Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Life Happens

When I first began this blog, I explained my theme thus: 

"And then, the theme. What is the point? What is the common thread that ties all my letters together? It hit me about a year ago. They're about becoming. Life really does have meaning. Even in the little, ordinary, sometimes dreary details. It's all a process. And the verses in Jeremiah 29 came to me (vs 11-14): "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive." No, I don't think Mississippi is captivity! (Is it apropo to say "LOL" in blogging?) It's all about His Plan For Me. It is a journey, and I love it!"

My next letter is from Christmas 1999.  The one reference I want to take from that letter is one of those instances where an almost tragedy in the present time can be viewed from the future with more wisdom and hindsight to realize that it is a part of His Plan as well.  It certainly taught me about trust.  Trust in God and His response to that trust.   Desperation can affect our posture towards God and indeed increase our faith.  God, you have to do this for me.  I cannot do anything about it but You can and I need You to take care of it!  I do not minimize it to the point of it being the "rain" that showers on the just and the unjust alike, but, many times, it is a part of life. . . and life happens.  And I quote:

"Delbert finished his first year of college this year.  He did very well - especially in the bands, of course.  We did a lot of traveling to hear him play and he and several of his friends from Bruce High School were featured a lot as soloists in the Jazz Band - especially Jeremy Freelon, who plays the drums really well.  (Jeremy came to our family reunion with us in September and played with Delbert and I as part of the entertainment.  We also performed for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Oxford.)  Even though he did well at Northwest Mississippi Community College, Delbert was not really happy and was very confused as to what to do with his life - at least as far as his education was concerned.  One thing he was and is very sure about is his main purpose in life - serving God.  He accepted his call into the ministry this year - a fact about which we are extremely pleased.  He considered going to Bible College but knew that he would have to work a year to be able to afford to do so.  He worked a short while at Office Max in Tupelo and then went to work at Southern Quality Meats in Pontotoc.  On July 29th he was on his way home from work and apparently fell asleep at the wheel.  He lost control of the car and had a "run-in" with two big trees.  The lady who got to him first felt sure he was dying.  His car was totally demolished and he was trapped in it.  It took the EMT's almost an hour to extricate him from the car with the "jaws of life" tool.  They felt sure his legs were all broken up and his shoes are still "buried" in the car.  They said that he had several broken vertebrae in his neck.  X-rays at the Pontotoc Hospital confirmed the fractured vertebrae.  He was very disoriented and could only get his last name out at first.  It seems a tiny bubble of air had gotten into the lining of his brain through a deep laceration above his left eye and was causing the disorientation.  Needless to say, I was very distraught when they finally located me and I got to the hospital.  Delbert looked a mess!  There is no way I can describe how I felt, but you mothers probably have a good idea.  They transported him to the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo and I rode in the ambulance with Him and prayed all the way.  I told the Lord I needed Him to touch Delbert - especially his neck.  I was so very scared.  God is truly a miracle worker!  When we got to Tupelo, they x-rayed him from one end to the other!  They did a Cat Scan and all kinds of tests.  Their x-rays showed NO FRACTURED VERTEBRAE, NO CONCUSSION OR BRAIN DAMAGE, and only a tiny piece of bone pulled away with a ligament under his left knee.  He has a plate and a screw in the orbital socket above his left eye, two plates in his left hand and a screw under his left knee.  The small scar above his left eye only adds "character" to his already handsome face!  The bubble of air dissipated and Delbert finally realized where he was.  (At first, every time someone asked him if he knew where he was, he replied, "At Church." - I believe he was.  In his spirit - resting in the arms of his Lord.  I wished that I could read minds!  Nevertheless, Delbert is a changed person!  His speech, his preaching, his whole outlook on life is transformed!  He now has a new job with Presley Publications and Fax of the Day as their Web Administrator.  He does their e-mail and Internet work, designing and maintaining their Web Page, etc.  He loves it and finally feels that he may have found his niche vocationally.  He's taking Web design and other computer and Internet classes and takes his work quite seriously."

I can still recall those same intense feelings of desperation I had back then when I think about it.  I'm so very thankful when I look at him now . . . at the fine man he has become . . . and the beautiful grandchildren he has given me!  Which thought requires me to give you the next little paragraph of my Christmas 1999 letter:

"Do you recall in my letter last year the "female" friend that I hoped I would be able to write more about this year?  Well, I got my wish!  Her name is Jennifer Ervin and she is a sweetheart!  I could not wish for anyone more perfect for Delbert to have in his life.  She's beautiful, talented (sings like an angel and plays the piano wonderfully), very good natured and gracious, and, best of all, she adores Delbert.  (She even likes me, too.  :o)  )  Needless to say, the feeling is very mutual!  Jennifer begins her last semester of nursing school in January after which she will be an RN.  I can't say enough good about this subject and, I'm sorry, but I can't hide how I feel about it, either.  Jennifer's parents are really super people and they have done an excellent job in raising the daughter!"  And, as they say, the rest is history!

Just another example of how Life Happens in this wonderful journey of His Plan For Me!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Leaders Have Leaders

 Confused?    Don't be.

I have been conducting a discussion with a group that I created on a social networking site about John Maxwell's book, "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect" for quite some time now.  I have mentioned this book in my blog to you previously as well.  This, my latest message to the group, was something that I feel very strongly about and thought you might find it interesting as well.  I began my message as follows:

Confused?  Don't be.  I want to take a little break from my discussion of John Maxwell's book to talk a little bit about a very important aspect of leadership. The book we've been discussing is about leaders connecting with their "audience" (whatever shape that term takes). And this is a good place in our discussion to detour somewhat because we have covered the five principles of connecting and part 2 is about connecting practices - putting those principles into action. In other words, we know what and why, we now need to know how. So, here in the middle, I want to give you a little insight of my own.

I've had some experiences this week that have really brought what I'm about to discuss to the forefront on my mind. I don't want my title to confuse you, but maybe you'll understand if I say it a different way.

Leaders are followers. Plain and simple. You cannot lead if you do not know how to follow. For one thing, you will not be able to relate to your followers because you will have never been in their shoes, so to speak. How can you teach if you've not been taught? You first had to learn. And some may say, "Yes, I had a leader, a teacher, but now I'm the leader and teacher." The thing is, if you quit learning you become stagnant. If you quit receiving, you begin to dry up. If you quit growing, you begin to die.

And so, it is extremely important that you, as a leader, have a leader. Or you could use the term Mentor. I'm very thankful for the leaders in my life. I believe they have taught me well. I lead in many different arenas. I've managed employees. I've raised children, for sure. I've run several offices. I am a musician and I lead in that area, as well, as a teacher, a director, and a department head. I could never do any of these things if I was not willing to be taught and to learn from others.

I know that some of you probably have different opinions from myself where spiritual matters are concerned, but I am thankful for my spiritual leader. I actually have two of those. Biblically speaking (contrary to popular belief) my husband is a spiritual leader in my life, and then I have an awesome Pastor. I am not afraid, ashamed, or threatened to submit to good leadership. In fact, that leadership gives me the confidence to aspire to and achieve greater things in life than I could have ever imagined.

Some leaders in my life, don't even know me. I have submitted myself to their teachings of my own accord because I believe that what they have to teach me is of great value. I will readily admit that I don't know it all. I follow these individuals' writings and attempt to assimilate the principles they teach into my own life because I want to be as successful as they are. You can probably guess that one of these individuals is John Maxwell. And Darren Hardy is another, along with the late Jim Rohn and others.

It's all about submission, really. And I know that that word is not a popular word in this society. I'm sure that when some think of the word submission they put it in a wrong context. It's not about slavery. It's about taking advantage of the knowledge and expertise of that leader and being willing to learn from them and glean all that you can. You must have a hunger for knowledge. And then, what you receive, you can turn around and let it flow out of you to someone else and the circle will be complete.

I concluded my message in a different way than I want to conclude it here, although, you may be interested in checking out one particular site that I encourage the group to check out.  There is great value to be had in learning how to be successful and the pitfalls to look for when searching out money making opportunities:

But, to conclude my message here. . . .

The last point I want to make about following in order to lead is that one must be willing to put aside preconceived ideas and notions of self-promotion and take instruction, which could (and probably would) include constructive criticism, before learning could ever occur.  You've probably heard the term, "Man up!"  We have to swallow our pride, admit that we need instruction, and "take it like a man!"  We have to remember that others are following us and they learn from our actions.  Let's teach them to be great leaders and give them the knowledge that Leaders have Leaders.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Get the Picture?

Back to Christmas 1998 . . .

Well, history repeated itself and I was able to obtain a copy of the lost page in my 1998 annual Christmas letter, thanks to my mother.   That's the way mothers are . . . . they never throw away anything their kids do!  So my collection is complete . . . again.

When I originally thought about putting my letters into book form, I envisioned just inserting each year "as is."  But, I soon began to realize that I needed to revisit each letter and sort of flesh them out and, as I said before, omit some of the mundane (to others, not me) things about personal happenings of the years and get to the essence of each letter.  This became even more important when I decided to put it in blog form.  Another factor was, is, that my earlier writings were a bit more elementary in form even to my untrained eye.  I think I've gotten better as the years have gone by.

I started on my 1998 letter a couple of posts ago talking about the value of time and, having found the lost page, I have one more thing I want to say about that.  In addition to my letters being evidence of how very busy my life is and how my time is filled to the brim, I talked about my son in the last paragraph of that lost page:

"What about (my son)?  He finished his senior year at Bruce High School with honors.  He has said it was the best year of his life (he'll probably say that about some other years, too.)" [And he most definitely has.]  "He lived with a dear friend [name omitted] while he finished after we moved and she can never know just how much her hospitality meant to him and to us.  He received a lot of recognition for his musical abilities and in fact started at Northwest Mississippi Community College on full music scholarship, instrumental and vocal.  It just amazes us the ministry God has given him in music.  He even got to audition for Ace Cannon!  Speaking of ministry, he accepted his call into the ministry this past summer, and this may change the direction he goes as far as college is concerned.  He will still have a major focus on music, especially as a vehicle to further his preaching ministry.  Pray for him as he decides what he and God wants to do with his life.  He became a published author this year for his poem "Precious Time".  He continues to write music, songs, and poetry prolifically.  We are so very proud of him. . . ."  I could not possibly talk about time without sharing this poem with you. . ..

Precious Time
By T. Delbert Tritsch, Jr.

I try not to consider
What will become of you and me
When our time here is over
And we both have to leave.

I can try to deny or ignore it,
Whichever be the case,
But no matter how hard I try,
This question stares me in the face.

Sometimes I think that maybe
It would've been best if we
Had never even met;
Then I would be free,

But to be prisoner to this love,
Even with uncertainty,
Makes me less a captive
Than if I were free.

I only know the past,
And the future's yet unseen,
So while we're here together,
Spend the present with me.

The other thing that strikes me about this letter is my redundant use of the phrase, "You get the picture?"  When I write, I try to pay attention to words and phrases that are repeated and, when I find them, I change them to other words and phrases.  Apparently, back then, I wasn't paying that much attention!  I talked about turning 40 and feeling like I was fading into the background (I grayed early), accentuated by having my driver's license picture taken against a light blue background.  Sort of like wearing camo in the woods.  But that physical evidence only amplified what I was feeling emotionally.  And I said,  "you get the picture?".  I also talked about the marvelous opportunity that was afforded my husband when he went on a medical missionary trip to Mexico and made false teeth for poor people there.  I did not get to go and that disappointment was compounded by the fact that we moved into a new house (to us) and one or two days later he left on the trip.  I was left to pick up the pieces, so to speak, with unpacking and everything that goes along with a move.  Again, I said,  "you get the picture?". 

The whole idea behind that phrase is that I know you, my readers, can relate.  You can probably think of examples and experiences in your life that are very similar to mine.  And that fact gives me comfort.  I'm not alone in this world.  You really do "get the picture!"  So why should I ever have a pity party?  And I think that's what the writer of Ecclesiastes was pointing out when he said, in chapter 1, verse 9, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."  Somebody, somewhere, has already experienced what I am experiencing right now.  Isn't that neat?  If we need help, we've just got to find the right person. 

And . . . in light of that fact also, we need to offer the benefit of our experiences to others so they won't feel alone and out-numbered in their life either. 

You get the picture?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lean on Me

For 13 years now I have participated in an annual Mother-Daughter Banquet at our church, and, for 3 years now we've also had a Mother-Son Banquet.  For this year we combined the two banquets due to scheduling conflicts.  Our combined themes were:  My Sister's Keeper and My Brother's Keeper.

Our focus was this:

All women have problems that they are afraid, or too embarrassed, to talk about.  Many have the exact same problems.  They suffer in silence, feeling they are all alone in the world.  If we would just dare to become vulnerable to each other, we would find a wealth of support and empathy in our sisters around us.  The unique friendships of women offer a web, or network, of support unparalleled in humankind.  Women connect with other women on an emotional level.  They have a gift for intimacy.  Even as little girls they openly show more affection to their friends than do little boys.  They share confidences.  Why not take advantage of those natural tendencies in the friendships of women and lean on each other in our times of trouble?  Who knows, our burdens may seem a little lighter, when we realize that we're really not all that different from each other.

Men are different.  They connect differently.  When the biblical question was posed:  "Am I my brother's keeper?" it indicated a feeling of responsibility.  The answer, of course, was an unspoken, but loudly understood "YES!"  We are focusing on the Mentoring aspect of men's relationships with other men.  Especially older to younger.  If one generation fails to mentor and train the next generation, where will we find ourselves?  Mentoring occurs in big, as well as small ways.  And the terms "older" and "younger" can also apply to spiritual age as well, without regards to physical age.

We had three very excellent segments given by two dear ladies in our church and one man - my husband.  These dealt with, first:  Secrets Women Keep (I'm Hurting and I Wish Someone Knew);  We're Not All That Different (I've Got the Same Problems); and I Am My Brother's Keeper (with a focus on Mentoring).  They were all wonderful, but I didn't write them so I'm not publishing them here (maybe later, with their permission).

We did an activity set to the song "Lean On Me" where different individuals stood and voiced a problem in their lives that they faced that caused them distress of some kind and then one or two other individuals who had faced a similar situation offered support by word and action, saying, "Lean on me, when you're not strong!  I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on!"  And with other words of their own.

My topic was "Creating a Web of Support" and I offer it here for your enjoyment.

Not long ago I took part in a personal development program that involved taking a very hard look at my life:  my past, my present, and my future.  It called for some rather deep contemplation on what my life had been up to this point by looking at where I'd come from:  regrets of the past, things I wished I had and had not done.  Through a series of worksheets and blog posts, I was required to write my own obituary and my epitaph.  I identified my core values, wrote a mission statement and a vision statement.  I attempted to identify my strengths, my weaknesses, my opportunities and my threats.  All of this was very difficult because I took it very seriously.  I would, however, recommend it to anyone . . . if you have the guts.  Up to this point, it was me looking at me.

Then came the really hard part.

In order to get what they call a 360 degree view, I had to ask three people, who knew me well, to be bruttaly honest with me and answer three two-part questions about me.  I needed them to be extremely frank with me because, if they didn't, it wouldn't be of any use to me at all.  You see, I was to pick one or two things that they saw as a shortcoming and work on those things for the next year.

The questions dealt with what they thought was my best quality and what skills and attributes I had that they felt gave me an advantage in life.  Then, what is my worst quality and, if I could improve one thing to help me better succeed, what would it be.  And finally, where they saw me sabotaging myself and what behaviors, lack of discipline or attitudes they felt held me back the most.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, some of their answers, between the three people, where the same.  However, one was slightly different.  Now, mind you, I've been told this before . . . in different words. . . but when I was told before, I wasn't trying to be creative and overcome this issue, because I didn't think I could.  I didn't know how.  I felt helpless.  I thought it was just the way it was.

Now, I'm going to give you the full answer, but I'm going to focus on one part of it.  The question was:  What is my worst quality?  The answer:  "Reserved or distant at times.  Reluctant to speak what you are really thinking.  Your kindness probably prevents you from doing this."  And the second part of the question:  If I could improve just one thing about myself to help me better succeed with people and in life, what do you think it should be?  And the answer:  "I believe some people feel inferior or intimidated (actually jealous) around you because you are talented, bright and intelligent.  (Their problem, not yours.)  Help people feel at ease and confident around you."

Several weeks ago I was praying in the altar with everyone else, and we had several women getting prayer and I thought about the fact that all these women, my sisters in Christ, had problems that I knew nothing about.  It occurred to me, also, that they might be the same problems that I have.  Then I thought about the woman with the issue of blood.  I'm absolutely sure she didn't talk about her problem to anybody -- other than those "many" physicians.  She suffered in silence.  We've been talking here (previously in the meeting) about being our sister's keeper and being our brother's keeper.  We've discussed the fact that we all have problems, that we feel isolated and all alone, and we often don't take advantage of the support that is available to us.  We've heard about the responsibility of the mentor in a man to other men.  What I want to look at is why are we afraid to reach out for help.  Why do individuals fail to receive mentoring when it's offered?  I believe, a lot of times, the answer is contained in my friend's answers to me.  Others see us as unapproachable, inaccessible.  They feel intimidated by us.  I mean, its not that we intend to come across that way, but we just do.  So what do we do about it?  That answer is also contained in my friend's answer:  "Help people feel at ease and confident around you."  And you do that by learning how to connect with people.

How many of you like spiders?  I don't like spiders but I admire spiders.  They are amazing creatures.  They are masters of the "Law of Attraction"!  They create this intricate, beautiful, delicate, but incredibly strong and effective, web in which they catch their prey.  They actually do it to harm their victims, but I want us to look at it as a way to draw in those that need us and need our support.  A spider web is made up of many connections.  And that's what I want to talk about today:  Connecting.  And the way I want to relate it to a spider web is that when we learn how to connect, we teach, by example, and others learn to do the same thing and eventually, we have this intricate, beautiful, delicate, but incredibly strong and effective, web to catch those that are falling and need to be supported by our love and compassion.  There should never be one who goes out from our midst, hurting and alone, who needs our support and we didn't give it!

So what is connecting?  I've been reading a book by John C. Maxwell, titled "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect", and I highly recommend it! (quotes are in italics)  Dr. Maxwell says that "Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them."  He affirms that "the success of your relationships is determined by how well you can connect."  In reading this book, it occurred to me that Jesus is, and was, the Master Connector, and I think you will come to understand that.  Obviously, the women with the issue of blood was not afraid to approach Jesus.  Even though she was, in her condition, considered unclean and no one was to touch her.  Somehow she knew that she could go to Jesus . . . and, yes, even touch Him!  She knew instinctively that He wouldn't turn her away.

Just because you are talking to someone or going back and forth doesn't mean you are connecting.  Communicating and connecting are two very different things.  As mothers and fathers, you can probably understand it better by thinking about your children.  Have you ever felt like you just weren't getting through to them?  When you see that "light" of understanding go on in their eyes, you will have finally connected!  There is an invisible barrier between you and whomever you're talking to and you have to break through that barrier to really connect.  You can tell when someone is really getting what you are saying . . . and, also, when they've turned you off!

The ability to connect begins with understanding the value of people.  It's all about others!  It's never about me (or you, as the case may be.)

The principles behind connecting are:  1) focusing on others;  2) realizing that it goes beyond just mere words, but includes actions, attitudes, behavior, and body language;  3) being willing to put forth the effort and energy required to make that connection;  and 4) learning from those who know how it's done.

You have to find common ground.  Keep your communication simple, capture their interest, inspire them, but, above all, be real.

Talk more about the other person and less about yourself.  Bring something of value to the conversation.  Ask if there is anything you can do for them.  Jesus always gave His full attention to the individual, offering compassion, help and healing to them . . . at the point of their need.  And He always asked them if He could do something for them . . . ."wilt thou be made whole?"

I love this quote:  "If you want to connect to others, you have to get over yourself."  Almost everything we become and all that we accomplish in life are the result of our interaction with others.  You have to tear down the "ego" wall and use those very same stones to build a bridge of warm compassionate relationship.

I mentioned before, you have to find common ground.  It's difficult to find common ground with others when you're the only person you're focused on!  And there are barriers you have to overcome in order to find common ground.  You cannot assume anything.  You can't put people in a box.  People have different temperaments and that is not going to change.  I've said this for years:  Everybody thinks differently and just because someone is acting in a certain way doesn't mean they are thinking the way you would be thinking if you acted that way.  You have to work at understanding others.  You cannot be arrogant.  We need each other.  You cannot be indifferent.  Comedian George Carlin joked, "Scientists announced today that they had found a cure for apathy.  However, they claim no one has shown the slightest bit of interest in it."  Indifference is really a form of selfishness.  The final barrier to overcome is control.  Finding common ground is a two-way street.  You have to be open.  It has to be give and take.

If you want to help people and truly make a connection with them, you have to communicate an attitude of selflessness . . . not selfishness.  If you can learn to care about others, you can learn to connect.  You have to forget about your own worries and needs and focus on the other person's.  Calvin Miller says, when most people listen to others speak, they are silently thinking:

"I am loneliness waiting for a friend,
I am weeping in want of laughter,
I am a sigh in search of consolation,
I am a wound in search of healing.
If you want to unlock my attention,
You have to convince me you want to be my friend."

They have to believe that you really care.

Whether you, or even the other person, realize it or not, when you communicate with someone, they are asking three questions about you:  1) Do you really care for me?:  2) Can you really help me?; and 3) Can I trust you?  That's a big one.

If you can make that other person feel valued, then you will have connected.

And your message must be sincere.  It must contain a piece of you.  You must be the message.  It's been said that "nothing can happen through you until it happens to you."  I like the word "empathy".  What's the difference between sympathy and empathy?  Webster's describes sympathy as "the sharing in the emotions of others, especially the sharing of grief, pain, etc.;  a feeling for the ills, difficulties, etc. of others."  But empathy is described as "the power to enter into the feeling or spirit of others."  Sympathy can almost vie a sense of detachment, but empathy requires total involvement.  And it's all a function of attitude.  Dr. Maxwell says, "Attitudes are the real figures of speech."  People know if you care.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "What you are speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you say."

We did a little exercise earlier showing both sides of this subject:  individuals identifying a problem they had, voicing it to their brothers and sisters, and others responding with offers of support.  One thing that made those responses extra convincing was that those same problems had happened to both individuals.  But I think you will also have to agree that the feeling of sincerity was genuine.  We were focusing on each other's problems, rather than our own.  And I have just barely touched the surface of this subject of connecting, but it's a start.  It's a place for us to begin and, to quote Saint Francis of Assisi via John Maxwell, "Start doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

At the end I invited everyone to take hold of a gigantic spider web that I had made with the help of my husband and mother, in another activity to give a visual for what I was talking about and we sang the song:

You're my brother, you're my sister,
So take me by the hand:
Together we will work until He comes!
There's no foe that can defeat us
When we're walking side by side.
As long as there is love we will stand!

And I want to extend the same sentiment to you, my Reader:  Lean on me . . . . I'll be your friend!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Value of Time

Christmas 1998.

Dear Loved One and friends, both old and new,

     I hope you didn't think I had forgotten you because I haven't.  Every year I think that I couldn't be busier and then the next year I'm busier.  I have realized this year, however, that I am going to have to slow down.  I've learned so much about the value of time this year because it seems I have had a shortage of it.  I've started this letter twice and was not happy with it so maybe "third time's a charm."

And so began my next letter . . . .

The sad thing is that I've lost a page out of this one and I know what I lost was very important.  The paragraph at the end of page one goes like this:

     "We've received excellent "instructions in righteousness" from our Pastor.  He has been very instrumental in helping us see some things that we knew all along but seemed to ignore.  We've set some goals in our lives this year and are striving to obtain them.  It is amazing how God seems to go to work for you when you try to do the right thing.  I mentioned time before.  Bro. T has . . . . . . ." 

. . . . . . . .and the next page is missing.  I can only surmise what I wrote, but obviously it had something to do with time. . . and the value of time.  This got me to thinking.

How much is time worth?  Can you actually put a monetary value on time.  Of course, from a marketing perspective, your time is commiserate with your training.  A doctor's time or a lawyer's time is worth more than a data entry clerk's time, for instance.  I submit, on the other hand, that time is priceless.  Time lost is time lost forever.  My time is as valuable to me as any specialized surgeon's time.  The Bible instructs us to "Redeem the time".    Here's my take on some of the more familiar "time" phrases you may know:

Time management.  There is no such thing as time management.  There is only self-management of the time available.  (Don't know who said this first.)

Time flies.  Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.  Birthdays seem to come at an ever increasing rate but I've still got a year to pay on that two-year note that I feel like I've been paying on for five years.    My grandbabies were just born yesterday even though they're five and three.  Hey, their daddy, my son, was just starting kindergarten yesterday! 

Time and Tide wait for no man. ~ Mark Twain.  I think he, himself aptly put this one to rights:  "A pompous and self-satisfied proverb, and was true for a billion years; but in our day of electric wires and water-ballast, we turn it around:  Man waits not for time nor tide."   "Electric wires and water-ballast?"  Boy, Mr. Twain, if you could see us now!

No time like the present.  And, don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today.  Time is too precious to waste.

Time changes everything . . .

The writer of Ecclesiastes had a pretty clear grasp of what time is and the best way to utilize time.  Put everything in its own time.

"For everything is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:  A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;  A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;  A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;  A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;  A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;  A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."  

Henry David Thoreau said, about wasting time, "As if you could kill time without injuring eternity."   Oh, if we could ever really grasp this, what awesome things we could accomplish.  You must realize the value of time.  Understand this:  time spent in relaxation and rejuvenation is not wasted time.  But don't masquerade time spent in pointless pursuits and time-robbing activities as relaxation and rejuvenation time!  All activities, or non-activities, should have a true purpose and focus.  And I'm preaching to the choir here.  And I'm a member.  Reading a book is much more rewarding, relaxing, and rejuvenating than playing a video game.  Taking a nap is far more relaxing and rejuvenating than watching a television program.  Actually, a task accomplished, finished, and done is way more relaxing and rejuvenating than procrastinating about it!

I, for one, want to look for ways to make better use of my time.  That is not to say that I will never mess up.  But I want to manage "me" in the time that is available to me so that my time will be the maximum value that it deserves.

I like what Benjamin Franklin said:  "Dost thou love life?  Then do not squander time, for that the stuff life is made of."  And finally, from Captain Jean-Luc Picard:  "Time is a companion that goes with us on a journey.  It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again.  What we leave behind us is not as important as how we have lived."

What is the Value of Time to you?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Are You A Leader?

Did you think I'd left you?  I guess you might say I've had a case of writer's block but it really was more an issue of distractions.  I apologize.  I won't let it happen again.  I'm working on myself (as I've said before) and that is a very important point about what I want to write about today - leadership. 

I've been thinking alot about this lately and reading many articles, listening to CDs, reading books and generally contemplating about just what leadership is.  Obviously, there's an extreme amount of information out there for anybody to see and study if they want to be a leader.

Just a few examples (and links - for your reading enjoyment):

Darren Hardy, Publisher and Editorial Director of SUCCESS Magazine states that someone is a leader . . ."when he or she is willing to do what others are not, even when -- and maybe most especially when -- the right thing to do might not be what's popular."   He says:  Leaders are doers.  Leaders . . . . lead.   The Unpopular View of Leadership

John C. Maxwell, America's foremost expert on leadership, best-selling author, speaker and founder of EQUIP, a nonprofit that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries, has much to say about the subject.  He avows that time management (actually an oxymoron - it's really self-management) is the most important aspect of leadership:  "Nothing separates successful people from unsuccessful people more than how they use their time."  He also says leaders see the vision of their dream clearly, have a strategy on what it will take to get there, and have prioritized the steps it will take to make it happen.

Mel Robbins, nationally syndicated radio talk show host, speaks of a "leadership gene".  I don't think we are born with one (the gene) but, if we lead, we will do it on purpose and by effort.  She says, "Leadership is . . . taking the lead."  (Back to doing what others are not willing to do.)  Robbins writes, "A true leader leaves the bathroom cleaner than they found it."  Maybe a little humorous, but extremely true.   The Leadership Gene

Chris Widener, best-selling author, tv co-host, and candidate for U.S. Senator for the state of Washington, says that, "Leadership is influence."  On this topic, he quoted John Maxwell who said, "If you think you are a leader and no one is following you - you're not really a leader, you're just taking a walk."

Perhaps my favorite is Robin Sharma, litigation lawyer turned leadership coach, when he says, "You cannot lead others until you have first learned to lead yourself."   Robin Sharma Leads Without A Title   He quotes actor Steve Martin, who, when asked how a person could be as well-known as he is, replied, "Be so good at what you do that people cannot ignore you."  Robin's dad told him, "When you were born, you cried while the world rejoiced.  Live your life so that, when you die, the world will cry while you rejoice."  I love that!  Sharma states that "the world is in a crises of leadership."  I do not believe truer words have ever been spoken - of the time we live in.  He encourages "leadership at all levels:"  being a leader in whatever position of life you are in by giving it your all: adding value, cutting costs, "wowing" the customer and being innovative.  He admits that leadership is not without its struggles and difficulties.  BUT!  He says, "Your next level of excellence is hidden behind your next level of resistance." and "You really don't grow unless you grow closer to your areas of discomfort."   If you don't fall (fail), you're not getting better.

My question is: what does personal leadership entail?  I think leaders are learners.  I think leaders know how to follow and what it is to follow.  Leaders listen.  (They don't have five mouths and no ears.)  Leaders are examples . . . . of good habits.  (Actually the opposite is also true but I'm talking about good leadership.)  Leaders take risks - calculated ones - they consider the cost.  Leaders are always striving for excellence in their personal lives so that they can affect the lives of others.  Leaders are servants.  Leaders realize that the authority arrow (downward on the organizational chart) is also a responsibility arrow (upward) and that submission is a two-way street. 

If you want to be a leader . . . . then lead.  What do you admire in the leaders you know?  What disciplines do they exhibit.  Do those things.  And when you do, no one will have to ask, "Are you a leader?"

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Where Does All This Dust Come From?!

Where does all this dust come from?! It seems I can dust my furniture and, in a matter of a few hours, there is this light dusting of . . . dust! Right back where I banished it from! Why me, Lord? Can't furniture stay dusted for just a day? And leave it to me to want a black ebony miniature baby grand piano in my front room and a matching black shelving unit to stand right beside it! Nothing . . . I mean, nothing . . . shows dust like black furniture! And, not only do I dust, but I run my Thermax Vacuum in the room that I dust for at least 30 minutes to remove (hopefully) any dust from the air! But does that make a difference? Obviously not! And come to find out, I'm not the only one who has this problem! My BFF remarks about it as well! So it must be a universal problem.

Now, one possible reason for the dust could be that you live on a dirt road. I do know that makes a difference. But! I don't live on a dirt road. I've come to the conclusion that my problem with dust is because I live in an old house. There are places in and around my house that I am afraid to go. Actually, there are two places: in the attic and under the floor. I have never been either place, although I have looked under the house. You could not pay me to go into my attic. For one thing, we have an ongoing battle with red wasps every year and they love my attic! No place for me! I'm sure that, because of normal wear and tear and deterioration of materials dust gets worse as a house ages. This is due partly to normal processes but also probably to lack of upkeep and repair. A lot of the time, things are let go until necessity forces you to take action and update such things as flooring, plumbing, roofing, etc., etc., etc.! I know old carpet is a major culprit in the battle against dust - no matter how good a vacuum you have!

I think I can draw a spiritual parallel here. Many times, in our spiritual walk, we allow things to go and we don't maintain our relationship with our Creator like we should. Our prayer life gets lax and we don't read the Word as often as we should. (I'm preaching to the choir here [metaphorically speaking] and I'm a member.) Then, all of the sudden, our lives get really dusty! We realize it and we try to do a little "dusting" and it works for a little while but, before long, we're right back where we were before. Revival comes along and we get all spiritual and our "furniture" sparkles! Revival is over and life comes rushing back in and so does the dust.

What is spiritual dust? No joy. Tension and stress in the home and in our marriages. Depression. Doubt. All the works of the flesh: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like . . . You ask, "Is it possible for a Christian to be plagued with these things?" Well, all I can say is that Paul wrote the book of Galatians to the Church at Galatia and thus to the Church today, so. . . I guess so. Remember that the spirit of these works are present long before any action is ever taken. I would say, it is imperative that you and I keep the spiritual dust out of our lives!

Where does all this dust come from? It is, indeed, facilitated by the enemy of our soul but it comes from our lack of upkeep!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Plans: Subject to Change . . . Without Notice

Before I begin this post I wanted to address my readers. Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. I invite you to please leave comments if something clicks with you or you have something to share that may have come to mind because of something I said. Interaction with you is what I am reaching for in this venue. Thank you, again, for sharing this time with me!

My intention with this blog was and is to "immortalize" my annual Christmas letters in the midst of all the other posts containing my current thoughts. I plan to take one letter a month and use how ever many number of posts it takes to cover that year's letter. This is a new month and so I move to Christmas 1997. I did touch on this letter briefly in an earlier post, but extremely briefly.

It is sometimes quite amusing, in looking back at the plans I made . . . and the assumptions. Most people never have to "own up" to those type of things because they didn't write it down. When something is on paper, it's hard to deny it. But it just proves that the best laid plans are very subject to change . . . and that without notice! It also proves my overall point: that life is a journey and it is all about "becoming". Thankfully, His plan for me, is HIS plan: not mine. And the more I discover about the past that I didn't know at the time, the more thankful I am that God is in control of my life.

My second letter was largely in part a bragging session about my son. And I quote: "Speaking of my son. This is where I begin to brag. During the summer, we decided that we would allow him to go back to public school for his last year. We felt that we had given him a good solid basic education and that he would not be hurt academically and the experiences would be good for him. So far we've been right. He has made principle's honor roll every time and the teachers cannot say enough good about him. I think there have only been about three times that his name and/or his picture has not been in the local paper since school began. He is involved in the band with his saxophone and doing very well with that. He has had solo parts in the new pieces that the marching band has done this year for the ball games. He is a member of the High School Chorus, the bass singer for the men's quartet, and participates and has a solo in the show choir. He performed in the school talent show with his saxophone (as well as other singing groups) and received the only standing ovation of the show. Do I sound like a proud parent or a bragging mother - or what? He is very popular and, I am proud to say, that he is that way without compromising. These things, however, are not what I am most proud of him about. Inasmuch as our soul purpose for being on this earth is to worship and serve God, it gives me great pleasure to know that there is a definite calling in my son's life, although I cannot say what the full extent of that calling is, and he is acknowledging that calling. It goes without saying that a big part of that calling is in music, which I feel is a direct gift from God for me. My son is going to be able to fulfill dreams that I had and was not able to fulfill. He will go far beyond any place I would have been able to attain to, however. God is using him greatly to write and arrange songs as well as poetry. He is also opening doors for him to pursue his dreams of having his songs published and possibly becoming a recording artist. We recently visited Belmont University in Nashville,TN which is where we hope he will be able to attend, the Lord willing. Belmont is the leading University for the music industry and many well-known people in music ministry attended there as well as other secular recording artists. The school has many advantages. There is an 11 to 1 student to teacher ratio and it has an excellent reputation. The school is, however, very expensive, but we will be applying for academic as well as performance scholarships and every grant, etc. that we can. (My husband says, "Everyone who receives this letter, send $5; duplicate the letter 5 times and sent it out." Ha! Ha! Very funny!) Seriously, we are looking to God to provide and we know He will. We will keep you posted - maybe one day you can say, "I know him." I hope I haven't bored you with my bragging." end quote.

Needless to say, many of those grandiose plans we made never came to fruition. But do I think that we failed because they didn't? Absolutely not! God has a plan for our lives. His ways are not our ways. We cannot even begin to imagine the things we might face if our lives took the path that we desired. I'm extremely proud of my son. He's no big recording artist. He still writes awesome songs that I firmly believe will one day be published and perhaps performed by big names. He may not even think that that period of time was his finest hour but his father and I believed in him . . . . and we still do. I can see the hand of God in his life all through these, soon to be, 30 years. King David, in the Bible, was not a perfect man. But he had a heart for God. He desired a relationship with God. And the Bible says he was a man after God's own Heart. He made his plans but when God changed those plans, he accepted it, realizing God knows best.

There is nothing wrong with pursuing your dreams. Just remember you must be flexible: allowing for God to work His plan in you. That way, you won't be surprised, or shaken, when you discover your plans: subject to change . . . without notice!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Finally Understand Why My Mother Threw the Monopoly Game Away

I finally understand why my Mother threw the Monopoly Game away! I totally didn't understand it at 13 but now, at 52, I finally understand! All these years I thought it was so unfair! I thought, there had to be a better way for her to get her point across! My favorite game! It was so valuable! How could she???

I guess you want some background. I have an older brother: 3 years my senior. That would have made him about 16 at the time. Just imagine: a 16 year old boy with a 13 year old sister. A very strong willed 13 year old little sister! Capitalize "sibling rivalry"! We did get along on occasion but we had our "bouts"! I don't remember a whole lot about the situation in question, except that we were playing Monopoly and we were having some "disagreements". About what, I don't remember. I do remember lots of "disagreements", though. Onlookers might have thought we were "mildly violently dangerous". It's comical now but it wasn't then. I know. Those of you who know me now are rolling in the floor! (ROTFLOL!) I remember a few times when sharp pointed objects were "brandished" (but never used, thankfully). This particular time, whatever the disagreement was about, I just remember reaching over and grabbing my brother's nose and twisting! He ended up with a blister on the end of his nose! Quit laughing! I guess my mother had had all she could take! She took that game and threw it in the trash! Of all the indignities! How could she???

They say that we pay for our "own raising" when we have kids of our own. I was mercifully spared the trials of sibling rivalry with my children because I only had one. I realize now there are benefits to not having more than one child. But, I now have grandchildren! With all the glories and wonders that grandparenting holds, but also with all the added "benefits" of learning what it is like to have more than one child at a time! I have the privilege of caring for my two granddaughters: 5 and 3 year olds. Extremely strong willed little girls. Very different from each other but very much their own "persons"! The oldest, Rachel, has been dubbed "Drama Queen", a title which she proudly claims. We thought that the youngest, Jordan, was going to be the mild-mannered, sweet little pixie, but I think "urchin" may become a better description as time goes on! I love them to death! They are the joy of my life! But, as I told a friend the other day, I have to repent all the time because I get so mad at them! I'm trying to teach them good values: how to get along, how to control their emotions and reactions, how to find more creative ways to express their frustrations, how to be sweet and kind, how to be good little girls. I think that I should do this because I'm beginning to think that perhaps some of their "drama-ness" may have been inherited . . . . . from their Mamoo.

Just this morning, the "drama queen" was voicing her frustrations (thankfully not towards her sister) and she acted like she was going to throw a half-way expensive toy simply because it didn't do what she wanted it to do, and I instinctively said, "If you throw that, I'm going to throw it away and you'll never see it again!" And it hit me: I finally understand why my mother threw the Monopoly Game away!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

His Way

There are so many things that have happened in the last few days. Extremes of emotions, from one end of the spectrum to the other, have kept me on a virtual roller coaster ride mentally. I've had trouble focusing on a single clear thought to be able to write about, so I just haven't. Written, that is. They buried my friend on Saturday and I was privileged to sing and play according to her wishes. I was reminded by the minister that we didn't need to worry about living a life full of many years but, more importantly, we should attempt to live years full of life. Then Saturday evening was a time of fun and friendship as my fellow Red Hat Sisters and I celebrated a belated Valentine's with our hubbys. All weekend I battled a physical condition, of which I will spare you the details, that, because of the sheer length of the time I have suffered with it, has tended to cause me mental depression. And then Sunday morning I was reminded of how much God loves me and that He still answers prayer. Since then I have rested on that knowledge as I carry the burden of the sufferings of those that I love and care about. The second paragraph in my second letter (Christmas 1997) says this, "I've learned some things this year: A person can be happy, even in the midst of hard times, God does love us and He is mindful of us at all times and in every situation, and family and friends are two of the most precious possessions a person can have. Of course, I knew these things before, but not like I know them now." I actually could repeat that paragraph every year, especially that last sentence. Why would I, or anyone for that matter, give up that security for something temporal?

The society we live in today is obsessed with the idea of being independent from God. The song, "I Did It My Way", is typical of the prevailing attitude of the masses. They don't think they need God. They think they're self-sufficient. The other buzz word we hear a lot these days is "Change". We need change. And change is what we are getting! In every arena, change is coming so fast that it is scary. I'll grant you, some change is good. If we're going in the wrong direction, we need to change. But what is the measuring tool with which we can determine if change is needed or not? I present to you, my opinion is this: if MY way runs parallel to HIS way, then I don't need to change. And the vice versa is true. I've seen so much "stuff" that masquerades as good when, all along, it is My Way. I guess we could call it the "New Good". I can't imagine how we could think we could improve on the most perfect proven system ever created!

I think one reason I have been feeling these extremes in emotion is that I have been working on myself for a while now, attempting to make myself better by examining my life to this point. I've taken a hard look at my past: my failures and my successes, my victories and defeats. Things I would change if I could do it over. Lessons I've learned and people and things that have influenced me. Risks taken, contributions made. Changes I need to make. I've looked at my "assets", both physical, mental, spiritual, tangible and intangible. I've considered what I would do if I had only 24 hours to live. I've looked at what I want my end to be. I've written my obituary. My epitaph. I've determined what are my core values. I've written a mission statement and a vision statement. I've interviewed myself and attempted to determine my strengths, weaknesses, obstacles and threats. Then I've interviewed others to get a picture of how they see me. I've tried to pick a few things that others see I need to work on to make them my project for the upcoming year. As you can imagine, the emotions evoked by all of this activity bring me to a particularly vulnerable state. There are certainly things in my life that I would like to change but then there are those things, core values, standards and beliefs that I wouldn't change for all the gold in the world. I see people making apparent "paradigm shifts" in areas that are "Landmark" in their importance. I don't understand how they can expect to get the same results with different actions.

There may indeed be an easier way but, all I know is that I want MY way to be HIS way.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Missing You

I lost a dear friend today. She has been fighting the fight of her life - for her life - in a city far away from her extended family and host of friends. Just over a month ago, she didn't even know that she was really sick. And now she's gone. She knew immediately, however, that her time was short and she began making plans. She was calm and serene - at least that is how she appeared in her posts on the internet and personal messages to me. I'm sure it was the same to every one she communicated with. She was always a giver. It not only was her profession (social work), but, by nature, she was a nurturer. She was always concerned about others. But she wasn't afraid to receive. So many times, people who give to an extreme, don't know how to receive. It's hard for me to explain, but, perhaps her own words, will give you a clearer picture of how she drew on the strength of those that loved her:

"in my fused world, on the left side of me is a small box, it sits just above my heart, and though it seems small, it never feels like the content ever changes. . . it is full of the prayers and love you have sent . . . when I need a prayer, I reach into the box and pull one out . . . it is very tiny, so I use my fingertips and . . . drop them onto my heart . . . this is where God has placed your prayers so I can find them . . . funny thing is that sometimes I can see your face. I love it! We cannot choose how we die, only how we live and I choose to live in Christ with the earthly help of each of you! Most tests today . . . love you all."

I don't know if that touches you in the way that it touches me, but I hope that I can face death with such tenderness. I've seen my friend go through some very dark times and I've seen her fight her way out of that blackness. She's not fighting anymore.

I'm missing you, my friend.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Life is Butter Dreams

There is no way that I could wait to get through 7 years of letters before I mentioned the most precious part of me: my grandchildren! I haven't even gotten to my 1997 letter and the first one was not born until 2004! All the letters in the world are not enough to contain my feelings for them or their antics and cuteness (and "orneryness" [it's in the dictionary]). I've wished so many times that I had kept a little journal with me to write down all the things they say, and maybe I'll do more of that with this venue!

Those of you with children, - especially small children - or grandchildren, know how it is: there is always sound. In the background. All around you. And every once in a while a little bit of that sound registers as words to you and you pay attention: "What was that?" This happened the other day. We were sitting in my kitchen and in the background my oldest granddaughter was singing as she often does. Thankfully their lives' (my grandchildren's) are filled with music. Music is an integral part of my life as well as my children's lives. Rachel has a tendency, however, to substitute words. She gets all the syllables in there, and the melody, but sometimes she doesn't catch the words and so she just improvises. Her mother caught my attention and caused me to listen to her singing: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is butter dreams!" And over and over and over again. Every time it was the same. "Life is butter dreams!" Oh, to be a child again. That is what their lives are! "Butter Dreams". What are butter dreams? Soft, smooth, problem-free, innocent, perfect lives. Lives that add flavor to everything they touch! This culture would try and destroy that but we must protect that with everything that is in our power. Children are our most precious responsibilities! Jesus blessed the children and said, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." (Mark 10:14) And in Matthew the 18th chapter, he gives stern warnings to those who harm these little ones (and those of a child-like attitude).

And so, sing on, little One! Live in that perfect world. Give us glimpses, every now and then, into that life of Butter Dreams! We'll let you live there as long as you possibly can! Our love will protect you and the One who created you, who loves you so much more than we ever could dream of, will keep you in His love. And that's not a dream. It's for real!

Friday, February 12, 2010

My Sweetheart

A friend of mine posted something on FaceBook that made me decide what I should write about today. She said,

"It is Valentine's. A time of love. Take time and let all your FB friends know how you met your sweetheart."

Yes, Sunday is Valentine's Day. A day when we think about love. Some think more about who they love, and focus on doing romantic, or sweet things for the object of their love. Some think more about who they hope loves them, and spend their focus wondering what they are going to get. I think my friend has a good perspective. Focus on the moments where love has happened in your life. Treasure those memories and use them as a springboard to create new memories. After all, it's like someone else said:

Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away. (author unknown)

So, where did I meet my sweetheart? Some of my story will not be a surprise to many of you since you think you know me, but, I can guarantee it will be very surprising to many. I met him at a church service (no surprise). It was at my church. He was visiting with his Pastor. I was definitely not the only eligible girl in the room. And I was also definitely not the only girl in the room that felt like fainting! LOL! Wow! Who is that?! Here was this extremely good-looking young fellow, dressed in a classic '70's style, hair just right, with a smile that made you think the lights had been off before he smiled! And he was SINGLE! It was unbelievable! I was right up front on the piano bench and do you think he saw me? No, he did not! Some other 'thing' had caught his eye! I won't belabor this point because I don't want to embarrass him or her (the other 'thing'). But, suffice it to say, I was devastated. To make a long story short, however, he did finally come to his senses. And he did notice me. (Of course, I did my share of praying. . . LOL!)

What is going to be surprising to you is that I never dated my husband. Oh, I was with him all the time. But he was at my home (where my divorced, handicapped mother was all the time) or we were at church or with other young people. I'll be honest, it may have been different if we had lived in another "culture" than what we were surrounded by. But, we did have honest, sincere desires to be virtuous and to save that special part of our relationship for the sanctity of marriage. But . . . . we weren't engaged long! And, apparently, it worked. We will celebrate 31 years this May.

The journey has been . . . interesting, to say the least. But, I have to say, he's my best friend. He's been my refuge when I felt ravaged and abused by this world. He's my rock when everything else seems so shaky. And, as I've told him before, when he believes in me, I know I can accomplish anything I attempt.

I'm thankful for my Sweetheart!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


No story about my journey would be complete without speaking of birthdays. I'm sure I'll tell about certain birthdays and the events surrounding them as I go along but yesterday was my forty-first birthday. You think I'm older than that? Actually yesterday was my Spiritual Birthday. Now, that terminology may be foreign to some of you, but to most, you know exactly what I mean.

I think we should celebrate our "second" birthday even more than we do our first. When I was born into this world physically, I didn't have a choice about it. No choice about who my parents were. No choice about what nationality or race. No choice about my gender. But my second birth was all about choices. I had to decide how I wanted to live my life. I had to decide WHO I wanted to live for: myself or my Maker. I had to decide what I wanted my life to represent. At the ripe old age of eleven, I'm sure that I didn't consciously think about those things individually. I just knew that something and Someone was tugging at my heart. I knew I loved Him and wanted Him to be with me forever. I knew I needed a Saviour!

I'm so thankful that I made that decision at a young age. It's so hard, many times, for adults, who are "set in their ways" to surrender their will to another Power. I'm a very strong-willed person, and, if I had waited, I'm afraid it would have been a much harder decision. That's why it is so important that we teach children, at the earliest age possible, the right way to go: the truth. And the most effective way of teaching is by example. Children learn what they live.

I don't remember anything about my physical birth. But I remember everything about my Spiritual Birth! I remember my thoughts, my feelings, my tears, even the dress I was wearing. I remember the place (I even know the street address), the time . . . . (you know the song). Those memories are forever etched into my mind. I'll never forget it.

The journey that began on February 9, 1969 has been one full of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and victories and trials (tests), but never have I wanted to go back and undo it. I'll have to admit that I've actually had times physically that I would rather to have not been born but never have I wished I had never been born again. In fact, it is that foundation that makes this physical life more secure and more worth living.

If you have not experienced what I'm talking about, I invite you to try it out! You'll love it!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lost and Found

Going to take a little sidebar today . . .

Do you remember the parable in the Bible that Jesus taught about the woman and her lost piece of silver? It's found in Luke the 15th chapter. Jesus was being criticized for fraternizing with sinners. He gave the example of the woman having 10 pieces of silver and losing one of them. He said she would light a candle and sweep her house, seeking diligently until she found that one lost coin. And . . . when she found it, she called her friends and neighbors together for a party to help her celebrate her find! It was lost but now it's found! Jesus went on to say that the Kingdom of Heaven is like that, in that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."

That story was brought home to me this past weekend. Not everything I own is worth a whole lot. And the worth of a possession is not always in its monetary value. (The woman in Jesus' example had 9 other pieces of silver, after all.) What something represents adds much more value than simply dollars and cents. Thus, pictures lost in a fire are, many times, the most devastating of all losses.

I lost something over the weekend that is extremely valuable to me . . . my wedding band. More than the considerable monetary value, my distress was caused by what it means to me. It's irreplaceable. Even if I had the money to replace the object, I wouldn't be able to replace the spirit of it, if you please. When my husband and I were first married, we couldn't afford some of the bare necessities, much less a ring. That fact, along with a few other extenuating circumstances of a totally different nature, determined that our ceremony did not include rings. On our 15th Wedding Anniversary, however, we renewed our vows. Like most married couples, we had had our ups and downs and ins and outs and had survived with renewed purpose to "make this thing work". I even wrote a letter to Focus on the Family about the event and what it represented. It was then that my husband gave me the wedding band that I wear today. It's beautiful. It is in the Anniversary style, yellow gold, with 11 channel set diamonds. Not as expensive as some, but certainly expensive by our standards. My cousin performed the ceremony, and he brought out a different meaning about the wedding ring than I had ever heard. Of course, we know that it represents the token of a covenant - which is what a marriage should be. Not a contract, but a covenant. Basically what he brought out was that, as we age, we lose physical beauty as well as ability, but when my husband sees that ring on my finger, it reminds him of his awesome responsibility to love and protect the bearer. It reminds him of beauty past - even when I have morning breath and "over-night hair" (LOL!). It reminds him that I am still the person whom he married in the beginning. It reminds him of why he married me. I guess you could say, it's my leverage!

So, you can imagine how I felt when I looked down at my hand during Sunday School while my husband was reading aloud in class participation! If anyone was looking, I'm sure I looked like I had seen a ghost! I kept myself from crying and I maintained my composure until he was finished reading and making his comments and then I reached over and quietly told him, "I've lost my ring." He immediately assured me, "We'll find it." And he got up and left. He searched the house: he said he didn't clean house like the woman in Jesus' story but he said he looked everywhere he could think I might have left it. He returned empty handed. After service, I asked him if he had checked our friends' car as I believed I had removed it to apply hand lotion while in their car going to eat with them. He went and checked. No ring. Finally, as a last resort, I asked him if he would take me to the restaurant, where we had gone, to look in the parking lot. I had called the restaurant and asked if anyone had turned in a ring to lost and found but to no avail.

My story does have a happy ending, thankfully! As we drove into the parking lot, I remembered exactly where we parked. I knew that if the ring had been in my lap as I got out of the car probably which direction it would've rolled. There was a car parked in the space next to where we had been. I told him, if it was in the parking lot it would be under that car. He said, "I guess you want me to get down and look . . ." "yes, unless you want to wait until they come out to leave." The car was very low to the ground and he basically had to lay down to see underneath it. "There it is!" Unbelievable! Right in the middle where it would not be run over and scratched up! Right in the middle so that no one walking by would see it! Our friend said, "You're lucky". I said, "I'm blessed"!

And so I know how the woman felt. I called my friends (although we didn't have a party, but we did rejoice!) And it also brings home the purpose of Jesus' story and how it applies in my life. I once was lost. But now I'm found! I know God values me so much more than a mere object of possession! He loves me. And He loves you.

Don't ever forget that!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Small Towns

I've lived in some fairly large cities in my life, but I much prefer a small town. I quote from my first letter (with the exception of the name of the town), "(Town) is a nice small town, where the people are real, the streets are clean, and the nights are peaceful. We have made many friends already and feel that, after only a mere seven months, we are truly a part of the community. Our neighbors have been neighbors, and that is saying a lot. One neighbor greeted us on the second day we were here with a welcome and a strawberry cake. We have fallen in love with the people in our church and feel that the feeling is mutual."

There are places in the world where one might close their eyes and imagine they've gone back in time. Places where crime is very minimal and usually petty. Places where you can leave your doors unlocked. Places where everybody knows everybody (that can be good and it can be bad!) I realize these places are vanishing quickly as perpetrators of those non-existent crimes from the big cities discover this untapped source of "gullibleness" (if that is a word). But we enjoy them while we can.

When we moved to this small Mississippi town, we were moving from a semi-unpleasant larger city (don't want to offend anyone but their major industry was a very smelly one), and before that, we lived, for many years, in a town whose major industry was tourism. You would think that outsiders would instantly feel like insiders in a tourism town: but not so. Even though we lived there for almost 20 years, we never felt like we were a part of the community. Hard to explain or understand. I think there were a lot of undercurrents, maybe even on a spiritual level, that struggled for power. That's why it was so refreshing to come to a place I described as having "real people", "clean streets" and "peaceful nights." We have since moved to another small town, also in Mississippi, where we still live. What is so interesting to me is that, in spite of the short year and a half that we lived in that first Mississippi town, we are remembered by more of those acquaintances from that town than from the previous one where we lived for so many years. We do, however, have some very dear friends that still live in that town, as well as family, which will always tie us to it to a certain extent.

I have voiced a fear in the recent past that small town America is in danger of extinction because of technology, the environment with all of the talk of saving it by changing transportation modes, and a number of other contributing factors. I guess it could go the other way because of computers and the internet: people working from home, purchasing everything from clothing, to cars, to groceries online. That option has my vote! Let's get back to our roots. Plant a garden! Get to know your neighbors! Get a horse! (LOL!) Don't get a motorcycle . . . . (another story)!

Cheers for small towns!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Christmas 1996. It just seems like yesterday, but a whole lot can happen in 13 years! This is really weird: going back and re-reading my letters, knowing all that has happened since then. It's like time travel. It's like looking at pictures from the '70's and thinking, "I can't believe I wore my hair that way!" I think, "I should have written it this way. . . or that way", but it was who I was at the time. And we're talking about a journey. And about becoming.

Each year, my letters seem to take on a life of their own and develop a theme all by themselves. These days, I do try to figure out what that theme should be, but in the beginning, it was not quite so organized. The theme of my current letters revolves around the life lessons I've learned from my experiences during the year. Thankfully, as I grow older, I seem to learn more lessons, more quickly. That being the case, my posts on here will be numerous from a single letter. And the memories that are evoked by what I read . . . and the things I forgot at the time . . . and the things I didn't have room to say.

I would have to say that the theme for that first letter was Friends: old friends, new friends, temporary friends, friends in need and friends in deed. Now, I've been blessed with many friends. In fact, because I have friends, I consider myself successful, fulfilled, safe and extremely wealthy. I have friends that I know would come close to laying down their lives for me. I met one of those really good ones in my first letter. She's my best bud and I believe she'd take a bullet for me. Is that not riches?!

There are times in our lives, though, when we come across people who befriend us when there is no possible way for them to ever reap a reward for it - other than in the life to come. I tell about such people in that first letter. Shortly before we moved to Mississippi, I made a trip with my mother to see my brother and his family and my Dad and step-mother. My hubby had to work so he stayed behind at home. We began our trip home on a Sunday in the morning. We were traveling in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas when "the thing that I feared the most" happened to us. We broke down! In the middle of no where! Very few houses in sight. I can't remember how many people were with us, but it was more than just mother and I. We had several children with us, as I recall.

Who wants to see a bunch of strangers standing on their doorstep on a beautiful Sunday morning just in time to interrupt their day?
Not me.
I met some true-to-life good Samaritans that Sunday morning. This precious, older couple, took us in, fed us, and let us stay in their home all day long! First of all, I didn't have a cell phone and when I tried to phone my husband from their phone, he was at Church and no one would answer the phone! Why do Churches have phones if no one is going to answer them? For goodness sakes, it could be an emergency! It was an emergency! I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere! To make a long story short, it was evening when he arrived to rescue us. Those people were angels, as far as I'm concerned. They wouldn't take anything for their trouble and were the most gracious of hosts to these strangers. We could have been criminals as far as they knew but if that thought ever crossed their mind, we never knew it.
That's friends in deed.
And I wouldn't even remember their names if I didn't have it written down.

I know that I have written many times, over the years, about my friends, so you'll hear about them as well. I treasure them. I like the words of Emily Dickinson, "My friends are my estate. Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them. They tell me those who were poor early have different views of gold. I don't know how that is. God is not so wary as we, else He would give us no friends, lest we forget Him." Our friends help shape who we are, who we become.

I thank God for the blessing of Friends.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Yes, I'm Going To Do It.

Yes, I'm going to do it. I'm going to write. I've always wanted to do it. I already do it in bits and pieces: a paper here, a note there, a post here, a tweet there, a letter once a year to all my friends. Thirteen years ago, after moving to another world (Mississippi), leaving all the people I knew and loved and coming to a place where I didn't know anybody, I vowed that I wouldn't let them forget me. At least once a year I'd bring them up to date on me. Of course, "me" includes "mine": my immediate family that made this move to "outer Mongolia" with me. We moved on June 1, 1996, and the very following Christmas, the "journey" began. I kept a box and stuck bits and pieces of things in it to help me remember what happened; and then, once a year, I'd get it out and write my letter. As the years progressed, I began to have a desire to put my letters into book form. I had limited encouragement from some of my "readers", so I thought it might make it. It seems that every year a different person would be touched in a special way and they'd find a way to let me know. It has never been the same person. Never. That fact has always been my motivation to stay the course. I love doing it, but I must admit, there have been times when I really would have just rather foregone that one time. I always have self doubts and think, "This one is just not good enough." But amazingly, somebody appreciated it. Wow!

For the last several years, I would think that I'm going to finally compile my book, but life always gets in the way, and the year passes, and no book. I saw the movie "Julie & Julia" this year, and it piqued my interest in this form of communication: blogging. I didn't, however, connect that idea with the idea of my book until just recently. I have endeavored to begin creating an online presence over the past year and have come to the knowledge that blogging is a good way to further that cause. You must have something to write about. . . . and then I realized: I have 13 years of stuff to write about already! I always tried to make my letters as short as possible because of my love/hate relationship with the good ole' U.S. Postal Service, and even then they were five and six pages long. But they could've been a lot longer! And the nice thing about blogs is that they are open ended. A book has an ending.

And then, the theme. What is the point? What is the common thread that ties all my letters together? It hit me about a year ago. They're about becoming. Life really does have meaning. Even in the little, ordinary, sometimes dreary details. It's all a process. And the verses in Jeremiah 29 came to me (vs 11-14): "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive." No, I don't think Mississippi is captivity! (Is it apropo to say "LOL" in blogging?) It's all about His Plan For Me. It is a journey, and I love it!

And so, this is the beginning. But it's really more like in the middle because I'm going to go back just like I would've done in a book and start at the real beginning. I'll probably take side roads now and then and certainly will "flesh out" my original letters. I won't use real names (to protect the innocent), and I more than likely won't include every mundane detail (this one got married, this one graduated, etc., etc.), but I will include the spirit of those details. Current events will most definitely be interspersed here and there. And eventually, I will pass the current letter by, and everything after that will be my new letters. Hopefully, it will be something that you will enjoy. I know I'm going to enjoy doing it!