Monday, November 4, 2019

Choices, Choices! (book review)

On average, experts say, we do it every 2 seconds. We do it approximately 2,000 times every hour and 35,000 times during our waking hours every single day.

We make a choice.

We make decisions subconsciously and deliberately, for a variety of reasons, and in situations ranging from life-or-death to completely frivolous.

No matter why or when or in what situation our choices are made, they add up. As Jean-Paul Sartre said, "We are our choices."

It's important, then, that as we make decisions, we make the very best ones possible. Unfortunately, though, most of us have gotten into the habit of making decisions on the spur of the moment, as we dash from one task to another, barely noticing our choices or their impact until it's too late and the damage of our collective poor -- or just not-best --  choices catch up with us.

There's a better way, and award-winning author Lucinda Secrest McDowell explores that way in her just-released book Life-Giving Choices: 60 Days to What Matters Most (New Hope Publishers).

In the first of 60 easily digestible yet thought-provoking readings, McDowell points out that most of us are not often called upon to make a choice between good and evil. Rather, we are most often required to choose between two equally good things, and she challenges the reader to "choose what matters most".

Each of the remaining 59 "chapters" focuses on one way we can do just that by making the best possible choice. We are encouraged, for example, to choose hope, to choose to sing, to choose power.

Some of the choices may be easy to make and may even be choices you already make. For example, choosing to nurture those around you or to celebrate may be natural for you.

Conversely, choosing to trust or to make connections may be a challenge that cause you to pause and do the hard work that making a decision and then acting upon it can be.

But rising to meet that challenge and learning to consistently make life-giving choices will positively impact your life and the lives of those around you. And Life-Giving Choices: 60 Days to What Matters Most provides the resources for you to do just that!

This life-changing book by Lucinda Secrest McDowell is an excellent resource for both individual and small/large group study.

I was blessed with the opportunity to read/study an advance copy of this book in order to share an honest review.

I do want to add that I first read this book straight through (2 chapters a day), reflecting and journaling on one or both chapters each day. I did this so that I would be able to write a review of the entire book on or before launch date (today!). On November 2, I began reading the book again, reading one chapter a day (as intended), and I'll finished on December 31, 2019. I will share updates on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as I read and ponder and put into practice the wonderful principles outlined in this book. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Living in Limbo

I wish I had a dollar -- hey, I'd settle for a dime -- for every minute in just the past 10 years I've spent in what the people at Merriam-Webster refer to as "an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition".

In other words, in limbo.  

In the past nearly-ten years, I've sold 3 houses, bought 2, and had one built. I've waited on decisions from buyers and loan officers.

I've waited on word from hiring committees and from insurance companies.

I've waited on doctors' reports and on the results of an IRS audit. 

And now I'm in limbo again as I wait for the sign in my front yard and the real estate agent who put it there to work their magic. 

I imagine that you've spent some time in limbo as well.

It's not a comfortable place to be. 

But I've learned in just the past few months that while being in limbo is unpleasant, it can actually be a good thing.

Not fun. But good.

You see, for most of my life, when I've been faced with a period of uncertainty, of something not yet happening that I wanted to happen, I'd consistently resort to the same game plan:

Impatient drumming of fingertips on nearest surface + attempts to force my will on the situation + planning + plotting + obsessing about the situation + tears + frustration + dogged determination to personally make it happen + prayers for a result that lined up with my plans

Sound familiar?

This time, though, as I've been waiting for my house to sell, I've been employing an entirely different strategy.

Why? Because I finally realized that all my absolutely exhausting efforts had one thing in common. Each one of them -- separately and collectively -- was futile. Totally ineffective.

My new strategy is simple.

Instead of drumming and plotting and planning and forcing and obsessing and crying and . . . well, you get the picture. Instead of all that, I do one very simple thing.

I simply don't allow myself to focus on the situation that's placed me in limbo and on my desire for a solution. Any time even the hint of concern or frustration raises its ugly head, I deliberately, intentionally replace that thought with something else.

Primarily, I pray. I pray without focusing on the sale of my house. Instead, I thank and praise God for all he has done and continues to do for me and in me. I intercede on behalf of others. I ask that He help me honor Him and increase my trust in him during this time of waiting. I ask that He show me how I can use this difficulty in my own life to help others. And yes, I sometimes ask, after I've addressed everything else, that He bring a buyer for my home.

I don't ask every time. Not because the issue isn't important, but because, quite honestly, I've come to realize the other things -- the things I talk with Him about first -- are what's really important.

I look over my prayer list. I consider the list of people who are battling cancer or other serious life issues. I think about the friends grieving the loss of a dear loved one or the loss of a job and who are facing true financial uncertainty. I picture former students who are now serving in the military or who are starting full-time jobs or heading off to college. I don't actually pray; instead, I just pause on each name and think of that person.

Often, I journal. Instead of focusing on what I want and what I don't yet have, though, I begin listing all the times in just the past few years God has answered my prayers that have blessed me and brought me joy. Or I write a letter to God. Or I simply write whatever crosses my mind.

I do something physical. I lace up my walking shoes and go for a long walk or pack a box or two of possessions in anticipation of my move. I lift weights while listening to uplifting music. I turn on my favorite oldies radio station and dance.

I make a deliberate effort to make someone else happy. I visit a friend in the hospital or send a card to an acquaintance going through a difficult time. I go shopping, not to buy anything at all, but to see how many people I can smile (sincerely) at or say something kind to. I look for and post positive things on social media.

Sometimes I watch a television program I know will make me laugh, or at least smile. I'm currently working my through the entire series of Frasier, laughing out loud at the witty dialogue between Frasier, Niles, Martin, Daphne, and Roz. 

My strategy is working amazingly well. No, my house hasn't sold. Yet.

But something even better is happening. I'm talking with God more than ever before; talking less about myself and more about others. And I'm listening to Him -- reading the Bible or just sitting quietly.

And the result is that I've been enveloped in a calm and peace that I've never before felt while in a state of limbo. I'm even laughing more than I have in a long time.

I'm no longer depending on my circumstances or on the behavior of others to make me happy; instead, I'm finding peace where I am.

Even if it's in limbo. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

I Had No Idea!

"Mail call!" I sang out as I came in the house. I had sorted the envelopes while walking down our driveway, culling the junk mail and dropping it in the trash bin outside and stashing mundane-looking items in my purse. Now I was holding aloft 4 or 5 envelopes addressed to my husband.

That had been my routine for the past week or so. Since word of his diagnosis had gotten 'round.

I wasn't surprised when the envelopes addressed  only to my husband began arriving, but he was. In fact, when I presented the envelopes every afternoon, he looked at them somewhat suspiciously, as if I was playing a prank on him.

I handed him that day's collection and went to the kitchen to refresh his glass of cold water. I didn't want to hover; I wanted to give him his privacy as he read messages that, I learned when I read them every evening after he went to bed, contained heartfelt personal messages.

When I returned a few minutes later with his water and some fruit, he looked up at me from where he was sitting on the couch. He looked shyly embarrassed.

"I can't believe all these people are taking the time to send me cards and messages. I had no idea!"

"No idea, what?" I asked, sitting next to him on the couch.

"I had no idea that this many people liked me."

I was shocked by my husband's statement. He was a great guy. Nice to others, non-judgmental, easy-going, quiet (until you got to know him), funny and fun-loving, always willing to help others . . .

Everyone liked him! It was obvious. How could he not know?

The truth is, though, that countless people walk through each day of their life never feeling liked or loved by anyone outside their immediate family. By coworkers or acquaintances. Even by friends.

And that simply breaks my heart. Just as my husband's words broke my heart that afternoon nearly 10 years ago.

If you know my family's story, you realize that my husband's cancer journey didn't end well for those of us left behind.

43 days after his diagnosis, 39 days after his 48th birthday, 13 days before what would have been our 25th wedding anniversary, he passed away.

Today would have been his 58th birthday.

I wish that today you were preparing to come over to our house for a huge birthday party. We'd have his favorites -- white cake with whipped cream frosting and ho-made ice-cream. We'd sing happy birthday and joke & laugh as he tried to blow out 58 candles on his cake. And there'd be lots of teasing about him being an "old man".

Instead of having you over for a party, I have a favor to ask of you. It may be a challenge for you, but that's okay. It's a good challenge -- one that will make you feel great. I promise!

Whether or not you knew my husband, I ask you to do one thing for the next 39 days.

Once a day, every day, somehow convey to someone you know -- preferably a different person each day --  that they bring you joy, that they are important to you.

That you like them.

It doesn't have to be a grand gesture. Often, it's the little things that mean the most. You can do it anonymously, if you're shy.

But do it. Before it's too late.

You don't think you can do that for 39 days? That's okay. Do it once. Today. Then do it again tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, you'll feel moved do it again the next day.

Don't know what to do? I've created a list below to inspire you, and if you have any ideas to add, please share them via a comment to this post. 

Wait! You can't think of 39 people? I've got a list for that as well. Just scroll on down. :)

These are the cards, stored in a wicker basket in my bedroom. Someday I want to read them again. Every single one was a blessing, a gift of love. 

Suggestions to get you started: 

a regular-mail card (that you took the time to go out, buy a card and then mail it speaks volumes itself  ~~ a phone call  ~~ a bouquet of flowers (doesn't need to be large or even store-bought ~~ just tell them ~~ an act of service ~~ stop by for a visit ~~ a hug ~~ a cupcake or other treat ~~ spend time with them doing what they want to do ~~ ask them about their day and really listen to their response ~~ load the dishwasher if it's typically their job ~~ wash their car ~~

But who? Who will you tell?

your spouse ~~ child/grandchild ~~ a parent ~~ a sibling ~~ a coworker ~~ your pastor ~~  your neighbor ~~ that cousin you grew up with ~~ an old classmate you haven't talked to often enough in recent years ~~ an "old" (previous) teacher ~~ a grandparent ~~ the person you sit by in Sunday School or Bible study ~~ kid who mows you lawn ~~ your doctor ~~ the nurse who always puts you at ease when she has to draw blood (yes, I'm that way about needles) ~

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Beautiful Warrior (book review)

In a nutshell, Beautiful Warrior -- Finding Victory Over the Lies Formed Against You by Tina Yeager is a phenomenal book!

I was at first put off by the subtitle (Finding Victory Over the Lies Formed Against You). I don't think of myself as a person about whom others are forming lies, and I felt confident that over the past 13 years I've developed an honest assessment of myself (more on that later). I simply didn't see how this book related to me, but something kept drawing me back to it. I reluctantly purchased an electronic version and began reading.

Before I was even finished with the second paragraph of chapter one, I was captivated.

Yeager opens with a candid and very moving account of her own experience at a women's weekend retreat that leads the reader into an issue that is relevant, timely, and critical.

In today's culture, women (and men, for that matter) are continually bombarded with messages from the advertising and entertainment industries, social media, peers, etc., upon which they conceive and develop a sense of their own identity and self-worth.

The result? Feelings of insecurity. Loneliness. Bitterness. Self-doubt. Rising rates of anxiety and depression. Self-harming behaviors and even suicide.

Yeager, a licensed professional counselor, offers an antidote, a more sound approach that leads to a more accurate and and infinitely-healthier sense of self.

In thirteen very informative chapters, Yeager addresses topics such as comparison, human approval vs Godly approval, overcoming loneliness, addressing bitterness, and developing emotional strength and dignity. Each chapter provides practical, doable strategies and study questions that lead the reader from unhealthy self-assessment to a healthy one based on who she really is -- a woman created in God's image.

Yeager delivers her life-altering message not as a lofty scribe preaching from the mountaintop. Instead, hers is the voice of a friend sitting across from the reader at the kitchen table, cup of tea in hand, recounting with refreshing transparency her own experiences and sharing life-changing wisdom. It is one of a trusted friend -- kind, compassionate, and loving.

As I read, I quickly realized that this book does apply to me. For much of my life I had assessed myself on the basis of societal norms. At age age 46, after a life crisis and wake-up call, I began to reevaluate who I was. I pondered and prayed and journaled, and I was honest in my assessment -- brutally honest. Harsh. Unforgiving.

Yeager gently guided me to see that neither yardstick -- society's or that of a rigid, unforgiving judge -- is healthy. More importantly, neither is valid.

Instead, it is imperative that you and I see ourselves as God sees us. That we finally, truly understand who God says we are and live accordingly.

Beautiful Warrior is indeed a life-changing book. It's so wonderful that, minimalist though I am, I purchased a second copy -- a print copy that I can hi-lite and annotate. And 5 more copies are in my shopping cart so I can give copies to young and not-so-young women who are dear to my heart.

It's that kind of book -- the kind you will read once and again, rave about to your friends, and give as a gift.

It truly is phenomenal!

Friday, June 28, 2019

What in the World?! (Five Minute Friday)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited (so excuse all errors) flash mob free-write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "world" takes me.

My two grandmothers were as different as night and day.

One was a German-American Indian, Lutheran woman. She loved to play games like Sorry, Yahtzee, and various card games. I never saw her do any handiwork; it seemed to me that all she did was chores. She enjoyed a beer on occasion. She was married to my larger-than-life, boisterous, outrageous grandfather. He was probably the reason she enjoyed that occasional beer!

My other grandma was a Scotch-Irish, die-hard Southern Baptist. Games with dice and cards of any kind weren't allowed in her home, but if we brought a spinner she would play for hours. She loved to tat and make quilts. In the summer, she'd connect (by hand) tiny scraps of cloth into squares, and in the winter, my father would put up her quilt frame so she could hand-quilt every evening while she listened to her favorite television shows. She was a widow, and she proudly proclaimed that not once in her life had even a drop of liquor crossed her lips.

As unalike as they were. My grandmothers shared 3 traits.

First, they were women of very strong faith.

Both loved their families fiercely and with amazing patience for their loved ones' foibles.

Neither of them cursed. When shocked, the most they would say was "What in the world?!"

As I chat on social media, read the newspaper, or listen to the news today, I often find myself parroting my grandmothers' words. 

Happily, my amazement is often of the happy variety. 

I'm often awed by what is going on in the world around me. Just this week, for example, a friend posted on Facebook a short video of the most beautiful sea creature I've ever seen. I watched the that clip of the graceful, colorful creature over and over.

But six or seven years ago, I realized one day that it was in anger or disgust more often than not that I uttered the phrase "What in the world?!" 

I realized that I was letting what I read or heard color my attitude -- making me sad or cranky or worried.

And so, I made some changes in my approach to 

Wow! That's it . . . that's all I have time for.

How do you react to things in the world around you? How do you keep a healthy focus while staying in touch with others and informed on the things you need to know? Please join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts via a comment.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Yes, Virginia, There is Such a Thing! (Five Minute Friday)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited (so excuse all errors) flash mob free-write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "question" takes me.

"There's no such thing as a dumb question." 

In fact, according to Carl Sagan: 

“There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.” (The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark)

Mr. Sagan may have been famous for his keen intelligence, for his brilliant mind, but he totally missed the boat on this.

Yes, Virginia, there IS such a thing as a dumb question. We're all guilty of asking them, and we've all rolled our eyes either visibly or internally when someone poses one to us.

Let me give you an example. One day two weeks ago, my realtor put a "For Sale" sign in my front yard. Bright and early the next morning, when I went out to get the paper from my driveway, a neighbor walking his dog paused and asked, "Are you selling your house?" 

No, I didn't roll my eyes (well, at least not visibly). I simply smiled and said "yes, I am". The man nodded and continued on his way. 

As a teacher, I was often asked dumb questions. Now, parents, before you get all huffy, you know your kids ask you dumb questions all the time. But let me give you just one example. Imagine the classroom. On the board is the assignment that clearly says: DUE at the BEGINNING of CLASS on FRIDAY. The same is printed at the top of the assignment sheet, and I have just said (more than once), "Remember, this is due at the beginning of class on Friday."

We all know what's coming. Yes, some student will raise his or her hand and ask, "When is this due?"

That is a dumb question. Period. 

Sagan might try to put a shiny veneer on it, call it what he likes, but it's a ridiculous question. It is not a "cry to understand the world". 

And that's not the only myth we perpetuate by telling them to our children, posting them in memes on social media, trotting them out as truth to support a point we're trying to make.  

There is such a thing as a dumb question.

50% of marriages do not end in divorce.

Mother Teresa did not write the poem "Anyway" (also known as the "Paradoxical Commandments"). *

The list goes on and on. 

Truth be told, I've asked my fair share of dumb questions. I've had people roll their eyes at me or sigh in disgust or resignation.

Why do we do it? Why do we repeat so-called truths without thought, without questioning their validity? Why do we do that at a time when, with google and in 2 minutes, we can check their validity before sharing? 

I don't know. But I do know that we're better than that. 

Or, at least, we should be. 

*"Anyway" was written by Kent Keith when he was a sophomore at Harvard. It was published under his name there in 1968, long before Mother Teresa hung the poem in her room at Calcutta. 


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

What Doesn't Kill Me . . .

Well, here goes. I hope I survive!   

That's the thought that has flashed through my brain more than a few mornings since that fateful day back in December.

That day, like every day for nearly 10 years, I opened the small plastic bottles and took out a multivitamin, a calcium pill, and my teeny-tiny Vitamin D gel pill. I popped the gel pill in my mouth, took a drink of water, and swallowed. I did the same with the calcium pill. I repeated the process one more time with the multivitamin.

That's when it happened. The white pill filled with nutrients lodged in my throat.

I tried to swallow. The pill refused to budge. I grabbed my Yeti tumbler and started drinking water,
hoping the pill would just go with the flow, so to speak. No such luck.

I began to cough and choke and gag.

Finally, the pill shifted and went on its merry way.

And I laughed till I cried at the irony of it. Just think -- a measure I was taking to stay healthy might have killed me!

The incident, funny as I found it after the scare was past, was a wake-up call.

You see, I thought I'd done a fairly decent job of creating a new life in the wake of my husband's death nearly 10 years before. I'd found a new job (and then another one 8 years later), moved a couple of times, bought cars and appliances and furniture. I'd had one home built and remodeled two more. I'd encountered some big challenges head-on and survived them.

I was, as a dear friend says, taking care of business pretty darned well, thank you very much.

But one small white multivitamin taught me that I needed to be more aware of the not-so-big things as well, or they might become big issues.

More importantly, I realized that life redesign isn't the "once through and done" process I'd thought it was.

Instead, those of us who have experienced a major life change and redesigned our lives must remember that as time passes, circumstances around us change, we age, etc, further adaptations will no doubt be necessary.

We can worry and even obsess, wring our hands and gnash our teeth, and even cry in our beer.

Or we can be open to change and even welcome it, square our shoulders and lift our chins, and live  abundantly and joyfully.

I know the path I want to take. And I'd bet it's the same most people would choose.

But sometimes it's not that simple.

Sometimes those little things -- the small vitamin pills of life, if you will -- cause us to choke and cough and gag and just plain struggle to go on. 

So . . . what about you? Are you living an abundant and joyful life? If so, what helps you do that? If not, what is holding you back?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, learn from your experiences, and pray for you. Please leave a comment or send me an email. Join the conversation . . .