Sometimes you’ve got to thank God in front of the great assembly

Here is the prayer I’ve written into my prayer journal more times than I care to count (this particular one is from 2/13/14):

“Please, Lord, may we get out of credit card debt this year. Help us. Keep after us. Let us not give up tithing, Lord. Let us not give up recognizing that our good things come from you. Help us dig out of this hole we’ve gotten ourselves into. Forgive me for the stupid way I’ve often handled our resources.”

Here is something else I wrote in this space (What Is and Is Not a Tool) a little more than a year ago:

Money is not a tool for happiness, but it is a tool for food, clothes, housing, transportation, entertainment, doing good (aka, giving), but also for facilitating creative expression, even mine; I need to stop feeling guilty when I spend money on my creative expression and stop finding excuses not to spend on my creative expression….

I want to dance on stage again, in a group, doing choreography that is not my own. I want to be in class again. Which costs money, and means that I will have a schedule that other family members will have to work around. I’ve been making every excuse for why it wouldn’t work for years. But I can’t do that much longer. I’ve still got a reasonable amount of flexibility and strength, so I think now might be the time. This might be the year it will not be denied. That I will not deny myself.

I wrote that post on July 3, 2013. In August, I got one writing and one editing freelance gig. I found out about a new dance studio that was run by a friend and offered free — yes, free! — dance classes. And I got a temporary job digitizing sermons for a retired minister whose career was being archived by Grand Valley State University. This year, other freelance gigs have come my way. I have attended three writer’s conferences. The dance studio continues to be free and I continue to love dancing and performing again. I confess that we haven’t been quite as regular with tithing as we’ve been in the past, but we added a couple of organizations to our giving.

Best of all, as of this morning, we are free of credit card debt.

1195767_36244650Psalm 9:1-2

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
    I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.
I will be filled with joy because of you.
    I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.

Psalm 35:18

Then I will thank you in front of the great assembly.
    I will praise you before all the people.

This blog is the only great assembly I’ve got, so I’m thanking God here.

Faith is a thousand little decisions, like the decision to believe good things in my life come from God.

I haven’t gone out and looked for work: work has found me. Once work has found me, I work hard, I do the very best job I can, I learn new things, I take risks. And, if I haven’t mentioned it before, I work hard.

You might think that I finally prayed “hard enough” or was “obedient enough” so that God granted my request — people do love to speculate why your prayer was granted, mostly so they can get a guarantor for how their prayer might “work.”

You might credit the power of positive thinking. You might say it was one of those Oprah/Iyanla moments of me attracting the good things the universe is waiting to send my way; you might call it coincidence.

As for me, it’s enough to say that God has been working in my life and I have, as of this moment, no credit card debt. Can I get an “Alleluiah!”

an odd both/and: gratitude/grief

It started Thanksgiving 2012. My parents-in-law’s best friend was dying; he died, too soon, shortly thereafter. My father was diagnosed with cancer on my birthday. My daughter had a mysterious hand infection that puffed her hand way out no matter what medication we gave her, and we wound up in the E.R. for overnight antibiotics, while one of my dear friends was in the hospital next door struggling for breath. She died a month later, way, way, way too soon. And that was only early January.

There were 3 more E.R. visits for my daughter. Two back surgeries and resulting recovery times before my father could get treatment for his cancer. Both are doing well now, but there was persistent worry in a corner of my mind all year.

There was complete lack of movement in getting my David and Saul novel closer to being published: no requests for a full manuscript from any agent I queried. None. No professional interest in the picture book project I’m working on with a friend. I was turned down for a job I would’ve been really good at. I didn’t get enough volunteers for a church thing, so had to scrap some plans that would’ve been good for the kids. I’ve never been rejected so many times for so many things in my life.

My children each had struggles where they haven’t before, some of which are ongoing. My husband’s heavy work schedule continues to wear us down. I’ve read maybe half the number of books I normally do; after my friend died, I just didn’t have the urge. Insomnia. Anxiety. As the year went on, my hermit tendencies have become even more entrenched.

But this has also been a great year.

When you’ve cried with people, and you’ve shared grief, you’re closer to them, so I’m closer to a lot more people than I was a year ago, even some I’ve known for a long time. We made some real friends at the new church. I’ve given some good encouragement to dear friends. I got through the Old Testament in my devotional reading (finally!) and done some good struggling with and resting in God’s promises. My faith is deeper than it was a year ago.

My children have had also triumphed, and I’ve gotten to stand up and cheer for them. My husband is doing really good work, both for pay and for fun — and he’s writing songs again! I’m taking a dance class again. A class for which I will get to perform in a recital (a phrase that makes me giggle).

The fine folks at One Faith Many Faces gave me paid work and thought enough of my writing here to want to rerun it on their site. I went to a small writer’s retreat, where I met some fine writers, reconnected with an old friend, and got some much-needed encouragement. There has been some other paid work, some guest posts on other blogs (on prayer and dance), and some wonderful conversations here. I am grateful for every person who’s read my writing — that means you. Thank you.

I’m grateful, but also deeply frustrated and sad, often about the same things. So I wrote something about Thanksgiving for my friends at One Faith Many Faces (they’re the ones who gave the post it’s awesome title) that I needed to hear — something all of us who are feeling both gratitude and grief this year.

Some years, you’re so full of gratitude that it seeps out of your pores and suffuses everything you do.

Other years, the idea of spouting words of gratitude seems so wrong as to almost feel offensive.

Sometimes, those are the same year.

A tough year can bring out your gratitude to God for being with you through it all – but lurking behind every item of thanksgiving is a great big but. The Psalmist knows what that’s like:

Please continue here to read the rest of Thanksgiving is a great big but.

 

 

Gratitude and Momentum

These are my two guiding principle words for 2013, for writing, for life, for anything I can think of to apply it to.

Gratitude for what I have

It’s been many years since a friend asked the question, “What seeds are you planting in your life?” and I stopped holding onto catalogues and reading them over and over, daydreaming about what I’d love to buy, thereby planting seeds of dissatisfaction with what I did have. And I’ve kept that one up. If a company is so foolish as to send me a catalog, I might flip through it once before sending it immediately to the recycling bin. That one simple habit made a huge difference in my satisfaction in my home.

All is not rosy, of course. There are areas that drive me nuts. For example, I’ve let my organization go to pieces, and the stress that induces is getting in the way of my creativity, so I’m taking time this month to get my house in order. There is a chair that bugs me and I have dropped the daydream that I will reupholster it. It’s a lovely dream, but if I attempted it, I’d come close, but it would never make me happy. So I’m trolling sales. Also, I hate my cool, modern living room rug that sheds worse than an animal without giving me the affection a pet would. I’ve given it a year and no change; the rug’s days are numbered. I’m grateful for what I have and prepared to take action on what needs it.

So now I have to continue to apply this method to my writing life/publishing journey. I’ve been carping on about this for a few months, but I think that means I’m at the tail end of my transition: the daydreaming about my fabulous success, while fun, made it more difficult to handle my lack of actual publishing success. That disconnect planted giant seeds of discontent.

Think of the body language of discontent: shoulders hunched, brow furrowed, eyes downcast. Then think of the body language of gratitude: arms open wide, or embracing something/one, face open, lips smiling. I’ll choose number two.

I have time, a supportive family, talent, drive, discipline, inspiration, resources for further education, finished and drafted manuscripts, ideas. Because I’m a religious lady, this all comes back to God and what he has given me and made possible for me. I vow to be grateful for all of it — even while working every angle I can to make my work better and stronger.

I was in just such a state of gratitude when I was writing the first draft of It Is You and it was glorious. I’ve always love big-hearted fiction, and I don’t think I can write it if I’m suffused with bitterness. So I’m going to focus on gratitude. It’ll be a discipline, for sure. But it’s got to be more fruitful than the discontent was.

 

Momentum

According to a variety of sources, Jerry Seinfeld writes every day. He credits his calendar. Any day he works on his material, he marks off that day with a big X. His goal is to keep the streak of X’s going. In fact, the visual of the line of X’s is itself motivation for him sometimes — seeing that and knowing that he might break the line gets his butt in the chair.

If it’s good enough for Jerry Seinfeld, then it’s good enough for me. It’s simple. It’s achievable. Especially if I make it any writing-related activity: novel, blog post, potential article. Writing my prayers don’t count for this, but I can use the momentum idea for that, too: any day I do my Bible reading and prayer thing, I get to X off a day on the calendar. So today, while I’m out buying a few organizational products, I’m going to get a little desk calendar to track this momentum project.

Dat’s it

Our landlady in Astoria, Queens, was a widow who still hung on to her Greek accent. She’d end most conversations by brushing her palms together twice as if washing her hands of something, and say, “Dat’s it.” I’m going to wash my hands of bitterness and stuckness. Gratitude and momentum: that’s it. I can do that.

How about you? Do you have a word or idea you’re focusing on for 2013? Or are you more of a concrete resolution person?

 

 

Diaries: Unexpected Sweetness

We’re whipping through the years, now. There was one entry each for 1979 and 1980. One is so earnest and dear and the other makes me cry. In a developmental note, I was no longer writing in block capital letters, but in lowercase, loopy cursive.

December 22, 1979   I have to pay better attention to my father. He is getting a lonely look on his face.

I have no idea what was happening. It was close to Christmas, which was a time my dad loved. He went all out but did his main shopping on Christmas Eve after work, which cut it close because that was the night we opened presents. He’d come home laden with bags and head straight upstairs to his attic office.

I believe 1979 was the first year my dad got one wish: we had oil fondue for dinner that night. My mother wouldn’t do it until my brother was 10 and she felt we could safely handle a pot of boiling oil on the table.

After dinner, Dad would disappear upstairs again, wrap everything in newspaper, write on the tags that they were from Santa (including the gifts he bought himself), and bring them all down. We’d tease him about the packages being from Santa. He’d insist. We’d get down to business.

I also don’t know whether I did pay better attention to him. The diary is silent on this. I hope I did.

April 24, 1980      I saw the movie “Lovey” today. It was fabulous! Today, I also wrote my first french letter. It was fun. I always seem to enjoy those things. I enjoy almost everything. God gave us so much to enjoy! To me, my understanding and love of God is growing. And when I pray, it is almost always from my heart. Almost every day I thank God for my parents and teacher, they are so wonderful.

When I read the above, I was puzzled why I’d been watching that movie. After a little research, I figured out that it wasn’t the film version of the Judy Blume book, Forever, her book about “going all the way,” which my class read avidly, especially the pages that had been pre-folded-down for us.

Not at all. Lovey: A Circle of Children was a 1978 TV movie about a teacher of autistic children. Here’s the description from Answers.com:

Lovey: A Circle of Children, Part Two is that TV movie rarity: a sequel that is every bit as terrific as the original. Jane Alexander repeats her role from 1977’s A Circle of Children as a volunteer teacher specializing in autistic and emotionally disturbed children. Hannah (Kris McKeon) is an 11 year old child nicknamed “Lovey.” The girl is given to loud, unexpected and quite violent tantrums, and for a long time it looks as though Ms. Alexander will never get through to her. The social worker’s efforts to help Lovey put a severe strain on her off-hours love life. Despite the soap-opera trappings, Lovey: A Circle of Children shines with the light of truth from first frame to last, with Jane Alexander matching the brilliance of her earlier performance in the same role. Like A Circle of Children, this sequel was based on the autobiographical novel by Mary MacCracken. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

I remember this movie: the calm tones of the teacher, the tantrums of the girl. I know I’m not the only girl who went through a phase of devouring books and movies about kids with developmental or emotional issues. All that nobility and persistence. And tears. I’m certain it made me cry, then. It’d make me cry even more now, I’m sure.

I wonder what I was doing when I wasn’t praying from my heart? Was I just rehearsing words? Trying to pray before bed and falling asleep in the middle?

I like thinking about that twelve-year-old girl who got really into things and wanted to love and understand God was grateful to God for almost everything. I’ve gone through intense times of gratitude since then, and they’re wonderful.

The year we moved back to Grand Rapids from NYC was another such time. We decided to move, my husband got a job that was a promotion in his field, we bought a car, I got pregnant, and we bought a house, all in the space of three months. And then in December I got to dance as Mary in a Lessons & Carols service while I was pregnant — one of the best experiences of my life. I can’t say I was a ray of sunshine all the time, but I was deeply, deeply grateful to God for all of it. Then the child arrived and exhaustion and insecurity took residence for awhile.

You know, I still get enthusiastic about things. I still want to love and understand God. And I’m often grateful.

However, I am not feeling too sunny about sharing the upcoming diaries. The excruciating high school years — exclamation points galore, gushing, soul-bearing, ridiculous behavior. That we all go through it doesn’t make it any better….