Permanently Public

Dad's letterFrom my 2015 Journal. My father was a prolific letter writer, and I followed his example for many years, handwriting weekly missives to all my friends. On more than one occasion, someone has kept a letter I’ve sent and, long after I’d forgotten about it, shared it with me. It’s scary to think that something I said 40 to 50 years ago impacted someone so much that they kept it on file. Technology, meanwhile, has opened up a venue for exposing us like no other medium I know. I’m often surprised to see copies of letters or documents that were kept, photocopied, and posted online for the entire world to see. These become permanent records somewhere “out there” for future generations to mine through and discover.

Back in New Testament times, letters were carefully preserved and copied by hand, shared with several churches, and passed down through the generations. John the evangelist wrote a personal letter to “the elect lady” in II John and told her not to allow certain people into her home and not to give them encouragement or Godspeed. Typically, in the past, I’ve read the Scriptures as if every word were written to me. Thus, when I’d read this passage, I would try to figure out who in the world I shouldn’t “allow into my home.” That is an unhealthy exercise in futility! Since no husband is mentioned in this book, I assume John was giving her some advice about protecting herself and her faith.

The Word of God is inspired, and the Holy Spirit moved in men’s hearts, but sometimes men wrote out of their triggers, and most certainly out of their personalities. When I read the epistles as letters to a specific person or persons at a specific point in time, it feels like I’m peeking into someone’s private mailbag. I’m not sure I’d want some of my Facebook posts, letters, emails, or texts broadcast all over the world, published, and reprinted for future generations!

And then there’s that slanderous reference to Diotrephes.

I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not acknowledge us (III John 1:9 NET).

Yikes! How I would blush to see my name referred to like this in a public letter! Perhaps Diotrephes was too full of pride to care. But I wonder at the time if John had any inkling how permanent his words were to become.

I once wrote an angry letter to an organization with whom I still have a relationship. I regret that now. Did my letter get permanently filed under “Difficult People”? I have since learned my lesson: never respond in writing while I’m feeling triggered. Work through my emotions first and my tone will change.

How would my communication change if I knew my words were permanent?

Word for the Year 2018 – Stretch

For the past 20 years or so, I have chosen a Word for the Year on which to focus. This year it all began with a bad back. I had spent more money than I care to recount at the chiropractor’s office, so when she recommended a book that claimed to fix back problems with stretch exercises, I was all ears. And then I began to think about what it would look like to s-t-r-e-t-c-h mentally. I don’t want to turn into a crotchety old lady, set in her ways, unwilling to stretch and grow. I want to stretch myself, learn new skills, go outside my comfort zone, establish new habits, explore a little, push through any fears or objections or self-doubt.

And so I began to brainstorm ideas and do a little research into free resources for beginners. I made the goal of beginning one new stretch each month. Some goals I continued throughout the year; others I did not. Here’s my list— and below that is how it all played out and what I learned in the process.

  1. Fix my back (yay!)
  2. Dance (seriously?)
  3. Learn something about photography (fun)
  4. Learn to draw (astonishing!)
  5. Visit a new country (Jordan)
  6. Learn the Hebrew alphabet (briefly)
  7. Read War and Peace (slogging)
  8. Maintain a blog (I did it!)
  9. Lose 15 pounds (good)
  10. Play golf (surprise!)
  11. Listen to the Beatles (ugh, okay)
  12. Do some brain exercises (sort of)

Fix My Back

Stretch Foundation bookI purchased a used copy of the book  Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence by Eric Goodman and Peter Park, a revolutionary book on exercises to strengthen your back muscles. I diligently read all the introductory stuff on why it works and then began slowly, adding a new daily stretch only after I’d mastered the first. Once my back muscles learned this new way of bending, I found I didn’t have to continue the regimen after the first month. Now, occasionally, if I feel a little twinge, I immediately go into the stretch routine and it seems to fix the problem.

What I learned: Gratitude! Do what you can, not complain about what you can’t do.

Dance

First, you have to know that I was raised in a culture that taught that dancing was a sin. Even “sacred movement” was a stretch for my imagination. Through the years, however, reason overcame emotion and I knew it was time to attempt the impossible. Somehow my eldest daughter Sharon inherited her grandparents’ (on Scott’s side) ability to move her body in ways that mine rebel against. She urged me to go with her to her dance studio to take my first ever ballroom dance lesson—the waltz. To make sure I would have a successful experience, Sharon taught me the box step in the privacy of my living room. I was shocked to discover I could actually follow instructions and make my body do what the instructor said: start with my right foot going backward and count out loud to six. Why did I think this would be so hard to do?

Next, I signed up for free line-dancing classes at the St. Clair’s Senior Center. The teacher was so patient and kind and encouraging that I actually began to have fun in spite of my two left feet! Will I continue? I doubt it. I just wanted to be able to say I did it.

What I learned: Quit the negative self-talk! With a positive attitude and lots of practice, I found some measure of success in this endeavor. (p.s. Didja notice I purposely have no photo for this one?)

Learn Something about Photography

Stretch shadow

Late afternoon walk

This was a rather nebulous goal since I didn’t know what I didn’t know. If you look at the photos on my phone, you’ll notice a theme: flowers, trees, flowers, trees, grandchildren, flowers, trees, grandchildren. I wanted to improve my ability to perceive what makes a good photograph, so first I enlisted my youngest daughter Katie, a professional photographer, to give me a lesson. We talked about perspective, lighting, and the rule of three and what makes a photo interesting. Next, I picked up an old textbook at a secondhand store and read through all the chapters except how to develop film (I said it was an old textbook). I figured out I didn’t care about apertures and lens types. I just wanted to learn more about composition, framing, clutter, etc.

What I learned: “It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Learn to Draw

I claim that when my sister Grace (a renowned gourd artist gourdsbygrace.com ) was born, she sucked all the artistic genes out of my mother’s womb and left me with the dubious ability of drawing stick figures and crooked lines. Our middle daughter Cindy is a master 3-D sculpturist. Talk about intimidating! I am in awe of her artwork. But she agreed to give me a lesson in the basic elements of art.

So what is a girl to do if she just wants to learn how to draw? I ordered a used copy of The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, and discovered that I’d been fooling myself all these years. I actually could draw if I could just get past my left brain!

Stretch hand

My left hand

Over the course of the year, I worked through the exercises in the book and began to train myself to see the world through different eyes. Will I ever be as good as my naturally-gifted family members? No way! I don’t have the drive or passion to spend the hours it would take to develop this skill. But it was a fun process of discovery.

MonkeyThen a friend told me about twice-a-month free art classes for senior citizens (there’s some compensation for getting older apparently). I decided I needed to get over myself and just make an attempt, no matter how bad the result. The teacher was encouraging and complimentary, and I began to gain a little more confidence each time I went. We were introduced to a variety of styles and mediums and techniques, so every attempt made me feel like a first-grader, but I made some new friends and we all muddled through it together. I threw away most of my creations but kept my papier-mâché monkey to add to my sock monkey collection.

What I learned: I was shocked to discover that I could actually do what I thought was impossible.

Visit a new country

Stretch camel

Petra

In April, Scott and I had the privilege of returning to Israel with Charlie Dyer (The Land and the Book), but this time we also visited Jordan. I found myself stretched in the dry wilderness, the border crossings, the foreign food, mosques in every town and village, the ladies all dressed in hijabs. But I think my biggest stretch experience was peeing while squatting over a hole in a bathroom stall and having to call for help from the male attendant when the door jammed shut!

The highlight for me was visiting Petra where I experienced my first camel ride. There we learned about Nabateans and the spice routes, and we purchased samples of frankincense and myrrh—gifts the Magi gave to Jesus at His birth (more expensive than gold we learned).

What I learned: Make sure to invest in good walking shoes. Stay hydrated but time your bathroom breaks!

Learn the Hebrew Alphabet

Stretch alefbetIn preparation for our trip to Israel, I found a website “How to Learn the Hebrew Alphabet in Under 1 Hour.” I tried it and it worked! Except that after that hour I forgot it. Yes, at my age it takes ten times as long to make information stick in my brain, so I had to keep practicing and reviewing and practicing and reviewing. However, I managed to make out most letters on the street signs in Israel. Never mind that I didn’t know what a word meant. I was just excited to be able to recognize the alphabet—read from right to left of course. Now that I’m back in the USA, I’ve forgotten half of it again. Sigh.

What I learned: It didn’t occur to me that, like English, there’s a difference between hand-written, printed, and signage letters, and oh, don’t forget the dots. Confusing!

Read War and Peace

War and Peace (Modern Library Classics)Ever since I began reading the classics in junior high, people would shudder if you mentioned the epic novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. The length alone was a deterrent to any but the most dedicated reader (my paperback copy, translated by Constance Garnett, has 1,386 pages). Besides, I have a mental block against the subject of history, so why not add this novel to my stretch goals this year! Before I began reading, I had zero knowledge of Napoleon, of Russian history, and of the War of 1812. I wish I’d known ahead of time that there was a summary of the War on page 1346.

I was determined not to cheat by reading Cliff Notes or downloading a list of characters from the Internet, so after encountering 61 characters in the first section alone, all of whom had multiple names and some had nicknames, I had to create an Excel chart to keep track of them all. I wouldn’t know which ones were important to the plot of the story till later. (Just so you know, among the four characters named Marya, Marya Dmitryevna Ahrosimov was not important.) And even then, deep into the novel, I had to continually refer back to my chart to figure out who was in love with whom. Eventually, I learned that I could ignore 90% of the names and keep following the handful of main characters.

I was so proud of my progress until the day I mentioned it to my history buff friend John Rogalsky who casually observed, “Oh, yeah, I’ve read it twice…” Are you kidding me?!

My favorite Quote: “I simply can’t understand why men can’t get on without war. Why is it we women want nothing of the sort? We don’t care for it.” (Prince Andrey’s wife Liza, p. 24)

What I learned: So was it worth it? You bet! I’m glad I did it, not just for the accomplishment but because of all that I learned in the process. Tolstoy had a lot to say about the causes of war, the forces that move nations, and the role of leadership in history. I also learned some new vocabulary words like cunctator (procrastinator) and excrescences (nodules or growths) and contumely (insolent or insulting language or conduct).

Maintain a Blog

Well, here you are! I had already typed up 40 pages of entries from my hand-written 2007-2017 journals, so I just started there—picking out topics that seemed relevant to this journey called life. And, yes, the over-arching theme I discovered was my pursuit to find inner peace.

What I’ve learned: Some people actually read this stuff. Astonishing!

Lose 15 Pounds

Stretch appI have an inherited blood sugar issue, so the thought of food reduction makes me nervous. Everyone has his or her own pet weight loss plan, but this is what worked for me. I downloaded the app “Lose it” and set my goal to shed 15 pounds at the rate of one pound a week. I loved how easy it was to keep track of what I was eating. Will I set a new goal? I’m not sure yet. Who gets to decide what’s a healthy weight for my age and gender? I feel better, and that’s what counts. The downside, for someone like me who hates clothes shopping, is I had to buy all new pants.

What I learned: Cheating on the app doesn’t help. It’s what you’re actually doing that counts. And drink, drink, drink. My goal was 64 oz. per day. Ugh. But it really and truly made all the difference in my success.

Play Golf

Stretch golfNotice I didn’t say, “Learn to play golf.” Anyone who knows my husband Scott knows that he was born with a golf club in his hand (his grandmother was a Canadian golf champion). Early in our marriage, Scott begged me to join him on the golf course, but my golfing career ended before it got started. The day I relented we were on the second hole when I got a call from the elementary school saying I needed to pick up a sick child. That was the end of that! But when my excuses finally wore themselves out (no money, too busy raising kids, no aptitude, arthritis pain), my sister-in-law gave me her old clubs, Scott bought me a golf bag for Christmas (oh goody) and signed me up for golf lessons with a pro. Thanks, Honey (okay, so there’s a tiny bit of sarcasm attached). My initial goal was not to learn to play golf but to simply spend time with my husband.

What I learned: When I started hitting that little round sphere well enough for it to go up in the air and forward instead of dribble, dribble, dribble, it actually started to get fun. I love being outdoors, so that is a bonus. Oh, and don’t let your husband give you lessons. Just don’t.

Listen to the Beatles

As a sheltered child of missionary parents whose sole musical exposure in Africa was church hymns and Gilbert and Sullivan (my mother’s favorite record), I shunned all things that smacked of rebellion when we came to the States. Listening to the Beatles was off-limits. Unable to converse with the music lovers in my family, however, I decided it was time to educate myself. I grabbed a biography from the library and learned all about quiffs, skiffle, winkle-pickers, and twat ‘ats. (If you don’t know what those are either, I’ll feel vindicated in my ignorance.) And then I listened to about as much music as I could take from a group that lived for sex, drugs, money, and creating new sounds.

What I learned: Just about everything, since I knew nothing. But what I learned confirmed why I’m still not a fan.

Biggest Surprises: The song “Ob la di, ob la da” [which I’d heard but didn’t realize was a Beatles’ song] meaning “Life goes on” was a phrase Paul McCartney heard from a Nigerian friend in London!

I also discovered that one of the first Beatles’ songs was a ditty we sang as children—“My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” Who knew!

Do Some Brain Exercises

After reading The Organized Mind—Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, by Daniel J. Levitin, I was challenged to download an app called BrainHQ (from Posit Science) that provides daily exercises to improve one’s brain. By December I was tired of setting goals and keeping them, so there was no “daily” about this! I thought about purchasing the full version, but I knew I’d never take the time to make this a priority. As an alternative, I considered learning to understand American football, but I couldn’t muster up enough interest to follow through with it.

What I learned: How can one measure if one’s brain capacity has increased? I’ll have to take the experts’ word for it. I think it’s now time to give my brain a rest!

Now it’s your turn. Did you have a Word for the Year? How did yours turn out?

On Becoming a Grandparent

From my Journal 2009. I’ve always wondered how a mom’s heart can be totally filled up with love for a child and then still have room for one more. But God gave me a picture of that today. When Sharon was born, my heart filled up with a warm red glow. When Cindy was born, she added sunshine yellow, and the hues in my heart turned orange. When Katie was born, purple enriched it till I had a royal, multi-colored heart. Now if this doesn’t really work on the color chart, that’s okay. Because the Master Artist knows exactly where in the big picture He needs to dab paint on the canvas. He also knows what color of Himself to use to make the colors pop and sparkle and shimmer and glow, dance and come alive. And now little Jackson Morgan has splashed green all over my heart. Beautiful!

On Nov. 19, 2009, Jackson Morgan Wallace, 8 lb, 4 oz. arrived at 8:49 p.m. in Whiteville, NC.

Grandparenting? It’s great!

  • No pain of childbirth (or is it worse watching your daughter go through pain?)
  • No responsibilities for keeping the child alive (but I have even greater responsibilities to pass along to the next generation all the lessons God has been teaching me.)
  • Confidence in the parenting process—been there, done that, got 3 pink t-shirts!

I wish . . .

  • That we lived closer (but I’m very grateful for Skype.)
  • That I didn’t find myself continually saying, “When you were a baby, I . . .” (Yikes! I’ve turned into my mother!)
  • That I had the Internet, like Cindy, to find all the answers (Moms these days don’t need to depend on grandmas any more for their wisdom. Sigh.)

What I did right . . .

  • I told Cindy what my mother told me:  This is your baby. You get to make all the decisions as to how you’re going to feed him, discipline him, and meet his needs. You know your baby better than anyone else on earth. Listen to advice from others (even from me) if you like, but then ignore it all and go with your gut instinct. But most of all, pray, pray, pray.
  • I prayed for Jack before he was born, during the birth process, and continually after that.
  • I laid hands on him and blessed him.
  • I wrote out my first prayer for Jack the day he was born and presented it to his parents.
  • I quit telling Cindy what to do and asked questions instead. I tried to wait for her to ask for advice (hard).

My future grand-parenting plans

  • Tell Jack I love him every chance I get.
  • Tell Jack that Jesus loves him every chance I get.
  • Maintain a good relationship of trust with his parents.
  • Be available. Say yes as often as I can.
  • Begin a college fund in his name.

My best grandparent joke

A lady walked onto an airplane and glanced around for a seat. “Excuse me,” she said to one man. “Do you have any grandchildren?”

“Why yes I do!” he replied. So she walked on.

She came to another seat, and asked the lady sitting in the aisle, “Do you have any grandchildren?”

“Yes,” she replied proudly, “four of them!” So she walked on.

She came to a third person. “Can I ask you a question? Do you have any grandchildren?”

“No . . .” the person answered. “I don’t. . . .why?”

“Oh good!” the lady exclaimed as she sat down next to her. “Let me show you pictures of mine!”

A 2018 update

Cindy and Alex moved back to our town in Tennessee and had two more boys. What do you do with boys? I asked. Answer: just love ’em! Oh, and stock the toy box with cars instead of baby dolls please, says Benjamin.

Boys 3

Benjamin (6), Jackson (8), and Noah (almost 2)

So now I give you permission to brag on your grand-kids. And if you don’t have any, be sure to adopt one. Every child needs a grandparent!

On Journaling

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3 NASB).

Beautiful young woman covering her mouth with hand. Isolated.

Who will read these pages when I’m dead and gone? Who will care? My family? A friend or two? Who will have access to them? Anyone? I know of one fellow journaler who lost her life’s words in a house fire. How would I feel about that?

Radio Pastor Donald Cole says that, unless you are a Billy Graham, your sphere of influence will only be toward a handful of people. That’s true, but the ripple effect and exponential possibilities make it imperative for us to be faithful in our spheres of influence.

Should I destroy some of my journals? Blot out any offensive thoughts? If I cannot be honest in my writing, I cannot be honest with myself.

Lord, I can only pray that my words will not harm anyone. Please help me keep a watch over the door of my lips.