Category Archives: aging gracefully

Kicking Against the Goads

Recently my pastor gave the congregation a challenge. He wanted each person to write down the story of how they came to know Christ. He included a three-point outline in the bulletin intended to help:

1) My Life Before Christ

2) How I Met Christ

3)  My Life After Christ

The problem with such a task for me is that my life doesn’t fit into the three-point outline. I didn’t lead a life of debauchery, interrupted by a salvation moment and followed by a radically changed life.  For years this bothered me.  My story is about a much more mundane person who has been slowly shaped by the Master Creator over the years and who is still a work in progress.

My parents tell me that I accepted Christ’s salvation at the age of three.  I don’t remember the event.  For years, as a child, this caused me worry.  Was I really saved if I couldn’t remember making the decision?  Should I pray the prayer again?  But then, which prayer was the “real” one?  I was looking for the neat, three-point story even then.

When I was in my mid teens I went to camp and made a decision I was sure of.  I would be a Christ follower. That took care of points 1 and 2, but the “Life After,” point 3, was still not the radical transformation I was looking for. For one thing, I hadn’t accrued much in the way of big, obvious sins beforehand, to compare with.  Also, I was still an adolescent, still self-centered and concerned with what I wanted to do.  I didn’t instantly become flawless. I worried that I hadn’t “done” salvation as well as others and wondered what else I needed to do.

It took some more years until the basic truths of Christianity filtered down into my heart. I learned that I was a sinner no matter how small or inconspicuous I thought my imperfections were. I learned that I could not “do more” to redeem myself, but that Christ had truly done it all already when He died and rose again.  He covered me with his righteousness because my own imperfections don’t really go away.  I am always flawed and I always need Him.

I didn’t know it as a younger woman, but I, with all my self-doubt, was in good company. It was that of the apostle Paul, who has an impressive three-point story: 1-Persecuted Christians, 2-Blinded temporarily by a light from heaven while Jesus spoke to him saying, “Why are you persecuting me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads”(Acts 26:14)  3-Lived the rest of his live preaching Christ’s gospel, exemplifying what a Christ follower’s life should look like.

Even so Paul writes in Romans 7 of his struggle during part 3 to consistently follow Christ. Even though his radical change is obvious in the hindsight of his Bible story, it was not always evident to him.  He lamented of his Christian walk:  “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Romans 7:19).  It is, in a way, comforting that someone like Saint Paul would voice the same struggles I feel and need the same saving grace and reassurance that I do.

So I have learned to accept that there is truly no consistency or perfection within me.  My salvation is 100% a gift from the only Perfect Being.  Though I see growth in me, there will never be a faultless point 3 in my story.  My “After” story will most likely continue to be a series of ups and downs,  events where Christ teaches and shapes me, as well as times when I futilely put myself first and resist.

I take heart though in the confusing statement that Jesus made to Paul as the light from heaven blinded him.  “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  A foot note in my Ryrie Study Bible says that this is a Greek proverb about useless resistance.  A goad was a tool used to prod oxen with to keep them going in a straight line while plowing. I can picture the oxen, at times veering off in a direction of their own and being set straight with a tap of the goads.

I too have been prodded back on track over and over again.  My life, which has felt so haphazard and unplanned at times, has in reality been guided each step of the way.  I hope this will be more obvious someday by hindsight.  I’ve had difficulty going against the goads, like the oxen and St. Paul.  I thank Christ that he cares about this one mundane life and has seen fit to call me and guide me.  And I thank Him that it has been useless for me to resist.

Summer Reading

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One of summer’s sweetest delights is catching up on my reading list.  I start the summer off with a visit to a used bookstore and glean all the titles and authors I can find that are on the list I’ve kept all year.  This summer I also treated myself to a Barnes and Noble splurge for my birthday in June.

Since I am a used book store junkie, you’ll find that many of my titles are not new. There are newer books on my reading list, but my finds are generally at least a couple of years old.  While I am reading this stock of books, a newer inventory will come into the store and I will search them out later.  This system works well to join my love of reading with my budget.

Here are a few of my favorites from what I’ve read so far this summer:

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.  This is the autobiography of the young Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for being vocal in her support of education for girls.  She survived and continues to address women’s education issues around the world.  She is 19 years old now.

The appeal of this book for me was not so much the writing style, but the fact that Malala was only 15 years old when she became famous for surviving such terror.  She is clearly an adolescent, talking about fights with her brother, clothing styles and blushing about boys. Yet she shifts into a mature persona when discussing her work and speaking engagements.  Her story inspires me and makes me hope that I would be able to stand  up for my own beliefs if the day ever comes when I need to.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  This novel spans several generations.  It tells of the lives of three women, each from a different era, and intertwines their stories.  I suggest reading this in book format, rather than digital, as you may have to flip back and forth to follow the dates in each woman’s tale as time moves back and forth.  The author cleverly creates a cameo appearance by Frances Hodgson Burnett and suggests that perhaps her classic story, The Secret Garden, was born from her visit to the enchanting garden that is central to this novel.

Though long, this was an easy summer read.  I was mildly puzzled by what seemed like a change in one of the main character’s voice about two-thirds of the way through, as well as an important piece of information that seemed thrown in at the last minute.  It is possible that I was distracted for a transitional page.  Either way, I made the adjustment and was compelled to keep turning pages until I reached the conclusion.  I liked this well enough that at some point I will read Morton’s newer novel, The Lake House.

The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay.  This is a work of fiction which takes place during the modernization of Paris in the 1860’s.  It is told through a series of letters written by a 60-year-old woman as she hides in her house, which is slated to be demolished along with the rest of her neighborhood.  Her letters are to her deceased husband and express what their home has meant to them over the years.  The house and the woman are symbolic of each other as both embrace and protect their family at any cost.

I found this book to be heart-wrenchingly beautiful.  The letter format (epistolary, as de Rosnay says)  is a unique style and makes the telling much more intimate.   It should be read for its own merits and not compared to de Rosnay’s earlier best-selling novel, Sarah’s Key, which I also would recommend.

Some of the books still piled on my queue are:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  I know nothing about this book, but keep hearing how much everyone else has enjoyed it.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I’m probably the last person on earth to read this story, but better late than never.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  I also want to read Circling the Sun by the same author.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  I was looking for her novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, but found this older one instead.  Strout is a new author for me.

About Grace by Anthony Doerr.  I was enthralled by All the Light We Cannot See by Doerr, so I am going back and reading his first novel published.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  This title was thoughtfully recommended in a comment left by another blogger on a previous post.

As you can see, I will run out of summer before I run out of books to read.

So, what are you reading?  Please leave recommendations in the comments section, and note titles to add to your own reading list.

Indecision

“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision”   -Maimonides

I just finished a mini-makeover for my hall bathroom-new flooring, baseboards and toilet. The labor took little more than a day.  Selecting the flooring took several weeks.  In the end, I chose the pattern I preferred on day one. Thank goodness I had the deadline of impending company forcing me to make up my mind.  If not, I might still be comparing floor samples.

I don’t think of myself as indecisive, but as I chide myself for wasting weeks choosing the flooring, I have to be honest.  When buying my house, I gave myself two years to research.  After a year and a half of looking at houses, my husband had had enough. Within a week we bought a house we’d seen on the first day of looking.  It has truly become home.

When I was ready to get rid of my minivan, I waffled for seven years because nothing stood out as the one car that was right for me.  I finally went to an end-of-year sale at a local dealership and bought the best deal I could find.  I’m still glad I did.

Friday is my favorite day to dress for work. On the other weekdays, I choose a blouse and pair of pants and hope that it passes as professional attire.  But on Friday it’s spirit day and everyone wears the school shirt.  No decision to make!

“Once I make up my mind, I’m full of indecision.”                                             -Oscar Levant

So it seems that indecision comes from fear of choosing the wrong option.  I want all the information before I make a final commitment, but how will I know when I have it all? What if I decide and then find out that I’m wrong?  Perhaps waiting a little longer will uncover a better choice.  At what point does weighing options give way to over-thinking the issue?  Such are my thoughts when trying to decide.

I’ve had no trouble telling others, especially my children, how to make decisions:

  1. Do whatever research you can.
  2. Weigh the pros and cons.
  3. Pray.
  4. Decide and be ready to live with the consequences of the choice.
  5. Nothing is set in stone however, so make changes as you go along.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”                                -Nelson Mandela

Of course, these simplified steps do not take into consideration other factors that muddy the waters of clear decision-making.

While long delays are undesirable, decisions can definitely be made too quickly.  We’ve all watched people, young or old,  charge into an impulsive endeavor and cringed while we waited for them to come to their senses.  Sometimes it was a relationship; other times it was a get-rich-quick scheme.  In any case, it sounded too good to be true and was.

Perhaps my delays are simply over-the-top attempts to be sure I am making wise, thought out conclusions. As Elvis sang, “only fools rush in.”  I don’t want to make uninformed decisions or pick an option for the wrong reasons.

There is not always one singular correct choice.  In many instances there are several viable options.  Any number of cars, houses, or appliances would fit into my lifestyle. Even where to live or what career path to follow may have a variety of answers.  Decision is really just committing to one path and following through.

I have also come to understand that not every decision needs to be made.  I’ve accepted that some issues are larger than me or are not for me to determine. Can we really be sure about controversial theologies?  Do we ever know exactly what is in another’s heart?  I do not always have a knowledge base large enough to come to a wise conclusion;  and I’ve given myself permission to abstain from deciding in such cases.

So I leave you, dear reader, with advice that I hope I heed. When faced with a decision that must be made: weigh your options, say a prayer and take the plunge.

“Indecision is often worse than wrong action.”  -Henry Ford

Not Disappointed

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For our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband planned a trip for us to our favorite place, Avila Beach. Looking to be generous, he booked more nights than I was comfortable leaving my twelve year old in the care of his adult siblings. So, in a what-were-we- thinking moment, we decided to bring him along.
Since the  crowd was already growing, we next invited my daughter, and granddaughter, to join us.  She jumped at our invitation, and then soon after announced that her husband had gotten the days off from work and would be joining us.  How perfectly reflective this growing crowd was of our family’s growth over the years.  What started out as a pair was added to and multiplied. Like our vacation list, our family has seen both planned and surprise additions, each a treasure to cherish.

The younger couple decided they would camp nearby in his favorite vacation spot, the Oceano Dunes, and travel between their campsite and our haven, Avila Beach. This would be a true blending of vacation styles for all of us.  To better understand the contrast between the two vacation sites, let me describe.

The Oceano Dunes is a state park in California with 5 1/2 miles of beach that vehicles can travel on.  Many, like my son-in-law, drive their 4 wheel drive trucks pulling toy haulers, loaded with quads and other off road recreational vehicles, and drive as much of those 5 1/2 miles as they can.  The trick is to not get stuck in the sand, but if they do, there is a certain prestige to being able to pull others out.  So those who get stuck are helped to get out. When they find their sites, these dry campers (no water, electric or septic hookups) turn their trailers facing away from the ocean, so that the constantly blowing sand doesn’t get in.  They set up camp in the shelter of their trailers, often placing temporary skirts along the spaces under the trailers as an additional protection from the blowing sand.  This environment is my son-in-law’s favorite place on earth.

Meanwhile, a vacation in Avila Beach means time spent in a hotel or vacation condo.  As described in my previous post, it is a warm, sunny cove with many visitor friendly amenities.  These include restaurants and swimming pools and sleepy afternoons on the beach followed by warm showers and possibly a dip in the hot tub.  After dinner, we walk in the balmy evening air, eating ice cream on the promenade and watching the tide come in. This is the kind of vacation my family enjoys.

Many times our son-in-law has been a good sport about vacationing our way. So when he and my daughter wanted us to come over to their campsite for a barbecue and campfire, we felt we had to reciprocate and take this chance to experience his kind of vacation.  None of us realized the date we’d set for this was our anniversary date.  We reserved rental quads for my 12 year old son and husband and bought some goodies to go with dinner.

At the appointed time, we tentatively entered the sandy path leading into the dunes, my husband driving his pick up truck which does not have 4 wheel drive. (We’ve never before missed this feature!)  It gave us a surreal feeling to be driving our vehicle along the water’s edge.  Though there was a track somewhat packed down, we were driving where children played with shovels and pails and dodging the incoming waves with the truck like we do when we walk barefoot along the beach. “What will happen if a wave reaches us?” my son piped up from the back seat.  We didn’t have an answer.  I wanted to know what happened if someone going the other way wanted to drive by.  I didn’t have to ask because very soon we had to squeeze past an oncoming truck, they not wanting to go too high up into the softer sand and we not wanting to venture any further towards the ocean.  “People do this for fun?”  I questioned aloud. My husband just shook his head, and I could tell he was not one of them.

Another question I did not need to voice was “What happens if we get stuck in the sand?” After ten minutes of driving, instead of finding my daughter at her campsite, we happened upon a patch of unpacked sand and couldn’t go any further.  We were stuck. My stomach turned and I worked hard to hold back a feeling of panic.  My husband, for whatever reason, didn’t appreciate my unsolicited advice to stop turning the tires.  I was sure he was digging us in further, but he assured me that he was “rocking” the truck out of its rut.  I texted my son-in-law for help while my husband continued “rocking” the truck for another ten minutes.  The truck made sounds that I was sure came from important pieces breaking off. However, before my son-in-law arrived, my husband was able to free the truck.  We agreed to immediately get off the dunes with our unequipped vehicle and park it on blacktop at the edge of this sandy park.

Our son-in-law picked us up from the parking lot we found and chauffeured us, as well as his mother and brothers who had just arrived, to his camp site.  My heart was racing and my stomach was still in knots from our ordeal, trying to get to this spot.  The campsite was a random patch of sand on a barren beach at the base of the dunes.  It was windy and cold and while the boys prepared to ride quads, we girls huddled in the shelter of the trailer and tried to stay warm, if not sand free.  I thought I was being pleasant and open-minded to this different type of vacation.  However, my daughter’s mother-in-law recognized the look in my eyes and, laughing, said, “This is how I spent every vacation. We had sand everywhere.  When the boys went riding, that was my time to clean up camp and make their next meal. It was no vacation for me!” (I knew not everyone thought this was fun!)

Once settled in with the memory of our traumatic ride in fading, my husband, son and I enjoyed our time on the dunes. Both son and husband loved riding quads and connecting with their masculine selves. The cool wind made a barbecue and campfire even more appreciated than usual.  The smell of hamburgers on the grill was familiar in a new place and something about a campfire creates an instant sense of togetherness.  Smoke from the embers drifted among us, lacing us together with our children, grandchild and in-laws.  As the day wore on, we were less observant of our environment and more aware of our company, the family we’ve gathered over the years.

When it was time to go, our son-in law once again drove us the nearly 20 minutes along the beach, pointing out the trucks and trailers that had gotten stuck in the sand while we were visiting. He would help them out after he drove us back to our parking lot.  We shook our heads as we again tried to wrap our brains around the idea of this being anyone’s idea of a fun time.  As we were unloading ourselves and our chairs and sweatshirts from his truck, our son-in-law said, “Today is your 25th anniversary, isn’t it?  Happy anniversary!” We’d nearly forgotten!

Back at the hotel, we were grateful for warm showers.  As my husband and I fell into our fresh, clean bed that night, my husband began to apologize.  He felt bad about the way we ended up spending our milestone anniversary.  “Did you ever think 25 years ago that we’d spend today celebrating our anniversary getting stuck in the sand and …..”

I interrupted and was honestly able to tell him, “I am not disappointed.  We spent today with children we created over the past 25 years and the people they love. We are blessed to have family who want to be with us no matter where we are. I am really not disappointed.” And I really wasn’t.

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