Tag Archives: life

The Pleasant Surprise

One of the best parts of life and sometimes one of the hardest parts is that we never know what will happen next. You can try to predict the future. You can try to control it. You can worry full-time about it. But, truthfully and probably blissfully we do not know what will happen next.

One of the fun things about being alive awhile is that you begin to see things come full circle. You get to witness how stories end or what the next chapters are. You can see your life as having a narrative arc with themes and twists and ironies woven in.

As a child and teen I was painfully shy. I never spoke to adults if I could avoid it. I melted if someone called on me in class. This lasted all the way through seminary. Imagine my surprise that I would become a preacher. Even when I first perceived God calling me into ministry I quietly said, “Okay but I’m never going to say anything out loud or in public.” Surprise! If God smirks, I bet God was smirking.

I love seeing the surprises of life. I’m the one laughing now as the first teens I had in my youth group are parents of teens. I truly didn’t see that coming. The ones that gave me the most trouble are leading youth Bible studies now. I also did not predict that one.

One of my favorite Bible stories is recorded in Acts Chapter 3. Peter and John, disciples of Jesus, are going to the temple for a prayer meeting. There is a man there begging at the gates. He has been crippled from birth. Peter and John heal him and he starts walking, then dancing and praising God. Everyone who sees it is freaked out. Peter can’t help himself, he starts preaching with this opening line, “Why are you all surprised? This is God at work, right before your eyes.”

I love the pleasant surprise. I love picturing a smiling, even funny and ironic God at work in big things, like healings and transformations and the littlest things too.

God always surprises me with sunrises and sunsets and their glory and timing.

I believe God places signs and surprises in all our lives if we are awake, aware and in touch with spiritual possibilities.

I have a controversial grandma name, Mimosa. It was chosen for me before I had grandsons and I have embraced it because of its sparkling festive uniqueness. It seems people older than me hate the grandma name Mimosa and they always tell me. They’ve been telling me my grandson would never be able to say it. They have been right about that. We’ve been coaching him now for two years to say any version of Mimosa, like Mo or MoMo or Mosa. He has refused. However, just this week he started calling me something. It has been one of those delightful funny life surprises. He calls me Mocha. Mocha. No one saw that coming. How, I wondered, did he go ahead and pick a different tasty drink to call me? It makes me smile whenever I hear it or think about it, such a pleasant funny surprise. A gift. The name will evolve more, of course. We do not know yet what it will be. Today though, I’m Mocha.

I like pleasant surprises so much I try to give them to others as well as a way of sharing God’s surprising grace-filled nature. Our college age son is supposed to mow our yard each week to earn back to school money. Sometimes my husband and I will do the yard for him. I pay him anyway. My husband thinks that is outrageous. I think it is instead the gift of a pleasant surprise.

I wonder what would happen if we watched our lives for pleasant surprises, endings and chapters we didn’t see coming as well as other twists and turns and gifts? What would happen if we started being the authors of pleasant surprises for others?

Healings, miracles and grace gifts happen every day. Sometimes they are laced with humor and fun. Sometimes we are overwhelmed and just call it a coincidence. Still, Peter’s words echo through the years, “Why are you surprised? This is God we are talking about.”

Dr. Cindy is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa/Mocha to Pace and Keller, breast cancer survivor and transformed shy person.     

The Teacher

Life is clearly a series of transitions. We should be used to that by now. So many I know are in the midst of some achingly abrupt and difficult transitions. The hardest ones seem to the be the ones no one asked for.

I have friends who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Some are grieving breaking or broken marriages. Some are agonizing over the painful transitions of their children in trying to launch into the real world or who are struggling with addiction, anxiety, learning differences or depression. People I know keep getting difficult diagnoses. I know some right now who are transitioning from this life to the next or sitting near a loved one who is.

I have two sets of friends who are literally going through everything they own in order to move to different countries for a work season. I know some who are in the midst of big job changes, some they didn’t ask for.

My family has been wrapping our hearts around my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis which became official last June after revealing itself slowly a few years before that. She does not like to call it that. She believes she has normal “old people forgetfulness.” We try sometimes to gently remind her that it is more than that but I don’t suppose it matters.

My mom was an elementary school teacher. She’s still teaching me, even through her own transition. As Alzheimer’s erases her memory, she is forced to stay anchored in the present: the this day, this moment, present. Her disease has made her more attentive, more reflective even. We spend Wednesdays together. One of her favorite topics is for me to tell her about my childhood. I’m a storyteller anyway and not that many people are asking about my childhood these days, so I find it delightful. She hangs on every word. She’ll say, “I remember that!” Or, “I was a good mom, wasn’t I?”

She gets more caught up in the moment we are in. Last week, at a restaurant, she said she loved me and asked if she could kiss me. One kiss led to more all over my face. With the business lunch crowd looking on, she kissed and loved on me as if I was 9 months old. I just let every single kiss soak right in.

She stays in the present. She savors things, gratefully. She loves playing Tetris and beating me, every time. She loves a nice cold glass of Chardonnay. She loves peppermints, iced coffee, ice cream, playing Solitaire and Words with Friends on her Kindle. She will look at pictures of her loved ones all day long. She often names the things she likes, like a Holy litany.

Almost every time we are together, she tells me to look at the sky. “Can you believe how blue it is?” “Look at that tiny cloud over there!” “I’ve never seen the sky look so beautiful, have you?”

I do not romanticize her disease or what is coming for all of us. I know how hard and long and ever changing our journey will be.

But for now, in this transition-no-one-asked-for, she’s still teaching. I think her lesson points can work for anyone going through a hard season.

Stay in today. It is all we really have.

If you love someone, tell them and kiss them all over their face.

Savor little things, gratefully. Name what is good in your life over and over and give thanks.

And, for God’s sake, and yours, look up. Look up.

One Thing Leads to Another

One woman is talking to another. They are surrounded by plants and vines, filling the house around them, obscuring the couch they are sitting on. “Can you believe this all started with one African violet?”

I’ve always loved that cartoon because, yes, I can believe it.So many things begin small and morph into much bigger things. Right now it is happening at our house where a relatively simple ceiling and floor project led to all the walls needing painting and then, of course, now the trim needs paint too.

It can happen in fitness, in either direction, a bad habit slips into two, then four, then more. Or, simply vowing to add more steps to your day leads to running or eating healthy. Before you know it, you’ve got a Fitbit.

I’ve seen it happen in community service. Reading with a struggling child leads to signing up to be a mentor. Feeding one hungry child leads to figuring out a way to feed hundreds or thousands.

Have you ever accidentally started collecting something? Maybe you just bought one cute Beanie Baby and before you knew it,  you were drowning in your own collectibles? If so, try un-collecting things.  It is so freeing.

One thing leads to another so maybe it would be wise to be mindful of each African violet, tweet,  word, vote, purchase and each mental, spiritual and physical step we take.

Attention

If you read my last entry, you are aware that last week I had to move almost everything from inside the house to the garage to get ready for ceiling and floor work at our home. I ended the week sore, bruised and really sick of my stuff. It was particularly difficult in the pantry, finding foods that were at “their best if eaten by 2012.” Yeah.

The man overseeing phase one coached me on how to get the house ready. When I asked him what I should do while they are working he politely said, “Go on vacation?” He laughed but I can take a hint. Thankfully, we have friends that are very generous with their lovely lake house in Oklahoma. They let me squat there whenever I need silence or time away. I once asked them what they would do if I never left. They only laughed nervously and said “You are welcome to stay as long as you want.” Yes, these are the best of friends.

I’ve been here since last Saturday just soaking in fall at the lake. The leaves are contemplating their fall colors: red, gold or orange. The weather is crisp at night and never hot in the daytime. I’ve seen lots of deer, all kinds of birds and of course the squirrels are having the time of their life with a generous helping of acorns everywhere. Right now, I’m on a screened in porch while it rains and gently thunders all around me. It is delicious. Oh, and also I have coffee.

The election is really scarring/scaring me. I’ve been beside myself, addicted to Twitter in a “gawking at an accident kind of way.” My husband even told me, “you’ve got to disconnect from this stuff.” Here, it is easier. First, the wi-fi is non-existent. Secondly, my focus has changed. Here, it is more about the rhythm of the day than of the news cycle. Sunrise and sunset anchor the morning and evening. Walks are longer and without headphones. I’m reading actual books, on my fifth now. My journal entries and prayer time are elongated in a slow and gentle way.

I’ve been reading a book called “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle, a technology professor at MIT. She is like a voice in the wilderness lamenting our addiction to our phones and all things electronic. Our attention is fractured, splintered, shot. We are losing the art of long slow talks and just being able to sit in silence or watch the sky or look out over a body of water.

I’m no better than anyone else. I’m addicted. I can’t seem to pull away from my phone, even here. But, I am aware that I want something different. I am aware that my soul is fed and even anchored by nature, by quiet, by stillness. When I put my attention in the right place I’m assured in powerful ways of God’s goodness and nearness. This morning I was comforted by this old hymn line running through my mind, “Though the wrongs seem oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.”

I have no answers for anything except this: what we attend to matters. I’m going to do my best to attend to creation and the One who creates.

Celebrate!

Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it in its fullness.” John 10:10

Oprah said, “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

I love it when my favorite people agree on things.

With our new grandson, we are in a season of celebration. Recently, my daughter told me she felt a little weird with everyone giving them presents, meals, showers and parties just for having a baby. I told her, “Life is hard and peopel need reasons to celebrate. Everyone loves celebrating a baby. Let them.”

But it is more than the grandson. It is me being in a new, easier, more restful, peaceful season of life. (On Monday my one chore was to get two hummingbird feeders, fill them and hang them because now I have time to notice them.) It is being five years past breast cancer. It is having three beautiful children who are at the moment happy and engaged with life. It is having a loving attentive husband that I still like after 31 years together. Did I tell you our sweet grand baby was born on our 31st anniversary? No one could have planned that gift.

It is that fall is coming; I am sure of it.  It is last Saturday having two family gatherings at our home and seeing our grandson meet 2 sets of great grandparents, 2 great aunts, aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time. It was my mom’s 80th birthday too. We surprised her with her great-grandson. She screamed, smiled and cried and told me it was the best birthday party she’d ever had. Even Alzheimer’s couldn’t take away that joy. One tiny baby and all those relatives just lining up for a snuggle, a smile.  We even loved it when he cried.

It is tomorrow, the 28th anniversary of when I became a mom. I celebrate the wonder of watching our daughter grow from adorable baby, to funny toddler, to goofy child who made up her own words, to awkward middle school kid, to dramatic high school student, college girl, married woman, speech therapist and now happy, attentive new mommy/wife and professional. The girl who made up all those words is teaching kids how to say them right. My celebration cup seems like it can’t hold one more drop of joy.

There’s still hard stuff happening, of course. A funeral for a dear, longtime colleague, gone too soon; normal worries; aches and pains; life stuff. But laced through it all are sweet gifts: sunrises, sunsets, hummingbirds, babies, soft pillows, good books, friends, coffee, family, milestones… so much to celebrate!

Rich

Over the weekend my husband and I attended a wedding in Kansas City.  It was a rich time. I’ve been friends with the bride for forty years, forty!  Imagine the shared stories and intertwining of lives all those years of friendship have allowed. It was rich, too, because the last few years have been tough on both of us. You learn to grab the celebration moments when you can.  I’ve seen her children grow from infants to the young adults who stood beside their mom as she married.  I could scarcely take it in.

It was also my birthday weekend so I was treated to surprises, cards, calls, texts from friends I’ve accrued all along the way.  Then as life would have it, we got word of two friends we’ve known for decades who lost loved ones over the weekend.  We will love and support these friends through their losses because that’s what friends do.

Anne Lamott in her book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, said it well, “Most humbling of all is to comprehend the lifesaving gift that your pit crew of people has been for you, and the all the experiences you have shared, the journeys together, the collaborations, births and deaths, divorces, rehab and vacations, the solidarity you have shown one another.  Every so often you realize that without all of them your life would be barren and pathetic….The marvel is…that somehow you lured them into your web twenty years ago, forty years ago, and they totally stuck with you.”

Today I’m so grateful for the lifesaving gift of my pit crew of people.  When she was alive, my husband’s Mamaw used to take my face in her hands, lock eyes with me and say, “Cindy, do you know you are rich, rich, rich?”  Yes, Mamaw, I do.

It’s Springtime, But…

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers.  She just posted a new blog. It came to me as a lovely Monday morning gift, echoing what I was already feeling today.  Her words, “So life. It’s the whole deal. Mixed grille all the way, gorgeous and sad things all mixed up.  Us, at our best and worst, in it together; life death, rebirth, and life again.”

Isn’t that the truth?  Just like today here in Texas, the sun is shining brightly. The sky is this amazing blue color. It rained all weekend so spring is just bursting forth before our eyes.  And, yet in our world, from politics to terror; from lack of food and water to other injustices, so much is not right.  I can’t hold lovely springtime and my newsfeed in my heart and spirit at the same time. It’s just reality. Bitter plus sweet equals life.

How do we manage the sad and real weaving its way through the beautiful and tender parts of life? We hold it all lightly. We lift it all up to God’s healing light.  We offer up our mixed feelings, relationships and irritations to God’s tender care; not to mention of deepest angers, hurts, resentments, pains and losses.  We make it by praying, crying, laughing and letting go; by holding onto each other and being kind.

Oh yes, and by washing all of it, regularly, with buckets and buckets of God’s grace. I’m pretty sure that’s the only way forward, just dripping in grace and tracking it everywhere.