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When Your Fear Meets God….A Travel (through life) Blog

I travel a lot. I don’t travel fearlessly. Every time I find my bus stop in a foreign city, or check into an international flight with an international airline correctly, I am immensely relieved. Each time I make it back to my hotel or BNB at the end of a long day of navigating a strange city and maybe a foreign language, I’m always heaving a huge sigh of relief. In fact, traveling is a turbo boost of adrenalin fueled somewhat by my fear. At the end of such trips, when my feet hit US soil, and I finally cross the threshold of my house, I feel like Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) at the hilarious end of “Christmas Vacation,” after a harrowing but successful experience hosting he and his wife’s families for Christmas, when he remarks smugly to himself, “I did it!” I post a lot of pictures when I travel-pictures full of fun and good times. I suspect however, I do not do a very good job conveying to my readers all the ins and outs of my fears woven into that travel itinerary. I am pretty sure they think my fear meter is non-existent. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. My fear of all the things that could possibly go wrong when we travel, never goes away completely. But my fear of that fear has been vanquished for a long time. The inherent fear involved with traveling is not nearly enough to keep me at home. In fact, it probably keeps me on my toes. On the other hand, paralyzing fear of the unknown most certainly would ground me and confine me to a perceived safety zone.

But let’s face it. Fear of traveling isn’t nearly the mountain of fear some have to battle compared to a cancer diagnosis or a divorce, or a child who has strayed away from a positive life path. After all, when I travel I most often do so in countries who are my allies, and who usually speak English, my language, the universal language at that. Even as I sweat out the directions from one place to another, worried that I won’t make that last bus out of a remote village or even as I worry about my children who are traveling different directions from me, even these fears are minuscule compared to the trials that some have endured. Trials wherein we say “If only I had escaped this….in my life.” If only… And here is where that black cloud of fear can be debilitating.

There is an absolutely beautiful song by Casting Crowns about such fears, all of them, big, medium or small as one might measure fear. In this song, the lyrics carry a powerful punch: “There’s a place where fear has to face the God we know.” My fear has to face my God. There is power for us in that knowledge. I believe perhaps that there is a place for fear in our daily lives. It gives us antennae so to speak, so that we can avoid land mines. Healthy fear gives us “flight or fight” when we need it. And of course fear that is talked about in Deuteronomy 10:12 is certainly the kind of spiritual fear and reverence that we should exude for a Holy and loving God. “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.” But what of the fear spoken about in 2 Timothy 1:7? “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” God is not the author of this fear. This fear has to face the God we know. And this is true of all our paralyzing fears, no matter what has already happened in your life, no matter if it is fear of what has happened or fear of what might happen. The song goes on to say “One more day, He will make a way. Let Him show you how, you can lay this down.” You CAN lay this down. You can keep “doing” whatever you need to be “doing,” but you CAN lay this down. Why? Because “you’re not alone.”

I just finished a senior trip with my middle daughter Halle to the south of France. We were in the Med swimming, and she insisted on swimming out toward the yellow bobber thingies which apparently the French and Italians decided was an appropriate safety boundary for leisure swimmers. I’m not sure I agreed, but being in a season where I’m now parenting young women, not children, I am directing them less and less. And so it was, I watched her sweet head bob up and down between those waves with the hugest smile on her sweet face, and what did I do? “There’s a place where fear has to face the God I know.” Rebuking my fear and turning it over to my Creator, the Only One who has already defeated my fear, doesn’t guarantee my idea of what my child’s future looks like or sadly how long that life will be. But standing up straight and telling my fear, “You have to face my God on His terms;” does ensure that the journey is fattened with eternal hope and yes even joy in the midst of uncertainty. I love that. And you can bet, I’ll still have some fear, but it will not jam pack me into a jar with the lid screwed on tightly. No, it has to face the God I know! That frees me up. You can find me in the sun with the Son shining on my face.

Influence

The other day I was sitting in the dental chair, waiting on my hygienist to get started when finally she asked me “Are you ready to go?” I answered, “I’m always either ready to go or ready to rumble depending on my attitude.” She just laughed, but it’s mostly true. This is a conundrum for many of us. One of my very favorite books by Stephen Covey is “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” In it he says this: “The problems, challenges, and opportunities we face each day fall into two areas: Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. We each have a wide range of concerns, our health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, terrorism, the weather. As we look at the list, it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about. Proactive people focus their efforts on their Circle of influence: They work on things they can do something (emphasis mine) about: health, children, problems at work. Reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern: things over which they have little or no control: the national debt, terrorism, the weather.”

I believe the more time we spend our time and efforts in our areas of influence, the more likely we are to live out the “Go” mentality in our lives. Whereas, the more time and energy we spend in our areas of concern, we will always be “ready to rumble,” but yet remain uninspired to “Go” or to do anything about it. Generally speaking, what is the difference between the two: Ready to Go or Ready to Rumble? Here are some simple measuring sticks:
I am aware of ways to contribute to my community and my neighbors and do so regularly.
I scroll Facebook or watch the news an inordinate amount of my day/week.
I have relationships with friends that I (personally) regularly engage or nurture.
I spend quality time with my family that doesn’t involve television, telephone, or telecommuting.
I am aware of a situation(s) or person(s) in my life who I can influence positively. I choose or choose not to impact this situation or this person.

The areas of concern that Covey mentions in his book and the ones that I have compiled here, are definitely worthy of concern. But they are NOT worthy of all of your emotional, physical, and spiritual energy. That would be a crying shame. Circumstances outside of my control, i.e. traffic (my struggle), politics, national elections (another one of mine), weather, all contribute to a sense of desperation, and an US vs. Them mindset. Sadly we get so immersed in our areas of concern, that our areas of influence (children, spouse, professional work, next door neighbor, niece, nephew, sibling, parent, or local community) absolutely shrinks until it has been all but eclipsed by our area of concern.
Take the presidential election for example. Absolutely, we should take the time to be informed about this election, and we can and should excercise our right to vote, but in the end, is this campaign an area of my influence or concern? Most people act as if it is their area of direct influence. To much focus on Clinton, Sanders, Cruz, and Trump will most likely trump the opportunity for you to contribute in positive ways in the lives of people all around you. I live in Texas folks. Not only am I not able to influence the outcome of this presidential election, it is statistically improbable that my vote will either. Areas of influence? Worrying about every detail of my future that I can’t imagine now? NOPE! Worrying about what others think about me? NOPE! Hoping the weather cooperates with my travel, wedding, or other event plans? NOPE! Consumed with guilt over my past? NOPE! Aggravated as to whether my constitutional rights will be infringed upon with the coming election? NOPE!
On the other hand, who or what do I have immediate opportunity to influence? I could serve in my church. YES! I could meet a hurting friend for coffee. YES! I can play a game of UNO with my kids. YES! I can plan a date night or date day with my spouse and completely surprise her/him. YES! I can stick a note of encouragement in my kid’s lunch box tomorrow. YES! The list is Endless, Exciting and Inexhaustible. So which is it? Are you ready to rumble or ready to roll? None of us are perfect. We all have our moments of rant. But has your occasional rant become a pattern of behavior? Has your circle of influence been superimposed by your circle of concern? I like the word superimposed because it reminds us that our circle of influence is still there; maybe we just need to side swipe the areas of concern in our life to reveal them. People need you. They need your gifts and talents. They need your presence both physically and emotionally. They need you to have margin in your schedule and in your energy reserves for them! Who’s to say that if 200 million people in this country would spend more time and effort focusing on their areas of influence, that their areas of concern wouldn’t improve dramatically. It’s something that can happen only when we are able to pluck our narcissism from the ground where it is rooted, and replace it with planting seeds of positive influence in the lives of others Go!

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.

Can bad manners alone incite riots?

Manners

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.
quote-the-children-now-love-luxury-they-have-bad-manners-contempt-for-authority-they-show-disrespect-socrates-310695
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.
Good-manners-matter
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.

“Working Moms:” Remember the One Thing

Photo Creds: memaandpapas.com

Photo Creds: memaandpapas.com

I sat behind a young mommy the other day on a flight from Houston to Newark. She had a sweet little baby boy less than a year old in tow. He was adorable and occasionally noisy but not so much the latter. Some part of me wanted to say “been there many times and it can be done!” The other part of me wanted to say “put your seatbelt on lady. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” But she had it well under control, and I just enjoyed his toothy smile peering back at me through the opening in the seat. Parenting. Is there any tougher assignment? I think probably not! There’s only one way to tackle this job: head on! With perseverance, unquenchable hope, humility, resolve, and a boat load of love. Still there is this tension I see constantly for moms: to work outside the home or to not work outside the home? What’s best for my kids? With regard to the ever irritating phrase “working mother,” has there ever been a title more misleading, misused, and often misplaced-driving a wedge between us? Two camps. Two polarized views of how parenting (mothering) is defined. Well let’s work on setting this record straight. Regardless of which camp you’re in, know that each has something to learn about the other. And know that each often, commonly maintains a lie of its own! But first things first! I believe yes that there is ONE thing that we ALL agree on right? That ONE thing is this: the kids are the most important thing! Not our jobs, college degrees, or our household income. Not our volunteer activities, projects OR the kids’ extra curricular activities! Once we make the decision to raise that child as our own, it’s like we’ve signed an automatic disclaimer and acknowledgment of responsibility: “I know and accept as truth that it’s our (or my) job to raise this child to be a productive, compassionate, and generous human being!” Surely, that’s our #1 goal. Surely that’s the ONE thing. Otherwise and if not, we’re signing on to “raise this child to be a non-productive, self-centered, and selfish human being!” Ok so you see it really doesn’t MATTER if you work OUTSIDE the home or if you work full-time AT HOME. We all have (should have) the same goal. We are raising productive, compassionate, and generous adults! If that’s NOT your goal as parents, then for you this blog ends here. For the rest of us: whether we work outside the home or not, here’s food for thought. What do you have to do to attain the #1 thing? Do it. Don’t lie to yourself and say “I have to work. I have two car payments and a X square hundred foot house.” (when in fact you could drive a lot cheaper and paid for car and/or live in a smaller house!) Instead say I want to work because I think working outside the home contributes to my children’s welfare this way ________!” Then sell that to yourself! If you’re a stay at home mom who feels like this is the best decision for your family, then don’t lie to yourself and say “this decision will produce perfect children.” Remember we want to produce productive, compassionate and generous adults. There’s no such thing as perfect people much less perfect children. What’s involved in the former is far more reaching! Maybe you’re glued to “projects” or the computer, and your daycare arrangement is the television. Reexamine your family values and your decision to not work outside the home. “I think my decision contributes to the #1 thing for this reason,_______!” Then sell that to yourself. So here’s my final and humble suggestion: 1st please cease with the phrase “working mothers!” I really hate that phrase. In the majority of cases, it’s absolutely redundant. I rarely EVER meet a mother who is not working. And 2nd, why is there not a blog about the working dads dilemma? That’s for another day. And another blog entry.