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?

No Uninteresting People

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I’m tweaking G.K. Chesterson’s quote about there being no uninteresting things, only uninterested people. The more I live and observe, I truly believe that there are no uninteresting people, just uninterested ones. On a recent getaway to the mountains of NC, this belief was verified several times.

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On our way to Bryson City, NC where we had rented a cabin, we stopped at the NC Welcome Center and were delighted to see a man dressed as Uncle Sam. There was a festival going on, and I met a couple of fascinating people, Jerry Wolfe and Max Woody. Jerry, a Cherokee Indian, is a living, breathing advertisement for the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. In fact, his picture is on the front of the pamphlet that he autographed for me. And Max Woody? He’s a sixth generation chair maker who crafts ladder-back chairs and rockers without using nails or glue. I would have enjoyed listening to these men longer, but since we had miles to go before we slept, we left the festival and traveled north.

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When we weren’t hiking and marveling over waterfalls and beautiful vistas, we spent a lot of time browsing through the shops in downtown Bryson City. It’s a delightful little town that we hope to visit again. Not too far from Waynesville, Bryson City has a number of interesting people who reside there.

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After a delicious and reasonably priced breakfast at Everett’s Diner, my husband and I parted company for a while so that he could shop to his heart’s content in a hardware store while I visited a couple of the quaint shops on the other side of the bridge crossing the Tuckasegee River.

Intrigued by the original art work in a shop window, I walked into the store and started a conversation with the mild mannered man behind the counter, the owner of the establishment. I was the only customer in the shop at that time, and before I knew it, we were discussing his life story and the circuitous path that led him to his current location and career. Talented and with an eye for business, he creates 3-D artwork, furniture, and even birdhouses. As he showed me some of his creations, I was immediately impressed with his originality and passion for his work.

He mentioned that he had dropped out of college years ago because of the combined stress of being a father, breadwinner, and student. I told him it was never to go back and finish his program of study, but the longer we chatted, I realized that he was doing what he wanted to do where he wanted to do it. In midlife and content with his life, would a degree really help him? IF he were the type of person who wanted a degree just to prove to himself that he could do it, then yes. But he isn’t. He’s comfortable in his own skin. I enjoyed chatting with him about his children, his time in the Army, and one of his former jobs. We even talked about the Bible a little bit, and when I left, I asked him to share a word or two from the good book. Glad to oblige, he shared something he’d been reading when I came in.

I walked into Second Hand Rose, a consignment shop, and saw a young woman going through some clothes. From a New England state, she had moved to Bryson City and fallen in love with it. Although the job she had come for had fallen through, she had quickly secured another one and was looking forward to beginning her new job on Monday.

“Weren’t you afraid to leave Maine and come to the South?” I asked.

“Sure, it was hard. And I had to do a lot of planning and taking care of things,” she answered.

“I admire you,” I said. “So many people live lives of shoudas and wouldas, and then one day they wake up and it’s too late to do those things they’ve been procrastinating.”

“You really think so?” she asked, glancing away from the merchandise she was scanning.

“Oh yeah!  I think if people could kick the person most responsible for their lost opportunities and crummy lives, they couldn’t sit down for six months.”

She smiled a little, probably wondering who this kooky person was who persisted in distracting her from shopping.

My bibliophile friends will be happy to know that there’s a wonderful bookstore right on Everett Street, the Friends of the Library Bookstore. Well-organized, the layout of the store made it easy to go to just the right section, and none of the books that I purchased were over $3. The woman working in the shop was a volunteer, evidently one who believed in the power of words to transform lives.  I could have stayed there for a couple of hours just dipping into books and picking up tidbits of information and inspiration, but DH (Dear Husband) was ready to move on to the Cork and Bean for a triple chocolate brownie a la mode.

Back at the cabin, I sat on the deck reading the journal of entries left by former visitors to the Dogwood cabin. As I read and listened to crows cawing, birds tweeting, and dogs barking, I thought again, “What interesting people there are in this world!”

Other Blogs

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Quick post to say that this blog appears to be my primary one, and I can’t change that (have dutifully followed instructions several times). I have three blogs, and this one is more about personal experiences and ponderings in the day-to-day life of a mother, grandmother, wife, teacher, sister, friend……..you get the picture. It’s a potpourri of many different topics, so if that’s what you’re looking for, then this is it. Since Mom’s Musings is the first blog I started, that’s probably why it’s still listed as my primary one regardless of my attempts to change its status.

My other two blogs might interest you too. Or rather, they might interest you MORE than the above mentioned one because they’re focused on specific topics. Gossip and Solitude (http://jaynebowers.wordpress.com/) is a weblog about my writing experiences and is an attempt to meld a website and blog together. Not only do I post about the fun, woes, rewards, hassles, disappointments, and triumphs of writing, but I also post book reviews.

The third blog, Beating a Path, is about teaching experiences. I’ve been teaching in the SC Technical Education system since 1975 (ouch…long time!), and this blogs includes ideas, suggestions, and stories. I’m still teaching part-time, mainly because I just can’t leave the magic of the classroom. Educational practices and trends continue to change, and for a number of years I’ve also taught online classes. The link to Beating a path is http://www.jpbowers.wordpress.com.

I hope you’ll check out the other two blogs, especially since I think a lot of people are directed to Mom’s Musings by accident…or rather because of a wordpress issue that I can’t figure out.

Happy Blogging!

A Pinecone, a Feather, and a Button

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I’ve been thinking about gifts a lot lately, mainly because of some of the books I’ve been reading. We’ve all been told that a gift doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be meaningful and that it should reflect something important to the recipient, not the giver. Just thinking about this last phrase makes me feel a little uncomfortable. One Christmas, I gave my daughter Elizabeth a cool denim jacket with brown cording around the pockets. Taught to be gracious and grateful, she said, “Thanks Mama” before refolding it and placing it between the sheets of green tissue paper.

“You don’t like it?” I asked.”It’s so unique.”

“Yes, it is.” After a moment, “And it’s so you.”

“What does that mean?” knowing full well what it meant.

But I digress. Let’s just say that the following week, she took it back to TJ Maxx, one of our favorite shopping establishments, and exchanged it for something more Elizabeth and less Jayne.

In three of the books I’ve read lately, the characters gave meaningful gifts that showed care and thoughtfulness, and none of them cost a dime:

  • In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Liesel regularly picks  up small gifts on her trips to and from school and brings them back to Max, a Jew hiding in the basement. A feather, a pinecone, and a button are a few of her offerings. Since he can’t see even a smidgen of daylight, Max is especially appreciative of Liesel’s thoughtful gifts.
  • In The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant, Cornelius leaves little presents for Judy Rhine, and later in his life, he leaves nature’s gifts for Oliver Small’s two young sons. Both Judy Rhine and the Smalls family reciprocate Cornelius’s generosity by nursing and caring for him.
  • While listening to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road on some recent travels, I realized that the father was constantly giving gifts to his young son. A cold can of Coca Cola, a can of peaches, some mushrooms, and “the fire” are but a few of these gifts, and in this situation the love that this man feels for the boy is so obvious that it’s just about heartbreaking. How can love be heartbreaking? Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

Reading about these instances of gift giving in literature inspired me to be more mindful of the gifts all around me and to be giving, especially with things without a price tag. At our writing group the other night, one of the members brought me some delicate pale pink flowers from her yard. As I sat in the back seat of my daughter’s van the other afternoon, instead of getting impatient at the slowness of the traffic, I looked out of the window and enjoyed the scene to my right, the marsh (see above picture). Then I looked at Colton, the 4-year-old who wanted me to read a book about numbers and farm animals to him. I glanced at the front of the van and could see the tops of my daughters’ heads and catch snippets of their conversation, another gift.

Now that I’m more conscious of the power of gifts, I’m making more of an effort to give them. Sometimes it might be something I purchase that looks like the person and not like me. Sometimes it might be something from nature, and other times it could be a service, something I can do to help another person. My husband is really good at this and is always (yes, always) doing something for someone else. Back to me and what I can and will do, I can give more of my time and energy.

Today, not next week or some vague future date, I’m going to improve my gift giving. Yesterday I picked up some unique shells from the beach and have already given one away. Later in the day, I bought a birthday gift for a friend. Tomorrow, I’m going to make a call that will set the ball in motion for some volunteer work.

What about you? What gifts have you received that are particularly meaningful? And perhaps more importantly, what have you given?

Laps on the Couch

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Sarah Beth wasn’t happy with her time in the Outer Banks 8K, but she did it. She finished the course. Did you? Have you ever participated in such an event? I’m asking because as we were standing around congratulating her and absorbing the almost giddy excitement of the scene, she was looking a bit downcast. We, members of the older set, reminded her of how respectable her time was and that indeed, most of the people she knew were probably sitting around on their couches watching TV, scrolling through Facebook, or playing video games.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” she said. “If anyone says anything to me about my time, I’m just gonna remark on their laps on the couch.”

“Amen, Sistah!” I said.

I’ve thought of the laps on the couch many times since that October morning at OBX. As a teacher/writer who’s recently self-published another book, there are folks out there who aren’t as enthusiastic as I am about finally finishing the project. Some may say it’s not substantive enough while others might say the tone is too conversational or that the pictures detract. “She should have hired a professional photographer,” someone said.

That someone does his laps on the couch.

A couple of recent comments about Adele and Anne Hathaway have brought this little couch phrase to mind again. How can anyone say anything negative about Adele’s size and not also mention her absolutely marvelous voice? I mean, seriously Folks. While you’re doing laps on the couch, she’s singing up a storm and making millions. Same with Anne Hathaway.  Someone made a snide remark about her looking like a chicken while singing “I Dreamed a Dream.” Huh?

Perhaps I’m overreacting. But I just have to say that it’s disrespectful and uncalled for (one of my mother’s expressions) to comment negatively on someone who’s out there trying to do something, especially when the person who’s making the disparaging comments is doing NOTHING.  Or is doing laps on the couch.

Recent Flicks

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I’m not a great movie aficionado with expert opinions on cinematography, plot, acting, quality, or casting. All I know is what I like and why. Since I had the opportunity to see several movies over the past couple of months, I’m sharing my impressions for anyone thinking of seeing these movies.

Argo. Saw this while in the Outer Banks in November. We all found it to be suspenseful and meaningful, especially since the story took place within our lifetimes and during a period which we could remember as being tense. At the same time, we all talked about how removed from the danger and drama of the events in Iran we were as we blithely went about our daily lives, safe and secure on American soil.

Lincoln. Hands down, my favorite movie of the year. In fact, I liked it so much that I saw it twice, once with my husband and once with one of my daughters. The acting was absolutely superb, and now I want to see everything starring Daniel Day-Lewis…except for the Gangs of New York—too too much blood. I remember being ultra impressed with him in The Age of Innocence with Michelle Pfeiffer years ago and will see this movie again soon.

But back to Lincoln. Although the action took place over only a few months, that brief look into the life of the nation, the goings-on in Washington, the interaction between Lincoln and Seward, and the action on the battlefield, the viewer gets a good look at Lincoln the man. I also enjoyed glimpses of the president as a husband, father, and politician. Performances by Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and Gulliver McGrath (Tad) were stellar. I can merely think about the bedroom scene when the Lincolns are arguing and get cold chills. Day-Lewis and Field were that good!

Les Miserables was the most powerful and moving of all recently viewed movies. I wept in several places. The acting, the singing, the set…the everything was perfect. I liked it so much that I downloaded the soundtrack from iTunes. If anyone wants to see this and is looking for a co-viewer, I’d be happy to see it again.  Who knew that Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe could sing so well? Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried were splendid too, of course. Tragic and sad but beautifully done. I’d see this again today if had a buddy.

Earlier this week, we saw Django Unchained. Going into the theater, I had no preconceived idea of what to expect. I only knew that the cast was a lineup of superstars that had never let me down. Hmmm.What to say? I was riveted to the screen most of the time. There were especially brutal moments when I had to look away, so be prepared for violence if you go. At the same time, the performances of Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo deCaprio were marvelous. And Christoph Waltz? He was an excellent, smooth-talking bounty hunter whose performance was mesmerizing.

As brutal and shocking as Django, was, we both noted that it was also a love story. It was also a movie about triumph. Still, there are reasons that the film is called controversial, and you’ll be able to see that within minutes.

All of the above were what I dub “heavy duty” movies. It’s time for some fluff.  I saw Wreck-It Ralph with four of the grandchildren the day after Thanksgiving. They loved it, even the 3-year-old.  Me? I didn’t get it, probably because I’ve never gotten into video games. Plus, to be honest, I thought it was a little violent.

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What about you? Did you see any of the above movies? What was your take on them?

Confessions and Revelations

Confession: My friends and I aren’t perfect. Revelation: Neither are you!

A facebook post from my friend Connie has motivated me to say a few things that have been on my mind and in my heart lately. She and I attend the same church and see eye-to-eye on most (maybe all) things spiritual. She’s a “sister” who, like me, does her dead level best to be kind, honest, caring, giving, and all those other positive things that we’re supposed to do. We turn the other cheek, work on being nonjudgmental, love our families, attend most church meetings, pay our tithing, and even visit sick people in the hospital.

Connie and I often laugh and joke at where we’d be and what kind of lives we’d be living without what we refer to as “the gospel” in our lives. It’s only a skip and a hop to pondering the same thing about our friends and acquaintances who are apparently farther along the path of enlightenment than we are…or so it would seem from the outside looking in.

But are things always the way they seem? I know folks who darken the church doorway more frequently than I probably do, but they’re judgmental, unforgiving, and rumor mongering (always wanted to use that term). Others are pessimistic beyond belief although throughout the scriptures we’re told to be of good cheer. They worry incessantly about tomorrow despite the frequent Biblical instruction to have faith. Remember the tiny sparrow?

And then there are those who could spout off the 10 Commandments like nobody’s business, but they put possessions and “other gods” before God, take His name in vain, and/or treat their parents abysmally. And let’s don’t forget those who think keeping the Sabbath holy means going out to eat after church and sleeping the afternoon away. Don’t even bother responding to this by telling me that going out to eat as a family keeps unity going AND helps insure that those working in restaurants have jobs. (As an aside, I’ve been known to do all of the above.)

Here’s the difference between Connie and me and “those other people.” We KNOW that we aren’t perfect, and we don’t need anyone to tell us that or to remind us of the shoulds and should nots. We know them, and we’re trying to incorporate them into our lives as best as we can. All of us are in different spots in our spiritual progression.

Time to bring this to a close. Here’s what I know: LOVE is the word. As I write this, I can’t help but think of my former mother-in-law and the many acts of love and compassion that I’ve seen her perform. This afternoon, I’m thinking specifically of how she’d often leave church early to go home and put the finishing touches on a scrumptious meal for her family. Lots of mothers do that; I used to too (although my children might take issue with the scrumptious part).

Here’s what set her apart from me and the other mothers. Before any family members partook of the Sunday feast, she fixed a plate of goodies for a “shut-in” neighbor and sent it over by one of her sons. Did she leave church early? Yes. Did anyone at church have anything to say about it? Yes. Did she show love? Yes. Did you?

Here’s my goal as found in Micah 6:8. I rediscovered this scripture after reading Same Kind of Different as Me.  “And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Texan in a Black Truck

Some people reading this might think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill or that I’m reading too much into a near miss, but Elizabeth and I know better. We were there when the Texan in the black Chevrolet truck moved into our space the very moment I pulled off the highway. You weren’t.

We were cruising along I-20 on the way home from Atlanta, each of us lost in our own thoughts when Elizabeth  said, “Mom, It doesn’t look like those cars ahead of us are moving to me.”

“I think you’re right,” I said and began slowing down. I was amazed and relieved to note that my trusty Highlander could decelerate from 75 to 0 miles per hour so quickly. Stopping inches shy of the car in front of us, I remember thinking that I sure hoped the cars behind me would be able to do the same thing.

That’s when I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw it: a big black truck barreling right towards the back of my car. I KNEW he couldn’t stop the truck in time, and without consciously thinking about it, I quickly swerved the car off of the highway and onto the side of the road at the exact moment that the black truck flew into the space I had vacated. Drivers in the right lane had seen him flying down the highway and had managed to leave a small free area that allowed him to maneuver into the right lane  before slamming to a halt.

Seconds later, I was back on the highway in a spot left by a considerate driver. Elizabeth and I were both quiet as we considered what had happened so quickly and what could have happened IF…IF she had not noticed the non-moving cars and alerted me in time and IF I hadn’t quickly left the highway.

I looked at my lovely daughter and said, “You’re alive, Girl! And you know why? It’s because you noticed that no cars were moving.”

“But you’re the one who moved over just as the black truck moved into where we’d been sitting!”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. There’s something to be said for quick reflexes.”

Shaken, we sat in silence for the remaining time, both of us pondering the close call. After several minutes, we began inching forward in a stop-and-go progression for several miles.

At one point, we were beside with the driver of the black truck, and naturally we exchanged glances, looks that communicated relief and wonder. He went on ahead, and I noticed his Texas tags. The Texan and I took turns passing each other until somewhere between Augusta and Columbia, and I hope he safely made it to his destination.

“He’d be dead too if you hadn’t moved over,” Elizabeth said.

“And so might several people in the cars ahead of mine.” I replied.

Except for a lousy experience at the Cracker Barrel at Sandhills, Elizabeth and I made it back to my house without further mishap.This morning it hit me: Elizabeth and I almost died! Instead of briskly walking around the neighborhood enjoying the early morning air, I could be lying on a slab at Kornegay’s.

But we’re not.

We’re alive. And we’re both extremely aware of the difference two seconds can make. We both feel that we’ve been given second chances. After my epiphany, I hurried home and walked straight to the room where Elizabeth was reading and again asked, “Do you really understand how lucky we are to be alive this morning?”

“Yes Ma’am, I do,” she relied.

“Okay, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to ask yourself if there is anything you’d regret not doing if your life had ended yesterday.  You don’t have to share it with me; I just want you to think about it.”

“I’ve already been doing that,” she said.

“What I’ve been thinking. No. What I KNOW is that God gave us another chance, Sweetheart. Yesterday was a wake-up call to the fragility and fleeting nature of life.” (Yes, I really do talk to my children like this.)

“I think so too,” Elizabeth replied, probably hoping that I’d leave her alone so that she could finish reading her book.

But I wasn’t finished with my “Momtalk” yet, and she knew it.

I continued, “Some people might say ‘Whew, lucky break,’ but we know it was more than that. Let’s give some thought to what we’re going to do with our lives. It’s clear to me that God isn’t ready for us yet.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

Some people reading this might think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill or that I’m reading too much into a near miss, but Elizabeth and I know better. We were there when the Texan in the black Chevrolet truck moved into our space the very moment I pulled off the highway.  You weren’t.

Because of him, I’m going to start checking some more things off my list, beginning with an adventure that involves the boats above. What would you regret not doing if your life ended today? And why is it that it takes something like a speeding Texan to wake us up?