Category Archives: Stretching ourselves

Going to Paris: Travel Blog

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Recently I have had several different friends visit Paris, and prior to leaving, asked for my input. Consequently, my friend Lara said “You should put that on your blog!” “Ok,” I said. “I will!” So here’s “Going to Paris.”
Disclaimers:
1 Always check websites against my information.
2 Use it or lose it. This is YOUR trip. I am only one among thousands of voices who represent this beautiful city. The important thing about planning a trip, is that you decide what you are most interested in, and make it your own.

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Marché d'Aligre (1)

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Paris is a place that you have to go once, twice, three times, or a dozen. And even after the 100th visit, you are certain to still discover secret hideaways, enchanting passages, lovely cafès that you never encountered before. Now each time I visit this eclectic city, I peel back a different layer. A different layer of sights, sounds, and tastes, different layers of a city whose history is so linked to America that without the French, without Paris, America’s own history would be radically different. I never tire of drinking that thick creamy goodness, Chocolat l’Ancienne, sipping coffee or wine in the middle of the day on the terrace of a most picturesque café, meandering along the cobblestone paths of the Latin Quarter, admiring the majestic Notre Dame on the historical Île de Cité, or soaking up Monet’s Water Lilly’s at Musée de l’Orangerie. Paris is anyone’s home away from home. You need not be a citizen of this incredible City of Lights to make it your own. It belongs to anyone who falls in love with it the same way that I have. It has a way of carving out space in your heart and never leaving. C’est la vie!

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This is Shelby and I on our very first trip to Paris. We were in fact the first two of our family to visit this incredible city.

When you arrive in Paris, buy train tickets in packs of ten. It keeps you from having to constantly purchase train tickets. The metro is awesome and gets you everywhere fast. But definitely walk above ground whenever you can between destinations. Therein lies a lot of the charm of Paris. On the day you go to Versailles, you will need metro tickets that include the RER! Just make sure your train tickets for that day covers that Zone. Versailles is awesome. If you have never been, I definitely suggest you work it into your trip while there. It is definitely a full day!

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Judy’s Must Do List: (In NO particular order!)

1 Eiffel Tower: All the way to the top. Everyone should do it once, say they did, and get the heck back down and move on:) Pictures are awesome from the top and below-standing directly under the tower. You can buy a ticket that only goes half way up if you are so inclined. It is crowded at the top so if you suffer greatly from claustrophobia, I suggest either not ascending the tower at all or visiting in the off-season. It is an incredible sight to behold even if you’re just standing beneath it.
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2 The Eiffel Tower at night: all lit up. Once darkness falls, it glitters (flashes) on the hour. One of our favorite viewing spots at night is the Pont Alexandre because the bridge itself is stunning and beautiful. The Pont d’Alma is even closer and we have viewed from there as well.
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2 Fat Bike tour: There’s both a day and a night tour. We recommend the night tour if you can only do one. Riding down the Champs-Élysées and around the inner courtyard of the Louvre at night is unbelievable. Fat Bike Tours are always in English. We have had an American, a British, and an Australian guide. So. Much. Fun. Make your reservations online. Or you can just show up at the meeting place. We’ve done it both ways. Check their website for hours, times and meeting places and additional important info.
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3. Louvre: Okay here’s the way to do the Louvre. Get online and find out EXACTLY what you want to see there. See it and then go. It’s huge. If you go without planning what you wish to view, you will be absolutely overwhelmed.
I recommend spending less time here and more at the Musée d’Orsay.
Louvre favorites:
Mona Lisa because…well, it’s the Mona Lisa!
Michelangelo Slaves (aka The Dying Slave and The Rebellious Slave)
Venus De Milo
Raft of Medusa
Liberty Leading the Peope 

4 Musee d’Orsay is our favorite art museum in Paris. It is a beautiful building, once a train station and also used as a postal depot in WWII. Monets, Degas (love this guy- especially Dancers In Blue) Van Gogh, Renoir, and many others. One of my favorite artists to visit here is Mary Cassatt a rare female American impressionist painter (1844-1926) who honed her craft in the company of Other French Impressionists! We love this museum. Make sure you have a couple of hours to relax and enjoy.

5. Cluny Museum or Le Musée de Cluny: Musée national du Moyen Age (Middle Ages museum) (But I know what you are saying: museums museums museums.) That’s why you PLAN your visit (particularly in the Louvre.) In and out. Get a map. Know your plan and where you are going. BUT the CLUNY IS part museum, part awesome adventure house. It’s loaded with mystery and fun facts to include the heads of Judean kings beheaded from their statue torsos at Notre Dame during the French revolution. The heads were discovered and excavated from a Paris garden in 1977 and brought to the Cluny. Also I just love the 16th century tapestries “The Woman and the Unicorn,” a floor to ceiling wonderous sight. The museum was constructed on top of ancient Roman bath houses. That alone would place this museum at the top of your agenda. Furthermore, The Cluny is in the Latin Quarter of Paris, a district where getting lost is a good thing. (But don’t worry. You won’t get lost!)
Musée national du Moyen Âge

Musée national du Moyen Âge (2)

Musée national du Moyen Âge (3)

Musée national du Moyen Âge (1)

6. Finally Musee de l’Orangrie: It’s a super quickie museum right. And here’s the deal. When we lived in Europe, this museum required a reservation online and one had to go during your reserved time. However, friends of mine who recently visited said that did not appear to be the case. Maybe it is certain times a year. So get online. And find out. (C’mon I can’t do everything for ya!) Monet murals everywhere. This experience will delight the senses of even the most cynical of those who claim to not be “artsy!” You stand in the middle of these huge rooms surrounded by Monet murals. Just close your eyes and relax. It’s incredible.

7. Arc De Triomph: (This can easily be combined with a museum and cafe people watching.) Go to the top!!! From the top, you get a great bird’s-eye view of the “mother of all” roundabouts. And the arc is beautiful. The history is fantastic. Be sure to stop on the floor along the way that tells you the story. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I along with an eternal flame.

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8. Notre Dame on the Île de Cité: On the site of this cathedral, the first settlers of Paris, the Celts settled and so this was their sacred ground. Later the Romans built a temple to Jupiter here. In the 6th Century it was a Basilica, then a Romanesque church. Finally, construction for the current cathedral, began around 1160. The three Rose Windows from the 13th century are some of the greatest masterpieces inside Notre Dame. Also look for the ‘Paris Point Zero’ marker situated in the cathedral square just in front of the main entry. This small octagonal brass plate set in the ground marks the exact spot from which all distances from Paris are measured. Finally, if you are facing Notre dame in the front, to the left is the entrance to the belfry. Go up the belfry if you have time. The views of the gargoyles are great as well as views of the city. We have dragged our girls up more European belfries than I can count, and this one is spectacular. Connected to Île de Cité is the Île de St. Louis. Great eating shopping and people watching. Views of the city and the river are excellent from here.

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Notre Dame

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8 a. While at Notre Dame, which is on Île de Cité, you can venture out onto Pont Neuf, and see King Henry IV Statue and beautiful views of the Seine River.
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8 b. Also Place de Dauphine is a great little corner (more like a triangle) of Paris where you feel like you have escaped back into another time. It is for romantics, cynics, families, lovers, locals and tourists. Eat at the Rose De France. Great for lunch or dinner. RESERVATIONS AREN’T REQUIRED, BUT I DO ANYWAY. It’s one of the prettiest squares in the City of Lights and lies literally right in the center of Paris on the Île de Cité. The food is wonderful. And there’s something for everyone on the menu.

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9. “Shakespeare and Company” bookstore is the coolest book store ever. Opened first in 1919 by American Sylvia Beach on Rue Dupuytren, it was then moved to 12 Rue de l’Odéon in 1922. The store closed in 1940 during the German NAZI occupation. Sylvia’s book clubs were well-known in Paris, and had global literary acclaim. It was a common gathering place and readers’ hub for writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and many other literary greats. Sylvia published the controversial book “Ulysses,” by Joyce in 1922 when no one else would. She loaned money often to the struggling writer Hemingway. The current “Shakespeare and Company” bookstore was opened in 1951 by George Whitman called “Le Mistral” but renamed to “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia. Location: Directly across the Seine River from Notre Dame on Rue de la Bûcherie. Just cross the bridge (Le Petit Pont – Cardinal Lustiger) from Île de Cité and turn left onto Rue de la Bûcherie.

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10. Saint Chapelle is literally just around the corner from Notre Dame. It’s a stinkin’ 13th century chapel. I was stunned by the beauty on the inside. It is truly a masterpiece of brilliant Gothic architecture in the heart of the Palais de la Cité on the Île de Cité in Paris. Discover its unique stained glass windows rendering the air iridescent with light and colour, symbols of the Heavenly Jerusalem. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns—one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom.
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11. Sacre Coeur: Oh my gosh! So many memories at Sacre Coeur and Montmartre.. No one can go to Paris and not visit this region. It’s breathtaking.
Once you tour Sacre Coeur, be sure to walk around to the left corner to the artist hang out at The Place du Tertre. It is a square in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. Only a few streets away from Montmartre’s Basilica of the Sacré Cœur and the Lapin Agile, it is the heart of the city’s elevated Montmartre quarter. Either before you ascend the hill at Montmartre or after you leave, EAT AT L’été en pente douce. What an awesome little restaurant. We always always eat there for lunch since we descend Montmartre on the other side for instance down Rue Lepic. Excellent selection of wine all the time and the food is fabulous. If you are facing the restaurant, the walk down the hill to the right is beautiful. And the walk up to Sacre Coeur from there is beautiful. So many beautiful walks descending and ascending Sacre Coeur and we have done them all.
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Une boulangerie dans Montmarte.  (A bakery in Montmartre District of Paris.)

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12. Victor Hugo’s apartment at Place De Vosage: This is also a nice place to shop at different stores and boutiques. But the girls and I toured his apartment and it was absolutely enchanting. The Place des Vosges is one of the oldest squares in Paris, and also one of the most beautiful. Visitors stroll under the arches or along the paths of the central garden. Shops are also open on Sundays. The square is the ideal jump off point for a walk in the Marais, one of the most charming historic neighborhoods in the capital. The many mansions of the 17th and 18th centuries have been transformed into internationally renowned museums: Musée Picasso Paris, Musée Carnavalet, the House of Victor Hugo Museum.
Also guys if you have time. Musée Carnavalet is an awesome museum and do you know why? It’s an old mansion. So you aren’t just going through an old boring museum. It’s a huge beautiful mansion. I love Carnavalet.
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Carnevalet: Carnevalet

Carnevalet (1)

13. Versailles is a day trip. Plan a full day. Get your tickets in advance, so you’re not standing in line for those. You will take the RER out to Versailles. Maybe use that day to plan on seeing the Eiffel tower all lit up at night when you are back in town. “The Château de Versailles, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful.” http://en.chateauversailles.fr/the-palace-
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14 A beverage and relaxation MUST DO IS Angelina’s on Rue do Rivioli (take metro to Tuileries metro station) for Le chocolat chaud à l’ancienne l’Africain We never go to Paris and leave without having some. It’s a treat for your culinary senses. It’s a great rest stop too.
Angelina's best production

15. Schedule time to stop and eat and drink at cafes and people watch. Cafes in Paris rock! The parks in Paris are all awesome as well. And we have not been to all of them. So report back to me your favorites.

16. CATACOMBS: The girls and I loved this ghoulish tour, but make it your last thing if you have time, OR if it’s what you want to do, make it your first. The history of the catacombs is spectacular http://www.parislogue.com/catacombs

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17. Enjoy the Latin Quarter, and while you are in the Latin Quarter, making you way to and from the Pantheon, visit (and stay for a while) at Luxembourg Gardens. What an enchanting place. You will find plenty of sitting spots or bring a blanket. Be sure and check out the locals playing checkers.

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18. The Panthéon: Church and tomb of a number of France’s most famed men and women for instance, Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Louis Braille, and many others. The architecture of this building is simply stunning.
Tombeau de Napoléon - Eglise du Dôme

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19. Les Invalides, commonly known as Hôtel national des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids), or also as Hôtel des Invalides, is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, France, containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the burial site for some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte .
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Extras
1 Pierre la chaise cemetery, for you Rock and Rollers, see Jim Morrison’s (Doors) tomb and memorial, Oscar Wilde, and what I find so fascinating about Pierre La Chaise cemetery is just how beautiful it is and all the memorials to all the great wars.
2 The city’s original Roman city gates at St Deni
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3 Rodin Museum in door and outdoor (Think “The Thinker”)
4.Musée Jacquemart-André

RESTAURANTS WE LOVE:
Street side cafes are awesome. Both the ambiance and food are great. Everything you have ever heard about French food and French bakeries is all true. They are wonderful. Here are a few specific favorites of ours.

Maison Ladurée 75 avenue des Champs-Élysées MACAROONS MACAROONS MACAROONS

Le Grand Colbert http://www.legrandcolbert.fr featured in a Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson movie.
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This is very near a GREAT wine store called Legrand Filles et Fils at Rue de la Banque, 75002 Paris, France
LeGrand Filles and Fils-I love this picture. So colorful.

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Restaurant L’Auberge Etchegorry 43 rue Croulebarbe 75013 PARIS http://etchegorry.hotel-restaurant-paris.com (classic awesome french food)

La Closerie des Lilas, 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse (if you turn and walk a straight line out the end of Luxembourg gardens (away from river) and exit the gardens, you will walk right into this restaurant. GREAT spot for lunch. For sure no reservation required for lunch.

Là coup chou 11 Rue de Lanneau
http://www.lecoupechou.com/actualite/
You’ll absolute my LOVE the architecture of this 16th century building. In the Latin quarter. Do make reservations for dinner.
The Coupe Chou

The Coupe Chou. We had to walk through a series of passage ways to get to our table.

The Coupe Chou restaurant stands in an elegant Louis XIII building in the Latin quarter of Paris. You will enjoy here a pure traditionnal French cuisine.

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Au Vieux
http://www.auvieuxparis.fr/#_=_
Dinner. MUST HAVE reservations. on Île de St. Louis
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Dinner at Au Vieux Paris restaurant

Au Vieux Paris restaurant

old old building, cool restaurant. Au Vieux Paris restaurant

L’été en pente douce 8 Rue Paul Albert Paris 18th AD, at the bottom of Sacre Coeur
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I could write a hundred more pages, but goodness mercy, who has time. One of the funnest parts of visiting Paris, is planning Paris. So get busy, and have fun. Click on my email link if you have questions. I would love to answer as best I can. And leave comments. And finally, if you travel to Paris, share with us your own personal and varied and wonderful experiences.

Majority Rules! How we spend our time and our money counts!

How do you spend the "majority" of your time and money?
Photo Creds:Willblogforfood.com

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.

To Hell With It: Making and Keeping a New Year’s Resolution

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Photo Creds Flickr.com

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!

What do we owe them?

My sisters and I before our parents died.
My sisters and I before our parents died.

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.

What do We Owe Them?
What do We Owe Them?

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.

Grown up sisters, Cindy, Lori, and Judy
Grown up sisters, Cindy, Lori, and Judy

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.

7 Simple ways to Make a Difference: It’s never too late!

Kindness3
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.” flag
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.
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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.

The “why” and the “what” of April 19, 1995

April 19, 1995
April 19, 1995
20 years. That’s how long it has been since my world was turned upside down, inside out. That’s how long since so many lives were forever changed by the heartless acts of a domestic terrorist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 168 people died that day in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at 200 NW 5th Street. 168 men, women, and children, husbands, fathers, wives, mothers. This weekend, 100’s of us will gather together on the ground where my “home away from home” once stood and remember our loved ones. But we will have something else on our mind during that time. It will not be just the past and the dead that we will be pondering. We will also be thinking about our present and our future and the living. We will be looking at those who are standing around us and marveling at the resilience of life. In our office alone, (DEA 9th floor) I am aware of the births of at least a dozen children and grand children borne by survivors. Out of the ashes of death, life blooms. In places where it seems only darkness can live, survivors manage to defy those odds. They get married. They have families. They graduate. They get jobs and promotions. They love and they grow. They retire. They continue to work and be passionate. They live on. They just live.

When I woke up on April 19, 1995, I fully expected to go on with my day, business as usual. But that was not to be the case. I simply cannot describe the feeling, the emotions and the devastation that consumed me standing in the rubble at the base of my building, trying to organize my thoughts, the names and faces rolling through my head: Who’s dead? Who’s alive? The tears streaming down my face were mixed with the sweat procured after sprinting from a meeting 4 blocks away to the sight I now beheld in grievous disbelief.

If you talk to anyone who survives a disaster, a car crash, a battle field, a bombing, while others they know and love perish, then you are certainly familiar with the term “survivor guilt.” In the weeks to follow, I know that I struggled with this. And 100’s of others did as well. Not just those of us who worked in the building. But also the rescue workers who spent hours recovering the bodies and endangering their own lives to do so. So many struggled with the question “Why them and not me?” And truly, when someone would say to me, “God must have a plan for you,” it would dig the knife in a little bit deeper. After all, did God not have a plan for my beloved friends? Did he not have a plan for the children? But I knew then (and now) that it is so difficult to know what to say to someone who has suffered a great loss. I know because I have been the one attempting to offer words of encouragement to others as often as I have been on the receiving end. I love and appreciate all who care so much for me that they struggle with what to say in my hour of need. So it was that after the bombing as recovery efforts continued to deliver us the news one by one of the names of those found in the rubble that day, I found myself contemplating the “why” and the “what!”

The “why:” As I sit here, incredibly 20 years later, I wish I could give you a reasonable and enlightened answer for the “why.” Why did Timothy McVeigh do what he did? Why did my best friend, or my spouse, or my child have to die like that? Why why why? I can’t. Sometimes you just can’t explain such evil and devastation. It has been going on for 1000’s of years, and I am sure it will continue as long as there is the will of some (or many) to pervert a civil society. In the same way, any tragedy that ruthlessly befalls us-the loss of a child, divorce, hurt, betrayal-the “why” can plague us, paralyze us, and break us. And truly, though I cannot answer the “why,” I do know that the unending pursuit for “why” will likely render us hopeless and helpless. It can and will pluck the fruit from our tree and rob us of our peace. At some point we must simply put one foot forward, forcibly if necessary, and trust in the Creator that indeed He has an “eye” on us. And moreover in this world, He has the last word.

The “what:” I can’t answer the “why,” but ironically because of that, I am compelled to ask “what?” What must I do now? In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, that was different for all of us. The “what” included grieving. It included supporting the families of the fallen, attending funerals, burying the dead, gathering up the physical remains of our office files, counseling, rebuilding, and the list went on and on. As the days turned into years, the “what” turned into- continue to do my job well, take care of each other, celebrate babies, birthdays, graduations, communions, baptisms, live life, retire, and perhaps even suffer more loss. Because as we know all too well, loss is an inevitable part of living.

So this Sunday, as we reflect and celebrate those loved ones who have died, we will look around and consider the living. We’ll say things like, “I can’t believe how much she’s grown,” or “Congratulations on retirement,” or “Have you seen his grand kids? They are adorable.” And in those moments whether we realize it or not we will have achieved the “what.” Presently we have answered the question we were posed 20 years ago-the most important question of all, not the “why” question, but the “what!” As one of my dear friends told me once, “when something goes wrong, we do the next right thing.” That’s the “what.” The next right thing. In that we honor our lost loved ones and we also find a great measure of healing.

I will see many people this week that I love like family though we don’t actually share DNA. They have suffered much. And while it’s true that many of us have suffered with survivor guilt, there is truly nothing to feel guilty about. We have continued to work hard. We have had beautiful children. We have taught others well. We have remembered our lost loved ones, each in our own way, and we share those stories with our children, their namesakes, who will continue to do the same. We have lived lives of integrity, examples of goodness and perseverance. Now what will we do in the next 20 years? Much of the very same thing I hope. Always remembering and always moving forward.

Psalm 27:13-14 I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord.
Be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

PERSPECTIVE

PERSPECTIVE

Perspective. We all need it. It’s always relevant. But not necessarily easily accomplished. This very week in history, a co-pilot for a commercial airliner from Germany en route from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, is believed to have taken his own life. Unfortunately, he took another 150 innocent lives with him.They had not chosen the end to his life, or that this would be the end to theirs. Sometimes we can only pray for the darkness in this world. We can only hope and believe that the God of this universe is supreme and secures our immortality knowing that such immortality is in no way guaranteed in this life on this earth. So back to perspective. I have three teenagers of my own. With that, as you can imagine or know first hand, comes a lot of stress. Rigorous academics, short grading periods, try outs for drill team, theater productions, auditions for college, how to pay for college, major grade tests, End of Course Testing, and the list goes on and on. It’s a lot for young people to manage, and can be equally stressful for parents. Sometimes, some days I do feel like I am coming undone. I also sub teach in our school district. As a sub, I have lots of students, typically 12 to 19 years of age, and usually 6th grade through seniors. Their list of concerns and stressors often include divorced parents, custody battles, failing classes, pressure to have sex, teen pregnancy, unemployed parents, poverty, and that list goes on and on. Perspective. Often is the case when I get really frustrated with my teenagers, I remember some of these teenagers, my students, who don’t have parents or loving role models in their own lives-no one to worry about their grades and their happiness. Rapidly I regain perspective. I feel guilty about seeing someone else’s tragic circumstances and hardship as my means of maintaining proper perspective in my life. But it’s true, so true that there is always someone else who 1 has either gone through what you are going through or 2 who is actually enduring something worse. So what’s the importance of perspective? A more important question may be “what do you stand to lose without it?” Peace. Productivity. Common sense. Friends. Family. Faith. All important things and there are many more things you stand to lose when you can not wrap your mind around what is important-AND-when you are not able to push past the difficulties in your life by way of gaining perspective. And as adults we also have to teach our kids this important principle. Yes it is of paramount importance-like kindness, manners, respect, and hard work. We know and agree that these are impactful and necessary teaching points, but we don’t always think about the importance of teaching perspective. But truthfully all the former important behavioral traits are near impossible without the latter. Recently my 9th grader had a friend who said she simply “could not go on” since one member of the boy band, “One Direction,” had left the band and apparently decided to go in another direction. Pardon the pun. Now I realize that with teenagers there is a LOT of drama and a fair number of exaggerations. Remember? I have three teens. But hopefully as parents we are not just laughing off this kind of obsession, on the part of our children, with events and issues that we absolutely know as parents-“It. Just. Doesn’t. Matter.” Give yourself a gift. Give yourself perspective. Give your kids a gift. Teach them perspective. How? Discuss current events in a meaningful way. It doesn’t have to dominate all of your conversations nor does it have to happen every single day. But it should happen often. Secondly, make sure they are serving someone besides themselves. They need a volunteer activity. Do it through your church or you community center. Look for volunteer efforts coordinated through their schools. Get them involved with helping SOMEone who has nothing! Third, eat dinner together around the table as much as possible. Fourth, unplug from electronics at least one day a week and always during certain specific activities-like dinner around the table! Our day is Sunday for no electronics. Finally, remove your kids from the center of the universe. Honestly, they don’t deserve to be there. And neither do we. This is a good start for getting ourselves and our kids’ minds wrapped around perspective. And when we do, maybe their hearts will break in two over those 150 lives lost on that German Wings flight or maybe their hearts will break for that young person in their class at school who really needs a friend-or the homeless, hungry, and helpless-as opposed to their heart breaking over the breakup of their favorite pop band. Perspective gives us purpose and in the process makes us much happier and better members of our families and our communities, and virtually compels us to give back a very tiny (microscopic) part of all that we have been given.

Get your travel warning reality check here!

Paris 2015

Ironically, Paul and I were in Paris on the day Charlie Hebdo was attacked by terrorists, which left 12 innocent people dead. We had arrived at our hotel that very evening. We were reading emails and text messages from friends and family back home, even before we saw it on CNN inside our hotel room. Naturally, they were concerned for our safety. I found it ironic that we were more concerned for our safety in our hometown back in Texas than in this foreign city of 2,000,000 plus inhabitants. This-in spite of the horrific terrorist attack that had tragically occurred just hours before our arrival. Why? Maybe because (on American soil) I survived the Oklahoma City bombing, but lost 5 of my best friends and multiple colleagues to an act of terrorism, albeit domestic. Maybe it’s because my law enforcement background reminds me there is no perfectly safe place in this world. No place that is completely crime proof. No school. No city. No workplace. Or maybe it’s because the crime in our hometown in Texas (population 11000) a suburb of Houston (population 2,200,000) boasts a ridiculously high crime rate. The Whataburger restaurant frequented by our teenagers (sans parents) was recently robbed at gunpoint along with its patrons, including two students from our high school. Nearby CVS, Walgreens, and Burger King, and many other businesses, have been robbed and/or burglarized recently. Sadly, home invasions in our immediate area are reported way more than I like to hear. It’s unsettling. The mall closest to us in proximity (also frequented by our teenagers sans parents) was the scene of a robbery the very week we were in France. They held women at gunpoint, and took their purses. Those same perpetrators then followed a woman in her vehicle for miles purportedly to reach her home. Only their home invasion scheme was foiled due to her vigilance and awareness. She noticed their car in her rear view mirror, and called the police. Later, the police apprehended them in a neighborhood where several of our friends live just north of ours. They were taken into custody without further incident. Neighborhood and vehicle break-ins are very common in our neighborhood and the surrounding area. And it doesn’t matter if they are gated subdivisions or not. I don’t mean to be the bearer of gloom and doom. I just want to deliver a reality check to anyone who thinks that traveling to a foreign country-or even a different state within these wonderful United States-is too risky. Look closer. Reevaluate! Of course there are places that are such a threat to Americans that traveling there poses too high a risk-places like North Korea, Iran, or Iraq. But alas, France is not one of them. Nor are the countries that border France. And really, how regrettable and sad that there was not ONE American President, diplomat or US representative from our great country in attendance on Saturday (January 10, 2015) at a world rally in Paris, to join together with France and so many other countries taking a stand against the viciousness of terrorism. Seriously, this broke my heart as an American patriot, as a former ex pat of Europe, as a frequent visitor to France-a country who has treated me with the utmost respect and care each time I have visited. I thought about the beaches of Normandy on D-DAY June 6, 1944. Thousands of Americans and other allies lost their lives on those French beaches in a battle that ultimately helped liberate France from Nazi tyranny. Yet 71 years later, we are completely absent at a Paris rally of the free world to end terrorism. Our American history with France is infinite and rich, and that history crosses the French borders to include surrounding countries of Europe’s free world. We should embrace that, teach it, share it, and as much as possible enjoy it whether that means talking about it, writing about it, reading about it, or if you are lucky enough-getting your passport stamped! Anything less is tipping a hat to those low-down, hateful, spiteful, foul-mouthed, no good-evil terrorists! Je suis Charlie!

Transparency

Transparency is good!
Transparency is good!

Transparency as a personality trait is a good thing. Too many people hide behind their gifts, talents, education level, careers, money, or daily calendars! None of us know who you truly are or what you’re truly about when you allow yourself to only be seen through the filter of all you have accomplished. Transparency is about bringing authenticity to your relationships. Being real. One way we do this is by personal disclosure. This is very rarely accomplished by vomiting every detail of your life (sordid or perfect) to those you meet along the way. But it is about being honest with others in a way that requires us to admit such things as our faults, our fears, our confusion, or in general-admitting we just don’t have it all together. Ah yes, we don’t always have it all together. We’re imperfect parents, spouses, Christians, friends, bosses, employees! We are imperfect creatures created by a perfect God. But often what makes us imperfect also makes us different. And well, that’s a good thing. Transparency also makes us approachable. No one is going to feel like they can stack up next to super mom, or a super hero colleague! Nope! You who cannot in any way practice transparency need never worry about someone confiding in you about their struggles or their fears, or most probably even their hopes or their dreams. So being an opaque (yes that would be the opposite of transparent) kind of gal may seem productive to you, but it’s unfortunate for those closest to you. Think of your kids, husband, neighbors and friends. All people who would benefit greatly from knowing the real you, but instead, being convinced you are unapproachable, and “I could never be that perfect….” I remember once, when my kids were babies and my husband was deployed a LOT, speaking with an older wiser friend who had experienced a similar military lifestyle to mine. I confided to her that the struggle of “family reintegration” when Paul returned home was challenging and arguing often ensued. Her exact words to me “oh well my husband and I never argued.” I said “Well, congratulations.” And that was the last time I ever shared a single concern with her again. There are plenty of people in this world who do plenty of things much better than I ever could. That is a truth that will never change. But what’s in my grasp is to be to others a true picture of someone who has often failed on the way to all things wonderful in life. Transparent people invite change in others. Transparency also fosters hope and provides a safe place for someone else to reach their full potential on their way to all things wonderful in life.

Mission Trips: Who benefits?

Off to NYC
Off to NYC

Off to Dominican Republic
Off to Dominican Republic

The last two days I have seen all three of my daughters off very early in the morning for mission trips associated with our church. Halle and Katie Ann are serving in NYC. Shelby is serving in the Dominican Republic, the first of her sisters to serve in a third world country. Among my many prayers for their trip and their efforts, one that you will NOT hear, is a prayer for their spiritual growth and maturity. Nor am I praying that they embrace their faith in a more personal way as result of this trip. Now before you say anything like “What-are you crazy?” Let me explain. My prayer is that they are salt and light in the darkness, a positive and gentle reminder of what is good in the world. IN other words, my prayer is that they come and do good to others, not the other way around. They are the missionaries, not the mission. Even Jesus said in John 10:10 “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” His mission was for others to receive hope and help from Him! Again-NOT the other way around. Sure, right now you may be thinking “Judy is way over thinking this. It’s not that complicated.” Recently, a young enthusiastic Columbia medical student wrote an article about the “Narcissism of Global Volunteerism.” Her writing was very one-sided about her personal experience on a medical brigade volunteer trip to Africa. All in all it was a pretty negative article that seemed to recklessly deposit every global volunteer effort into the same pit of despair in which hers had sunk. Her thinking was that global volunteer efforts are completely narcissistic on the part of the volunteer(s), and furthermore, that it enabled entire cultures to remain oppressed and dependent on others for their daily sustenance, if not also, for their political structure. In particular, she slammed the wide use of social media, picture taking and subsequent posting, as a visual means of showcasing our good works for everyone to view and adore! While her article was entirely too ambitious in its attempts at lumping together all aspects of global volunteerism and all volunteer organizations, I did feel there was something to be learned from it. Indeed there is a grain of truth for us as volunteers both domestic and international, to be gleaned from her sometimes pompous thoughts. And so, on the eve of their departure to their respective mission trip destinations, I made this article required reading for all three of my girls. As I told them, “It begs the question, do we exploit the poor and impoverished for our own spiritual gain? Do we exploit their lot in life and their humble estate in order to elevate ourselves spiritually in the eyes of the world, our church, our friends and family? Is it through the inherent humility of the downtrodden that we seek out the “magic bullet” to practice humility for ourselves?” My girls had some eye-opening thoughts. They agreed that the author might be a little skewed in her narrow opinion of global volunteerism based solely on her own experiences. But they also agreed that the answer to some of those questions could indeed be “yes!” In the end, we had a round of prayer and I prayed for the girls to be exactly what I started this blog with-salt and light to those they come in contact with-NOT for the girls’ personal gain, even personal spiritual gain. I did not pray for them to become better more behaved daughters, or to necessarily enjoy every moment of every day they are there. Okay, you are exactly right reader: Spiritual growth is not something you can turn on and off with a power switch. You know the old adage applies here: “You can’t stop a train.” It’s highly unlikely that the girls will come out of this experience, and not grow spiritually. But let that be the work of our God, not our work. Ephesians 2:8 says “It is not by works we are saved, but by grace.” The same holds truth for spiritual growth. It happens NOT when we benefit personally from our acts of service, but rather when we are obedient to our God. I would submit if you are going on any mission trip as a “self-help” mission for either yourself or your child, then rethink your participation on that trip. And I would go so far as to say, if you don’t know the people in your own neighborhood by name, or if you have never so much as volunteered a single hour in the community where you live, then for Pete’s sake, get your priorities straight. Greet your neighbors with genuine interest. Have someone over to your home for dinner. Practice hospitality. Try making real life application of Romans 12:13 in your home! Join a local service project. Do these things first. Don’t expect a thing in return. Not so much as a friendly wave from the next door neighbor after delivering him those cookies! THEN, if you feel the conviction and the Holy Spirit’s tug to go on an overseas mission trip (or to the inner city of NYC), knock yourself out, and pray that you truly see people with Jesus filters. This is something you have heard a 1000 times in your life, and if you haven’t, allow me to be the first to introduce you to the concept: “It ain’t about us.” It’s never about us. Ever. Even if it is my precious girls who I love more than my own life. It’s not about them. And God help me, I’m trying to teach them that!