I for an I

“You have heard that it has been said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not fight with the man who wants to fight. Whoever hits you on the right side of the face, turn so he can hit the other side also” (Matthew 5:38-39 NLV).

brown wooden cross
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In my friend Eliza’s recent gratitude challenge, she said, “Write down five things that you like about yourself.”

Well, gee, Eliza, that’s tough! We don’t often compliment ourselves. At least I don’t, so I’ll take your challenge.

  • I like my smile.
  • I like that I’m working on my master’s degree.
  • I like that I still dance like no one is watching.
  • I like that I have meaningful relationships.
  • I like my sense of adventure.

Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.” So for a Good Friday bonus: I like that I’m not a fighter. Peace be with you today.

What about you? What are five things you like about yourself?

A to Z Challenge

You guys, I made it through the letter I, and I like that, too. Honestly I have no ideas for J. I jumped on this A-Z blogging challenge at the last possible minute without much thought or a master plan. Join me tomorrow as I try to stick to my theme of gratitude, and please know that I’m grateful each time you visit. Here are links to my challenge posts so far:

A is for Apple and B is for Boozer and C is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5 and D is for Dad and E is for Epiphany and F is for Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope and G is for Great _______ and H is for Hatbox and Honeysuckle

F is for Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

The Flood

It was August of 2017. After completing a ten-month major renovation on our latest fixer-upper, Hurricane Harvey flooded Kody, Drew, Rain, and me out of our home. When Houston fire fighters showed up with a city dump truck, I grabbed what I could stuff into an over-the-shoulder water proof bag and climbed aboard with my family and neighbors and their dogs. They dumped us a few miles away in a dry parking garage. It was just another one of those times that I realized I can’t control everything.

After a mile-or-so slosh on foot to the nearest pet-friendly hotel, I dug my orange journal out of my bag, the journal with embossed letters that spelled Gratitude, and this is what I wrote:

Aug. 27, 2017

Today Kody, Drew, Rain, and I were rescued by HFD on an emergency truck with sixteen people including our neighbors and first responders and seven dogs. Water shin deep flooded our house when we left. Our yard was submerged to my knees. I’m thankful for being able to communicate via cell phone and Facebook. I’m thankful for those who have prayed and continue to pray for us. I’m thankful for the La Quinta and breakfast and a room, actually a suite and space for Drew, and for a shower and dry clothes and for our next-door neighbors Boaz and Megan (also sheltered here) who brought us water and snacks and for the restaurant at the Hilton across the street that had wine!!

***

I suppose in that moment I realized I needed faith and gratitude. Somehow I felt a peace that transcends understanding and a glimmer of hope.

Not only had I saved my gratitude journal but also my laptop, and over the next ten months of rebuilding home and living at the La Quinta, my laptop saved me. In September 2017, I typed the story of our evacuation and sent my first words into the blogosphere. I typed other stories, too, and again and again, I tapped the blue button in the upper right corner, the one that says Publish. Ninety-four posts later, I see growth, and more often than not—faith and gratitude, peace and hope.

Home with Lipstick
Home with a makeover. Landscaping on the to-do list.

And today, I’m grateful for you, dear reader. Thanks so much for spending time with me at my first ever A-Z blogging challenge. As I hover at home this April, I’ll be seeking the good in every day, and I count you as good.

Links to daily challenge posts: A is for AppleB is for BoozerC is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5D is for Dad, E is for Epiphany

 

Life Is Bittersweet.

Some sweet things have happened these last few weeks, and I wanted to shout out a few blogger friends who have inspired me. Cue Julie Andrews. These are a few of my favorite things (from the last couple of weeks):

Thanks to Barb at letitgocoach.com, I have a bathroom that sparkles down to the shower liner. Who knew that you could throw a plastic liner into the washing machine? The biggest part of the triumph—this is Drew’s bathroom, which I normally avoid. I just happen to have some extra time on my hands. Click on this link for Barb’s post on Showers That Shine.

Another blogger friend who goes by the pen name Terrified Amateur posted a recipe for Baltimore-Style Crab Cakes, and I’m a sucker for crab cakes, one of my favorite appetizers when we dine out. Of course, we’re not dining out at the moment, so I thought these would be a treat. And treat—well, that’s an understatement!! They were divine!! Like straight out of heaven. One pound of crab made eight cakes, so we had them two days in a row. On the second day, they were even more amazing (my pan was hotter—medium high). I thought I had peanut oil, but I didn’t, so I used canola. I thought I had Dijon, but I didn’t, so I used spicy brown. And you know what? I braved the grocery store one more time (for alcohol) and round two of lump crab.

Then there is Eliza over at Journey to Life, who has been posting a daily Gratitude Challenge. I’m a big believer in gratitude, but even so, there are times when I lose focus. As I reflected on my blessings, feeling thankful for things like the roof over my head and my sweet dog and my family and friends and extra time to read and write and the gorgeous Spring weather and my walks and music in my ears, I remembered a note to self that I typed into my phone on Sunday, August 19, 2019. Now seems a right time to post it.

This Sunday morning I’m thankful
for my eyes that opened
to another gorgeous day
and the sunlight at play,
silver gold reflections
in the emerald treetops.
 
I’m thankful for strength
of body and mind
that carry me
to my oasis of calm
through my own backdoor.
 
For a delicious breeze
and the songs of birds in the trees
backed by the choir of cicadas.
 
For two little black dogs
with waggity tails
smiling faces
and so much love
in those deep brown eyes.
 
For all of this.
This moment in time
when all is right in the world.

So here’s the thing—life is bittersweet. I’m heartbroken by two deaths this past week. One of my best friends lost her Dad, and I lost my dear friend Desi who was my lunch buddy all through junior high and high school. Cancer is a bitch, and so is Covid-19. And as I scroll through Facebook (because I can’t see anyone in real time), I see so many others facing losses and illness and pain. Obviously, not all is right in the world, but there is something good in every day. I went to church this past Sunday (in my living room online), and later a friend asked me what I heard that was meaningful. Here are a few words that resonated with me from the sermon and the good book:

Philippians 4:4-13 New International Version (NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I find peace and strength in these words in a time when I need peace and strength, and I’m finding contentment in circumstance. I pray the same for you. I try to keep my thoughts on the true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable things, and I try to thank God for the excellent and praiseworthy—like good people and clean showers and crab cakes and reasons to live.

Seven Beliefs for Seven Decades

On an icy Oklahoma day fifty Decembers ago, I surprised my parents with my missing malehood. No one had seemed to consider that I might be a girl, and I would be named David like my dad with no contingency for a daughter. Following my birth and my mother’s subsequent emergency hysterectomy, the hospital window—obscured with crystals of glistening snow and a valance of shimmering icicles—captivated and inspired my parents. I would be the Crystal that melted their hearts.

I suppose I’ve been more reflective as I wind down my forty-ninth year. I was born December 30, 1969. Hard to believe that my time on this spinning blue ball spans seven different decades—the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, ‘10s, now into the ‘20s. Fifty years later, I ponder how many more? I consider my friends who have leveled up to the big five-oh before me with varying levels of acceptance. I remember my friends and their significant others who have passed on too young and too soon.

As for me, I still feel the same as that little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. Do you know her? When she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid. The baby of my family AKA the baby princess. Spoiled. Pouty. Ornery—disguised as sweet and shy.

I still feel like that teenager I once was and the twenty-, the thirty-, the forty-something, just with more experience, more compassion, and a little more fat.

What’s not to like about another year of life? A new decade? A brand new era? So many bucket list items, so many things to do, people to see, places to go, and the blue ball spins on.

At fifty years, nothing surprises me anymore. Truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve learned you can’t predict the future or plan for everything, not without disappointments anyway. Life delivers cruel and unexpected blows, mistakes and heartbreaks and devastating losses with love and joy in the midst. Life delivers inevitable bad and sad—illness, death, and natural disasters with something good in every day. There might be someone living with you and unable to care for himself, someone who hears voices in his head and screams at them, someone who slams doors in your house and causes your dogs to run and hide. There will always be people who don’t meet your expectations, people who don’t do things the same way you would, and so many situations outside of your control. Necessary changes don’t come quick or easy. Some need professional help.

At fifty years, I’ve learned to focus on the good, on the love, on the joy. This focus doesn’t make the bad and sad go away, it just makes the bad and sad tolerable. I notice my sad and frustrated, hateful and angry thoughts spawn more of the same. And I notice that happy thoughts do, too. Beside me now, I have two little black dogs with waggity tails and so much love in their deep brown eyes. These are a few of my favorite things. *Cue Julie Andrews. You know what else I love? Deep thoughts…

Seven Beliefs for Seven Decades:

The ‘60s: “And though she be but little, she is fierce” (William Shakespeare).

The ‘70s: “Do the best you can. Then when you know better, do better” (Maya Angelou).

The ‘80s: “Crystal, you can choose your attitude” (Dad).

The ‘90s: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel” (Maya Angelou).

The ‘00s: “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

The ‘10s: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”  (2 Timothy 1:7).

The ‘20s: “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it” (Frank McCourt).

Numbers are just numbers, and who knows when your number is up? And so I try—to live life with an abundance of love and adventure and joy. Carpe Diem, as they say, and Happy Birthday to me! I feel privileged and blessed, thankful and hopeful, and just really happy to be here.

iCANFLY

When I stepped into the wind tunnel from the safety of the doorway, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival.* I said a little prayer with faith and gratitude for peace and hope. At home on my laptop, I had skimmed a release of liability and waiver of legal rights and acknowledged that indoor skydiving can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY/DEATH and signed the electronic copy. Then I hopped in my car and drove to Austin for some girl time and a sleepover with two of my elementary school besties.

Pamela, Denise, and I arrived at the iFly in leggings, t-shirts, and tennis shoes before receiving our flight suits, ear plugs, and helmets. During the safety debrief with our instructor Drew, we learned the basics of maintaining a stable flight position, sort of like assuming the airport security position, hands above your head, elbows bent, except with fingers spread strong, feet further than shoulder width, and pelvis forward with a slight arch to the back and a bend in the knee. Drew said, “Tilt your hands to the right to fly right,” while demonstrating with his hands. “Left to fly left.” He tilted his head back, “Chin up to fly up,” and then dropped his head toward his chest, “chin down to fly down.” He straightened his arms to Superman position and said, “Extend your arms to fly forward.” I forget what he said about flying backward, but it didn’t really matter. I was ready.

Denise, my friend since age 5, Pamela, my friend since 5th grade, and me.

I stepped up to the doorway and gently leaned into the wind. There was no jumping or falling. Just a sense of peace, floating in the air with an instructor by my side and a second instructor observing, coaching, and manning the camera from outside the wind tunnel. I never once feared for my life. None of us crashed into the wall or fell to our doom. Once back on solid ground, Drew gave me a high five and an enthusiastic, “You’ve never done this before? You were amazing!”

And I felt amazing. Little kids were suited up and waiting to fly after the three of us, and I thought to myself, Sometimes you need childlike faith.

Even before iFly, Pamela and Denise concocted a 50th birthday plan to actually jump out of an airplane with a parachute. Skydiving wasn’t exactly on my bucket list…

Until now…

Now I might just join them, and maybe one day I’ll finish this one…

When I stepped into the clear blue sky from the safety of the airplane, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival…*

*This post inspired by S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, “When I stepped into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

It Is Well with My Soul

Thanksgiving Episode I

I’m on a two-week church streak. Since moving to Houston in 2016 and leaving behind my seemingly irreplaceable Chase Oaks in Dallas, well, let’s just say I sort of slipped off the church wagon. I visited here and there, and in a city the size of Houston, it’s weird that I couldn’t find a place that felt like home. Eventually, I gave up and just lived in sin.

(Ha Ha! I kid. We’re all sinners and by that I mean imperfect. But I keep trying to be a better human anyway.)

Two Sundays ago, I found myself at the Methodist church in my Oklahoma panhandle hometown. Olivia, my five-year-old great niece, was singing in the children’s choir, and well, I couldn’t miss that. Their song went something like this, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings for what the Lord has done.” And I did. While the kids sang, I counted my blessings.

  1. Seeing my sweet mother again.
  2. Hearing my mom say, “I love you,” to me one more time.
  3. Seeing and hearing Olivia’s performance and gleaning a jewel of wisdom.
  4. The opportunity for some time off of work to spend time with my family.
  5. A safe solo trip to the panhandle.
  6. My three-year-old niece Allyson, playing hide and seek with me in the next pew.
  7. My last class of my 12-week, long-term sub job, where we had a round of Show and Tell, and Jennissa and Neicko brought down the house with their own rendition of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s duet “Shallow” from A Star Is Born.

I could’ve continued counting, but I zoned back into the service in time for the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul,” which led into the sermon and the backstory of the song writer Horatio Spafford. A lawyer from Chicago, in 1871 Spafford’s four-year-old son died of Scarlet fever and the Great Fire destroyed his real estate investment and ruined him financially. Two years later his wife and four daughters headed to Europe on vacation, where he planned to later join them, and their ship the S.S. Ville du Havre sank in the Atlantic Ocean. His wife’s telegram read, “Saved alone.” Their four daughters had drowned. He wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” on his journey to England to meet his wife while passing near the spot where the ship went down. In the face of more tragedy than the average person could bear, Spafford’s soul was well. Mid-blessing count, my soul is well, too.

Click here for Episode 2.

Let It Go

Thanksgiving Episode 2

Back in Houston last Sunday, I tried a new church, River Pointe, by recommendation of my friend Mary. Like my Chase Oaks back in Dallas, the music was outstanding, a mix of contemporary and traditional, and for the second time in a week, I sang “It Is Well With My Soul.” This time the minister referenced the songwriter Horatio Spafford and said, “You should Google him.” I remembered the story from last week’s service in Oklahoma (Thanksgiving Episode 1) and silently wondered if God was trying to tell me something. I mean, my soul still felt pretty darn good. As pastor Ryan Leak spoke, I heard the boom of God’s voice and a special Thanksgiving message crystal clear.

Regardless of what you think about Jesus, you have to admit he has a common sense approach to relationship restoration. And while some of us can’t wait to gather with our families at Thanksgiving and throughout the upcoming holidays, some of us have some relationship issues that strike discord and darken spirits.

As I typed up a few sermon notes to keep for myself, I decided to share with you if you so choose to read on. Let us now turn to the New Testament.

“Then Peter came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered him, ‘I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Did you see the italicized and? It’s not just about the forgiveness. We must also let it go.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:3-4).

Before you sit down to the Thanksgiving table, remember the words. You see, faith allows you to do what sometimes seems impossible…like letting go and moving on. It is impossible that no offenses will come. We are human. None of us are perfect, but it’s so much easier to point the finger in blame rather than to let a wrongdoing go. Jesus says, “Let it go. 490 times. Let it go.” Did you notice the imperative statement, also known as a command (ment). Ask God to give you an opportunity to be honest (rebuke them), then be generous with your forgiveness and discerning with reconciliation. That is God’s message. The message I needed to hear.

As I left the sanctuary that day, the woman sitting next to me turned, looked me in the eye, and said in a lilting Nigerian accent, “And to think that God would give us the grace to forgive every family member.”

Seeking Joy (Who’s in?)

And in the end, I found my tribe…and strength…and joy.

My Canadian blogger friend Dave left me the message above on my post last week, and I found myself Googling James 1:2.

Dave would know a thing or two about trials, having undergone two kidney transplants. I wondered, but didn’t ask, if his group experiment happened as he waited for that second kidney earlier this year. I copied and pasted the scripture into my iPhone notes and replied:

And he responded once more:

Oh dang! So now I can’t keep the joy to myself, Dave? You mean, I have to seek it and share it with others and coerce them to do the same? I mean, that takes some vulnerability, Dave!

Of course, I didn’t say any of that. Instead, I took Dave’s challenge and texted my like-minded, elementary-school besties: Pamela, Starla, and Denise, my friends for forty-plus years, whom I voted most likely to play along. Their words in turn conveyed varying degrees of enthusiasm in no particular order:

“It’s going to be a hard month, but I will do it with you.”

“I thought that was why God made wine? To find joy in the struggles.”

“Count it all Joy! Oh boy…this is tough. I will write it on a sticky on my desk.”

And in the end with some arm twisting, I found my tribe…and strength…and JOY. Ya’ll, my life is not without problems. Am I seeking joy? Um, yeah. Do I intentionally surround myself with good energy? Absolutely.

Paul from Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill shared these four minutes of pure JOY:

By the way a recent survey has named Belgium the happiest country in the EU.

Life is not trial free, and our struggles strengthen us. May you seek and find JOY in your challenges.