Saturday, December 30, 2006

Prayer time

I try to spend time on a regular basis in prayer. I wish I could say that I spent quality time in prayer every day. Sometime it is so . . . . but I'm still working on consistency. And I have several prayer styles. Sometimes, it is a quick prayer right before I go to bed. I've learned that bedtime is NOT a good time for praying for things you are worried about. For me, it just puts my mind on them and part of my brain churns rather then letting them go. Evening prayer time is better for thanksgiving and praise.

My best prayer time is in the mornings out on my porch. I've begun to treasure that time. I generally take a cup of tea or coffee and something that looks like breakfast. I sit in my iron chair with the iron ottoman to prop my feet up. I listen and watch for birds. I read a passage from the One Year Bible. I generally have at least one other devotional or meditation book. And I have a journal. I've gone through quite a few. Each journal book clocks a different period of time. I just finished one that I started in March.

To match my personality, my journal entries are eclectic. Lately, I've been jotting down the birds I see along with the devotional thoughts that "spoke" to me. And, I write my prayers. I suspect I should tell my children and husband never to read my journals , because some of the prayer thoughts concerning other people are private, personal secrets. And then again, they are a written history of how God has answered my prayers over time. I pray for my family, I pray for my friends. I pray for my congregation, for world events. I pray for our daily needs, our financial security. I believe in praying specifically.

The Workbook on Intercessory Prayer by Maxie Dunnam stressed the importance of praying for each other with the thought that God can't answer what we don't ask. While it was a great study on prayer, I found myself becoming compulsive in my prayers. I felt a big burden on my shoulders. If I did not pray for it, if I did not pray hard enough about it, if I did not have enough faith . . . . was I letting someone down?

The first year my friend, Debbie, was fighting cancer, I prayed every day for her healing. I pleaded with God. I gave him what I thought were very good reasons why he should heal her. My nephew, Blake, was in Iraq as a Marine. I had a prayer litany that I said for each of them every night as I went to sleep. Blake is back from Iraq, safe in all the ways I prayed. There are even miracle stories - his vehicle hitting a land mine - and no one was hurt or killed. He could feel the prayer shields around him, protecting him in that far away place. Debbie is still fighting cancer. Somewhere along the way, God gave me a sense of peace about Debbie. I can't explain it. I still pray for her, regularly, intensely . . . but not every day.

A group of us pray regularly with Debbie. One of the ladies has commented that God will hear and answer these sweet prayers we are offering to him. We pray before each chemo session. Each of us brings a different perspective - the doctors, her physical comfort, her peace of mind, strength for her family, as well as for complete healing. While Debbie is still fighting cancer, she is still alive, still strong, and still vibrant. Two years ago, she came very close to death. I believe that the continuous prayers for her were answered, she is still alive and so much stronger than she was this time two years ago. She has lived life fully, travelling the world with her husband, enjoying her children these last two years. She will tell you of how God has been with her and given her strength and courage.

As I contemplate and meditate, I know that I do not have the same world view as God. I do not have His wisdom. I can not see what He sees. This time last year, we were worried about my father-in-law. I emailed our preacher, Roger, to get Gene on the church's prayer list. I will never forget his reply: "praying for God's perfect will." While last year, Gene seemed near death, this year he has stablized and is so much better than last year.

While my job is to pray, and to pray without ceasing, it is NOT my job to second guess whether my prayers are "good enough," whether I have enough faith, whether I am righteous enough, etc. God knows what we need before we ever ask. But our prayers of petition are an acknowledgement of who is in control of this world.

During these years I have told my friend that what is supposed to happen will happen. While it may sound fatalistic, this concept gives me a lot of peace. I am acting as a prayer warrier in a battle whose ultimate victory is already assured. God already knows the end of the story. I believe that it will in some way be a victory. While bad things can happen to good people, I also believe that God is still in control of this world and active in it. I don't know what God's perfect will is for my friend, for my family, or even for myself. But I know that God hears my prayers and answers them in a way far better than anything I could dream. How do I know this? Is it simply blind faith on my part? I don't think so. Over the last 35 years, I have seen God work out many seemingly impossible situations. Because God is working in the hearts of men, some prayers take longer to answer than others. But the end result is worth waiting for.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Medical Wimp

Yesterday and today were not fully productive days, because it was time for me to get a routine medical test run. The first part involved clear liquids and very foul tasting medicine designed to empty out your digestive tract. I tried, I really tried to drink all 64 oz. But after getting nauseous almost to the point of throwing up combined with chills, I was getting the desired results.

I could not help but think about my friend, Debbie, who is on her third round of chemo. Taking in medicines every three to four weeks that produce the feeling of being "sick," but hold the promise of healing. When I finally decided not to finish the 64 ounces, I knew I was being a wimp. While I had logical reasons, yes, it WAS working, I looked at my behavior and wondered if I would have what it takes to go through chemo. It gave me a whole new perspective on what my friend faces on a regular basis.

Even without my drinking all 64 ounces, they were able to run the abominable test. After putting me to "sleep" this morning, I was declared healthy. And (joy, oh joy) I don't have to do this test for 10 years!!!!!!

Yes, a colonoscopy is not a fun test. The preparation for it is far worse than the test itself. But for people over 50, it is one of the first line tests to prevent one of the few preventable cancers.

So for my readers out there over the age of 50 . . . . go get that annual physical, take care of the body God gave you, go exercise, watch your diet. Life is precious.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Keeping in touch - the importance of words . . .

I've been tired today, staying up late trying to finish up the odds and ends related to the holiday. Trying to get ready to leave again. Much to do and not enough time.

But I got a sweet email today. A lady I worked with in Girl Scouts regularly sends me e-cards, especially at Christmas. This year it was an especially beautiful e-card. It has been several years since we worked together. So it is very special to me that she still remembers me. I sent a thank you email. Her reply:

"You are most welcome. You will never be forgotten. You are a wonderfully, inspirational lady with an amazing heart."

So often we go through life, hoping that we are doing the little things that will help the people around us. Hoping that we will be a beacon of light.

I have another lady from my childhood that I still send Christmas cards to. Usually I don't hear back, but this year she sent me a card thanking me for continuing to remember her after all these years. But she was an important person in my growing up years. Her daughter was my age and our friendship began in 2nd grade. I spent many a night in that upstairs bedroom. I remember a big stuffed dog that lived there. I would carry it around . . . and somehow it always ended up back upstairs. With five kids, she was one busy mom. Later she became my violin teacher, another important relationship as music has always been an important part of my life. I need to send her a more personal letter telling her that I consider her an important person during my formative years.

I know we don't have time to thank or express our appreciation to all the people who have been special blessings to us. But that special email I received brightened my evening tonight.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


In today's world, we create a Christmas dream, a world of peace, joy, family, presents, food and faith. We have popular songs that help create a rosy, warm Christmas expectation. We dream of White Christmas's, Being home for Christmas, Decking the Halls, and Roasting Chestnuts on an open fire. We may wish for a simple Christmas, but then get bogged down in the details.

And, ya know, life just keeps right on going. Last year on Christmas Eve, we spent the morning in the emergency room with Gene. This year he was much healthier, but Evelyn has developed some health issues. The gifts from her are very special this year, because it was so important to her to get them to us . . . . and so very difficult because of her situation right now. Each year, the realities of old age and its eventualities can put a damper on the Christmas spirit in our hearts. Memories of close family members that are no longer with us can bring grief as we listen to Christmas carols on the radio as we do our errands.

Illness has no respect for holidays. My grandfather died right before Christmas, my grandmother had brain surgery one Christmas Eve. And this year we spent Christmas Eve at the vet's office. Our aging dog, Fluffy went downhill very fast. Before we made our run to Amarillo, he was still running over to get his dinner and while thinner than normal appeared relatively healthy. Sunday he chose to sit outside in the rain in his favorite spots, getting wet and chilled. We assumed that he was choosing his spots, especially when we found him in a dry spot near the garage. However, as darkness fell, he disappeared. When we got ready to feed him, he did not come. We found him in the tall grass near the pond, very weak and unable to stand easily. His back legs would no longer support him. We managed to get him to my shower and warmed him up with hot water. A trip to the veterinary emergency room was next. After the medical tests to determine what was causing the problems (and hoping that they would be treatable), the news was grim. We could bring him home for a few days to love on him and say good bye (and avoid having to put him down on Christmas Eve), or we could choose to let him go. He was ill enough that it was time to say goodbye. It would not be fair to him to spend a few more days sick and unable to get around. The vet kindly allowed us time for one last set of petting and hugging and soft words of love. Blessings upon her! And we were given the blessing of being able to say goodbye rather than finding him dead unexpectedly. That would have been MUCH harder!

I wondered how Christmas would be this year. We got to bed around 3 in the morning and woke up late. Fortunately, Christmas would be at Debra's this year. It was going to be in the afternoon. I had time to finish the wrapping that would have been done Christmas Eve. I had time on the porch to eat breakfast and watch the birds. A beautiful bright red cardinal was the special visitor today. My daughter in law came over and we had some time with her . . . a special visit. Even with the grief and late night, Debra and Jonathan cooked a wonderful meal. We opened our packages, watched the Cowboys game, and played with her puppies. And, we found Christmas joy.

One of the miracles of Christmas this year for us, an environment away from our missing canine friend, the special fellowship of time together as a family (our first Christmas with Jonathan), and the new puppy friends (who were oh so ready to be held, cuddled and loved) helped create a very special time for us this year. Yes . . . God is good and Christmas is still special. Thank you, Father!

Christmas Shopping

I have always tended to operate on the principal of working on whichever project is due next. And I always have projects.

Some years, I buy Christmas presents throughout the year as we visit various parts of the country and find regional gifts. Some years, I have gone into a flurry of making gifts - homemade breads, painted items, jewelry, etc. Lately, I've started printing my own Christmas cards and calendars. The first two years I sent the calendars to internet companies to print . . . this year I printed my own. While I had quality control and creative control, it did not end up being either cost effective or time efficient. But I think the recipients will enjoy the calendars, so it was worth it.

But there always seems to be last minute Christmas gift shopping. Over the past few years, I have spent the better part of one or two days hitting my favorite stores (Penney's, Dillards, Macy's, etc) rounding up the presents for family and friends. If I wait and do it close to Christmas, the selection may be less, but I HAVE to make quick decisions. If I try shopping earlier, one part of my brain "thinks" that I have more time, so I don't need to buy it today. I think that one reality is that if I would do my shopping in November with the mindset that I'm going to do most of it in one day, the end result would be very similar, but I would have less "deadline" stress. And more time to do the wrapping or enjoy the final days approaching Christmas with more calm and less stress.

The one danger I can see in the early shopping is that as I learn what people's wish lists are, I might end up spending more money . . . or I might find more of those "little" gifts. Early shopping also requires a mindset of just deciding that you have completed the task. With the last minute frenzy being such a confirmed habit, if I really got most of it done early, I would need to remind myself regularly that the shopping truly is done.

Yes . . . I need to do more of my Christmas preparation in November. This year we were travelling and I have not been finding as many gifts as in past year.

One of the small miracles of the season is that one really does get the important gifts bought and delivered. And one does reach a point of declaring it done. For me, this occurred on December 23 with a followup trip to the grocery store, December 24.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Printing Calendars

I did my first photo calendar two years ago. I sent it off to be printed and had to have them reprinted due to a printing error. Last year, I also sent the photos off to be printed at Shutterfly. I liked the job that Shutterfly did, but when I checked out prices, they were not running the sale that they were last year. To get an advantageous price, I needed to order 50 calendars. I only need a little over 30 at this point. I checked around with two local printers and the price was still higher. I went and looked at papers at Office Depot and decided to try printing myself this year.

End result: I'm pleased with the appearance of my calendar. The paper is not quite as thick as last years, but the colors printed out vibrantly on my i9900 printer. I've printed roughly 25 of the calendars so far. Time and energy . . . get them printed elsewhere . . . . money and cost . . . get them printed elsewhere. My paper cost was not bad, but the i9900 uses ink incredibly fast, and it was not designed for such a hefty, long running print job. One day, it printed photo pages almost all day long. By the end of the day, it was tired. Even when it was not out of ink or paper and not finished with the current print job, it would "rest." If I gave it a few minutes, and pushed the load button on the front, it began printing again. My guess is that something internal was getting hot, or perhaps one ink was about to run out.

I did my Christmas cards again this year. They are easy to print (especially now that I've figured out how to get the image on the paper with no borders and no trimming after the fact.) I printed front and back in a very short period of time.

So . . . an early New Year's Resolution . . . . Get the calendars ready in November and then find someone else to print them.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Growing up in he '50's was a time of keeping things until they wore out, fixing things when they broke, and buying only what you needed. At least that is how it was in my family. Those pioneer roots of hard work, frugality, and thrift came from my great grandparents as they raised 12 children in the early days of the Texas Panhandle. While the Baker house I remember was a large wood frame two story house in Lockney, there are stories of my greatgrandparents living in a dugout. My grandfather told stories of going hungry as he and his brothers drove cattle and wagons to Amarillo as part of the freighting business. While my family was not poor during the Great Depression, that era left its mark on all who lived through it.

When my husband and I first married, we were both students - by definition, poor. As we moved through life and had our children, we always had enough money to do what we needed, but not always a surplus. So in addition to a family background of using things until they were "used up," I also tended to hang on to things because of the reality that if I needed it later I might not be able to buy it. While money is much less of an issue, my first thinking is usually that if it still works, then I probably don't need a new one. But after almost 20 years at the Hutto house, we've slowly but surely been replacing appliances. Last year it was the washer and dryer and dishwasher. The new washer and dryer work so much better than the old one. The dryer finishes a load in the same time the washer takes. It feels as thought the laundry does not take nearly as long (of course there are also fewer of us now.)

I've lost track of how long I've had my current vacuum cleaner, but it has been a long time. The cord is frayed (good thing they put two sets of insulation - otherwise it would have been a fire hazard.) The cord does not retract like it once did. I still have all the attachments and it still vacuums the dirt off the rug. I looked a vacuums last year when I was buying the other appliances, but I could not decide . . . . plus, my old one still worked.

I looked at vacuums on another shopping excursion . . . . I could not help but think that technology was even changing something as simple as a vacuum cleaner. And the most expensive ones were $500.00. I could not imagine spending that much money on a vacuum. But it was time to do some major house cleaning so the house would look pretty for Christmas. My steam cleaner for the carpet has been sitting in the garage for at least five years waiting for me to order a part. So . . . .

I broke down and went to Conn's to look. I passed the expensive Dyson's and looked at the other ones. They all had a modern almost robotic look. I knew I wanted a powerful motor (that is why I chose the last vacuum-it had the biggest motor). The one that appealed to me was one that you could disassemble for "stairs" turning into a small canister. The small rechargeable vacuum I have for the RV does not work well. I picture myself taking this smaller version with us on the road. They only had one steamer - it looked enough like the one I've had that I took it home as well.

I assembled both of them. When I first started vacuuming, I noticed an immediate difference. The new one is more powerful - duh . . . . . could the old one have been wearing out so gradually I just had not noticed?

When I got ready to decorate the Christmas tree, I was pulling out those small "twinkly" lights. The first string I started to work with had one of 4 sets of lights not working. After going through about 10 bulbs with very little luck finding good ones on that bad link, I plugged in some of the other strings. The next two had one group of the four working. No wonder I had not been using them. I had a string of white lights, but I wanted colored lights this year. Now I've heard people talking about just buying new ones instead of trying to juggle bulbs to make the old ones work. I've resisted that idea. But this year . . . . I headed over to the new Home Depot in Hutto. Sure enough, they had new strands of lights (I did not see any replacement bulbs for these twinkly lights). While I have not yet thrown away the old strings of lights, I think I plan to.

And, by the way, I also bought a new shredder this week. I'd been fighting with the older one almost from the beginning. The shredded paper kept jamming. We kept having to take it apart and pull out tiny shredded paper all wrapped around the rollers. When I took it apart the last time, I noticed that the motor was sparking. And there was all that paper dust right near the sparks. Yup, it was past time to have replaced that . . . should have done it a long time ago.

The moral here . . . . there is a time and a place to buy new things - and not just when they are so old they can't function at all. The second part - we've already thrown away the old shredder. Now I've got to be sure the old counterparts of these new things make it out of my house as well.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


At our congregation, we have Care Groups that meet in homes once a month. I have a wonderful group this year. We meet in one of my close friend's homes. Her hospitality and love are very encouraging and special to me. The group is congenial as well, with a pleasant mix of friends I know well and people I am just getting to know. Ron and Linda encourage us to linger and enjoy the fellowship and conversation with each other. I am blessed each time I go.

But sometimes, the conversation heads into politics. This was an election year. And there are many things in our current world that are of concern to Christian people. And there are probably good reasons why people often avoid discussing both politics and religion. God created us to be passionate people. These strong emotions can compel us to make our world a better place. But we are also created as unique beings. We enter life with different personalities. We grow up in different households, in different parts of the country, or even other parts of the world. Our families of origin can be loving and nurturing or cold and harsh. There are many contributing factors to our natural biases. Yes, biases. We think we are fair, knowlegeable, and rational. And for the most part, we are. But there are many natural things that tend to give us "tunnel vision." We all have a different points of view - many times conflicting based upon our life experience, what we read, and who we associate with.

I've talked before about information overload - sensory saturation. Via the internet we can read news and editorials from all over the world. A quick Google Search got me to London Herald Tribune. The headlines that caught my eye - Slum dwellers get free homes in Mumbai, more female fetuses being aborted in India, and Bush's distraction in Iraq has lead to stronger US-China ties. My son follows news threads both from US papers and international papers. While I don't read Al Jazeera on a regular basis, following 9/11 I was reading articles to try to understand why terrorists would fly planes into skyscrapers. I have a tab on my web browser for my local paper Austin American Statesman, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even my small town local paper, The Hutto News. I also have a My Yahoo page set up with headlines from all sorts of places. I click on some of the articles - spending about 30 minutes reading the headlines that caught my attention. I can't possibly read all of this every day. In many ways I've given up trying to keep up with all the latest news.

I think many things shape our political views - what news we read, from which sources; where we live - big city, small town, agricultural, technilogical, northern, southern; our jobs; our religion; our life experience; and even our economic status. There is no way we will all agree on every issue. I'm not even sure there is a way to research all the information. I spent some time yesterday morning researching the history of the toll roads in Texas. I found some useful information, but not enough. I knew I had other things that needed my attention yesterday. Politics was an annoying distraction to my work flow.

The political discussions had disturbed my inner thoughts and tranquility. I was frustrated on many counts. (Not aggravated with the people, just the wide variety of statements - some of which I knew a different set of information because of my own life experience and things I had paid attention to.) And while I've had the privilege of going to Washington and talking to people both elected Representatives and aides in Senator's and Representative's offices, I've chosen to spend my time in life focused on other things. While one person can make a big difference even on the national level, that requires an enormous investment of time and energy. Most of the time I don't feel called in that direction. But when certain internal buttons get pushed, it is easy to second guess that decision.

My morning quiet times have helped calm my inner waters. From Alexandra Stoddard's Grace Notes: " No one can disturb your center unless you allow them to. Has anyone upset you lately? Don't let their angst interfere with your grace. You are not in control of them, but you are in control of yourself."

This morning from my "One Year Bible:
" My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my sould within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forever more."

I have chosen to try to concentrate my efforts on making the immediate world around me a better place. I can do small things. This passage affirms me - I don't have to be concerned with "great matters", God is truly in charge, I can be quiet as a small child. Even though it does not always feel like it, God has this world in his loving hands. I can put my hope in him.

Will there be opportunities for me to do things on a larger scale . . . . perhaps. But my job right now is to live one day at a time focused on trying to do God's will for me each day.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

New Life

Today has been set aside for several months . . . . A baby shower for one of my best friend's grandbaby. During lunch, we entered the delightful arena of thinking about who this new baby will look like. Michelle has Chinese ancestry so we know the baby will have beautiful dark eyes. We also know due to the miracles of modern medicine that a baby girl is on the way. My guess was that this sweet little girl will strongly resemble her beautiful mother with just enough of Rob's features for the Mack family to claim kinship as well. In watching my children as they grew up, I was always astonished to see the faces and features of both my family and Henry's family reflected in different fleeting expressions on my children. These genetic stamps extend beyond physical features. My grandfather was 88 when my son was born. Dementia had already set in. My grandfather never had the patience to wait in line, they always got to the cafeteria right after it opened so they could go right through. As a teenager at Six Flags, my son wandered through the park during the day and rode most of the rides at the end of the evening when most of the other visitors had left and the lines were short. In Rob's family there are cousins who walk with the same pace, cross their legs the same way when they sit, and even hold their forks the same way.

I'm looking forward to meeting this baby girl. She is coming into a precious, happy family. She will be loved and nurtured. What a blessing!

And for me, a privilege to be included in the celebration!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Winter Mornings

Since the major cold front came in a week or so ago, it has been cold to sit on the front porch. I've been fighting some allergy issues that felt like an infection was trying to set in, so I've looked wistfully at the porch and the birds. But I've been missing my bird friends.

So . . . this morning, I bundled up and took my breakfast outside. My spirit soaked in the chatter of the Carolina chickadees and the assorted whistles of the songbirds. The special treats were a juvenile Harris sparrow and a good sighting of a ruby crowned kinglet. Usually the kinglets flit so rapidly that you don't get a good view with your binoculars. But this one found a perch and I got a great view.

It was cold, so I did not linger as long as in warmer weather, but I realized how much I had missed my mornings with my feathered "friends."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas in San Antonio

San Antonio's Riverwalk is a magical place to be at Christmas.

At the Riverwalk Mall the sights and sounds of Christmas fill the senses. From the beautiful tree surrounded by poinsettas to the Wayanay Inka Christmas Music , a visit to the Riverwalk Mall gets one ready for Christmas. You can hear their music by clicking on the songs in the link.

Strolling down the Riverwalk, many of San Antonio's landmarks wear Christmas colors.

While the San Antonio Riverwalk always has a festive feel, the wonderland of lights create an almost magical atmosphere.

While the history of the Alamo is a sobering thought of the horrors of war and a story of remarkable heroes, it is also one of Texas' most beloved landmarks. Trying to photograph it presents difficulties, as you wait for the moment or two when there are no people on the plaza. I've found that waiting until late at night presents the best opportunities. But even so, it is a lesson in patience as you wait for the moment when all the people and cars are out of your frame.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


I have been blessed in life with many friends. I've kept up with several friends from my school days.

In my early years as a Brownie Girl Scout, we sang the song:

"Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold."

Being an only child, I have no brothers or sisters, but God has given me friends that are as close as sisters could be. I have two special friends that also have no sisters. We have become family to each other and we celebrate Christmas and birthdays very similar to the way my husband's family does up in Amarillo.

I met my San Antonio friend, Jane, back in junior high. We've celebrated the joy of weddings, births, graduations, and even house remodeling. We've grieved together over the deaths of friends and family.

Pat entered the friendship circle when Jane and I went to the University of Texas. God has kept this friendship circle going through good times and bad. Over thirty years much happens in one's life. As women, we need friends we can call when life deals us harsh blows. Pat and Jane have seen me through many a difficult time. And, I hope, that I have been as supporting to them as they have been to me over the years.

Each year we get together during the Christmas season. While our children were at home, we would meet either in San Antonio or Austin, or somewhere in between for a day outing. Over the years, it has grown to be a multi day event. We've gone to Galveston, Canyon of the Eagles and Wimberly. This week we celebrated Christmas in San Antonio - first at Jane's house and then at the Riverwalk. A continuing tradition that is an important part of my Christmas season.