You’re never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
C. S. Lewis
Thoreau says it like this:
Go confidently in the direction of your own dreams
and endeavor to live the life you have imagined,
you will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
Encircle the above inspiration with the advice from the head nurse
in the PBS series Mercy Street:
No real good comes out of doing what we have to do.
It comes out of doing what is right.
Imagine what you’re doing right now, eating right now, thinking, expressing, repressing, obsessing. Is it fruitful for your future? For others and their futures?
Because everything we do now paves its way to what-will-be, road into road, intersections and our veering. We live line upon line, little layers mounting high, strengthening their effect, affecting—for the good and for the bad. For some, bad to worse.
Think back—most of what you are living now was planted in your past.
Good seeds and bad.
So we must consider this: We are the results of our aftermaths—how we choose to respond, learn and grow through our challenges in our lives.
Hindsight is meant to strengthen our foresight.
Let Me Rewind 10, 20, 40 Years.
Here’s a glimpse into some of what I learned from life’s obstacles. Few were tragic. Most were small events compared to most. And lessons were learned in spite of me
As a young mother with all the heights of love I had with my first child, I also felt the depths of pain and pressure from my toddler. She not only tried my patience (as toddlers do) but she also was too often sick with ear infections. Many days and nights holding her as she screamed with ear pain had me searching for answers.
Her pediatrician Dr. John offered us several choices for allergists in Little Rock. The one he spoke of with the utmost of respect was one in semi-retirement.
“She’s tough,” Dr. John warned, “but she’s the best.”
After our initial visit, Ariane and I returned for the morning of testing—for her it was for allergies, for me it was how strong could I be holding my squiggly screaming daughter as an elderly woman Ariane did not know poked needles into her back and arms. Worse, in my daughter’s eyes, I was allowing it.
“She’s allergic to everything!” I said, horrified by the swelling red bumps in corn rows spotted down her tiny back and arms. “So what can she eat?”
I was at the mercy of Dr. Vida Gordon, a staunch and strict allergist, who in her mid-seventies presided with totalitarian rule. However, Dr. John was right—she was the best, and I needed the best for my child who had lately been more sick than well. It was then Dr. Gordon handed me a thick stack of papers.
“Read this! No, study it! Get rid of the cats and dog. Cover all her bedding! Spray all fabric surfaces with the Allergex spray! And don’t, I said, DON’T you dare feed her anything with even a trace of milk, corn, chocolate . . .”
The list went on. Still bumfuzzled, I was ushered out of her office with my tiny tot, my hungry tiny tot, and I didn’t have a clue what to feed her.
So I read, I studied, and I searched the aisles of the grocery stores.
“Did you know that some form of milk or corn is in almost every packaged meal in the grocery store?” I reported to my husband after a day of aisle by aisle reading at the grocery store.
With nothing to go by, the following Saturday I headed to our local library where my adventure began (in real books from shelves). Funny, isn’t it, that even though my mother had a degree in teaching Home Economics, I had grown up not realizing the real staples for nutrition or learning how to cook more than a cheese omelet. Boiling water for broccoli or mixing tuna fish isn’t actually considered cooking.
So after I was married, I taught myself how to cook truly scrumptious meals from some of the cookbooks I received: luscious favorites like double-stuffed butterflied pork chops that unknowingly were also double stuffing our stomachs and arteries.
That was forty years ago when we served iceberg lettuce soaked in 1000 Island dressing and called it healthy. A round of red Jello was also considered a salad. No one was talking about sound nutrition, unless, of course, they were fanatics.
Well, guess who soon became a tofu-eating alfalfa-sprout-growing fanatic?
“Did you know that those antibiotics for Ariane’s ear infections are also stripping away her good bacteria with the bad?” I spouted to family members, ending with my practiced pronunciation of Lactobacillus Acidophilus that had to be replaced in her diet.
Yes, through much research I discovered how to replace the good flora the antibiotics were stripping from her system before anyone ever knew to mention it. Yogurt was not touted at the time as a cure all, nor did I find it lined across rows of the dairy aisle laden with all forms of sugar and fake fruit, conveniently offered in squeeze tubes, mind you. I did find the real stuff at our tiny all-natural store owned by hippy-looking people who wore Earth shoes like I did and spoke in the organic language slowly being introduced into the 1970s. I also in turn learned how to cook and prepare healthy meals. As a result, my daughter’s health improved, and so did mine.
I will say Ari still reminisces (or has nightmarish flashbacks) about being the only kid at the lunch table whose thermos of stinky soy milk elicited “EEEW!” And no one ever bugged her for a bite of her whole-wheat carob-honey brownies.
Decades later, I’m not as radical as I was, more 70:30 in my healthy/junk food ratio. Last Sunday’s oxymoronish lunch was a green drink with fried catfish, followed by a hot fudge sundae with Yarnell’s homemade vanilla. I had organic steel-cut oats with cinnamon, honey and walnuts before church—my great equalizer. (You’re probably wondering how it is I missed my calling to be an accountant with all my balancing acts!)
I could never have foreseen almost 40 years ago that something as grueling as a sick toddler allergic to everything would evolve into lifelong benefits for both of us.
In turn, I also developed patience and perseverance. For it seemed the more I prayed for those qualities in my life, the more difficulties I had to overcome. That is until I got it—qualities don’t poof into our lives like magic. We endeavor to exercise them and make them ours.
So thank you, Lord, for sickness and how I learned healthier eating habits with fruitful living because of them.
Just as I developed my culinary skills and sound nutrition, I also learned how to stretch a penny. Yes, I realize some people have dollars to stretch, but at the time we only had pennies.
It was only a few days after I was married back in the 70s that my husband was hospitalized for an illness. Then I caught it and was hospitalized. Guess how much our hospitalization insurance paid? That would be none because we had not gotten around to that yet. So while we were paying as much as we could each month, I became pregnant, adding more to our never-ending medical bills.
Yet, it was during those years, I discovered that if I didn’t buy anything–clothes, furniture, trinkets, I’d have more to pay on our mounting medical bills. Shopping the three nearby grocery stores with the best sales and coupons became a game. While other young couples were dressing in the latest fashions and filling their new houses with trendy furniture sets, I creatively found simple pleasures in our tiny rent house with hand-me-down furniture.
I don’t ever remember feeling deprived, for those were rich years with a growing baby and future before me. And it was during that time, that sadly, many of those young couples who were living large in their new house and matching furniture were also stressed and in debt. Some soon divorced.
So, thank you, Lord, for those years of debt and how I learned how to be grounded and discover my riches aren’t in being enslaved to material objects.
Funny, how in hindsight we can look back and laugh about most of those life choices. It’s during those times we can choose to become more teachable, more malleable. And if we choose develop a more optimistic approach in letting our obstacles challenge us to overcome.
Life lessons continued. When I was unable to have more children, I was impregnated with faith, getting to adopt Matt years later.
The years I cared for my young family as well as my mother, God proved He is not a dry well.
When my 18-year marriage ended in a divorce, I learned what single parents do: recover and go forward. Yet, through it all, I chose to go back to college and earned a graduate degree. Favorable teaching positions followed with opportunities to develop educational programs.
Instead of failure, I discovered double blessings when in my forties, I met and married the love of my life, doubling my children from two to four. So an ugly painful situation turned beautiful. Within a few months of our new marriage came the deaths of my parents and Bill’s father.
A perfect life, that easy life we assume should be ours, is never had for most. So what do we do with the big and small?
When Fyodor Dostoevsky proclaimed, “I have a most brilliant future before me,” I ask how he knew what his future held–a prison term, an almost execution, time served in Siberia–even as I wholeheartedly agree with his thought. I’ve witnessed my future becoming brilliant by having to overcome obstacles, making it a challenge to create imaginative solutions for each one.
On the contrary, Dostoevsky realistically stated, “Man is a pliable animal, a being who gets accustomed to everything.” I have been that animal, adjusting to situations and making them, good or bad, a continual journey to something. Yet, what is that something?
I haven’t known; I’ve sometimes questioned.
Isn’t it in our looking forward without regrets, our repentance offered and granted, that we can greet each day with a childlike hope, unlimited expectations, and a determination to attain our intended goals?
Yes, sometimes it takes longer than we planned. Yet, how else would we create a richer life, a deeper life? For it was during my obstacles that I clung to the Lord for His brilliance to shine onto my darkened path to find my future.
I sought for patience, I received difficulties to develop patience. I asked to love unconditionally, and I faced challenges that forced me to reach past myself and do so. Not in my might and strength, but by God’s Spirit. (Zechariah 4:6)
OUR BEST LIFE IS NOT THE EASIEST LIFE.
If you could rewind, what would you do differently?
If I could rewind, I’d reclaim the hours that add up to days, years even, when I’ve given some people’s negative ways and ugly words too much power in my life. If only I could, I’d recapture the time I wasted concerned over their words or actions.
In turn, I’m realizing how to learn freedom from their restraints and not be walled-off.
Because what I did ten years ago is bearing fruit–or not–now.
What I ate and drank, how active I was, if I exercised and strengthened my body, soul and spirit, all add up to my tomorrows.
Most especially, how I invested into others, our world now and eternally.
I compost and recycle with my grandchildren, my friends’ children and grandchildren in mind . . .
because I’ve come to realize to a greater extent how each of our lives matter. What we do in our corner of the world and how we do it impacts all of our futures.
For all the times I’ve offered my quality times of the day to the mindless chores on my list just to say they’re done—the words in my thoughts are held captive, the visual art I imagine falls lost behind a canvas unmarked, a dream, a haunting, that keeps me restless in wait for a painless uninterrupted day so I can flow with the force of a churning river unimpeded.
Those days rarely come.
I’ll never, you’ll never, reach toward a dream, an expression that might encourage another, add substance to our world, if we wait for the easy days to do it.
How I learned to paint with integrity . . .
At seventy-five years old, Frank Covino, the instructor of an art workshop I attended, was adamant in teaching that our artwork wasn’t merely for decorating our walls right now. We were to apply our quality (but not overpriced) paints to a properly prepared surface so that it could be appreciated for centuries. His visionary approach stressed we are to be artists with integrity.
This classically trained artist’s Italian heritage and left-brained scientific approach offered great success for those who followed each step. He required that we only use a copy of a painting by a tried and true master so we’ll go back through the ages to learn from the best. The first year I selected the face and shoulders of an angel in Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin on the Rocks, the one in the National Gallery in London. (His other one is in the Louvre.)
I considered correcting my da Vinci angel’s neck by painting a bit of white to cover a shadowed area that had encroached on her throat. Except Frank, this master painter, emphatically stated that we should never cover black with white. He grabbed a straight-edge blade and vigorously scraped through the line of blackened background, all the way down to the surface. Only then did he allow me to paint the lighter areas.
Frank then shared about the Spanish painter Diego Velazquez’s 17th century work of a portrait of King Philip. Velazquez painted a lighter color over darker areas in hopes of correcting King Philip’s left leg, glove and musket, in hopes of concealing the initial drawing. We now can see both the error and correction. And one of V’s horse paintings has a fifth leg.
Why? The lighter colored oil paints could never truly mask the darker ones. Maybe for a while, Covino instructed, but the white will break down when not properly applied, allowing the shadowed areas to finally surface. I had never been taught to think so far ahead. Frank Covino was teaching us to create art that would bless others generations from now.
Yes, it could be decades or centuries before what we’ve blackened by carelessly unwise and selfish choices to penetrate through what we masked with white. But our cover-ups always emerge if we don’t deal with them, rid our lives (our life paintings) of them.
The art term pentimento (plural pentimenti) is when artists change their minds or correct their paintings by layering more paint over the mistakes they want to conceal. Yet, those hidden parts eventually emerge. Pentimento is an Italian word meaning repentance. Unless truly corrected—repented of our ways, totally removing the mistake—lifelong problems emerge in spite of our cover-ups.
Frank died last week in his 80s. He was still traveling the United States passionately sharing with hundreds his vast knowledge. As a result, thousands of us are all the wiser because of him. I always learned more in one week of his art classes than I ever learned in a semester of art classes.
Another man of influence died the same week. Husband, father, grandfather, son, Alan Dickson left our world too soon. Known in our area as a committed man of God, Alan’s life is still far-reaching, out reaching everyone who knew him and know his beautiful wife, four children, granddaughter, parents, siblings and everyone they continue to touch in our ever-widening corner of the world.
What can we do today that will influence our lives and others 10, 20 years from now? For centuries into eternity? We don’t just do what we have to do, we do what is right, even when no one is watching, especially when no one is watching.
If you sack groceries or stock fruit, do it to your utmost. If you’re caring for a cranky toddler and/or parent, love him or her long. When teaching or counseling or plumbing or practicing, focus on the tomorrow of your actions. Act like they matter because they do
Here’s a promise for you:
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly, whoever sows generously will also reap generously. . . . for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all things abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
II Corinthians 9: 6-8, 10-11
A man reaps what he sows. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:7,8 (NIV)
Art on Clothes
Vida is a design company that contacted me about using some of my artwork on their clothes. Check out the website http://www.shopvida.com/collections/voices/ann-elizabeth-robertson and tell me what you think. Some of my butterfly designs and travel photographs are now on shirts, t-shirts and scarves. I also love that part of the proceeds are used for an international literacy program.
How to Hear God?
A friend who teaches college-aged women asked me to write down my Bible-reading prayer time ritual. I also share it with you in Heavy Hurts. I’m a big believer in asking God to confirm His guidance. Gideon did. God knows our hearts and how hungry we are to confirm our steps are His will. I encourage you to write down the way you step into your quiet time and refuel. Share it with someone who cares, who listens. Then reciprocate.