Higher Than My Ways


You might call it mustard colored, but I see my new journal as saffron, a beautiful shade of golden yellow. I bought it at the Time Out for Women Conference in Columbia this past weekend, and I’m reserving it to record thoughts and impressions that take me “higher.”

Let me explain. The conference theme was based on a verse from the Old Testament, Isaiah 55:9: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The moment I read “so are my ways higher than your ways” on the front of the journal, I recalled a chilly autumn afternoon as I sat beside my father’s bedside.

My family and I had come home for the weekend, and upon our arrival, I learned that my father had been hospitalized for an upper respiratory ailment, the same one that would take his life years later. As I walked into the room that afternoon, I could see that he was sleeping peacefully so I didn’t disturb him. This was back in the days before e-readers and iPhones so I was stuck with sitting there with my thoughts, none of them good. Having never seen my father so fragile and weak, I was distraught with worry and concern.

I picked up a Gideon Bible and began thumbing through it. Almost immediately I came across the verse from Isaiah. I read it again…and then again. “Hmm,” I thought. “This is so true. I don’t like it, but it’s true nonetheless. He’s God, and I’m just a mortal living down here on Earth.”

Since that Saturday afternoon in my father’s hospital room, I’ve quipped those phrases to almost any and everyone who is suffering and can make no sense of it. My precious daughter had a stillborn baby, and there I was with, “For as the heavens….” I don’t know whether that comforted her or not, but it was the only thing that made sense to me (us) at the time. More times that I can recount, I’ve thought, “The heavens and His ways are higher. You just don’t have the big picture, Jayne.”

But here’s what happened Saturday. The light came on and now I see that verse in a different and more enlightened way. I often tell people to “go for it,” to use their gifts, and now I can see how this scripture applies to positive aspects of our lives too. We can’t possibly know or see what He does, but we can be certain that His plans and thoughts are higher than ours.

When I was a younger person, I often heard the expression, “I know I’m somebody ’cause God don’t make no junk.” At the time, I thought it was catchy and cool, both because of the way the phrase was worded and because of the sentiment itself. This weekend’s conference echoed basically the same thing. You and I are somebody. Isaiah 43:1 says, “I have called thee by name; thou art mine.” We are His. He has plans for us and thoughts about us. We need to find out what they are and move forward in faith.

Here on Earth there is sickness, frailty, contention, distress, and aging. There are weeds and spiders and sour milk and cancer. Stress abounds and so do chaos, loss, tragedy, difficult people, and things that go bump in the night. Heaven is higher. That’s where He is with His thoughts, ways, and plans for us.

When heartache comes along (as it surely will), the knowledge that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours can be comforting. What’s equally awesome is knowing that the same thing is true for positive events. To reach “higher,” we might have to stretch a little, but that’s a post for another day.


Clouds with Silver Linings


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?

Young, Determined, and Persistent


Can you see the figure in the distance? She’s one of my role models, the one I look for each time I go walking at Scott Park. Young, determined, and persistent, she’s there winter and summer, in rain and sun and wind. And yes, she’s there the other seasons of the year too. Without even knowing her name, I’m impressed with her.

Young, she’s doing something important for her body that will stand her in good stead when she’s older. Developmental psychologists state that the human body is at its optimum level of functioning in our 20’s and 30’s, and many people in that age category somehow magically believe that the state of health they enjoy currently will be theirs in ensuing decades. I’m pretty sure that humans reach their physical peak around 25, and after that it’s a slow, steady, inevitable decline towards old age. All this is to say: Put on those shoes and join my friend and me at the track.

She’s determined. When I first saw this young woman, she was heavier than she is today. Because of her determination and persistence, she has not only lost a lot of weight, but she has also become more toned and less sluggish. I’m not sure how this works, but persistent involvement in moderate exercise can actually energize us, not deplete our energy resources. Note that I said “moderate exercise.” You don’t need to run several miles a day. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week can do you/us a world of good.

Although I’ve already alluded to the persistence aspect of my young friend, there’s something else I need to mention. So many people start diets and exercise regimens in a gung-ho manner, and after a couple of weeks, they’re making excuses for staying on the couch: the weather, a cold, too tired, and many other alibis too numerous to list. They’ve also probably begun sneaking French fries and sipping sugar-laden drinks. An occasional indulgence is okay; a steady diet of them is not.

Am I a doctor? No. I don’t have the scientific aptitude for that. What I am is a senior citizen who is aware of the long term consequences of health decisions that we make when we’re young. It’s never completely too late to turn things around, however. I say “never completely” because once certain diseases take hold, it might be everlastingly too late.

Back to my young, determined, and persistent friend, I missed seeing her couple of days recently, and when I recognized her in Wal-Mart, I asked about her absence. It turned out that we had been visiting the track at different times. Plus, I’d been doing a lot of beach walking. We chatted about the stress relieving factor of exercise, and she said that her children had recently urged her to go. They didn’t want a cranky mom, and as young as they were, the little ones realized that exercise was good for their mother’s psyche and mood. But that’s a story for another day.

For today, I’m interested in hearing your exercise success stories. How has consistent exercise helped you physically and emotionally? How do you find time for it?

Light at the End of the Tunnel

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There was a brown journal in the small cabin where we stayed in Bryson City, NC  a couple of weeks ago that was fillled with advice, suggestions, and memories from the people who had stayed there. If we hadn’t read the journal, I doubt that we would have heard of The Road to Nowhere and the spooky tunnel at its end. Since several people wrote about it, we decided to take a look for ourselves.

Amazingly, Everett Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Bryson City, just ends a few miles outside of town. It doesn’t fork off to the left or right. No, it’s a dead-end. Once we had traveled as far as the road would take us, we parked the car, walked a few steps, and there was this amazing structure, a tunnel about 1/10 of a mile long.

Sometimes tunnels are creepy and scary, especially the underground ones. No wait. I think the underwater ones are pretty intimidating too. I recall riding in one to Fort Monroe, VA with my brother and his wife a few years ago and being so relieved when we saw that little speck of light at the end of that tunnel. The Bryson City tunnel was “average creepy.” Dark and dank with graffiti covered walls, it had an eerie ambience, and we walked briskly through it.

I’ve written about the light at the end of the tunnel concept often. Sometimes a person can be in the midst of some trial or heartache and start believing it will never end. It could be the demands of taking care of young children, the stressors of attending college while juggling home and family responsibilities, or dealing with the challenges of illness. Just like the person in the middle of a tunnel, you feel boxed in. Everything is dark, and you can see no relief in sight. And then one day, there’s a little pinpoint of light. It gets larger and larger until finally you can actually see the other side. THE LIGHT!

There’s truly light at the end of the tunnel as you realize that things are getting better. Some issues people deal with are long term. Raising children is a lifelong commitment, but there are moments even in the throes of the diaper changing days that are blissful. In college, there are moments of clarity, insight, or peace when you know you can make it. And as for the illness aspect, one day you realize that you can eat again without feeling nauseated or stand up without feeling wobbly.

A tunnel mentality can be applied to so many areas of  life. Just yesterday, a friend who’s planning a trip abroad said that at one time in her life she couldn’t have afforded an overnight trip to Myrtle Beach. In her words, the family “lived lean,” and she was always stressed out about whether the bills would be paid. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but for now there’s illumination rather than darkness on her finances.

I realize that all of the above scenarios are simplistic. Perhaps you’d like to add your own experiences with light at the end of the tunnel. Please do. There’s surely someone in Blogland who can benefit from reading it/them.

Ask Billy

This is without a doubt the shortest and yet perhaps the most profound post I’ve ever written.

One of the many topics that arose during lunch with Nancy today is the importance of living one’s life to the fullest. Yeap, for those of you who know me, that sounds like a familiar refrain. Nothing new, huh? And yet, don’t we all need reminding of the importance of seizing the day every now and then? For me, the reminder came from a poem that I recently read in a book entitled Risking Everything. The poem, “My Dead Friends” by Marie Howe, moved me. 

I’m posting it here for you to read and ponder.

My Dead Friends

I have begun
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive
   a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling–
   whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s
   ashes were–
it’s green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and
   he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says I’ll do.

What do you think, my friends? Do you want to continue playing it safe? Are you going to keep worrying about what the neighbors might think? Will your relatives disown you? Are you willing to live a safe but boring life, or will you take Billy’s advice and say YES??? You know what I’m doing, right? I’m heading to the circus where’s more life and less worry.

What Does Your Unconscious Say?

When making decisions, I agree with Dr. Scott Peck’s advice to listen to your unconscious…and to your body.

Yesterday I was reminded of some of the reasons I went into teaching instead of counseling. The latter takes too long, and more importantly, there are no easy, sure-fire answers. In teaching, there is always a certain amount of planning, reading, preparing, and thinking, but when show time comes, you go in and share the information. In counseling, well, there’s always an element of loose ends and unfinished business.

As I listened to the young woman tell me of her quandary yesterday, I thought of all sorts of advice to give her. In counseling, however, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to listen in an empathic, nonjudgmental manner and ask the “client” what she thinks she should do. You can paraphrase once in a while, but giving advice is taboo. If you tell the person something that works, then she might come back again and again for more of the same. You don’t want that; you want her to gain confidence in making her own decisions. If, on the other hand, you suggest something that doesn’t work, then guess who’s to blame? YOU.

So yesterday I just listened and listened and listened until finally I blurted out, “Look, there are no easy answers to this. I mean, you have a lot to consider here.”

“I know, I know,” she said. “Maybe I’ll figure it out.”

“You will.  But in the meantime, don’t do anything rash.”

“I won’t,” she said. “I just wish I knew what to do.”

That’s when I remembered some sage advice from Dr. Scott Peck. I don’t have the book with me this morning, and truthfully, I can’t remember which one I read this in. Yet, this advice has stayed with me for a dozen years or more. Dr. Peck said that the number one thing his patients wanted was absolute assurance that they were doing the right thing. The dilemmas might vary, but the uncertainty was always the same.

Should I go back to school?
Should I quit school?
Should I get married?
Should I get a divorce?
Should I change jobs?
Should I have another baby?

Should I move to Savannah?
Should I retire?
Should I fly to California or drive?

Dr. Peck felt that regardless of the question, the answer was seldom certain.  He advised his patients to listen to their unconscious and ask themselves questions such as: How does your body feel? Are you tense when you consider this decision? Does your chest hurt? Do you feel a certain lightness of spirit? In other words, what is your body telling you? Together, your body and unconscious mind are smarter than you are when it comes to making decisions.

I hope my young friend is thinking about Dr. Peck’s words today.  As I struggle with a decision today, I sure am.

Gliding Along

I saw something Saturday afternoon that defies description. Sounds like a hackneyed phrase, but still…it was awesome.

Stressed to the max, I escaped to the beach for about an hour. Why stressed? The end of the semester with six classes (make that seven when you add the online one from another college), Elizabeth’s house closing and all the puzzle pieces that went into that, and then learning that my beautiful young niece had being stricken with spinal meningitis. We didn’t know whether it was bacterial or viral at the time; we just knew that she was in excruciating pain and running a high fever. There were other issues going on too, stuff I’d rather not go into at the moment. I needed my mama to talk to! So what did I do? I went to the strand to walk and think and pray until I regained my usual optimistic perspective. Surely I’d find some solace there.

I walked for a while and then sat in my trusty beach chair to read. After a few moments, I closed my eyes and enjoyed seeing the vibrant oranges and reds and pinks, a regular light show going on behind my eyelids. I don’t how the retina’s cones provided that, but the show was magnificent. Eyes still shut, I became more aware of the squawking seabirds, the laughter of playing children, the roar of the ocean, and the muted, constant hum of nearby conversations.

Leaning back, I opened my eyes and saw a breathtaking sight, four pelicans gracefully gliding above me. Between me and a cloud, their movements seemed almost languid, and yet they were moving along at quite a clip (compared to humans). As the one in front lifted its wings, then the one behind followed, and the one behind, and then….you get the picture. It was a beautiful sight and one I’ll never forget.

Even this morning, as I think of their unity as they moved gracefully across the sky, I feel peace. I could take a lesson: Stay together, be cool, move at a decent (not unduly rushed) state, and glide…just glide. Things will work out. Sarah Beth is on the mend, Elizabeth moved in her new home over the weekend, and well, things are moving steadily forward with my end of semester stuff. I’m gliding along.

Get Moving!

Just a couple of quick thoughts about how Elizabeth, Carla, and I plan to use ME from this day forward. We were sitting around talking about size and shape and the impact that just a tiny bit of exercise could make on both. This is a topic that comes up quite often since we seem to eat more and move less when we’re on vacation.

I don’t have the time or inclination to get into the tremendous value of the E word (exercise) today, but I do want to mention that we all three agreed that it’s the secret to weight control, overall fitness, energy level, disease resistance, stress reduction, and even confidence level. We also agreed that sometimes it’s near nigh impossible to work in a fitness routine when life is so BUSY.  “Still,” I insisted in my diatribe with these young women, “You can do something. Just move!”

Movement and exercise are vital for both physical and psychological health, and I’m as sure of that as I am sure that the sun’s going to come up tomorrow. We sat there staring at each other for a few minutes, and then I lowered the boom (so to speak).  I asked them if they’d ever heard the phrase, “If it is to me it’s up to me,” and neither of them had. Elizabeth giggled and then asked me to repeat it.

“Hey, think of it like this. ME stands for Movement/Exercise, and if it’s going to happen, it’s up to me to get moving.  It’s up to ME and for Me.” I think they liked my little acronym, and I hope they read this blog and get moving. ME, Ladies…ME.

Goodbye Mommy Duck

I was feeling icky this morning so I took some long overdue sick leave to get body and soul together. Reading, writing, and watching a little television were my morning accomplishments, and this afternoon I made a batch of Chex party mix before going in for my evening class. I also rallied long enough to do a couple of loads of laundry and take a shower.

No, the purpose of this blog is not to bore you with the mundane details of my day but rather to let you know some things I learned this morning. As mentioned above, I watched a little bit of t.v. early in the day, namely the Today Show. I was just about to turn it off when I heard some diaglogue about bath toys.  My ears perked up because not only do I have several bath toys on hand for my little granddarlings to play with when they come to visit, but they also have quite a few in their home tub. Don’t most kids?

Apparently, the answer is yes. Most children have a plethora of ducks and rings and dinosaurs to make their bathing time more special, but what neither they nor their parents know is that those toys are bad news. Full of germs, bacteria, and this sleazy, oozy, slick black stuff, the toys being shown on Today were repulsive when their surfaces were viewed under a microscope.  Since moisture is the culprit, the doctors being interviewed admonished parents to dry and put away the toys  between uses. Plus, they warned that any with holes where water could enter were especially harmful.

I marched into the bathroom and tossed the mommy duck and her babies who have been resting there for at least six months. They all have holes in them, and so does the little pad where they rest waiting for the grandchildren to pick them up to play. Sometimes I’ve seen the smaller babies put the ducks in their mouths! Never again! According to the doctor, the bacteria from the toys can cause diarrhea, intestinal upsets, weakness, and even skin problems.  

It gets worse. I also learned that in addition to the harmful effects of the bath toys, bath water itself is filled with bacteria and all sorts of creepy microorganisms from the children’s bodies. This is not the kind of information a grandmother wants to hear before 9:00 in the morning…or at any time.  

After being educated by television on the perils of bathing with toys, I came across some other  alarming information in a newspaper. Apparently our homes are so infested with bacteria and all sorts of nasty stuff that it’s a wonder we aren’t sick all the time. From the carpets to the air itself, we’re surrounded by minute particles of vileness that affect our health. Stuff lives in carpets. Well, I sort of knew that, but it’s not something I want to dwell on.

 If someone in our household is sick, he or she is constantly exhaling germs and contaminating the air. When the person recovers, those sick germs are still there IF you never air out your house. Since many Americans live in closed up houses or apartments, where do you think those germs go? Nowhere. They linger in the air just waiting for another victim.

This has got me thinking of a couple of contradictory platitudes. Knowledge is power, but ignorance is bliss. Or should it be ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power?  I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I’m glad that I got a little more educated today so that now I can change things to make sure my home is more hygienic. At the same time, that blissful ignorance was less stressful.

Beach Day


Confession. Katherine, Elizabeth, and I didn’t go to church last Sunday, at least not in the traditional sense. Together at the beach on the day before school officially began for all of us on Monday, we decided to visit the strand itself. We told ourselves that we were going worship the Creator in one of His most beautiful and soul stirring “cathedrals,” the beach.

That’s what we did too. To assuage my conscience, I stuck two church magazines in my bag and read one of them cover to cover. As we traipsed along the boardwalk, Katherine suggested that we talk about how grateful we were for all of our many blessings, and right away we began enumerating them: the ocean, the sea birds, the sun, the pretty flowers along the sandy path, family, friends, sisterhood, jobs that we enjoy, energy to do our jobs, the laughter of children, health, the sound of music, their granny (my mother), laughter, and a long list of other things that we thought of. We also discussed how memory itself can be a blessing (depending on what you’re remembering), and we decided to store up the memories of our time together to take out and savor at a later time…when we were feeling stressed or sad.

After about an hour, I decided to go for a walk, and along the way I saw a couple of interesting sights that are still strong images in my mind. First, I spied a young pregnant woman wearing a white bikini. Yes, it was a bikini. What attracted my attention was her calm demeanor and the way she was sitting, almost in what I’d call a yoga position. Then she did the unthinkable. She lifted a cigarette to her lips and inhaled! Gee whiz. What was she thinking??? Doesn’t she realize that when she takes a little puff her baby does too? Feeling perturbed, I looked towards the ocean and saw another mother, this one middle aged. She was standing a few inches in the ocean holding the hand of her teenage son. As I got closer, I could see that he had some challenges, and her obvious love for him touched my heart.

Soon I turned back towards our chairs, and as I glanced to my right, I saw my niece Katherine. Walking briskly, she seemed so determined and intense that I almost hesitated to interrupt her. When I called her name, she turned to me with a relieved, grateful look and said, “Oh Aunt Jayne, I’ve been looking for you. I went walking to clear my mind, and I have no idea where I am.” She had asked two lifeguards and the cute Lemon Quench guy for help but was still “lost.” Finally, she’d prayed that she’d see me, and almost right away, she heard me call her name. Okay, I know some of you skeptics out there might say it was a lucky coincidence. Katherine and I know different.

Walking together, we spied Elizabeth calmly reading, unaware of the drama that had taken place. The three of us munched on Red Delicious apples and drank some cool, clear water as we chatted about the new beginnings all of us had in store the next day. Then reluctantly we packed up our stuff and left for home.  It’s not the way we usually spend our Sundays, but the three of us feel fine about it. More keenly aware of our blessings and of the power of prayer, we’re glad we spent our day at the beach cathedral.