All Things Bright and Beautiful

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“All things bright and beautiful. All creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”

This was a song I learned as a child, and believed the words. I still do.

Something has been resting heavily on my heart for the past several days that I feel like I need to address in my writing. It has to do with this little song, whose words keep playing and replaying in my mind, and about God and God’s creation.

Last week I read that the United Methodist Church, the church I have been affiliated with all my life, ordained a transgender person as a deacon. I read with great interest the article about the ordination of M Barklay, one of God’s bright and beautiful creations. I read about the struggles this person has gone through in reaching this important point within the organized church, and the devotion and dedication to God and God’s work M is so passionate about. I am proud of my church for taking this step of inclusion and acceptance of people who don’t quite fit into the male / female mold, one that many of us hold onto so tightly.

What disturbs me about this were the many comments I read from Christian people condemning the church for this action and for labeling M as a child of the devil (the worst that I read) or a person not worthy of representing the church as an ordained deacon, according to scripture. I was amazed at the hatred, fear, despising, and condemnation that littered the comment section of the online articles that I read.

It makes me sad.

The Lord God made us all, as we teach our children in Sunday School. It is a miracle that any one of us is alive and walking on Planet Earth. I look at my own life and marvel that I am here at all. At any one point in the history of the world, one small thing could have happened to keep a baby from being conceived, and thus, I wouldn’t be here. In my imagination, I can just see my caveman ancestor returning to his cave after a long day of hunting and gathering, wanting a little affection from his cavewoman. She had a busy day, as well, and was exhausted. I can imagine in my mind her hugging her caveman mate, and saying in cave language, “Not tonight, Honey. I have a terrible headache.” But she didn’t. A cavebaby’s life was begun, and here I am, along with a long line of other ancestors, my siblings, and my two sons. And whether any of us are heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, or something in between really doesn’t matter. We have been given the gift of life, which is beyond any labeling that may be tacked onto our backs by others.

God created all things bright and beautiful. To those Christians who condemn homosexuality, gender differences, the concept of “two spirit” people (a Native American term. Read about it!), and anything that doesn’t fit into their narrow belief about God and God’s creation, I feel very sorry for them. I don’t believe that gender differences are a sin. What constitutes sin is us missing the mark of God’s intention for our lives. Who’s to say that God’s desire can’t be fulfilled in people who are a little bit different from us.

I think it is time for Christians, and all people who believe in God, to look at every person as God’s creation. I realize that things happen as a part of being human that make people different from one another, and can certainly make some people evil and dangerous. But we are all God’s children, even the very worst of us. And God is alive in us, even when we shut God into a dark closet and ignore the creator within us.

I wish M Barklay the very best in ministry and in reaching out and touching the people who need M the most to show God’s love to all. I look at the life of Jesus, and can see him reflected in this ministry.

I’m sure there are many who read this who won’t agree with me, and that’s OK. I am content and satisfied with my beliefs, which include believing that God is love, and that God loves everything and everyone that God has created.

“And that’s all I have to say about that” (thank you Forrest Gump for this quote).

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Small Town, Georgia, Girl

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           I have a new baseball cap that labels me as exactly who I am. It says “Small Town Girl”. It has a map of Georgia embroidered on it with a star designating my approximate location in the state. It was a gift, and I love it!

I guess I’ve always been a small town girl, even though I was born in Piedmont Hospital in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948. But even though I was born in a large hospital in Georgia’s capital city, I never claimed Atlanta as my own.

I grew up in Decatur, Georgia, which during the 50s and 60s was indeed a small town. We were six miles from downtown Atlanta, which to the child that I was seemed like an awfully long way from home. It was too far to walk, so we had to take the trolley if we wanted to go downtown to go shopping at Rich’s. My mother didn’t drive a car, meaning that most of our shopping was done right there in Decatur. It was when Mama needed patterns and fabric to make clothes for my sister and me that we dressed up like we were going to Sunday School, hopped on the trolley near the Decatur train station three blocks from our house, and spent the entire day downtown, getting off the trolley back home in Decatur late in the afternoon, just in time for Mama to prepare our family supper. Sometime in my adolescent years, Decatur lost her small town status to become part of Metropolitan Atlanta. But she remained a small town for me until long after I moved away at the age of sixteen. Today, even though Decatur retains much of her small town charm, the traffic congestion and difficulty in finding a place to park that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, along with the variety of pricey restaurants, remind me that she really doesn’t qualify for “small town” status in my mind anymore. Even the houses on the street where I grew up are now priced so far out of my reach when they go on the market to be sold, I could never afford to live there these days!

Enter Monroe, Georgia, the small town I have called home for the past five years. Now, this little town reminds me more of the Decatur where I grew up than any place I know. Yes, we have our traffic snarls on Broad Street, especially when the big trucks are trying to get through town on their way from one of the interstates to the other, and when I am trying to come out of the Walmart parking lot during rush hour or on Saturday. It’s a lovely little town, with friendly people, welcoming churches, a terrific little community theater, a Saturday farmer’s market, lots of small shops for browsing and purchasing interesting items of all kinds, safe places to walk my little dog Sunshine, a strong medical community, and the warm touch of Georgia hospitality. People here wave as they drive by, and they pause on the sidewalk to say hello to my dog. They don’t ignore me as I walk past and will look at me and greet me with a smile.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be living in Monroe, Georgia, I probably would have shaken my head, pondered in my mind just where Monroe is on the Georgia map, furrowed my brow, and asked, “Where? Why?” It isn’t important why or how I landed in Monroe, but I am happy that I did. I was even able to purchase a small home – one that I could afford – to set down a root or two. I am making this my home for awhile and claim this little town as my own, even though I am a transplant.

Small Town, Georgia, is a good place for someone like me. I live a simple life, enjoy listening to the birds singing in the trees around my home and watching the deer in the park, appreciate that nothing that I need is further than 10 minutes away by car (and I could walk if I had to!), and have made some very good friends. All this, and more, are what make me a true blue “Small Town Girl.”

In the novel that I wrote, “Fishbowls and Birdcages,” the main character was someone like me, a person who moved around from town to town, never quite belonging, and never sure just where Home was. She finally found her place, and it, too, was in Small Town, Georgia, although hers was a fictional town. She learned that the saying, “bloom where you are planted,” had a positive meaning for her as she developed her own identity and strength through her faith in God. Fran found her place, and I have found mine.

Yes, I am now officially a Small Town Georgia Girl. My new hat is proof of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Heart-to-Heart Conversation with Facebook

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Facebook, you and I need to have a little talk.

When I signed on to social media in 2008, I did so at the urging of my son-in-law, who told me Facebook was a great way to keep up with my family and friends and to share photos and life experiences with them. It would also be a quick way, he assured me, to check in with my family to know what was going on in their lives and to keep them updated on what was happening in mine.

Facebook, you have let me down. Or rather, people on Facebook have let me down. And I am angry that I can’t visit you now and then to touch base with my family and friends without getting upset. Instead, when I open my Facebook page, I am bombarded with stuff I have no desire to see, hear, or know about.

I’m talking primarily about the recent presidential election. I was for neither candidate, and I felt that we had pretty poor choices for our country’s leadership. But one of them was elected, and I am still – three months later – reading horrible things from both camps about the other. I understand that you are an avenue for people to express their opinions and beliefs, but I don’t understand why I have to read through these in an effort to find the kind of news I want to see. Before you were part of my life, I didn’t know (or care) who won the Golden Globe Award or what the winner’s speech was about. I wasn’t subjected to venomous rantings about people who followed certain political parties (and I am talking about BOTH of them). I wasn’t exposed to the hatred that seems to permeate throughout the postings on your pages.

I have already unfriended some folks that I really care about, because they are using you as their platform for airing their grievances, fears, and anger to the universe. And I am seriously considering saying goodbye to you altogether. I hate to do this, because I truly enjoy keeping in touch with my Facebook friends, looking at photos of children and grandchildren, learning about travel and life events, finding delicious new recipes and neat DIY ideas, and offering up a prayer when someone is hurting or ill. This week I have watched as my son travels cross-country to his new home in California from New York, and I have savored each message and photo that he has posted along his way. I have also celebrated a few birthdays with some dear friends, and have read about life milestones, major decisions, and other bits of personal news that I wouldn’t know about if it weren’t for your presence in my life.

Facebook, I have tried to figure out a way to block messages that I don’t want to look at. As a librarian, I would love to catalog them into neat little boxes, and then have the ability to choose those categories I want to look at. But I don’t have that luxury or choice, beyond your birthday bar on my personal bulletin board. I have to plow through the venom to get to the new grandchild, the family reunion, the latest travel destination, or the graduation celebration.

On a personal basis, I have to admit that I am easily sucked in. I have a hard time scrolling past items that look distasteful to me. I am compelled to give them a quick perusal, almost always ending up with an upset stomach and angrily clicking off of you until I can settle down and breathe normally. This is not my idea of social media. It seems more like anti-social media to me.

I don’t know what to do, Facebook.

I am holding on by a thread and not pulling the plug completely yet, because I know you have many redeeming qualities that I value. But I am not happy with you, Facebook, not one bit. And I’m not sure what to do about it.

For now, I think I will continue to write in my blog and share my collection of days with my Facebook friends. And, yes, I will use you as my portal for sharing what I write. I will also post photos on your pages that I want to save and share.

But I’m going to have to think long and hard about what our relationship is going to be for the future. Facebook, you and I are in serious trouble. I think we need to separate for awhile and give each other some needed space. Whether we split for good will be something to consider down the road. I am hoping our relationship can be salvaged and that we can reconcile our problems. There is so much good in you, and so much potential, I can’t cut the cord quite yet.

Facebook, I have some thinking to do.

Goodbye 2016. Hello New Year.

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The New Year has a way of haunting me as January 1 draws nearer. I know it’s just another day, but for me it’s a time of looking back, taking stock of where I am right now, and gazing ahead for perhaps a glimpse of what is in store for me in the coming year.

The past few nights I have been awakened by dreams reminding me of my past and filling me with a mixture of regrets, feelings of accomplishments, and memories of pure joy, deep sadness, and even loss – all jumbled together in a sleep-depriving slide show of my history. As I contemplated all that is part of who I am, I reached out to God in gratitude for delivering me from evil, for walking beside me during trying times, for teaching me about what real love is all about, and for giving me my life.

And now, today, on New Year’s Eve, I turn the final page of 2016, the pages filled to overflowing with my words, thoughts, prayers, and wishes. I close the book, but I don’t seal it. I can always return to this year in my memories, and be reminded of this great and wonderful gift called life and of the year of 2016. A new book awaits me, its pages blank and ready to receive whatever each day decides to grant me.

Last year I wrote a list of things to NOT DO in the New Year. I didn’t accomplish my goals entirely, but I can report proudly that I have not put on a sports bra backwards in 2016. (See my blog from last year to read my list: https://jennielousdays.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/my-to-dont-do-list/ ). But I also have to admit that I fell off the chocolate wagon over the Christmas holidays, and I enjoyed far too much candy and cookies. The New Year is a good time to re-group, get back into good habits, and take a bold step forward.

2016 is waving goodbye as she approaches the door into years past. She is taking with her tender memories of dear friends I have had to say farewell to this year, of great personal accomplishments that at times seemed daunting and unattainable, of prayers for healing and those answered prayers, of fears over the fate of our nation during the most disturbing political race I’ve ever experienced, and a plethora of moments and days that brought tears to my eyes merely from the pure joy of being alive and acknowledging my small place in this remarkable universe.

As she moves closer to that door, 2016 pauses to glance back at me and with thumbs up and a broad smile, she wishes me Godspeed into 2017.

I pull out my book with blank pages, and I am ready to write!

When I Die…

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It has been a month since my son-in-law’s almost-ninety-year-old mother, Marta, died. Roy is grieving, and rightly so. He and his mom were very close, and he was the youngest of her five sons. Like me, he was the “baby” of the family. Marta was a lovely and spunky lady, full of vim and vigor, and overflowing with love for her family. Besides that, she was a great cook, and a very savvy EBay trader. She is missed by many, many people.

This brings me to a conversation I had with my son, Brian, last night on the phone. Roy is Brian’s partner, and they have been in a loving relationship for over 15 years. They are devoted to each other.

After Marta’s death, I wrote both of my sons a letter, detailing phone numbers of family and friends, bank account and insurance policy numbers, retirement savings information, location of my legal papers, passport, usernames and passwords, and such, and a brief statement of the kind of sending off I’d like to have when I die. I did this mainly because Marta’s death struck a chord within me that I am not invincible. I also have experienced the deaths of four very good friends in my age group since Christmas, friends who shouldn’t be old enough yet to die.

Brian asked me how long should he mourn for me when I die. Tough question!

My answer was not a simple or straightforward one. One week, two weeks, a month, a year? It all depends….

If I die a sudden or unexpected death at a young-ish age (I am now 68 years old, and still consider myself young in many respects), I would think that the mourning period might be extended longer than I would expect if I should die of natural causes or some old-age illness. From my experience, it takes longer to accept and recover from a loved one’s sudden death.

This was the case with my dad. He died at the age of 85 from a heart attack while sleeping. Very sudden. Not expected. He was a healthy and vigorous man in most respects. It took quite awhile for the fact that he was gone to sink in, and for the mourning to end. There were a lot of things left unsaid between me and my dad, and I never got the chance to say (or think) goodbye to him before he was gone.

Within a year of my dad’s death, my mother began having some minor health issues. She was mourning and missing my dad, and we thought this might be part of the healing process for her. It turned out that it wasn’t. Nine months after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she died peacefully in her sleep. My sister and I shared the responsibility of caring for her through surgery, chemotherapy, and hopefully, healing. By the time her chemo treatments had ended, we knew that her time was limited. She just wasn’t rebounding or getting well. We loved on her and cherished her the last few months of her life. We had the chance to prepare for her leaving us, and when it happened, we knew we had done the right things and had loved her through to the end. Perhaps we never verbally said goodbye to her, but in our hearts, we did, making her passing into eternity a little less traumatic for us.

This brings me back to my son’s question. In the document I prepared for him and his brother, I requested to be cremated when I die. I do not want a funeral service, but want my friends and family to get together and have a party celebrating my life, and theirs. There should be lots of wine and margaritas, plenty of unhealthy food to eat, great music, and good times. It would be nice if they would recall some funny stories about me to share and remember, bringing laughter and joy to the occasion. I then want my sons to spread my ashes in a place, or places, that is meaningful to them. It’s not important to me, but I want it to be special for them.

After all this is accomplished, I don’t want any more mourning. Remembering me is ok. Missing me is ok. Wishing I could be there to witness an accomplishment or special event in their lives, or to share a beautiful sunset, is ok. Wanting to talk to me about a problem is ok. Shedding a tear every now and then is ok. But please don’t wear the black cloak of mourning over me. That is not ok.

We also talked briefly about the possible future of nursing homes and hospice. We both agree that hospice is a very good thing, but have mixed feelings about nursing homes. Jokingly, we agreed that he can put a pillow over my head or take me out to the woods and shoot me if I should ever get to the point where I don’t know who I am and need full-time nursing care. I’m not quite ready to discuss this topic seriously with him, so it was better to keep it lighthearted last night. Which we did.

I think Brian feels better after our conversation. I know that I do. I raised my two boys to be wonderful, independent, smart, caring, and loving men. I think they will instinctively know what to do when the time comes to bid me farewell.

I plan to stick around for quite awhile yet. I have a lot more living, loving, and writing to do! But when I leave, please keep the mourning short and sweet!

I’ll be watching, you know!

Living in The Past – The Present – The Future

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Guilty as charged. As long as I can remember, even as a little girl, I have always lived as much in the future and in the past, as I have in the present. My blog is proof of that. My collection of days are mostly memories of my past!

Throughout the course of my life, the future seems to have been always on my mind, as I strain my neck to see what is around the next curve in my road. I daydream, I plan, I hope and pray for good things in the days ahead.

I dreamed of getting married, having babies, and living happily ever after.

I then dreamed of going back to college to complete my degree as soon as my sons were old enough for me to attempt the challenge.

Later, I dreamed that one day I wouldn’t be living in a parsonage, and that I would have a place of my own.

I dreamed that I would have a career, and that my career would take off, awarding me with no more financial woes.

I dreamed that I would grow old with my second husband, since my dream hadn’t panned out so well with my first one. That one didn’t work out so well, either. Both are now safely stored in my memories of the past!

On a smaller scale, I dreamed of summer vacations, of planting vegetable gardens, of summer breezes and sandy beaches.

It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate my present moments and soak them in. But they were so fleeting! I’d turn around and they were gone – into my past. It seemed that sometimes it was easier to look toward the future, planning for my next day, week, month, or year, than it was to recognize that where I was at that specific time was a very good place.

And, with each day I encounter, my past grows. Memories pile up, and I find myself sorting through them to determine which are worth keeping and incorporating into the ME I am today. Some are merely life lessons to think of every now and then, and some are those I really need to leave in the past, and quit beating myself up over them. I watch them grow dimmer and dimmer in my rearview mirror, with a heartfelt thank you to God for delivering me, loving me, and strengthening me. This is where my new favorite word, “gratitude” comes into play on a huge scale!

I still look to the future and plan – mostly, for my retirement these days. I know the day is coming – and it won’t be long – when I will have to rely on what I have saved and what I have accomplished to move me into these last years of my life. Sometimes the future looks bright, and sometimes bleak – depending on my present circumstances and frame of mind.

I am becoming more and more aware of my present moment. Prayer and meditation have helped me with this. Instead of “I will be”, I try to focus on “I am.” I want to be the person that God created me to be, which is definitely in the future, since I am still learning and becoming. But each moment is precious to me, and I try each day to focus on the NOW, and not on tomorrow. My aim is to not waste any of my NOW moments, but to appreciate each one as it slips quietly and quickly into my past.

A very dear friend once reminded me as I was moaning over mistakes I’ve made in my life  that I am the person I am today because of who I was in my past. As I center myself in my present, look to the future, and remember the past, I know that with each NOW moment, I am changing and becoming who I was created to be.

Past, Present, and Future. In truth, I live in all three. My goal is to find the balance in my life where they all serve me well and keep me centered.

It’s too much for my little brain to try to figure this one out! I have today. It’s bright and sunny outside. I’m taking my little dog, Sunshine, for a walk.

I’ll see you in my future!

My Friend, Big John

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I had to say goodbye to a very special friend today. When we were teenagers, he was Johnny, but when we reunited in 2008, he was affectionately known by everyone he knew as Big John.

I didn’t know that today was going to be the day. If I had known, I would have gone to his house for a visit yesterday. I’ve been going over to see him almost every week for the past two years. When his health declined, he asked me if I would pick up his mail at the post office for him. Of course, I said I would, and even during the times when he was better and able to drive, I still got his mail. I think he enjoyed my visits, and didn’t want them to stop. I enjoyed them, too, and never suggested that I return his mailbox key. Some afternoons he’d phone me and ask me to stop and pick up a hamburger or fish dinner for him, or something from the grocery store, on my way home from work. I was always happy to do so.

I found him this morning when I delivered his mail. The door was open, and his keys were still in the lock. I called out his name, with no response. I stepped into the house, wondering why the door wasn’t closed. He hadn’t answered the phone when I called him to tell him I was on my way, like he usually did. I knew something wasn’t right. He was in his lounge chair – asleep, I thought – at first. I didn’t want to disturb him. I knew he had trouble sleeping, and recently had been having problems with his breathing. I didn’t want to startle him, but then it sunk in. I gently touched his arm, feeling its coolness and knew he was gone.

I stood next to him for a few minutes wishing he would wake up, but knowing he wouldn’t. He looked so peaceful resting there, my heart sang and wept in harmony. Finally, I pulled out my phone from my pocket and dialed 9-1-1.

Soon a police officer arrived, followed by paramedics, and then the coroner.

I knew this day was coming. Just last week on my visit with Big John, I sensed something different – maybe a look in his eyes? Or was there something in his voice when I asked him how he was doing, and his reply, as always, was, “I’m doing well. What have you been up to?” Or the way he hugged me, and said when I got ready to leave, “I love ya, darlin’.” I stayed longer that day than I usually did; I didn’t want to go. I told a friend later in the day that I didn’t believe Big John would be with us much longer. But I’m not ready to say goodbye today.

Big John helped me through the toughest two years of my life. He listened, offered advice, propped me up when I was weak and frightened, and cheered me on during those dark days. I will forever be grateful to him for his love, his loyalty, and for the special bond of friendship that we shared. I think he was Big John because he had such a big, big heart.

So now, my friend, I must say goodbye. Soar with the angels on warm and gentle winds, free from the oxygen tubes and insulin needles that held you down.

Please check on me now and then, Big John. I’ll be watching for you.