Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wisdom arrives when you realize the importance of the little things.  If we’re not careful we spend the majority of our lives waiting on and looking for the milestones and newsworthy, breezing past what seems to be ordinary.  One of my favorite ordinary things comes every week ... Sunday morning. 
When I was growing up my mom cooked breakfast every day, except Sunday.  Sunday was cereal day and that was enough to make it special.  It was like we were breaking rules or something by eating cereal.   I couldn’t wait to dig through the five pounds of new paper and mull over the comics and I don’t remember not going to church unless we were on vacation.  After church we went to Riverdale for the lunch buffet.  It was the same every week and even then, I knew it was special.
When my kids were growing up, Sunday mornings were important because Jim Brawner made pancakes.  Mickey Mouse pancakes were his specialty.  Jim cooked and I wrestled with kids to get everyone out the door to church.  Once I remember thinking, “So this is why I got to have cereal on Sunday mornings growing up.”  After church we went out for pizza. My kids grew up thinking pancakes, church and pizza is what everyone did on Sunday.
Most Sunday mornings are quieter now.  I still look forward to them.  What could be better than a big mug of coffee and time in my thinking chair thanking God for the week I just had and looking forward to the one coming up?  Jim Brawner and I go to church and then to lunch because that’s just what you do on Sunday mornings.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

When I was in college in the 60’s everyone had a cause.  I think if you didn’t, the fear was others might consider you stupid and purposeless, so everyone marched or handed out flyers for something.  
We were smack in the middle of the Viet Nam war and emotions ran hot.  Sometimes opposing sides ended up in a clash in front of the University union or library.  Most of the time, just before campus police arrived, a third group would start singing Give Peace A Chance or someone would streak by naked and everyone would forget what the original ruckus was over.
Talking to some of the folks with placards, I found out most of them had a personal interest in what they were marching for. The majority of the war protesters had someone in Viet Nam or they had lost someone serving there.  Their purpose was steeped with passion.  That’s when I realized people with a cause more than likely have a deep personal connection and it’s what drives them.
My friend Kory is training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and support for a cause.  We buy bottled water because our tap water is just not good enough while women and children in Africa spend two hours a day fetching water that we wouldn't touch.  Obviously he’s passionate about clean water for children.  I can’t say I’ve ever been a part of a cause to the point of climbing or marching or stuffing envelopes.  Oh, I did serve on a phone bank once and I do give, but I’ve really never gone much further than letter writing, petition signing, and fit throwing. 
Actually I suppose I’ve been on my own crusade of sorts for years and my family will tell you I can get beyond passionate to near nasty when it comes to seat belts and cigarettes. Just like the war protesters, at the very core of my mini crusade, is personal connection.  
Cigarettes took out my mom with emphysema, my brother with a heart attack and my dad with lung cancer. You can understand why I get a little crazy when someone standing next to me lights up or if a seating hostess asks, “Smoking or non-smoking?” Honestly, is smoking really still allowed inside public places?
When he was two Travis flew through the windshield of a Volkswagen bus so for clear reason, I am the seat belt Nazi.  Jill was mortified once when I asked a young mom in a grocery store parking lot if she didn’t think she should buckle her kids in.

I suppose we all, on some level, have a belief or conviction we’re passionate about.  We may just not picket, march or chant. One thing I did learn in college was to never say, “Don’t take this personally, but isn’t that a little over the top?”  The reason they are marching is because it is personal. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

“Now if I could just find someone who would make me happy,” she said like she was checking things off her to do list.  The frustrated woman pulled me aside at the conference where I was speaking. She looked to be in her mid 40s, so I was shocked when she said, “Today I turn 35.”
“Happy Birthday,” I said wondering what I was going to hear next.
“Thanks so much.  I really appreciate everything you had to say about relationships but I have a couple of questions if you have a minute,” she asked?
“Sure,” I said, hoping she would be brief putting my hand over my stomach to muffle the growling.
“Today I’m 35 years old.  I have the house, I have the car, I have the job, and I have two kids.  It seems I have everything.  My third divorce was final 2 weeks ago.  I am worn out and dragged down.  I’m so glad to be free again.  Now I know what I want in a husband.  Do you have any suggestions where I can look,” she asked seriously.
I find myself in situations sometime when it would be totally inappropriate to roll my eyes and say, “Are you kidding me?”  This one of them.  Did she think my night job was a radio host on a call-in show?
“Wow,” I said slowly realizing she must have been texting or may have been in the bathroom during most of the session.  “Do you want me to be real honest with you,” I asked?
“Of course,” she answered curtly.
“Assigning someone else to be in charge of your happiness is not fair to you or the other person.  People are people and it’s guaranteed they will disappoint and let you down.  So if you’re counting on someone else to make you happy, I’m sorry, it will never happen.  Your contentment and happiness is your personal responsibility.  If you’re not happy or content, you really can’t blame anyone else but yourself.  People, places, and things are not the source of your happiness.”
“Oh,” she said obviously not hearing what she wanted to hear.  “Well, thank you.”  She turned and walked away.  I wondered how long it would be until her fourth divorce would be final.
“... I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” 
~Philippians 4:11

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When I was a camp counselor one of the first lessons I learned from Spike White was concerning the pace of children. When he said they move at the speed of light I thought he was exaggerating. He wasn’t.

Once babies start crawling, the world becomes their research laboratory. When they start walking, it’s all over but the shouting. First time parents quickly learn to respect the dreaded two minutes of silence. Oh so much can happen in two minutes ... huge crayon wall murals completed, 25 pound sacks of dog food emptied, a roll of toilet paper unloaded down to the last square, sometimes into the toilet, and entire cabinets cleaned out. How do they do it?

We tried to “child proof” our house when we started having babies. I think that term is strictly for the emotional comfort of parents. No one knows how to operate child proof lids and locks but children.

Kaylin decided to do a bit of research and rearranging yesterday. Actually, it looks as if she was on a very specific mission, hair care. The child proof latch didn’t seem to slow her down. When a baby has two older brothers, she learns extra fast. It’s like having in home tutors.

What amazing is Travis and Kari most likely have never sat her down and said, “Now Kaylin, let’s not empty out cabinets” giving her any ideas. She came up with that all on her own. All my grandkids are brilliant! By the look on her face, she may have been second guessing the decision to go shopping in her mommy’s stuff.

Spike was right ... kids are second only to Superman when it comes to speed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“Oh the places you will go!” Dr. Seuss nailed that one. What a creative guy with thought provoking nuggets of wisdom for kids and adults who read to the kids. Who knows where we’ll go? We make our plans and God laughs. I’m sure I’ve kept Him in stitches.

Retracing their steps, everyone has a story of unexpected turns in their journey; a job loss, a sudden death, a divorce. If we were scripting our lives, no one would ever write those things in. But there are also some good, strange turns we might not choose on our own that end up in wonderful places for specific reasons.

When our friend Kyle told Jim he wanted to buy our house we were a little confused, especially since it wasn’t for sale. As we were packing boxes, I had no idea why we were uprooting. Jill, my last baby, was weeks away from graduating from high school so we were facing major change without moving from the house she grew up in. There was a little comfort in knowing friends would be living there. It was kind of like giving the family dog away to people you know.

Our friends Gary and Norma offered us their guest log cabin while we were deciding what to do next. I’m not one to go without knowing, so this change was not only confusing, it was scary.

Moving wasn’t only a change, it was just the start of a challenging 18 months. Jim and I both had surgery. His mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his dad with dementia and they had to be moved to a nursing home. And, one of my best friends, my mom, died. In the middle of all that, where I lived was the least of my worries, but I still couldn’t figure out why we moved when we did.

One afternoon I came home from a trip to town to find the cabin wrapped in snow. No where on my list of things to do during my life was to live in a log cabin overlooking a lake, but there I was. It was one of those moments when blurred vision suddenly clears up. The peace, solitude, comfort and retreat the cabin had given me during that time wasn’t anything I could have chosen and planned for myself. Ah ha! It was then I knew why Kyle asked to buy our house.

“Oh, the places you will go!”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Let the parties begin! After the kids are settled back into school and financial recovery has begun from the back to school list, here come the parties. With that brings the mommy peer pressure. It’s unspoken and subtle, but, oh boy, is it there.

The season starts with Halloween parties or Fall Festivals or whatever you want to call them. I’ve determined some competitive mom back in the 16th century thought her All Saints Day dinner after church should be the classiest and the one-upping began. As hard as I tired I couldn’t convince my kids they would collect just as much candy in a store bought costume as one I stayed up until 2AM finishing. I’ll admit, I secretly thought the store bought costumes back then were cheezy and the competitive mom in me emerged.

Now there are entire websites just for costumes and decorating. No longer is a carved pumpkin with a candle on the front porch adequate. Entire sections of inflatables and Halloween accessories show up in the big box stores right after the red, white and blue. And the candy. It’s all about the candy. I wonder if M&M/Mars sees a jump in the stock market every fall.

Trick-or-Treating is not just for the little kids anymore. Whole families dress in theme. One year Jackson was a toothbrush and Mollie Jane was a tube of toothpaste. Last year Jameson and Owen had dog costumes and Trooper the dog shorts and a tee shirt. Two teenage boys showed up at Jill and David’s last Halloween dressed in regular clothes. David asked them what they were dressed as and when they said, “Hip-hoppers,” he had them dance for the candy.

So here we go! Party on, but take off the game face and enjoy this year. As soon as last of the candy, that was probably packaged this time last year, is gone, we’ll be digging out the Thanksgiving recipes. No wonder the average American gains 10 pounds during the last 8 weeks of every year.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My proper Southern mother has been proven right a lot lately ... “It’s best to not discuss religion or politics in polite social circles. It just keeps things so much more pleasant.”
Obviously we can’t live in a vacuum, but I’m reminded of what Miss Helen worked so hard to teach me in kindergarten, be nice.

Yesterday our pastor gave one of the most relevant and timely messages ever. I wanted to hop up and shout AMEN several times. I might have really shocked Jim Brawner. In second Timothy 22 Paul said, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.” He went on to say, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone ...”

The pastor was quick to explain in this context Paul was referring to the foolish youthful desire to always climb a hill to die on, to always be right, to always win an argument. Honestly I’ve often wondered if anyone ever “wins” an argument. If you win, the person you are fighting with is usually hurt and angry so you lose. You might even lose a friend. And if you lose you lose. So who wins?

Yes, we all have opinions and it’s challenging to find someone who thinks exactly like you. Yesterday it was suggested if you find yourself in a discussion that could heat up quickly, remember no matter how passionate you are, you need to be informed and above all, respectful. That’s where I almost jumped up to start a standing ovation.

I once watched two men “discuss” an issue to the point I thought a duel was going to be suggested. Ironically it was in a church parking lot. No wonder there is a high blood pressure epidemic in this country.

I want to choose my dying hills carefully. After thinking about it for a while I realized a wonderful thing. If I start to climb a hill and suddenly realize it’s not one really worth dying on, I can always turn around before I get to the top and start shooting.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

“Hola, Meesus Browner! Oh, are you coming back to Cancun?” I could almost hear the waves and smell the salsa.

“I wish I could be there this afternoon,” I said. “But no, I’ve lost something and I need your help.”

“OK. What can I help you with Meesus Browner?”

“In room 4055 I think I left my bite guard on the bedside table,” I said, knowing this was going to be a challenge.

“Your Right Guard,” she said.

“No, my bite guard.” Did she honestly think I would call Mexico to find lost deodorant? “It’s a small, white plastic thing I sleep with to keep from clenching my teeth,” I said slowly and loudly using my hands to describe it. “It was kind of expensive and I sure would like to find it.”

“Let me look at my Lost and Found list. Hummm ... No. No there is not bit guard,” she said.

Now she thinks I wear a bit like a horse. I can only imagine the conversations that go on behind the front desk about the crazy Americans.

“I will watch for it on the list and email you if we find it, OK Meesus Browner,” she asked?

“OK. Thank you so much,” I said as I hung up the phone. I felt like a kid who had thrown her retainer in the school cafeteria trash. But this time I couldn’t dig through the big grey can to look for it. Darn that aggravates me. I don’t lose things. I think the Proverb says, “Pride comes before the fall.”

I felt like I needed to apologize to someone so I told Jim I was sorry. “Oh, stuff happens. Don’t beat yourself up,” he said sounding happy I’d joined the ranks with those who lose things. “Honestly the housekeeper probably thought they were Halloween teeth and threw them away.” I think he was secretly glad.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It’s said age is a state of mind. I disagree. I think it is a state of body. My mind thinks I’m still in my 20s until I try to move a couch or walk past a mirror. That’s when my brain is shoved back into reality.

I live in a tourist community where bus loads of retirees visit, especially in the fall. For years the only thing I’ve really noticed when they’re in town is how long it takes them to order at Panera Bread. As more birthdays come and go I’m starting to watch how they operate. I normally learn backwards. I see how I don’t want to do things and then do just the opposite. This time of year I can earn a masters degree in how I don’t want to age.

An older friend of mine once told me, “You know I’m getting ready to die.” That was 10 years ago. What a depressing mindset! Why do people spend the last 20 or 30 years of their life getting ready to die? That’s wasting valuable time. My friend Darnell, in her early 90s, goes to the office every day. My Uncle Arlo just started taking Spanish at the University. He’s 82.

And, I don’t want to become crotchety. If I do I’m sure my kids will call me out on it. I’ve watched older couples argue whether they drove a mile or a mile and a quarter to get somewhere or if something happened 25 or 30 years ago like national security depended on it. Does it matter and who cares!

I sometimes wonder if there’s a code of dress that comes in the mail about the time advertisements from and Tru Ear start arriving. Eighty percent of older folks dress the same, and it’s boring. Every once in a while I’ll see a woman who’s trying a little too hard to hang on to youth and it’s not pretty either. So I’ve learned I want to land somewhere between boring and hoochie momma. I think Kari, Alison and Jill will make sure of that.

I suppose age is all about attitude and spirit. I want to be like Darnell and Arlo, busy enjoying life for a long time. I’ll just secretly take my joint soother and ice down body parts.

Friday, October 22, 2010

“Way to go,” I was tempted to say after overhearing a matter of fact conversation with a mom and her wiggly son. Walking though Macy’s furniture department on the way to the bathroom I heard her say, “Get your feet off the couch. It doesn’t belong to you.”

“Well, if we buy it then can I put my feet on it,” he asked? She was not pleased with his come back. “No!”

“Good for her,” I thought. Somewhere along the way teaching kids to respect other people’s property has gotten lost. So the kids grow up and recklessly borrow everything from friends, neighbors and family members. My mom used to tell me “Take care of other people’s things not like they were your own, but better.” That’s probably why I hate to borrow anything except a cup of sugar.

When I was in high school there was one rule with my car; don’t lend it to anyone. A friend only needed to move something 3 blocks, so I caved in and broke the rule. She backed into a brick wall like she was aiming for it. I instantly learned about the sticky transactions of lending and borrowing.

Someone borrowed Jim’s lawn mower years ago and it wouldn’t start after it was returned. The borrower put diesel in the gas tank and “forgot” to tell Jim. A hefty repair bill later it worked. I suppose it’s best to never let someone borrow something that would be disastrous if it was returned damaged or if it was lost. I’m almost to the point if I lend something, I mentally give it away. That way if something happens, it wasn’t really mine anymore anyway.

It’s hard to draw a boundary and say no when someone asks to borrow things we aren’t comfortable lending. Probably because the last thing we want is to look selfish. But to preserve the future of the relationship we might have to take the looking selfish risk.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It was one of those nights. I fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow, but at 2:45am my body must have thought it was time for breakfast. My stomach was growling so loudly I woke up. After 45 minutes of trying to solve the world’s problems, counting backwards from 100 and flopping around like a dog searching for a comfortable position, I gave up and got up.

With a bottle of water and a magazine, I went to my thinking chair. Then I was glad I was up. There was a near full moon over the lake and it was worth being awake to see. My stomach growled again. How could I be hungry? I was determined to not open the pantry or refrigerator for fear I might develop that disorder where you get up in the night and forage all through the kitchen and never remember it.

I ended up reading an article about Mr. Rogers in Success magazine. I knew he had done wonderful things for children and parents with his cardigan sweater and lace up tennis shoes, but I had no idea he had accumulated so many awards. He has the longest running show on public broadcasting. He won four Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards and Lifetime Achievement Awards and has more than 40 honorary degrees from colleges and universities.

Fred Rogers started life out shy and overweight with asthma so he spent a lot of time indoors with his piano and his maternal Grandfather Fred McFeely who helped him understand the tremendous worth of every person. One of the main characters on his show is a kind and loving Mr. McFeely. As he grew up he used his childhood experiences to write scripts that dealt with the issues kids face.

In 2003 Mr. Rogers died leaving behind a legacy to be enjoyed for a long time. The question was asked whether Mr. Rogers is relevant today with all the other fast paced, bright light options. My question is how can teaching kindness, love and high standards of integrity every go out of style?

I snuggled back into bed remembering the famous Mr. Rogers words, “You are special and I like you just the way you are.” I went right to sleep. There’s proof itself that calm and slower paced is good for children and adults too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It’s misquoted all of the time, “Money is the root of all evil.” It makes me cringe. Money is a lifeless object made out of paper and metal and it doesn’t do a thing evil or good. It just sits until the human factor comes into play. When people cross over into loving it instead of just using it is when things get ugly.

I heard a speaker once say, “Money can’t solve all your problems, but it sure can take the edge off while you’re trying to figure things out.” Sure money can add convenience and creature comforts, but all of us know the filthy rich who are miserable. That’s obviously where the saying, “Money can’t buy happiness” came from. We don’t have to deal with a lot of things that can trip us up unless we choose. Two of the most misused things in American today are food and money. Unfortunately we have to have both of them to live.

Years ago a man was swindled out of what most of us would consider a sizable amount of money by a business partner. Over time I watched as he and his wife grew so bitter it changed their personalities. This was a situation time didn’t help heal the wound because they kept picking the scab off. I watched them withdraw from their friends and become so protected a simple conversation was challenging. The saddest part was the money loss was but a blip on their financial radar. But they refused to give it up and move on. They both died angry and lonely.

When I was in my teens a new accountant discovered something odd on Dad’s balance sheets. After digging through years of paperwork he discovered the office book keeper had been pocketing money for over 10 years. Was Dad mad? Furious. Someone he trusted had betrayed him. He had a choices. He could have prosecuted, but fired her. He could have stewed for years, but learned the importance of accountability and put it behind him. I remember him saying, “We’ve lived just fine the last 10 years without the money I didn’t even know was missing.”

Money does nothing wrong all by itself. There is nothing evil about it. How we use it and how we feel about it is what matters.

1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Just as sure as the leaves start to turn red and orange it happens. Every fall the mail box fills up with catalogs. I remember thinking the arrival of the Sears Wish Book was as exciting as Christmas itself. What Mr. Sears and JC Penney started has turned into catalogs gone wild.

Trying to remove your name from mailing lists is one of life’s greatest challenges. I even found a service who, for $20.00, will do it for you like paying a mobster to collect unpaid debts. I’m afraid if I sign up, I’ll then be on their list.

Catalog shopping has gone somewhat green with the addition of Internet stores. In the last five years the number of online catalogs has doubled while mail-out has dropped considerably. I haven’t noticed. For some reason I still get catalogs years after the “This Is Your Last Catalog If You Don’t Order” notice. Even after moving and declining third class mail, I still can’t hide from Occupant or Current Resident.

So the other night when I couldn’t sleep I thumbed through one of the holiday collections. I thought it might feel like the old Sears Wish Book days. No so much.

The first section was full of Christmas candy, toys, holiday sweatshirts, and Andy Williams CDs. It was so nostalgic I could almost smell pine trees and apple cider. Then I spent the next half hour amazed. Who invents some of these things? What’s more surprising is people evidently buy them.

There were kitchen gadgets I never knew I needed to make my life easier and every thing I might want to organize the closet. I could even order a personalized Christmas ornament honoring my deceased pet. But, what shocked me the most was flagged with a neon green NEW arrow: Walker Tennis Balls. For $16.99 you can order pink or blue tennis balls for easier walker movement and hardwood floors protection. Haven’t folks been splitting open tennis balls for that purpose for years. What’s NEW about that?

As much as I hate to admit it, the catalog marketers are brilliant. The last eight pages were filled with Christmas items. It’s hard to resist the “Let There Be Lights” magical mug. For $12.99 I can have Christmas tree mug the lights turn on when it’s filled with a hot beverage. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I couldn’t believe it ... another couple divorcing. Not on the cover of the magazines in the check out line, but in our community of friends. They had been married for 20 plus years but evidently he’d done a little cruising around. Are you kidding me? What was he thinking? Obviously he wasn’t.

The same scenario plays out over and over like it’s being read from a script borrowed from a movie set. Life rolls along smoothly for a few years but when things get tough and it kicks us around we tend to look for something to make us feel better. Pain is no fun and there’s something in us trying to avoid going through it. Going though usually spits us out tougher on the other side, but we want to dance around and find an easy way out.

The same tug to find the ultimate job drags people coast to coast with kids, dogs and UHauls. Just maybe this new company will appreciate us and understand how talented we are. Once the last box is unpacked and a routine sets in, we’re stunned to find out this job is not filling our deepest needs either. The reason is this; all jobs have one thing in common ... work.

Whether in a marriage, a business partnership, a job, or stuff we own, when things get a little worn or need some extra time and attention we start looking around at what everyone else has or does. Are we bored or do we think what we don’t have will make us happy? It started with Adam and Eve wanting that one thing.

The grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, but guess what? It has to be mowed too. If you have to mow, you might as well mow your own.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

“What if I mess up,” a new mom asked several years ago? “What If I do this all wrong? My parents are hardly examples I want to follow. My sister and I basically raised ourselves and she’s a mess. I think I’m OK, but some days I wonder. What’s the best thing I can do for my daughter?” She stared at me like she had just Googled and was waiting for an answer.

I smiled and took a deep breath and pretend waved across the room to buy myself a moment of thinking time. “You’re already way ahead and you should be very proud of yourself,” is all I could think to say at first.

“How is that possible,” she squinted like it would help her understand?

“You are aware and desperately want to do things right. That’s a wonderful place to start,” I said.

“Oh. I guess you’re right,” she smiled and stood a little taller.

“If you ask 10 mothers you’ll get 10 answers about how to do things the right way. There’s an overload of new mommy information in the Internet world and everything seems to contradict everything on what’s best. No wonder you feel overwhelmed,” I reassured her. She seemed to relax a bit.

“What to feed her when and how to organize shot schedules and naps is something you’ll have to sort through. Really that’s the easy part of being a mom,” I said. She looked at me in disbelief.

“It gets tougher,” she asked with frantic look.

“It just changes as they get older,” I answered.

She looked at her watch and said, “I have to go pick her up so could you tell me just one thing to hang on to?”

I was really scrambling now. Why did she think I could spit out wise sounding answers like an ATM? Somehow I knew that, “Do the best you can and hope and pray for the best” wouldn’t satisfy her.

“OK. Here it is: always remember she’s watching you.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s not enough? You are the central person in her life right now and you can wield a hefty load of influence so take advantage of it. If you want her to be nice, be nice. If you don’t want her to over react, remain calm. She is going to mimic you so be keenly aware she is always watching and listening to you.”

She thought for a minute like she was tucking the idea away, thanked me, gave me a hug and left. I hoped she would figure it out. There’s a reason for the saying, “You are turning into your mother.”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Are we born with it or do we develop it? My mom and dad could get into the longest discussions at the dinner table; is it nature or nurture? It was always the same ... can you train a regular horse to be a champion? I can’t remember who supported which side of the question but it could heat up quicker than politics. More than once I wanted to say, “Who cares, pass the potatoes please.”

I suppose there’s strong evidence for both sides of the issue. Some people are born gifted musically, athletically, or with an IQ off the chart. Everything seems to come easily for them and there’s really no other way to describe what they have except a God-given talent.

Then there are those who have average ability who achieve anything but average accomplishments. They have the grit and gumption to muscle their way through because of their deep commitment and determination. Really, that’s a gift too.

It doesn’t seem fair that some are handed their gifts and others have to work for them. But, how many times have you seen someone squander their gift or leave it unwrapped. I watched an extremely talented young man never even tap into his potential because he had zero drive. As a middle aged adult he’s still wandering trying to figure out what it is he wants to do with his life.

Personally, I think you can train a regular horse to be a champion. Sometimes the extremely smart and talented can be flighty and moody and socially awkward. I’d take average with a determined spirt any day. Mom and Dad were both right ... it takes nature and nurture.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sometimes things start out good and promising then go terribly wrong. In 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition kudzu was promoted as a forage crop and ornamental plant. Having deep and massive root system, the Japan native seemed an easy way to help prevent soil erosion. So between 1935 and 1950 farmers in the southeastern part of the U.S. were encouraged to plant plenty of kudzu. And they did.

This is where things took a downward turn. It seems the climate in the Southeast is the absolutely perfect environment for kudzu. So much so, it can actually grow 12 inches overnight! It can overtake trees, power lines, cars and even houses if left alone. So then it became a huge nuisance. What’s really scary is instead of killing the kudzu, various pesticides seem to encourage it’s growth.

However in recent years research has found that kudzu can replace corn in ethanol production. Using kudzu instead of corn helps preserve a food supply and since it’s not tied to commodities it won’t mess with the stock market. The once good thing then bad thing is now a good thing.

I think some relationships are kind of like kudzu. They’re usually fun, but can become smothering and overwhelming and then wear you out. But instead of giving up on people, we can choose to look for the good. Because we all can be kudzu at times.

“A friend loves at all times ...”
~Proverbs 17:17

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Everyone’s own little world is made up of what they are aware of. Isn’t it strange how something magically appears everywhere once you know it exists? Until you start shopping for a silver Honda Civic you more than likely don’t have any reason to know silver is the most popular car color. Suddenly every third vehicle you pass is silver. I thought I was a cutting-edge Mom when I bought my first mini-van, but was shocked to find out I was finally in step with the trend the first day I lined up in the carpool lane at the elementary school.

After I met Jim Brawner on a blind date my freshman year in college I saw him every day on campus between classes. How did I not see him for a whole semester? He didn’t change the route he had walked, I had just become keenly aware of him. He was suddenly showing up everywhere. However some of that might have been on purpose.

Why is it we tend to be inwardly focused until something is brought to our attention? It’s as if things don’t exist until we notice them, yet they are there. The world is a fascinating place if we would only look up out of our regular, everyday routine. We might be surprised how much we could learn.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

For this mom, nothing is better than having everyone together. Going on a family trip was my dream, however planning for 15 takes time, patience and creativity. But we did it and here we are in Cancun, Mexico. Jim and I came in a few days early to make sure everything was set because, for me, phone conversations are challenging between southern Missouri and Mexico. I’m not quite sure why I feel like the natives can understand me better if I use my hands and speak slowly and loudly.

The hotel staff was well aware of the MEESTER BROWNER familia by the time we started arriving. Everyone is Meester Browner including Meester Jones. I wonder if there was a staff memo: “Aqui vienen!!” (Here they come!!)

I knew fall was hurricane season, but we’ve been here before this time of year and have never even seen a raindrop. The weather was picture perfect even when the staff began stacking the beach furniture. We started asking questions when the hurricane shutters were being lowered. Hurricane Paula was on the way, but she was only a category 2. Oh well, thank goodness for that!

I ran into a couple in the hotel lobby who had been in Cancun during a hurricane before. They were evacuated to a school in town and slept on the floor for four days with water, crackers and cans of tuna. I really didn’t need to know that.

This morning we learned Paula has taken a right turn and is headed for Cuba. Travis said she most likely realized the Meester Browner familia was in Cancun and ran scared. The pool chairs are outside again and it’s raining, but as Jill says, “If it rains on vacation you’re still on vacation.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The world seems to be growing smaller and smaller. Not from global warming or El Nino, but because people are so much more connected. No matter where you are, talking long enough to someone you’ve just met, you’ll find you both know some of the same people. You may even discover you’re Facebook friends.

Because of the Internet, we literally live in a connect-the-dot world. Technology makes people long forgotten sometimes boomerang back. It can be fun or dreadful depending on history.

Driving through rural Arkansas once I read a church marquee that said, “Don’t burn the bridge today you may need to walk on tomorrow.” This truth has expanded way beyond small town borders. How many times have you watched people come face to face with an awkward situation because they’ve set off dynamite blowing a bridge to splinters? If only they had seen the church marquee.

The server you are rude to may someday own the restaurant you’d like a donation from for the charity event you’re in charge of. I promise he will remember you. The woman you cut in line on in Starbucks in the morning might be the state trooper who pulls you over that afternoon. And, an unwritten fact of life is this: the nerd you were mean to in high school will own half the town you someday live in.

General George Washington established a custom during the formative years of our country: Burn the bridge behind you so the enemy won’t follow. That made strategic sense then. But, who’s to know if today’s “enemy” might be the bank officer you need a loan from when you’re buying your dream home 10 years from now. Take care of your bridges.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
~Romans 12:18

Monday, October 11, 2010

Doesn’t it seem some people are just born more determined than others? They can usually be spotted by the time they’re two years old. They know what they want and they’re on a mission to get it. There’s not a single fiber of giving up in them and if you ask what motivates them, they’re really not quite sure. They simply enjoy conquering.

There are others who have are driven by specific purpose. Maybe someone told them they would never amount to anything and they’re out to prove they have greatness in them. Others might have grown up in poverty and their aspiration is to get out and never go back. They know their intent and what pushes them.

Some people have a defining moment that sets them on a path of intention. Focus sets in and nothing can get in their way. The force behind accomplishments may have different roots, but all have one thing in common.

At some point a dream, a hope, a wish, or an aspiration becomes a goal and that’s when it gets serious. A strategic plan is mapped out with a deadline in sight. I learned recently goals that aren’t written down are just fantasies occasionally floating by. “Someday I’m going to” ... fill in the blank. Someday never comes.

But when a goal is written down, it’s becomes like a contract with yourself. I’m pretty good with short term goals. I keep a notebook with a page for each day and my goals for that day. What I don’t mark off, I push to the next day. It works for me. However, most of my month, year or five year goals are rattling around in my head. I think of them every once in a while to only realize months and sometimes years have gone by.

If my goals for the day are in ink and most of them are accomplished, why wouldn’t it work for my long term goals? I think I need a new notebook.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I’ve never been much of a sunrise watcher. I’m all about sunsets. We live facing west and what I see every evening is almost like staring at the largest big screen available at Best Buy; it doesn’t look real. It sort of feels like God’s putting the day to bed.

But, the last few days I’ve been watching the sun rise over the ocean and it’s becoming a toss up for which is more amazing, sunrise or sunset. It feels so fresh and hopeful to see a new day from the very beginning.

We can choose how we face each day with either excitement or dread of what it might bring. There are times in everyone’s life staying in bed would be easier than facing another day. But, if we hang on to the knowledge that seasons come and seasons go we can rally the strength to put our feet on the floor.

It makes me sad when I hear someone say, “I’m having a bad day.” Granted some are more challenging than others, but at least we have the day. If we make a decision to watch for everything good instead of all that’s going wrong, there won’t any more bad days. Pollyanna had the right idea.

So when the sun comes up on your new day consider how you start it and practice noticing everything good. If things don’t fall in line with what you had planned, there’s always the hope of tomorrow.

“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.” ~ John Wayne

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The ad read, " The Internet making magazines and books extinct is as likely to happen as instant coffee wiping out real coffee.” It’s just not going to happen. I don’t even know if I could bring myself to read a novel on my Mac. I couldn’t give up opening a new book because the binding cracks and pops and it smells like September in the third grade. I can underline and dog-ear every page of a real book if I want to and carry it with me without worrying the battery might run out in the middle of the best part.

There are some things best left in their original form. White powder just cannot replace half and half. And, when you eat sugar free, fat free, lactose free, low carb ice cream you make be protecting yourself from sugar, fat, lactose and carbs, but all you get is a bunch of frozen chemicals. Why bother? Egg Beaters is just a carton of tinted egg whites. Here’s my question; what’s worse for you, the cholesterol or the yellow dye?

Since everyone is becoming concerned about going green we just might be in the process of reversing the trend from knock-offs back to originals. Who knows, we may someday be eating real butter, drinking whole milk from glass bottles and actually walking to the next room to talk to someone face to face again.

Friday, October 8, 2010

At the bottom of it all, what do we really want? In grade school it was the latest toy. In high school we wanted a car and to desperately fit in and in college it was the degree. Then it’s a job, a spouse and again the latest toy. As official adults we’re off to pursue the American Dream of a house, two cars and 2.5 kids.

But how many times do we see people who are so on track suddenly have every facet of the dream evaporate. Bad decisions, unavoidable circumstances, unplanned interruptions change everything. So then what’s the dream?

Jim’s reading the book, What Americans Really Want ... Really. The subtitle is The Truth About Our Hopes, Dreams, and Fears. According to the author’s research we want a Toyota Camry or a Ford F-150 in our driveway, an Apple iPhone in our pocket, honesty and the truth from our government and Cheerios in our cereal bowls. But, if we don’t get those things. Can we be happy then?

I met a man and woman vacationing from Argentina the other day and wondered if they pursue the Argentina Dream. If so, what’s that dream made of? In parts of Africa I think a full belly would be a dream and in Israel peace would be a dream.

In reality what Americans really want is to be happy. We all know those who have the stuff and they’re miserable. So the dream is not in the stuff. Contentment is living the dream and it comes with an attitude of gratefulness.

I’ve discovered I’m living the dream because I’m healthy, I’m blessed with a family, I have plenty to eat, and for pity sake I live on the lake. I don’t have a Ford F-150 or an iPhone, but I do have a Rav4, Droid and some Cheerios.

“...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
~Philippians 4:11

Thursday, October 7, 2010

So much of what seems accidental in reality is very strategic. For the longest I assumed product was grouped by brands on the cereal aisle shelves when merchandizing is actually a very researched science. The Fruit Loops are stationed at four-year-old eye level for a purpose and melt downs in the checkout lane don’t just happen because it’s nap time.

Recently I was shocked to learn how retailers lure us in. And, kids aren’t the main target. They’re just used as aggravators until adults cave in. It’s as if we are giving up mind control like zombies in a 1960s movie.

Did you know we’re more likely to buy if there are free services and tastings? How many times have you bitten in to a sample at Sam’s Club and then bought the package of 144 cheese and spinach mini quiches. Hosting a party is no where in your near future and your freezer is jammed, but you put the box in your cart like the person handing out tastings will lose her job if you don’t.

Why do you think the beautiful young woman spraying perfume samples is stationed at the mall entrance of department stores? In some strange way we must believe gray hair will disappear, 20 pound will fall off, wrinkles will fade and we’ll look like her if we take a bottle home.

Scent air technology is on the rise. Researchers have found the spa is not the only place aroma therapy works. Some stores use smells to coax shoppers to open their wallets. One high end electronics retailer pumps a combination of citrus and vanilla to calm shoppers down and combat sticker shock.

Have you ever really listened to the background music in restaurants? If there’s a wait list, music is usually lively so diners will eat faster and tables will open quicker. Notice in coffee shops how the music is usually slow, mellow jazz. You might not intend to buy the second latte when you got there, but it’s so calm and peaceful and you need a break.

Merchandizers are not only calculating, they’re sneaky, so beware. It’s hard to avoid falling into their traps unless you shop with nerves of steel, ear plugs, and a nose clip.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

There’s just something about the South. Life is a fraction slower than anywhere else, people are certainly friendlier, and the sweet tea is like heavenly nectar. It’s just a comfortable place.

I’ve been accused of having an accent, but last week traveling through Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee I felt like a foreigner. I had to intently listen to understand conversations. It's all about that drawl. Even when people are saying mean things, it’s doesn’t sound quite as bad. It might be because everything is followed up with, “Bless her heart.”

I had the opportunity to visit a Nashville landmark, The Loveless Cafe. Tennessee natives almost gasped when I admitted I’d never heard of it before. Opened in 1951, biscuits and fried chicken were sold out the front door to Highway 100 travelers. Though the cafe has changed hands a few times over the years, the coveted secret biscuit recipe has remained and that’s why growth and development and interstate highways haven’t been able to divert diners.

I guess Driod hadn’t heard of The Loveless Cafe either. After a short detour, we met our friends Ron and Teela for some of the finest food in the country: steaming grits, crispy fried okra, slow cooked green beans and carmel sweet potatoes served with warm biscuits and sorghum. Sorry Dr. Oz, but it was like manna for the soul.

A dining experience is so much more than just what you eat. Friends, service and atmosphere mean almost as much as the food. When everything is top notch, it’s hard to leave. The saying, “It’s the simple things” took on a whole new meaning at The Loveless Cafe. An hour and a half and two glasses of sweet tea later, I left with a pink “Got Biscuits?” tee shirt knowing I’d be back.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A knee jerk response to this question would leave you kicking yourself: if given a choice, would you take $3 million cash now or a penny to be doubled in value every day for 31 days? Cash in hand may feel good, but if you take the penny, on day 31 you will be able to go to the bank with $10,737,418.24. The penny won’t pull into the lead until day 30. On day 31 the tiny compounding penny more than triples the $3 million.

Reading Darren Hardy’s book, The Compound Effect, I’m seeing how small, seemingly insignificant decisions we make, over time, have the potential to be life changing. Over time is where the catch comes in. We’ve worked ourselves into a have-it-now mentality so over time sounds almost like something from the 18th century. I know I end up frustrated when my computer is not working on turbo speed, or when Droid drops calls. It’s what we’ve all gotten accustomed to and watch out if we are inconvenienced.

The compounding effect has roots in patience and stick-to-it-ness and it reaches into every area of our lives, not just our money. My friend Steve dropped 16 pounds over six months all because he simply gave up drinking soda. What if he had quit after the first week because he hadn’t seen any change? I was amazed watching a 75 year old woman compete in a half marathon. I wondered how long it had taken her to be able to run 13.1 miles. As challenging as it might have been, she obviously hadn’t given up.

Adding or subtracting on a consistent basis has a rewarding payoff. The investment is time. On the flip side, little things can also chip away at us and over time the results leave us wondering what happened. Divorce, overwhelming debt, and a mean critical spirit don’t happen over night, but over time too. The compounding effect can work for or against us. Choices about what initially seems insignificant, over time, can be life altering; for good and not so good.

Monday, October 4, 2010

There are just some things that tattoo themselves into your memory. They may not be of epic proportion, but their effects run long and deep. One of those, for me, was my Dad teaching me to drive an old standard Volkswagen.

It was frightening enough turning left onto Cantrell Road, but my mouth would go dry when he asked me to take Pine Manor Drive. The road was narrow, there were no curbs, and it was lined with tall pine trees and what seemed to be ditches that could swallow a VW.

It always took me four or five attempts to get the car from park to rolling in first gear. Dad called them my warm-up starts. I’d creep down the half block and turn right into what felt like an obstacle course. Gripping the steering wheel like it gave me more control and leaning so far forward my nose almost touched the windshield, I’d pray no cars would come from the opposite direction.

On our third trip down Pine Manor, Dad noticed how terrified I was. “Suzette what are you so afraid of,” he asked almost laughing?

“If I make one wrong move, we’re toast,” I answered.

“You’re only going 5 miles an hour so I think we’re safe. Besides it’s really fairly simple,” he said.

“Really? And how is that,” I asked bringing the car to a dead stop because another car was coming.

“Just keep it between the ditches and you’ll be fine,” he smiled.

I thought about it for a minute and realized he was right. That made sense, not only for driving down Pine Manor, but for living. Keep it between the ditches.

So after 5 more warm-up starts we were on our way again.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”
~Proverbs 4:25-27

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Someone asked recently, “What’s one thing you stepped out to do without having any idea what you were doing?”

“No doubt about it ... having three kids,” I answered without even thinking.

I’ve done a few things without half-way knowing what I was doing, but having kids was like entering the wild frontier. Babies always look so cute and sweet when they belong to someone else. And, you can always hand them back to their parents when they cry. When they’re yours, you’re the one they’re being handed to.

I think what overwhelmed me the most after Jason was born, was realizing I was the one in charge of and responsible for this other person. I relaxed a bit when I realized I had raised a puppy, so how hard could it be taking care of a baby? But babies can’t be put outside when they howl, so there went my theory.

When Travis came along 24 months later I became a real mom. Until then I really didn’t understand why so many women take weekend retreats. I decided if I could convince myself sleep was over rated, I’d be OK. I wasn’t as concerned with tiny details like schedules and following suggested guidelines the second time around. I most likely broke every rule in the books so popular now.

Then when Jill was born, I threw out every notion I could have everything under control even for just 5 minutes. The third one throws the parent/kid ratio totally out of whack and a shift from man-to-man to zone defense becomes necessary.

Wouldn’t it be simple if new parents left the hospital with a set of directions in the diaper bag like the oil change instructions in the glove box of a new car? But a Toyota Camry is a Toyota Camry and changing the oil is the same in each one of them. Kids each require different maintenance and the biggest challenge parents face is finding out what each child needs. If only they came with instructions.

“Train up a child in the way he should go (and in keeping with his individual gift or bent), and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
~Proverbs 22:6 (Amplified Bible)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Do you ever wonder how much time is spent just getting ready in the morning? Some of us take longer than others. Some need to take a tad bit longer. The other day I was sitting next to a woman at the nail salon, who had to be in her 80s, wearing skinny jeans and a white sequined baseball cap. She smiled at me with her ruby red lipstick and Mimi blue eyeshadow. I wondered how long it had taken her to get out the door.

If you think about it, we are constantly getting ready. Not just every morning before we leave the house, but all through life. Remember in 6th grade when your teacher said, “Now pay close attention. You’ll need to know this in junior high.” And then in junior high you were told to listen carefully because you’d need the information in high school. It was as if everything you were learning was for what was coming next.

A lot of preparation is intentional and focused. There’s no telling how many hours Jason swam training for a 20 second race his freshman year in college. Everything he had done up to that point was getting him ready for 20 seconds. We prepare for meetings, plan presentations, or rehearse lines for theater all getting ready for an event. There’s a purpose with the time investment.

However, the majority of what we are preparing for is most likely unintentional. We never know what we are getting ready for. What we’re doing today is most likely getting us ready for what’s next. We may not be happy where we are right now, but instead of complaining we should take note and learn. Like our grade school teachers told us, “Pay attention, you’ll need this.”

“...And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.”
~ Esther 4:14

Friday, October 1, 2010

“What do you think I could change to improve on what I’m doing?” The puzzled football coach looked at Travis considering what he had just asked.

Well, let’s take it apart Travis. “What are your stats on extra points,” he asked seriously?

“Eight out of eight.”

“What about field goals?”

“Seven out of eight,” Travis answered.

The coach leaned across the desk offering his advice, “Son, I wouldn’t change one thing.”

Every coach, employer, teacher, parent considers pursuing excellence an admirable trait and it is, to a point. The problem starts when kids go past that point. Certain personalities are naturally driven and thrive on working the plan. Others aren’t even aware there might actually be a plan and if they do, they want to modify it or ignore it.

As frustrating as it may be, I think it’s easier to push the plan ignorers than to get the plan workers to relax. And if parents push plan workers it can end up in a real mess. The kid is hard enough on himself, then parents up the bar. At some point he’ll never feel like he’s good enough.

Travis was a plan worker and still is. But when he was growing up, it was trying. I spent years praying for his someday wife. I knew he needed someone who would challenge him while keeping him in balance.

After finishing lower than his expectations at the state track meet one year, Travis’ girlfriend asked, “Did you do the best you could at the time with what you had?”

“Yes, I think so,” he said.

“That’s all you can do. If you didn’t give it your all, learn from it and give more next time. Otherwise, you did your best. That’s all God expects from you,” she said with the confidence and authority of a $150.00 an hour therapist.

He listened.

Age, time, and relationships have a mysterious way of mellowing people. For Travis’ benefit, his wise-beyond-her-years girlfriend is now his wife.