Like Riding A Bike

Navigating social media is like riding a bike. The internet provides a highway to virtual communication and sharing of ideas and experiences. Riding it for information and entertainment requires balance, a skill essential in learning to ride a bicycle.

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I learned to ride a bike without the benefit of training wheels. The bike belonged to my brother and had a bar running from steering wheel to seat. I had to throw my leg over the bike to get on the seat. The bike was taller than I so catching my balance mid-air took quite a bit of trial-and-error (and tears.) I practiced on an inclined, graveled driveway with little unexpected traffic.

My dad had promised that I would get my own bike once I learned how to ride one. I remember clearly the excitement and freedom I felt when he drove me to the bike shop and I biked home on my new-to-me blue Schwinn while he followed closely behind me.

My freedom to ride came with learning to ride responsibly and, perhaps, those lessons were the most valuable of all. I learned to look further down the road to assess what was coming up. I learned the consequences of riding through mud puddles and riding rough-shod over bumps and cracks in the path. I learned to never leave my bike out of my sight while out-and-about on my little adventures. Most of all, I learned where I could and could not go and how to make a decision if it was safe to stop and explore or best to just keeping going.

Those early-learned lessons serve me well now as I explore the world virtually. Using the internet to look up basic information and accomplish mundane tasks is easy to master. Social media, however, is much trickier and far more dangerous in many ways. Click-bait tempts frequently. Fake news beckons in my peripheral vision. Mixed among the advertisements and games and ‘like’ and ‘follow’ pleas are those tidbits that keep me signing in every day: family stories and pictures, a peek at friends’ adventures, cool stuff to try, good recipes, funny memes, great photographs.

It is a two-way street; I can post similar things to share with those who like and follow me. I can connect with groups of people who have similar interests and we learn from each other. The rules of etiquette and common conduct keep this virtual world mostly in order.

I have learned, especially on the sites where anyone can see what I post, to be wary of the inherent dangers that lurk in this virtual world. People can and will twist your words to mean something entirely different or take them out of context, or just dislike them outright. They even steal your words and pictures and claim them as their own.

An obvious solution would be to simply avoid these sites altogether and save myself the stress. Is the benefit worth the risk? I think back to why I learned to ride a bike in the first place: for the freedom to explore my world and learn for myself what is out there and how to think about it. How to keep myself safe. How to find my way back home again. That is also the lure for me to participate in the virtual world. So I will ride on!

Subdued Voice

Little TankFacebook memories release emotions that can bring smiles, tears, or perhaps, frowns. Today the suggested memory was a posting I made on November 11, 2012. It was an entry about Little Tank, my newly-acquired aquarium. The posts about life in that fish tank brought smiles and laughter to my facebook friends but today some of those same posts would bring frowns, silence or even scoldings – certainly not “likes”.

Why? Times have changed considerably in four years. I referred to some inhabitants of Little Tank as “immigrants”. I inferred that a headless member floating at the top of the filter had met a violent death. I suggested there was an elitist among them that cowed peasants into hiding among the rocks. When I wrote those posts there were no hidden meanings or reading-between-the-lines messages. They were just a fun way of describing how nature works.

Today I wouldn’t dare post anything like that. We have become so over-sensitized that no one can say anything without someone taking it the wrong way, or taking it too seriously. For the majority of 2016 I have posted very little on social media outside of photographs that are still relatively free from controversy. I have had fewer in-person conversations of consequence. I have learned to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself to preserve a stable, optimistic view of my world.

This is how the majority becomes silent. When I got to that golden age of realization that my days on life are truly numbered, I perceived more keenly what is of greater value to me. My personal life lessons and experiences have baked my character around my personality and my being. I know who I am and who I am not. And I realize that few actually care about what I think after all.

So I just shut up. I continue to learn and grow as I have ability and I now have time to research and fact-check and ponder the world I live in. I care deeply about the future of my country and pray more intensely than I ever have about how God’s children will manage during these end times. My voice was my vote and my prayers will continue for our nation and its leadership.

I take great comfort in this truth from Philippians 3:20a:

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…” 

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned in life is that, no matter how emotionally rocked I am by some circumstance or experience, the feeling and consequences resulting are only temporary. Heaven is my perfect home.Little Tank

Saving Time

Fruit Stand (1 of 1)Summer is transitioning into the season of harvest. Roadside stands overflow with produce to be canned or frozen to be preserved for use at a future time. I don’t can or preserve food but I do save and savor memories.

I use my camera to collect and gather those subjects and scenes that represent a moment of time in my life that I want to re-examine and remember at a later date. Facebook saves our status updates on our timeline, reflecting the concept that we are constantly moving through time and often on a path that represents a line. When a person snaps a picture, they are selecting a moment in time to freeze and preserve and they share this choice on their social media outlets and I, in turn, share what is important in my life.

In photo editing programs you can select any part of a photo and your selection is represented by blinking dashed lines – technically known as “marching ants” – to identify what you have chosen to act upon. You can edit, delete, copy and paste this selection as desired. When I view my friends’ photos and postings on Facebook, I am seeing what they have selected out of their lives to share and I appreciate that their “marching ants” have been chosen because they want to include me, along with their other friends, in seeing life from their perspective. This is the basis for nurturing and maintaining that human connection so important in our culture.

I take care to document those occasions and experiences that represent how I see the world and my place in it. I also take the time to preserve my photos on my website (www.pixelpaula.com) and on my iPad so that when my soul is in need of refreshment, I can easily find and scroll through my albums and choose what views will lift my spirit at that time.

Our recent short road trip to the beaches on Lake Michigan’s western shore not only yielded new memories but also tagged memories from years past. Watching children building a sand castle soon became a replay of me playing in the sand at Henes Park in Menominee, MI, with my sister, as my brother waded further out with his friends and my mother kept a watchful eye on  our baby sister sleeping in the shade.

Seeing the picnics at roadside parks recalled our many family picnics, more than one of which ended with a mad dash to the car as the rain poured down. Dad simply drove up to the grill and flipped the burgers from the car window, fun uninterrupted.

My husband and I celebrated 31 years of marriage on that trip, years that included the making of many memories of all kinds. It is a perk of retirement that I have the time to sift through the timeline of my life and pull out those experiences and events that are saturated with bright blessing and I praise God once again for His mercy that never ends.

It is said that “we always have our memories”. I took this a a promise but realized, as my mother aged through dementia, that it is a hope instead. Her memories broke apart and reconfigured in some rather bizarre ways towards the end of her life. I think seeing her change taught me to not take my memories for granted. Perhaps that is why I invest so much of my time observing my daily timeline and my surroundings. Rather than capturing Pokemon virtual creatures, I capture those moments that seem worthy of preservation, praying that my memories will remain focused and true as long as I have life on this earth.

“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.” – Ecclesiastes 7:14 (NIV)

Whether I remember my memories accurately all the days of my life is up to God and His will for me and I cannot discover anything about my future. Therefore, I take great comfort in His promise that He will be with me always and He will keep me safe in my faith even if my memory is not with me always.

 

Out of Season

My Easter lilies are blooming in my little backyard flower garden. Yes, in July. One bloomed last October, too. Easter was early this year and the grouJuly Lily (1 of 1)nd was still frozen so I completely understand why neither one bloomed then. At least they are in sync with each other now.

It catches my attention when normal strays from its predicable path. I find it fascinating for a moment but then I want things to get back in line and behave themselves.

I am still early enough in retirement that I am not settled on the definition of normal for this time in my life. Everything was new the first year but now we are seeing cycles and seasons repeat. Last summer at this time I was excited about our big trip out West. We are not planning any special travel this year so I have turned my attention to other activities.

Next year is the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation and I am hoping to join a special tour to Germany to celebrate that event. This will be a solo trip as there is only one interested party in this family. This summer I signed up with a temporary agency to earn some money to fund this little adventure.

The first job offered was five weeks of painting dorm rooms at a local college. I did not accept that opportunity. I vividly recall the physical effort it took to paint just three rooms when we prepared our house for sale and I knew I couldn’t manage that full-time for a month.

Another opportunity involved simple receptionist tasks. A week of doing nothing but answering the phone seemed reasonable and I was told to bring something to do between calls as it would be boring. I was surprised just how tiring it is to sit at desk all day and wait for the phone to ring. I averaged five calls during an eight hour day and had no computer or wireless access. I only had books and my e-reader.

I did take note of what the new hire would be doing to manage that office, however, and I realized that even though I was fully qualified to perform to expectations, I had no desire whatsoever to ever do that again. That spark apparently has been extinguished for good.

Like my garden Easter lilies blooming out of season, my experiences to date with being back in the workplace are out-of-the-norm. Whatever my normal is as a retiree, I want it back. I remember once having a card on my desk in my cubicle that urged me to “Bloom where you are planted.” My roots have taken hold in retirement and I sincerely hope that I can continue to grow them deeply in this enriching soil. Working short-term for a travel goal is tolerable but I am glad it is not a necessity at this time.

 

The Lure of the Chapter

A sign of advancement among emerging readers is when they move from stories that are told beginning-to-end to stories that  have much more content between the beginning and the end. These are known as chapter books and I remember well when I personally was old enough to read them.

ChapterMy husband enjoys reading books one chapter at a time. I was astounded when I learned this about him early in our marriage – my reader style is to read until my eyesight is too blurry to see the words on the page. I have learned from his example the value of savoring a book a chapter at a time and have developed some patience when reading certain types of books.

We’ve all heard the expression about closing a chapter in our lives and moving on to the next one. I have recently realized hat my retirement is shaping up as a series of chapters that benefit from being savored. Earlier stages in my life spanned longer time frames and blended from one to the next with little inner awareness. There was a repetition of seasons, occasions, tasks and responsibilities that cycled through time and again with a certain amount of predictability.

Slightly more than a year into retirement, I am recognizing the variety in the chapters that  wrap themselves around the activities I engage in now. In the past year, I have cultivated my interest in music and photography. I have renewed a relationship with elementary education through my opportunity to volunteer at St. Stephen Lutheran School. I have served a term on a board for a music organization and worked my first election. I have traveled to beautiful places and have learned complex new things through both live and online classes.

Now I am into the second year in our new home and while some things, like the church seasons, are predicable and dependable, other things are wide open to choice. As summer approaches, I am free to select from any number of interesting activities and opportunities. Finding temporary jobs to build up my travel fund is a big unknown, but not a scary one. Working is a choice, not a necessity, at this time. Exploring the opportunities I’ve been offered recently to turn my photography into a business is intriguing.

The idea that is taking hold in my heart, however, is the thought of writing another novel. I love being in the initial stage of an idea growing into characters and a setting and a theme that will allow my imagination free reign. I love embarking on research and following paths of fact into fiction. This chapter is to be savored, not rushed. While I really want to know how my characters turn out, I am content to learn to know them a chapter at a time.

All my life I have known the verse from Philippians 4:6:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

I prayed this verse many times during dark chapters in my life, seeking God’s direction on how to escape from whatever trouble I was experiencing. Gaining insight and wisdom from the previous chapters in my life, I now pray this verse from a different perspective. Instead of starting from a place of worry and ending at being thankful, I start with being thankful and stop at simply telling God what I think I need. I don’t need to worry about how things will turn out. I have learned to trust that He’s got it all figured out for me.

Whatever the next chapters reveal about my life, I am going to strive to savor them and take the time to read between the lines, to absorb and appreciate what God is writing there.

 

 

Troubled Recall

Marketers excel at phrasing difficult topics in a way that doesn’t ruffle feathers or raise prickly hackles of discomfort. Almost daily I see a television commercial advertising a drug for memory improvement and the ad refers to memory loss as “troubled recall” instead of naming it forgetfulness that might imply you are getting old. The visual image in the ad is a jellyfish that is supposed to represent my changing, decaying brain.Jellyfish (1 of 1)

I have troubled recall but it is not the forgetfulness. We have just begun the season of Lent where we walk an increasingly dim spiritual path until we find ourselves in the total darkness of Good Friday afternoon. It is a journey of repentance. I must recall my sins and be troubled by them in order to fully appreciate the eternal love that shines its brightest when Easter morning dawns.

This year my reflection is troubled by long-ago sins. I find myself thinking about being mean to my sisters and being disrespectful to my parents and not taking responsibility for things that were truly my willful fault. I recall times when I cheated and lied. I think about excuses and rationalizations I used when I didn’t have the courage to just admit I was wrong. I remember sneaking into Mom’s dresser drawer to steal a nickel to buy a candy bar and remaining silent when she didn’t understand why her little stash of change was shrinking. And that is just one example among many.

I am troubled by cowardly choices made in various situations in various jobs where I went along to get along instead of standing up for someone or something that needed support. I recall times when I did stand up for something or someone and it was the wrong thing to do because I was driven by self-centered interests.

Yes, my memory is quite clear on these old matters. Even though I repented of these sins at the time, the consequences shaped my character and, hopefully, changed me for the better. The fact that I still remember the more painful and humiliating incidences after all these years tells me how important it is to deal with my human failings and imperfections every single day of my life on earth. They pile up fast.

I heard in the Ash Wednesday sermon last night that Godly sorrow is a companionship of repentance and faith. I firmly believe my sins were – and are – completely and totally forgiven. When I am troubled by sins old or new, I recall some of the most comforting words in the Bible, the words from Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” 

My troubled recall does not end with the sins I have committed. Sometimes my mind is bothered by thoughts of those who have sinned against me. The Bible is clear on that matter, too: we are directed to forgive one another. Easier said than done. It helps me then to really ponder what happened on Good Friday. When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) he was letting go of the situation and trusting that his Father would do the right and just thing. For me to forgive someone, I must let go of the hurt and pain mentally and emotionally and let God deal with the matter in his own way. Truly letting go, without needing to know how God handled it, brings peace to my heart.

My earthly brain will remain riddled with imperfections until the day I exchange it for a glorified one in Heaven. That brain will be housed in a head wearing a crown of glory won for me by Jesus Christ. That brain will have no use for troubled recall. I rejoice that Jesus was able to make this promise a reality by doing all that was necessary to right the wrongs I have done in his Father’s sight and that I, too, was included in his prayer, “Father forgive them…”

 

 

Piece by Piece

In my last post, I revealed my dream to go to Germany in 2017 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Making this dream come true requires a plan and a lot of discipline. So what is my strategy?

First, I thought about major changes I’ve successfully made in the past. In 2005, I was 25 pounds over my healthiest weight. I joined Weight Watchers online and, one year later, I was at my goal. I have maintained that healthy weight for over ten years now. Success, long term.

In 2009, layoffs were imminent at work and I took a new position at a much reduced salary to remain employed. That’s when I learned to really create and micro-manage a budget. Even after fortunes improved, I faithfully maintained my budget and it has served me well ever since.

In our marriage, my husband is the saver and I am the spender. Financial responsibilities are divided with me managing the bills and routine living expenses and my husband managing the savings and the non-budgeted expenses. I saved for retirement out of my salary and my husband took full responsibility for maintaining the equity/investment value of our first home so we could retire reasonably when the time came.

Whatever discretionary funds I had left after my responsibilities were met, I spent. I was okay at saving for special things on a short-term basis only. Now I am challenged to save for a LONG time and that will require changing my way of thinking.

In reflecting on how I made changes to my thinking in the past, I realize I am most successful when I take things in small pieces. Little effort, multiplied many times, becomes a big result. Taking online surveys that average less than a dollar each seems hardly worth the time but I’ve already earned $20 in less than two weeks.

Small choice changes equal big behavior changes. Skipping the little spontaneous treats – cookies at McDonald’s, my daily Hershey with almonds, etc, – puts $3 a day in my trip savings box. That’s almost $100 a month. Putting loose change in our piggy bank adds up to several hundreds of dollars in a year. (My husband always gives me the bigger share when we cash it in.)

Changing my grocery shopping and cooking habits in minor ways will give me another opportunity to save a little here and there and that can all go to my trip fund, too. Staying out of the App Store and saving the $1.99 for each fun little app – another small change that gives me change to save.

While I intend to get a summer job to earn the bulk of what I need to fund my trip, creating a habit of daily saving will grow into a character change strong enough to sustain over time. Then, even if my trip falls through, I will have the benefit and satisfaction of correcting a weakness that has plagued me all my life. Piece by piece, the picture will be made whole.

Germany Puzzle (1 of 1)

 

Opening Closed Doors

Closed doors instinctively spark curiosity for me. Is the door closed to keep something/someone out?  Or to keep things safe and out of immediate view? Locked doors step up inquisitiveness even more. Who has the key and what request is worthy of unlocking it?

Pausing in the doorway of a new calendar year provides a unique view of the year just past while seeing the vague outlines of the unlocked year ahead. We have some control over how those outlines take shape and, using the past year as a reference, often resolve to add, subtract or change something in the new year.

Last fall I completed work on a photography project for a class I took. The project idea was inspired on October 31st, which is the traditional celebration of the Reformation. I have always loved my German Lutheran heritage and seeing the images yet again of Luther nailing the 95 theses to the Castle church door planted the idea to study church doors through photography.

Searching out and examining closed church doors taught me to see patterns and clues about what happened when those church doors opened. Seeing the wonderful examples of historic church architecture in my area stirred in me a desire to see and photograph the magnificent structures found in European countries.

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be celebrated in 2017. What better time to fulfill my dream to walk the lands that Luther walked and see the walls (and doors) and towns and cities that provided the context for his life’s work?

Achieving a dream requires a tremendous amount of vision, planning, and commitment. Hard work is the key currency required to work out the details. It also requires examining what else is important to me and what compromises and sacrifices I am willing to make throughout the process.

The door to my dream is closed right now, but not locked. Closed Door 2I can pry the tool out of the latch if I am willing to reform my thinking from “got it, spend it” to “earn it, save it.”

My husband is not interested in a trip of this nature and our retirement budget does not include a trip just for me. Therefore, the first sacrifice required of me is to give up some of my well-loved and well-used free time to find temporary jobs to earn the money to fund my dream.

I will not give up my volunteer time at school and I am limited in how much I can earn on Social Security since I am still under age for penalty-free unlimited earning, The tour I have tentatively signed up for is scheduled for late October, 2017, so I have plenty of time to acquire the necessary funds. And there are other changes I can make to carve a trip savings into shape.

Luther was all about reform. Not fundamental change, just reform. Taking that as my guideline, I begin 2016 examining my heart and mind to sort through what thoughts and financial behaviors I can reform in order to conform to what I need to do to nurture and grow my trip dream into reality by October 2017.

The foundation of any dream is to build it on complete and total trust that the Lord God knows best what to give and what to withhold. Whether the trip becomes a reality or is replaced by something unforeseen that would prevent it, I will be blessed. One of my favorite words of God’s truth is from Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I can dream to my heart’s content and know that God will figure out how to use it for my good, either here on earth or else in heaven. But I have to do more than dream. I have to take on the challenge of change if I want to actually set foot in Wartburg Castle.

(If you are interested in how the church door project turned out, click this link: Church Door Gallery )

 

 

 

Dressing Up

Holidays usually include dress-up occasions. As a child, the Sunday School Christmas Eve program was a sure bet for getting a new dress and maybe even new shoes. A frequent Santa request from me was a new set of paper dolls. My all-time favorite was the year I got The Lennon Sisters and I could create endless outfits and miniature stages for them to perform on for my winter entertainment.

Life roles require wardrobes. Every working woman I know has re-invested earnings in job-appropriate attire. When I retired, I happily donated the majority of my work clothes to charity because I was as tired of them as I was of being in the full-time workforce.

One of the prime attractions of the sport of golf for me was being able to wear cute outfits at resorts. Workout clothes are another favorite – comfortable, functional and a clear statement that I have good intentions about physical fitness.

Finding the right outfit can be stressful and exciting at the same time. One year my boss gave me her ticket to a very fancy award banquet and I spent a month’s worth of weekends researching and shopping and worrying about coming up with an outfit that was “right” for the occasion.

Some occasions call for uniformity and the many musical groups I’ve

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Concert ready

performed with all have a dress code, usually involving black. I loved coming up with costumes for our annual Halloween concert when I played in the Canton Concert Band.

Deciding what to wear became more of an issue as I grew older. The night before a workday I would choose an outfit and hang it on the closet door so it was ready to go in the morning. I seldom wore what I selected, however, and instead rummaged through everything until I was satisfied with something. Looking back, I think it was an expression of stress about the chaos the day would likely hold.

But when the anticipation was for a fun event, then my chosen outfit hung on the bedroom door where I could see it in the days leading up to the occasion and enjoy visualizing the fun the occasion promised.

Most little girls dream of the clothing they will wear on their wedding day. This is the ultimate day of decoration and the occasion is worthy of the thought and expense required to do it justice. It is also the day that God uses as an example to enlighten us on the eternal clothing we will wear. Isaiah 61:10 (NIV) expresses it this way:

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

I find it comforting that there is no doubt about how I will be dressed in Heaven, thanks to Jesus’ clothing himself in humanity and successfully completing the work of my salvation.

 

Blooming Cycles

African violets in the stores are always in full bloom. I am lured by their beauty and think that if they can thrive under harsh store lights, surely they will thrive in my home. Or not.

My grandmother had a beautiful array of these flowers in the window of her small, neighborhood grocery store and whenever we visited, they were in bloom. I’ve even seen them thrive in the cubical world at work and bloom repeatedly.

I’ve made several attempts over the years to enjoy these lovely plants. Once the original blooms die off, I never got them to bloom again. I tried various windows and researched how often to water and feed them. Each effort eventually ended in long seasons of healthy, green stems and leaves, but no flowers.

African Violets

African Violets

Now that I am retired, I thought I would give these flowers another try. I bought seven plants, all in full bloom. As before, the blossoms eventually died off and beautiful, evergreen leaves remained. But this time I was able to give them proper attention and, after several months, I saw tiny buds begin to form. By fall, all plants were in full bloom.

By fall, I was also back in the classroom after a 30+ year absence. I am a volunteer tutor two mornings a week. It took a few weeks, but gradually, my skills and enthusiasm returned. I was beginning to thrive again in an environment once very near and dear to my heart.

As I look back over the decades, I began to identify times in my life when I was involved in challenges and projects that brought out the best in me. In between those peaks were the evergreen times when there were no clusters of varied blooms, just routine, yet productive, days.

I have often thought of different phases of my life as growth cycles but not necessarily as blooming cycles. As I see the many activities I have already incorporated into my retirement lifestyle since February, I realize I am not only in a growth cycle but most definitely a blooming cycle. It is sweet.

Isaiah 40:8 reminds me that eventually these cycles of change will come to an end, but one thing will remain always:

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (NIV)

Changing from going to work every day to having multiple choices of how to live each day was a time of stress that yielded to a time of peace. Throughout it all, God’s Word sustained me with instruction and promise. My African violets remind me that whether my life is in an evergreen stage, a blooming stage, or eventually, a dying stage, God’s Word will not change. That is a source of great comfort to me.