Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sisters are either best friends, arch rivals or bitter enemies. Actually, because they’re girls, they can be all of those things inside of one day. I don’t have a sister so it fascinates me to watch how the sister relationship works. I suppose so much of what happens within twenty-four hours is in direct proportion to the estrogen level in the house. My mom was the oldest of five sisters. I was the first grandchild. When my brother was born, my grandaddy was so thrilled to have a boy in the family he passed out cigars at a high school basketball game.

My freshman year of college I roomed with an identical twin. The girls said they had roomed together for 18 years and they were ready for a change. I’ll have to say that was one of the most fun years ever. Identical twins are almost spooky; like one brain in two bodies. Every night Linda and I would make the all important decision about what we were wearing the next day. At least a couple of times a week Wanda would come to our dorm room during the night and borrow something to wear the next day. Between the two of them they had enough clothes to stock a boutique, but it never failed ... what Wanda randomly chose out of the closet was what Linda had planned to wear. The fireworks began about 8:30 but they were best friends again by noon. I waffle whether I would love it or not dealing with all the emotions that come with the sister package.

When I suddenly lost my brother to a heart attack a couple of years ago, I got a call from Rayanna. She’s married to Jim’s brother, Jerry. If there was a legal limit for laughter the two of us would be in jail for excessiveness. She declared over the phone she was becoming my unofficial biological sister because she didn’t think it would be good for me to be an only child. Besides we are both Brawners and that should count for something. She promised to always be there for me and she has been.

Relatives or not shouldn’t we all do that for each other; be there. Most of the time that’s more meaningful than anything else and it gets even better if you can laugh while you’re just being there. Is there an unofficial sister you can do that for today? And since you’re unofficial the sharing clothes requirement is null and void.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I was driving my regular route home when a giant cardboard sign made from a refrigerator box snatched my attention. Moving Sale was written in fat black magic marker. Dressers, lamps and random pieces of furniture stood lined up in a row. I wondered if somebody had divorced or maybe died.

A colonial style, harvest gold couch stuck out like an awkward freshman desperately trying to fit in. I thought of my high school best friend whose mom had the large floral print version of that very couch. I have grandkids … you do the math.

Secrets of multiple owners over several decades were likely hidden in the tattered cushions of that couch. I could almost smell the combination of cigarette smoke, popcorn, spilled soda, and cat throw-up as I drove by thinking of the years it had seen. Sometimes we keep old familiar things long after they’ve worn out because in some mysterious way they serve as comfort.

If moving on and starting fresh feels so good, why do we cling to so many things longer than we should? On the backside of our good judgment we know we’d be better off without them, but we hoard and hang on anyway. The only explanation I’ve come up with is this; familiar is comfortable, however good or awful it might be.

Oddly enough, some things the most difficult to let go of are dreadful experiences of our past. A painful childhood, an abusive first marriage, betrayal by a business partner, or shamefully poor choices and disappointments are relived every time we let our thoughts wander.

My aunt and uncle are moving out of their home of 40 years and there’s plenty of sorting and tossing out to do. Maybe all of us should take on the same thing with the emotional junk stored in the attic keeping us from moving on and starting fresh. Dig through to see what’s been stashed away, bag it up and dump it.

I’m grateful I drove past the Moving Sale sign in the parking lot of the strip mall. It caused me to take inventory of harvest gold couches I might be hanging on to that really should be put out on the curb.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Charcoal lighter fluid, chlorine, fresh cut grass. What do you automatically think of? Well, maybe it does sound like the beginnings of a drug lab, but the answer I was looking for was summer. Pencil shavings, floor polish, cafeteria. This one is easier ... school. I smell the Jr. high PE locker room and popcorn at basketball games just thinking about school.

Our five sense connect us with the world. Some people are gifted with perfect eyesight. I’m sure chefs have a highly refined sense of taste whether gifted or developed. I feel like my keen sense of smell sometimes gets me in trouble. My memory automatically links events, people and places to the way they smell. Consequently I can catch a whiff of something and memories roll in like the tide.

Jill and I were shopping in the mall and she stopped at a Merle Norman cosmetics store to pick up a lipliner. While she was deciding on color, I wandered over to the tester jars and picked up the cold cream. I unscrewed the lid, stuck my nose in the jar and took a deep breath. Unbelievable! I could almost feel my mom and instantly tears streamed down my face. I could see myself sitting on her bed watching her put on makeup. Precious, tucked-away memories. I was jarred back to the present when I heard Jill stop the sales clerk who had excused herself to check on the woman in the corner who seemed distraught. Jill rolled her eyes, grinning and said, “Oh that’s just my mom. She’s fine. She does this all the time.”

Jill thanked the clerk for her help as we left the store and I apologized for causing concern. I felt like someone out on a day pass.

Memories can be stirred by our senses in a heartbeat. Just like someone leaves a vapor trail wearing too much cologne we leave an impression on people every day with our words and attitudes. Are you whiff of joy, integrity, and compassion or do you stink things up with anger, jealousy and greed? What memories are you building and how will they smell ten years from now?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

One of the unanswered mysteries of the universe is this; why do kids play the same videos and CDs over and over and over just short of wearing them slick? When Jill was six Santa brought her a Cricket doll. Cricket came with a cassette tape that plugged into her back and she talked and she talked and she talked. Jill adored Cricket and took her everywhere.

Late Christmas Day we left on our very first family ski trip we had saved and planned for all year. About two hours down the road, we realized we had made a bad decision letting Cricket come along on the 17 hour drive to Colorado. The constant jabbering drove Travis so crazy about 13 hours in to the trip he held Cricket hostage, rolled down the window, and threatened to throw her off into a deep ravine if Jill didn’t promise to give the doll a rest. I came across Cricket digging through some boxes not long ago. She still scares me.

The video the kids almost wore out was Disney’s Pop and Rock; a tape of cartoon clips set to popular music. One of my favorites was a segment of Goofy set to a Stevie Wonder song. Easy going Goofy danced out of his house in a suit headed to work. Smiling and waving he got in to his car and the minute he shut the door a strange transformation began. A wicked smile crept on his face and his eyes became evil slants. He gunned the engine and took off down the driveway hitting garbage cans. Then he raced down the street cutting people off in traffic and snarled all the way to the office. When he got out of the car, the evil Goofy faded and lovable Goofy instantly returned. He could turn his game face on and off with the click of the door lock.

We laughed every time we saw it because honestly there’s a little bit of Goofy in all of us. Some just hold it in check better than others. What is it about driving that brings the absolute worst out in people? Recently I sat amazed watching the driver of the car in front of me flash an unkind hand sign at another driver he obviously felt was moving too slowly. He must have had a temporary memory loss about the Jesus is My Co-pilot bumper sticker on the back of his car. It made me sad and I wondered; if he’s mean with Jesus in the car with him, what he’s like all by himself?

As your mom probably told you every time you left the house, be nice. When you get in your car today try to remember to keep your inner Goofy under control. If you just can’t help yourself, at least cover up your bumper sticker.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another ...” Ephesians 4:32

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I stretched out on the floor in front of the French doors by my desk to take advantage of the sun. It was 36 degrees outside, but I felt like I was on a Caribbean cruise ship deck. It was fabulous! I think I have an extra chromosome that operates on a photosynthesis type system. Just like plants begin to die without sunlight, I start to wither about this time of year.

My doctor son would probably insist I needed sunscreen for my fictional cruise. He gripes if I walk to the mail box without it. I do understand his concern since he sees people in his office who sizzled in the 60’s and are paying for it now. I’m not sure SPF was even invented then.

When tanning beds first came out in the early 80’s my friend Toni would tease me because I was paying to try to get brown skin like hers. Actually I was just sunshine starved.

I get cold the end of September and don’t really warm up until the 4th of July. Days like yesterday remind me spring and summer are on the way. It gives me hope and wills me to get up and keep going. It assures me gloomy, cold days in the dead of winter aren’t forever.

I listened to a man tell about a time he was moving out of an apartment. He had packed everything he owned in his car and was about to get in when a woman stopped him.

“Are you moving in?” she asked.

“Nope, out,” I answered fighting back tears. She could tell I had been walking though the pits. She reached over, gently squeezed my arm and pointed as if she knew exactly where and said, “Brother, God is waiting for you on down the street just around the corner.” And He was.

Simple hope. We all need the hope something better is on the way. Cold, gloomy days are not forever. Just like God is waiting on down the street around the corner, so is summer.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I’m sure you have one occasionally ... a heavy day. Yesterday was a heavy day for me. Lots to sort through and think about. Sad things, complicated situations, problems that solutions for don’t even seem to be on the radar. That’s the kind of inevitable life stuff that makes for a heavy day.

At noon I said, “Are, you kidding me,” and by 1:30 I was afraid to answer the phone. Around two I made the comment, “What else can happen today,” then quickly recanted remembering my mom said never say that because something else can happen and usually does. Mom’s been gone for almost 10 years and she’s still right.

I decided to stop at the Super Center and almost chalked that experience up to part of the heavy day then remembered that it’s just frustrating, not a real qualifier. See, what happens on a heavy day is after about three things punch you in the stomach, everything starts to look suspect.

So, I vacuumed. Vacuuming is like therapy for me because it’s mindless, but something is getting accomplished and I can talk to myself. And yesterday, I needed a real good talking to. I typically start out naming everything that’s wrong and how unfair it is, but by the time I’m working my way back up the stairs with the Rug Rat attachment I’m remembering life’s not always fair and God didn’t bring me this far to drop me off.

Travis’ senior year of high school the football team had an undefeated regular season. They lost in the first round of playoffs. I’ll never forget over hearing a friend console Travis as he walked off the field toward the dressing room. Eric, who had graduated two years earlier said, “Good game Trav! I’m sorry you guys lost but sometimes life just hauls off and kicks you in the rear. But, I guarantee this; tomorrow the sun will come up and the world will go on. Travis grinned.

So, I made it through the heavy day and Eric’s right, the sun did come up this morning. I’m not quite to the “consider it all joy” part of James 1:2 but I’m hanging on to the “in all things God works for the good” part of Romans 8:28. Today is going to be a lighter day and if it gets heavy again, I’ll just have really clean floors.

Monday, January 25, 2010

If you decide to get a dog, you definitely should consider obedience training. Either find a good school or read a book and tackle it yourself. Dogs, especially the large guys, are so much more fun if they mind.

Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer of National Geographic TV fame and author of several best selling books, is an expert on dog behavior. He’s like SuperNanny for dogs. He says the disobedient dog is not the problem. The dog owner is the problem. It seems we humans tend to let the dogs rule us. We invite dogs into our homes so they join an already existing system. Over time, though, to avoid conflict we tend to let the dog set the rules and it becomes a privilege to live in our own home.

Now that I think about it, that’s the same thing SuperNanny tells parents on her program. Maybe Cesar and SuperNanny have coffee and talk about their shows.

Cesar advocates calm assertiveness with a dog. Yelling, screaming, and stomping aren’t necessary if the owner calmly asserts authority. It’s fascinating to watch dogs make an about face when owners implement his advice.

When I was watching this transformation during one of the training sessions it suddenly occurred to me; if this calm assertiveness thing is good with dogs and kids why wouldn’t it be for life?

Some days drag me around like a big dog I’m trying to take on a walk. I get distracted and jerked here, agree to extra commitments and trip over there, procrastinate and turn around to go in the opposite direction and by six p.m. end up stewing in frustration.

I think I’m going to try a little calm assertiveness, take charge, and not let the day boss me around. If SuperNanny makes it work with someone else’s three year old and Cesar helps a dog understand it, surely I can do this with my day. Yelling, screaming and stomping aren’t necessary and don’t do any good anyway.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

When it comes to thinking, I’m pretty much a black and white linear processor ... cut through the stuff, give me the truth and the bottom line. I’ve been told I lean toward pessimism, but I consider myself more of a realist. I see things as they are. At least I think I do.

Frito Pie reminds me of Sunday night Jr. high youth group so it’s sort of a comfort food. One week, several years ago, had been unusually long and disappointing. Jim was out of town so Jason met me at the Quick Trip snack bar for Frito Pie.

Jason’s more of an all-over-the-place thinker just like his dad. When I am with the two of them I need a GPS to follow the conversation. The scary thing is they never get lost. They communicate in some other realm.

Jason sat down after refilling his Coke and said, “Mom, what’s wrong?” I must have had a stunned, blank look on my face.

“Jason you won’t believe it! This is so cool. Look at the Fed Ex truck,” I said pointing out the window.

“Uh huh,” he said needing help to follow me this time.

“There’s an arrow between the E and the x. FedEx. Like they are moving out! Can you see it? That’s an accidental bonus on their logo!”

“Umm, Mom,” he grinned. “I’m quite certain that was no accident. It’s part of the design.”

“Really?” I asked, knowing he was likely right. I realized what was so evident to him, I was oblivious to. For me it was just like looking at those blobs of ink you’re supposed to see the old woman, the young woman and Jesus. I really have a tough time seeing past the obvious.

When disappointing things happen my first reaction used to be; analyze, evaluate and consider what it would have taken for a different outcome. To me that’s realistic thinking. Jason thinks abstractly and, over time, has pushed me to look through different lenses and outside the black lines I mentally draw boxes with. When I do, I can see circumstances differently. Perspective changes. It’s amazing what your kids can teach you.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

If asked what would be absolutely necessary if I was stranded on an island like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, I would say Chapstick and stacks of books. Oh, I would add several pairs of glasses in case of loss or breakage. When I was a kid I saw a Twilight Zone episode where the world blew up and just one guy was left. He loved books too and wore those Coke bottle lens glasses. When the explosion happened, he was in the library. After realizing he was the only one left, he smiled and sat down to read. As he bent over to pick up his first book his glasses fell off and broke. I cried. I always carry an extra pair of reading glasses.

If I could have a person with me on the island it would definitely be Jim because he’s so much fun to hang out with and if I could have only one beverage it would be sweet tea. That wouldn’t be too bad. It actually sounds more like the two of us sipping tea, reading on the beach in Cancun.

Sometimes when I read I go back and reread to clearly understand. I was reading first Corinthians 13 again recently. It’s such a fluffy passage. It makes me think of white satin and tulle probably because it’s read at so many weddings while the bride and groom stare at each other. I am positive they aren’t concentrating on what is being read, they’re thinking about the honeymoon.

But, the other day when I was reading I tried not to think about all the white fluff, but all relationships. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

It’s intimidating to take apart that little word, because it’s as if it comes with it’s own set of rules. We toss it around so carelessly. Today when you say love in any circumstance think about everything it really is and isn’t. I love to read, but I love who I sit by, reading on the beach, more.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I went to lunch with Roxie yesterday. She’s one of those Southerners I told you about last week who’s so polite and says everything is GREAT when asked how she’s doing. But, Roxie is a friend who’s real. She does, though, belong to that group of women who can make it through a whole meal never disturbing their lipstick. How does that work? It fascinates me because no matter how hard I try, I can’t do it. It’s troubling to think about how much lipstick I have eaten over the years.

After we were seated, I opened the menu and proceeded to totally confuse myself. “Oh, maybe I’ll get the soup and a salad. No wait, soup and a sandwich. Oh, but I could have a sandwich and a salad.”

I settled on the soup and salad and was relieved to find out the salad came with a special dressing. Otherwise I would have had to choose from the list of 12 dressings servers recite in their sleep. Why are there so many choices?

I used to get heart palpations as I walked toward the Starbucks counter because I wanted to say my order correctly. For the longest time I just got black coffee because I was afraid I'd sound like I didn’t know what I was talking about. I have my favorite drink figured out now and won’t dare change because I’d have to face the pressure of making choices again. There are choices in everything down to toilet paper; soft or strong, regular roll or giant roll, single ply or double ply? Seriously, we’re talking about something that ends up in a sewer plant. I suppose we should count ourselves blessed because we have so many choices.

Even though we don’t have control over so many things that happen, we do have control of the choices we make. Not just toilet paper, coffee or lunch, but life choices. How we talk, how we treat people, what we give back. Living with the results of those choices, the good and the not so good, is just part of the package. How easily we turn to blame someone else for a decision we made that didn’t turn out well. We have the privilege of choice and with that privilege comes responsibility. As my once kindergarden teacher daughter-in-law says, “Let’s see if we can all make good choices today.”

“ ... preserve sound judgement and discernment, do not let them out of your sight ... " -Proverbs 3:21

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I was scrolling through Facebook eating a bowl of cereal while I was on the phone. One comment that caught my eye was so convicting I put everything down. The post read, “I wish I could be conscious when I sleep so I could enjoy just doing nothing”. I was busted.

There I sat doing three things at once trying to figure out how I could do more. I’m sure that condition is listed in the psychology archives as a mental disorder, but it has become acceptable by today’s standards. Most of us go from zero to 60 the minute we hit the floor in the morning. We could say it all started when Starbucks became one of the primary food groups, but I think it’s much deeper than our coffee.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought that sleeping is probably a waste of time. I knew I wasn’t the only one. I wake up in the night analyzing things and problem solving. I keep a notepad and pen by the bed so if I think of something I don’t want to forget, I jot it down in the dark. Sometimes in the morning it looks like a drunk left me notes.

I felt better when a friend explained why I can suddenly go blank over the simplest thing at 11 in the morning only to remember it at 11 that night. She said our brain circuits look like the freeway system with all the on ramps and exits. When there is so much going on in our lives the brain gets clogged like a traffic jam. That explains why something I’ve been trying to remember all day hits me twelve hours later. The traffic cleared out.

We blame so many things for the chaos in our lives, but what’s weird is we almost enjoy wearing it as a merit badge. Do we somehow think the more we do the more badges we earn? The saddest part is we shortchange relationships along the way because we are too busy to be kind, patient, gentle or good. I double-checked the fruits of the spirit list in Galatians 5:22 and busyness was not listed. I think I’ll give my Los Angeles 5 o’clock traffic brain a break today.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How many times have I said, “There’s no need to downsize until you are at least 80 years old?” Eating my words never tasted sweeter. We listed our house five years ago toying with the idea of moving and the third person who looked at it bought it. In a time crunch, with some creative thinking, we bought an empty town home on the lake that wasn’t for sale. I still insist we’re much too young to have made such a drastic move, but there’s always exception to every rule.

We traded for a smaller space, much less to clean and a to-die-for view. I can live with that no matter what my preconceived age limit for downsizing is. Walking onto the back porch when it’s anywhere above 55 degrees with a glass of tea and a book is as good as opening the door to an exclusive spa ... pure therapy.

Last summer Jim hung a red hummingbird feeder on the porch that David had given him for his birthday. I was stunned to see how many hummingbirds it drew. I usually watch them from my desk, but one afternoon thought it would be fun to watch outside.

Hummingbirds are feisty guys and selfishly guard the feeder when it gets crowded. I had been watching the rocket speed dashing and darting for about fifteen minutes when all of a sudden one dove straight for my nose. You would have thought a turkey buzzard was coming in for the kill when I jumped up and screamed swatting the air in front of my face. Poor bird, I know I shocked him more than he did me.

“Why on earth did it dive bomb me?” I thought as I picked up my glasses. I felt ridiculous when I realized I had knocked them across the porch in attempt to save my face from something that weighs less than an ounce. Then it hit me; my glasses are the same color as the red syrup in the feeder. He was only going for what looked good from a distance.

I can’t blame the bird because I have done the same thing so many times. I think I know what I’m doing, but not necessarily. Something looks so good from far away, but up close it gets ugly. Decisions are made from a distance with information I have, but occasionally things turn out differently than I thought they would.

Here’s what I’ve discovered. If it’s something that can be changed, maybe a job or where you live, like the hummingbird it’s OK to make a U turn and head in a different direction. If it’s something permanent like marriage, shift perspective, work it out, don’t give up and try not to dive bomb each other.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Have you ever tripped but regained your footing just before hitting the ground? Was your first reaction one of relief you were actually agile enough to stay on your feet followed by a quick scan of to see if anyone was watching? Yep, we all do the same thing. Some of the best clips on America’s Funniest Home Videos are people falling. Why do we find so much humor in someone else’s unfortunate bumble? I really think we’re just glad it’s not us. Falling feels so stupid.

I know because the standing joke in our family is, “Where will she fall next?” Jim, Jill and I were crossing the street in New York City. When Jill turned around to say something to me, I was gone. Not really, I was on the pavement in the middle of Broadway. A mounted police officer got off his horse to help me as the hundreds of pedestrians were stepping over and around me. I realized I could either laugh or cry. I laughed so hard I could barely get up.

Last year in London I fell down an old rock stairway headfirst in to a men’s restroom. I blamed it on the 200 year old steps, but in reality it was my lack of paying attention. After she realized the only thing injured was my pride, Jill went into one of one of those so-intense-there’s-no-sound laughing fits. Jim stood at the top of the stairs and said, “Well, it’s official: She has fallen in London.” Clearly my family doesn’t cut me much slack.

Over Christmas we were recounting how many times and places I have fallen and it suddenly occurred to me every time I fall, Jill is with me. She assured me she would never push so it must be me all by myself.

Not only am I an admitted klutz, I also trip over myself so many times trying to do life right. I fail in relationships, I forget things, I offer my opinion too freely, and my attitude gets stinky. I look around to see if anyone is watching and sure enough they usually are. I pout for a little while then remember we’re all going to trip and falling is sometimes unavoidable. Here’s what I’ve learned; the most important thing is to not stay down, get up, dust off, and try again. And ... it doesn’t sting so much if you can laugh at yourself.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New in town and learning to navigate the public transit system, a young man stepped on the bus. He was trying to be as “green” as possible and taking the bus three days a week would not only save gas money and parking charges, it would help the environment. He handed the driver the fare, asked a couple of route questions, took the change and looked for a seat. As he was putting the coins in his pocket before he sat down he discovered the driver had accidentally given him back a quarter too much.

Trying to concentrate on the directions he’d been given, his conscience shoved him as he sat down, “You’d better give the quarter back. It would be wrong to keep it.”

“Oh, it’s only a quarter and the bus company charges too much anyway,” he argued with himself.

“God will trust us with the big things when he sees he can trust us with the little things,” he could hear his Sunday school teacher saying.

“What if the quarter is a gift from God?” he debated.

“Are you kidding me? A quarter won’t even get you a larger coffee. Isn’t your integrity worth more than a quarter?” reason asked.

As he was getting off the bus he handed the quarter to the driver and said, “You gave me a quarter too much change. Here you go.”

The driver smiled as he took the quarter and said, “I gave you too much change to see what you would do. I know you’re the new pastor in my neighborhood and I’ve been looking for a church. Thanks for the quarter and I’ll see you Sunday.”

Don’t you know that young pastor broke out in a cold sweat when he got off the bus! What a clear reminder that someone is always watching ... a coworker, the neighbor, people we don’t even know or most importantly our kids. What a challenge to make sure our say and our do are the same.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I have a l list of things I really don’t like. I’ve never really written them down on paper, just in my mind. Loosing Jim in Walmart, which now is a non-issue with cell phones, roaches, colored plastic Easter grass that reproduces and shows up under the couch in October, traffic and coming in at #1, mice. How can something so small be at the top of the list of things I really don’t like? I guess it’s because they’re so quick and sneaky and they leave poop trails. The worst part is if you spot one mouse you know their friends and relatives are not far behind.

My dislike started in college when we fed one for three months before he finally was trapped. If there are smart mice, this was one. We never figured out how he got the bait without setting off the trap. Every morning I had a creepy feeling he was watching from under the stove smiling because he had outsmarted us again.

When the kids were very young we lived in a subdivision surrounded by woods. A house in the cul-de-sac burned down and mice stormed the neighborhood looking for a free meal in the rubble. All the neighbors ended up with a mouse or twelve. Everyone was desperate to be rid of them except Jason, who was devastated over what he considered mouse executions. They were reproducing faster than we could trap them and I’m positive distant relatives of the original mouse invasion still lived in the attic when we moved two years later. You can see why they’re #1 on my list.

I was so frustrated with someone the other day. The more I thought, the more irritated I got. Then I realized something. Just like mice occupy a house, negative thoughts quickly sneak into our minds and if we aren’t careful they camp out there. Why are we so fast to criticize and judge people, most of the time without knowing their back story? Then we share our conjured up theories with others, the gossip begins, and just like mice, it leaves poop trails. The collateral damage gossip leaves is not as easy to clean up either. Consider the mice when your thoughts head in the wrong direction. I really should let negative, critical thinking share the #1 slot with the mice.

“If we are so busy judging people we don’t have time to love them.”
-Mother Teresa

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I found a gray eyelash this morning. What’s that about? I didn’t even know there could be such a thing. I looked a little closer and noticed my eye was twitching. Maybe I’ve been at the computer way too much and must be seeing things. Nope. When I checked again, it was still there. It’s really disturbing to realize such odd things age I’m not even aware of.

Standing in a long, slow line at the grocery store yesterday didn’t help. It was impossible to miss the group of airbrushed lovelies watching me from the magazine covers. That’s enough to make anyone automatically grab some consoling chocolate, even women without a gray eyelash.

I reached for the tweezers then all at once came to my senses. It makes my eyes water just thinking how that would have felt. Why do we do that? We’re always fault finding with our appearance. I’ve watched interviews with those who the world would consider gorgeous women and even they confess worry about their “glaring imperfections”. So it has to be a universal affliction on the female chromosome. None of us are ever satisfied with how we look.

Thinking about all that, I suddenly remembered the scripture explaining how much more important our hearts and attitudes are than our exteriors and felt relief. So I smiled and we faced the day, me and my gray eyelash. Besides, that’s why God gave someone the fabulous idea to invent mascara.

“ ... Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
-1 Samuel 16:7

Friday, January 15, 2010

When he was about twelve, my son Travis told me picking a Texas woman out of a crowd was easy. After guessing what I thought were obvious reasons; she talks with a drawl, she drives an oversized SUV, and she has big hair, he grinned, shaking his head, because he knew he had me stumped. “Then what?”, I said.

“I know because when asked how she’s doing, every Texas woman says, ‘Great! Everything’s just great!’ You know her life can’t be great all the time, but she always says she’s great,” he answered.

Interesting observation. It’s probably because most Texas and southern women tend to be so proper. Truthfully, to a certain degree, all of us are programmed that way. My mother would say, ”No one truly wants to listen to all of your stuff when they ask how you’re doing, they’re just being polite”. Mom’s also the one who taught me to say, “Bless her heart” to keep from saying something ugly about someone.

Wouldn’t it be fun, just once, to say what you really want to say, but don’t dare in polite circles? “How are you doing? Haven’t seen you in so long! What’s going on?”, some unsuspecting person might ask.

“I know how I’m supposed to answer by all Texas, southern and/or Christian standards, but if you really want to know, it honestly seems like I’m living in a three ring circus. Sometimes I feel like I’m riding an elephant. Often I feel like clown. Then some days I feel like I’m being shot out of a cannon. I hop from ring to ring, but lately it’s more of the cannon shooting thing I’m experiencing. Other than that, I’m doing great!”, you might answer with a smile. “How are you?”

“Great! Great! Good to see you,” she would politely reply, most likely murmuring “Bless her heart” as she walks away.

It would be so freeing, but probably not advisable. More than just being polite, the fear of rumors starting probably keeps us smiling and saying, ”I’m great!”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

For two reasons I asked my friend, Jack, about the ring on his pinky finger. It’s not made of material rings are usually made of and, quite honestly, Jack, in my mind, isn’t really a pinky finger ring kind of guy. Maybe it’s a mental image I’ve come up with from some book I’ve read, but to me pinky finger ring guys play croquet and have a brandy by the fire in their ascots. They probably lift their fingers as they sip. Jack would rather be blazing trails through the woods on a four wheeler than anywhere else and I’m quite sure he doesn’t own a single ascot. All that to say, you can understand my question about Jack’s pinky ring.

Here’s what he told me and as he explained, I could understand how important the ring was to him.

There’s a tradition in the Canadian engineering schools dating back to the 1800s, the Iron Ring Ceremony. Each graduate is presented with a very significant ring that carries a huge responsibility. First, the ring indicates completion of engineering school. Second, it’s to be worn on the little finger of the writing hand. As the engineer works, the clicking sound from the ring hitting the work table is a reminder of the responsibility to details. And lastly, the ring is made of iron salvaged from engineering disasters. The majority of structures, he went on to say, collapse not because of defects in the large expanses of metal, but because of a bolt or a screw … the little things.

That ring is a constant call to awareness. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we all had a pinky finger ring reminder of some kind. Not just buildings and bridges crumble because of small mistakes and lack of consideration. How much better would all of our relationships be if we were kinder, more patient, and less testy? The little things. If we pay attention to the little things then, just maybe, the big things won’t break.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13

I call it the Blue Dress Theory. I think psychologists probably call it oblivious bullheadedness or something like that. Here’s the theory. If the first time I wore what I thought was a really great blue dress and someone said, “That’s an interesting dress, but I really don’t think it’s my favorite for you,” I would think that’s one person’s opinion. If the next time I wore the dress a different person made a similar comment, I would think two people have the same opinion and my goodness aren’t people rude. But, when person number three, four and five say the same thing, I should start to wonder. If I was smart and discerning I might consider the common denominator in everyone’s comments ... the blue dress. (Disclaimer: I never really owned the blue tie-dyed dress.)

How many times have you watched someone continue down a treacherous path regardless of numerous warnings? Nothing you or anyone else says or does seems to penetrate overconfidence headed in the wrong direction. It’s heartbreaking. Over several years I watched a couple defend every mistake their child made enabling him so much he could barely think for himself. Every disaster in his life was “someone else’s fault”. He was never allowed to suffer natural consequences therefore he had no sense of personal responsibility for his actions. Mom and Dad always had a bail out plan. Time after time friends and family tried to intervene and explain to the parents they were literally handicapping their child, but were waived off. The parents ignored the Blue Dress and his life unfolded like a tragic movie script.

Usually we don’t make major decisions on one person’s opinion. However, when the same comment is repeated over and over, even if it’s something we don’t want to hear, it’s going to be in our best interest to listen. Don’t be a Blue Dress victim.

“Fools think they need no advice, but the wise listen to others.”
-Proverbs 12:15

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Hate Cancer. The simple tee shirt with stark white letters keeps coming to my mind. It’s like hearing a song in the drive thru at Sonic I really don’t like, but keeps running over and over in my head. It just won’t leave me alone. I’ve thought a lot about that tee shirt and how it reflects the feelings of so many. Cancer is mean and it picks on such nice people like the bully on the 6th grade playground. Granted it hits those who are asking for it by living a reckless lifestyle, but it also gets in the face of innocent people who in no way are looking for trouble.

Esophageal and stomach cancer smacked my brother-in-law, Joe. My friends Gaye, Mary Anne, and Marti, have been blindsided by breast cancer. Shelley has been through nine surgeries since this time last year. Another dear friend is having her second surgery today. Battling cancer is a grueling fistfight that wears its victims slick and leaves their families drained. Even though my mother’s voice whispers in my ear “We don’t hate”, if she were here I just know she would say hating cancer is an OK thing to do.

I’ve not had to go toe-to-toe with cancer in my body. But I considered another kind of bully that sneers at me and if you’re honest, you’ll probably admit it does you too. It’s kind of a mental malignancy that becomes such a part of our thinking it seems normal. It’s deadly and, over time, chips away at who we are. When we peel back the layers of this affliction at the very core, doubt, worry and fear sit taunting us. They whisper to our hearts: “What if I’m not smart enough?” “What if I try and fail? “Things just aren’t going to get better.” Just like the song at Sonic, it sings over and over and over in our heads.

It’s disturbing when I realize what I’m listening to on the Ipod in my mind. Just like eating too many chips at a Mexican restaurant, I know better, but I do it anyway. Second Timothy 1:7 jolts me back to reality every time I start mentally slinking lower and lower. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” It makes me want to slap my forehead and yell, “What was I thinking?” I am a strong, loving, powerful, smart women and God loves me and thinks I’m fabulous. So there!”

How do we get so off track and let our thoughts boss us around like the grade school intimidator? Stand up and remember who you are when they back you in to a corner like the mean kid on the jungle gym. Don’t let yourself be pushed around by mental heckling.

I Hate Cancer! Progress is made every year in the prevention, detection and treatment of this ruthless disease. For that, I’m so grateful. Wouldn’t it be interesting, though, if there were a machine that detected tumors in our thoughts? What would your test results look like?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Flowerbeds ran across the entire front of the house we used to live in. Every spring I made an investment of time and money choosing, planting, and grooming red, white, and purple petunias. They must have loved living with me because they bloomed nonstop from late April until mid-October. The HGTV folks would have been proud.

Not long after the 4th of July, the wear of hot sun and hungry bugs would show up on the petunias. Their color started to dim and as my mom would say, they would get leggy. The midsummer ritual was to trim them back, put fertilizer in the beds and spray their tops and undersides with bug killer. Within a few days they would perk back up and show off like little girls until the first frost.

One summer, tune-up time for the flowerbeds landed two weeks after Jill’s wedding. The petunias looked like a group of awkward, scrawny, junior highers standing out front. I had been so saturated in mother-of-the-bride busyness I barely took time to water. To make up for my neglect, I spent most of one morning trimming, fertilizing, bug spraying and apologizing, promising I would take better care of them for the rest of the summer.

Two days later I went out early with a hot cup of coffee to check on the girls. About half of the flowers were drooped over as if they had barely survived the stomach flu. It was hot, but I was watering every day. This was a complete mystery. I went to the garage to check labels to see if I had over fertilized or over sprayed for bugs. I was mortified when I discovered I hadn’t sprayed for bugs, but for weeds! I had attacked my beautiful petunias with weed killer! Unbelievable!

The petunia massacre, as my kids called it, was nothing but carelessness. Like spraying weed killer, we can carelessly sprinkle or spatter unkind words on friends and family because we are distracted or too busy. The amazing power of words is scary. We can praise and encourage or criticize and destroy. Consider the potential damage before you speak. Be careful with petunias and cautious with your words.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A farmer discovered his donkey had fallen into an old abandoned well. He tried everything he could think of to get the donkey out, but nothing worked. He called several of his farmer friends to come over hoping they had some rescue ideas. All they could do was stare blankly at the situation. “That donkey is old and probably doesn’t have much time left even if it hadn’t fallen in the well,” the farmer reasoned. “I really need to get a young, new donkey anyway.”

With that decided, he handed each of his friends a shovel. He was just going to bury the old donkey. It’s a good thing PETA didn’t hear about this. As the men started throwing in dirt the donkey cried and cried until suddenly it was quiet. Thinking the donkey was dead, the farmer was shocked when he looked down in the well. Each time a shovel full of dirt hit the donkey he shook it off and stepped up on top of it and shook it off and stepped up on top of it and shook it off and stepped up on top of it. Finally the pile of dirt was so high the donkey was able to walk out of the well.

True story? Well... maybe. However, we can all relate to the donkey. Shovels full of dirt hit us every day. Some days it feels like a dump truck backs up and unloads not just dirt, but barnyard litter. It’s not fun, but we have a choice in what we decide to do with it. Do we let it bury us or do we shake it off and step up on top of it? Is it a trial or an opportunity? Is it manure or is it fertilizer? You choose.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

This is a picture of my favorite vacation place. I travel there in my imagination every two hours because it has been so cold here. It seems to help. I used to make fun of people with those Snuggie things, but at two this morning I secretly wished I had gotten one for Christmas. I could justify keeping it because I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

What’s best about my warm beach of choice is having the opportunity to simply sit and listen. The waves, the wind, people laughing, the music, even the sound of those prehistoric looking birds are all a part of why I relax. I suppose it’s mostly because I take the time to consciously listen.

Listening is honestly a learned art. It’s easy concentrating on the sounds of the beach, but it’s much more of a challenge to stay focused when someone else is talking. That’s probably because most of the time we are more interested in having our say than listening to what is being said.

What a gift you extend listening to a friend without analyzing, judging, or trying to fix anything. Being quiet, making eye contact, lifting an eyebrow occasionally, and saying things like, “Oh, wow!” or “Then what happened?” is like a dose of medicine for a flustered heart.

There’s more to listening than just being quiet. It’s not passive, but active. It requires silencing all the noise and conversations in your head and not thinking about what you’re going to say next. It’s pure attention and concentration on the other person. Listening is the greatest way to show someone you care.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Recently I was flying to an event on a Friday afternoon. Because there were numerous cancellations and weather delays frustration was running high. Like cows headed to the barn, Friday afternoon business travelers were ready to get home. Being detained only heightened the tension. I made my way through security and found a seat at the gate.

Since the small plane looked like it would only be about half full, I was shocked when boarding was announced to watch everyone rush the gate as if there was a seat shortage. Maybe they knew something I didn’t, so I quickly got in line.

The man in front of me commented to the man in front of him that it really wasn’t necessary to push. Obviously the man who had done the pushing was angry to begin with and now he was really hot. He wheeled his carry on bag around and got right up in the face of man in front of me. “You shut up!” he said, in a loud voice. Then told him where he could go. The man in front of me took a step back and so did I thinking a full on fist fight was about to break out and I might take the first punch! As I was trying to get out of the way I bumped in to a very tall, bowed up National Guard guy in uniform who very politely said, “Gentlemen, let’s all calm down, turn around and get on the plane.” And they did.

The TSA agents should be on the lookout for angry Friday afternoon flyers as well as terrorists.

When I sat down on the plane all I could do was laugh. People look at you strangely when you are sitting alone laughing. Truly I haven’t been in a situation like that since 7th grade. I sure hope the pushing man realized how ridiculous he looked.

Why can’t we all just get along? I guess some people never emotionally graduate from Jr. High and the need to push. Maybe we should learn how to be nice from watching schools of fish: Stick together. Swim in the same direction. Avoid collisions when at all possible.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I’ll have to be honest. I’m in an adrenaline let down today. This must be how the football players feel after the Super Bowl. Well, ... kind of. January 7th does me this way every year. Our family parties from Thanksgiving until yesterday. Right after all the turkey is my daughter, Jill’s birthday. My oldest son Jason’s birthday is three days before Christmas. Next we have Christmas for one full week with all the parties and dinners straight in to New Year’s celebrations. The final hurrah was my middle son Travis’ birthday yesterday. Next year we’ll celebrate two new babies’ birthdays who were born November 12th and December 14th. It’s like a 6 week festival of sorts!

Last night when we were singing Happy Birthday and having cake one more time, I knew it was coming. Again, it’s January 7th. Today I think I’ll take a deep breath and regroup. Am I tired, absolutely. Am I blessed, beyond imagination. When I consider how many lonely people spend this time of year in a well of sadness, I teeter on feeling guilty if I even consider complaining about my adrenaline crash. A cup of coffee and a hug usually make things better anyway. Today when you’re out in the world remember this; so many people you come across need a kind word of encouragement. How many can you make smile?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I was in the grocery store checkout line considering if all the ingredients for dinner were in the cart. As the checker ran the mozzarella cheese across the scanner I noticed it rang up a dollar ninety-five more than the sale price on the display.

"That cheese is actually on sale for $2.00," I told the girl ringing up my groceries.

"Oh?" She responded as she pulled out the weekly flyer. "Well, you are right," she agreed as she motioned to the manager. "Ron, this cheese is on sale and it came up at the regular price.”

"I'll be right back," he said heading toward the dairy case in the far corner of the store.

Feeling inconsiderate for slowing down the late afternoon flow of the check out line, I turned to the woman behind me and apologized for the computer error. She smiled politely probably wondering how she always ends up behind someone who wants a price check or debates with the clerk over coupons. Ron returned explaining that I had picked up the 16-ounce package, not the 12-ounce package that was on sale. As he handed me the cheese, I turned to the woman behind me again. This time I was not expecting to receive such a pleasant smile since it was my human error instead of the computer.

"I am so sorry. I know how irritating it is to be in line behind shoppers like me."

Since frustration with other people's mistakes is not easily hidden at five o'clock in the afternoon, her response surprised me. She grinned and said, "I refuse to let four ounces of cheese ruin my otherwise wonderful day."

That should be inscribed in stone somewhere!! Even though I have never seen her again, the grocery store lady has reminded me for years to count inconveniences as nothing but four ounces of cheese.

I’m not a big fan of change. I like a routine and a plan because it feels like there’s security in working the plan. Change others don’t miss a step with can set me off balance for days. I’ve gotten a little more flexible over the years, but still resist what I consider unnecessary change.

I had to get a new computer because mine was an antique in computer years and had begun slowly slipping away. Most people would be thrilled, but I had to get to the point of total exasperation before I conceded to a trip to Best Buy. After an hour of what I’m sure the twenty-something geek guy thought was basic instruction, I left the store with a blank stare and sweating palms. It will take me until this one is dying to understand how everything works.

Whether we like it or not the only thing really consistent in life is change itself. Change is good mostly because it kindly forces us to step out of our “safe” zones so we learn and grow. Who wants to become stagnant and boring anyway?

So, I’m fearlessly taking the challenge of learning a new computer. I’ve also been given a bonus lesson as this adventure clearly reminds me to never flippantly say, “Oh, it’s so easy,” to someone who is facing something new.

Monday, January 4, 2010

All of us have a friend who has the ability to cut through all the stuff, without pretense, and say what really needs to be said. And without pouting and whining we not only hear what is being said, but we really listen. Deb does that for me.

The other day I caught myself mentally complaining about being worn down. “Why does everything have to be so challenging? If just one thing could be simple…” These two thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone. So, I called my friend who refuses to come to my pity parties.

I thought I might get an “Aww” or “You poor thing” out of her this time, but nope. After patiently listening to my soap opera she said something that made so much sense.

“I don’t mean to sound strange or Zen-like, but have you ever watched running water in a stream?” she asked me. “When it comes up against a rock what does it do?”

“It goes around it,” I answered. “It takes a different path.”

“If water does that, why can’t you?” she said. “Don’t keep pushing on your obstacles, find a way to go around them.”

I thought about water for the rest of the day. The human body is 55-75% water depending of the size of the person. So I should be able to act like water. Water may look smart, but God gave us the ability to reason and re-route. Our pastor once said, “Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results is called insanity.” No wonder the frustration! Recalculating instead of pushing just might work.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shut The Gate

I heard a pastor tell the story of his father constantly reminding him when he was a kid to close the gate behind him as he left the barnyard. “If you leave the gate open, the animals will follow you around”, his father would say.

He asked the crowd, “Isn’t that what we should do with our past; shut the gate so it won’t follow us around?”

I think that’s brilliant! Granted, the roads we’ve traveled make us who we are. But, why don’t we just leave the hurtful junk in the barnyard, shut the gate, and move on? If we really need to, we can peek back over the fence to remind ourselves how we don’t want to do things. Then we can walk away and escape without all the “animals” following us begging to be fed and taken care of. Besides what we don’t feed won’t grow.

Change, even with the way we think, is not easy even though the end result is good. We get comfortable with where we are and what we are doing regardless of how destructive it might be. Moving forward and moving on simply begins with a decision to take the first step in the right direction.

It’s a new year. Why not take that first step?

“…Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…”
-Philippians 3:13

Saturday, January 2, 2010

January 2

Every year, while digging through boxes of lights and ornaments the weekend after Thanksgiving, I promise myself I’ll put the Christmas decorations away labeled and in order after the 1st. I never keep that promise. I’m in such a hurry to get the house cleaned up; I randomly pack things wherever they fit in the storage tubs. My plans are well intended in November, but are always renegotiated in January.

I have friends who color code everything with one of those little guns that spits out labels. I used to be envious of their efficiency. But I’ve decided decorating is probably a little robotic and boring for the overly organized. They miss out on the joy of rediscovering a 1980’s ornament that’s been hidden in the bottom of a box for 5 years. Or they don’t get the opportunity to uncover a handmade ornament with a child’s grinning, toothless second grade picture on it. Yesterday, when I was packing things away, I realized those little surprises are what I look forward to when I pull down the boxes after Black Friday.

The lights are rolled up and the ornaments are in the tubs and things are back to normal, whatever that is. This year in November I’m not going to complain that I got in a hurry in January. I think I’ll relax as I untangle things and just simply enjoy the decorating process.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome 2010

The first day of a new year is enchanting. It’s full of hope and endless possibilities. New and unspoiled … like looking out on fresh snow before people and dogs have tramped through it and messed it up. Then life happens. The hot water heater meets a sudden and untimely death. An irritating head cold sneaks through layers of hand sanitizer. A friend disappoints. A job is lost. A loved one dies. The pure, serene snow scene begins to look more like a broken snow globe. But that’s real life. The challenge is to enjoy it regardless.

I’m blogging through the year. Let’s encourage one another to step on top of the debris we encounter every day, learn from it, and have fun in spite of it. I don’t want to hear myself saying, “It was a bad day”. How sad! Clearly some days are much more challenging than others, but “a bad day”, I don’t think so. We have the day. It’s a gift. Say thanks, be grateful and push on. Happy New Year! It’s going to be a surprising.