Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Every year around this time, I have a familiar experience. I’m out shopping, and I’ll go through the checkout line, and pay for my stuff. When the cashier hands me back the change, they’ll say “Happy holidays,” or perhaps even “Merry Christmas.”
I realize that this comment is not always motivated by the cashier’s genuine interest in whether or not I enjoy my holiday. I’m aware that they may be saying this because they’ve been told to. I can envision the memo from Wal- mart corporate headquarters directing cashiers when to switch from “Have a nice day” to “Happy Holidays,” on the assumption that this will somehow help cement a lasting bond between the store and the customer that won’t evaporate when a Meijer’s opens across the street.
I’m aware of all that, and suspicious of the whole business. But at least once every year, I have a cashier who looks me in the eye and says “Merry Christmas,” and really means it. And it changes my whole day.
There really is something genuine to this whole idea of Christmas cheer. As Dec. 25th draws near, people warm up just a bit. If you’re out and around as Christmas Day approaches, you’ll notice that people are friendlier than any other time of the year. Maybe they realize the waiting is almost over.
People warm up when they are mindful of the Christ child’s birth, and make an extra effort to practice the virtues the angels sing of - “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.”
But consider this - why do we notice this more at Christmastime? Why does this surge in warmheartedness stand out? I think it’s because, despite our best intentions, good will towards men can easily become a seasonal event rather than a standing policy.
When Christ entered our world, he didn’t come to brighten our Decembers, but to transform our lives. It can be hard work to practice good will towards one another, we all have someone that we struggle to share good will with. Let's face it - some people aren't all that lovable. But John the Baptist’s message was that as we prepare for Christ to come into our lives, we can change our ways.
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry provide the blueprint for loving our neighbor in a busy and complicated neighborhood. Christ made a point of seeking out the broken and disenfranchised people of his day - the lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors - and he saw the value in each one of them. And in so doing, He helped them recognize the value in themselves.
This Christmas season, it will be my wish that we recognize that just as faith is a decision, good will towards people is a series of decisions that work themselves out not in temporary holiday cheer, but in the details of everyday life. Wouldn't that make a wonderful CHRISTmas!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Child Shall Lead Them ...

I had an interesting evening with my youngest son the other night. Now, JT is the son that my own mother is fond of saying is "the child I deserved", and you might be surprised to know it was not a compliment! JT simply enjoyed being 'all boy'. He was my challenge, and there is a lot of me to be found in JT. He has my sense of humor and he has my heart, and I love him dearly.
Don't get me wrong - he is the root cause (pun intended) for most of my gray hairs. But I too have been the source of a migraine or two to him. I am the one that showed up at an All-Star baseball practice to 'assist' in umpiring - as RoHo, my alter-ego. I am the one that suspended his cellphone when he would not respond to my calls for four hours, only to find him asleep in his room due to a horrible migraine. I am the one that made him wait 'til morning before I picked him up from jail, only to find out from the arresting officer that JT hadn't been drinking but was only with a crowd that had been. But the most memorable was our trip to the local tire store when I spoke before thinking and embarrassed the poor guy to death.
JT simply enjoys being with family and friends and making the most of each opportunity. He is passionate about what his future holds - having a degree in Fire Science and Arson Investigation and now working toward a degree in Homeland Security. Somewhere in the past couple of years JT has grown up. Somewhere in the past couple of years JT has matured. Somewhere in the past couple of years JT has become not only my son, but my friend. The other night my friend JT became a counselor - to me, his mother.
It had been a rough couple of days. An incident occurred at work that caused me to consider if what I do matters. Someone in a position of trust compromised that trust, and left individuals we serve violated. I am not going to go into details but I was left feeling disgruntled, lost, and a bit troubled. JT was home on fall break and we were finally able to have some time alone before he headed back to school. A suspicion I been mulling was confirmed, and it made me mad. It made me ill, it made me vengeful. Individuals that place trust in me and others had that trust compromised, yet they are unaware. They keep on trusting. 'What's my role' was the question I placed on JT.
Both of my sons have been active with Habitat for Humanity; working on many houses to turn them into homes. JT reminded me of a quote by Millard Fuller, the Founder of Habitat for Humanity: “I see life as both a gift and a responsibility. My responsibility is to use what God has given me to help his people in need." I believe my responsibility is to encourage and challenge individuals to be a part of their community. I believe this is what God has asked me to do. But this evening in particular I was feeling a sense of failure, like I had let the individuals that placed their trust in me down.
I guess I was questioning if going back into social service was right; JT told me that he has seen me become the person (not just a Mom) that he knew when I was with another company. That I love what I do and that I need to remember I do it because I enjoy breaking down barriers for individuals that may not be able to, or just need a bit of guidance on how to. In just a week or so I will have been with StoneBelt one year, and I have felt satisfied and enjoyed who I've worked for - as an agency, as well as with co-workers and consumers. But, that night with JT I felt defeated. Was there something I could have/should have done to ensure that our consumers who are vulnerable are not taken advantage of? Did I fall short in my position to see that the trust consumers placed in me wasn't honorable? I am dishearten to find that people placed in a position of trust react in such an unethical manner. JT simply reminded me that 'this is what you do Mom - you advocate for the Brads and Roberts' (two individual he and Josh mentored while I was with DSI). 'You can't help it, this is what you do' he said and then 'you tried something else and you had a job - but you lost your passion and you wanted to get back to this line of work'.
When did this child mature to the individual I enjoyed being with the other night? When did this child I raised start counseling his mother? When will I understand the child I love is a young man capable of being a pillar of support for me? I needed someone to confirm that I may not always do the right thing ... but I am doing the right thing.
JT - you are one of my heroes and I love you!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Our Labor

Matthew 7:12 (The Message)
12"Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get.

Today is Labor Day. My reward? I'm working - but not until later this afternoon. Because of my working; a co-worker is able to travel home and spend the long weekend with family. How could I say 'no'? I have to set an example; for my family and for those I work for and with. If I want others to treat me with favor - it is only right and fair that I do the same.

I saw Anderson Cooper (of CNN) give an interview recently, and in it he responded to a question regarding the best advice his mother (Gloria Vanderbilt) ever gave him. He said that she advised him to follow his bliss and the money would come. He had a dream to be a reporter and he now anchors each weeknight with his own news show. My 'bliss', what I gain satisfaction from; is knowing that each day I work with the girls in their home I am called to be a role model. I am called to teach; to be an example. If I don't treat others with respect or equality, I not only let myself and God down - I let the girls down. If I don't treat others with respect or equality I have let an opportunity for them to grow and learn slip away. An opportunity that may not come to pass again. So, today I will labor. I will go and take advantage of the day to teach them something. What? I don't know - but I do know that if I go grudgingly they will know it. So, I will go with a good attitude and make the most of the day.

I don’t know what your 'bliss' might be, but I urge you to find a calling in life and attach it to your work. Whether you have a job and wish you didn’t, or don’t have one and wish you did, or if you wish you had different people to work with or report to, the dailyness of your workplace can become a mental drag if you don’t choose to see it as a place of purpose and mission.

Be true to what you believe your purpose is.

Colossians 3:22-25 {(The Message)I have fallen in love with The Message}
Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters. And don't just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work.

I like that last verse: 'Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work.' If I go with malice or with resentment in my heart today - I will have bad work and a bad day. Just because I am a follower of Jesus doesn't give me the right to do bad work; indeed it only gives me the responsibility to serve with a gracious heart. I chose to work today. But whether I had or not - I will work with a positive attitude because my work is my bliss. I really do enjoy what I do. Therein lies the definition of 'bliss'.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Noticing Things

I am a people watcher ... I love to figure them out, try to figure out what they are thinking, who they are with, what is their story. I love to 'notice' things about people. I don't think it's a gift - just something I enjoy doing.

I have fallen in love with the author Andy Andrews. He can’t write fast enough for me. Such a wonderful storyteller; which is why I prefer to buy his books on CD and listen to him read the books to me. Recently I had a friend return “The Noticer”, in my opinion one of his better stories. I thought ‘I am going to ‘re-read’ or ‘re-listened’ to it as soon as I can. The book is about a mysterious old man named Jones—just Jones, no mister—who shows up in the lives of people in crisis. Jones brings the gift of perspective—he notices alternative ways to think about things. Some of what he says is common sense: like “yes sir” works better than “I guess”. Some of what he says counters received wisdom: like “do sweat the small stuff, because little things can make a big difference as surely as brushstrokes make up a masterpiece”. Oh – the book is so full of these little bits of wisdom.

I just returned home from “Women of Faith” in Indianapolis yesterday evening. Andy Andrews was one of the speakers! I fell in love all over again with this man. I couldn’t lean close enough. There I was on the edge of my seat listening to this author I have found to be such an incredible storyteller. He spoke of the butterfly effect and how our purpose begins when we realize everything matters. That when we live a life of permanent purpose … team chemistry will thrive. Life decisions become wiser and more cautious. As leaders, managers, co-workers – as a parent, grandparent, friend – when we actually realize that every action matters - then every result of our actions immediately improves. And deciding to do something will make all the difference. There are generations yet to be born whose lives will be shaped by the actions we make today – and tomorrow. We have been created to make a difference in not only our own lives, but in the lives of those we come in contact with. Our lives, our decisions, our actions of today will matter forever. I understand more fully the impact of this as we are on the verge of celebrating Collin’s first birthday. What I do here and now will affect his future. I hope I am more conscious of this in my actions from this point on.

I mentioned that a friend recently returned “The Noticer” CD to me. Last evening I went outside and put the headphones on and ‘re-listened’ to it. Yes – the whole four hours …. It was after 2:00 when I got to sleep! But I was enthralled with what Andy Andrews was telling me (for I felt he was speaking to me alone). When things look the darkest to people in this book - a mysterious man named Jones has a miraculous way of showing up. An elderly man with white hair, of indiscriminate age and race, wearing blue jeans, a white T-shirt and leather flip flops carrying a battered old suitcase, Jones is a unique soul. Communicating what he calls "a little perspective," Jones explains that he has been given a gift of noticing things that others miss. "Your time on this earth is a gift to be used wisely," he says. "Don't squander your words or your thoughts. Consider even the simplest action you take, for your lives matter beyond measure…and they matter forever." Jones speaks to that part in everyone that is yearning to understand why things happen and what we can do about it.
One of my favorite Jones “wisdom” is when he is speaking with a young gentleman “four seagulls sitting on a pier, one of them decides to fly away. How many are left?” The gentleman gives the same answer we would “three”. Jones says “no – four. The one only made the decision to fly away, he didn’t actually fly away,” His point is that we have to do more than make the decision, we must act on our decisions.

There is no doubt I am going to matter in someone’s life, that my actions will shape the lives of my children’s and my grandchildren’s. I know this because I have been shaped by my grandmother Rose and by my parents. This book has become a valuable reminder of that fact. So - it is my decision to act now to make sure that my legacy to those that I meet is that I acted on my decisions – if I said I would do it – I did it. I want it to be said I was a positive influence on their lives, and I made a difference. It will be my goal.
Thanks for letting me ramble …

FYI … interested in borrowing my CD “The Noticer”? Make the decision to ask then take to action to listen. What a great perspective Jones will bring to you.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Pleasant Reminder

Last evening I was reminded why I chose to return to the field of work I had been doing for so many years. It was a year ago that I made the conscience decision that the time was right. When I left in November of 2006 from my previous job I was dejected. I was in a position where many hours was the norm/expectation. I don’t mind long hours – I enjoy what I do, my children are older so I have the time to commit, and I appreciate a challenge. But when your hard work, your dedication isn’t appreciated and you are feeling that no matter what you did it wasn’t good enough … well then it’s time to leave. So, I did. I admit how I left wasn’t the best decision I’ve made – but leaving was.

Fast forward three years: November 2009. I saw an opportunity to be a part of a company that I had come to respect when working with my former employer. In fact, part of problem I had with my supervisor back then was because of a stance I took in supporting Stonebelt. It wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back … but it did put a mighty strain on it. I was thrilled to be a part of the Stonebelt team. I saw an opportunity to do what I love doing: inspiring confidence in individuals that they can work, live and be active participates in their community.

Recently I have had more of an active presence in the home of two women. These women have been taught all about their rights as people with a disability, but they lack the confidence and as I have figured out lately, the knowledge to participate actively in their community of Columbus, Indiana. I admit, I wasn’t overly thrilled with the placement of being in the home. But I will not bow to a challenge and who knows – maybe this is one of the reasons God saw fit to place me there – to bring these ladies to a more acceptable position within their community. Like I said, these women know their rights – and they will tell you what they are! But they haven’t had someone show and explain other people’s rights. The right to privacy, to respect, to tolerance – the same rights they demand. It’s a long road, nothing will change overnight. But there are signs already popping up, and I a proud to be a part of the team that is gearing these women in the right direction.

Last evening was an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments made by individuals that are associated with Stonebelt. It was a pleasure to sit there and see the excitement, the energy, the pride on the faces of those not only being honored, but also those there to celebrate just being a part of Stonebelt. I enjoyed the ride home with the girls, discussing some of the accomplishments they have made over the past few months. I enjoyed leaving them at their home after a long, long day that suddenly didn’t seem all that long after all. It's good to be reminded and last night I was.

I enjoyed going out despite the hour, and having a cold drink on an extremely hot evening with a co-worker. We have only known each other a few short months, however it was an instant friendship. Thanks Cricket for being a person of ‘like mind’, for being someone that finds her work to be much more than job. Everyone needs someone you can laugh with, someone you can trust, someone you can lean on and someone that simply understands why we do what we do. Cricket gives me that, and I place great value on this friendship.

Last evening I was honored to be able to participate in a true celebration. It allowed me to wake this morning appreciating the opportunity I have to make a difference in someone's life ... and in mine. I really do love what I do. In the words of one of the women in the home "How awesome is that".

Sunday, June 20, 2010

How Sweet it is ....

Growing up I remember watching Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners. Years ago Ralph Kramden always reminded me of Dad. In fact we have a picture of Dad and Pop(his Dad) that comes to mind when I see The Honeymooners. They are standing side by side at the garage 'uptown' - I love that picture. I recall shortly after Dad passed away ... we buried him the week before Father's Day, seeing a segment of the show and realizing that the resemblance I saw as a little girl wasn't the same as what I see now. Oh, I can still imagine Dad saying "How sweet it is!" and meaning it; but the similarities would stop there. Indulge me . . .

Ralph was always coming home and saying, "one of these days Alice, one of these days." Can't say that I ever heard Dad say "one of these days Eleanor, one of these days." Nope, Dad didn't look to the future, because he was so content with the present. Dad loved life and the here and now. You never heard Dad comparing our lifestyle to others. You took what you had and you were content. Unlike Ralph, Dad didn't come home after work complaining that others had things we didn't. Hard work and sweat is what made you feel good and got you what you deserved. If you wanted it - you worked for it. That was the way Dad was - plain and simple.

I didn't think about it back then - but something else Dad had on Ralph - he had a family. Ralph came home everyday to Alice; but there were no pictures of family anywhere. Dad came home to Mom and us; family pictures on the refridgerator, walls, dressers, everywhere you looked. We were the reason he went off to work each day - and we were the reason he came home. Ralph came home complaining. Dad came home and enjoyed whoever was home and was happy to spend time with us. Plain and simple.

We become wiser with age - or at least we hope so! I now know Ralph had nothing on Dad. Ralph spent a lifetime of wanting what others had. Not Dad. He worked for what he wanted and he enjoyed it while he could. Dad didn't waste his time wishing or complaining. He loved Mom and he loved us. Plain and simple.

How sweet it is guys, how sweet it is! Dad had a great life and no one was more aware of it or appreciated it more than he. Mom deserves much of the credit because of who she is, but then obviously Dad knew a good think when he saw it and he went for it. Plain and simple.

Today is Father's Day; we will do some remembering and we will smile and some of us will shed a tear or two. Go ahead - just don't complain. Dad wouldn't have wanted it that way. Plain and simple.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Window of What's to Come

I remember Monday evenings as a child. It's 7:50 ... time to finish homework, make sure chores were done, and find your seat in front of the television. I might be late for other things; dinner, church, work. But never, no never was I ever late for the start of "Little House on the Prairie". Part of the thrill was watching the beginning, as the wagon of Ingall's came rolling into the TV. You knew that what came next was part of the most important part of the show. You would see scenes or 'windows' of what was to come, and then you sat anxiously waiting for that scene to play out on the show. Then at the completion of the show, once again you sat and waited for the 'previews' ... because this once again gave you a 'window' of what was to come. You were left sitting on the edge of your seats, knowing something good was to come. And you were never disappointed. Yep, I loved Mondays at our house. Those were the good ole' days ... no tivo, no cable, no dvd's. If you didn't see it Monday night, you didn't see it. That's why those 'windows' were so important to see; you snooze - you loose. I loved those 'window' moments.
Last evening I had a 'window' moment. Josh and Monika (oh, and Collin!) moved into my home this weekend. I hadn't mentioned to anyone but the past few months have been lonely. JT has stated he wouldn't be moving back as he settles into Vincinnes, and I was wondering what the future held as I faced it in this house alone. Should I downsize? Should I move back home? Should I ....?
I knew I wouldn't try selling now, not with the economy. Then Josh asked when I was ready, would I consider selling to him and Monika. Of course I had no problem with that! Then they threw me for a loop when they asked if we wanted to go ahead and make the move now. To me ... it was the answer to prayers. I have been lonely, and once I admitted that the more I was aware of how lonely I had become. Especially after the birth of Collin. He has brought far more joy into my life than I ever thought possible. I loved being close enough I could walk to their house and see him on a regular basis. He filled a void in my life that I wasn't even aware existed. I would leave their home to walk to mine and miss that 'family' atmosphere.
But now Josh and his family have moved in. As I type, Monika is busy making the kitchen her's. I told her that wouldn't be a problem - go for it! I want them to know this is their home. I want them to feel at home. So we will make it work, I am confident we can do so.
That window I spoke of .... that scene I had a glimpse of last evening? When I headed to my room to settle down for the evening; I didn't go quietly which has been my pattern of late. No, I first hugged Collin, and said goodnight to all. I didn't shut off the lights, lock the doors and quietly settled in. I left to the sound of loved ones .... this is the 'window' I saw.
This is the scene I am going to see played out in my future. This is the 'preview' to what is to come. This is the glimpse of what's to come and you know it's worth the wait.
I have seen the previews .... and once again find myself sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the show to begin! I think I am going to like this show and pray it has a long run!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mountaintop Experiences

I remember back in the late 80's, we lived in Colorado Springs and on weekends we would often take off camping. I mean; load up the car - not the camper - and take off. We would travel up Cheyenne Mountain; up past Cripple Creek to Eleven Mile Canyon. To this day I can't think of a place that is more beautiful. We would put up the tent and just enjoy the surroundings. John would fish for trout (but we ate a lot of hamburger!), I would read, the boys; who were still infants, would be close by playing on a blanket. We go to sleep and wake to snow on our tent, but it would be gone by 10:00 a.m. We see deer, elk and moose. Mountains to the left and right, in front and behind. A spectacular sight. I am smiling now as I recall these memories. I would hate to see Sunday roll around for we'd have to pack it all in and head back down. Life on top of that mountain was wonderful. For those few days we lived life at it's best. We didn't want to leave. We didn't want to have to go back to 'reality'. We wanted to stay ... I loved our mountaintop experience. I remember thinking 'I can reach out and practically touch God from here' and I didn't want to leave.

I so enjoyed our worship time today. Pastor Leah gave the message (Transfiguration Sunday) the scripture was from Luke 9. Jesus went off to a mountain with Peter, James, and John. The three witnessed God speaking and saw the transfiguration of Christ, and was in awe of Him. And I believe it was Peter (oh how I love Peter!) said 'Lord it is good that we are here with you, let us put up three tents, shelters, dwelling places (depending upon your translation). Peter wanted to stay there .... put up dwelling places and park it right there.

I can relate to Peter. He had a mountaintop experience too, and he didn't want to leave. He wanted to pitch tents and just stay put. From the top of the mountains, you can see other mountaintops, you can see grandeur, you can look down into the valleys - but not have to live in the valleys.

I recall a song back in the late 70's - Amy Grant (it was my first Contemporary Christian Album - My Father's Eyes) had a song "Mountain Top".

I love to sing and I love to pray,
Worship the Lord most every day.
I go to the temple, and I just want to stay
To hide from the hustle of the world and its ways.

And I'd
Love to live on a mountain top,
Fellowshipping with the Lord.
I'd love to stand on a mountain top,
'Cause I love to feel my spirit

But I've got to come down
>From the mountain top
To the people in the valley below;
They'll never know
That they can go
To the mountain of the Lord.

Now praising the Father is a good thing to do,
To worship the Trinity in spirit and truth.
But if we worshipped all of the time,
Well, there would be no one to lead the blind.

But I'd
Love to live on a mountain top,
Just fellowshipping with the Lord.
And I'd love to stand on a mountain top,
'Cause I love to feel my spirit
Soar.... (Soar....)

But I've got to come down
>From the mountain top
To the people in the valley below;
They'll never know
That they can go
To the mountain of the Lord.

I am not saying that worship is wrong,
But worship is more than just singin' some songs,
'Cause it's all that we say and everything that we do;
It's letting God's Spirit live through you.

Still, I'd
Love to live on a mountain top
Fellowshipping with the Lord.
I'd love to stand on a mountain top,
'Cause I love to feel my spirit
Soar.... (Soar....)

Oh how magnificent those mountaintops can be. We would love to stay. Yet, if we don't come down, God's people will never know. If we don't come down - you can't get to the next mountaintop. Many things have happened since I last visited Cheyenne Mountain and Eleven Mile Canyon. I have been divorced, I have lost a sister to cancer, I have gone through cancer along with a another sister, I lost my personal encourager when Grandma Rose past away, I lost my Dad who was also my friend, I have worried about where the next meal would come from, I have cried as a child drove off to school - not knowing when/if I will see them again.I have experienced many valleys. But each valley led to another mountaintop experience. My divorce allowed me to have greater relationships with my sisters and friends. Sickness and death taught me to love more deeply and to just love more. Going without has taught me to be grateful for what I have and to feed others. Having children has taught me that fears can lead to joys.
We need those valleys, we need to live in those valleys. For it is then that we have no choice but to look up. Remember what I wrote earlier - how when I was on top of Cheyenne Mountain I thought I could reach out and touch God. It was in those valleys that I realized I could still reach out and touch God. I wasn't any closer to Him on that mountain than I was in the depths of the valley. I had grown from my life experiences. Experiences I would not have been able to have if I hadn't trust God enough to live in the valley.

Praise God for the mountaintops ... but also praise Him for the valleys. You want to grow? Trust God and follow Him. More mountaintops await.