Friday, February 16, 2018

A Few Days Into Lent

As I mentioned here a few years ago, when I was a kid most of my friends were Catholic and were obligated to give something up for Lent. It seemed that was all they talked about for those six weeks before Easter. These days, I don’t hear anyone mention it, but surely someone out there, devote Catholic or not, does something every day throughout Lent to remind themselves of the suffering that Jesus endured for us. I hope so at least.

I’ve been thinking about it for a while – what should I give up this year? Something challenging like chocolate (which I have done multiple times)? Something easier like snacking between meals? Something less tangible like thinking badly of others?

A few years ago, an acquaintance sent me a card a few weeks before Easter saying that she was spending the forty days sending a card each day to someone she respected or admired or who just might need a thinking of you card. That sounded like a neat idea, then as now.  Then the other day, someone on Facebook asked what people do to grow closer to Jesus during Lent. One of the responses was to literally give something up each day, find something around the house each day that you no longer use or need and throw it out or donate it to charity. Simplify your living space. Or even better, simply simplify your life.

I’ve taken all of those thoughts into consideration and here is what I’ve decided to do in honor of Lent this year.

First, because it would be time-consuming and mind-numbing to go around the house each day choosing one thing to discard, I will instead gather an entire box or bag full of junk once a week to take to Goodwill or St Vincent’s. Or unfortunately throw out because I actually do have a lot of junk around here.

Two years ago I made a list of all the people from my past who I have lost touch with and started trying to track them down. I found the obituary of one of them and another one died suddenly before I got around to sending him a note. I did send a letter to one person from college who I found on-line and he even wrote me back. But there are still ten names on that list and I’m going to try to track down every one of them before Easter and send them each a letter.    

In addition, I’m giving up Facebook. I know, what? Looking at the statistics for this blog, I realize that most of you come here from the link I post on Facebook. I post it to other social media as well, but not nearly as many of you come here from those sites. It’s all Facebook for my followers. So, yes, I will still post my blogs for all of you to find and follow. And I will open my personal Facebook page when I am on-line but only to see if anyone is commenting on those few links or mentioning me by name on some other post. I can’t afford to be a total hermit, but I need to stop letting social media suck the life right out of me.

I don’t know. I know that back in the day, when my Catholic friends were told they had to choose something to give up eating or doing from Ash Wednesday until Easter morning, the premise was to suffer like Jesus for those six weeks. But I don’t think it should be about suffering as much as about realizing what matters in this life and what doesn’t. All those posts and random thoughts that everyone puts on Facebook as well as all the clothes in my closet and junk sitting around my house really don’t amount too much, not as much as old college roommates and former co-workers.   

What else is important? Spending time with family and friends – in person, not on-line. Enjoying your favorite clothes that you wear all the time instead of those dresses you wear once a year. Owning possessions which have a story to tell instead of being things which take up space on a wall or a floor. Finding peace in the little things. Living a simple life. Practicing all that for the six weeks of Lent, and then holding onto it for the rest of the year. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Value of Words

Here it is Valentine’s Day as well as Ash Wednesday. You would think that I could find something about this day to write a blog post about. Yet, here I sit at my laptop sensing a ramble coming on.

I usually write my blog posts the night before and then post them first thing the next morning. Last night, even though I got home from work a little after six and had nothing special I had to do the rest of the evening, I never got around to writing anything. After watching “Hawaii 5-O” with the hubby, while eating supper, I headed to my office and spent the next few hours wasting time on the computer, talking to a few people on line and looking at old family photos. I do not know where some evenings go.

I’ve been awake since four a.m. and finally got up at five, because my head was still spinning trying to figure out what to write. For the last four or five years (maybe more), my goal has been to blog on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. It seems, that most weeks, those days work the best for me. I’ve altered that schedule at times, but always fall back on that. Some days, when I really am at a loss for ideas, I skip posting altogether, as I probably should be doing today. I know, after all the reading I’ve done on writing, that even though one should always keep writing, sometimes it’s better to keep it to yourself than share it with others, such as when you have nothing to say.

Yet, here I am, about to share this bunch of random fodder with you, because I guess I wanted to give you a peak into my world, into what’s in my head at five a.m. when I can’t sleep.

To go along with it, here is an equally random photo, taken of me and my cat in my parent’s front yard, circa 1969. Being oh so creative even then, already valuing the use of words.

Happy Valentine’s Day and welcome to Lent.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Passing Through Rough Waters

But now, this is what the Lord says —
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:1-2 New International Version)

It’s been suggested, when a person is feeling down, that they look for the good in every situation, or better yet that they look for something to feel grateful for in every situation. To write down, every day, at least one thing you are thankful for. And of course, every day, I can think of dozens of things that I am thankful for.

Except for the days when I feel cracked and broken, useless and ignored, defeated and unloved. And don’t tell me that you haven’t had days like that too, coz I know you have. So, what’s a person to do on days like that?

I decided that instead of writing down all the cheesy things I’m grateful for, that I would start a journal of the worst things that happen to me every day.

I know what you’re gonna say. “What is wrong with you, Chris? Don’t be so negative. Looking at the bad stuff is only going to drag you down more. You have to remember all the good things that happen each day and don’t dwell on the bad.”

That’s what you would think. But try it.

The first night, when I started that journal last week, and I wrote down “#1 one of my patients was admitted to hospice”, it dawned on me. Maybe that’s not the worst thing. He is a sweet man who has had a hard life, maybe knowing his battle is almost finished, that he will soon be falling into the loving arm’s of Jesus isn’t such a bad thing.

Then I wrote down “#2 my Achilles tendon continues to ache, sometimes more, sometimes less, but I’m getting tired of it”. I actually brought this up to a patient that day when we were talking about aches and pains, and we both realized that having aches and pains in a heel or a wrist or a back means that you still have those body parts and can still feel them. You haven’t had something amputated and you’re not paralyzed. (The truly neat thing about that conversation was that at the end of it, this patient said, “you must be a Christian”.)  

I arrived at yesterday, and added another thing to my growing list. “The boyfriend of a good friend died last night.” And I got nothing, nothing good to say about that, no hidden treasure, no secret lining. Nothing. And some days are like that but at the end of those days, I still know I am a child of God and He is always with me.

Thank You, Lord God, for always, always being with me. Amen.  

Friday, February 9, 2018

Flashback Friday - one year ago and many years before

I was going through all the old family photos, trying to decide which ones to post and around what theme. I’ve come across a lot of pictures of my mom, what a beautiful woman she was, a dedicated mom, wife and sister. A year ago today, they discharged her from the nursing home and we took her back to her apartment, where I stayed with her round the clock (with lots of help from my brother and sister) through the weekend. Two days after being home she realized that she just couldn’t make it on her own anymore and two days after that we admitted her back to the nursing home. Another two days later she was admitted to the hospital where she died within hours. Weird how that all came down. Seems so long ago already.

As everyone in the family knows, she hated having her picture taken. I mean, it is legendary how much she despised it. I’m surprised I found all the good pictures of her that I did. I guess she wasn’t always photo-phobic.

Sorry, Mom, to post these all. (The only picture from her past that she told me she really hated was her senior portrait, so at least I will honor her by not sharing that one.) 
1929 with her sister Helen
1935, the back of the picture reads "me with Billy S from Milwaukee"
1940s, when she was still in high school 
not sure when or where

1946 with her Pa, Ma, Brother Robert and Sister Helen (Mom's on the right)
1948 with my brother Tom and sister Judy
1949 with Tom and Judy 
1952 with Judy and Tom again 
1959 with Tom, Judy, Dad and baby sister Pat
1968, finally a family picture of me (on the lower left), my sister Pat on the lower right, then Dad, Judy with her baby Paula, Tom and Mom 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What Safari Camp Would You Stay At?

            It’s been quite a while since I’ve shared an excerpt from “Where the Sky Meets the Sand”. I’ve been trying to find pictures from my own travels to Kenya which would fit one of the scenes. Since I have the whole story already pictured in my head, sometimes it’s harder than one would think for me to find the right actual photo out of the thousands I’ve taken.

The camp was so small—three large tents, two small ones, a cement block outhouse, and a cement block storage building—that it took only a few minutes for a tour. Jenny found their large tent comfortable, though rustic. A full-size bed took up the majority of the room. Nightstands flanked each side of the bed and each stand held a small battery-operated lantern. Across from the bed stood a small dresser on which a pitcher of clear water, a large basin, and two sealed bottles of drinking water waited invitingly.
She poured a small amount of water into the basin and splashed it on her face. The hand towel hanging from a bar on the side of the dresser was soft and smelled of fresh air.
“Think you can handle this for a few days?” Paul asked, trying out the bed. “No running water, no hot shower?”
            “It will be fine. It will be an adventure.”
            The crazy thing is that I wrote this scene sometime between my first and second safaris. The first time I went in 2006, we stayed at a luxury camp with running water, electricity and all the amenities of a five-star American resort. It was nothing like the camp where I imagine Jenny and Paul staying. After writing their story about Africa, I went on my second safari in 2015, and we stayed at Manyatta Camp, where these pictures were taken. I felt much more at home there, but it still wasn’t as rustic as what Jenny and Paul experienced. My dream would be to actually camp out on the African plain.  Maybe next time I’m there! 
            Let me know if you want to take a life-changing trip to Kenya. In addition to going on safari, you will have the chance to change the lives of those living in poverty. This coming weekend we will begin planning this year’s trips with Tumaini Volunteers. You don’t want to be left behind!

            (But if a trip to Africa is just not on your bucket-list, you can still read about the adventures Jenny and Paul have while they are there. Click here to get a copy of their story.) 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Where God's Plans Are

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

On my January 14 blog post, I shared that my “word of the year” is actually part of a verse from Proverbs 19. The Lord’s plans prevail. Here it is just a few weeks later and those words have totally escaped me.

As usual, I had a whole list of things I had hoped to accomplish last week. I post my goals and how I succeeded (or not) on the other blog which I maintain. (You can read about it here.) You may have guessed, whether you read that other blog or not, that I did not reach many of those goals last week.

It’s easy to mentally beat myself up over that. I really have no good reason for not doing much last week, I chose to be a couch potato and web surfer instead of being productive. But for whatever reason, maybe I wasn’t meant to get much done. Maybe it was God’s plan for me to just take the week off. Maybe (hopefully!), it is God’s plan for me to be productive next week or the week after.

I have to place my failures as well as my successes in God’s hands. He has got it covered, whatever I do or don’t do.

Thank You, Lord, for having a plan for my life, for my days. Help me to accept that it is Your will which will prevail and that all I need do is follow where You lead. Amen. 
In 1984, God led me to Castle Rock, Colorado. I'm glad He led me back home a few years later. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

How to kick the Winter Blues

I don’t know. Maybe the Winter Blues or Cabin Fever or whatever you want to call it has attacked me. Or maybe I have given in to my inner lazy. Or maybe the day job was just that crazy the last four days. Whatever the case, I haven’t done much around home this week. Including blogging mid-week. And though I have a list of ideas of things to blog about, I’m having a hard time getting that together too.

But here it goes. Coz when all else fails, I can fall back on pictures of Kenya.

2006 and my first trip to Africa, we ran a medical clinic for two of the days we were in Maasailand. The girls are working in our makeshift pharmacy.   
 In 2013, my second trip, I got to work at the clinic in Saikeri for two days. I mostly observed the physician assistant seeing patients, but whenever any babies came in for their immunizations, I got to give them. Which was way cool, I thought.
 While visiting the SIDP camp in 2015, we toured their medical clinic, which was started by some volunteers and never completed. Unfortunately, that is the way a lot of things go in Africa.
 And last year, I just got to drive by a few medical facilities.
The Karen Hospital, in an affluent neighborhood, looks fairly respectable.
 Then there are lots of little clinics and so-called hospitals along the side of the road.
I thought I should give you a close-up of what this particular clinic offers.
All these various institutions are on my mind as, on my next trip to Kenya, I would like to work at a clinic or host a medical outreach. I’m actually planning the trip in my head and have talked to one of our hosts in Kenya and she would help me put it together. I’m thinking of a trip for two weeks in the fall.  

I’ve talked to a few people in the medical field who have expressed interest in such a trip, but I need to start getting true commitments. If you or anyone you know would like to join me on this adventure of a lifetime, shoot me a message. No medical experience is required, just a willingness to help out where you can. We’ll be sure to fit in a safari as well. It’s all pretty flexible right now, and is always cheaper than you think.  

Yup, just thinking about Kenya knocks out those winter blues. 

I look forward to hearing from you!

(For more information, click here to go to our website or here to like us on Facebook. Or lastly click here to learn more about our sister organization in Kenya, Marafiki Volunteers.)