who all strained to win the race and break the tape at the finish line?  It seemed they would stop for nothing, until one of their own fell down,  Then they all stopped, lifted the injured one, and crossed the line together.  They all came in first.

Try your best not to go down, but if you do go down, don’t stay there. Let Jesus or one of his friends pick you up. Whatever you do, don’t let IT own you. IT isn’t worth it.

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The Music of My Life

I can’t read sheet music, play any instrument or sing worth a lick but music has always been an important part of my life. Born in 1952, I recall my sweet mother singing to me the usual lullabies that all mothers sing to their babies, plus a few other songs specific to the era in which we lived. She sang Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you? Without interpretation the words sound like Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey. A kiddley divey too, wooden shoe, which is the actual title of the song (The Merry Macs, 1944). She also sang Chickery chick, cha-la, cha-la, check-a-la romey in a bananika bollika, wollika, can’t you see Chickery chick is me (Chickery Chick, Sammy Kaye, 1945). The 1940’s and 1950’s must have been the age of nonsensical lyrics.

For the first few years of my life, my mother and I lived intermittently with my grandparents while my dad served in the United States Air Force. From the big, brown, boxy radio in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room I heard such songs as How Much Is That Doggie in the Window (Patti Paige, 1952), Sixteen Tons (Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1955), and Blue Suede Shoes (Elvis Presley, 1956). Those songs, along with the hymns that we sang three times a week at church, were songs of my early childhood.

The stand-by hymns of my youth included Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me (my favorite), On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand (my mom’s favorite) and Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (my dad’s favorite). In my mind today I hear my grandmother and grandfather in the pew behind me singing alto and bass (respectively) to There’s an All-Seeing Eye Watching You. Our church of Christ building sat directly across the road from the Baptist Church, and my mom told me that one Sunday morning as the Baptists sang Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown? our church of Christ group responded by singing out loudly No, Not One, but I think she was kidding.

I was in the sixth grade when the Beatles made their iconic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Soon after that, I wore my Beatles tennis shoes, carried my Beatles notebook and sang I Wanna Hold Your Hand with Beatles-crazed contemporaries around the world. The songs of my high school days included protest songs such as For What It’s Worth (better known as the There’s Something Happening Here song, written by Stephen Stills and performed by Buffalo Springfield, 1966) and War–What Is It Good For? (Edwin Starr, 1969). Other, happier songs of that time period included Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes (Edison Lighthouse, 1970) This Guy’s in Love with You (Herb Alpert, 1968), and Sweet Caroline, released in 1969 by my all-time favorite rocker-cum-crooner, Neil Diamond.

My husband and I married in 1973, and “our” song was (and still is) Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? from Carole King’s Tapestry album. Oh, the memories I have of listening to that song on the eight-track tape player in Dan’s 1967 navy blue Ford Mustang!

Today the songs I listen to most are contemporary Christian hits by artists such as Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Point of Grace, and Casting Crowns. Most mornings I get charged up for my day by listening to these songs on my iPod while taking a brisk walk around our neighborhood. In my car the grandchildren and I rock out such childhood favorites as The Wheels on the Bus, The Ants Go Marching and The Lord Told Noah to Build Him an Arky Arky.

Neil Diamond says of his life’s music “It’s a beautiful noise, and it’s a sound that I love, and it fits me as well as a hand in a glove.” I wholeheartedly agree. Here’s to the artists, both the saints and the sinners, who have given me the music of my life. Their legacies live on.

Life’s Great Mysteries

In an effort to cut down on the dust that seems always to coat every horizontal surface inside our house, I have quit using dryer sheets. This has made little, if any, difference. Instead, I now add liquid fabric softener to every load of clothes and keep two anti-static balls (guaranteed to soften and fluff and control static) in my clothes dryer. These balls are bright yellow and about the size of tennis balls. For over a week, one of the balls was missing. I searched high and low for it, knowing that there were a limited number of places it could hide. Finally, when I stripped the bed on Friday, I found the ball inside the pillow case of my husband’s pillow.   How did he manage to sleep for a week without discovering that there was a ball inside his pillow case and how did I put the pillow case onto the pillow without noticing the ball was inside it?

Here are a few more of life’s great mysteries:

  • Why is it that when I open a bag of bread, I almost always lose the little plastic or wire twistee used to close the bag?       Honestly, how far and fast can those things travel?   The same question can be asked of lids off milk jugs, toothpaste tubes and shampoo bottles.
  • Why is it that when I see an ink pen in a wastebasket, I have to scribble it across a piece of paper to make sure it is bad before I actually put it in the trash.
  • How is it that I can open a can of cream of mushroom soup, turn to throw away the pull-off top, and turn back to find that the can of soup has vanished? How does one lose a can of soup?
  • Why is it that when I need a paper clip, all I can find are rubber bands and when I need a rubber band, all I find are paper clips?
  • Why does the bill from the landscape agency lie on my kitchen island and taunt me for a week but when I am finally ready to write a check and mail the bill, I can’t find it?
  • How do I manage to lose one shoe?
  • Why do those giant, dive-bomber houseflies never sit still on a surface where they can be swatted but instead perch on the rim of a glass or edge of a pie crust?
  • Is there even such a thing as a wrinkle-free shirt?
  • Why does a paper towel that, when wet, can hold a bowling ball in a T.V. commercial fall apart as I am carrying potato peels in it from my kitchen sink to the trash can?
  • Why do I hang onto a single black sock with white hearts on it for months, finally throw it away, and the very next week find its mate stuck to a bath towel in the guest bathroom?
  • Why does my computer freeze only when I am about to reach my highest score EVER in Word Mojo Gold?
  • Why do seat belts in cars twist into positions out of which they can never be untwisted?
  • Why is the TV remote control always lost?
  • How is it that we have figured out how to put men on the moon, get cars to parallel park themselves, and make baking pans out of plastic but we can’t have public bathroom stall doors that stay shut?

Just this morning I noticed that one of my dryer balls is again missing. Hopefully someone will enlighten me if I am unknowingly wearing it inside my pants or blouse or even my sock. I think I’ll go back to using dryer sheets. I’m losing the war against dust anyway.

Lies I Live By

God hates lies, and so do I. Nothing makes me madder than realizing that someone has lied to me. Why is it then, that with some regularity I not only tell myself lies but also proceed to live as if they are truths? Could it be that lies enable me to do things I know I should not do?

Lie #1: I don’t need a cart. Grocery store shopping carts and I have a long and bitter history. They dislike me intensely, and they prove this by wobbling, skidding, refusing to be turned, making thumping sounds, and jitterbugging across aisles every time I try to use them. Therefore, I resist getting a cart on trips to the store. “After all, I’m getting only a few things,” I reason. Fifteen minutes later, other shoppers chuckle and give a wide berth to the middle-aged woman, her arms laden with boxes, bags, and bottles, a loaf of bread precariously squished between her left shoulder and ear, a bag of rice clutched between her teeth, pushing a gallon of milk with her foot, sheepishly heading toward the checkout. The truth is this: I almost always need a cart.

Lie #2: I will lie down and nap for about 15 minutes. One of my greatest pleasures in life is daytime sleeping. I fantasize about taking afternoon naps the way other people fantasize about owning sports cars or winning the lottery. Invariably, however, when I lie down to nap, I sleep for hours. I go into the deepest level of sleep and then resist getting up as strenuously as I do when my alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. Setting my oven timer, microwave timer, clothes dryer timer, and cell phone timer does not help. Those annoying blasts, shrieks, whistles and rings only force me to get up and race all over the house slamming down buttons before running back and covering up to sleep for another hour. The truth is this: I take long naps.

Lie #3: I will start some good habits tomorrow. Starting tomorrow I will display a positive, pleasant attitude. I will eat reasonably, exercise faithfully, and clean everything in my house that needs to be cleaned. I will encourage my friends, dispense words of wisdom to my children and grandchildren, honor God and serve humanity. In short, I will be the Proverbs 31 woman in spades. The truth is this: Unless I expend a great amount of effort, I will be the same person tomorrow that I am today.

Investigate the lies that you live by and then challenge them. You will find that each one serves a purpose in your life, but it isn’t a good one. Commit to speaking the truth to yourself about yourself. Lies excuse bad behaviors but the truth can set you free.

Celebrating Relationships

My sister Pam is three years younger than I am, which does not mean nearly as much today as it did when we were kids. She was the typical pesky little sister, the one who skillfully removed the peanut from a peanut M & M, filled the cavity with mustard, and gave it to me with a smile.

When we played paper dolls, she dressed her doll in a wedding dress for every event. When the dolls went to the movies, Pam’s doll wore her wedding dress. When they went shopping, to the beauty salon, to school and even to church, that doll was dressed in her wedding dress. It exasperated me to no end! “You can’t dress your doll in a wedding dress to go to the beach!” I yelled. “Yes, I can,” she protested. “It is her prettiest dress and she wears it every day.” I wish with all my might that today I could show up at Pam’s front door for some planned outing wearing my wedding dress! Two obstacles prevent me from doing that: (1) She lives 400 miles away. (2) I can’t squeeze myself into that tiny, size 7 dress!

I love my sister Pam. We have a relationship that goes back literally forever, as we are two branches that sprang from the same root. I also have another friend named Pam. When I was a young woman, new to this area and scared to death of driving in Indianapolis, she and I went to see Gone with the Wind at a theater on the south side. I drove, though I was petrified behind the wheel. All went well, until we came out of the theater when the movie was over and discovered that I had locked my keys inside the car, left the headlights on so the battery was dead and it was raining like crazy. I remember that Pam looked at me, laughed and said, “Well . . . .” I love the way she still responds in that same way to frustrating situations today.

Today, Friday, May 16, 2014, my husband and I mark our 41st wedding anniversary. Every day this week he has said to me, “I want to wish you a happy anniversary today because I’m afraid I’ll forget on Friday.” This morning when I woke up I looked over at his sleeping form and took advantage of the opportunity to one-up him. “Happy anniversary,” I whispered.

He turned, removed his CPAP sleeping mask, rubbed his eyes and said, with all the romance he could muster, “Of all the people in the world, you’re still the one I would choose to spend 41 years with.”

I responded, “And you’re still the one with whom I would choose to spend 41 years.”

“You and your sick obsession with grammar!” he muttered, rolling over to go back to sleep.

Dan and I have been through many highs and lows in our marriage. Together we have been poor and not so poor, bought homes and cars, raised children, taken trips, buried parents, and navigated day-to-day life. All of those things have been important, but one component of the glue that holds us together is reflected in short, playful conversations like the one we had this morning. We “get” each other. Most of the time we even like each other.

The relationships that I have with my husband, family and friends mean the world to me; they are worth fighting for. (You fellow grammarians will just have to make peace with that last sentence.)   God Himself declared that it is not good for one to be alone. Nurture the healthy relationships that you have. Celebrate the special people in your life.

A Little Work

I am married to a man who could use a little work. Don’t misunderstand me. My husband is a wonderful Christian, a Bible class teacher and a man of high morals. He is successful in a highly respected profession. He’s also a terrific husband and father, a great provider and generally an all-round good guy. But he could use a little work.

He watches too much television. He stays up too late, spends too much time in the bathroom, fails to exercise regularly or to maintain a healthy diet. He habitually runs behind on every schedule he tries to keep, starts new projects before finishing old ones, takes on too many tasks at work instead of delegating to subordinates, drives too fast, procrastinates, and bites his cuticles.

My kids could also use a little work. My daughter spends money impulsively, eats too much junk, wastes time, kills her houseplants, mooches meals, drives too fast, puts off tasks until the last minute, and whines. Her brother, my son, stays up too late, leaves lights on all over the house, misplaces his dad’s tools, trashes the inside of his car, spends too much money on-line, loses things, drives too fast, and makes excuses. I wouldn’t take a million dollars for either of my kids, or give you a nickel for two more just like them.

Several of my friends could use a little work too. Some spend too much money on clothes; others are too lenient with their kids, fail to follow through with promises they make, talk on their cell phones while driving their cars, gossip, borrow things they forget to return, interrupt others who are talking, and run late for church.

As the wife/mother/friend of the above-mentioned folks, I can’t help recalling Matthew 7:3, in which Jesus cautions me against looking at the speck of sawdust in my brother’s (or husband’s or kid’s or friend’s) eye when I have a plank sticking out of one of my own. As followers of Jesus, let’s commit ourselves to improving the person who probably needs as much work as anyone else and the only person we have any hope of changing. For me, that would be the person writing this article. For you, it is the person reading it.

(This article was written in 2006.)

Please Don’t

Words fascinate me. I play with them both in my mind and on paper. I enjoy learning of a specific word’s origin, of its potential functions in sentence structures, and of its many forms. At baby and bridal showers, I tend to do well with word games. I like to play with rhyme, and I work hard to make words flow coherently and smoothly into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into full-length articles. In more ways than one, it can be said of me that I am a wordy person.

This week I began pondering common proverbs that begin with the word Don’t. It won’t surprise you to learn that I made a list of over 60 such admonitions. These included “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” “Don’t spend all your money in one place,” and “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Used in proper context, all of these proverbs have some merit and almost without exception, each one is intended to provide protection against some potentially negative occurrence.

Some people believe the Bible to be primarily a long list of commands beginning with the word Don’t. That seems to me a negative approach to take toward the Good Book. I strongly suspect that among all the words printed upon its sacred pages, the word Do outnumbers the word Don’t. Besides, the word Don’t is not always negative. My minister asserts that every time God says to His people, “Don’t,” He is trying to protect them. What He is actually saying is, “Don’t hurt yourself by doing that.” We can all agree that avoiding causing hurt to oneself is a positive thing.

Can you think of any offense that does not hurt the offender as much as it hurts the offended? Does not the thief lose as much in the whole sordid transaction as the victim loses? The act will cost the thief dearly in terms of self-respect and freedom from guilt. He will never look at a police officer or patrol car without feeling apprehensive.   His enjoyment of the items he stole will not be as great as it would have been if he had acquired them through honest means. His act of thievery will rob him of contentment, peace and restful sleep all his life.

The murderer who takes the life of another person in a fit of blind rage or out of retaliation kills his own chances of living a whole and rich life. The adulterer betrays not only his spouse, but also himself. The cheater, likewise, swindles himself. The person who lies, who practices deceit, who is lazy, arrogant, selfish, or greedy, or who places his own interests above the interests of others probably hurts no one more than he hurts himself. In many cases, the price the offender pays is greater than the price paid by the one he offended.

As you read and meditate upon God’s Word, try looking at all of the commands beginning with the word Don’t as cautions intended to protect you, not necessarily someone else, from harm. Yes, of course God cares about the person who is wronged, but He cares equally about the person who causes the wrong. He does not want either of them to be hurt.

When you work to bring about what is best for others, you will ultimately bring about what is best for you. Choosing to live your life by any other formula will result in your violating this silly-sounding but practical piece of conventional wisdom: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

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