When I was growing up, no one-and I mean not. one. person.- in our house ever said the two words “I’m sorry.” They also never said “I love you.” Not that growing up in my house was all bad. (Read my blog “What do we Owe them?”) It was just not conducive for learning how to be a gentle soul, soft-spoken, easy-going communicator in relationships. There was no pattern of such things for me to emulate. It was seemingly more conducive for teaching one how to be a bulldozer in those same relationships. Fast forward to me as an adult, and I still struggle with such niceties as “I’m sorry” and “I love you.” Although, I have come a long way, by the insurmountable grace of God, I still have epic fails. Alas, the bulldozer is still partially imbedded deep inside of me. Not that by any measure of the stick, I am blaming my grandparents or any other of my relatives with whom I spent all those formative years, for my own occasional absolute lack of couth or tact! No, I am definitely a big girl now and have thus formed in my personal beliefs a “whole harmless agreement,” if you will, for my past and for those who heartily influenced my growing up. At some point in your life, if positive change is to become permanent change, you have to release others from responsiblity for your actions and own them yourself. That is not to say that others are not culpable in the whole of how you turned out. Furthermore, I think self disclosure about your past and how you were raised is helpful in dialogue with people close to you in an effort to help them to understand you better. But still here I am on the other side of my life so to speak, many years and events between then and now, and yet sometimes I still find myself defaulting to old learned habits. Perhaps that is where they get the phrase “to bully.” Wikipedia (yeah I worked hard on this research project) defines a bulldozer as capable of “projects requiring highly mobile, powerful, and stable earth-moving equipment.” Just as a bulldozer is capable of distributing its weight over large parcels of land clearing forests and objects in its path, I find myself quite capable of using my mouth and my motives, my force of words and demeanor to distribute my weight, my influence, over large parcels of a person’s heart. Case in point, my daughter failed to do a very simple task for me that obviously I had hoped would be done by noon on this particular Sunday. She did not. It so happened that as we were preparing for worship in church on Sunday morning, she reminded me that she was going for groceries on the way home, and would need to borrow my credit card. I, still irrevocably irritated over her failure to do what I told her to do, stewed over this even as worship began. Then with impeccable timing, just as we were starting the second song, I whispered to her “Halle you know how you want me to give you my credit card for the grocery store, well I wanted you to deliver those donations this morning.” And with that, she promptly sat in her seat and started crying. Success! Land cleared. Parent of the year, not. But kudos for driving my point home while deconstructing her self-confidence at the same time, in mere seconds? Score! Except my other daughter and my husband were both looking at me with that “What did you say and why now?” quizzical and skeptical kind of look. Well, I powered down the engine on my dozer pretty quick at that point, and with the grace that God continually pours over my weary, stubborn soul, I started rethinking my actions. I couldn’t take them back, but I could exercise my learned skills of saying “I’m sorry.” Wikipedia also states “The bulldozer’s primary tools are the blade and the ripper.” These two features I adopted well along the journey from youth to adulthood. But along with that definition, it also states, “The bulldozer’s tracks give them excellent ground holding capability and mobility through very rough terrain.” Hmm that’s no so bad. I can see how useful that feature can be. There are good things about my bulldozing capabilities and undoubtedly, there are bad things. Fortunately, I have a God who knows that all that has shaped me is not all bad. He uses the better, greater characteristics to accomplish His purposes. If only when I do choose to express the negative aspects of my personality, I am quite capable of owning it and saying I am sorry, there is still hope for me and my relationships. That doesn’t mean that I “should go on sinning so that grace may abound.” (Romans 6:1-4) No just the opposite; it means rather, that in the light of God’s infinite mercy, I need to count myself among the blessed, so much so that I am willing to recognize my sin, my not-so-great-parts of my personality, and work to cultivate and implement the positive aspects of all that I am. Thankfully, my God is forgiving as is my family. 1 Peter 4:8 says “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is one bulldozing girl who is grateful for that truth. Amen!
This just in. We don’t always have to experience things first hand. Talk about a time saver. Not to mention a better view in life’s rear view mirror. We have role models in our lives, both good and bad that have already done the hard work for us. It’s true! Some we know personally, and some we just see on TV or social networking. This could eliminate a LOT of time and trouble for us. They are everywhere and in every industry, country, city, school, religious circle, and home. The bad news is, that sometimes, we, or our children, are in the path of a bad role model and take a direct hit. But the good news is that role modeling-BOTH the awful and the awesome-can be enormously valuable teachers for all of us. If only we will let them.
If you’re a parent, you can readily see that absent fathers (either by divorce or by choice) cause havoc. It’s not a secret. Watch the news. Talk to school teachers. Get to know your neighbors. It’s amazing to me how many thousands upon thousands of crime sprees are committed by those from broken homes; how many victims of sexual assault and abuse have grown up without a father (and/or a mother.) Yet, we never ever talk about this on the news or very seldom when trying to find solutions. It’s forbidden. Well, after all, it could mean we are demoralizing single parents. Which of course is ridiculous. They should be reinforced not abandoned. Bolstered not broken. But just that one variable in their child’s life, puts them at risk for rocky relationships, poor grades and low self-confidence. So if your child’s father is absent, what can you do about that? Can you find someone else to fill the void in her life? It’s perhaps a tall order I know. But can you? Can you look to other families who have successfully negotiated this difficult terrain with their kids, and find out what they did that worked well? And if you’re the absent father, can you start engaging with your child now before it’s too late?
Maybe you’re a college student. There are a lot of role models in your life right now, including fellow students. What do their lives teach you? Have you seen poor judgement and co-dependency result in reckless behavior that in turn, results in pain and heartache? It’s a great time to learn a lesson. Moving out, on your own away from the protective swath of parents, and a comfortable routine, is difficult enough. Recklessness in your new social circles and a need to party until the cows come home, could make you vulnerable and an easy target for some dirty rotten scoundrel co-ed who only wants to exploit you. It’s a ripple effect. This is about prevention. We aren’t exonerating the dirty rotten scoundrel of his or her responsibility for their criminal actions. We are just watching, learning, and then thinking before acting. It’s a natural part of caring for yourself and your friends.
Maybe you are in a season with your marriage or your kids and you have experienced or witnessed your share of bad marriages and poor parenting, but also the opposite, positive (not perfect) parenting and thriving (not perfect) marriages. Then why are you still sitting on your duff and not engaging those who have gone before you? You’ve got questions. They’ve got answers. You’re wondering how to negotiate this argument over finances or your teenager’s rebellion. You’re wondering how to overcome infidelity, addiction, or potty training. Ask someone for Pete’s sake.
Violent crimes, high school graduation rates, addiction, assault, broken relationships are all issues that we are dealing with in our communities that need attention, but so is the familial foundations of our children. Family harmony, or the lack thereof, directly correlates to how much pain and heartache will manifest itself in the lives of our children and in their behavior. But talking about this is practically taboo in politics, community policy discussions, and education reform. Even though we all agree on this one point: that children of broken homes and broken relationships are often marginalized in our society. And we also know that this is often generational.
So here’s what we can do. We can take individual responsibility to watch, listen and learn. And we can and should come along beside those who feel alone and are hurting for help. Newsflash: literally millions of others have gone ahead us on the same road that we are currently traveling. The absolute best resource we have available to us as we navigate the stuff of our own lives is the stuff that’s already happened to someone else. Let all of us: single, widowed, married, divorced, parent, child, spouse, ALL of us, take our heads out of the proverbial sand, and enlist the help of a mentor or accountability partner, or prayer partner, or a role model. And when you bear witness to your own relationship casualties, go to the heart of the problem; own your part; stop the cycle. Recalling an old favorite movie of mine, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” we are compelled to take cues from all kinds of role models and from each another as we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Just pay attention and learn.
I am blessed with a lot of awesome friends. Sure they are awesome because I know they’ll be there for me in a pinch night or day. And they are awesome because they like me, I like them, and we have fun together. But those aren’t the only things that make them awesome friends. They are also awesome friends because they tell me the ugly truth. They are also awesome friends because they don’t drop me like a bad habit when I tell them the ugly truth. They are awesome because when we happen to disagree on something, I can rest assured knowing that our history together is not null and void. It counts for something. We have credibility with each other. Emotional deposits have been made such that an occasional withdrawal doesn’t derail the entire relationship.
Some time ago, my young adult daughter posted a comment on Facebook which was completely appropriate (in mom’s book of social networking etiquette). She simply stated an opinion on a hot topic in today’s culture as it relates to domestic abuse. Suddenly without any warning, a mutual friend of ours (much older adult woman) zeroed in for the kill. She shot back with several zingers one after the other seemingly in retribution of Shelby’s perfectly appropriate and compassionate (not merely passionate) post. Whether I agreed with my daughter’s views on the matter or not, her post was fine. In fact, it was pretty benign. Even so, Shelby’s post and my attempts to be peacemaker were met with undiluted wrath by this person who we thought was a really good friend. So our “friend,” UNfriended both of us on Facebook. Sure this happens a lot. I know that. But among acquaintances with whom you have no personal history, who the heck cares? On the other hand, when you find yourself unfriended by a person with whom you have a pretty strong relational history, it’s disturbing.
Social networking (and the internet) was non-existent when I was growing up. I was truly an adult in my 40s before it hit our world like a tornado. It’s a blessing and a curse. We have friends all over the world. What an awesome privilege it is to be able to keep up with their family adventures, jobs, kids, activities with just a few keyboard clicks. It’s completely impersonal. But as long as it is understood that it is truly completely impersonal, then no problem. When we make it personal, substituting electronic exchanges for real and necessary conversations, that is reckless. Unfortunately, social networking, especially (seemingly) with the 35 and under crowd, can have a hypnotic effect on them. Hours are spent surfing social networking rather than cultivating real relationships in person. And sadly, ridiculously, the number of likes they have on an Instagram post dictates their level of self confidence and what they believe about themselves. But another thing can happen too. People (such as our adult friend) can use social networks as a weapon. If you don’t say something I like, you’re off my friend list. This begs the question: “So if we come into your town, we shouldn’t call you for dinner? If you come into our town, will you not be staying with us? The once relationship we had with shared interests and shared experiences, those don’t matter anymore? Remember the time we kept your kiddos and loved on them so you could take care of important business? That’s now meaningless? The times we had a laugh together or a coffee with an enjoyable exchange of dialogue, that’s also meaningless?” I have to assume so. Because social networking has contributed to a pandora of shallow relationships. When you use social networking to mask your true feelings, OR when you blurt out your feelings about others unfiltered for everyone’s scrutiny, things that are none of their business, OR when you discard true friends like Saturday night’s leftovers because they posted ONE thing that irritated you-that’s shallow.
Most in ground pools have a water fill line. It’s rarely recommended to let your water levels run much below that fill line. It’s just not safe. And it’s also not fun. Do that, and your swimming pool suddenly becomes a wading pool. Our relationships are like that. If your relational efforts never rise above the the fill line of the relationship pool, you might just be a shallow relationship partner. If you shut down communication with a friend or a daughter or a son or a husband who really needs you, but you just don’t have time for that kind of investment, or if you hide behind the seemingly impenetrable wall of your social networking profiles, and fire off posts (good or bad) like bumper stickers on a car, then you might be a shallow partner in your relationships, not holding up your end of being the real deal. Also if your life is all about you and what you want, but rarely about what others want (your friend, your child, your spouse), then you might not be holding up your end in those relationships either.
In the bible, the book of Daniel chapter 3 tells a beautiful story of 3 teenage Jewish boys who dared take a stand with the King of Babylon in whom they were in servitude. They refused to bow down and worship his golden statute. Of course the king threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace, so that they might burn alive. Their response is incredible. “King Nebuchenzzer, We believe the our God can save us, but even if he does not, we will now bow down to your gods.” Wow! The measure of our faith is not in our responses to what God can do, but rather the true measure of our faith is in our responses to what God does not do!” These three young boys had their heads wrapped around that. They were anything but shallow. They were there for each other no matter the circumstances. They trusted in their past together to carry them through their future together. Whatever that may be. Their trust in God was equally not shallow. Had they only believe that God was omnipotent if he chose to save them from the fiery furnace, this would have been very shallow of them. Their faith would’ve been childish, without depth or maturity. But they believed in God and His power in every circumstance. They believed God was the God of the universe even if He did not choose to spare them from the King’s wrath.
Is someone you know and care for reaching out, but you are not reaching back? It may be on either a professional or personal level. Are you struggling to get the water level in your relationships up to the fill line? You better run the hose a little bit longer. Have you tossed a significant someone along the wayside of your life quicker than you can say “Jack Sprat,” simply because they voiced a different opinion from you? Do you put all of your interests and wants ahead of the people in your life who need you to prioritize their interests even if they are not yours? Have you long since scrapped the idea of a personal God, Creator, who cares for you because He wasn’t there to stop _______ from happening? (fill in the blank) Shallow. Shallow. Shallow. Give yourself a break and start forgiving where forgiveness can build a bridge for you to cross over from bitterness to joy. Give yourself a break and love your friends and family who admittedly don’t always have it together, but yet deserve a second chance, where your relationship history demands it. Depth is the opposite of shallow. How deeply are you rooted in your relationships with your true friends, your child or your spouse? Or are you only “wading” in water that is up to your ankles because you have neither the time or the inclination to do anything differently?
I have a friend whose husband is in remission for cancer. It was, as cancer survivors and their families can attest, a devastating situation loaded with uncertainty for their future. Now, if he gets a cold, upset stomach or any number of even normal maladies, not surprisingly, it troubles my friend deeply. The cancer or the threat of its return is a back cloud hanging over her head threatening to erupt any given flu season. I have yet another friend who was abused as a child by persons in her life she should’ve been able to trust and love without reservation or fear of such atrocities. That was not the case. In the years to come, well into adulthood, it haunted her with shame and guilt, self-doubt and hopelessness. For so long, the abuse and it’s ensuing emotional damage was a foreboding presence in her life, a cloud of despair. It did not leave her side or her mind. I have a daughter whose struggle with anxiety nearly unravelled her as a small child. She was in perpetual fear of her dad and I dying and leaving her to care for her younger two sisters, a black cloud of fear that I could hardly allay with the false certainty that this would never happen. I have yet another adult friend whose black cloud of anxiety wakes up with her in the morning and beds down with her at night. The darkness persists for her into the morning, and it is that darkness, not the light of day which goes out in front of her each morning. Still another close friend of mine wakes up alone Every. Single. Morning. with two small children who wait expectantly for her to provide them with everything they need for life and sustenance. Having been left by her husband for another woman, she not only ponders, but laments each and every day, is she ever going to be a whole person again, loved and respected by others, and is she enough for her children? What is your black cloud? Chances are it has been suspended over your head since you were a small child when events befell you that should never ever have been a part of an innocent growing up. Or maybe it’s only been looming for a fraction of your life, spawned by a tragic loss, a debilitating disease, a horrible accident, or a grave betrayal. Yet the latter stretches out in front of you with no end in sight, a seemingly unsurpassable mountain of pain. Regardless of their origin, black clouds don’t discriminate among people. They can render the most educated and uneducated hopeless and forlorn. They can test the rich man’s faith as well as the poor man’s, leaving them both faithless. Our black clouds are relentless liars and pursue us at every angle, hindering us from the love, forgiveness, restoration, and healing that make us whole.
But how do you tell the difference between a black cloud and something in your life that just concerns you and needs addressed? That’s a great question and an important one. Because if we think our black cloud is a healthy level of concern, if we believe the black cloud is truly normal in every sense of the word, than that thing in our life has beaten us. It has indeed succeeded in plucking the fruit from our tree and rendering us joyless in our day-to-day living, and moreover, useless in helping and serving others. So what is the difference between the two? If we perceive the problem or concern to be insurmountable beyond a reasonable season of its existence, it may very well have taken up permanent residence in your life, your home, and your mind. The length of the season of that trial in your life certainly varies from person to person and from event to event. For instance, is it safe to say that 2 or 3 years into remission, a new season of hope is plausible? Or perhaps as you move well into adulthood, the events of your childhood, though not forgotten by any measure, yet a physical and a prolonged extraction from that place could certainly be a new Springtime in your life. If you have been divorced for five years or even perhaps 4, 3, or 2 but you still cannot see the light of a new chapter in your life, it could be that your trial, that awful event, is indeed a black cloud. I am not so arrogant as to suggest for you when you should be “over something,” not nearly. But I would love to encourage you. I would love to tell you that living a full, exciting fruitful life is still in your grasp.
So what can we do to get out from under that cloud, “the great sadness,” as it was so aptly named by author William Young in his book, “The Shack?” I think the first step we have to do is to acknowledge that your concerns about this event in your life, though absolutely valid, have moved stealthily out of the season to which they were assigned and have taken up residence in your heart and your mind. This is the first step necessary in toppling the cloud from its lofty position in our life. The psalmist says in Psalm 51 that “God loves a broken and contrite heart.” That is good news. The Psalmist, who was himself heavily burdened, seeks and receives that coveted restoration and healing in that same passage. The second step that may be necessary for you is seeking help. This may be professional help. We sought counseling with my daughter when she was in the 3rd grade to tackle her extreme separation anxiety and fear of loss because we needed both the help in identifying the source of her anxiety and help with how to help her. We still talk about that experience fondly and how it navigated us through that difficult stage. And along those same lines, cultivate close friends of your same gender. There’s a proverb in the bible that says “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” When I couple that with another Proverb that says “A Friend Loves at all time” and “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” I feel like this 3rd solution to removing that black cloud is win-win. What would I do without my close advisors/friends? I don’t even want to think about it. Fourth, and finally take an inventory of your physical space around you! Is it a mess? I believe that our emotional and spiritual health is more connected to our life logistics and organization than we give it credit. Purging material possessions we don’t use, getting rid of piles of papers, and making our work spaces pleasant and conducive for being productive, goes a long way in contributing to our happiness and helping us regain a sense of self-control in our life, a trait that is so important when talking about that black cloud, the latter of which toys with our self-control and self-worth. Sure there are tons of other steps you can and should take to extinguish your cloud and banish it into the abyss of nothingness: exercise, serve others, volunteer, but these former four steps I feel are paramount in clearing the path to do the latter. Don’t get the cart before the horse.
I have had my share of black clouds hanging over me. The deaths of my parents; April 19, 1995; and others. When I moved to Houston from Germany, I felt like my heart was imploding. I readily admit this event may seem docile compared to the others in my life I mentioned or compared to your troubled situation. But nevertheless that move seemed to thwart my plans. Spiritually, physically and emotionally. That cloud of discontent and unhappiness taunted me and sadly informed a lot of my decisions. Truly that cloud was afforded way to much opportunity for input in my life and my relationships. I came to the conclusion (by implementing the four steps I mentioned earlier) that enough was enough. The lie is this: this event in my life defines who I am and there’s not a thing I can do about it. The truth is this: I could not stop the event, nor the black cloud from making its unwelcome entry into my life. But rather than let it reign in my life, I will allow the experience to shape me into a better person. I am compelled to live in the light-a light emitted with brand new lenses of who I was, who I am, and what God has yet for me to be.
How do you spend the majority of your time and your money? Do you believe the statement, “How you spend most of your time, and where you spend most of your money says the most about who you are as a person?” Why or why not? Okay, you can answer those on your own. But here’s a starter for you. The majority of my free time (free time from work paid or unpaid-however you define your “free” time) is spent_____________________. (fill in the blank) The majority of my money (after rent, mortgage and household utilities) is spent_______________________.(fill in the blank) I realize that some of you will struggle with the money question, because beyond monthly living expenses, you actually have no idea where the money goes, other than it goes. True for many of us at some chapter of our lives. If that’s you, then this message is well intended. You can’t possibly be putting your money to work for you, your family, or towards other worthy contributions, wisely if you have no idea where your money is going beyond monthly fixed expenses. Furthermore, if we apply a brutally honest examination of how we spend our free time, many will discover that we have exchanged reading a book for watching television. We have exchanged playing a board game (or outside activity) with our kids for social networking. We may discover that less and less time has been committed to the kitchen on either week days or weekends, and that more and more time has been spent in the drive-through. How we spend our time and money will certainly impact our relationships and our health. We can’t devote all of our free time to our hobbies, for instance, at the expense of our marriage. On the other hand, if we spend all of our time at work, at the expense of either hobby or marriage, that isn’t good either. Social networking isn’t the same as a real cup of coffee face to face with a real friend. You can’t exercise if you’re sitting on the couch. You can’t learn a language, start a bible study, go to the gym, work on your finances, At. All. UNLESS…You decide you are going to do so. How we budget our time effectively is different for all of us. Some of us may need to move our rear ends off the couch. Some of us may need to plant ourselves there once in a while. The inability to rest can be just as bad a habit and hard on your relationships as lethargy. The singular way to find a valid, useful and credible solution to poor time and money expenditures, is to evaluate your own personal tendencies with a very introspective approach and answer those two questions we have already talked about. How do you spend the majority of your free time and free money? There’s an old saying “Majority Wins.” When I was a kid, my sisters and our cousins spent a ton of time together. We would often “vote” on a game or activity. With hands all raised in the air, inevitably one of us “winners” would yell triumphantly, “Majority Wins.” Sadly, the losers knew it was true. Maybe that’s applicable to us as adults in answering these difficult questions. Bottom line, we can hope that we are doing what we need to do most of the time (NO one gets it right ALL the time people!) We can even believe that we are generous and compassionate, and that people like to be around us (and/or our children). We can allege that we are healthy and mindful of our good health habits. We can wish, assert, even say out loud many many things about ourselves and our priorities. But I will submit to you that “Majority Wins.” Whatever we are spending time and money on, IT wins. To be sure, SomeTHING. or SomeONE loses. It may be your relationships, your peace of mind, your job, or your dog, but, in the end, “Majority Wins.” We cannot simply hope and wish that our time and our money will tell the story about us that we want told. We have to take practical measures. Evaluate (Your time and budgets) Elevate (Family, marriage, your job, your friends, specific events, specific activites-WHATever in your life is crying out to be elevated) Erase (Negative behavioral patterns, poor spending decisions; time wasters-Ouch!) and then finally, Execute (Implement that budget; Add family night back into your week. Eat dinner around the table. Have that difficult conversation with a colleague. Make time for coffee with a friend; Get counseling; WHATever needs to be done, put IT in place, make a plan. Then Execute!) Change your “Majority” (if necessary) to reflect the love you want to give, the good you want to do, the people you want to spend time with, the goals you want to fulfill, and the life you want to live.
Today I read a great story about Delta Airline pilots who broke tried and true rules of flight by returning to the gate to get a grieving family. Through no fault of their own they had missed the last connection of the day to Tennessee where they were going to attend their father’s funeral. The pilots saw their crying and grieving faces in the window, and though it’s true, I was not in the cockpit, I’m pretty sure both of them looked at each other, and said something to the effect of “To hell with it,” and proceeded to carefully and competently turn that jet around and return to the gate for this distraught family.
My husband is a commercial pilot, and on top of that, I do a fair amount of air travel myself. I know the seriousness of that decision. It is definitely breaking the rules. What could have possessed the minds or hearts of these pilots to put their own jobs in jeopardy to do such a thing?
All of us have had a “To hell with it” moment in our lives. As the New year of 2016 is upon us, once again, we are contemplating past and present resolutions: I am going to lose weight. I am going to get fit. I am going to get control of my high blood pressure or type 2 Diabetes. I am going to attend church. I am going to take my kids to church. I am going to be more generous, get out of debt, quit swearing, (I know-the irony of this post!) Maybe you have committed in this New Year to tithe, or to give some of your earnings to good causes. Maybe you have committed in this New Year to being a more loving parent or spouse, to institute game night with your kids, or to find time to say yes to a friend in need. Maybe you think, “This is the year I am going to have company over for dinner, or invite people to my house.” Maybe you’ll write that book or finish school, or go after the dream job you have always wanted. I will submit to you that we can make resolutions all day long. We can say, “I’m going to try.” But until we face the truth of our absolute unwillingness to change that bad habit or start that good habit; until we face the reality that “trying” is really defined as, “I’m talking about it; my lips are moving, but I’m not demonstrating practical change,” until we say “To hell with it, I can do this,” I’m not sure that we are ever going to make the decisions that are the healthiest, or best for our family, our marriages, or our professions. Having defined “trying,” we should also define “To hell with it.” The latter is on some level, abandoning traditional norms or even rules. Traditional norms, absolute rules, prevented the Delta pilots from getting that family on board. “To hell with it” said I am going to make an exception (albeit in their case-isolated and unusual). We need to decide we are going to make exceptions in our lives from social norms and traditions, and from our own poor behavioral patterns, in order to achieve these very important goals. Spending every dime we have at the expense of paying off our debt or saving for our futures is pretty typical among Americans. We have to quit “trying” to do the right thing with our money and get real about budgeting, planning, and assigning each dollar a job. We need to quit “trying” to improve our marriage, and look on our calendars and block out a date night or (for those of us married to pilots), a date day. We need to quit wishing our spouse would conform to all our desires and find positive and possible ways to adjust my attitude. The same goes for opening up our homes to others. Quit “trying,” and add some margin to your calendar each month. Find a Saturday night that’s open, dedicate it on your calendar and send out an email to your friends.
I absolutely love the idea of “To hell with it.” Some of you (I know) find this title understandably, a coarse use of language. But in its literal sense, I find it very appropriate. Sending the negativity in our lives, metaphorically as it may be, to the depths of hell where it belongs may be the Single. Solitary. Strategy. for our success. Sometimes you have to just quit. Quit procrastinating. Quit Trying. And as the saying goes, “To hell with it.” Ask the girl out. Ask the girl to marry you. Leave the dead-end job you hate and pursue the job you love. Give a dollar to the homeless guy at the busy intersection near your house without going through the same old twenty reasons in your head why this complete stranger doesn’t deserve your kindness. Volunteer. Start exercising. The endless possibilities effect not only your happiness and fulfillment but also that of your family, spouse, children, and co-workers. What do you have to do to make this happen? Make a list. Get on it. Think about what has not worked for you in the past and say “It ends here.” What has not worked for you over and over? That jelly donut? That dead-end relationship? That expensive mortgage? Get rid of whatever jelly donut is keeping you from becoming what you need to be. I have had so many “To hell with it” moments in my life. But unlike what you might be thinking, “To hell with it” is not an abandonment of common sense. In this case, it is more an embracing of common sense and what you know to be the right thing. It is the climactic point of a journey you have already been on for years, but perhaps have not grasped fully the practical steps needed to make the same old New Year’s resolutions a reality. “To hell with it. I’m going to do this thing.” It doesn’t mean you abandon your family to become a rock star. It does mean you abandon the fears that keep you locked into the same old cycle of failed resolutions. Oh and one more thing, it also doesn’t mean that if you’re sitting in the Starbucks at the airport with your ear buds in and don’t hear your boarding call, the pilot is going to come back and pick you up. Nope. Not going to happen!
How do you remember your past-your growing up? Difficult? Easy? Carefree or demanding? Rather than remember, is it one you’d soon forget? Mine has a mixture of both. When I was just shy of 6 years old, I stood with my sisters on the shore of an old coal mine strip pond as we called it, in rural Indiana watching my young parents drown in a freak fishing accident. This would truly define much of who I was to become in the years to come. We three girls went to live with my maternal grandparents. We were very poor by worldly standards, but though we were low on money, we were high on vegetable gardens and a few livestock. I bet you thought I was going to say, “Though we were low on money, we were high on love.” Well, not really. I don’t believe in painting an unrealistic picture of my life after the deaths of my parents. I’ll never be accused of overestimating the affection coursing through our home as a child. My oldest sister was separated from us when she was only 13 years old to a teen home 2 hours away. I was 10. I would only see her every other weekend and holidays for our remaining childhood years. We were afforded no counseling and no time to grieve. No one was reading me bedtime stories, hanging my artwork on the refrigerator, or telling me I could grow up to be whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t learn how to communicate well in relationships. It was a lot more about resilience than it was warm fuzzies. It was primarily about work, responsibility, and self-initiative. Less about love, tenderness, and family vacations. This is not a plea for pity. It’s just a story. And like so many others, my past is inextricably linked to the past before me. That renders understanding and insight for all us in better understanding our American roots. My grandparents did the very best they could with what they had. I could never in a million years repay them for their contributions in my life, and in spite of a childhood lacking in tenderness, they loved us still in the only ways they knew how. I didn’t have a lot, but I had everything they were capable of giving me. They did not withhold affection out of spite. Their love language-their only love language-was service. Before you say, “Oh that’s so sad,” while on one level it is, on the other hand, I did learn how to survive difficult ordeals, orchestrate food for large groups of people, and the value of hard work and perseverance. I (and my sisters) absolutely entered young adulthood with an insufficient lack of emotional coping skills. Undoubtedly, we were at a clear disadvantage when it came to understanding what it meant to nurture and to be nurtured. There were scars just like there are for many of you. Nonetheless, while we had a “raising” that didn’t render itself as always rosy or self affirming, we can say with 100% assurance that we weren’t nurtured at home because well, nurture just wasn’t in their nature. In fact, it was their raising that made them bull-headed and even cold at times. They and their parents before them had survived both world wars, Vietnam, Korea, bad politicians, good politicians, The Great Depression, short life spans, and grueling manual labor both at home and at work. Indeed my grandparents were an intricate part of that generation who built up American industry, the backbone of American farming and post depression economic growth. They stormed the beaches at Normandy, lived and died in The Bataan Death March, and saved the free world from tyranny. They worked the tough, hard labor jobs that rebuilt a post war America into a global power. This generation was not one that excelled at nurturing. They excelled at survival. This was also reflected in their huge sense of community. Because of their experience in the war and the Depression, they recognized (better than we do today) that people work better and accomplish more together than they do apart. Thus in war-time, they gave up their “day jobs” to build Higgins Boats in Louisiana, and sell war bonds on Main Street. In snow blizzards, whoever owned a tractor, plowed the driveways of those who did not. Potluck dinners for years, served to feed the masses while accomplishing their tasks at hand, planting fields, raising barns, or building fences. When someone was sick and homebound, there was undoubtedly a neighbor nearby to bring them hot soup or cart then to the doctor if necessary. Hard work wasn’t an option. Rest was overrated. Everyone was working the garden, the livestock and doing laundry. (NOT in an automatic washer and dryer that we enjoy today!)
Not surprisingly, my grandparents, from this very generation, lived impoverished lives growing up and likewise when raising their own children, my mother and her siblings. Their income was meager. Inevitably their days were long and difficult. The picture here truly speaks 10000 words.
On the left is my great-uncle, actually my grandma’s youngest sibling of 14. My great-grandmother was already dead in this picture. My grandmother took her brother in when he was 16 months old. She had other small siblings in her home as well. The oldest daughter between my grandparents is my grandma’s first daughter from her first marriage. That husband died when she was only 17 or 18 in a work related accident. There was no OSHA then. There were no annuities for my grandmother, a widow and single mother at 17. A year later she married my grandfather. Sometimes you married or you starved. They had 5 children. That’s their first-born, my aunt you see in the front wearing glasses, and my grandparents holding the twins in their arms: my mother and her twin sister, and later two additional boys came along (not yet born when this picture was taken.) It seems counterproductive to those of us ever so enlightened by this modern society in which we live (sarcasm intended), that such impoverished folks would choose to have so many children. Having offspring was much more of a cultural expectation in America in those days than it is now. Furthermore, this was the generation of Americans that populated our country. The baby boomers born in post war American between 1946-1964 (give or take a year), was literally the largest generation of Americans born in U.S. history. (Yours truly says thank you for that!)
Today we live in an incredibly great country. One that is still full of promise and opportunity. But it is also one of the most self-entitled, materialistic, and self-centered cultures that American has ever known. This I believe is the American Dream gone rogue. Once upon a time the American Dream was defined simply as the opportunity for home ownership in a free society where every citizen was free to innovate, create and live peaceably. But that definition of the American Dream has since been distorted, the original tenets of which have been misused and misrepresented by scores of politicians hoping to strike a chord of unity with a society that has distanced themselves from their past, away from their poorer, less formidable ancestors. Even though, it was their ancestors who blazed the freedom trail for us through hard work, war, and personal sacrifice, so that we could now “wallow” in the plunder. I don’t want to be an American who simply sits back and wallows in what my grandparents have built. I want my citizenship to be one that pours back into the communities I live in-the communities bequeathed to me by generations of Americans before me. What do Americans of the 21st century owe them? Impoverished though they were; unskilled communicators, slow to show affection, demanding, and maybe even harsh? We owe them everything.
Pull out the pictures-you know the ones! They’re in the deep drawer of your grandma’s bedroom chest of drawers full of black and whites (reel to reel if you’re lucky) Ask someone who will know: “Who’s that?. What did they do for a living? How did they die?” You may discover amazing and healing facts about your relatives, as well-about yourself and who you are and from whence you came. And in the process, learn something about your America.
We live in a dadgum ugly world. Global unrest is present in politics, economics, religion, and social relations. In the middle east, militant muslim groups continue to wreak havoc in their homelands, among their own people, as well as in America and other democratic countries. We have seen this repeatedly, most recently, with the senseless and tragic murder of four marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They (militant muslims) thrive and survive on the rush they inhale from the absolute hate that courses through their veins. For the promise of what? Who knows? There is no possible positive outcome to be seen or imagined resulting from their violence and their perpetual fighting and hostility. Then there is the violence and hate on our own soil-perpetrated by our own citizens. This is evident in the massacre of nine innocent people in Charleston, South Caroline by a guy who is absolutely so racist, he can’t function in a civil society. This is also evident in the road rage incident in Houston, Texas recently that left an innocent man dead, shot by another man who by all appearances, seems like a “normal next door kind of dad and husband,” who got ticked off for some relatively insignificant traffic issue, so he simply took his personally owned weapon and killed his offender. He’s free now while a Grand Jury decides if he has committed a crime for an act that had a police officer done, well…I doubt it would take long to indict the police officer. And then there’s the idiotic, senseless issues that garner tons of money and precious energy and serve to distract, distort and detract from what truly needs our attention. I got so sick of hearing about the Confederate flag I was nearly physically ill. First of all, I’m pretty sure that the flag of these United States of America for which 100s of thousands have bled and died in EVERY war fought BOTH on our soil and abroad, is “Old Glory.”
I would think if there was only ONE thing, ONE LOUSY thing that unites us in this country, one thing that could stand in the chasm and close the gap between left and right, black and white, red and yellow, it would surely be the American Flag. But apparently, we can’t even agree on that. I mean really slamming the “Dukes of Hazard” for their display of the confederate flag on top of “The General Lee,” revoking syndication of this rated G show, is simply over the top stupid. I call that OVERcorrection. On the other hand, flying the Confederate flag from a government building alongside the American flag to me disrespect and is offensive not so much to people (as much as I know that ticks you off if you find it offensive,) but it really and truly disrespects and subverts the American Flag, Red. White. and Blue. I mean really, what’s the point of having one flag, you know as the pledge goes “ONE nation under God, etc.” The pledge doesn’t say ‘Two or Three nations under God….’ One nation. One Flag. I’m all for state flags showing their pride for their state. Each state is so unique in its history and contributions to our nation as a whole, and I think state flags embody that very element. I see no problem with that. But that’s not the case with the Confederate flag. It does not represent one individual state. It represents a defeated nation.
Okay we could go on and on. I am concerned because in view all of the discourse ripping our nation apart, the forming up of “sides,” and pointing fingers, many of us are guilty of caving into the attitude of “gloom and doom,” “the sky is falling,” and “it doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t make a difference.” To that, I say “Hogwash!” Don’t buy into the lie that you alone as one person canNOT make a Single. Bit. Of. Difference. Here are 7 opportunities and every single one of them has your name on it. Now quit whining and get busy.
1. Quit watching the news. Okay maybe not entirely cold turkey. But there are those of you who go to work, come home watch the news, eat dinner (or supper depending on your geographical location), watch more news and go to bed. What goes in, must come out. Turn off the news. Really? Is it any wonder that you are so angry and depressed all of the time? “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
2. Take a casserole to your next door neighbor. Or cookies or pie, peanut butter and jelly, or pizza! It doesn’t matter. You know the ones. The neighbors whose business shut down last month! The one whose beloved mother died recently. Or the one who is going through a divorce. OR the one you’ve been meaning to get to know better. “The second greatest commandment ….Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31
3. Write a note of encouragement to someone who needs it desperately. This is so stinking easy. Last week I just by chance engaged in a conversation with a friend and found out that she and her family had been going through an extremely emotional and trying year. I had absolutely no idea. I went home and within 24 hours I sent her a note of encouragement. It wasn’t an idea on my part. Rather I felt like it was a command on God’s part. How could I have listened to her story and not have acknowledged it later? “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up!” 1 Thessalonians 5:11a
“….the God of all comfort who comforts is in all of our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 3:3-4
4. Go volunteer! And do it quickly. This is non negotiable with my teenagers. Hashtag: three teenagers who have everything they need. I believe with every fiber in my body that the quickest way to humility, joy, and most importantly perspective, is absolute without a doubt serving another human being. Volunteerism in our country is engaged by a minority of people according the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Why is that? We are B.U.S.Y. But we waste as much time as we spend. And the time wasted is evident in the precious energy we expend in that vicious cycle of watching the news and the complaining that ensues. The volunteer rate for Americans 15 years and older, was little changed at 25.3 percent ending in September 2014. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25
5. UNplug your teenagers (and yourself) at least one day a week and eat dinner around the table at least three days a week. Seriously this makes a HUGE difference in the lives of your kids. It gives you opportunity to teach them how to make a difference in the lives of others. Teach them how to have a meaningful conversation with others without the aid of electronics. How? By YOU having meaningful conversations with THEM minus the aid of electronics. “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11
6. Stop. Look. And listen. Remember those three little commands you taught your toddlers about crossing the road? Well, it also works when you want to make a difference in someone’s life. Last week my husband and daughters were eating breakfast at the local Ihop and engaged in a conversation with the hostess and found out she has an adult daughter in Oklahoma with late stage cancer. Her story was heartbreaking. Halle stopped. Looked at her. And listened. Then she asked her for her daughter’s name to put it in her prayer journal. I plan to follow-up with her to see if there’s something more we can do. Be aware of what’s going on in your world. In order to do that, you have to remove yourself (or your child) from the center of it.
“To answer before listening, that is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18
7. Pay for someone’s meal. Sponsor a child for summer camp. Buy a single parent a refrigerator. Help your friends move. Pack out their house for them. Watch your neighbor’s dogs while they are on vacation. Invite your kids’ friends over to give their parents a night out. Make a dessert for someone who goes out of their way providing customer service. Kroger has pre-bagged groceries for the homeless. You just throw it in your cart and pay for it when you check out. Kroger does the rest. Mentor a child. Read to your kids. You get the picture.
While it’s true that our world is full of discourse and trouble, that only means it is bursting at the seams with opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life.
We simply cannot afford to allow the difficulties and the politics of this world to render us useless and helpless. That would be a shame. There’s so many wonderful acts of grace and kidness you can engage in now and so little time. So get out there. Turn off the tv (and your phone if necessary) and go make that difference. And for goodness sake, have fun doing it.
Two current events and one ho-hum event from my every day life. First, riots in Baltimore that include destroying property and looting businesses, physically assaulting innocent people, and critically injuring a police officer. Second, A professor at Texas A&M University in Galveston fails his entire class as his last official act before quitting his job, citing a pervading attitude of insolence, cheating, and extreme disrespect in his class. Third, A substitute teacher at a local high school in a Houston suburb. An entire class of students refuse to do their work. They are disrespectful, mouthy, and call their substitute teacher vulgar names as they exit the classroom. What do these three events have in common? Two current events in the national news and one event in the humdrum, perhaps mundane events of my own daily life. What do they possibly have in common? One common trait from each event that stands out to me is this: they all exhibit many of the same behaviors. Rude, disrespectful, inhumane, mean-spirited, self entitled, self-centered, and sometimes criminal. Just bad manners. Period. They are from all walks of life, different races and ethnic backgrounds, men, women, boys, and girls.
But why are they acting like uncivilized human beings devoid of decency and humanity? Please don’t say they were rightly provoked by the incident surrounding Freddie Gray’s death. How could that possibly explain stealing and thievery, arson, and assault? Surely no reasonable person could excuse that sort of behavior or perceive it to be “ok” in any case whatsoever? And if you can excuse this criminal behavior, then you must also believe that a civilized society is completely incompatible with one that does not allow the freedom to commit crimes under extreme duress. I would think especially if one of the looters or arsonists or physically combative persons in Baltimore were truly indignant over an alleged act by the police which they felt to be criminal in nature, surely that person of all persons, would be completely opposed and have an aversion himself to committing a crime that he (or she) personally finds so appalling. Right? Then there’s the college classroom in Galveston. Here’s a teacher who has no history of indiscriminately failing students. By all accounts he appears to be a decent human being and teacher, above reproach in his place of employment and his community. He said “I was dealing with individuals swearing at me both in and out of class and it got to the point the school had to post security guards in this and another class.” He further claimed that the students had spread online rumors about his wife and added that their immature and incompetence would hamper their efforts at entering the professional work force. Then there is the substitute teacher abuse. Multiple classes. Multiple students. Refusing to do class work for no other reason than they simply don’t want to. Calling the teacher names like “nasty ho,” an act that if it were reversed would get the substitute teacher fired for sure.
Really how has it all came to this? But I know this is not new. People, citizens, have been acting this way for centuries. But here’s the thing. As society has progressed over the last century, there is an expectation or a belief, perhaps too unreasonable of one, that people grow and mature at the same rate as their civilized society grows. In others words, there is a general sense among Americans that we are not the “same” unlearned, prejudiced, imperialistic nation that we once were. That along with astronomical growth in areas like technology, space exploration, medical advancement, great educational strides, scientific discoveries, we are also growing and maturing as humanitarians, as generous and compassionate adults. Unfortunately this is not always the case. The former does not = the latter. In all three of these cases-two current events and my one “ho-hum” day-to-day life event, we are dealing with men and women, boys and girls, young and old alike, whose moral compass is virtually absent. The only compass they have as a guiding point is the one guiding them to ill-gotten gain, and the shortest route to satisfying their own selfish wants and desires. Whether that is a big screen tv in a looted and burning business in a district like Baltimore where political unrest has afforded a target of opportunity to combatants and aggressors to do what they might have done otherwise, or a classroom of students who just want to “goof off” and accuse their teachers of being lame or somehow beneath them, in lieu of working, studying and putting their parents’ tax school dollars to proper use. In the case of the college students, their moral compass was so absent that their teacher feared for his own life and felt his only recourse to protecting himself as well as his wife’s honor was to quit his job.
In 1995 I had five co workers killed in the Oklahoman city federal building, 5 best friends. I also watched my parents die as a five-year old. They drowned in a senseless accident in front of my eyes as I stood helpless on the shore with my two sisters. This event led me down paths for years to come that I found very difficult to navigate. In my life, I have been hurt by others, betrayed by some, beaten down by circumstances. Yes. But never once was I driven by my pain, betrayal, or my lot in life to loot and burn businesses to the ground, to physically assault any innocent person, including a police officer. Never once did I find it necessary or right to mouth off to a teacher, terrorize them through social media or bully adults and peers. Even someone I did not like. Never. One. Time. That’s not to say I have never been disrespectful. (If only..) It is to say that disrespect was never excused by my circumstances.
I would submit that the ones who truly care about Freddie Gray and the circumstances surrounding his death are not the ones burning down buildings and looting and stealing and assaulting police officers. No I do NOT for one minute believe that those persons perpetuating crime and violence, and terrorizing their own communities, in which they live, are the ones who give a flip about Freddie Gray. Neither my anger, my indignation, my position-wrong or right, my political beliefs, my sexual persuasion, my marital status, my lot in life, my age, my gender, my grade in school, my disagreements, my agreements, my height, my weight-Nothing. Not One Thing. No incident, tragic or joyful in my life has ever, ever persuaded me to destroy buildings, physically assault people, or treat teachers disrespectfully just because I can. My freedom was paid for with a high price. That price was too high for me to turn around and loot, burn, and hate. That is most assuredly not how I say thank you for my freedom. It is not how I choose to exercise my freedom or my rights. I simply never have a right to do what is wrong. I always tell my girls, “Do the next right thing.” That is not about following the rules, although rules are good things. It is about exercising common sense and compassion.
Finally, where are the parents? Yes, I know it’s usually what I end with. I can’t help myself. Too many parents have too many priorities that don’t include rearing a child that is a generous and compassionate adult, and simply respectful of others. Absent fathers keep piling up along with disrespect and bad manners. And as long as they do, it will be difficult to find good candidates to teach our children, police our neighborhoods, hold town hall meetings, and to lead our communities into the future, a future that should be full of continued advancements in technology, but also one full of hope, living in a place where we feel safe and secure.