Posted in life lessons

Warren’s Wisdom

Warren doesn’t send Christmas cards. But he calls everyone who sends him one. After missing three of his calls, I called him back last night. Within minutes I had grabbed my shopping list pencil and I was scribbling (not doodling) on the narrow pad on my kitchen island.

Warren is 20 years older than me and I get the senior’s discount…get my drift? I started taking notes when he said “You have to cultivate a positive attitude.” This was after he’d said that since his wife died, with no one to bounce ideas off, there was a tendency to become negative.

“So what do you do to stay positive?” I asked, pencil poised. I’ve known Warren for 40+ years and I knew he would have specifics. I first met Warren and his wife Irene the year I taught school in their little prairie town. I was lonely and missing the guy in the photo, who lived elsewhere and wasn’t my husband yet. They welcomed me into their heart and home and even after I moved away, the friendship continued.

I wrote (1) beside the next thing he said: “I try to appreciate even the simple nice things throughout my day.”

“Like?”

“Like the pleasant person who handled my groceries and spoke to me, or the stranger who smiled at me as I passed them on the street,” he offered. “Basically, any interaction that’s nice is positive.”

“What else?”

(2) “I try to bless the lives of others…99 percent of the time they will bless you back!” He laughed, “I know that sounds self-serving but that’s not why I do it. If I compliment a friend on the nice color she’s wearing, her smile back at me is a positive. Simple things like that.”

(3) “It’s important to have something to contribute,” Warren continued without prompting. He told me how he tries to have a positive input in peoples’ lives, especially those that can’t pay him back. “These things can be done anonymously or in the background since you’re not doing it for thanks or recognition.”

Then he told me that he reads his wife’s journal entry for that calendar date every day as part of his morning devotional. Irene kept a journal for the 50 years they were married and he has enjoyed walking down memory lane with her since she’s been gone. However, it does bring up some regrets…”I could have been better husband…a better father….”

“I don’t think Irene wanted you to be anything other than what you were,” I offered, remembering how she adored him openly.

“Yes,” he replied, “I keep one special Valentine’s Card she gave me where she wrote how very much she loved and appreciated me. I read that quite often.”

(4) “Staying positive also means you have to deal with your regrets!” Warren said, still unaware I had jotted a #4 and was scrawling on my grocery list pad. “I have talked to my kids about it and they have reassured me that neither of us was perfect!” We both laughed. “You have to live in the present moment, not the past,” he said.

(5) “I think its important to have a community of carers around you,” Warren added. He mentioned that his neighbours watch out for him. If his window blinds stay closed he gets a call to see if he’s okay.

(6) “You realize at this age, that life could end any day!” Warren said with another laugh. “So you’re grateful for every new day.”

I was no longer prompting him, just note taking as he mused.

(7) “You have to do something every day. In the summer I play sports six days a week…volleyball, pickle ball, tennis, slo pitch…I’m in the best shape of my life!”

(8) “Oh yeah,” Warren added with a chuckle, “I try to avoid the grumpy old men.” He explained after I asked that he doesn’t like to spend much time with negative complainers other than to try to brighten their day with a kind word or deed.

(9) “And I don’t have a cell phone,” Warren declared. After further talking I discovered that his main reason was because he did not want or need a connection with a world full of bad news. “In some cases, ignorance is bliss,” he said, “as long as I have my ball glove or racquet, I’m okay!”

(10) After telling me about his plan to go through a lifetime of photos and albums and reduce it to one album for each of his children, he said ” Having projects is probably good for the mind and the body. It keeps you thinking and moving.”

(11) “I appreciate the negatives as much or more than the positives.” This jolted me and I had to ask why. “Because you learn more about yourself and you grow as a person through hard times and suffering. They make a greater impact on me spiritually and mentally.”

(12) He was quick to add, “But I don’t think about the negatives before going to bed!” This needed no explaining. If you want a good night’s sleep it helps to be at peace in your mind.

(13) The last thing Warren said gave me hope. As a relatively young senior I have sometimes wondered if I’m done, washed up, out of sync, unneeded…. But to hear a man in his 80’s roundly declare “There are still things to learn at this stage of life! And you will keep on learning until the end of your life…if you want to learn.”

Thanks Warren.

 

 

Posted in focus on faith

What does true love look like?

Tammy called in the middle of the night. She was hysterical. Her husband had abandoned her and the baby. I went over to her house and made tea. She wept as we talked and prayed. Just over her shoulder, on the mantle, was a gilt-framed portrait of the couple on their wedding day. They were astonishingly beautiful – like celebrities. Four years later, Tammy was still gorgeous even though she had gained some weight. When I asked her why her husband had left her, through her tears she repeated some of his last words to her: “You don’t look like you did when I married you.”

The night Tammy told me her husband’s shallow, spiteful comment, my thoughts immediately flew to another couple I know. A couple whose marriage, now more than 25 years old, stands as a beautiful example of undying love.

Kyle and Cheryl started dating in high school. Their first date was when Kyle asked Cheryl to be his grad escort. Four years younger than him, this was Cheryl’s first date. Kyle’s too. She was the only girl he had ever been interested in. She finished high school while Kyle was away at college. One year after she graduated, they celebrated a summer wedding. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Connie, Caroline and Lisa, three (of seven) sisters, sharing some laughs in March 2007

The story of Kyle and Cheryl is really the story of Kevin and Caroline. Caroline was my little sister.

[Kevin] joined [Caroline’s] father in business in their hometown and they bought a house next door to Caroline’s parents. They took to married life like it was second nature. Caroline worked [at the bank] and kept up with her old friends. Kevin played ball and hockey with the men’s teams. Together they camped and fished, went to movies and ate Chinese food at their favorite café. One year later, in the middle of the night, their future changed forever when Caroline had a grand mal seizure.

The tests began and the diagnosis came in. Caroline had a brain tumor. It was inoperable. The specialist told Kevin that Caroline had between two and five years to live. But he added, “I have one patient with a tumor like Caroline’s. She’s still here. It’s been 20 years.” Kevin grasped that hope like a straw and held it.

The doctors recommended surgery, then radiation and chemotherapy, as much as she could stand. Twice, Caroline’s hair fell out and returned. The first time it came back curly. The second time, it came back wispy and thin. Caroline was taking so many drugs to control her ongoing seizures that Kevin had to keep track of them for her. It was all so confusing and very frightening.

The years began to roll by. Caroline stayed home and Kevin arranged his work schedule so he was home for lunch every day. Caroline always made his lunch – a tuna sandwich – by herself. It took her 30 minutes. After they ate, they played a hand or two of Rummy before Kevin went back to work. He made supper when he got home around five. They ate together, watched their favorite television shows and went to bed early.

And the years passed. Eventually, Kevin stopped playing sports and fishing as it got harder and harder for Caroline to leave the house. He taught her how to use the computer and she spent many happy hours playing Solitaire and other simple games. He built her a tray on which to do puzzles and she did hundreds of them. Kevin did all the shopping, even for his wife’s clothes. Years later it was discovered that Caroline’s cancer was completely gone. However the residual scar tissue in her brain required continued seizure-control drugs. These drugs changed her physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. She became forgetful and repeated herself. She had a hard time understanding plots in movies and books. She seldom cried but sometimes laughed inappropriately. She forgot the names of her nieces and nephews. And everything she did was at a snail’s pace.  

After 23 years, Kevin had to put Caroline in the local nursing home when she fell and broke her hip. It was an excruciating decision. She did not want to go but he could no longer care for her at home. He felt like a traitor but he had no choice. The drugs had swollen her body to twice its normal size and she needed the help of mechanical lifts and professional caregivers. Over the next few months Caroline almost slipped away. Kevin thought he was losing her; he was despondent. She could not speak or move, was fed by tubes, and barely recognized him or her family. Every spare minute he had, Kevin was at her side. Slowly she began to rally as her new home became more familiar.

A year later, she was up and around in a wheelchair, joking with the nurses and teasing the staff. She became the classic “teacher’s pet” of the nursing home. Kevin no longer had to spoon-feed her so they ate all their meals together in the dining hall with the other residents. After they ate, Kevin pushed Caroline back to her room or to the common room if she had visitors. Seldom sitting, Kevin hovered near her chair. He would brush her wispy hair, gently caress her arms and every few minutes, kiss her somewhere on her face. Always laughing at her silly comments – some the result of drug-induced confusion, some truly funny quips – Kevin brought sunshine into her world. Careful always to guard her dignity, he answered her every question, no matter how often repeated or how simplistic, with kind clarity and a smile. Caroline knows she is loved. And she is grateful.

Kevin is one of my heroes. He is the best example I know “with skin on” of God’s undying love. Caroline isn’t the girl he married if you compare photos. But she’s every bit the person he fell in love with on the inside. And he has never once forsaken his promise to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health. As God promised the Children of Israel, and us, the children of the new covenant, through His prophet Jeremiah: I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you (Jeremiah 31:3).

Undying love. It is the kind of love that looks past our outward self and sees our inner beauty. Undying love does not abandon us in our wildernesses. (end excerpt)

Caroline took her last breath almost two years ago, held by Kevin and Chelene (their miracle child, now grown and married with two children of her own). She was loved with an undying love.

True love not only looks different, it sees us differently than we see ourselves. Jesus promises us He will love and cherish us, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, and not just “until death us do part” but beyond the grave. Caroline is being held and caressed in the arms of Jesus now. Kevin did a good job of preparing her.

If you have drifted away from God, lost touch with God, feel abandoned by God, are disappointed in God, or just royally ticked off at God please think about this love story. It is both true (factual) and real (possible) and it is a beautiful picture of God’s true love, His undying love, for you.

Posted in focus on faith, need a laugh?

Life Change is a Process

sport-927759_640-copyI couldn’t get in to my Gym class yesterday. It was full. And I was there early. Then I remembered–the New Year’s Resolution Bulge (in business, not in waistlines even though that is a factor!).

Things will be back to normal in a few weeks.

Every January gyms across our nation do a booming business thanks to the Number One New Year’s Resolution–Lose Weight/Get Fit. I assume Weight Watchers, Dr. Bernstein, Jenny Craig and other diet-centric programs see a lot more traffic this time of year too.

When asked to raise our hands (in a Baptist Church no less, what’s this world coming to?!) if we made a New Year’s resolution last Sunday, January 1, only 25 percent of the group responded. The pastor assumed the number was slightly higher and we, the people, were not forthcoming.

Perhaps.

I don’t make resolutions any more. Do you?

I did make them while in the naive bloom of youth but eventually I became jaded by the shocking reality that less than five percent of New Year’s resolutions are ever kept! And I quit.

Dan Sweaza, lead pastor of Connect Church, told this hand-withholding group (of which I was one) that even though very few of us made resolutions, or were willing to admit we did, all of us were probably interested in self improvement. All of us believe that we could be better, do better, get better.

Yup. Preach it! He had me.

But what about my dismal track record? The promises to get fit, be a better wife, spend more time with my kids, conquer my fears, become a responsible pet owner (Hey! The pet store TOLD me to put the aggressive gerbil in the freezer. It was either that or feed it to a snake!). I had so many failures and failings!

Then Dan said something that gave me so much comfort and encouragement: life change is a process not a project. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, (Romans 8:29 New Living Translation). God’s purpose for our lives is to make is more like Jesus. That has to be an ongoing process.

Projects have a finish line, an end point.

  • Remodel the kitchen–after a few weeks of chaos and dust, it’s over and voila, new kitchen. That’s a project.
  • Paint the trim–risk your life on that extension ladder for a day or two and BAM, it’s done. Project completed.
  • Finish the basement–install some crooked walls, pull some wires, cover the whole mess with ill-fitting drywall and right when divorce court is the next logical step, call in some experts to make it all look like a couple of deranged idiots were not involved and bingo, it’s done. And we’re still married.

Projects have deadlines. You’ve gotta get the kitchen reno done before your grandkids, twin boys known as BamBam and Whackamole, come for Christmas. The pressure is on as December gets consumed by the Christmas craziness and the project stalls.

But life is simply a series of projects, you might argue. Yes and no. We do accomplish things but eventually those projects get old and worn and have to be redone or we move and start all over again. So, in a sense, even projects become part of the process of self improvement, or space improvement.

When you view life change as a process instead of a project, the deadline no longer looms. And you realize that you are never really done.

Am I fit? Courageous? A better wife? An involved parent? A good pet owner?

  • My thighs don’t rub but, in fact, they’ve never met because I am bowlegged so…?
  • I can speak onstage without puking but I still get nightmares about home invasions so….?
  • Ask my husband…when I am out of town or on my deathbed.
  • They grew up and left and gave me grandkids and it’s way easier and more fun with them.
  • I concede defeat and am pet-less (thank you Polonius).

But hey, it’s a process!

  • I will not conquer all my fears but I have come a long way in dealing with them.
  • I will never win the World’s Best Wife Award but my marriage is stronger, healthier and way more fun than it was way back in the resolution-making phase.
  • I will never give parenting advice but my adult kids all like me and say they had a great childhood. Parents are too hard on themselves!

And in case I still felt discouraged in light of all my failed resolutions, Pastor Dan quoted: And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6 New Living Translation)

So don’t lose hope or give in to cynicism, fellow failed resolvers–

  • we are the majority after all!
  • there is no earthly deadline because self-improvement seems to be on the heavenly agenda.
  • as we walk with God, listening for His guidance and seeking His will, He continues to lead us to be more like Jesus and thus, a better version of ourselves.
  • it’s a process!
Posted in focus on faith, need a laugh?

Ready or not: what childbirth teaches about life

When I was expecting my first baby, the doctor wanted to find out if I was ready so he asked me what I thought about natural childbirth. I didn’t know what he meant. I mean, wasn’t childbirth natural? What was unnatural childbirth–a big slimy alien bursting out of your chest?

He suggested I research the Lamaze Method and come back in a month.

This baby has just been born, she is brand new just minutes old. She looks like she jsut stepped out of heaven.
This baby has just been born, she is brand new just minutes old. She looks like she jsut stepped out of heaven.

My mother had delivered eight babies. Did I ask her advice? Absolutely not! I had been to college! And I had a library card–the Internet of yore.

I read the Lamaze book in one sitting: piece of cake! I can do this on the kitchen table, mop up and have the girlfriends for brunch.

At the second prenatal visit I told Doc I was ready and I would not be needing any pharmaceutical intervention. At all. Keep the tylenol in the cupboard; I will do this the natural way.

He was delighted.

He asked me if I wanted Gerry in the delivery room. My friend Laura had said: If he’s there to put in the order…he ought to be there to pick up the package.

Yes I do, I said.

In order for Gerry to get clearance he had to view the film, Having Our Baby. Medical professionals used this as a filter for queasy dads; if you survived the film, you were in.

I wasn’t too sure about Gerry–oldest of five boys. No sisters. I decided to go along in case he needed a hand to hold. Two weeks before our due date, we arrived matinee ready with two little sacs of homemade popcorn.

By this time I was large and uncomfortable, needing help to rise from low couches. I lumbered in and we sat on the two straight-backed wooden chairs in a room smaller than most kitchens. The screen wobbled on its flimsy tripod; we had front row seats.

The lights were doused and the reel began to chatter and whirl. Larger-than-life characters were right in our face. I opened my popcorn and began to nibble, smugly wondering how Gerry would react when things got dicey.

I peeked sideways. Gerry was also nibbling, showing no signs of discomfort. Yet. I’d better keep my eye on him.

The film’s star was obviously a Swede – buxom, blonde, cheerful and uninhibited. She arrived at the hospital with her little suitcase in one hand, her little husband in the other. Every few hours, we would revisit the Swede to see how she was progressing. Thanks to film editing, this only took minutes, giving the impression that labor is a quick, painless affair.

Hah! Just like the book, I thought, and I stole another glance at Gerry. Nibbling. Calm.

The Swede purred: I have to puuush. She began to pant. They moved the Swede from her bed to a cart and rolled into the delivery room. They transferred her onto the delivery table and suddenly it looked like the Swede was going horseback riding! (There were no stirrups in the natural childbirth book)

As soon as the Swede was in the stirrups, the camera zoomed in on the action. I had never seen so much…action! I couldn’t swallow my popcorn; I felt hot and dizzy.

I looked at Gerry. He seemed nervous, like he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be looking at her…action.

He fidgeted. He peeked. He ducked. He nibbled popcorn. He peeked again, looked my way, shrugged and gave me a wan smile.

The Swede began to push. I felt queasier. Suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, the doctor asked the nurse for a needle. There were definitely NO needles in the Lamaze book! A close up shot revealed a device the size of a javelin. He plunged it in deep.

I gasped. The doctor asked for scissors.

Scissors!?! 

He made the judicious cut the Lamaze book failed to mention.

The lights went out all over the world.

Gerry caught me before I rolled off my chair. Popcorn scattered. “Nurse, help! Connie fainted.”

And the nurse said (I am not kidding): “Put her head between her knees.

At 38 weeks, I was great with child. He tried anyway.

When I came out of my swoon I wanted to talk to my mother. I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was.

This true story illustrates the danger of a little knowledge. It is so easy to read one book, watch one doc, view one DIY YouTube, take one class, talk to one self-proclaimed expert and prematurely assume you are ready.

Chances are, you’re not ready. I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was to have that baby. But guess what? Two weeks later, the baby came anyway!

Life has a way of doing that–of moving forward, ready or not. The inevitable truth is that none of us lives forever, on this earth. I am in the decade neither of my parents completed. They died at 66 and 69 and I am 61.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings but I do know that whether I survive this decade or not I am assured of rent-free accommodation with Jesus when I shuffle off this mortal coil. That fact was settled November 19, 1973 when I said no to being my own god and Yes to Jesus as God. I accepted His forgiveness, thanked Him for paying my debt, and stepped in to my eternal future, ready or not.

But I didn’t stop there. Walking by faith is a lifelong learning process.

My 43-year-old faith has raced ahead, stumbled and fallen, gotten trampled and lost in the dessert, evolved and simplified, deepened and matured and I’m still learning.

Are you ready?

Start with the gospel of John. But don’t stop there, remember, a little knowledge can be dangerous. Continue reading all the gospels, then read the letters of Peter, Paul, James and John. Join a Bible study group (virtual or real), make friends with other believers, get involved in a church and establish some spiritual momentum because…

…ready or not….

 

 

  

 

Posted in need a laugh?, tips for speakers

Three Ways to Inject Laughter into your next Outreach Event

 IMG_1160We have all been to events that were so much fun we lingered later than we planned, laughed more than we expected, and left feeling glad we went even though hours earlier we had a hundred excuses why we should stay home.

Why did we have fun? It could have been a number of factors ranging from the logistics to the guest list to the program to the refreshments to how we felt in our new outfit. The common denominator if you were to poll the guests after the fact is probably something as simple as: “I had fun because it was fun – I laughed.”

Laughter brings a guaranteed return on the investment of time it takes to inject some humor into an event. If your guests laughed that is a pretty good indication that they had a good time and they will come to your next event. That is why I think it is so important for Christian event planners to make sure they include “laughter” on the checklist of things they need for their next outreach event.

We’ve all met fun-loving people – maybe you are one – who know how to have a good time and they bring laughter wherever they go. My sister Lisa is like that. The minute she walks in the door at a family get-together, she always announces: “I’m here! Let the fun begin!” And it does! She brings it with her in the form of games, contests, funny stories and family lore.

Sadly, my sister Lisa is not for hire. So let’s look at some sure-fire things you can do to include humor in your next outreach event.

  1. Personally invite fun-loving people to attend: You might even consider offering some of them scholarships or discounts! A board game that made me shriek with laughter with one group of friends felt like a funeral mass with a different group a week later. Obviously it wasn’t the game (or me!) that was funny it was the group of game players. Make an effort to find “gamers” who know how to have fun and pepper your audience with as many of these fun-loving people as you can. The value of what they have to give (shared laughter) is as important as what they can get by attending.
  2. Make sure at least one program personality is funny: It doesn’t matter whether it’s the emcee, a special guest who does fun music or sketch comedy, or the speaker as long as someone brings some levity from the platform. This is important because if it comes from the platform, it gives permission to the audience to relax and enjoy themselves. It sets a joyful, fun-loving tone for the whole event. This doesn’t mean there won’t be seriousness and even tears; just as you can set a tone for fun you can shift the tone into weightier concerns when the time is right.
  3. Include fun in your program: What about an un-fashion show? The more outlandish the outfit, the better. Or a demonstration of what not to do in home decor or home reno. Old standbys like skits, games, contests or short videos also work. Not every event needs these add-ons; because I am a comedic speaker, sometimes the program is simply “sweets and me”! They eat chocolate and laugh at my stories and go home happy. But maybe your next event doesn’t have a funny speaker and you still want people to laugh because you know laughter will help them relax and be more open to receiving whatever it is your wonderful speaker wants to impart. In that case, look for something people can either watch or participate in that will get them laughing. The Internet and fun-loving people you trust are your best resources.

One final thought for you to gnaw on: La Chapelle, a new church in Montreal Quebec, is attracting and winning people to Jesus by the hundreds. Last year they baptized 70 converts. Pastor David Pothier attributes their growth to their willingness to adapt their timeless message (the gospel) to a new methodology: “We are constantly driven and focused on reaching people. We do and think everything through that lens.” One of the items on a short list of essentials for Sunday Worship is humor. Pastor Pothier knows the value of shared laughter in building trust, breaking down barriers and establishing community. Humor is a valuable tool – don’t underestimate its importance.