My Secret Weapon

This morning as I was preparing for a contested court hearing, I couldn’t help but miss my mom.  Mom was my “secret weapon.”  She was proud when I became a lawyer.  She always asked about my work.  I didn’t give her much detail, but I told her about the kinds of cases I was working on.  “I represent a mom in a nasty divorce,” or “I’m a guardian ad litem for 3 kids who love both of their parents.”  Sometimes it was “I have a bankruptcy hearing and my client is really scared,” or even, “the attorney on the other side yells a lot and it makes me anxious.”  Mom never asked for more details.  She just said, “that sounds like hard work, but it’s important and I know you’re making a difference.”

The night before my very first contested hearing, I called Mom and told her that I was nervous.  I didn’t really know what was going to happen.  I was afraid of looking unprepared and making a fool out of myself as well as doing a bad job for my client.

Mom asked me what time my hearing was.  She told me she was going to pray that my hearing would go smoothly.  My hearing didn’t go perfectly, but it did go smoothly.  I didn’t feel anxious or nervous.  I asked the right questions.  All-in-all it was a great success.   My client ended up with a good result, and I gained confidence.

I called mom that night to tell her that the hearing had gone well.  She answered, “I knew it would.  I prayed.”  We have had many of those “night before a hearing” conversations over the past seven years.  She said a lot of prayers for people she didn’t know, and I had a lot of hearings that went smoothly, where I didn’t feel nervous and didn’t make a complete fool of myself.

I’m not claiming to have had divine intervention in my cases – but I can’t recall ever having a hearing go badly when my mom was praying.  Mom’s prayers were my “secret weapon.”  Mom believed in me, and knowing that she believed that I was “making a difference” gave me confidence.    I want to be the kind of lawyer that my mom believed I am.  Sometimes prayer changes things from the inside.

 

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Special Delivery

When you begin listening for the voice of God in your life, he speaks in many ways.  Sometimes, it is that “still, small voice” in my head during a meditation.  Other times it is looking up to see a sunbeam playing across the floor bringing just a little light into a dark moment.

When I pay attention to “living, instead of existing,” God manifests.  Perhaps you will say that these moments are simply coincidences.  I choose to view them as the breadcrumbs left behind to show me that I am still on the right path.

God sent two messages to me last week via “special delivery.”

I adopted “comfort and joy” as a little personal theme, brand or motto a year or so ago.  I post photos of teacups or flowers, bright colored yarn or even close-ups of my dogs. If it brings me comfort or joy, it’s a likely candidate for my instagram hashtag, #comfortandjoy.

I have an eye condition that makes it difficult to read sometimes.  I do as much of my reading on a screen as I can because I can tweak the contrast and the font size to make it easier to see.  As a result, I rarely look at “real” books anywhere anymore.

Last weekend I went on a little shopping expedition to two of my favorite thrift stores.  At the first, where I have never even glanced at the used book rack, I was forced to stop a moment by the shelves because a couple of people were admiring objects in a curio and blocking my way.  I turned to the bookshelves to pass the time, and my eyes lit immediately on a daily devotional about “Simple Abundance” with “Comfort and Joy” in the title.  I picked it up and paid for it.

At the next stop, I was waiting for my son to try on some clothing.  I had already checked out the dishware and found no teacups that called to me, so I walked to the book shelves.  Just the day before, I had reviewed my Amazon “Wish List.”  On it was Regina Brett’s book, “God Never Blinks.”  I’ve enjoyed reading Regina’s newspaper columns for years.  She has inspired me on many occasions.  I “follow” her on Facebook, and although I frequently have considered buying her book, I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Just as at the previous shop, the first book that I saw “called out” to me.  Its bright orange cover drew my eye, and into the cart it went.

Those books sat on my coffee table for several days, untouched.  I opened the cover of “God Never Blinks” and saw an inscription from a daughter to her mother on Mother’s Day 2012.  It made me a little sad to know that a carefully chosen gift had made its way to the Salvation Army store.

I turned the page, and saw that the author had autographed the book, and my amazement that this little book had found its way into my hands was magnified.  I turned to the Introduction section, and as I read the words, I knew that I had discovered a soul sister.  Tears streamed down my face.

I’ve been reading from these two books for a week now, with no hint of discomfort – no visual distortion.   Now, I read a lesson each day.  I want to keep turning the pages and consume the entire book in a single sitting, but it would be over too quickly.  Instead, like a box of expensive chocolates, I will savor just one each day, letting the words sink in slowly.

God didn’t just send me a message.  He sent me an autographed copy.  Thank you for your words, Regina, and thank you to unnamed “favorite daughter” who bought her mom and autographed book in 2012 that would be delivered into the hands of another mother nearly 5 years later.

 

Day 6/365: Prayer and Meditation

I spend a period of time each day in prayer and in meditation.   I set aside time each day for each of these practices.  I am not a theologian or a guru.  I have found, though, that prayer and meditation complement each other and add a great deal to my life.

I have heard it said that prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening for the answers.  That may be an oversimplification, but I like the sentiment.

The first thing I do in the morning, before I get out of bed, is to give thanks for another day of life.  If my husband is in bed, I check if he is breathing and give thanks for that, too.  I (silently) say “this is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it,” and then I wake up my 16-year-old son and round up the dogs.

I go to sleep at night (literally) counting my blessings and giving thanks for the many people and things that bring joy into my life.  I don’t view God as a vending machine in the sky that doles out favors in exchange for prayer tokens.  I don’t spend much prayer time asking for specific blessings.  I do, however, seek answers.  I ask for inspiration, and I receive it.

I attempt to spend 15 – 20 minutes each morning in meditation.  I have some recordings that i like to use to get into a meditative state of mind.  It seems my mind is always working on one question or another, and it is difficult to reach a place where I can just “be” instead of “doing.”

I have learned to keep a pad of paper and a pen handy when I meditate because ideas just pop into my mind.  Without my mind planning projects or worrying about details, I am free to simply breathe in and out and listen for inspiration and answers – or just to relax and enjoy life.

There are many free meditation apps for iPhone and Android that are useful tools to help you learn to meditate.  Although it’s cold in Ohio as I write (1 degrees F, brrrr), when the weather is warn, there is nothing that I enjoy more than sitting in nature with my eyes closed and just simply observing the sounds of nature and the sensations of the sun and the breeze as they touch my skin.  In these moments I can truly disconnect from the wear and tear of life’s distractions and allow God to speak.

 

How Do You Love Me? (Sorry, Elizabeth)

(With all apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806  1861

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

I had this conversation with a good friend the other day.  We both have spouses whose “love languages” differ from our own.  It’s so very easy to get caught up in mentally listing all of the ways that we show love to our significant others.  On a regular basis, I show love by saying it (words of affirmation), and by reaching out to rub a back or hold a hand (loving touch).  I cook dinner on a regular basis (acts of service), and I buy little remembrances (gifts).  Over time, my primary love language has shifted from “gifts” to “words” or “touch.”   (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Dr. Gary Chapman’s wonderful book, “The Five Love Languages.”  In a nutshell, we each have ways that we tend to express love.  We feel most loved when we receive love in our own “language.”

When a couple speaks different “love languages,” it’s easy for one or the other to feel taken for granted.  That’s where I think we get into trouble sometimes.  Instead of recognizing the things our partner does for us, we keep a list of the things that we do that “go unappreciated.”  Or worse, we keep a mental list of what we’ve done for others expecting them to reciprocate in kind, and we miss it when they express love in their own way.

My husband is an “acts of service” guy through and through.  He does the laundry and cleans up the kitchen.  He mows the lawn, builds things, paints rooms, and makes coffee.  There is literally nothing that I have ever asked him to do for me that he has flatly refused to do for me.  He does these things because they need to be done, but HE does them because he loves me and because they free up my time to do other things (like help run the family business, or write in my blogs).

My husband is not big on gifts, which caused a big problem early in our marriage.  I felt unloved when I didn’t get my birthday, anniversary or valentine’s gift – especially because I invariably would buy one for him.  what was even worse was that instead of getting excited about the gift, he acted like he could have not cared less (which truth be told, was often true!)  It wasn’t until I read The Five Love Languages that I realized why he didn’t “care enough” to buy me gifts and why it hurt me so when he didn’t.  We learned to adapt.  I either buy my own gift or give him a list to choose from.

How does he love me?  This weekend he hung an antique mirror for me.  He installed shelving in the pantry.  He helped me clean the house on Friday evening.  On Saturday, he went for groceries with me.  On Sunday, he worked very hard putting things away for winter and cleaning while I had fun doing some recreational shopping.  He also told me that he loves me.  He wrapped his arms around me while I slept.  He made the coffee.  The list goes on and on.

Here in Ohioland it was Sweetest Day on Saturday (for those of you in other parts of the country, that’s like a bonus Valentine’s Day- it’s a flowers and candy and fancy dinner kind of holiday).  We talked about the fact that Saturday was Sweetest Day on Wednesday or Thursday.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Saturday is Sweetest Day – I know you think it’s a Hallmark holiday, right?

Him:  Yes.  I do.  I will buy you something if you want me to.

Me:  That’s okay – I’ll find something for myself.  Is that okay?

Him:  That’s perfect.

My sweetest day gift consisted of chocolate and a wonderful bar of sweet smelling french-milled soap – my favorite indulgences.

Once in a while, he surprises me and picks out a gift for me, and when he does, he knocks one out of the park.  The gifts are perfect every time.  In the meantime, I will count the ways he shows me he loves me, and forget about keeping score.

A lamp for my feet – a light on my path

I just came home from vacation this week.  It was a wonderful week of activity, people watching, and enjoying nature.  I’ve been running for about a year and a half now.  I run mostly in Ohio, and mostly in an area that is very flat.  We have a few hills, but you really need to go out of your way to get to most of them.  As a result, my runs have very little elevation change.  I also tend to run in the early evening, while it’s still quite light out (and the bugs aren’t too bad).  Although summer just ended, as summers go it wasn’t terribly hot in Ohio.  All in all, it’s been a mild, pleasant summer for a novice runner.

As we were planning our vacation, I scouted for running events that would fit our timeline.  I discovered the Twilight Lake Las Vegas run and signed up for the 10K distance (they had 5k, 10k and half marathon available).

I took a very bad fall a few years back that left me with a leg broken in 4 places with a full complement of hardware installed to keep my skeleton together.  Although my balance has improved significantly since I began running and doing #DDPYoga, it still isn’t one of the strengths.

The day of the race, we started walking from our hotel of the Vegas Strip to the Avis office a mile or so away.  I stepped off a curb and landed on my knees and elbows.  While I wasn’t badly injured, it hurt.  My knees and hands were scuffed up, and I had fallen on the knees that has the worst arthritis of the pair.  We kept going and picked up the rental car.  We left Las Vegas and drove to Hoover Dam where our hotel was located.  We did some sightseeing and checked into our room.  It was 108 degrees.  I’ve heard it said that “dry heat” is cooler than the humid heat we have in Ohio, but no matter how you look at it, 108 degrees is HOT.

I spent the time leading up to the race hydrating and fueling.  My training plan fell apart in the weeks leading up to the race, and although I wasn’t concerned about being able to cover the distance, I knew I wasn’t going to be fast.  I grabbed a cooling towel and we headed to packet pickup.  We drove through the Lake Mead area and enjoyed the views, stopping at multiple scenic overlooks.  The red rocks and landscape seemed so alien compared to the lush Lake Erie landscape that I’m so accustomed to.

My husband dropped me off at the start line and drove back to enjoy Lake Mead some more.  The half marathon runners lined up first.  Their race began at 6:30 p.m.  I listened to the directions – make sure you have a flashlight or a head lamp.  The course is unlit.  I checked the lights in my trusty ball cap with “head lights.”  They functioned.  I decided I was good to go.

The half marathoners were off, and the 10K runners lined up.  The run was just starting to dim.  It was still quite hot, but not as hot as it had been moments before.  I tested the injured knee – no bad pain.  I re-tied my shoes and took a last chug out of my water bottle before recycling it.  The horn sounded and we began.

The course was paved and pretty wide.  As it wound through the desert landscape, I saw succulent plants.  I wondered if there were snakes, scorpions, or other critters out there.  I’m a “back of the pack” runner, and this race was no exception.  As I neared the 1.5 mile mark, some of the fastest 5K participants passed me.  Soon, I was all alone.  The 5K runners had turned around, and most of the 10K runners were ahead of me.

I watched the sun set, and I turned on my “high beams.”  I was dismayed.  Although that hat was great for letting people know that I’m out there on the road, it really wasn’t a great light source.  I ran off the edge of the path once and resolved to stay closer to the middle to avoid matching hardware in the other ankle.  As the course progressed, my eyes became accustomed to the dark. Although I couldn’t see well, I could at least see the path.

A volunteer told me to turn left “Everyone goes up the hill.”  Wow.  What a hill.  I wasn’t prepared for this.  I made it up the hill, huffing and puffing.  I went back down the other side and soon found myself running near a freeway.  The oncoming headlights, while a safe distance away, destroyed my night vision, and I was soon stumbling along the edge of the path again.

My cooling towel began to dry out. I got hot.  Then, I heard something I couldn’t identify and I got scared.   I began to question the wisdom of signing up for this hilly race in the desert with no lights.  I began to question my ability to run the distance.  What if there were a rattlesnake on the path enjoying the warmth?  I wouldn’t be able to see it.  What if I fell and nobody found me?

An aid station was in the distance.  I stopped for water and a volunteer asked if I would like my cooling towel re-soaked.  Gratefully, I said “yes.”  I finished the water.  I wrapped the cold towel around my neck, and I took a few deep breaths.

As I began to run again, I felt a sense of calm.  As my overheated body began to cool down, the words of a praise chorus I used to sing while playing the piano came to mind.

Although the sky didn’t get brighter (and neither did the lights on my cap), I felt a sense of calm wash over me as I sang the words quietly.  I looked out at the horizon and saw the lights of Las Vegas.  As the trail turned away from the freeway again, the quiet desert greeted me again.  The course turned downhill. The going was easier.  There was a lightness in my step.

As I passed the 5K turnaround again, I saw a woman who was laboring heavily to get to that mark.  She had a wonderful team of supporters there to encourage her.  I remembered my first tentative running steps at over 300 pounds.  I remembered the difficulty and the fear.  I tried my best to encourage her as I passed her on my way back to the finish.  Soon thereafter I encountered another struggling runner with a walker.  She, too, was accompanied by friends.  Although I was running unaccompanied, I wasn’t alone.  There in the dark, all I had to do was cry out for comfort.  My “support team” was there, guiding my steps.

I crossed the finish and collected my medal.  I grabbed some snacks and a cool water while I waited for my husband to collect me.  I don’t know if I’ll do another night time run, but if I do, I’ll have a brighter headlamp, and I’ll remember that although I may be the only runner in sight, I am never truly alone.

Count your Blessings

Prayer and meditation are important to me.  I’ll admit, though, that I am easily distracted.  I start praying and the dog barks or the neighbors’ kids laugh, and I’m instantly thinking about something else.  I’m one of those people who need tools to focus.

I began a new routine today, one that I hope to stick to. I began by writing in my journal – the one saved for positive thoughts and positive memories.  This act of recognizing peace, beauty and blessings in my life helped to get me into the proper mindset for part two, which was literally counting my blessings.

Some time ago I purchased a Mala, which is traditionally a Hindu or Buddhist tool for meditation.  I purchased it for its beauty, and it resides in my special space.  Today I picked up that Mala and tried it as a tool to focus for my prayer practice.  Holding the tassel, I began my prayer by thanking God for the many blessings in my life, including my family and my improved health.  I asked God to bless the people in my life and asked that as I said each name, that He would  bless that person with joy, hope, peace and health, and to bring into their life anything that they needed.

There are 108 smaller beads on the mala.  As the string of beads slipped through my fingers one at a time, the names of 108 people in my life came to me, one after another.  108 blessings.  I know about the struggles in some of their lives, and as those names came to me, I prayed for those situations.  Others I simply prayed that their lives would be filled with the blessings that they bring into my life.

I had no mental “prayer list.” The names and faces came into my mind one after another.  I was somewhat surprised by some of the names that came to mind.  Some were people who had hurt me, and along with praying for blessings for them, I prayed for help to forgive long-ago hurts.

108 people, 108 prayers, 108 blessings.  As I closed my prayer, I thanked God for such a rich life.  I thought it would be hard to come up with 108 people to pray for, but as I write this, the names and faces keep coming.

My life is blessed – truly blessed.

A Subtle Sunrise

Easters were special growing up.  We colored dozens of eggs.  Mom made homemade candies and molded bunnies.  I wore a new dress every year.  Some years Mom made the dress for me.  The white shoes came out of storage (forget Memorial Day!) and we posed for pictures in the back yard in our finest.

My Aunt would buy bags and bags of the left-over Easter candy and a week or so after Easter, we would have a big candy hunt with all of the cousins.  Life was simple.

We didn’t always attend sunrise service, but I remember being excited to go.  Some years, it would be very cold, and I would insist on wearing my thin Spring dress (often sleeveless) no matter how loudly my teeth chattered.  Although I can vividly remember some of those dresses (and the hand-crocheted shawls Mom made to go with them), I cannot remember the sunrises.  In my imagination, they were vivid  – as we sang hymns, the bright ball of the sun peeked over the horizon and the angels sang.  In my imagination, it was quite a spectacle – worthy of motion picture awards.

This morning, My dear sister-in-law and I decided to go to sunrise service.  It was cold (low 40s), and the service was being held on the shores of Lake Erie, where ice covered the water mere days ago.  I had no Easter dress, and as an adult, common sense ruled and I wore my heaviest wool pants, two sweaters, a winter jacket and woolen socks under my winter boots.  I carried a travel mug of steaming coffee.  I was prepared.

The rest of the early morning worshipers dressed like me.  Nary a light spring dress with bare arms was to be found.  In the pitch black darkness, we sat on rough wooden benches, our backs to the frigid lake.   As the service began at 6:45 a.m., the sky began to lighten just enough to read the prayer on the bulletins we were handed.

Our Pastor shared the scripture from Mark 16 – “…trembling and bewildered, the women found the empty tomb and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

This account lacks the drama from the Passion Play.   Mark doesn’t tell us about Jesus’ appearance to his followers.  There are no vivid beams of light streaming from the empty tomb.  No heavenly chorus – no trumpets – only frightened women fleeing.

As we said the closing prayer and sang the remaining hymns, the sky continued to brighten. There was no startling contrast, no brilliant colors.  The lake didn’t sparkle.  It was quite dreary (and still very cold).  Pastor told us how some evenings when vespers is held at the same location, the sunset is stunning.  Other times, like this morning’s sunrise, it is just a subtle transition from one day to another.

I wish that I had more time this morning to sit and contemplate that subtle sunrise.  Instead, I came home, downed a cup of coffee and cooked breakfast for seven.  After breakfast, I boiled eggs to color with one of the grandchildren who had spent the night. As my daughter helped him dye the eggs, I began preparation for the family celebration as we came together to enjoy fellowship (and food!)

After lunch, the children scampered through the yard looking for brightly-colored plastic eggs filled with candy.  While I was inside the house being busy, the day had transformed completely.  The cold had disappeared and the sun shone brightly. It was too nice to go back into the house, so we visited on the front porch.  It was a wonderful time.

With the last of the family guests gone, I took my opportunity for that quite contemplation that I missed earlier.  I donned my running tights and shoes and headed for the high school track.  I reflected on the cross, and the excruciating pain that would be involved in crucifixion.  I remembered Christ’s pleas for forgiveness for the people who were torturing and killing him.  I imagined the empty tomb, and this time my mental movie included this morning’s subtle sunrise, as the black night gave way to the soft gray of a cloudy morning.

My own life has changed a lot in the past year or so.  It’s been a slow process.  Some days I am disappointed that the changes aren’t mind-blowingly vibrant.  Other times, like today, I am grateful for the calm that fills me when I’m alone with the only sounds being those of nature around me and my feet striking the pavement.  As I took my final lap around the track, the sun began it’s gentle descent toward evening.  The bright ball in the sky was too bright for me to capture with my iPhone camera.  It was the kind of light that chases away any kind of sadness left in the corners of your mind.

I sat in the car and watched the light.  It was the kind of brightness that would be perfectly accompanied by angels’ voices and trumpets.  It filled me with awe, and calm.

Last week was difficult.  My mind was occupied with current events and political thoughts.  I spent energy uselessly pondering issues that are beyond my control and problems that aren’t even mine to solve.  While I was alone, in that moment, none of it mattered.

My subtle sunrise brought me calm.  The light that ensued brought me joy – and peace.sunset

The emotions today brought with it may be lost in translation, but the message for me came loud and clear – even a dreary, subtle sunrise can become a breathtaking day.

As the Easter hymns of my childhood echo in my mind, I am filled with joy.

He is risen [He is risen indeed!]