Always Find Time to Smile

The world gets whacko sometimes, doesn’t it? We thought road rage was bad, but that devolved into interpersonal aggression in every corner of the country. Between wars, threats of terrorism, Facebook bullying and politics in general, life gets grim…but look at that as all the more reason to smile.

I mean this from the bottom of my heart: The simplest antidote to all this pent up rage is the application of a smile. Paste it on if you have to, but find it. Wear it. Share it. This is the time and the place to do just that!

As a guest columnist, I’d like to share with you one of the things that makes me smile. My second book has just been released, and writing has brought me more pleasure than you can imagine. I started writing the books because I cherish five granddaughters and certain life lessons needed learning without preaching. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with my heroine.

Christine is a girl, every girl, your girl. Perhaps she is you. Born a commoner, she finds herself a princess being trained for royal duties. Doesn’t that just describe each gal on the planet? We do the mundane. We sweep. We cook. We fold laundry. Yet in our hearts we know we wear invisible crowns. We know those simple acts serve a greater good and to the little minions we treasure, we are heroines.

Living vicariously through Christine and her adventures draws me from the sad notes in life and restores my joy. Seeing my granddaughters enjoying the books puts a sparkle in my soul. Do I see myself writing more books? Of course!

And that is my challenge to you, dear readers. Find those grace notes that bring a smile to your face, and put them consciously, intentionally into your life. When you share your smiles, you’ll find others smiling back, and who can be spewing rage when faced with a smile bubbling up and overflowing?  We exercise no control over the world at large, but we each influence a small corner of the world where we hang our hats. So smile and clean up your corner of the world.

The Common Princess 005 book 2 cover aaron


How to Lessen the Impact of Loss

God’s people have never been strangers to grief. They lived in captivity more often than their spurts of sovereignty, which were plagued with treachery and warfare. Jesus was thronged by desperate people because their lives were punctuated with disease and grief. One of my favorite scriptures comes from such a time. “By the waters of Babylon we  laid down and wept, and wept, for thee O Zion.” Their own trail of tears marks the path of my personal loss.

Life in the good ole’ USofA suburbia insulates and protects most of us. Modern medicine reduced morbidity until many only experience death as the loss of an aging grandparent. That feels normal. We expect it. Sudden or traumatic death affects few of us personally. Since it’s more of a vicarious adventure we forget and really don’t wish to remember the grim reaper stalks at will.

For now let’s put aside the reaper…remember that even blest lives experience loss. The loss of a beloved family member fractures the heart, but loss of a job, a difficult move, a pet who dies is just as real…loss isn’t measured on a scale to be real or significant. And so the question that applies to us all is a simple one: How do we deal with grief?

Scripture invites us to taste of the goodness of God. Sadly, many choose to chaw on large of wads of bitterness. But here’s the thing–bitterness spreads through your soul like a cancer, darkening, mutating your joy into despair. In contrast, thankfulness for what does remain in your fractured heart is like planting seeds that will grow and blossom in due season. I practice gratitude daily amid all the heartache, hoping for a bountiful harvest. Do I see any good yet? No. I see no evidence of healing, but this is the winter of my grief. Spring cometh! In the meantime I will continue to plant seeds of gratitude and water them with my tears.The seed lies buried in the fruit

When a Sun Day Isn’t on a Sunday

We home school.  I know, we’re old people, but we home school two of our grandchildren, and the other six are homeschooled as well.  That means we see the world from a little different perspective.  (When we first started 38 years ago, I thought we might just have rocks in our heads.  It didn’t take me long to realize those were Mexican jumping beans doing somersaults of joy.)  It also means that we define words differently from our institutionalized counterparts.  For example, we don’t have snow days.  We enjoy SUN days.cousin love

We may have enjoyed out last SUN day this week.  After a treacherously hot summer and a long anticipated fall, we finally got a short burst of Indian summer this week.  Yes, we took full advantage of it.  All the grands enjoyed some time at a local park, and we sat reveling in what turned out to be the nicest day of the week.

Here’s the thing.  Life requires setting both boundaries and priorities.  Set boundaries to be sure the big, important stuff gets done.  Set priorities so living never gets shoved out of the program.  Balancing on that narrow beam can get tricky, but luckily our state helps us.  In Missouri we are required to log 1000 hours a year of core, non-core, and field trip studies.  We faithfully keep a record of these activities, so when a bonus like a super-gorgeous glorious day comes along…yup, we’re ON it!

We should have spent a few moments eulogizing our institutionalized counterparts and being thankful for our freedom, but nope, we just played and sat in the sun and had a wonderful day together.  Sundays are special in the Rhoads household.  We love going to worship and family dinners.  We love SUN days almost as much. (wink, wink.)

Are You a Bible Wrecker?

bible 4I know people with pristine Bibles.  I am not one of them.  I am an inveterate Bible wrecker and it makes the Word of God come alive for me.  Worse yet for all you pristine Bible lovers, I plan on never mending my ways.

Of course I bean with underlining my favorite passages as a child. I then proceeded on to color coding.  I chose word topics and using colored pencils and highlighters, colored verses with or about those words.  That very soon led to personal 2

Threading ranks as my second favorite form of Bible wrecking.  I find a topic of study, and cross reference one verse to the next and so on throughout the Book.  I found I needed to add the starting and closing verses to the Bible’s concordance in the back to be sure I could find it at a moment’s notice.  Indexing is key for me, because nothing is more frustrating than knowing I have a scripture somewhere in a book of 66 books.  I started running out of space for indexing, and had to get creative.

bible-1-55894952-1539785010836.jpgThen I started adding quotes and reference material by way of inserts.  I began with typing them onto thin tracing paper, but with the advent of computers, quickly resorted to using regular copier papaer.  I learned the hard way not to use rubber cement as a medium for insertion.  It eventually dries out and the insert becomes a nuisance.  Worse, it discolors the margin as it dries.  I now favor a high quality paper crafting

I finally starting adding Washi tape to highlight books since my Bible had no tabs.  Word of warning: Don’t wait to do this.  It’s hard to cover over notes in the margin.  Since my Bible is starting to fall apart, my next new Bible will have Washi tape inserted at the start.

I do enjoy Bible journaling and art journaling, but I use other versions for that pleasure.  When Alma died I found it hard to hold thoughts in my head, and focusing on short phrases kept me in the Word.  I had a wide-margin version of the Bible I already used for that form of meditation and worship, and focused on that medium of study.  I am not an artist, but the whole point is that you don’t have to be.  It’s a form of personal meditation, and I am chagrined to share my simple artwork…but it illustrates the point.  Just do it and stop worrying about perfection.

Being a Bible wrecker offers me a creative outlet and a way to express what the Word means to me.  It also prepares me for sharing intentionally at a moment’s notice.  I hope it makes me a warrior for the Word, not to use it as a weapon, but as a way of zealously defending the King.  Last but not least, it seasons my life with all the benefits of a life with Christ.  Peace, joy, and strength keep me going through this season of loss and change.  The Rock and His Word never fail.  Yup.  I plan on being a Bible wrecker ’till the day I die.  #noregrets


Harbingers of Fall

fall medicareThe harbingers of fall change as we grow old…or do they…as my friend Tim would say.  As a child, fall signaled stomping through crunchy leaves littering the sidewalks.  Later I cherished quaking aspen and epic watercolor scenes painted against the skyline.  Now fall’s glory is reduced to the mountain of Medicare offers I receive as unsolicited mail. Sad harbingers of fall, indeed.

How many noble trees sacrificed their lives for this growing mound of rubbish I’m accumulating?  I feel guilty, though my only complicit act was one of aging.  Yet somehow they died because of me and I feel sad. I mean, do people think I’m reading all this?  Is someone being paid to create and send trash?  Let me just say this:  STOP! End the insanity already.

medicare 2First of all, Medicare should be simple enough for failing minds.  Any plan requiring a syllabus the size of a Sears catalog and a magnifying glass is too complicated.  Second, I can’t afford it.  Looking at the proposed monthly premium I need to fork over, I’d better be getting sick on a regular basis to justify the expense.  Third, get your act together.  Half of Congress acts like they are doing me a favor by making me choose a Medicare plan, and half acts like I’m taking food from their children’s mouths by being alive enough to use it.  Sheesh!  I hear a lot of talk about abolishing Medicare altogether.  Just push me over to the side of the road when I get sick and let me die already.  Oh wait.  That’s what old folks homes are for.

Responsible legislation has become an oxymoron in this day of partisanship and lobbying interests.  Mind you, I hold the AARP in this category as well.  I remember a time when all sides sat at the table and hashed things out to a reasonable compromise, but then, I’m almost 70.  I fear our children and grandchildren have few memories of accord in the political arena, and that, my friends, is the tragedy.  Without a living memory of what Congress was supposed to look like, our hope of a return to sanity grows dimmer every year.  What can I do about this mess?  My electoral mandate is a draining of the swamp.  Strict term limits.  There will always be opportunists and self interests, but limiting the amount of damage they do is a step in the right direction.  Will government die with inexperienced politicians?  Look at our constitutional inception with farmers, soldiers and inexperienced statesmen at the helm.  I think they did a pretty good job!

In the meantime, I plan on getting back to my roots.  I’m bobbing for apples, on a hunt for some good crunchy leaves, and going for long scenic drives.  I choose to set my own harbingers of fall, and I like mine better!

What is YOUR Comfort Margin?

I like spring of course. Who doesn’t? Milder temperatures and fresh balmy breezes never fail to intoxicate the senses. Now that’s comfort! But here’s the thing. It exists as a mere eyelash in time. Blink twice and suddenly it is H-O-T.  I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that my comfort margin may not exist.

fall leaves
Cancelled this year. Sorry, folks!

Then it begins. I dream of fall. I yearn for fall. Will fall ever arrive? I conjure up memories of brisk air and a landscape contrived by a Master painter. Wait for it…Wait for it…When it finally arrives it seems all the more glorious for having waited a lifetime. Wait! What? Blink twice and it becomes another eyelash in time. Who forgot to pay the Power bill this year? My glorious fall suddenly devolved into a sodden mess and I’m a basket case.

After a great deal of annotated analysis (I am, after all, almost seventy) I finally realized my problem. My perfect number is 72. My comfort index is an eyelash, not a sturdy one-inch ribbon. I feel content at 71-73, which I’ve proven exists as a figment of the imagination. I need to cultivate a wider ribbon of comfort. That’s my goal this year. I want to add a degree on each end of the comfort index for a wider margin of comfort. What’s the measure of your comfort of index?


Technology Is Not Your Friend

I know this to be true: Technology is not your friend.  We live in a world drunk with high speed internet, glued to Dick Tracy wristwatches, in love with cell phones tracking us down no matter where we go, and with people standing in line for the newest and best electronic gizmos before they go public.  So enamored with the obvious benefits, we have forgotten a simpler life.  One day you will be forcibly reminded that technology is not your friend.

We used to visit theme parks, split up, and meet every hour at a landmark.  We used to give other people our full attention, without surreptitiously checking a buzz or interrupting the conversation to take an important call.  We used to escape from the grind on vacations, but now the ubiquitous grind goes with us to the beach.  Our once simple lives have become glutted with technology.

Let me just say this:  Technology is not your friend.  One day your trusty cell phone will spiral away, taking 3000 of your favorite photos with it.  Your laptop will flash the blue screen of death at the most inopportune time.  You back it all up, you say?  So you willingly broadcast your life into the great void for who knows what nefarious person to examine and target?  Seriously?  Why not just invite the hacker into your living room?  Oh wait, you already did that.

The worst case scenario? Read One Second After.  A simple act of war can take us all back to a humbler, simpler time, where an unprepared people will kill each other without an enemy needing to waste a bullet.  After all, why decimate the land with toxic nuclear waste, when you could just as easily walk in and inhabit the homes, stores, farms and infrastructure already prepared for you?  Only a few would survive this scenario. Take time now to put those pesky electronics in their place.  Trust me.  Electronics are not your friend.

Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?

People, meaning all of us, you and me, defy easy descriptions.  My oldest son is one I would call an extrovert by every definition.  At the age of 12, if granted any wish for his birthday, his first desire would have been a 12-year-old to live in his room with him.  All the time.  Yup.  An extrovert.aaron

Yet ask him, and he thinks of himself as introvert–a person who recharges his batteries in solitude.  His wife and I laughed at that one, because she and I are on the shy side, and he is anything but shy,  yet it got me thinking.

expoNone of us fit into easy little Facebook icons.  I spent Saturday in one of my side gigs, as a vendor and organizer of a local Expo.  It was demanding.  Lots of little glitches demanded patience, flexibility and ingenuity.  I had to use a microphone and get looked at every so often…me, who hates cameras and mirrors.  I was blessed with a steady stream of shoppers I greeted and blessed to the best of my ability.  I got little to no sleep the night before and spent a long day on my feet, shedding my shoes long before the Expo ended.  Yet I felt energized, not drained.  So am I an extrovert?

Before you decide, know this:  I fail at small talk.  I treasure a few close friends.  Without solitude I get cranky.  I hug the walls at large gatherings.  Yup, I’m a conundrum.  I am an extroverted introvert.  Clear as mud, right?  What is important is knowing yourself.  I believe every single person needs some solitude.  The Psalmist said it best: Be still and know that I am God.  When we live at a frenetic pace without time for reflection, we do ourselves a disservice and lose the grounding that completes us.  Knowing when to be busy and when to stop is crucial for your own mental health.

In a recent discussion at church the whole tension of the Mary/Martha syndrome got a work over.  I would love to be a Mary sometimes, but when the kids all walk in the door, the first question is, “What’s for dinner, Nana?”  Close on its heels comes, “When are we eating, Nana?”   Like all scripture stories, we are given a summary of what took place.  I’m wondering how much older Martha was than Mary.  If Jesus later said, “Help your sister more, kiddo.”  If Martha hadn’t fixed dinner, would He have turned stones to bread? Was there a local catering firm?

Women are called to be Marthas 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Yet they need those Mary moments.  If you are an introvert, you need more Mary moments, and if you are an extrovert, don’t fool yourself.  You still need time for solitude and reflection lest you grow shallow and cold.  The trick is to know yourself.  Know your own warning signals.  Pay attention, and carve Mary moments into your day when you need them.  And if you are a crazy, mixed up extroverted introvert, heaven help you!  You just might be a mess like me, lol.

Book Review: How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies

Bill’s sister wandered through a book store and found this.  She sent it to me.  First published in 1988, I found it still the most comprehensive and helpful book on the subject, despite its age.  This comprehensive guide covers all facets of grieving and healing after loss.  She begins with a thorough lesson on grief–the physical, psychological, and social impacts.  She recognizes the practical implications and how they affect everything from your wallet to where you live.  She doesn’t stop there.

Whether you’ve lost a spouse, a child, a relative, a best friend or a beloved pet, the manifestations of grief threaten to overwhelm daily life.  While no map exists with a direct path to healing, insight does help.  A lot.

We lost Alma so suddenly, there was no time to say goodbye.  He was gone by the time we reached the hospital, and I found myself sobbing over his body, a part of me astonished by the depth of my expression, and a part of me asking, “What just happened here?”  I remained paralyzed for weeks, racked by the shattering question, “How could my son lay dying 100 yards from me and I not know that?  How is that even possible?”  Healing remains slow and each gain hard won. waiting

But let me be totally honest.  I didn’t want to just say goodbye, I wanted to say, “Could you fix the mower?” “I’d love a new coffee table, would you make me one?” “Katelyn is getting pretty saucy, could you start a boot camp and bring her in line?” “Would you go with us to Alaska?”  I still want to say all those things, and I still watch for him to walk through that door.  I am not the only one.

Finding the will, the courage, the peace, the strength, the oomph to go on living is a good thing.  I heartily recommend this excellent read.

Art Journalling for Grieving Parents

I admit it freely.  I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination.  I accepted that grim verdict in kindergarten, when my stick figures looked like trees from stories straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the scary ones (and that’s about all of them).  Fast forward 60 years, tamp in excruciating loss, and something magical happens when I get creative with my favorite scriptures.  Don’t get your hopes up.  It’s still not art.  But it’s MY art, and I love the experience, even when I don’t necessarily love the outcome.

My fascination began several years ago.  I first purchased a Bible with wide margins, because of course I needed space for my masterpieces (smiling, here), and I was NOT going to try anything disastrous in my study Bible, already cross-referenced and color-coded to my heart’s desire.  I found one with simple wording, and I loved it.  Then I got some colored pencils.  Awkward first attempts humbled me and brought it all to a screeching halt.  Nothing on the page resembled the fantasy in my mind.  Feelings of inadequacy were overpowering, so I put it all away for awhile.

Then Alma died.  My brain short-circuited.  I know no other way to put it.  Thoughts turned in circles or wandered off and got lost in a haze of confusion.  Taking a thought from point A to point B took repeated tries and enormous energy.  In between it all I cried a lot.  Counsel like, “Be brave,” or “You’ll get through this,” or “It just takes time,” did little to dissipate the swirl in my head.  I lacked a North Start for orienting myself inside of myself.  In describing sudden loss Dr. Rando aptly states, “The loss is so disruptive that recovery almost always is complicated.  This is because the adaptive capacities are so severely assaulted and the ability to cope is so critically injured that functioning is seriously impaired.  Grievers are overwhelmed.”  How good to know I was normal!

In desperation one day I picked up my journalling Bible.  A short verse that spiraled in my brain found expression on the page and amplified itself into a meaning I could understand.  I began coating pages with gesso, invested in paint markers and calligraphy pens.  I still am not an artist, but God does not require that of me.  He only asks for a willing heart and acceptance of His love; He inspires the outcome.  I hope He likes His handiwork, because it’s not really ART, just art.

How long will this stage last?  I have no idea.  Some days I think I function pretty well.  Other times I am reduced to tears.  As adaptive changes take place within Alma’s family I grieve all over again, and I feel like I’m losing him over and over and over.  Three steps forward, four steps back; five months later I’m still all over the map.  I hope Someone has a perfect plan for all this, because I feel very much like a marker in a game of Parchesi.  I wonder how I’d draw that…