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Sight vs. Vision

Ever notice how life changes without our permission? No matter how well we plan, how disciplined we are, life can change in an instant. The only real constant in life is change.

Some months ago, my eyes started getting fuzzy.  At first I noticed keeping score at my granddaughter’s softball games had me filling in the wrong box on the score sheet or having difficulty tallying hits, runs, or RBIs. I blamed it on the bright sunlight or the fact I had forgotten my hat. But, that didn’t explain dealing with the same issues on rainy days.

Although my handwriting had never been worthy of an A+ in penmanship, it had always been readable. I didn’t write much anymore having become dependent on my computer. Banking online had virtually eliminated the need to write checks, except for a few here and there. Those few had my words slanting up and down, above the lines, below the lines.

The changes didn’t make sense as I had recently had my eyes examined and was sporting new spiffy red glasses.

My frustration spilled over into everything I did. Trying to read street signs or judge distances became a problem so I stopped driving. I was annoyed that using my computer was becoming increasingly difficult; I cut way back on my computer usage.

The final straw was when I could no longer read a book, even the ones in larger print. Increasing the font size on my Kindle was of little help. My blurry vision just got worse, and worse.

I scheduled an appointment to get my eyes checked with a new doctor. She was upbeat, friendly, about the size of a pencil, and looked about fifteen. I liked her immediately. At the end of her thorough exam, she said, “You have a cataract that desperately needs to be removed.”

Her next comment surprised me. “Which eye would you say is your worst eye?” My reply was immediate. “That’s easy, my right eye.”

She looked at me rather strangely, saying, “My exam shows your left, the one with the cataract, is much worse.” So she did some scans; took some pictures.

Thirty minutes later, she showed me photos of her finding. Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), and a growth filled with fluid and blood attached to the back of my right retina. If she had never asked the question, I would never have had a clue.

Two days later, I spent the afternoon at the Cincinnati Eye Institute (CEI) for a battery of tests and heard the ophthalmologist’s confirmation of the diagnosis of Macular Degeneration in both eyes.

The only thing I knew about Macular Degeneration was people with the disease could end up going blind. My mind swirled with questions, and a bunch of scary thoughts.

The ophthalmologist took time to patiently answer questions about the disease and discuss various types of treatment. He prescribed special vitamins and a monthly shot directly into the eyeball to stabilize the growth attached to my retina and slow the progression of the disease.

I learned about the forms of AMD, wet and dry. About 90% of people diagnosed have dry AMD. Early AMD usually starts out as dry, but in about 10% of cases it can develop into wet AMD. I had the disease in both eyes, one was dry and the other was wet.

My mouth opened saying, “Well I always try to do things in an interesting manner.” Sometimes I make the dumbest comments, but the doctor smiled, telling me he liked my attitude.

Although I had been at CEI for over four hours, it seemed in the blink of an eye I was diagnosed, received my first shot, handed a card with appointments for recurring shots and sent home.

After reading the information from the doctor, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a progressive eye condition that damages the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision.

I soon realized there really was nothing much I could do. Accept the doctor’s finding. Pray. Turn the whole thing over to God and let Him take care of the situation.

When I was young, my mother used to tell me, “Don’t ever feel too sorry for yourself because you can look in any direction and see someone much worse off than yourself.”  Her words had seen me through a lot of rough spots and saved me from numerous “worry wart” sessions.

After several months of shots and cataract surgery my blurry vision is improving.  The growth attached to my retina is nearly gone, for now. The swelling and bruising is slowly disappearing. I no longer look like I’ve gone a few rounds with Muhammad Ali or George Foreman. (Sorry these were the only boxers I could think of at the moment.)

I am anxious to order new glasses in a few weeks. New glasses will mean reading the stack of books patiently awaiting my attention, resuming writing my blog, and outlining some thoughts for a new book. New glasses will mean I can drive again. Although, I have to admit I will miss my chauffeur with the bright brown eyes that twinkle when he smiles. Who am I kidding; I’m not giving him up, not after 53 years.

Only downfall: the shots in my eyeball will continue indefinitely. They are a pain, literally, but I can live with them.

Getting older has opened my eyes to see that life just goes on, with or without our permission. It simply is what it is.

Life is every-changing. We cannot control our destiny. However, we can remain optimistic; never losing sight of the beauty and the joy that surrounds us.

Trusting God is in control and feeling His presence all around me; my heart is full of gratitude for the awesome life I have been given.

Ending on a Positive Note: God never promised life would be easy, but He continues to provide strength and guidance to get us through the rough times.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths before you and be steadfast in all your ways.”

Proverbs: 4 25-26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Women’s Retreats

Yesterday, I did something I hadn’t done since April 2011, I was a guest speaker at a women’s retreat.

Occasionally I receive requests asking if I still do speaking engagements saying I was recommended by a friend who heard me speak some years ago, etc. Since my speaking business has been non-existent for seven years, I am always caught by surprise that people would still remember me. I guess it pays to keep the same phone number for so many years.

I don’t know why I accepted this time, except I liked the lady who contacted me and my signature talk was exactly what they wanted for their retreat. Part of me was curious to see if I was capable of doing a presentation seated since I can no longer stand long enough to deliver a 45-60 minute talk.

So glad I accepted. It was a special time. Their theme was a Recipe for Life. The ladies were delightful making me feel right at home as if I were a friend instead of the speaker.

Retreats are a special treat for a speaker. They are an opportunity to see women taking time from busy, hectic schedules to unwind and enjoy time with their friends. Watching as they talk, laugh, and spend time refreshing and renewing their thoughts and minds. I loved that not one cell phone rang.

In one-on-one conversations, a couple of them shared painful experiences when they were going through dark times; some I could relate to while others were things I haven’t experienced yet. I was deeply honored to hear their stories and thank them for their trust.

I couldn’t believe it had been seven years since I had done my last retreat representing my small speaking ministry focused on living a life in balance. 2011 seemed like an eternity ago, when speaking, blogging, everything was put aside so I could care for my daughter after her diagnosis of stage-IV cancer.

Seven years ago, I found other speakers for my upcoming commitments, except one at a retreat where I was the only speaker scheduled to speak four times during the weekend. I already had the talks prepared and wasn’t sure I could find a replacement on short notice, so I did it. The ladies at that retreat also welcomed me as a friend and blessed me with so much love and support. I still am in contact with several of them today.

As I refreshed my talk for Saturday, I was pleased to see that I had remained true to many of the changes referenced in my talk but realized there are still many more that await my attention.

However, I have learned one important thing. I no longer try to do what only God can do? Try to control the uncontrollable, stop the unstoppable, or fix the unfixable.

I often hear people ask, “If God is in control, why doesn’t he change this, or do that, or make this thing better?” I honestly don’t know. But, I have found time and time again that He is trustworthy and faithful. He knows what we need. Knows how our stories end. That’s good enough for me.

I love speaking, making people laugh, but an engagement requires a lot of preparation, strength and stamina. Not sure that is what I should be doing at this stage of my life. Think I’ll let God tell me what He wants me to do.

Which is exactly what I encouraged the women to consider adding to their Recipe for Life on Saturday, since God knows how to combine just the right ingredients to meet all of our needs, no matter what our situation.

Ending on a Positive Note: Age brings the wisdom of allowing God to put your life into perspective. It’s amazing what He can do if we just get out of His way.

“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will direct your path.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Looking for Good

Some years ago, I began to intentionally look for the positive things in my simple, everyday life. I found saying thank you for small kindnesses or letting people know I appreciated them for doing their job well, was very rewarding. Sometimes, it’s hard to spot optimism, but you can find it if you look for it.

I do most of my shopping online because health issues make it difficult to actually shop in person. Online doesn’t always produce a positive experience, but I am slowly weeding out the stores where I have encountered a bad experience. As my shopping outlets are shrinking, some are gaining my trust. Those stores have made it easier to find products I like, easier to maneuver ordering and return policies. And, make it easier to accept shopping online as my new way of life.

Whenever a customer service experience goes well, I thank the young rep (most of them are young these days) for making my order experience go smoothly. If there is a follow-up survey after the experience, I always take the time to complete it. It doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes and time is the one thing I have plenty of.

However, it’s impossible to do doctor visits online. This time of year brings annual visits to several different doctors for a mammogram, ultrasounds, scans, etc. Doctor visits are difficult and usually leave me exhausted.

I try to be punctual for appointments and have my insurance card (and co-pay) readily available. I try to smile, answer questions, and be pleasant with the staff. This week proved to be a bit of a struggle as I encountered several folks who were just downright rude.

I try to overlook rudeness, if possible. I remember having bad days when I was working; days when everything went wrong. Often, we can be rude without even knowing it, I’m sure my life has found me guilty on many occasions.

However, this week one incident sort of got under my skin. Checking in to see the doctor, a young lady was extremely rude to me and to everyone who came in after me. I noticed that most people came through the door with a pleasant expression on their face, but after a few minutes of being treated with no respect, they became irritated. Many lashed out in frustration with anger in their voices.

After seeing the doctor and stopping at the check-out station, the same young lady didn’t even look at me before she said angrily, “Is May 6th okay?”

Trying to keep my cool, I explained I would need to schedule the ultrasound before making an appointment with the doctor. The reason for seeing him was to follow-up to learn the ultrasound results.

It was obvious she wasn’t listening. After repeating my words three times, I stopped talking.

After an awkward pause, she looked up at me with a blank stare. I then said, “Miss, I don’t mean to be impolite, but you are not listening to what I am saying. I must schedule the ultrasound before scheduling the doctor appointment.”

She was angry. Her face was a dark thundercloud; filled with such pain that I somehow knew she wasn’t angry with me.

Her name tag read Susan, so I quietly said, “Susan, obviously you are very upset. I’m sure this isn’t the way you normally do your job. I’m sorry you are having such a bad day. I’m going to say a prayer for your day to get better.”

Susan sat and just looked at me. My mind was whirling, thinking I had said too much, gone too far. I could see Susan was struggling. Her eyes filled with tears. Finally focusing, she leaned forward and whispered, “I am so sorry. Of course, the ultrasound should be scheduled before the doctor’s appointment. In fact, why don’t I schedule your ultrasound and call you back to confirm the date?” I told her that wasn’t necessary, but she insisted.

In the parking lot, I sat for a few minutes praying for Susan; asking God to guide her through the issues that were causing her such pain. I prayed she would find peace in her life.

A thought occurred to me that if I could fill out a survey, I could take a few minutes to pray for people like Susan, even when they didn’t know I was praying. That thought made me happy and is certainly more productive than getting angry.

The next day, Susan called to confirm the ultrasound appointment just as she promised. As we wound up our conversation, she said, “Yesterday was really a rough day for me. Thanks again for your kindness in helping me get through it.” 

Whether we approach someone with positive or negative expectations, they will often (not always) tend to move toward fulfilling our expectations. Seeing positive possibilities in others will encourage them to bring out the best in themselves.

Look for the good in others, and you will likely find it. But encouraging them helps us grow and creates more positive thinking in our own lives.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Ending on a Positive Note: Sometimes God gives us the right words to say to help someone who is struggling with something we don’t understand (or need to understand). I am amazed at God’s faithfulness when we put our trust in Him.

To Have and To Hold

 

Wedding DayTom and I have been married fifty-three years today. Taking our vows in front of God, family, and friends on that balmy, rainy Saturday night in 1964 still glows brightly in my memory.

Tom had a head full of hair, twinkling brown eyes, and was a few pounds lighter than today. I wore a pill-box veil and a size eight wedding gown that my mother had to take it in at the waist. It is now carefully folded in my cedar chest; never to be worn again.

Remembering our wedding vows makes me reflect on how young we were in March 1964. Even though we loved each other and were confident we had chosen wisely, what had we really known about spending the rest of our life together?

I, Agnes, take you, Tom, to be my lawful wedding husband…
Fifty-three years ago, that word husband was brand new. At that point, my experience of marriage was limited to choosing the perfect white dress, making an appointment to get my hair done, being excited about picking out new furniture, and putting gifts away in the apartment that was to be our first home. Oh, and hoping Tom would like my cooking.

To have and to hold from this day forward…
That phrase sounded so romantic. Our love seemed so complete. We walked down the aisle. Tom carried me over the threshold of our new home, a feat he certainly couldn’t do today. I was clueless as to what life would be like along the way to spending 19,345 days together. Our love was just so new, I had no idea how much stronger it would need to be to survive what was to come.

For better, for worse…
I thought our life would be all “for better” days. I couldn’t have even imagined the “for worse” days in front of us. Days of having to live with bad decisions and learning to make the best of whatever came our way.

Struggling to understand and live with the loss of so many loved ones; parents, brothers, and close friends who were like family. I certainly could never have fathomed the unbearable pain of losing one of our children.

Our youth made it hard to comprehend that life could not be perfectly planned. We still had to learn we were not in control.

For richer, for poorer…
We couldn’t imagine the hardships that awaited us, the sacrifices we would have to make. We thought if we worked hard and planned wisely, we would always have more money than bills.

The only thing I did know for sure…when we had children, we would love them with all our hearts. Wouldn’t matter if they were girls or boys, we knew they would be the most important part of our lives. We wanted four, but the doctor stopped us at two. God blessed us beyond measure with two beautiful, bright, funny, kind, and loving daughters who were more than enough. We felt complete. However, when our sweet granddaughters arrived, we discovered our hearts could expand with more love, a love that melted into pure joy.

In sickness and in health…
We weren’t thinking of living with heart attacks and strokes. Our young minds had never even heard of cancer, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s; unknown diseases that would impact our future in unbelievable ways.

To love and to cherish…
As we stood before the minister vowing to love and cherish, we thought our love was perfect, as we shared common goals and seemed to be on the same wavelength. How could we have realized our thinking could be so different when we starting sharing one another’s space? We never envisioned being angry over insignificant things like taking out the garbage or the way we organized the garage.

Until death do us part…
Planning to grow old together, we were two young kids who had not lived long enough to have experienced life’s uncertainty, pain, or loss. Death was for really old people and seemed so far away.

This is my solemn vow…
Our life has been a good one, but not without obstacles and trials along the way. Married life starts out on a high note. With a little luck couples mature at the same time and enjoy a long life together.

Our vows were sacred and we meant them to last forever. Although marriage was harder than we ever dreamed, we did grow into one union, promising never to leave or forsake the other. Though our life has been tough at times we are grateful for mostly “for better” days.

Never considering ourselves poor, but certainly not rich, we prefer to use my mother’s definition as a measure. “No one is ever poor if they are surrounded by people who love them.” That perception has given us more riches than we could ever have dreamed possible. Our lives have been all about family, belonging to each other, and to a God that continues to offer strength, guidance, and faithfulness.

Has health turned to sickness? Today, the boundaries of our world together are defined by our health issues. Tom is still the same man I fell in love with so many years ago, but our illnesses have taken their toll on both of us. We struggle to do things we used to take for granted. We walk like those little Weebles; you know the little wooden people that wobble but never fall down, at least not lately.

Tom’s brown eyes still twinkle when he makes me laugh.  Holding his hand still, makes me feel safe and warm inside. He still makes me feel loved. The oldest in our families now, we talk about our myriads of memories, a lot. Memories serving as the fabric that weaves our happy life together.

People occasionally ask for our secret. How did we stay married so long when many others gave up? Our answer is simple. We took vows; honored our commitments. It was the right thing to do. We loved each other enough to work at making it last. But, at this stage of comfortable love, I tease him that maybe I just have too many years of training invested in him to start over.

Just as we vowed, we are still holding on, still together, and just as we planned growing old together. I believe God knew we belonged together and that’s why He gave us the forever kind of love.

Ending on a Positive Note: Today is a special day, but in many ways, it’s just another day; an ordinary day. We are so grateful for each other and thank God for blessing us with fifty-three years of wonderful ordinary days.

Sharing A Life of Love

Our world is filled with so much pain, so much hurt. We know the good is there, but sometimes it’s hard to see. Imagine that everywhere we looked, we saw only love? What if our world was overflowing with people who were kind, compassionate, and just jam-packed with love?

Have you ever known someone who was bursting with love? And shared it with the world around them?

I do. Unfortunately, I lost two of them last week. They died one day apart, both from brain cancer. Joni was fifty-nine and Brooke was forty.

Brooke and I worked together at the Girl Scouts about fifteen years ago. She was funny, smart, and the most talented person I think I ever met. She always had craft projects in the works.

Even though I was old enough to be her mother, we hit it off. Both big talkers, we never seemed to run out of things to talk about or laugh about. She was a delight.

Her creativity was off the charts, she could do anything. Her knitting was legendary and she was always giving her creations away to others. Constantly looking for new ways to create led her to a true passion for quilting.

She had what I call a happy heart. Her enthusiasm for life, her faith, and giving to others brought her such joy. Her life was all about love and she gave it away to everyone she met.

Joni and I also worked together for a few years at the end of my career, but first met when my husband and I joined Montgomery Community Church (MCC), where her husband was Senior Pastor. Trying to get acquainted, our conversations were a bit tricky because our husbands were both named Tom. We solved the problem by calling them, my Tom and your Tom, which always made us giggle.

We discovered we were both obnoxious mothers. She had three sons, I had two girls. We used to laugh about how foolish we were over our kids and we didn’t care who knew it.

Joni lived up to the expectations of being a good pastor’s wife, always making everyone feel welcome. But, her real ministry was her passion about using God’s spiritual gifts to grow in one’s faith. Her knack for finding just the right volunteer to serve as a greeter, teach a Bible study class, or even work with teens or young children was extraordinary; plus she was always dreaming up new programs, new ways for people to participate. People found her energy and excitement contagious.

When I was doing New Member Classes, Joni would join me during the last class to teach a segment on finding one’s spiritual gifts. Closing the class, I would say something like, “We hope you will join us here at MCC to be encouraged, hear God’s truth, grow spiritually and experience true change in your life.” I would then ask Joni if she had anything to add. Her eyes would crinkle with laughter as she added, “And be sure to check out the minister, I think he’s kind of cute.” 

Joni and I spent most Sunday mornings in the Welcome Center interacting with members and visitors. Watching her walk across the room was a joy. She would stop countless times to smile, share a kind word, inquire as to someone’s health, give lots of hugs, or take time to talk to someone in need. She often said, “I just want to love on everybody I meet.” Loving on people was her calling, her legacy.

Amazing is a word that is often overused these days, but in Joni’s case it accurately described her spirit. She didn’t just have an amazing smile, she glowed. Her example of living her faith was beautiful to observe. She touched so many people, changing their lives by having a willingness to allow God to use her however, whenever.

Both of my friends suffered throughout their cancer battle and I am so grateful they are no longer in pain; totally healed and in the presence of Jesus. They did not know each other, but I’m blessed to have known both of them. I am grateful for their friendship; and for everything they did to make this world a better place.

“We love because He first loved us.” 

I John 4:19 (NIV)

Ending on a Positive Note: Joni and Brooke attracted people with their beautiful smiles, their wonderful sense of humor, and by their shining examples of living a life filled with faith and love. Let their examples inspire all of us to strive to live in the same way.

A Brand New Year

For last year’s words belong

to last year’s language

and next year’s words

await another voice.

And to make an end is to

MAKE A BEGINNING.”

-T.S. Eliot-

___________________________________________

Happy New Year 2017!

Welcoming every New Year is a time for reflection on expectations, opportunities, and change.

I sort of gave up on resolutions a few years ago. I never was successful with keeping them. I got tired of feeling guilty, tired of beating myself up.

In the last seven years, my life has been altered so drastically I barely have had time to contemplate the changes. Frustration, pain, and sorrow often seemed to represent the only changes that were taking place in my life.

I retired, lost too many beloved family members; too many friends. Downsizing, battling health issues, getting rid of years of accumulated “stuff” and working to find a new purpose for living presented tough times.

The transition has been difficult and slow. Adapting to a new style of living. I have learned to prioritize my life, not my stuff. My faith has become more childlike and simple, like my life.

In 2017, I will not waste my days focusing on expectations. I will just take what comes my way and accept what I can’t control. If opportunities arise, I will take the ones that make sense and dismiss those that don’t fit. And change, well, change is what it is. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. Most of the time, change is just different.

Regardless of the reason, changing your life can be overwhelming. Concentrating on the important things, staying positive, and never forgetting who is truly in charge helps you make it through the difficult and changing times.

I am in a good place.

 

Ending on a Positive Note: God’s promise in Isaiah 41:10 reminds me, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.”

Wounded? Survive! Thrive!!!

Wounded-Survive-Thrive-MedSome months ago, I was invited to write a chapter for a new book, Wounded? Survive! Thrive!!!, that was released on January 22, 2013. Guess that makes me an author, well more like a co-author. But, I have to admit I feel good about having my story in print for two reasons:

1. Maybe it will be helpful to other women who are trying to be all things to all people. Maybe it will encourage and offer hope to women who find themselves overextended by the demands of everyday life.

2. Writing it down is a form of turning loose; letting go brings feelings of relief that offer freedom, calm and empowerment.

The book contains candid and heartfelt testimonials from amazing women who have overcome tough times to discover clarity, peace, success and happiness in their lives. This book serves as an inspiration and a reminder of how a woman — no matter what her background or circumstance — can have the strength, grace and bravery to rise above adversity and find the courage and wisdom she never knew she had.

I am the spotlight co-author today on the Facebook Fan Page http://www.facebook.com/WoundedSurviveThrive. Take a minute to check it out.

Ending on a Positive Note: I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this book along with other women with fascinating stories. I’m happy to say the experience has kicked me back into gear and has given me the incentive to finish a book I started several years ago.