Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year 2013

When I began this blog, I intended to share memories and observations about my life and the society I live in. It has been a learning experience. This year I will try to improve and elevate my writing and blogging experience to a higher level. I read the writing of bloggers that I admire. I'm afraid I don't have the talent to aspire to those heights, but I really want to improve. I invite the people who read my stuff to comment, criticize, or encourage.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

How Do We Celebrate Christmas?

English Traditions

I have been doing a little research on Christmas traditions from other countries.I found one in England called the Christmas Cracker. It is a noise maker designed to make the party festive with a loud pop and confetti or streamers. I have always associated them with New Year's instead of Christmas, but next Year I'm going to look into it. Of course I'll have to clean for a month. The tradition includes a crown for the participants and a token gift. 

The trick is for one person to hold one end of the wrapper and a friend or neighbor to hold the other. When both yank on the handle the, the noise maker pops. Sounds like a plan to me.
Russian Traditions

I really enjoyed reading about the Russian custom that marks Advent. During the days leading to Christmas meat is not eaten, and on Christmas eve they enjoy a feast of twelve dishes. The meat is saved for Christmas Dinner, but the Christmas Eve dinner is fabulous too.

Peruvian Traditions

In Peru early pioneers quickly adapted the rural setting of Christmas story to local conditions. The early settlers were devoted to the church.  Native artisans created art to celebrate the season.

There are other traditions from other countries I would like to pursue and incorporate so that I can understand other people and cultures better as well as understand Christmas better 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our Christmas Tree

Our Christmas tree at home was always one Daddy bought at the grocery store. It was usually 4 or 5 feet tall, well, maybe 6. He would come home from work with it on Momma's instructions, I'm sure. He would put a base on it with wood strips and set it up to satisfy her sense of balance in front of the living room window.

She loved to decorate and make it better than the year before. In those days decorations were simpler than they are now and the ornaments were delicate and treasured since we used them for years. The really nice ones were fragile and I was heart-broken if I broke one. The tree was usually put up no more than two weeks before Christmas because it would begin to shed when it got dry.

For Christmas morning we always went to Auntie's house. She was Momma's step-mother. My Aunt Tom and Uncle Jimmie lived with her. They were Mama's sister and brother and neither one of them ever married. It made a nice group of family members to exchange gifts and tell stories and cook for. On Christmas Day other family members sometimes joined us. I always wanted my cousin Ann to come. I loved her mother and she had sisters to add to the fun.

One year my Uncle Ed and his wife Ana were there with my cousin Eddie. Auntie and Tom took the tree out as soon as we opened the gifts and Eddie cried and cried. The year I was nine is the last one I remember. It's the last one before Momma died. It was special. It's the  last one before I gave up my belief in Santa. Mama shared the secret with me so I wouldn't tell Eddie, but the gift Santa gave me was a frying pan I wanted so I could cook eggs. I'm sure everybody else wondered why I got a frying pan from Santa, but it remains a memory I value, a secret she and I shared.

If you like Christmas stories, this is another one I value.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Traditions

In this season of Christmas I have been reflecting on customs and traditions.  Many of them are a mystery in origin to me. Some are mentioned in carols or come from long-forgotten sources, but I am still bound to them. The Christmas Tree is the first and most obvious one to explain or investigate.

 Evergreen branches were used by ancient cultures as a symbol of the return of Spring, and as a tribute to the pagan gods those cultures worshiped long before the Christian community began commemorating Christmas. 

The actual date and even the month are lost in time, but most scholars believe it to have been in the spring or early summer when the weather had warmed enough for men and animals not be at risk in the open fields..

December 25 was first suggested as early as 273 as the date of Jesus' birth. The date was accepted in 336  in the West after Constantine proclaimed his kingdom to be Christian. In the East, January 6 was observed for many years, but it was eventually accepted as the date of Epiphany, the time of the visitation of the Wise Men. 

After the date of December 25 became universally accepted, it was still a long time before the Christmas tree became a standard in homes and city squares and businesses. The Christmas Tree decorated with lights and ornaments came to the United States from Germany about 1840 with German immigrants. 

I am amazed at the multitude of myths, traditions, and customs that have arisen around Christmas. Some carry a spiritual message and some are just fun and foolishness, but the message is one of hope and affirmation. Make your traditions meaningful and share them with your loved ones--make joyous memories.

Christmas and Birthdays

I realized this week that a lot of people I know have birthdays in December, as I have. I thought when I was a child that it was a ripoff because my birthday got lost in the Christmas celebration. In reading I ran across a wonderful story about Robert Louis Stevenson's gift of his birthday to a young correspondent whose birthday fell on Christmas Day. I knew Robert Louis Stevenson was a noted writer, but I found him to also be a sensitive and kind human being whose gift spoke volumes. 

Your birthday is sort of a private event, a day set apart. I came to understand the significance of birthdays even more when three of my children were born Christmas week. As they grew up, we made  sure of the distinction between the birthday celebrations and Christmas. The birthdays fell on the 17th, 18th and 21st, I managed to provide birthday cakes and special days for each daughter, or so I thought. I always wondered if they felt slighted.

When I reflect on it now, I realize the blessing it was that my fourth daughter was born late. At the time, I was in great distress that she was due on the 15th of December and didn't arrive until the 12th of January. She weighed over 9 lbs. It was a relief to get a break in the birthday cake menu. 

Now I have come to realized the joy of knowing these special people, and I also understand that how they handled the Christmas/birthday conflict is a part of what made them unique.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Year's Resolution in Progress

I am trying to formulate a new plan. I have started several blogs and I find that I am sporadic and hesitant in production. I would like to become more systematic and productive, chose topics of interest to a wider audience, and generally exhibit a better quality of writing. Sounds like a plan. Well, we'll see.

Goal no. 2: I want to write well enough and interestingly enough to get more feedback. I feel like if I have anything to say my readers should feel like this a conversation. I want to learn how to encourage and respond to comments.

Goal no. 3: I really want to write about things that demand some research on my part. I like to attack new subjects and explore new ideas. It takes a lot of research and study to gain enough knowledge about a new subject or field to write about it. I want to write about these new subjects to engage people who are knowledgeable to get feedback and subjects for posts. 

Maybe by the new year I will begin to get this schedule established so that I can write more consistently and post with a weekly schedule. I am excited about this. If any bloggers read my goals, I would welcome hints to improve my blogging efforts. I do love to do it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I Am Depressed

Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas season. Well, not to the stores. They have been stocking the shelves with Christmas stuff for at least 2 months, maybe since July 4th, but I am old and old-fashioned so to me Christmas begins on Friday after Thanksgiving. 

The reason I am depressed (see the title) is the way Thanksgiving gets dismissed as a marketing tool by the merchants who depend on Christmas sales as the last chance to get in the black.  Maybe that's why they call it "black Friday." Thanksgiving is the celebration of the Pilgrims survival after their first year of illness and death when half of them died. 

Thanksgiving is an opportunity for us to reflect on the year and give  thanks to God for his blessings and protection. It's not just a day to play football or hit the stores for Christmas shopping. It's not just a time to begin next years obesity run or make the most of the hunting season. 

I pray for a year when we look at Thanksgiving as an opportunity to  give thanks and praise for success, joy, love, and blessing, and to initiate the Christmas season with an overflowing sense of thanks and praise.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

On the Futility of Doing Good

I remember a line Minnie Pearl used on the Grand Ole Opry that describes my emotional state. She came out on stage with her famous flower-covered hat and the price tag dangling from it and exclaimed, "Oh.  Lordy, I feel so unnecessary." That useless, emptiness may be diagnosed today as depression. 

Sometimes the spark that keeps me driving on, that prompts me to action is absent. Sometimes I feel the uselessness of my efforts is a burden. When I spend money and effort to benefit someone, but the potential benefit is never realized, it registers in my soul as failure. It may happen over a long time with the recipient becoming increasingly dependent on the righteous and generous benefactor. Like an enabler and an alcoholic, both parties seem to become more and more addicted to their roles. 

One or both may express disdain for the situation, but they never break the relationship. The merry dance continues with ever increasing extremes of behavior. More money, more effort, more time. Until finally one of the parties changes something. One could become independent or the other could become bored with the steps of the dance. It does take two to play, and either one can disrupt the rhythm and change the rules. 

Who wants to be first? Change something; rewrite the game; learn a new method. But we are humans and subject to foolish habits and faulty reasoning. Check out the sequences in this paradigm and see where you can improve your life.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Just Quietly Withdraw

I have always been proud to be an American. There are events that cause me great distress, but I figure that I have to take the bad with the good. I read on the Net and the news that Texas and some other states were seeking permission to secede. I guess if I have to make a choice about my citizenship, I'll have to go with Texas.

I noted that Texas does have a balanced budget and the U.S. is deeply in debt. I realize this is an outcry and protest against policies and practices that are expected to continue in the light of the outcome of the election. It won't change anything, but it may let some people vent a little.

The problems that are now facing the private citizens will not change in the afterglow of the election. Prices are still gong up, even though gas flucuates and bounces with the holidays. The war seems to be continuing even though the President has vowed our troops would come home. The health care system is a mystery nobody understands. I feel confident in saying that everybody is going to die. 

I think these little forays into fantasy are good for us, sort of a release of frustration. We feel like we've done our part even though foreclosures are still threatening, drugs are still prominent at the street corners, children are still being abused, drive-by shootings are reported daily, and our borders are not secure.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thank God for Thanksgiving

The fall holiday season is heating up and Thanksgiving looms on the horizon. I really love it because it is such a mixture of family, and history, and faith. Of course

When I was little we always went to my Mother's family celebration. One time I remember we went to my Father's mother's and celebrated with my uncles and cousins. Of course later, football got associated with Thanksgiving Day, and the Parades on TV in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago became part of the tradition.  

I really love the story of the Pilgrims who suffered the first year in Plymouth and survived. I like to read it during the season and give thanks for all they did to make our nation strong and free and Christian. 

In the Bible there are lots of prayers and offerings of thanksgiving. Psalm 100 is an example. The Book of Nehemiah contains lots of examples of thanksgiving prayers, but Thanksgiving is not a religious observance. It does mean giving thanks to God for blessings and grace. Thanksgiving is a day which our whole country recognizes that there really is a God and that he is ultimately in control. Many people don't want to call America or the United States a Christian nation, but our government has declared the fourth Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving Day. It is a memorial of the Thanksgiving the Pilgrims held after their first and most dangerous year.

I guess I still call America a Christian nation. President Obama did not, and lots of other people would not agree with me. But they might not agree when I call America my country, either. Well, that's tough. It is my country and, if I want to call it Christian, I guess that's my business.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Friends Are Forever

shelled and unshelled pecans
shelled and unshelled pecans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's fall and the pecans are ready. In the fall we always make a trip to visit my friend Bob who sells the best pecans in Texas. My daughters and I had already mentioned going to his place to get some for pies and cakes and cookies. But on Monday morning I got a call that he died when his house burned down.

Mary went to the funeral with me. His children were wonderful. The two boys looked like him. The girls were beautiful and gracious, and there were grandchildren I knew nothing about. He did leave a legacy.

There were pictures that recalled his lanky frame and open smile. A picture of Bob reminded me of his warm hug and honest challenge. 

We were coworkers in the prison system for 10 years. In that harsh and unforgiving system, we formed strong bonds of friendship. I think of him among his pecan trees always assessing their needs, evaluating whether he needed to spray or add fertilizer.

Bob would pick up a handful and describe the characteristics of the variety--round and full, or long and rich with oil. 

He was often disparaging about pecans in the grocery story. He always reminded me that they were at least 2 years old and the quality did not approach the ones he sold.

At his funeral there was a floral arrangement before the casket beside a bushel of pecans.

At work he was always challenging with inmates. We ran some  counseling groups together. I found that I was usually under Bob's scrutiny in that environment too, but that sword cuts both ways. I learned a lot about him in group, but I also learned from his techniques and approach.

His office was the last one at the end of the hall. If I went to consult him about something, he would be curled like a paper clip in the desk chair with one foot in the top drawer devouring his daily dose of John B. Watson or B.F. Skinner. He was an avid behaviorist. It worked too, except for all the emotions and thinking that went on in the human being, behaviorism worked. Skinner and Watson didn't know what to do with emotions, and Bob wanted to explore them.

I'll miss Bob, and I'll remember.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Who Is a Wordsmith?

Words (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

Wordsmith gives me visions of a man with large muscles wielding a hammer over a smoky furnace and maybe it’s not a bad connection. A wordsmith is a craftsman who uses words to shape and build an idea like the black smith shapes iron.

The builder of ideas chooses words for their feel and texture. The writer of political speeches is careful in the choice of words to make the speaker one of the common people. He must not seem arrogant or use words that set him apart from the common people but neither should he be common or coarse.

The preacher as a wordsmith draws his listener to see his own sins and submit them to the cleansing of the Savior’s bloody stain. The journalist is a wordsmith who seeks to transport his reader by the power of his words to a scene of national importance. It may be an election, a war, or surrender, but his words are the only entry. The wordsmith is charged with making it real to the reader.

At some time we are all called on to be wordsmiths. We relate the sorrow of a funeral, the celebration of the winning goal, the solemn joy of the wedding vows, and we hope the listener can experience the same emotion we feel. It’s not an easy job, but learning to share your experiences with others through your words is a challenge and blessing. Enjoy it!
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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Remembering Ima Jean

Ima Jean was one of the best friends I ever had. We were teenagers together, and we went to church together, and we endured camp together, and suddenly she is gone. I haven't seen her much in the last 40 or 50 years, but when you have a good foundation, the friendship is stable even after all that time.

I knew she had cancer, but she detailed the course of treatment, and I thought she would be here for a while. I know the devastation cancer causes to body cells and systems, so I shouldn't be surprised that it was quick.It was widespread in her body. She didn't belabor the fact when she wrote about it; she even minimized it. She was concerned about the doctor's distress in delivering the news to her. Her days were filled with family and friends and love. Her last days were mostly pain free, and she celebrated her birthday just before the end. As things go, she didn't do badly.

I've been focused on memories for a while now, and remembering Ima Jean is one memory I cherish. She was beautiful and joyous and precious. She learned of the beauty of loving God before I did, and she taught me to enter that sphere of understanding when we were still school girls.  I will always be indebted to her for ushering me into that special place with my Savior.

Ima Jean is in the middle and she still looks just like she did when we were 18.
It's funny that memory can make friendship so special and current even though we haven't seen each other for so long. Oh, Ima Jean, I'm gonna miss you, but I'm so glad I knew you when we were just starting out. You made me better for the rest of the journey.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Mother Taught Me to Love Poetry

When I was small, I loved poetry and nursery rhymes. I think I sought it out because my mother read them to me. It became a sort of shared, private thing between us. Once, she was going shopping, and she asked me what I wanted her to bring me. I immediately answered, "A book of po-try (poetry)." She found a large, rich volume with many kinds of rhymes and poems and she read them to me often. Over time some of them became standards for my bedtime reading.  Many of the shorter ones were committed to memory.

When I had children, I continued the custom. Robert Louis Stephenson was a favorite and some of the rhymes that I had loved came back for the second time. Winnie the Pooh was a favorite of mine and theirs. I still love the rollicking joy of the Pokey Little Puppy. I was never able to fine  one of the poems I loved when I was little to share with them even though I looked through all the children's collections I could find. I remembered it as "The Sheep Song," but that was incorrect.

 The Internet is a wonderful resource.  With a little research I found "The Sleepy Song" and it helped me call back the blessing of my mother's voice, the comfort of warmth and peace at bedtime, and the love of those who laughed and loved me when I was four. You will find it reprinted below.

Read to your children. It may be a blessing to them all their lives.

The Sleepy Song   
by   Josephine Daskam

As soon as the fire bums red and low
And the house upstairs is still
She sings me a queer little sleepy song
Of sheep that go over the hill.

The good little sheep run quick and soft
Their colors are gray and white
They follow their leader nose to tail,
 For they must be home by night.

 And one slips over and one comes next
 And one runs after behind
The gray one's nose at the white one's tail
The top of the hill they find.

And when they get to the top of the hill
They quietly slip away
But one runs over and one comes next
Their colors are white and gray.

And over they go and over they go
And over the top of the hill,
The good little sheep run quick and soft,
And the house upstairs is still.

 And one slips over and one comes next,
The good little gray little sheep.
I watch how the fire burns red and low,
 And she says that I fall asleep.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Images of Bogata

This building used to be the bank in Bogata,Texas. My father worked in it for about 30 years. Bogata was a little town built on the dividing line between the Blackland and the sandy land of East Texas. Blackland is a clay type soil that grips the wheels of a car or tractor tightly when it is wet. Walking in it becomes impossible because soon the the clinging black mud will outweigh the traveler. In the summer heat, the black soil may form cracks large enough to swallow a part of the road or the garden. Children that lived on the Blackland were often not counted absent from school because the buses could not run when weather conditions were bad.

It was always a thrill for me to visit my father at work. The counters and furnishings of the bank were of a style that recalled the formality and seriousness of the bank's business. The tellers stood behind the tall counter and spoke to the customer though gated bars. The work tables on the far side of the room were tall and convenient for standing rather than sitting with tall stools to rest on. The furniture was heavy polished, oak that reminded me of libraries and dusty silence. I was impressed with reverence when I entered the bank.

The best thing in the bank was the safe. The huge door was set by a timed lock and could not be opened until the preset time arrived. Sometimes customers would be found talking and laughing about how they couldn't open their cash registers because the bank wouldn't let them have any money. I loved to enter it's cool depths. It smelled of metal and money. I never thought about money having a smell until I remembered the safe. The safe deposit boxes were there all lined up with two key holes--one for the bank's key and one for the customer's key. I thought it was marvelous. 

To be allowed to explore some of the mysteries of the bank, to sit on the tall stool and view the tables where my father made careful notations on forms and ledgers, was a world I found both romantic and mysterious. I remember it now as rare and valuable time of sharing my father's life and experience. 

Why Do I Write?

Why or Whatever was I thinking 11/21/07 Brookl...
Why or Whatever was I thinking 11/21/07 Brooklyn NY USA 1:55 p.m. (Photo credit: larryosan)
When I first began blogging, I thought I'd have lots of people reading my stuff. Arrogance and pride never die. I am so full of it that I have to remind myself of all the blogs out there that are so much better than mine with so much superior material. There are lots of writers with great content to claim people's time and energy that I rarely get a jump in the stats.

Somehow it doesn't matter. I still get to say what I want to. I still get to express my opinion or make my observations. To be successful you should want to have many readers, but that's not the only reason I write. Yes, it would be wonderful to have lots of readers and get many comments, but I write because I want to say something and even if I just get one reader, I have shared the concept or idea, and maybe the important thing is to craft the thought in a way that pleases me. I want it to be read, but my first obligation is to write it, or think it, or express it, or observe it.
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Monday, August 20, 2012

Role Models for Getting Old

Doppio fossile stradale
Doppio fossile stradale (Photo credit: giovanni_novara)
My mother failed to warn me about getting old.  It's not her fault-she died when she was 38, so she never dealt with that experience. I found the people who did the research and encouraged me that getting old is O.K. I kinda like it. There are a few problems with it that cause me and most of the people I know some headaches. Memory slips, aching joints, and recurring boredom with new styles and stupid song lyrics remind me that I'm not one of the young people anymore. But on the whole, I like me now. I like the things I've learned along the way, and I like that I am still seeking things to learn and study and explore. This summer I learned to make some really cool paper airplanes, and I have found some new kite designs I really like. 

I don't bake a lot anymore, but I'll never exhaust my interest in making bread. The problem with that is that standing for a long time will cause my feet and legs to cramp all night. I either need to to it more often or eat bought bread.

After making the airplanes, I decided I might like to engage in origami. And I'd like to make some beaded jewelry-sounds good for Christmas projects. I also want to refresh my Latin verb conjugations and study the Hebrew alphabet. I love to study family history and genealogy. I hope to get a new project done in time for the Family Reunion next year.

Getting old is O.K. I remember people who knew my mother speaking of her as witty, intelligent, and adventurous. I'm sorry she didn't live to realize the potential of a long life, but I'm so blessed that I am there now, and I remember her and I'm blessed by her influence.
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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Got Inspiration?

I have written about my daughter Carol in this blog before.  She has some problems and is disabled.  Her right arm was amputated because of MRSA after a surgery which was not successful to replace her elbow.  Arthritis has ravaged her body, but she is a tough cookie.  A few weeks ago the preacher used the parable about the man who had one talent and didn't use it.  He buried the talent(money) in the ground so that he could return it to the master.

Carol immediately identified with the one-talent man: she said her talent was cooking and serving food.  Now that she is limited in her activities, she considers that her talent must be expressed in the creation of new recipes and and special menus. Earlier in July she decided that we needed to prepare supper for youth of the Church who meet on Wednesday night. Her daughter and I do the beating and chopping, but we credit her with all the glory. She does not make it hard on purpose, but sometimes it is hard because she wants it to be good and prepared right.

Last night we prepared supper for ladies of the church.  We didn't have as big a crowd as we planned for, but we had a wonderful time.  The food was light summery--salads, sandwiches, mousse and cookies.  The decorations were rich with tropical flowers and bright colors.  I was inspired by her efforts and thought in planning. 

Sometimes when she was in pain or infection was racking her body she has prayed for God to take her out of this world because she felt he was a burden instead of a blessing.  She didn't think she could be useful to her family or to God.  Lately, she has received comments that her presence and efforts are inspiring to others. The preacher said one day that he didn't feel like coming to Church, but then he remembered that Carol would be there, and he reconsidered the issue.  "If she can make it, I surely can," he thought.

Now she is looking for someone who paints T-shirts to make her one that says, "Got inspiration?" Maybe she has more than one talent.  

Carol Is my Fifth Child

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Keeping Up

keyboard (Photo credit: breahn)
My mother was insistent that I speak correctly and write well. She died before I learned to type, but I am sure she would expect me to be accurate and know the style guide by heart. I assume she would also expect me to keep up with changes and acknowledge changes in conventions as they occur. In recognition of her influence on my education, I am, today, proclaiming a new standard in my writing. I will no longer put 2 spaces after a period. 

  writing in Slate gave a long and convincing argument to free us from those pesky extra spaces. I'm sorry I haven't known about this all these years. I could have saved myself untold hours at the keyboard. Since I learned to type many years ago and have continued all the habits I acquired then to this very day, it may take me a while to convert to the new system.  I have reviewed this page for every period and removed all the extra spaces I found.

I wish all the things I need to change in my lifestyle and habits were as easy to accomplish as the "two-spaces after a period" one is.
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Does God Benefit from Our Suffering?

Ten Commandments
Ten Commandments (Photo credit: glen edelson)
I will state my answer to the question at the beginning:  No!  I don't believe God takes any pleasure or gets any advantage from the suffering of his believers.  He goes to great extremes to tell us not to do that that cause us pain.  The Ten Commandments and the injunctions against sinful behaviors are all ways in which he tries to steer us away from things that he knows will cause us pain, but when we engage in behaviors that he has warned us against, we shouldn't be surprised if there are negative consequences.

The things God forbids are things that destroy us.  You may think the lying won't hurt you because the lie is about someone else or a distant event, but lies have a way of coming back to bite you.  Lying is a difficult sin to deal with because your life, your friends, your job are all based on your words.  When those words are lies, there is no longer a framework to build on.  Cain lied to God when he was questioned about his brother Abel.  Funny thing about truth:  It will come to light, even in the darkest places.  Cain's sin began with a murder, but lying about it only compounded the sin.  It did not lessen the judgment.

What about my sins?  Do I lie to protect my name or my reputation?  It's an election year, and I am convinced that most of the political rhetoric I will hear will be a lie.  Lying doesn't protect anything.  My name and my reputation are already established, and the lie to protect myself will only add to the rubble.  God will not be fooled and nobody else will either.
The best advice about lying comes from Shakespeare.  Polonius tells his son Laertes  in Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3:  "To thine own self be true, and it shall follow as night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."  The advise was better than the man.  Polonius was a conspirator against Hamlet, and both he and Laertes paid with their lives.  Good advice is cheap.  Living a good life is demanding and difficult, but it's easier if you don't lie to yourself or others.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Depression is a Fact of Life

I thought I had some moral dilemmas, turns out...
I thought I had some moral dilemmas, turns out it was just a neurotransmitter imbalance. (Photo credit: Divine Harvester)
I've written about depression before, but the press it gets seems to demand another look.  Are you really sure you want to go that route?  Being or becoming depressed is really pretty simple.  I can do it, and most of the people I know could give it a good try.  

Of course there are situations and events that are depressing.  When I worked in the prison system, inmates would tell me they were depressed and they thought antidepressants would make them less depressed.  They wanted a magic pill that would take away their loneliness and remove the mess they had made of their lives that brought them to a 5X9 cell.  It doesn't work that way.

First, let me emphasize that if you find yourself in a prison and you aren't depressed about it, you need to reassess the situation.  You should be depressed about committing criminal acts and wasting your life in non-productive ways.  Depression in this instance is a spur to change.

Medication can change the way you feel.  It does not change the reality of your situation.  I assured the inmates I counseled that their best option was to change the way they approached life. Occasionally I found someone who would try my way, and lo, and behold!  It worked. 

One guy told me he was so depressed he didn't even want to eat.  Let me assure you that the food in prison left a lot to be desired, but it still sustained life.  I told him he must go to meals everyday even if he didn't eat.  He would have a routine; he would talk to other people, and sometimes he would find something he might like.  He tried it a few times.

On his next visit I told him to make a chart and evaluate everyday on a scale from 0 to 10--miserable to fine. and each day note whether he had gone to meals.  He reported his best days as those he had gone to meals whether or not he had eaten the food.  It was an absolute revelation to him that going to meals, talking to other people, engaging in life was an antidepressant.

Of course, if you're not in prison, you might need to use other scales to measure improvement.  Physical exercise, just exertion, can bring about an antidepressant effect.  There is a reason for this beyond the obvious acts of getting dressed.  The neurotransmitters that help to regulate human emotions and are responsible for things like sleep are produced in increased quantities when they are used up.  If you don't use them, the body won't make anymore. If you do use them, the body strives to replace and replenish them.  

The moral to this story is that if you are depressed, the remedy is to be more active.  Engage in activities that make you tired like running, walking, jogging, washing windows, chasing grandchildren, or riding horses.  Of course, it helps if the activities are rewarding in themselves.  If you wash the car, you may gain a great deal of satisfaction from the fact that you did a good job and it didn't cost much; you will look smashing in the sparkling car, and your neurotransmitters had a chance to increase.

Antidepressant medications don't give you more neurotransmitters.  They just keep the ones that are present active a little longer.  As long as there are neurotransmitters available, the cells don't make anymore.  The body is very efficient that way.  Medications may have severe side-effects that are very negative.  Use all the non-pharmacological  remedies available to you to make your life exciting and challenging and rewarding without the side-trips to prison or the hospital.  For another remedy, click here.

Another post about depression
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Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Uncle Jimmie

Cotton farming was hard, hot work, but it also afforded time to reflect on life  which Jimmie did a  lot.
My mother's favorite brother was my Uncle Jimmie.  I guess it's O.K. to say that out loud now since they are all gone now and it won't hurt anyone's feelings.  I doubt it would be a surprise to anyone anyway.

Jimmie was the closest in age to her and she idolized him.  I hate to say he was conceited, but he was definitely cocky.  In school he was a sportsman.  She told me she always stood behind a very tall man at track meets because she was afraid to watch in case he didn't do well.  He attended the University of Texas and played basketball and football.  He bragged to me that he was a hit with the girls--"I had good teeth and all my hair."  

He loved to tease and he always had a question or a puzzle intended to amaze and mystify.  By the time I became the object of his interest, he was a farmer and country philosopher.  He actually aspired to grander things: he loved to dance to Glenn Miller, Wayne King, and all the big band era musicians.  He taught me to dance.  When I was a senior in High School he agreed to teach all the kids who wanted to learn to dance.  

Glenn Miller was one of Jimmie's favorite conductors and  he taught me to dance to  the big  band music.
This came about because at the prom when I was a junior nobody danced.  The girls in the class conspired with me to have a dance every Friday night at the Community House.  He refused to do any of the arrangements--that was strictly up to us.  We reserved the building and borrowed records and a record player.  All Jimmie agreed to do was chaperon. He told us the boys would have to wear a coat and tie and we must have an admission fee.  

The most important rule was that if he ever saw or smelled any liquor, he was through.  We figured there was no chance the boys would even show up.  But they did, and they wore their best pants and sport coats and ties--it was great!  Admission was 25cents.  After a few weeks the quarters added up to enough to buy new records.  There was no Jitterbug and Rock hadn't been invented yet, but we all danced and learned manners about what was appropriate at a dance.  It just lasted that one year, but at the Prom in May everybody danced.

Jimmie influenced my life as long as he lived.  He was an example of integrity and honor that supported me in my marriage, with my children, and my life in the community.  When he was dying, I was privileged to visit often, cook for him and comfort him as much as possible.  I had the chance to tell him how much I valued the influence he had on my life.  That may have been the only time I ever saw him cry.

My memories still bless me and I still recall things my Uncle Jimmie said.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Spiritual View of Illness

I have been researching the recent change in medical doctors' opinions about about how a patient's spiritual condition may affect the outcome of disease.  When I was young, doctors did not ask about faith or spiritual connections.  Healing was all about the microbes and blood tests--the science of the body--but now there are serious studies exploring the connections between religious beliefs and medical outcomes.

When psychology became important in medical treatment, doctors began to  see connections between the mind and the body as causal.  We are one organism:  What affects the mind also affects the body.  Now doctors are exploring the connections of the spirit to the mind and the body.  Is it really true?  We are one organism and what affects one part of us, may presently cause changes in another area.

 It is easy enough to find out if certain beliefs cause a difference in a religious population rates of illness or mortality.  Do fewer spiritual people get cancer from smoking than non-religious people?  If so, the fact that many of them believe smoking to be a sin and refrain from it may explain how their religion protected them.

Another confounding factor may be definitions.  Religious does not necessarily mean spiritual, at least, not to all people.  A great many people are religious but do not seek inner peace or understanding--it is a difficult difference to explain.  Who knows what happens in a person's spirit unless she can tell you; then it becomes a matter of mental ability to describe or understand.  

I have found that spirituality goes beyond obedience to the commandments and supersedes sin--Spirituality is a plane of communication with God.  I like to read some of the writing of Brother Lawrence.  He talked about "practicing the presence of God."  In the matter of illness, we have to consider that God may allow us to suffer pain due to the illness, but it doesn't mean he isn't beside or in us as we  go through that experience.   

When I am experiencing pain, I may look at my current activity.  Is there something God is showing me about what I am doing?  Is it something I should rest from?  Not that the activity itself is wrong, but it's just that at that moment God will show me something else he wants me to see.  I have lately begun to have pain in my neck when I sit in church.  The pain seems to result from the fixed position.  Maybe it's just that sometimes my neck hurts, and it's not spiritual.  It's something to do with my neck.  Maybe I just need to address it with the doctor.  Maybe God will bless that, too.
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Simple Things

I have graduated to paper airplanes!  I still love my kites and the dances they do in the wind, but I have taken up airplanes now.  There are many sites on the net that have downloadable templates and instructions.  I guess the supreme thrill is to design the plane yourself.  If you look at the real thing and fold a paper one to look like it, you have arrived!

I am really simple.  Kites, bread, paper airplanes, poetry--simple pleasures will take you through life.  On Saturday I accompanied two of my grandchildren and one of my daughters to the zoo. 

 It wasn't a new experience, but that day and with those people it was still fresh and rare and new.  It brought back memories of other excursions with other kids, but this one was special.  When you think about it, everything is special.  Everything is important for its time, for its occasion, for its people.  When you pile it together, it may not seem noteworthy, but at the time, it has it own significance.  I love to remember each special moment and rare incident and special person.  The total becomes my life and memory.  I so glad I had that one.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Grandchildren--They Really Are!

Grandchildren are wonderful.  You can be proud of them without anybody criticizing because you didn't raise them.  You can applaud them without being responsible for their mistakes.  When you are a grandparent you can afford to only look at the positive attributes.  Their faults won't be your problem.  I love it!

I visited with two of my grandchildren last week, and I got to applaud when Katy took second place in the 100 meter dash. I was privileged to  cheer when Shania passed her driving test on the third try.

It is also scary.  I don't want to fear for them in the world I see around us.  I don't want a crass society to destroy their joy on the altar of greed or power.  I have no reason to think they will be spared the difficulties of growing to adulthood without temptation or disaster crossing their lives.  What is the best I can expect for them?

I know they will be loved by parents and grandparents, friends and relatives.  I know they will be offered the joys of Christian love and fellowship as they grow in their church.  I know they have been blessed with parents who teach them responsibility and obedience to both the civil law and Godly commandments.  

As I think about this I realize I cannot know all the blessings or disappointments they will face, and I cannot guide them through the maze that awaits their lives.  I won't live to see the end of the story, but I pray that it is meaningful in the difficult parts and joyous in the victories.  Their careers and loves and joys and battles belong to a grand hope that is tied up in the future.  I am so glad I was here for the beginning.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Truth or Tolerance?

I am currently reading Bonhoeffer:Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy by Eric Metaxes.  I find the book riveting, but I often put it down and take a break because it is not easy to read.  The theme and events of the book give details of the Nazi destruction and violence in Germany during the 30s and 40s.  Mostly, reading the book gives me the feeling of watching a man pursue the way of Christ to his own death.  It is difficult to see how he could have done anything but follow his conscience and be obedient to the call he felt on his life.  

Another problem with reading this book is the pressure it puts on me to be obedient and faithful to Christ, too.  This week I was asked to teach Sunday school in the church I attend with my daughter.  I was a member there about 30 years ago, and I don't think I would be uneasy teaching the class, but I feel some level of commitment and loyalty in teaching that doesn't confront me when I accompany Carol.

One thing Bonhoeffer said has been worrying my mind.  When he came to the United States in 1939, he said that Americans are very tolerant.  He believed that we had valued tolerance over truth.  I am confronted with this choice now:  Can I just coast along taking what pleases me and not take a stand?  The decision to choose a place to be counted is not easy.  I loved my church family in the church where I am still a member, but I am not nourishing my faith there. I need to be consistent and be a member when I attend.  It has become, for me, a question of tolerance or truth.  I can't continue to be divided in my loyalty and service. On Sunday, I'll make that plain to my new congregation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The First Thing a Christian Shouldn't Say

Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn't Say
This was the title of a post I read that was recommended by someone I respected on Facebook.  It was written by a preacher and he gave examples of the kinds of things he thought people shouldn't say who claim to be Christians.  He introduced his arguments against these thoughtless phrases by saying that sometimes he cursed.  Maybe not often, but he felt it was acceptable when he couldn't do anything else. to let slip a curse or two.  He gave very human reasons why this was OK.  You can read his article by clicking this link Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn't Say.

I agree with him about most of the thoughtless, empty phrases, but I don't agree that cursing is a recourse a Christian should take.  Cursing  does not do anything to mitigate the damage caused by a wreck or a storm.  Cursing may vent the anger of the one who is cursing, but it does not restore the heart or life of those who  suffered damage.

He cited the example of devastation so complete that the results went beyond human ability to remedy.  In that kind of case, he felt a curse might slip out.  Indeed, you might hear curses in that scenario, but it is not helpful and it is still sin.  The Gospel of Mark 3:28-29 says that all sins will be forgiven, even blasphemy against God the Father and the Son, but not against the Holy Spirit, so those who choose to blaspheme need to be careful whom they offend.  Just a minute, even Mark still calls it a sin in need of repentance.  But in the face of a tsunami or a hurricane or a plane crash, maybe it's OK.  NOT!!!

God calls us to use words of blessing, not curses, to attack the pain and disaster in the world.  Psalms 19:14--Let the words of my mouth and the medications of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer--is often quoted before a speaker or a preacher begins to speak, but I don't believe that is the only place our words should be examined.  I don't think Christians, preachers or laymen, are called to curse in the face of need or evil.

Christians are called to live as an example of love and care and exhibit a standard of behavior that is in line with our example--Jesus.  If, indeed, we find a curse or other language that is unworthy of Christian demeanor in our mouths, we don't have to justify it or give excuses for it.  We just need to repent it.  We must view that slip as a sin.  We need to do more than ask God to forgive the words; we need to ask him to cleanse our minds and hearts, as well.  James 3:10 Out of the mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Our praises are corrupted by the curses as the fresh water would be corrupted by the tainted water in the spring if they flowed together.

Bottom line--The first thing a Christian shouldn't say is a curse.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Political Scandal Next Door

I have posted some comments on the sad decline of human morals based on the political scandals in the US.  I did a little research and found that countries all over the world are subject to the same kind of behavior that I have seen in the States.  This crime against righteousness and conscience is not limited or confined.  It is worldwide!  

Guess what?  It accompanies all human endeavors.  Selfishness is a global problem.  Men and women of all nationalities and races and beliefs fall to the temptation of money and power and sex.  And we also seem to universally condemn the flaw in the character of those who seek high office when they succumb.

One of the big stories in the US at the present is the trial of John Edwards because of funds contributed to him that were used for his mistress's expenses.  There is a great deal more to this sordid affair if you want to research it.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi paid Karima el-Mahroug a night club dancer who performs under the name Ruby Heart-stealer for sex.  According to the charges she was underage when the relationship began.

Russia--The State Duma is the lower house of the Russian Parliament.  It was accused of being a rubber stamp for Dimitry Medvedev's initiatives.  In May of 2010 a new law against drunk driving passed by a vote of 440 out of 450.  The problem arose when it was revealed that only 88 deputies showed up for work that day.  There was a video of people running from desk to desk to press the "Yes" button.

Silvio Berlusconi , the Prime Minister of Italy, a former cruise ship lounge singer, and no stranger to the legal system, was charged many times with fraud, bribery, and corruption, but those allegations were overshadowed by his sex scandals.  Patrizia D'Addario claimed that Berlusconi had been her client on three occasions.  He was also linked with Noemi Letizia who was a minor at the time.

John Major was the British Prime Minister when it was discovered that British Ministry of Defense employees had coached the Saddam Hussein regime on how to get export licenses to transport weapons components made by Matrix Churchill to Iraq. Findings of the investigation damaged the Conservative Party and Major lost the election.

Valentin Kovalev, the Russian Minister of Justice was forced to step down when videos of him cavorting with women in a night club bathhouse surfaced. The films substantiated rumors of his links to one of Russia's organized crime rings.

Chin Shui-bian was elected president of Taiwan in 2000.  It was his son-in-law who first brought scandal to his office, but by the time all was said and done, his son, his daughter-in-law and his wife all were included.  He and his family members were first assessed a life sentence for embezzlement and insider trading, but it was commuted to 20 years.

Iris Robinson was a member of the Northern Ireland Parliament and her husband Peter Robinson was the leader of the government.  Mrs. Robinson had an extramarital affair with a 19 year old for whom she secured government funds of $80,000 for him to open a restaurant.  Her husband's career was damaged in the fallout over this event and hers was ended.

Am I just being judgmental?  Pointing fingers at those in power?Do we hold them to a higher standard?  I guess I believe we all should stand firm on that higher standard.  To make a better nation or a better world, we need to live up to our claims of honesty and righteousness.  It's not just the poor and down-trodden that should be honest and forthright.  It's everybody.

If you want to review the slides and get more information about these and other scandals, click here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I love humor.  I love to view life with humor and find the value of humor in dealing with stressful and painful situations.  It is refreshing and strengthening.  If I can find humor in a situation or event, it reduces the stress and makes it more tolerable.  I have been studying the way humor is expressed in cultures other than my own.  I have written posts on this blog that indicate my disgust with the Secret Service mess created by agents in Columbia, so I think maybe that is too serious right now for me to find humor in it.  

Sometimes people in the most dire situations find humor helps them survive.  When my husband was dying, he had a respirator and could not speak.  He was awake and alert, and he had things he wanted us to do.  He made hand gestures that my daughters and I tried to decipher.  We guessed wrong and he got frustrated, but eventually we got it right.  We laughed and he even smiled as he saw how ridiculous it all was.  The memory makes his passing less painful.

In most jokes the humor rests in the misunderstanding or change in some expected behavior.
For instance a frog called the Psychic Hotline and he was told, "You are going to meet a beautiful young girl who will want to know everything about you."
The frog says, "This is great!  Will I meet her at a party?"
"No," says the psychic.  "Next semester in her biology lab."

Old one-liners provide a twist to get a laugh.  This is a standard from my childhood.
Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?
A. To get to the other side.

Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?
A. To show the armadillo it was possible.
This one is good in Texas or the Southwest.

Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?
A. To get away from Colonel Sanders.
This one goes over great in Fast Food venues and Kentucky.

Q. Why did the chicken cross the road twice?
A. He was a double crosser.
This one is as old as I am.

Q. Why did the chicken cross the playground?
A. To get to the other slide.
In this one the rhyme provides the twist.

Q. Why did the Iraqi chicken cross the road?
A. To take over the other side.
Political humor crosses the road, too.

Q. Why did the chicken cross the beach?
A. To get to the other tide.
Let your imagination run wild.

Q. Why did the dinosaur cross the road?
A. Chickens hadn't evolved yet.
Very scientific chicken.

Q: Why did chicken cross road?

A: I have not seen chicken since I was very young, on my parents' farm. This is before the Cossacks slaughtered them. I can still hear screams of sister as soldiers rape her. But back to question, where did you see chicken? I am very, very hungry.
This is a joke I found on the net that was attributed to Latvia.  Historical events may become a setting for jokes.  Sometimes, as I said before, the joke may reduce the pain of the true situation so that you can at least talk about it.