Higher Than My Ways

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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

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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?

Young, Determined, and Persistent

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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
  question

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.