Ordering my steps
My life is sometimes like the sound of a train. There is a pattern and a rhythm to it. I go to Bible study on Friday morning and then do errands in that corner of town. The grocery store, bank and library are near one another.
I clean the refrigerator the day before so I know what I need. I plan my menu and make a grocery list. My list is made according to the aisles in the store. I put books to return to the library by my purse so I remember to make the library stop. There is a pattern and a rhythm to the preparation.
Then one day, the Bible study was cancelled. The leader’s husband is in hospice and life is precarious for her at the moment. The weather was not nice and I decided I’d wait till Saturday to do my errands.
I hate to shop on Sat. All the poor souls who work hard Monday through Friday are out doing all their errands. I want nothing more than to be out of their way. I’d rather shop when the traffic is little and the folks who don’t have a list and meander around forgetting shopping cart etiquette aren’t there. (I realize I’m grumpy and crotchety about this.)
I’ve started what I hope is a forever habit. As my feet hit the floor in the morning, I ask the Lord to order my steps and tell me what order to do the tasks before me.
This Sat., as I backed out of the driveway, I had 4 stops to make. I asked the Lord which direction I should head. I felt he told me. Surprisingly, there was little traffic for middle of the morning. I commented to the first grocery store clerk that I was surprised at how few people were in the store. He agreed.
My next stop was the library. There was a parking spot near the walk way. The grocery store had a spot near the door, too. What luck! I was in and out of the library in 5 minutes. The next grocery store was a repeat of the first. A parking spot near the door; few people in the store; answers to my questions from the clerk. I found everything I needed. I was out of there in minutes.
Library #2 for the last item on my to do list. Green lights most of the way. Little traffic. In and out. Now I had a goal: I wanted to be home within an hour of my departure. One minute to spare. I took that minute to thank the Lord for ordering my steps. Because there have been many days that I forgot to ask for that order and chaos and delays plagued my walk.
If every day went so smoothly, life would be a lot easier. Maybe if I prayed more and listened better, every day could be so defined. It was calm and smooth. It was balm to my soul.
We have each experienced disappointment in our lives. Learning to cope with outcomes different from what we hoped is one way we learn to mature and depend on the Lord for understanding.
Recently, someone sent this article my way. I’d like to give credit to someone but it came with no author and no source attached. It uncovers some of the internal physical changes our bodies experience with heart break.
Heart break is different from disappointment. It’s that ‘punch in the stomach’ that doesn’t seem to evaporate with time. We hear time heals all wounds but the length of time to rebound will vary with the intensity of the hit and the ramifications and how they affect each of our lives.
Maybe one of you will benefit from this material. It is not original to me though I can certainly relate to it. I’ve experienced some of these things and observed others in my children during their own heartbreaking situations.
1. Hormone Changes
When you have your heart broken your body will experience a hormone craze. Your hormones fly into a state that is anything but normal, flooding your brain with stress hormones and confusing synapses. It’s comparable to drug withdrawals, as love is more addicting than drugs.
2 Weight Changes
Your weight can dramatically change after a heartbreak. Some people gain lots of weight, and some people lose lots of weight. It just depends on the person. Some people eat their feelings while others can’t gain an appetite under the stress.
3. Your Brain Thinks You’re Physically Hurt
Heartbreak confuses your brain to the point of where it thinks it is physically hurt. It can feel like being pushed or stabbed. Like your whole body is frozen and you feel nothing but negativity spreading amongst every inch of your body. Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D. an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles told Women’s Health Magazine, the area of your brain that lights up when you’re hurt physically is the same area that lights up when you suffer “social rejection.”
4. You Experience Depression
The sadness and loss of hope can cause you to lose all sense of productivity, initiative, or drive in general. Heartbreak can make you fall into a deep depression. According to Psychology Today, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that heartbreak on those with low self-esteem can be similar to that of people who suffered traumatic experiences in their lives.
5. You Have Withdrawals
One study reported that love is more addicting than drugs, and just like them, you experience withdrawals when you are deprived of your love. The loss of that person can be so traumatic that you physically ache, throw up, and run a fever. Withdrawal effects that are the same as the effects of serious drugs.
6. Your Immune System Crashes
After experiencing a heart break you might notice that you get sicker than you used to. You might catch a common cold when you didn’t use to, and it might even turn into the flu. This is because heartbreak weakens your immune system. The stress hormones, like cortisol, are released causing your immune system to weaken.
We know the source of true love is in our Maker. Yet, our bodies experience physical manifestations from our human relationships. So if you are experiencing heartbreak over some matter or someone in your family is, patience and understanding can provide healing balm to the heart and soul of the suffering individual.
We have had several friends lose spouses recently. My heart aches for their loss and the trauma of it. Knowing these six signs will help me be more empathetic to what they might be experiencing. Observation will assist me in knowing how best to offer condolences.
Whatever the situation, being armed with information can help us be more compassionate individuals.
We live in an old house. There are some advantages to that. It’s little. There is less to clean. There are mature trees whose canopy shades us from the scorching sun in the summer time and keeps us cool.
There are disadvantages. The storage wasn’t made for today’s lifestyle. The rooms are little and though it keeps our needs minimal, sometimes, I’d like to stretch out my arms and push each wall a few inches in each dimension. And, the trees, well, they need work to maintain that lovely canopy.
Every year, we try to have the tree trimmers come. The trees shed fewer branches and sticks and limbs and are healthier when they are regularly trimmed. It’s a process I enjoy watching. I’m a little envious of the man in the harness who gets to go to the top of the tree and clean up the dead wood. I really like the end product when the tree seems unencumbered by the unnecessary branches. There is a liberation of sorts for the tree. Maybe it’s like the shedding of a skin for a snake.
The worker in the tree has amazing skills. He has a harness that is anchored to a limb in the tree that is secure and will not give way under his weight. He has an additional tether, near whatever branch he is working on to keep him from plummeting should the first fall. He carefully works his way along the branch, checking each twig for life or death. If it is diseased or weak, it leaves the limb, reducing bulk and weight.
If it is pliable and healthy, he lets it stay anchored to the branch to leaf out and absorb sunshine to manufacture life for the tree.
It’s an amazing analogy for the spiritual walk. Jesus told us he was the vine and we are the branches. If we are dead, we get to be pruned so our lack of production isn’t an issue for the healthy part of the plant. Even if we are healthy, sometimes our growth becomes gangly and unsightly and doesn’t benefit the plant so it is pruned to be more productive.
Ever have something in your life that you liked and wanted to hang onto be taken away? It might have been painful and yet looking back you can see that you became more productive in the very area where the pruning occurred.
I’m brutal with the raspberry plants in the patch at the back of the yard. The side branches grow in a tangle of bramble. Offshoots make the patch unmanageable. There were days I let it go and needed a machete to remedy my failure to manage. Yet, the raspberries produce big, succulent juicy berries if I am diligent to prune and keep the raspberries in check.
My spiritual life is like the berries. I can go off on a tangent thinking I’m growing and sprouting. If it isn’t the direction the Lord wants, He is sure to come and hack it off. Sometimes, the abruptness of the cut shocks me. It always pulls me back into alignment.
For, when I anchor myself to the One who is secure and solid, like the tree trimmer, I never get too far away from the security of Christ. Even if I walk far on the branch, I have a tether that keeps me close to Him. He is my security blanket. May He also be yours.
I feel like a rabbit and it is more than the spring weather. I feel easily distracted and jump from one thing to another. I’ve been on a circuitous route recently from knitting to quilting to reading and purging magazines and back again.
My neighbor gave me some quilting fabric and I worked diligently on several projects. I’m not done with the biggest one. But, then, I took a gander at our daughter’s wish list for our first grandchild and spotted a knitting item.
That lead me to the internet and a knitting site with patterns and ideas. One of the ideas named a book with the best pattern available. I went to the library and picked up the book and promptly took it to the yarn shop to get enough yarn to make projects.
I knit a couple of things that week. Then, the stack of gardening and food magazines snagged my attention and I detoured to sorting, reading, and purging. I said the knitting would be my reward for finishing that project.
When I finally got back to my knitting, there was a problem. I wanted to do something that had a design in it. That would be new for me. I can knit socks and scarves and dish cloths or afghans with hardly a thought, but a lacey pattern would be a challenge.
I experimented with patterns. I was distracted by a baby sweater I found in a box while looking for something else. Suddenly, I realized there would be 4 baby showers in my life soon and I needed to make the needles clack. But, what pattern would I choose?
I settled on the 4-row design by the author of the book I found at the library. It would be a new experience for me. The pattern I really wanted was infinitely more complicated. I decided I should start small and work my way into harder territory later.
Generally, I can tell what I need to knit based on the row I previously knitted. This was different. I was going to have to pay attention. The sweater started with a simple knitting stitch, row after row, starting with the collar and increasing stitches for a yoke. Then the pattern began. I couldn’t make it work. My work didn’t look like the illustration.
Suddenly, I decided to count the number of stitches on my needles. There were supposed to be 148. I had 146. No wonder it didn’t work. In the end, I took the pattern out several times. The nice thing about knitting, is that it unravels easily if there is a mistake.
The pattern in each row is a 7-stitch repeat. Each row has a different sequence. After the third or fourth failed attempt at getting the pattern correct, I decided to put little knitting markers every 21 stitches. If my pattern didn’t end correctly after 21 stitches, it would be a short repeat to find the mistake. That helped.
It reminded me of the scripture. First, reading and following directions (reading the Word and doing what it says is like using the right number of stitches). It makes life turn out a lot better. Not worrying about tomorrow while in the middle of today made sense. I’d have to wait till the next stitch marker to see if I’d navigated this pattern correctly.
Count my blessings. I have a roof over my head and a warm place to sleep. There are clothes in my closet and food in my pantry. I love my family and they reciprocate.
Then, there was ‘number my days’ and I realized how easily distracted I can be in my daily walk with the Lord. It’s easy to get so engrossed in the busy schedule of my own agenda, I forget to ask Him where I’m supposed to be and who I’m supposed to see and what steps He wants me to take and in which direction. What things should I be dropping or adding to my life to create the pattern He wants to weave in my life. When I get absent minded about asking the Lord where to go and what to do, that’s when my life begins to unravel. He is the one that puts the stitches in the right place at the right time.
Tell me I’m not alone in this. You are right beside me trying to figure out what He wants of you. Are you also distracted with the demands of life and the schedule of the day? I thought so.
Knitting is good for me. There are health benefits. I’ve written about that before. It’s an opportunity to be creative. It allows me to give a gift that shows effort on my part. The Lord teaches me stitch by stitch that He wants to build my life one step at a time. I’m not a finished product.
The sweater I was working on is done. It turned out pretty well, though I’m a novice at lacey patterns. The best part of the project: the lessons I learned while doing it.
Recently I read an article about relationships. It was specific to parent-baby relationships.
It seems relationship develops with eye to eye contact. Gazing into one another’s eyes does something to the developing baby’s brain that allows it to create relationships.
Without this skill initiated in the brain of an infant, reactive attachment disorders occur. Relationships don’t develop the intended way.
Today, I was thinking about how this relates to my relationship with Jesus. If my relationship with him looks like a drive-by grab and go, a read 5 Psalms and a Proverb, it’s not much of a relationship. (I’ve done that as a daily discipline and it can be a rich opportunity.) It’s a duty. It’s a good duty because if I’m paying attention to what is in those five Psalms and Proverb, I’ll be fed.
It isn’t the same as a gourmet meal, served with finesse and art. The flavors aren’t developed. The balance between sweet and sour are missing. The enjoyment factor doesn’t extend beyond the immediate. There is no lingering over and making it last. It’s an eat and run.
But, if I sit at the feet of Jesus and gaze into His eyes, seeing what He sees; hearing His message for me, I develop a relationship. With practice I can hear what He wants me to do and say.
As we approach Holy Week, let us be intentional about sitting at the foot of the cross and recognizing the relationship forged because He was willing to go to the cross. Let’s gaze into His eyes and see what He sees and hear His message for our individual lives.
I remember well the day I spotted it at a church garage sale. I watched another lady pick it up, look at it and ponder whether it would go home with her. I was salivating over what she held. I held my breath, hoping against hope she would leave it behind. She hesitated. I waited for her decision. If she put it down, there would be no returning for it. As soon as she decided against purchasing it, I pounced on it. A Squeezo. Big dollars new, pennies on the dollar at the garage sale. It has been one of my favorite tools during canning season.
Last fall, while I was using my Squeezo, I realized I was preserving FREE food. Everything I had simmered overnight in my roaster was from the garden and free to me. Not just free because it was in my garden, but free because I had saved seeds from the previous season and started the plants and nurtured them and finally harvested their produce. Free for a little sweat and labor; free for effort. A gift, really, from the Lord.
If you want ‘free’ food next fall, now is the time to start. If you don’t have a garden spot in your yard and want one, plan now. Start small till you get the hang of it. Plant the foods you love to eat. If you live where there is a covenant not allowing a garden, there are community spots around the city for small gardens.
And, if gardening isn’t your thing, there are ways to get fresh produce direct from the farm each week, sometimes called Community Supported Agriculture or CSA for short. I can help you find one. A fee is paid for weekly or biweekly basket of whatever is fresh in the garden. Often there are different sized ‘shares’ for purchase. It isn’t free, but it’s fresh.
There are many resources at the public library to help you initiate a garden if you need help. There are a number of considerations before taking the plunge. There are organizations that can help you grow (pun intended) like Master Gardeners and other gardening groups. There is a Master Gardener demonstration plot on the south border of Walker Johnson Park with fruits, vegetables, flowers, compost, and an orchard. It’s free to walk around and see what they have done. Most summers, free gardening programs are held one night a week, too.
Gardening is dirty business. Recently, I read that folks who garden have a healthier digestive system and more immunity than the average person. The dirt actually has bacteria and fungus in it and working in the dirt allows us to inhale some of it. The bacteria is the healthy kind, used in the gut for digestion.
There are many ways to garden and arguments on each side of the fence. There are those who use herbicides and pesticides and those who avoid them. Some make and use compost. Others buy it in a bag. Some gardens are small and some are large. I’ve been gardening for half a century give or take a few years and every year I experiment with something. I’ve never had two gardens alike because of my own trials and the uncertainty of climate. Success and failure each come in every garden year. Some things are funny and others made me cry.
Some seasons, bounty overflows and every canning jar is filled to the brim and storage shelves sag under the weight of it all. Other years, there is little surplus for preserving. One never knows. In the heat of Indian Summer, when the preservation is at peak, the thought of an easy dinner ‘off the shelf’ gives me energy to continue the process.
If gardening is of interest to you as a hobby or a necessity, talk to one of the many successful gardeners in our church body for tips and encouragement. This is the planning season for a gardener. We will dig in the dirt as early as late March…sooner if the ground isn’t too damp. Growing one’s own food is a win. And, the food is free, mostly.
My next door neighbor pounded on our front door recently. She stepped in when I opened the door and quickly explained that she and her husband have purchased another house. The house is bigger and the yard is smaller. Both benefit this couple. She can inherit a baby grand piano and they will have less struggle with the outside maintenance. She invited me to her house to sort through quilt fabric.
Since FREE is something I like a lot, I eagerly followed her. I brought home a paper box of quilting fabric. It’s not a hobby she is working on at the moment so she doesn’t want to move it only to have it fill space in her new home. Since that Sunday evening, my dining room has developed dust bunnies from the lint of fabric cutting and stitching.
Not everyone quilts, so let me give you some foundational information. Big pieces of fabric are cut into small pieces. Small pieces are sewn into medium shapes and the small and medium pieces are joined many times till one large project is done. All the little pieces of different sizes and shapes and colors together make a pleasing design. That’s the overview.
Quilting can be therapeutic or frustrating. There are many skills necessary to complete the project. The first being accuracy. One needs to cut out the little pieces accurately or the parts won’t fit together.
Regardless of how accurate any quilter is, the stitching stretch esthe fabric a little and when several pieces are sewn together, each unit is trimmed to be an accurate measurement so when it is joined to the next section, it fits.
The process of trimming is called ‘squaring up’. It doesn’t necessarily mean the piece is square. It just means the wobbly edges and dog ears are trimmed so the next effort to join two pieces come together accurately. There is that word again. Accurate.
When I was squaring up a rectangle composed of 7 little pieces, sometimes, I would only trim a thread or two. But, it made all the difference in the shape. What made an even bigger difference is the PILE of threads that accumulated after trimming just a dozen of these pieces.
It reminded me of my days. Sometimes, I need to take a look at how the day is going and trim a few things out of it. Maybe I let a thread of irritation get under my skin. I’m not very agreeable if that happens. Certainly, the patient fruit of the spirit isn’t apparent within me. Perhaps there are several threads of frustration that need to be whacked off. I need to bring in the scissors and cut that out and replace it with some trust or faith.
Regrouping with a little heaven sent prayer has squared up my bad attitude more than once. Sometimes, I walk away from my quilting, realizing I’ve done enough for the day. It looks better when I return because I haven’t let fatigue or a deadline create an impossible mess.
Quilting is like a geometry lesson. One thread off at the beginning of an angle doesn’t seem like much variance till out in space that degree magnifies and completely misses the intended target. I want my life to hit the target, so if I need to regroup throughout the day to accomplish my task, it is worth it.
I suspect building a house or installing plumbing and electricity are similar. Accuracy counts. Getting the angle right is important. Squaring up isn’t just for quilting, it is for every building project including the project of life.
Let’s square up our lives with the Word. It might hurt to trim off those rough edges and eliminate some loose strings. But we want all the pieces to fit together and create the masterpiece our Father is stitching together.
Mixed feelings. That’s the way I’ve felt over the last few weeks. Friends have died. Funerals have been attended. Why are my feelings mixed? I’m selfish. When I go, I’m sad these folks won’t be around to stop in; call for prayer; lift up in prayer any more. I’m a little jealous: they graduated and I’m still in remedial classes.
It’s true. Recently, I attended the funeral of a former pastor’s wife. She developed callouses on her knees from praying, IN HIGH SCHOOL. She didn’t stop spending time on her knees when she graduated from there. She and her husband were prayer warriors. They excelled in visitation and loving people where they were. Never did a condescending comment come from her lips. Never did she see the ‘needs improvement’ side of anyone. Even when someone was in trouble, her comment would be, ‘Oh, how this person needs Jesus.’
She didn’t watch television. She prayed. She spent time with Jesus on her knees beside her bed or couch rather than let her mind numbly listen to the commentators or canned laughter. (Though she did have an affinity for Andy and Barney on Mayberry).
Weeks later, we heard one of our dearest friends was headed for a second brain surgery. It didn’t go so well and he graduated, too. We recounted the many aspects of our relationship. Our daughters were best friends as little girls. That drew us together. We remembered our first encounter and his magnetic attraction. We heard the stories of others with similar impressions.
Family members shared aspects of his personality we didn’t know, from melancholy to enthusiasm (we knew that one). We learned he was the rabbit of the family: always hopping toward adventure and never allowing anyone to catch him though he shared his newfound loves with everyone who might be interested.
Noah Webster defines character as a ‘mark’. This man’s character made marks on everyone who encountered him. Whether he was being deposed by attorneys or offering a hand to lift someone up, he made a mark.
His mark was extravagant generosity and kindness underscored with integrity and humor. He read voraciously and shared his wisdom with humility and gentleness. He opened his home to the homeless and offered a respite from the wars of life, educating along the way. Everyone who met him considered him a ‘best friend’.
It all makes me wonder about my mark, my character. It’s not an effort to ask how I look in front of other people, what opinions you or a host of others have of me. It’s what kind of a mark Jesus sees in me. Has my character molded to His image? Is my desire to ‘be like Him’ a daily discipline or effort OR is it procrastinated because the Olympic coverage is more interesting?
This problem of selfishness isn’t unique to me. Each of us battles it. Would I sacrifice an hour of sleep to be on my knees in prayer for the miracles we need in our body OR should I just roll over and finish that dream? Am I willing to sacrifice my hobbies to meet the needs of one who cannot do anything for himself?
Because in my advancing years, it seems to me sacrifice is an investment in character development. When I’m willing to give up what my body yearns to have, my soul benefits. And, not just my soul but everything about my demeanor changes. It affects the people who see me, talk to me, live with me, wait on me in the stores, and it changes their lives, too.
So, while I’m struggling with the selfish desire to have more time with those who have graduated, I want to prepare myself for an eternal future of fellowship with them. That requires some focused discipline and encouragement from within and leadership from family and friends.
It’s a reminder to be thankful for the positive qualities, the character marks my friends have made and recognize my goal is to be like the Friend who never forsakes or leave me but is by my side every minute of every day, making a mark on me.
The days of “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” are behind us and we did have snow to mask the lifeless grass and bring contrast to the tree branches. The grass in our yard seemed green right up till Christmas time.
Years ago, as soon as the snow fell, the children would love to go out and play games in the snow, whether it was tossing the football across the yard or playing a game of fox and geese, or building snowmen and snow forts. While I was thankful for the yard and opportunity for them to play outside, I missed the pristine appearance of the pure white snow with footprints and snow angels. It disrupted the perfect.
This year, though, the snow came. None of the children dressed in snow suits and boots to run outside and bomb one another and half the neighborhood kids with snowballs. They didn’t make tracks in the snow for games. There were no snowmen. Games of fox and geese didn’t appear in our back yard.
I missed it. There were tracks in the yard from the bunnies, the squirrels, the animals living in the forest 2 lots over who come out to play. But there were no footprints, no game tracks, no football lines. Nada.
I cannot turn back the clock to enjoy those days. However, the lesson for me is to be content in the moment with the age and stage of life of my children and my world. Perhaps you also wish for things that aren’t currently in your sphere, or wish some things in your sphere would change. It has taken many decades to wean myself out of that frame of mind.
When my children are home, I want to sit and enjoy them. I will clean up the messes after they have left my home. I will have time to do it then. When there is fresh snow on the ground, I’ll enjoy the pristine appearance. When the bunnies have run through it, making tracks and the squirrels have dug holes to find walnuts, I’ll be thankful for food and life. The animals do offer us some amusement with their games and antics.
A dear friend from a church we attended when we were first married had 2 young children when we met her. She gave sage advice always and one comment was ‘each stage just gets better and better.’ I’ve repeated her words to many a young mom and even stood in front of a mirror and recited that advice to myself. As we age and grow and learn to trust Him more, we can relax and enjoy the moment (most of them) looking for the gem, the lesson, the ‘gold’, in each experience.
Paul reminds us to follow his example. He was hungry, thirsty, beaten, shipwrecked. Yet, he learned to be content in all situations. My life is not filled with the same kind of strife he had and I’m learning to sit back and let God work, trying to be content in the season of my life, even if there is snow on the ground.