Back in January, as other people made resolutions, I told myself I would write one blog post per week, an unspoken promise of sorts. I never told anyone until now or recorded that thought anywhere. It was just one of the many conversations I have with myself.
Instead, I issued myself a proclamation in a single word—GRACE. Sometimes life comes at you in heavy ways. Not everything must be written or even discussed. Some problems take time. The intensity of other difficulties interferes with the inevitable daily good. And while I’ve shed some recent tears, I remind myself that flowers don’t bloom every day. I remind myself of the ancient wisdom: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Good, right?
Somehow, I’ve pulled off that weekly post. Sometimes, it’s about sitting at your computer and just doing it. Sometimes, it’s about having enough GRACE for yourself to move forward differently than planned.
I wished for insight in my year-end reflection. Especially since today is my birthday. I should now have the wisdom of an official 52-year-old. Upon pondering, however, I could only take so much of 2021. In some ways, it was the best of times. A completed graduate degree, a new job I love, a trip across the border to the beach. In other ways, it was the worst of times. Nothing I care to rehash. In fact, there’s no better time than a new year or a birthday to let bygones be bygones and let it go. A gift to myself. Peace. I Believe our struggles strengthen us. I suppose that’s my 2021 takeaway. Strength. Perseverance. I made it. You did, too. As for 2022, I choose Hope. Maybe we’ll all be surprised.
Without the details, I attended a church service within the last few months that left me feeling, well, excuse my language, shitty. Judged and hopeless and disillusioned with the church. I won’t go back, not to that church, at least, not to hear that pastor. I know others who have had BAD experiences with the church—or with Christians—and they don’t see the point in trying. I get it.
Lucky for me I’ve had GOOD experiences, and so this past Sunday I began my day online at the church I attended for the first time back in 1998. This church leaves me feeling hopeful and loved, inspired to adjust my attitude each week and be a better person. Lord knows I’m not perfect, but I try.
Back in 1998, the church was called Fellowship Bible Church North. It was founded by Dr. Gene Getz, who was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 70s. He taught people to be pastors at a time when the culture in the 60s coming into the 70s had changed drastically, and a lot of churches were not being effective in reaching a changing culture. Many of his students didn’t like church. They questioned church as a concept. They asked questions like, “Who needs the church?”
Dr. Getz came to class in the middle of one semester and said, “Men—” There were no women studying in the seminary at that time. “Obviously, I haven’t prepared this class to answer your question, so I want you to tear up your syllabus with all the assignments…We’re going to go back to the syllabus…We’re going to go back to the book of Acts. We’re going to go into the epistles. We’re going to go as far as we can the rest of the semester and see what God intends the church to be.”
I know this story because I went to church this past Sunday, and what I heard was SO GOOD that I’m leaving the link right here. Gene was there! In 1981, he started this church, which grew and changed locations and became Chase Oaks in 2008. He retired about seventeen years ago. 2021 minus 17 equals 2004. So, I listened to him preach on the Sundays I made it to church for about six years. And let me tell you, this guy is incredibly smart. He knows the Bible—the geography, Greek, you name it, and he breaks it all down into simple, relatable terms.
Why do I feel compelled to tell you this? So glad you asked. After “retiring,” Gene went to work creating a study Bible, the CSB Life Essentials Study Bible. In addition to the scriptures, the text includes QR codes that link to videos of Dr. Gene Getz explaining 1500 Principles to Live By. This includes 300 hours of in-depth teaching. For a sample on Principle 1, Intense Prayer, click here. I’ve given a couple of these Bibles away as gifts, and I just purchased another one. I’m not on commission. I just love Gene, God, and this Bible. Maybe you are looking for a special gift or maybe you want an interactive Bible or maybe you just want to listen to someone who has GOOD news. After all…
‘Tis the Season
P. S. So, let’s say, a person didn’t have time to watch a church service now, but was halfway interested in the concept of finding some spiritual guidance, Chase Oaks Church has a YouTube channel. Click here to subscribe. This is all part of the church adapting to our ever-changing culture.
Just a little formula I apply to life’s circumstances…
In a lovely little chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist, I received kind words, a pen, and a pin. This was the last Friday night in May. I had taken the classes, put in the work, and completed requirements for my MFA.
Now, I hear Frank McCourt in my head, and he says, “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it.” I notice his two polysyllabic words and the strength of his monosyllables. Now, I will work with my tools, read books, study language, and hone my craft. I will put my bloody manuscript in a drawer and let it rest. Same for me, sans drawer, just rest. I’ve learned that good art takes time.
Even though my angel mother grew up in the Baptist church, the “B” in HBU filled me with trepidation. I leaped with faith anyway. God played a role in my story, and I wanted to do Him justice. Still, I never imagined I would find my tribe of like minds at HBU. Now, I see God’s plan. I’ll be forever grateful for these people—my cohort and professors. They became my friends and family, encouraging and inspiring me with their ideas and insight, persistence and growth, love and prayers. All of this without judgement. Even their criticism was kind.
At HBU, I’ve learned to make time and space for my writing and for me. And I’ve realized we all feel like imposters sometimes. I’ve learned to be scared and do it anyway. And I’ve realized the power of continued progress. Anything is possible with belief and persistence. I’m still learning trust and patience in God. At the same time, I believe He is using my story in a way I never could’ve imagined.
I awoke to May raindrops falling outside my window and Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman singing in my head: “Come what may / Come what may / I will love you / Until my dying day.” I’m a sucker for a love story, and their song comes from one of my favorites, Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!
But I was stuck on the words of the title “Come What May.” Maybe because May is here. Maybe because I’m entering a transitional time and have no idea what may come. Did you know the phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth? In medieval Scotland, the three witches have just told Macbeth that he will become king. Macbeth can hardly believe the news because Scotland has a king, and Macbeth isn’t in direct line to the throne. He says, “Come what come may / Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.” He means whatever will come will come. Enter Lady Macbeth. She convinces him to murder the king.
And so this May. I will try to just be. Be present. Be myself. Be patient and kind. I won’t try to manipulate fate like Macbeth did. Instead, I’ll trust that everything will be okay come what may.
Sometime before the first of February, I decided to devote some time each morning to God. I have a devotional book on my shelf—Jesus Calling by Sarah Young—a page for every day of the year written as if Jesus himself were speaking. Each day a sentence or two leaps off the page, and I try to remember the message in its simplest form all day long. Please accept a few jewels from this month so far:
“Talk with Me about every aspect of your day. including your feelings. Remember that your ultimate goal is not to control or fix everything around you; it is to keep communing with Me.”
I didn’t grow up talking about my feelings, and once upon a time some counseling revealed my tendency to stuff them inside. At the time, I felt I had no one to talk to. Since then, I’ve opened up more. I understand vulnerability makes certain people uncomfortable, so I choose what to say to whom with care. We all need at least that one person, and God invites you to talk to Him about every aspect of your day, including your feelings. I find great comfort in an honest relationship like that.
Your deepest, most constant need is for My Peace. I have planted Peace in the garden of your heart, where I live, but there are weeds growing there too: pride, worry, selfishness, unbelief. I am the Gardener, and I am working to rid your heart of those weeds…Thank Me for troublesome situations; the Peace they can produce far outweighs the trials you endure
Oh boy, do I ever need peace? Sometimes I forget to thank God for my troublesome situations, but I’m trying so hard to remember this simple formula:
Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope
In Me you have everything. In Me you are complete.
Despite your beliefs in God, these are beautiful affirmations. I have everything. I am complete. It’s so easy to want more and to feel less than. Say it again. I have everything. I am complete.
A person who is open to My Presence is exceedingly precious to Me…I see you trying to find Me; our mutual search results in joyful fulfillment.
I’ll admit I was a little angry with God this year for just plain personal reasons, but I continued to feel His presence. It’s a comfort to know He considered me precious through my tantrum. Reading a devotion a day was a way to make peace with Him and find some balance for me. You know what they say about anger—it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I knew I had to let my bitter feelings go. I acknowledged the emotion by sharing it with God, and I’m trusting the Gardener to rid my heart of the weeds. Who doesn’t want to be filled with Love, Joy, and Peace?
Thanks so much reading my 2021 A-Z Challenge post today. That means a lot to me. This April, I’m sticking to a theme of action, mental and physical, things I might already do or haven’t attempted in years or maybe never. You know what else I’m trying for some balance? Answers found in these links: Abstain, Ballet, Cartwheel.
It brings me joy that you made it to the bottom of this post. Thank you so much for reading! For the April 2021 A-Z Challenge, I hope to stick to a theme of action—I’m thinking both mental and physical, continued current activities, those of days gone by, and possibly a few never attempted. You know what else I’m trying for balance in my life? Click links to posts so far: Abstain, Ballet, and Cartwheel.
This past week, I googled Dr. Wayne Dyer quotes. If you ever need inspiration, he is an amazing go-to. Anyway, while scrolling, this one spoke to me:
We tend to pity ourselves when we perceive that fate is against us. I know a person whose son battles a severe brain illness, and her house flooded from a hurricane a few years ago. Recently her mom died, and just a month later her dog died. I understand how she might say, “Poor me.” A person can dwell on those thoughts or reframe them. “We are alive. My home has been rebuilt. My memories bring comfort and joy, and I am blessed to have them.”
Both Dr. Wayne Dyer and William Wordsworth proclaim the ability to create our own realities—through thoughts and intentions. How encouraging is that idea when it comes to our writing?
We can create our thoughts: “I am a writer. I am good. I am improving.”
Our thoughts can create our intentions: “I’m going to read at least three books a month with the goal of improving my writing, and each weekday I’m going to practice writing and check in with my writing group.” Our intentions create our reality. Little by little, in the same way that Wordsworth set out one summer with the intention of crossing the Alps. He didn’t even realize he accomplished his goal. He just had the thought and showed up and put one foot in front of the other. In the words of my friend Narayan Kaudinya—
Self-pity will inevitably sneak up, self-kindness is a practice, and I know what Dr. Wayne would say—
I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. Geez, if you hang in here with me after that line, well, then, God bless you.
Today would have been my mother’s eight-first birthday, and every time I tried to write something eloquent, I failed hard. She was the best, and I miss her. During these last couple of months, I have been overwhelmed by the outreach of kindness and sympathy from friends, hers and mine. These words are among my favorite:
“I have sat beside, under her leadership and so close in prayer with your mother, on many Monday mornings—
She brought life, laughter, peace, memorized scripture passages, prayer needs and most importantly she taught me about “grace notes” and moments our Lord gives to us and our family: encouragements, joy, blessings—these are prayers of praise!
Praise prayers were prayed for you: in your teaching positions, your home sales and purchases, your honors, her grandchildren, births, graduations, and accomplishments. She thanked God for Kody, his strength and promotions, provision for you. We as a circle of friends “cheered you on” with our hearts lifted in unison for any concern, worry, or need. She prayed lovingly and with faithfulness, waiting patiently on our Lord to answer. I am still learning “patiently”. So, so thankful for her wisdom and understanding our Holy God and His promise, Psalm 31:15 “our times are in His hands.”
May you, sweet Crystal see and hear in this note, your mother’s deep spiritual love, her constant commitment to you…”
And these words go on. So, today I celebrate my mother. I see her as the picture of health with a smile that radiates sheer joy, and I hear her voice through the thoughtfulness of her friend. I hope she hears me, too. Happy Birthday, Dear Mama! Happy Birthday, to you!
Word of 2018. HOPE. When I began this self-imposed writing gig while living in a La Quinta and rebuilding our house that had been flooded by a hurricane named Harvey, I named my blog Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope. My dad gave me a silver bracelet engraved with HOPE for my December 30th 2017 birthday, and I wore it almost every day for the following year as a reminder that HOPE, in all caps, is a choice. Dad taught me years ago that I could choose my attitude. Even amid crisis, I have a choice. HOPE or DESPAIR? I choose HOPE. Even though I’ve retired the word as my focus, I want to say I’m eternally hopeful. I credit Mama, too, for the faith she passed along.
Word of 2019. BELIEVE. Yes, I realize HOPE and BELIEVE are practically synonyms. In my mind Belief removes all doubt and fuels the Hope. Belief reminds me to trust God in the process. In 2019, I was back home and typing my posts on the comfort of my new couch. Then and now, I BELIEVE in a better, healthier future for everyone in my family. I BELIEVE in the progress of medicine and stem cells and cures for paranoid schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s and addiction. I BELIEVE that together we are stronger, and our relationships are important. I BELIEVE my writing is evolving and helping others evolve. I BELIEVE one day I will publish my first book, the first of many more. All through the grace of God. In 2019, my best friend Denise sent me a new bracelet. This one said BELIEVE.
Word of 2020. I broke the rules to the whole one-word idea. I picked two: HONESTY and COURAGE. In 2020 I returned to school to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. Through this program, I’m finishing my memoir that focuses on my son Drew, the effects of his paranoid schizophrenia on our family, and our search for help. This story cannot be told without HONESTY and COURAGE. It begins in 2010 and spans the course of six years. Our journey begins with the realization that something is wrong. Post-diagnosis, we come to terms with needing help and learn that help is a perfect formula of medicine and counseling, family and community support. I understand now that help is not possible without Drew’s full investment, and the story I’m writing is about me. My reality and my hope. It’s about sharing to help others know they are not alone. At the end of 2020, I felt like I fell short of complete HONESTY and true COURAGE. I considered a 2021 repeat. A second chance.
Word of 2021. PROGRESS. Truth be told, I’m lacking inspiration at the moment. I might even be feeling sorry for myself. I suppose pulling myself out of my slump will be PROGRESS. I suppose giving myself some extra compassion when I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, grief, and anger will be PROGRESS. I will graduate with my MFA in May, and I’ve learned so much in a year. We don’t know what we don’t know, and I know I have more to learn. That’s PROGRESS. I can say I have written a book. More PROGRESS. Now to PROGRESS with revisions—word choice and phrasing, metaphor and humor, insight and transitions. To PROGRESS with courage and honesty. To PROGRESS with living my best life despite circumstances. I wish you PROGRESS, too.
For anyone struggling with “Meh” at the moment, I recently stumbled across Ashley Peterson’s “Action for Happiness” post, a compilation of information from actionforhappiness.org and the eight pillars of joy from The Book of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ashley includes visuals that I continue to contemplate in this year’s PROGRESS. I learned something new and wanted to share.
Does a person need a crystal ball?
What if she is Crystal?
With a good long gaze inside
my whole heart, I see
with Crystal clarity—
the Almighty, who listens,
who plans to prosper me,
give me hope and a future.
And I see miracles for both of us—
you and me. That's what I believe.
In response to Eugi's weekly prompt Crystal Ball.