Saturday, September 12, 2015

Take Time for Time's Sake

By Brenda Black

In one brief span of an hour, I learned that a steady diet of daytime television is the equivalent to dining on nothing but cotton candy covered in skunk. What a wasteland! My viewing was not by choice, but by entrapment, in the waiting room of a dealership's service department. And just when I had my fill, a daytime t.v. junkie entered the room.

He found the remote control and cranked up the nonsense, cruising through lame tips for better marriages, political bantering over the least important issues, crackpot doctors doling out advice based on anything but science. Then he began his commentary, spewing opinions, obviously fueled by previous days spent lingering tubeside.

Complemented by the smell of stale and burnt popcorn, my stomach began to churn. Try as I might to concentrate on the work on my laptop, I longed for fresh air and something intelligent to ponder. No wonder our world is in such a mess, if this is the garbage filling idle minds day after day. How we, as Americans, do find mindless and futile ways to pilfer the time away.
Time. It is fleeting and fragile. In the past month, I learned of eight individuals I knew personally who passed from this life. Their time suddenly halted. That makes me stop and think just how am I spending this precious commodity in limited quantity that never regenerates.

There are countless ways to invest it, clever ways to enjoy it, powerful ways to utilize it and creative ways to embellish it. But you only get one chance at every minute. Unfortunately, there never seems to be enough of those.

I'm learning as the years fly by that time flies exponentially faster. Each day seems to come and go with lightening rapidity, leaving me shaking my head and wondering how I didn't accomplish more with the time I had. Instead of regretting the tick-tocking that keeps me panicked, I'm trying to become more cognizant of just where all the moments get passed. I won't waste your time listing the petty things that rob my days. Instead, I'd like to challenge you to take a few seconds and evaluate your own limited treasure chest of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and years.

See where it is spurned and spent. Notice when it crawls or flees. Take a moment and make a plan to guard the days ordained for you on this planet. It might just be the best time you've ever spent.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Coming Home from One Side to the Other

By Brenda Black

Show me vivid green pastures dotted with black cattle. Show me white pines and giant oaks stately guarding Ozark hills. Show me rivers glistening and rambling. Show me flooded rice fields dancing on flat bottom land. From west to east, the scenery changes in the Show Me state, offering diversity that is broad and beautiful, one side to the other.

I took the ten-hour round trip tour a couple of weekends ago from Clinton to Sikeston, and home again. The hubs and I criss-crossed 12 counties, marveling at their differences. Though Mark Twain hailed from the opposite corner of the state, his namesake forest across the south central region offered scenic tranquility for part of the journey. The deep, dark, seemingly endless rows of trees surely would have inspired the story teller with as many back wood mysteries as the Mighty Mo river provided a backdrop for the folklore he made famous. And that's the beauty of this great state. Her cultural differences, various industry and natural characteristics run wide and deep, worthy of notice.

I often ponder on such road trips about the outcome of life had I lived just a few hours one way or another from where I call home. How much would the opportunities have changed; how would my world look differently? Would I still have gone to college or met the man I married? We spot pretty homesteads along the route and ask one another from time to time, "How would you like to live there?" We dream for a bit and venture the scenario, then always come up with the same answer. 

"No, I think I'll stay where I am."

There's no place like home. Though I must admit, I am tempted to transplant a few of those gorgeous tall evergreens and borrow a cool, clear stream for personal landscaping. A sprawling ranch with board fences and pristine paddocks, absent of ragweed, looks inviting. I'd like the deep, rich soil for our pastures and garden and some of those mountainous slopes for winter sledding. But, home is home and it always feels good to come back where the roots run deep and the surroundings are familiar.

Sometimes it takes a jaunt just a few hours away to rekindle an appreciation for the place where God planted us. It's nice to see the diversity; fun to enjoy some new scenery. But in the end, when the forest faded away and the sunset came into view, west and ahead, it felt right; it felt good. With some unseen, emotional magnetic force, home keeps pulling us back to the life and the folks we love and the history we've created.

From one side to the other, our state is spectacular and it's people memorable. Still, from one side to the other, home is preferable, and I'm glad each time I get there.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

BTS and an Empty Nest

By Brenda Black

Once upon a time, I was shopping for backpacks, pencils and ruled paper in early August. The approaching autumn and school activities merited new clothes and shoes that fit our young sons. It hit me like a ton of bricks how long ago that now seems, as I watched hoards of families stock piling school supplies on “No Sales Tax” weekend. I nearly bought a box of crayons and a coloring book for myself, just for the sake of nostalgia. Besides I've heard it's great therapy for alleviating stress.

Funny how, on this side of time and distance, one only remembers the wonderment of back-to-school preps. We deny there were hassles and headaches. We conveniently forget how big of a dent the new clothes, paste and gym shoes put into our pocketbook. All we recall is smiling, cherub faces gleaming over Disney lunch boxes.

Perhaps this pollyannish mindset is the transfer of our own childhood memories upon our offspring. Truth be told, I still have my pink Tinker Bell lunch box. To me it still smells like tuna fish sandwiches – the good kind with sweet, homemade pickle relish and just the right amount of Miracle Whip -- lovingly cut by my mamma into perfect triangles that little hands could easily grip.

Wouldn't it be nice to turn that polyurethane insulated lunch bag into a time machine so that every time your baby opened it, the clock stood still and they stayed little. Then, once in a while, we could borrow it's magic, flip up the lid and step inside and go back to our own time of innocence.

So much for dreaming. We can't stop time and we can't go back. With the honor of motherhood comes happy memories as well as heartache. It would be nice if babies came with a guarantee of staying tiny. No colic, no tears, no toddler crashes, no loneliness on the playground and no teenage tragedies. It would be comforting to not have to worry over tough tests or deceitful friends or twenty-something break-ups. We'd like to think our child's life a bed of roses and innocence. But in the end, such a child would be spoiled and weak and have no history or meaningful memories. For all of life's experiences shape them into men and women we'll respect and upon which we may even depend. The whole of it is what makes watching them grow up worth the pain of letting it happen.

The instinct to provide and protect never ends. A desire to catch them before they fall or kiss all hurt away is protocol in the parent guidebook. That's what moms and dads do. We buy the supplies, we shuttle them to the practices. We check their progress and we carry their burdens like they were heaped in a backpack and strapped to our own shoulders. We watch them grow, without our permission, and cling to the memories of when they were little.

Then, one day, we look up to them. We step under the arm of a towering son, instead of holding him in our lap. We laugh like adult friends instead of warring like a mother at odds with her teenage daughter. We watch them launch. We celebrate their marriage. We welcome grandbabies and start the process all over!

Back to school takes me back in time. Back to when my children were babies. Yep, I think I'm going to go get that coloring book and use it as a bit of therapy to occupy and ease my mind, here in my empty nest.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Can't Fix This

By Brenda Black

Confession: I'm a fixer. Couple that with my strong will to not wait for someone to come to the rescue, and it warps into a MacGyver complex. You see, I am fairly convinced that nearly anything can be repaired by using assorted items from the junk drawer. Take a look. There's gum for adhesive, a paperclip that doubles as a skrewdriver or key ring. Most recently, I stopped a leaking toilet handle with a handy bread wrapper twist tie. A good supply of duct tape, super glue, baling twine and ingenuity has been known to save thousands of dollars and extend the life of countless gadgets, from household appliances to farm implements. Tada! Consider it fixed.

The frugal stubbornness that has found me digging through old rusty buckets for just the right little doodad can be a blessing. It not only saves money, but instills independence. It rekindles creativity. Thinking outside the box in an effort to make do or rectify a problem comes with satisfaction. So much so, that when I come to a situation without remedy from my make-shift arsenal of stuff at-the-ready, I fail miserably accepting the fact that I can't fix this.

 The let down over breakdowns is only intensified when the broken thing is not a thing, but a human being – one I love. That drives me the craziest; I'm still confessing. When I can't patch them with gorilla glue, and there isn't a bandage big enough to cover the disease, it grieves me. When I can't tie up their heartache with left over streamers from a helium balloon, I feel deflated. And that's right where the good Lord would have me to be – totally dependent on His touch and mercy.

The fact that I can't fix it keeps me on my knees. Down there, I don't pilfer through junk to discover a makeshift solution to life's problems. Down there, I can't take credit for my clever concoctions. Down there, it's humbling and has me waiting for someone to come to the rescue. On my knees makes me dependent on the One who can fix it!

Confession: I am tempted to give God a helping hand by making creative suggestions about just how He should whip something up and rectify the problem. Realistically, I know that my remedies come from the junk drawer, while His are perfect.

So, here I remain, able to tinker and strategize quick fixes for minute problems, but incapable of fixing the big issues for my loved ones. And right here is where I need to be – praying. For, when it is all said and done, the prayer of a righteous one fixes much.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Living Ageless

By Brenda Black

Age is relative. Through the eyes of a child, I'm ancient. The perception of a stranger is based on good guesses. In my mind, I'm 20 years younger than the days I've lived on this planet. I can't be this old! I have things I want to do and places I want to go! So, I choose not to define my goals or my energy or my personality by the number of my years. Instead, I plan to just L-I-V-E, live.

Since I'm past the half way mark to 100, I have enough history behind me to afford me some great memories and pretty good lessons upon which to build my theory. Ones that help me know what real love looks like. It's parents still together and committed. It's friends I've known and cherished since childhood. It's a wonderful husband of 30 years and two amazing sons who honor and adore me, even when I don't deserve their love. It's brothers and sisters in Christ from across the globe and a God who gave it all. Yes, to L-I-V-E, is to L-O-V-E. And the longer I live, the longer I have the opportunity.

Fifty plus means I've had time to accumulate a host of interests. Faith, writing, horses, cattle, music, gardening, ministry, cooking, canning, arts and crafts, photography, poetry, fishing, and the list goes on and on. With each passing year, I find something new to explore. I continue to learn. I get to impart my expertise to others who are as interested in my interests. The by-product of time well spent is a well-rounded life full of beauty and opportunity which are only possible because the clock keeps ticking. To L-I-V-E is to walk out your days like an investigative reporter, learning and exploring and finding where you want to invest your time, mind and energy.

V – it's to L-I-V-E victoriously, vivaciously, vibrantly! In every season, there's a time to live out loud. As a child, it's all the “firsts” you attempt and conquer. As a teen, it's the fears and peer pressure you overcome to stay true to yourself. In college, it's discovering and defining your destiny. In marriage, it's investing in the heart and soul of another. As a parent, learning to sacrifice and compromise, while leading and loving completely. Grandparents get to live childhood all over again and remember it through the eyes of innocence. And in every season, laughter and love and time well spent are V-I-T-A-L-L-Y important!

In the E-N-D, though aging is inevitable, age is eternally irrelevant. So, just L-I-V-E like this is the best day of your L-I-F-E.

©2015 The Word's Out-Brenda Black

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Created to Connect

By Brenda Black

There was a time of back porch singing. Aunts, uncles, cousins and kinfolk of every generation gathered regularly. Relatives grew up in the same neighborhood or trickled throughout a county. Family and childhood friends remained near, available to lend a hand when needed. The modern era looks considerably different. It is one of isolation and intentional independence. Families scatter across the globe and cousins are those people you meet every ten years at a dreaded reunion of strangers.

Sure, there are means of immediate contact no matter the geographical distance. Still, a warm hug or firm handshake is hard to acquire through cyberspace. A reassuring look or knowing advice often comes after the fact, diminishing it's timely significance. Spontaneous laughter or a trail of conversation that meanders through family jokes and legacies is hard to recreate apart from direct contact and in-the-moment opportunities.
Humans were created to connect. Science confirms the necessity of community and some have determined that survival of the fittest is not all it's cracked up to be if it means you are left alone in your particular species. Cooperation, not just competition and selfishness, is critical to survival. And that means knowing your neighbors as well as the relatives.

It took a thesis, and a group of neuroscientists, anthropologists and psychologists years of study to discover the importance of community. Oddly enough, God invented our need for others as one of His fundamental aspects of creation --present since the foundation of time. He designed us to desire fellowship, then God established the bonds of marriage and instituted the network of family according to that masterful design. Christ modeled fellowship and friendship, while the Holy Spirit was imparted for constant companionship. We were never intended to be alone.

Community is critical to families and neighbors. It's also imperative in days of convenient techno isolation. Interaction is a fleeting social skill being lost by a generation that would rather bond with a blog, tweet, post or pin, than play catch with the neighbor kid or learn from a grandparent. Can we just make eye contact, PLEASE, once again, and stop talking to each other through a selfie, quick-witted fingers or the top of our downward tilted heads!

Loneliness is the consequence for indifference toward humanity, family ties, or the people next door, whom you've never met. Loneliness is the by-product from technologically connected, but emotionally disconnected people. One day we'll wake up and find we know no one who truly knows us, unless we connect in real time, real ways, with real emotions and human touch. When you need someone in a moment of tragedy or triumph, who are you going to call? With whom will you share your sorrow and grief? How can you celebrate exciting news if you don't have people – crucial, important, loving people in your life? Trust me, a facebook follower or fellow blogger won't be enough. You're going to long for someone to be close and genuine. One day, when you finally have the time to sit on the porch, I hope you aren't still looking at your phone.

We are a community, we are family, we are people, and we need each other desperately. 
 The Word's Out - Brenda Black 2015©

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hey Mom, Take a Whiff of This

By Brenda Black

Prairie Parsley - photo by Brenda Black ©2015
I took a tour of the Briarwood Native Prairie last weekend and was mesmerized by the incredible intricacies and beautiful diversity of more than 200 species of plants. Prairie biologist Elizabeth Hamilton-Steele offered insight on a dozen of the most prominent samples of flora. She provided history on each variety and counseled prairie tourists on whether the plants were edible or poisonous. I appreciated the colorful scenery and fascinating science, but the take-away had to be the handy eat / don't eat advice. You never know -- it could mean the difference between life and death, should I ever take up residence on a rolling grassy patch of paradise.

On the tails of such details about leaves, seeds, roots and blooms, I had to wonder how such edible knowledge first was discovered. You can't trust the grazing habits of animals or insects entirely. What their stomachs can handle might mean our demise. For example, Steele explained that the milk weed plant's sap is toxic to us, but the sole diet of the delicate Monarch butterfly. Their cast iron digestive tract serves them well, for birds have learned if they chomp down on an orange and black winged bite, they'll suffer the consequences. They choose to pass up the bitter butterfly and pursue something a little sweeter and safer.

Amethyst Shooting Star - Photo by Brenda Black ©2015
Neither can you count on the assumption that if one part of the plant is safe, that all parts are beneficial. That's even true with common vegetables we consume. Several edible plants have poisonous parts or parts that can turn poisonous in the wrong conditions, including potatoes, rhubarb, spinach and peaches. And the ONLY thing you better eat off of a tomato plant, is the tomato! provides a 13-step plan to determine the edibility of wild plants – Yes, I said 13 steps! So my nagging question remains: Who was the guinea pig to take the first brave bite that would save generations to follow all of the risk?
One friend ventured that was the job of the women in a tribe. Go figure! So some innocent female is stoking the fires at base camp when her husband's hunting party returns with venison and some strange leafy side salad that he thinks just might round out supper. He has neither nibbled nor sniffed. That's her duty. If she lives, he dines lavishly. If she dies, he'll be all the wiser.

Tell me if I'm wrong, ladies, but aren't we still playing this role centuries later. “Hey, Mom, smell this! Is it still okay to eat it?” “Honey, will the green film on top kill me?” “Here, you taste it and see if it's sour.” Take it a step further. Who has conquered cold and flu season, wiping noses, cleaning bathrooms and rocking little loved ones who insist on coughing in your face and spitting up on you? A Mom's immune system has to be one of the toughest in the world.
Prairie Ragwort - Photo by Brenda Black ©2015
Ironically, my prairie tour fell on Mother's Day weekend. Once again, I was reminded just how much our mothers, grandmothers and even those dozens of generations prior, have been watching over us and sacrificing for us. I do believe we have courageous and resilient ancestral female genetics to thank for more than we can fathom. Here's my Native Prairie salad bar salute to all those past and those now persevering! Happy Belated Mother's Day!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015