Merry Christmas Letter from Jennie

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Here is my annual Christmas letter. I am putting it out to the universe to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Christmas, 2016

The theme for my life and Christmas letter in 2015 was Grace and Gratitude.

As I look back at 2016, I search within myself for this year’s theme. While pondering my year, I realize that I have carried last year’s theme of gratitude with me this year; however, it has expanded through my daily devotionals and my learning the practice of contemplative prayer to bring me to a heightened awareness of the world around me – the people, the animals, all living things in nature, sounds and music, and the colors, smells, and the feel of this planet we call home, not to mention the awareness of God’s presence in all of creation. For me, God has not been a heavenly father looking down upon me from heaven, but a constant companion in my life and one who is present in every aspect of what I do and who I am, and is in every breath that I take.

Everyday in my journey through life, I thank God for all that has been given to me. I also thank God for taking care of my family and my friends. “Thank you” is something that I say out loud and silently many times during the course of a day. I have made a conscious effort not to make my prayers a grocery list of things I ask God to do, but instead to thank God for being with us all, guiding us, protecting us, and delivering us.

Christmas is now a few weeks away. For years I have struggled with Christmas, with getting into the Christmas spirit, with wrestling with the commercialization and greediness of the season, and with seeking to understand the nativity story and what it means to me personally. It has been elusive, just beyond my reach, leaving me frustrated, empty-feeling, and confused.

This year is different. In the spirit of my theme of gratitude, I am approaching this Christmas with a great big “Thank You” on my lips and in my every breath.

Thank you, God, for being with me through another year. Thank you for lighting my path when it was rocky and dark. Thank you for bringing people and animals into my life to show me your grace and love. Thank you for giving me courage to take risks and travel new paths. Thank you for teaching me how to be more generous, loving, and kind. Thank you for finally bringing a teacher my way to explain the concept of The Trinity in a way that makes sense to me. And thank you for loving me, forgiving me, stretching me, and teaching me.

For all of you reading this Christmas letter, I say “Thank you” for being a part of my life and for sharing a few steps of your own life journeys with me.

May the breath of God touch you in a very special way this Christmastime.

Peace,

Jennie

Wash Your Mouth Out With Soap!!

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The presidential race is over, thank your lucky stars!

For the past two days, I’ve heard and read more about this than I’d care to in a lifetime. The words coming out of mouths and printed on news and social media sites were enough for me to throw up my hands and shout, “Dag nab it! That’s all I can take!” I have sworn not to look at Facebook or any of the news websites again until all the dust settles. Since I don’t have a television connected to cable, satellite, or antenna, I don’t have the concern of the news delivered to my living room with the touch of a remote control device. For small things, I am thankful this morning!

The language and hate in voices and in print that normally are not venomous is simply overwhelming to me. The world hasn’t come to an end – at least, not yet – and the sun rose in Monroe this morning just like it did day before yesterday and yesterday and everyday.

As it happens in people’s lives the minute something happens that is out of the ordinary, profanity has a way of breaking out, even in the most mild mannered of people. I, for one, upon waking up yesterday morning and seeing the news online that Donald Trump had won the election (I was absolutely certain that Hillary would win), I let out a “What the f—k???!!!” I was alone in my house, so nobody heard my profanity except Sunshine, my dog. And it was probably the first time in years that I had verbally mouthed that word.

For the past month or so, I have been “collecting” southern phrases that people use when they want to put emphasis on what they are saying, without actually cursing. I think this is as good a time as any to share some of these with my readers, since most everyone today is probably thinking some things in foul language terms, even if not uttering them out loud.

Here are a few I have personally heard, said, and noted within the past month or so.

Thank your lucky stars. See my opening sentence of this blog for an example of replacing uttering God’s name in vain with those pretty little lights that twinkle in the night sky.

Jiminy Christmas. “ Jiminy Christmas! That baby doesn’t look like a preemie to me!” Or, “Jiminy Christmas, that’s news to me!”

Blame. “Blame, I had no idea so many people would be in line waiting to vote. I had to stand in line near to an hour.”

Dad blame it. “Dad blame it, that cow got out of the fence again.”

Dag nab it. “Dag nab it! I missed winning the lottery by two numbers.”

Holy Cow. “Holy cow! That’s a weird looking dog!”

Dad gum. “That’s no dad gum dog. That’s a coyote!”

Gadzooks. “Gadzooks! That wind’ll knock you down if you’re not holding onto something.”

Good grief. We all know this one, “Good grief, Charlie Brown.”

Bloomin’. “ I didn’t know a bloomin’ thing about that.”

Fiddle: Used in any sentence as a replacement for the F word. Usually used alone as an expletive. “Fiddle! That smarts!”

Freakin’. Also used as a substitute for you know what.

Friggin’. Another variation.

There are lots more. Google “Southern slang to replace profanity,” and you’ll see an abundance of them. We southerners are very good at cursing without cursing.

Enjoy! And have a nice day to add to your own collection of days.

Personally, I’m off to wash my mouth out with soap for saying what I said yesterday!

 

 

Election Thoughts from the Circulation Desk

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As I sit at the circulation desk observing the students scattered across the room, still in the library this late in the afternoon, I look around the room, soaking in all that it has to offer, including the yellow-white rays of the late afternoon sun filtering through the high windows. I love the shelves of books; I love the displays of magazines, newspapers, videos, and new acquisitions. I love watching the students fully absorbed at the computers as they do research for an upcoming class assignment or catch up with friends via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites that I don’t know about yet. And I love talking to students as they approach my desk to check out a book or ask for reference assistance. For the most part, it is a calm and peaceful place to be this afternoon – that is, except for the reference shelf behind me.

What I don’t like today are two paper masks propped up on display behind me on the reserve shelf. One face is that of Hillary Clinton; the other is Donald Trump. They have been placed there to bring attention and awareness to the election for whoever happens to look in our direction. What I find most disturbing is that the eyes on the masks are cut out. When you look at them, you see right through them to the shelf behind. Their eyeless faces seem to follow me wherever I go. To me, they are downright creepy looking! And they convey a message to me that I find very distasteful – that of eyes that don’t see, and frozen faces that one can look straight through to the blank wall behind them. Is this a foreboding of what is to come? Or am I just being overly anxious about our future leader, whichever one it will be?

This election cycle is very distressing to me. I take my voting privilege very seriously. But I can’t wholeheartedly support either of our candidates for President. In fact, I can’t support either one at all! I have heard it said time and time again – we will be voting for the lesser of two evils. But which one is the lesser? I don’t know. I’ve done my homework learning about their platforms and promises (which I don’t hold my breath counting on them to keep if elected). I’ve heard and read about the mud-slinging and moral and ethical failures on the parts of each one, and it makes me nauseous.  I’ve considered not voting at all. My son insists that I vote. Abstaining is not acceptable in his eyes. I must make a decision and go into the voting booth next month to cast my ballot for someone. I know that he is right; I wish I had a clearer focus on who will receive my vote. I wish I had better choices than I have.

I am normally not one to write about political matters – I most definitely don’t like to discuss politics – and this will be the last, and only, thing that I write concerning this election. I look out at the students seated at the study carrels and computer stations, and wonder if they even think about this election and who their next President will be. I pause to consider if they realize what is at stake for the future of this country with the upcoming election. They are more concerned this afternoon with their essays for literature classes, completing an assignment for psychology class involving books from our reserve shelves, solving the latest calculus problem, struggling to understand college algebra, or texting on their phones. The two masks of Hillary and The Donald don’t seem to bother them at all.

Not like they bother me.

“I Can Do It Myself,” said the Little Red Hen — Again

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“I can do it myself,” said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

I wrote these words last summer as I held my newly published novel, Fishbowls and Birdcages, in my hand, bursting with pride, and hardly believing that I had actually brought a lifelong desire to fruition. I felt like I Had Arrived. What else could I ever wish for in my life?

As I sit in the one space left in the living room of my little apartment that isn’t covered with various items symbolizing my life and all that is me and mine, surrounded by packed boxes and a rolled up rug, I look around me and again I can say, “I can do it myself.” And I can, and I am.

I never dreamed that I would ever live anywhere besides this little apartment, or one like it, for the rest of my life. The thought of living in a real house again was as far off my radar screen as the nearest star in the universe. A mere twinkle in the night sky, not worthy of my focusing on it for any more time than it takes to make a wish upon it.

But then, one day a couple of months ago, a thought popped into my head. Maybe I could buy a house. Or maybe the thought didn’t just pop in; perhaps it was planted. It so happened that in the prayer group I joined last winter included a real estate agent and a mortgage banker, who I know were put in my path to play a pivotal role in this crazy idea of mine. I began praying to God to light a path for me if this was something that I should do. My new friend, the real estate agent, volunteered to carry the lantern for me along this new path, and we began looking for houses I could afford. They were few and far between, and among those we visited were homes I couldn’t imagine actually living in. Who would have a small house for sale, one in my price range, and one that had been someone’s beloved home, and one that was looking for me?

Besides, could I do this on my own, all by myself? If the Little Red Hen could do it, then maybe I could, too!

One by one, things started happening – strange and wonderful things. The light on my path remained bright, in spite of bumps in the road and many hoops to jump through. Encouragement greeted me everywhere, even when I felt like I needed to forget about this venture and stay put where I am. I found a house I really liked – it seemed to draw me in and call me by name – but the asking price was $15,000 more than my budget allowed. My agent encouraged me to make an offer, and I did. A week later, I had a contract on the house, not at the price I felt was my upper limit, but at one close enough that I felt I could handle it.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been on the verge of throwing up my hands and proclaiming “I quit!” a few times in the process. But the light on the path has remained constant, and the promise, “I will take care of you,” has been a daily reminder to me, evidenced through the encouragement from my friends and family, my daily devotionals, and my inner desire to have a home of my own.

Yesterday morning, I was awakened by my phone chirping and announcing I had a text. The words from my mortgage banker friend were, “File is clear to close.” I cried, I jumped out of bed and twirled. I thanked God.

And then I took my dog, Sunshine, for a walk, and took a photo of my lighted path.

path

I move into my new home next weekend.

I’ve Been Busy!

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The other day at work, one of my co-workers asked me, “Have you been writing much lately?”

I had to confess, “No, I’ve been too busy. Although I have been writing in my journal. But that’s about it.”

So, what has been keeping me too busy to sit down to write on the two projects I have underway – 1)sending out queries on the non-fiction book I completed last spring; and 2) wrapping my brain around the beginnings of a new novel which has found its beginnings on paper, but is mostly swimming around in my head?

To begin with, summer happened. And with summer came gardens, making marinara sauce from my fresh tomatoes to store for the winter and fresh pesto from my basil, reunions, hot, hot, hot weather where the only refreshing place to spend an afternoon was in the swimming pool, and one other thing.

And what is that one thing that has kept me too busy to write, other than pouring my heart out in my journal on a nightly basis?

It all started so innocently. I live in a small apartment in an old house that has been converted into three apartments. This summer, the walls began closing in on me. My throat was itchy for no reason that I could account for whenever I was home for any length of time, my two house-mate neighbors moved out, leaving me wondering who would be moving into the two apartments, and I began feeling like the need for a change was in the air. I started checking the rental websites for my area of Georgia, only to find that rental houses were far too expensive for me to afford, and most of the apartments in this area either don’t allow pets or had no vacancies.

I began thinking that maybe I should look into buying a house. I prayed to God to light this path if it was the one I should take. I followed up by asking a real estate agent friend if she would like to carry my lantern on this uncharted path upon which I was embarking. And with this, we began looking at small houses as they became available in my town.

As we searched, and doors were opened and then closed, my journal was the welcome recipient of my fears and anxieties, as well as my excitement over the possibilities of purchasing a house. One day, my agent/friend showed me a small home that I loved, but the asking price was well over my maximum limit of how much I could afford. “It’s negotiable,” she reassured me, and after a few sleepless nights, some really crazy dreams when I did sleep, and a lot of prayer, I made an offer.

Long story short, I now have a contract on a pretty little ranch about three miles from where I now live. I am excited and terrified at the same time. Who’d have ever thought that I would be in the position of being able to buy a house – all on my own?

But then, I go back to four years ago. I was looking at this little apartment that I am now getting ready to leave, knowing that I couldn’t afford it. There was no way my monthly pay check was going to cover my expenses! I was excited and terrified, but I knew in my heart that this was what I needed and where I needed to be. And somehow, some way, I paid my rent every month, kept up with my monthly expenses, and was even able to save a little money here and there along my way.

So, here I am. I’ve been busy – busy finding a house that fits into my price range, busy doing the math trying to make it work, busy worrying and fretting over all things unknown, busy praying that God would light the path for me, and busy jumping through all the hoops required for purchasing a home.

If all goes as planned, closing on my new home will be September 30, and I will move in the first of October. A new chapter in my life is beginning, one as exciting as any I’ve had in my lifetime. God has provided a light for my path, which leads to the front door of my new home.

Indeed. I’ve been busy.

And What a Taxi Ride That Was!

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I was in the back seat of a taxi last Thursday afternoon, riding from LaGuardia Airport to the corner of 29th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan, where I was to be met by my son, Brian, for a few days’ vacation in the city. I had taken similar taxi rides before on previous visits, and I looked forward to seeing his smiling face and spending time together.

Traffic was horrendous. It wasn’t time for rush hour to begin – it was a few minutes after 2:00 pm when I climbed into the taxi at the airport. My driver was a nice young man with a heavy accent, dark hair, and smiling face. From looking at his ID on the back of the seat in front of me, I deduced that he must be from a middle-eastern country, perhaps Iraq or Afghanistan. I gave him the address of Marble Collegiate Church, which was where I was meeting Brian, and sat back to enjoy the ride.

Two minutes into the ride, my comfort zone disintegrated, and I scrambled for my seat belt. This was one aggressive, and maybe, crazy driver. He weaved in and out of traffic, honking his horn every minute or so, while mumbling to himself in a language I didn’t understand. At times, it seemed to me that he was going around in circles, but in actuality, he was simply trying to find a better route to escape the snarling traffic. He got on his cell phone, talking, I assumed, to dispatch, as he tried to maneuver his way into Manhattan. He was frustrated, and impatient with the traffic situation.

Finally, we came to a dead stop. A tunnel entrance loomed ahead. About that time, Brian texted me, asking me how long until I’d be there. I asked my driver where we were, and if he could give me an approximate time of arrival. He apologized to me, saying that he didn’t know. Twenty minutes, maybe, not sure. The traffic was worse than he’d seen it in a long time. In his heavily accented English, he apologized again, with frustration evident in his voice, saying that maybe he should have gone a different way. I assured him that I understood it wasn’t his fault. My son just wanted an idea of how much longer it would be. It was taking longer than usual for me to get there from the airport.

We began to move at a snail’s pace toward the tunnel entrance. As we approached, we saw a sign indicating that the left lane of the tunnel was closed. All traffic was merging into a single lane, explaining the congestion. I commented that maybe once we got through the bottleneck, things would start moving again. He agreed. Inch by inch, we moved forward. Soon, we were inside the tunnel, and he told me that it wouldn’t be long now. But once we got fully inside, traffic stopped again.

Oh my! I began looking around me. I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel from behind me or in front of me. I began imagining every Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone thriller move I had ever seen, and was beginning to think about getting out of the taxi and walking. The tunnel walls, the echoing noise, the claustrophobia were all bearing down on me. I could get out and just tell the driver to pick me up at the tunnel exit. After what seemed like an eternity, we began to move – a little. Whew!

That was when my ride really got interesting. Brian texted again, and again I asked my driver how much longer. I explained – again – that my son was meeting me where he worked.

“Where does your son work?” he asked.

I told him that it was a church.

“You’re going to a church?” he asked.

“ Yes, my son works there,” I answered, “and he will meet me on the sidewalk outside the church when we get there. That’s why he wants to know about how much longer it will be.”

My driver was interested. From out of the blue, it seemed, he asked me if I was religious. I told him that I was, and I asked him if he was religious.

“I want to be,” was his simple answer.

He then began asking me about my religious upbringing and what was the most important thing I had learned as a child about God in my church. I told him that I had learned lots of Bible stories, but the main thing I had learned was that God is love, and that Jesus taught us that we should treat others the way we wanted to be treated (the good old Golden Rule!). All the while, I was thinking, I can’t blow this. What can I say that will be the right thing?

As we crept forward, we saw that the reason for the delay in the tunnel was a stalled car. It had been moved over to the closed lane by the NYPD, allowing us to progress on our trip. Passing it, I knew it would be only a matter of minutes before I’d be getting out of the taxi. I wanted to say something that would help this young man.

He said that logic made it hard for him to believe in a God of love. His mother loved him, but she wasn’t perfect, and she made mistakes. There are bad people on earth. How can we love them? How could God be all powerful without making mistakes, like his mother did? How can God love everyone? Even the bad people? Even those who make mistakes?

I was sweating bullets, trying to help him in the few blocks and in as many minutes that we had left to travel. I grasped for the only thing I knew to say. “God is in your heart and loves you,” I told him. “God wants us to love other people as God loves.” He asked me a few more questions, which I honestly can’t remember now, I was getting so flustered, trying to say what I believed should be said in such a short amount of time.

As I got out of the taxi, and handed him the fare, I looked him in the eye and said, “Remember – listen to your heart. That’s where God is. You won’t go wrong.” He smiled at me and put his hands to his heart.

With that, he got back into his taxi and drove away, leaving me pondering this unusual taxi ride while waiting on the sidewalk for Brian to meet me.

And now, looking back, I ponder even more. About many things. About getting stuck in tunnels. About stalled cars. About terrible traffic. About meeting Brian at the church. About being in that particular taxi. About saying the right thing. About a young man’s search for God.

About listening to my heart.

Does God Need an Invitation?

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Every now and then I run upon something on Facebook that causes me to back up and take another look. The following, with the name edited out, was posted this morning, finding its way somehow to my Facebook Timeline.

“I’ve invited God over to my house to spend the day. Today will be a continuous day of prayers. My son’s brain surgery is this morning. I know all our family and friends have [my son] in their prayers.”

I wonder if anyone else thinks this is an odd statement. While it received a long list of comments of “Praying”, and other similar comments and statements of love and support from this person’s Facebook friends, I couldn’t just let it go without further thought and a comment on my blog.

I didn’t know the history of this beloved son’s brain problem. Is it a tumor that has been growing for some length of time? Is it an aneurism which requires immediate attention? Is it something malignant? Or benign? As I delved deeper into Facebook, I learned that this young man has cancer, so these questions were answered for me, after quite a few clicks into other people’s posts and timelines.

Now my questions are, “Where was God yesterday? Why was God only invited into the house today to spend the day? Why did God need to be invited in the first place? Will this person still need God tomorrow? Will God be asked to leave if things don’t go well?

I am sure that many prayers have found their way to God concerning this young man and his cancer. And I’m sure the parent who posted this has prayed many, many prayers for the health of her son. I feel confident that her home is filled today with prayers and petitions for her son’s recovery. What puzzles me is the phrasing of her Facebook post.

I don’t want to sound judgmental – I would be asking for prayers for my son should he ever face something like this in his life. My Facebook friend had her own way of letting her friends know of her need for support and prayers, and I know that God is listening and answering those prayers.

The statement did make me stop to think, however, about my own spirituality and beliefs about God. My knee jerk response upon reading this post – to myself, of course – was, why just for today? And why did God need an invitation? For me, God doesn’t need to be invited to my home. God IS my home, and God has invited ME to be part of God’s great home. I believe that God is with me in every breath that I take, wherever I am and wherever I go. Everyday. Not just when I need something from God. Not when something bad happens. Not only for today, but also for every minute of my life. God is as close to me as my own heartbeat.

I thank God for being there with – and guiding the hands of – the surgeons operating on this young man today, for being with the nursing staff that will be monitoring him as he begins the recovery process. I also thank God for the faith and strength of the parents, relatives, and friends. Most importantly, I thank God that an invitation isn’t necessary. God is with us even before we ever put out an invitation.

Always.