Clouds with Silver Linings

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I’m feeling a bit philosophical after yesterday’s birthday and am determined to find a way to use this great photograph in a post. I was standing in a classroom in Blanding Elementary School in Rincon, GA during an Open House last week, and my granddaughter Brooke looked out of the window and said, “Oh look, there a cloud with a silver lining.” It was gorgeous!

Don’t think I have a lot of cloudy weather in my life today. I don’t, not unless you consider my brother and I having issues with our meal last night or being disappointed with the movie afterwards. Those are minor things, and fortunately, we both have the ability to say, “That chicken is completely tasteless and definitely not grilled,” and move on. We can watch a disappointing movie and say that we learned something from it. What was Matt Damon thinking???

That’s not to say that I haven’t had my share of storm clouds. Like everyone else who walks the planet, I too have experienced loss, disappointment, and the doldrums. No need to go into detail here. What I will say is that storms always pass. It’s nature’s way for the sun to come out again. It’s also true that often there is something good about clouds and storms and fog so dense that you can’t see through it.

Last week when Brooke pointed out the cloud with the silver lining, I asked, “What exactly does that mean to you?”

“It just means the sun is behind the cloud but about to come out.”

“Oh,” I replied, impressed with her knowledge. “How’d you know that?”

“Daddy told me,” she said, leaving my side to go find her father and show him the beautiful sight.

Later, I told her that there would be times in her life when she felt sad or gloomy, and that she just needed to remember the cloud with the sun behind it. “Sometimes tough times in our lives teach us lessons,” I said in my best grandmotherly voice.

She tilted her pretty face up to look at me as she pondered that remark, and although I don’t know how her 8-year-old mind processed that information, I hope she’ll remember our conversation. One day, it will make more sense to her.

There are so many applications of clouds with silver linings. A person could lose a job and find that it offers the opportunity to go back to school and prepare for a totally new and more rewarding career. Someone could get her heart broken so badly that she feels she can never trust or love again. Later she realizes, with relief, that she “dodged that bullet.” A family could be hit with sickness, loss, or disability, and while it’d be hard to find the sun behind those clouds, perhaps the situation will give them increased strength, faith, or courage.

What about you? Have you experienced rainbows after rain and sunshine after clouds? Have there been times when there really were silver linings (lessons, blessings, insights) in the cloudy times in your life?

Wandering in the Desert

When Paul and Amanda and Olivia were here this past weekend, Paul and I had a brief conversation about some psychology books I had recently read. He listened politely (someone taught him some excellent manners), but then mentioned that he looked at those specific books as “self-help.” I’m not above reading self-help books, so it kind of caught me off guard. Then he said that if he needed any help, he’d look to the scriptures for answers.

Hmmm. I agree with him that the scriptures are replete with advice, stories, and instructions on how to how a fuller richer life. There’s also lots of encouragement about overcoming fear, many reminders about loving one another, and several stories about people who veered off the straight and narrow and faced some dire consequences.  In fact, there are so many parallels between self-help books and the scriptures that I can say with assurance that regularly dipping into these types of literature has saved my life (figuratively speaking) on many occasions.

Back to Paul. I talked a little bit about the exodus out of Egypt and of how, to me, that was an example of how people don’t have to live lives of slavery…or even of unhappiness. A person can change his life IF he has the desire. He might have to leave behind a former way of life, walk through the Red Sea, and wander around in the desert for a while, but he can do it. In other words, change is hard. Whether the proverbial desert is for four days or four years or longer, you’re going to have to work, and you might have to eat manna instead of steak and potatoes.

Last night as I recalled our conversation, I thought of the man who led this exodus, Moses.  I thought of how he tried to get out of his “calling” by telling God that he had speech issues.  But God knew that Moses was the man He wanted and wouldn’t take no for an answer. We know the rest of the story. We know that Moses led the people out of bondage and that his brother Aaron was his mouthpiece (at least some of the time).

What I’m getting from this second story is that God wants everyone to use the gifts He’s given us, and when we agree to do so, He’ll find a way to help us succeed. It might not be a speech challenge. It could be your looks, your social status, or your misperceptions about your abilities. Whatever it is, God can work through and with you IF you’re willing to walk around in the desert for a while. Overnight success is pretty unlikely.

So yes, I agree with Paul about the scriptures being the original self-help book(s). Sometimes I just need a little helpful commentary to help me understand them better, and that’s where psychology, philosophy, and literature come in.

Insight on the Beach

I’m teaching a lesson on prayer in a little while, and preparing for it has reminded me of the power and necessity of prayer. In the words of Marianne Williamson, prayer “gives inner peace in ways that neither intellectual understanding, credentials, money, sex, drugs, houses, clothes, nor any other gifts of the world can.”

We can pray about any and everything. If we have something to say, God is ready to listen. If we’re awake, then He’s awake. We are His children, and He’s always standing at the door (in a manner of speaking) ready to let us in. In fact, sometimes I think our desire to pray is the result of His call to prayer because there’s something He wants us to know. Our responsibility is to ask for guidance, inspiration, help, strength, or enlightenment and THEN LISTEN to what He has to say.

Recently, I was “laid low” by some remarks of one of my children. My heart was broken, and I was besieged by deep sadness and a literal aching in my chest. How could this have happened between us? How could she have said these things to and about me? For the first time, I realized how easy it is to take good relationships for granted. I went for a walk on the beach and had another talk with God. I didn’t have to get on my knees or use any fancy language. All I had to do is walk and talk silently. “Thank you. Help me, please. What am I not seeing? I need Thy wisdom and enlightenment, and I need it now.” Here’s what happened. Even as I was having this inner conversation, I thought, “She thinks ….” Yes, I could have thought it on my own, but I’m convinced that those words were sent right from God.

After my walk, I wrote my daughter and told her that if that’s what she thought, it was surely not the case. Soon, she replied and affirmed my suspicions. There’s more to the story than this, but we’re working our way back to each other. I’ve asked that Heavenly Father infuse this and all other situations in my life with His light and understanding. I’m listening, and I know He’ll make it clear.

One of the many blessings in my life is that my children also understand the power of prayer. I love being able to remind them to “pray about it,” regardless of what “it” might be. There’s nothing too little or too big that we can’t take it to our Maker in prayer. “Have you inquired of the Lord?” is another one of my favorite questions, and I love being able to ask it without any of them looking at me as if I’d flipped my lid.

 This post could go on and on, but I’m going to bring it to a close with part of a prayer that comes from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Send me the right thought, word, or action. Show me what my next step should be. In times of doubt and indecision, please send Your inspiration and guidance.” Beautiful, huh? I’m just wondering why we don’t do it more often. But then, that’s a topic for another day.

Payback Time

Aren’t families wonderful? Truly, they are the source of some of our greatest joys in life. They’re also the source of many of life’s lessons. Children teach us more about love, patience, sacrifice, stamina, and good old fashioned fortitude than we could ever learn in a classroom or textbook. Still, all the work and tears and sleep deprivation are worth it when your children grow up to be spectacular young adults (like mine). There’s an added bonus when these same children get put through the same sorts of trials that they put their poor, tired parents through. Tee Hee. It’s payback time for Carrie.

Carrie’s sweet Emma is quite a little minx. She’s adorable, funny, dramatic, and affectionate. A smile and hug from her can dispel all irritation and annoyance.  In a recent blog post, Carrie admitted that sometimes Emma could drive her absolutely NUTS with her whining and screaming, and she wondered where in the world this behavior could have come from. Must be Rich’s family, right? That’s when Carrie found a old letter that I had written to my mother 32 years ago. Ah, the lost art of letter writing. That’s a topic for another day.

I read this and laughed…and then laughed some more.

“Carrie got cards from Mrs. C. and her great grandmother Clyburn. She excitedly ripped them apart. In fact, she bathed with MaMa’s yesterday morning, and it came apart in a million pieces.

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost believe Carrie just dreams up things to torment me. She’s gone bananas in the past few days. It’s almost like she’s saying, “I’m 18 months old now, and you’d better take notice because I’m my own person.” She slaps and pulls hair, and when you tell her to stop, she goes into a tizzy. She screams and gets rigid all over. It’s a temper tantrum, I guess. She’ll come up to me with a book, and if I don’t stop what I’m doing immediately, she goes berserk. We took her out for walks Saturday and Sunday, and she got so mad when we tried to get her to stay with us…. Oh yes, and now she has to have her dolls wrapped in blankets.

Well, Saturday night Carrie was awake until after 3:00. Last night she tried the same trick of waking up and screaming. We let her scream, and it was simply awful, but it worked. I really had to wrestle with myself not to go in there. What she wants is for me to sleep on the floor beside her bed….”

Folks, I’m ashamed to admit that there were nights when I actually did sleep on the floor just to grab a few hours of rest.

Anyway, Carrie turned out to be a remarkable young woman with talents galore. She’s still strong willed, stubborn, and determined (some of the same words she uses to describe Emma), but is that necessarily a bad thing? Love ya, Sweetie!

A Larger Universe

When my sister Ann called last night, she could tell that I was in a zone somewhere because she said, “What are you doing? You sound funny.”

“Just thinking,” I replied. She chuckled a little and then asked, “About what?”

I told her that I was thinking about blogs and books and teaching and retirement and children and friends and religion. She’s a smart girl, that Annie, and she quickly turned my (our) focus to religious topics. She said that her pastor had begun a study entitled  HABIT, an acronym for five words that the members were to try to incorporate into their lives. The H stands for HANG, as in hanging with God.

To hang with Him really translates to hang out with Him, to find some quiet meditative time each day to better commune with Him. It could be reading and pondering the scriptures or some other inspirational books, or it could be quietly reflecting on the beauties of Mother Nature. Prayer too is a vital part of this hanging out process.

When she had explained the HABIT practice a little more fully, I asked Ann if she remembered that quietude was my word of the year. Not the month, but the entire year of 2010. Yes, she remembered.

“Well,” I said,  “This hanging out concept fits right into my word.”

“Are you going to write about it?” she asked.

“Maybe. Probably. In fact, definitely.”

There’s so much to be said for spending a few minutes at the beginning of each day to get ourselves focused and calmed and ready for whatever the day might bring. My husband used to gently kid me about my obsession for solitude and once asked what he was supposed to say if someone needed to talk to me when I was getting my soul together. “Just tell them that,” I said. I think the idea scared him a little, but he’d be the first to attest to the fact that I’m a much, much happier person to live with if I can just have a little HANG time in the morning.

Back to Ann. As she was whizzing down the highway with her beloved Allen on the way home from Hartsville last night, I read her a quote by Sue Bender from “A Lesson in Prayer” that sums up my feelings on the subject. She liked it, and I hope you will too.

After writing that her day begins as early as 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., Ms. Bender  continues, “I read one page in each of the small inspirational books. The books change, but they are always ones that remind me that I am not alone, that a spirit larger than myself is at work, a universe larger than my immediate self-interest and concerns. For that I am endlessly grateful.”

Pretty and Powerful

For the last several nights, I’ve braved the frigid temperatures to go outside and cover my Sago palms with cloth. In years past, I’ve been a little slack about protecting them from the cold and frost, and their green spiky fronds have turned brown and sad looking. A kind friend once told me that she thought they looked gold and hence added a unique and upscale look to the landscape. Yeah, right.

When I went out to remove the protective cloths from the palms this morning, I glanced at my pansies. Yellow, purple, garnet, and white, they were gorgeous. Their pretty little faces seemed a tiny bit turned down, and yet they were still so lovely and so alive. How can it be that something that appears to be so delicate and fragile can be so strong? Through snow, ice, sleet, and below freezing temperatures, their pretty little faces are upturned as if to say, “Bring it on. We can take it.”

I’m probably stretching things a bit here, and yet I can’t help comparing the pansies to some people I know. While they may appear frail, they’re really tough, resilient, and hardy. They’re like steel magnolias. At the same time, the Sago palms look robust and tough, but they’re really not…at least not in cold weather. A cold snap and their fronds are dead and brown.

In years past, we’ve cut the dead fronds and are always thrilled to see the new green life emerging at the base of the plant. I guess there’s a lesson there too (pruning and growing), but today I’m thinking about those pansies and their lesson. If something as lovely and delicate as they are can withstand winter’s worst, so can I.