February 26

Today is my mother’s birthday. Just thinking those words makes my heart sink. She would’ve been 82.

But just now outside my window, I spied a cardinal hopping through the grass. I remembered hearing about cardinals being symbolic of angels.

I tapped cardinals and angels into the search bar of my phone.

“Cardinals mostly symbolize devotion and determination; it is the visitor from heaven.

‘Cardinals appear when angels are near,’ as Victoria McGovern said, the Cardinals are platonic, a precious message God sends to the world. The Cardinals are the messengers of God for those who hope and seek blessings for their ailing souls.

The Cardinal represents beauty in the dark times, hope in the sorrow, and renewal in the harsh winter. It is said that if you see a cardinal bird, it symbolizes your deceased loved ones are watching out for you.”

kidadl.com

My mother was always an angel. Now she has wings and a halo to prove it. And today I heard from her AND God. Happy Birthday, Dear Mama! I hope you hear me, too.

May your day be blessed.

Help. I’m Hungry.

Each weekday morning, I exit the freeway east of downtown and turn left just after the second light onto a one-way street. It’s 7:15. Under the overpass, a man to my right makes his bed, folding three or four blankets, stacking them neatly on the sidewalk. Sometimes I catch him urinating. I try not to notice. On the opposite side of the street, a person sleeps in a makeshift shelter made of an overturned shopping cart and cardboard boxes. Sunshine or rain. 73 degrees or 32.

The homeless weigh on my mind throughout the day. After work on my drive home, I meet others with cardboard signs. “Houston, help. I’m hungry.”

Sometimes I have a few dollars. Sometimes I mouth, “I’m sorry.” My “Sorry” is often met with a wave and a sad smile. People seem to appreciate being seen either way.

I don’t have the solution. I wish I could say I’m doing more. I know people scam, but I witness people who don’t. I’ve heard the advice: “Don’t give on the street. Give to the shelter.”

I ask myself: “What would Jesus do?”

Courtesy of cdnquotesgram.com

‘Tis the Season

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.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Just a little formula I apply to life’s circumstances…

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

Anything Is Possible

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.

Listen.

My mother visited me not long ago in a dream. I sat in a campus classroom when someone came to the door and said, “Your mother is here to see you.” That seemed weird—one, because my mother passed away this past Christmas Eve, and two, because my classes are online, but this time my cohort surrounded me.

I left my spot and walked into the next room where my mother stood with a radiant smile on her face and a gift in her hands. Neck scarves, probably four of them, rolled up in a long plastic tube. “I wanted you to have these before I leave,” she said.

“Will you come meet my friends and my teacher before you go?” I said. Mom nodded her head and followed me to my classroom. I introduced her to the people who’ve supported my writing most this past year. She came to leave me a gift before she left.

***

Sometime last month, my friend David wrote about Mother Teresa, and I carry this story with me. An interviewer once asked what she said to God when she prayed. She replied, “I don’t say anything. I listen.”

The reporter said, “Okay, when God speaks to you then, what does He say?”

Mother Teresa replied, “He doesn’t say anything. He listens.” She offered no other explanation. To her, prayer was spending time with the One she loved. The One who created her and cared for her

***

The sun rose on Sunday, the night after my dream. I walked the streets of my neighborhood, and I listened. The voices of unknown birds and rustling motions in the treetops filled the morning air. I thought about how my feathered friends can sing whatever their hearts desire, how their songs are as much a part of their nature as soaring through the sky. Sunbeams streamed through the leaves and lit the grass with gold. My mother and her scarves seemed a comfort—as if she came to my school to approve of my work, to protect my voice, to validate my story, and to say, “Don’t let anyone shut you up or shut you down.”

Sympathy
BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
    When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;   
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,   
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
    When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,   
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
    Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;   
For he must fly back to his perch and cling   
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
    And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars   
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,   
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!


Happy Birthday, Dear Mama!

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

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!

I Awoke to the Moon

The Waning Gibbous Phase

I awoke to the moon shining through the trees and studied it with delight in the cool Sunday morning breeze. I felt God with me. My mother and my dog Rain, too. No longer here. But vividly here. In my heart.

Great are the works of the Lord;
They are studied by all who delight in them.
Psalm 111:2

The Lord created the world. That thought alone boggles the mind. His works are great. I will study and delight in them.

This spring semester, I’m studying William Wordsworth’s epic poem, The Prelude. According to my syllabus, “it is often said that The Prelude represents the true beginning of modern literature.” Book One depicts the poet from his youth, studying and delighting in the works of the Lord. Wordsworth never directly credits God, but he contemplates nature—the time of year, the warmth of the day, the placement of the sun in the sky, the color of the clouds, the illumination of the ground, and the peace of his surroundings—in connection to his own place in the world.

‘Twas Autumn, and a calm and placid day,
With warmth as much as needed from a sun
Two hours declined towards the west, a day
With silver clouds, and sunshine on the grass,
And, in the sheltered grove where I was couched
A perfect stillness. On the ground I lay
Passing through many thoughts, yet mainly such
As to myself pertained…(74-81).

Wordsworth provides a basic lesson of gratitude in his appreciation of small pleasures, and in this case, the world’s beauty. God resides in His creation, and like Wordsworth, we can find God’s peace if only we stop long enough to see and breathe in His presence in the world. Through a meditative pause and an eye on divine creation, Wordsworth found inspiration, hope, and a soothing balance in his life, and so will we.

…Thus long I lay
Cheared by the genial pillow of the earth
Beneath my head, soothed by a sense of touch
From the warm ground, that balanced me…(87-90).
Taste and see that the Lord is good; 
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him…
Psalm 34:8

Sharing Sharon

Sharon Sue Petty, 80, passed away peacefully at home amid family on December 24, 2020. The third of five children, Sharon was born February 26, 1940, at home in Oklahoma City to Edward Tony and Catherine Leota Barker Savage. She brought extra joy into this world.

As a young girl, Sharon wanted to be president of the United States. She met David Kent Petty at the end of her eighth-grade year when she was elected Student Council president. David, as the outgoing president, swore in Sharon as the new president. These kids fell for each other at Northeast High School in Oklahoma City, and they swore their lives to each other in marriage on May 29, 1961. Sharon chose to be the best wife and mother she could be, and she was.

Sharon attended Oklahoma State University and delayed her graduation to support David through law school. When the family moved to Guymon in January 1970, Sharon continued her studies and graduated from Oklahoma Panhandle State University with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education.

Sharon loved gardening. Over the years, she cultivated many productive vegetable gardens and gave away bushels of zucchini. She applied for and received grants of over $100,000 for trees to beautify Guymon. She planted and watered many trees personally. Sharon also served several terms as the president of the Rose Garden Club in Guymon, where she mentored other gardeners. Sharon’s top gardening tips included 1) Only trim shrubs in the months with “R” in them. 2) Planting trees in the fall gives them a chance to grow before leaves require moisture. 3) Knockout roses are wonderful. They bloom from spring to the first freeze. They are hardy and resist disease and drought.

Active in her church and community, Sharon taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and helped with Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts. She volunteered as a tutor in Guymon Public Schools, as an ombudsman at the Heritage Community, and as a committee member for Guymon on the Move. Sharon visited, mentored, and shared hope with inmates and met weekly with her beloved ladies’ Bible study groups. A member of Victory Memorial United Methodist Church, Sharon was involved with United Methodist Women, the UMW Clothing Ministry, the Stephen Ministry, Martha Ruth Circle, and several church committees. UMW honored Sharon with their special recognition for her service. In 2002, the City of Guymon recognized her as Citizen of the Year. In 2004, Beta Sigma Phi sorority awarded Sharon the honor of Woman of the Year. In 2008, Main Street Guymon recognized Sharon for her efforts toward the city’s beautification. Sharon only wanted to make a difference, and she did.

Sharon touched many lives with her beautiful smile, unconditional love, and constant kindness, and her life was a living example of her favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 41:13. “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Sharon fought the challenges of Alzheimer’s and complications from COVID-19 with the supernatural strength and courage of her heavenly Father. At age ten, Sharon knew she needed Jesus, and she felt His presence throughout her days.  

Sharon is survived by her husband David of the home; daughter Liz Lee and husband Mike of Guymon; son Scott Petty and wife Gerri of Stillwater; daughter Crystal Byers and husband Kody of Houston, Texas; grandchildren Chase Lee, Gant Lee, Drew Byers, Lauren Byers, Catherine Petty and Will Petty; two great granddaughters Olivia and Allyson Lee; her brother and his wife, John Paul and Nancy Savage of Granbury, Texas; her sister-in-law Linda Savage of Norman; and many nephews and nieces. Sharon was preceded in death by her sister Carol Rose Payton and two brothers James Edward Savage and Joed Cleve Savage. All of these she loved and touched deeply.

Sharon’s life will be celebrated with a graveside service at Elmhurst Cemetery in Guymon on Monday, December 28th at 2:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Rose Garden Club of Guymon or the Panhandle State Foundation scholarship fund. In her memory, please wear a mask and maintain distance in public.

My Mama’s Voice

My Mama and Me
My first memories
include my Mama’s voice.
No matter where she is,
no matter where I am,
I hear her—
  
“There was a little girl,
who had a little curl, 
right in the middle 
of her forehead.”
       Mama points in thin air,
       draws a circle.
“And when she was good,
she was very, very good,”
      she emphasizes very,
     nods up and down,
“and when she was bad,”
      she exaggerates bad,
      lifts an eyebrow,
“she was horrid.”
     Mama shudders,
     shakes her head. 
It’s a gentle warning.
Her words still ring true.
  
At the end of each day,
Mama would always say,
“Goodnight, sleep tight.
Don’t let the bed bugs bite.
And if they do…”
      This is my cue.
     I say, “Take your shoe, 
     and rub their tummies
     black and blue.”
Mama says, “I love you.”
    And I say back, “I love you, too.”
It's our routine. 
  
In times of trouble, 
Mama stands on God’s word.
How many times did I hear
her say?
  
“And we know that all things
work together for good
to those who love the Lord
to those who are called
according to His purpose.”
     Mama would say it now 
     if she could.
And then—"I love you.”
   
But I hear her voice. 
     "I love you, too, Mama."
     No matter where you are.
    No matter where I am.
Mama had three children. Somehow she always made me feel I had her undivided attention. How adorable is she? Family vacation, July 1972, Hoover Dam.

On the Turning Away

Church started with Pink Floyd last Sunday. Technically it was Domino. With his iconic dreads and electric guitar, he sang, “On the Turning Away.” I saw it online, and I just happen to have a link. Next came Jeff Jones, he’s the senior pastor, and the current series is “Love Like Jesus.” Feel free to scroll on. I’m posting it believing someone might need to hear and will watch.

Jeff started out his sermon with some word associations: “If I said ______, you would say _____.” Eventually making it to his point. “If I said, ‘Christian,’ I don’t know what you would say, depending on what your experience is…”

I knew where Jeff was going. I knew what should go in the blank, but I’ll be honest, my first thought was not positive. Forgive me for going there. I know there are lots of good Christians, amazing humans who give generously of their time and resources and have an unbelievable level of grace for others. But I also know lots of people who won’t step foot into a church…who feel judged by Christians…who have had bad church experiences. Almost daily during my online scrolling and sometimes in overheard conversation, I hear and see Christians passing judgement. And I think—what would Jesus do? What would Jesus say? What would Jesus post?

Jeff continued, “…but I know what we should be able to say, what anybody in the world should be able to say whether they are Christian or not or believe anything about Jesus…the first thing they should think about when they think about ‘Christian’ is love…because that’s the one thing that Jesus said,…’Love like I love.’”  

The weekend before last Ryan Leak kicked off the series. He’s a teaching pastor and a professional speaker. And the strange thing is—I saw him for the first time preaching at a church in Houston about a year ago, and then suddenly he’s popping up at my home church back in Dallas. Throughout the pandemic, Chase Oaks Church is my go to for Sunday mornings. I find extra inspiration and hope here. The sermons are archived on their website if needed, and you can fast forward through the music—or not.

 

Anyway, I go to church each Sunday for my weekly attitude adjustment. I am far from perfect. FAR. But I try. On the day of this U.S. Presidential election, I might not be perfect. Despite results, I’m sure I’ll need to be back in church by Sunday.

Jesus knows we’re all messed up. He offers forgiveness as a gift. And because He would, I’m sending love and peace your way—no matter who or where you are, no matter what you’ve done or what you believe. ❤️