Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Reflections and Lessons Learned

It seems like just yesterday I was composing the 2009 year in review, yet here I am reflecting back on the year that almost is history. I haven't blogged as much this year because my life has seemed to accelerate to mach 10 speed with my hair on fire (thanks to my writing mentor, Amy, for that visual) But just because I didn't blog as much didn't mean my life wasn't as full and glorious as ever. To recap it would take way too much time for a wordy gal like myself, so I'm going to hit the highlights. For those that are faithful readers and active participants in my life, some of these may be a memory for you too.

I was privileged to speak at conferences twice this year and published in my first book - One of my dreams has been to do public speaking on a regular basis and to write more (books, devotions, etc.). This year I saw that dream come to reality. At the very time I really wasn't pursuing it. I spoke at my church's women's conference in March and at a Women's Brunch at a friends' church in Knoxville. I never tire of speaking to and teaching women. I am blessed FAR more by their stories afterwards of how God is working in their lives than they will ever be blessed by what I say. If I ever questioned my passion, it got squelched in September after the brunch. I talked to women who were in tears, sharing their hurts, sharing how God was breaking them to make them better. I sat for over an hour listening, crying and praying with those women. I am blessed. This summer, I was published in a Psalms devotional published by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am May 23! Not only was that a blessing, but an honor to be on the pages alongside seminary graduates, professors' wives, and women much farther along their journey than I. Lesson learned: Give God your dreams and He'll make them reality in His Time.

My office moved locations in March - Newsflash: I love my job!! Anyone who knows me is fully aware of my adoration for what I do even though there are days when I'm ready to lose my mind. But the one downside of my job was the downtown location. Not a downside for everyone, but for me, the 30-45 one-way commute was a buzz kill. Our offices are now located 10-15 minutes from my home and we have our own parking lot. Having your own parking lot is taken for granted when you park in a parking garage everyday and have to walk down a wind tunnel passing Mrs. Gulch and Toto flying by you. We now have a beautiful office with "real" furniture and more space. Good thing because for 2011 we're projecting to grow revenue by 30%. Lesson Learned: Never take for granted the little things or the things that you love, even when they are frustrating at times.

I have traveled 6 out of 12 months this year - When I looked over my year, I was shocked to see how often I traveled. Granted, they weren't all week-long epic excursions, but still wonderful trips. I went from Virginia to Florida and many points in between. I had one trip to Alabama I canceled or I would have traveled 7 out of 12 months. Some business, some pleasure, but all trips were enjoyable and full of funny stories. (Welcome to my life!) I used to travel a lot for my job about 10 years ago and that got wearisome. But I now am trained to pack quickly and actually get antsy when I don't have a trip planned, no matter how quick a jaunt. Being the competitive soul, I suppose I'll be trying to shoot for 7 out of 12 this year. Lesson Learned: There is no place like home, but a good trip can be refreshing for the soul.

I became a bit more gadgety this year - In June I ordered a Kindle. I love to read and unless I want to have my own library, all these actual books are taking up way too much space. I love the Kindle for travel (see above) because that one device can hold a ton of books. I also became the lucky recipient of an iPod Nano Touch at our company Christmas lunch. I've been too cheap to buy an iPod. I listen to Pandora, so I find no need to "buy" tunes when I have that variety. Now that I've won this iPod, I owe iTunes my next paycheck, I think. I admit freely that I'm a tech geek, and each year, I seem to get a bit geekier. Lesson Learned: The world as we know it is changing and we'll be like the Jetsons in no time.

This year went by blustery fast and sprinkled along with unexpected blessings - Last Christmas, I took my team of three out to lunch and told them that according to the plan, I wouldn't be manager to all of them in the coming year. That all changed. As I took my team of four out to lunch this Christmas, I recounted that statement (with the additional person) and the fact that I'm hiring three more people for 2011. Never in my dreams would I have expected that, but it's a very good thing. That is just one example of the year I've had in 2010. Life moving along like a stream of water that flows, and though some ripples flowed over craggy rocks, it just made the journey more exciting. In the end, I've had a great of the best yet. Were there times I wouldn't have said that this year? Most definitely. As I face 2011, I can face it with fear and trepidation thinking about the unknown, or with high expectations knowing that no matter what the road, in the end, it will be a great year. Lesson Learned: God uses all things - the bad and the good - and works them together for our good. In that, I truly find comfort.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Musings for the Week - The Sing-Off, Shopping, and Surprises

1. I don't watch much television other than a few shows - The Office, Glee - and a random sort of other competitive shows - Top Chef, The Apprentice. But typically they stay in my DVR until I have to watch them or delete them because, well, I just don't have the time or desire to sit and watch as much as I might record. But the singing competition on NBC, The Sing-Off, has won my heart! I love music, most any kind. And music sung in pure acapella with voices as the only instruments is heaven. Although I've been an American Idol fan, I feel their days are numbered. The Sing-Off is refreshing in oh so many ways. It simulates the real-life Glee, which could fill up another blog post on why that is exciting. The judges - Ben Folds, Pussy Cat Doll Nicole Whatshername, and Shawn Stockton from BoyzIIMen - are phenomenal. They actually make sense and don't say "pitchy" ever other word, or make no musical sense at all. There have been two episodes so far and the show has a short run each year so be sure to catch it on Mondays and Wednesdays for as long as it lasts - or online. Otherwise, you'll have to wait a year for that harmonizing goodness.

2. Last Friday, I went to see The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at a local high school with my soul sister, Amy, and her daughter Kaela. Once Kaela heard it was a "girls' night" she just had to come and let her brother and Daddy have their boys' night. After one girls' night at my house in her PJs watching Glee, she was hooked on the girls' night concept. Amy will attest that her holiday season can't begin until she sees this production, and this was the first time for Kaela. And you can't beat $5 for an easy way to get into the Christmas spirit. If you've never seen the play, nor read the book, please do so this holiday season. You'll understand the real meaning of Christmas and realize that Jesus came for the misfits, the square pegs, the outsiders. Jesus was born and Mary laid Him in a trough. He spent His Life and Ministry (and death) ministering to those of us who find ourselves in the troughs of life. He truly is the Reason for the Season. Amy and I shed a tear, just like we did when we saw it two years ago. Let Christmas commence!

3. Whilst receiving my DNA when I was created, I missed some of that shopping gene. I shop out of necessity. You won't find me going to a mall to stroll and browse. Partially because it's not my thing, but partially because when I see something I like, it's too tempting that I have a hard time not buying it. But there is one type of retail therapy I love - shopping at Walgreen's. The store has been around for more than 100 years, and it's obvious why. Last Saturday after a long day of household chores, laundry and grocery shopping, it was late...and snowing...and I was on a Benadryl hangover and out of medicine and cough drops. So, at 7pm on a snowy, dark Saturday night, I headed to Walgreen's. (People, I have got to get a life) I needed a few other things - makeup, scarves and gloves for our office Christmas tree - so the trip was well warranted. I even traveled to my favorite Walgreen's, which is about 15 minutes away. I found everything I needed, with much on sale, and a friendly staff who chatted with me as I shopped. I've been to CVS, Rite Aid and the whole drug store lot, but none can compare to Walgreen's. I heart Walgreen's.

4. I just finished a marvelous book - The 13th Hour. My book club opens up windows of books in various genres I would never read on my own. I adore that about being part of my book club. If you are looking for a fast read for the holidays that you just can't put down, I highly recommend this book. In short, it's a mystery about a man who has been accused of murdering his wife. He is given a timepiece that will allow him to go back in time - an hour at a time - for 12 hours to solve the crime and prevent the death of his wife. When you open the book, it starts at Chapter 12...because you are going backwards in time. That's just delicious! And speaking of delicious, the book for this month is The Love Goddess' Cooking School. No, it's not some R-rated book, but a light-hearted story of a woman who has lost a love and assumes the little Italian cooking school her grandmother ran before her death. If you like following a character who is recovering from lost love and talk of good Italian food, this book is for you. It's that time of year when the weather outside is frightful, but curling up with a book and a cup of java is so delightful.

5. When setting up my DVR to record the aforementioned show, The Sing-Off, I caught a listing for the showing of Singin' in the Rain. I've loved that movie for a long time. I noticed it was on TCM, Turner Classic Movie Channel. I heaved a sigh because that has always been a premium channel, untouched by us lowly basic cable users. The channel listing was 608 and I thought, "Hmm, let's just go there and see." Much to my surprise, I have TCM! I know this is quite geeky and classifies me as some sort of movie goober, but that surprise was absolutely wonderful. I heart old movies and much of my Blockbuster queue is filled with movies you can't get at Red Box. Now I have access to those old movies 24 hours a day. The old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movie, "Babes on Broadway" was on last night. As I'm winding down for bed and need that "go to sleep" movie, nothing hits the mark like an old classic where men loved women and women adored men. Thank you Insight for finally doing something right.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Airline Christmas List

There has been much ado about the full-body scanners found at many major airports and the invasion of our personal body space for the sake of safety and security. I can see the hoopla that this can create, but a little x-ray peep of my hidings and/or a pat down is tolerable for me when there are so many other things airport related I'd like to see changed. I'm not a road warrior, but I travel frequently, and just returned from a business trip to Orlando last week and made some observations. None of which were me peeping into another person's body scan. For the record, none of the airports I traveled through had these contraptions installed. If I could have five wishes from the Airport Santa, here is what I'd love to see...

1. No charge for checked bags on any airline - Southwest is the only airline that still allows for free checked bags. Other airlines allow preferred club members to let their bags fly free, but for the common traveler, checking a bag is an additional cost. What doesn't make sense is this just forces some people to haul their larger than life luggage on the plane to stuff into the overhead compartment. After they push and tug and realize it won't fit, the nice flight attendant has to tag it anyway and a poor, overworked airline employee has to stow it with the elite bags that paid to ride in cargo. A lot of hassle that could be saved by letting the first bag fly free.

2. Security line for families - When you enter the TSA security lines, you have choices..."Expert Traveler"..."Casual Traveler"..."Wheelchair Assistance." There should be a line for "Traveling Families." I feel so bad for families with small children who have to lug car seats, strollers and other toddler paraphernalia through security. On top of that, the older little ones have to take off their shoes, put their backpacks on the conveyor belt for scanning...all quite daunting for a little one. This special line could provide assistance to families helping the process roll smoother. Especially if a Mom or Dad is traveling solo. I've seen parents traveling with two or three children by themselves and think "Man, how'd you get through security and get to the gate in one piece?" When I was that small, I could stroll all the way to the gate to see my Dad off on a business trip with no security to hinder me. Times have changed, but we can make it easier for families.

3. Load planes in zones that relate to what type of seat you have, not by your row - All airlines with assigned seating load by zones. Typically the farther back in the plane you are, the quicker you get to load the plane (unless you are first class, of course). This seems to make sense, but practically, it falls a bit short. When loading by zones, the first zone should be all window seats, then zone two all middle seats and the final zone all aisle seats. I always request a window seat, and I inevitably have to make someone get up and move so I can be seated. This could be avoided with my suggestion on zone seating. Plus make loading a plane much quicker. You'd think the whiz bang folks that direct air traffic could pass that logistical tidbit along.

4. A nice little cheat sheet when my boarding pass is scanned - When I board the plane and scan my boarding pass, I'd love for a little paper to pop out that will tell me what gate this plane will de-board at the arriving airport and, if I have a connecting flight, the departing gate for that flight. When you have a tight connection, it would be great to know if I've got 3 concourses to race through when we land or whether my gate is two gates down. I realize those things change from time to time, but with the technology we have in place, it should be really simple to connect all my information from that boarding pass and airports I'm traveling through. I do one search on Google for a product and Google Ads pop up for that product everywhere I go online thereafter. Maybe Google can help airports work out that tracking ability.

5. A mini bottle of water for everybody - I realize in first class, you can get a bottle of water before the plane is even loaded. But, in the interest of good health and keeping your flight participants hydrated, giving everyone a small bottle of water as they enter the plane would be fabulous. Of course, the normal beverage service would still apply (we travelers are thirsty!) and I'd still want my three gulps of diet coke and my six peanuts.

Happy traveling during the holidays! And be sure to tell the Airport Santa what you want for Christmas this year.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Decision Points

As a Today Show fan (and Matt Lauer fan), I was fascinated by the latest interview he conducted with former President George W Bush. Unfortunately I missed the hour-long special on NBC, but thanks to Denny Burk, I was able to catch it all online via video. I'm completely intrigued by this book and hope to eventually read it, so hearing snippets of the pages he shared was captivating. Whatever your political persuasion, I ask you to put that aside as you read my blogpost. I want you to read this with an open mind as the reflections I gleaned from listening to his parley with Matt reach beyond the bounds of parties. As I listened to him, I realized that we all would serve as Commander in Chief based on our life experiences and foundational upbringing. It permeates all we do. And it made George W Bush the man, and President, he is and was. How was he influenced?

His life experiences shaped his decision-making - Many people may wonder why he was pro-life. The gripping story of his Mother's miscarriage when he was a teenager and seeing the remains of that child has forever formed his belief that life begins long before earthly air is inhaled. So much so that he even has some disagreements with his wife, Laura's, stand on this same issue. Now all those times I saw him defend the right for an unborn child to live, I'll remember that he saw firsthand the reality of life in the womb. Your feeling on things change when they hit very close to home.

His relationship with his father was something to cherish - As he speaks of his Dad, George, Sr, he gets very emotional. I was enthralled by his explaining all the letters his Dad would write him, encouraging him along the way. They move him so much even today that he can't read them without tearing up. The touching video of his Dad reaching out to grasp his hand after he spoke at the 9/11 Service at the National Cathedral speaks more than a 1000 words. A lot has been said about them being competitive enemies, but he confirms that isn't the truth. It is apparent George, Sr, impacted his son in ways we all benefited from as a country. Such a great reminder of the importance of parental influence in the home. It shapes us now and forever.

His faith in God and love for Laura is captivating - Anyone who knows his history knows George struggled with alcoholism. Through discovering a faith in God and turning his life around, he was able to shake that addiction. I loved that Matt challenged him regarding that vice. He asked him if during all the times of struggle as President - 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, two wars - if he ever faltered. He emphatically said no. This is the evidence of a truly-changed man. We all fail in areas when we are pressured, yet his faith in God and the deliverance he experienced was enough to keep him on the right road. And, he understands what it means to fail. We all need a President that has that kind of humility. When he met Laura, he wasn't the man he is today and was chained by this addiction. Laura is a quiet spirit, but in watching them together and hearing the candidness of his life, I see a strong woman behind that man. I can envision that she lovingly kept him in line when needed, yet supported him 100%. Even in the issues where they disagree, you see in her a love and respect for him that is refreshing. Long before he laid his hand on the Bible to be sworn into office as President the first time, God knew the road ahead for him. Clearly, her love and support in the rough times of their life was exactly what he would need for the road ahead.

One day, he will be remembered as one of our greatest Presidents - The first President I was privileged to vote for was Ronald Reagan. He will always hold a special place in my heart. He was ridiculed for being the Hollywood President and persecuted for decisions he made, but as we look back on his terms in office, we see what an amazing President he was for his time. As a country, we aren't quite historical enough yet to appreciate that in George. But, one day we will. From 9/11 attacks to commanding the greatest military in the world, he faced challenges that not all Presidents must face. And, one day the history books will record the greatness of his Presidency. And we will remember the common man from West Texas who led our country through some of its darkest days.

There is something refreshing about a man who held the most powerful job in the world expressing himself with such candor and frankness. George acknowledges he wasn't the perfect President, nor is he the flawless man. But he loved this country and served it to the best of his abilities. Thanks, George, for the sacrifice of your life to serve our country well.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Have Become My Mother

You know you will reach "that age" when you realize that you have morphed into your Mother. Most women discover this when they have children and surprisingly have the same words of their Mother popping out of their mouths. Since I don't have any children of my own, the revelation of becoming my Mother has taken a bit more time. But after some encounters on a recent trip, I can confirm with confidence, yes, I have become my Mother.

My Mom would talk to anyone in her path. In fact, the running joke was my Mom could talk to the wall and not even realize it wasn't talking back. As a young child, this used to annoy me. We'd be in the grocery and she'd strike up a conversation with another shopper and I'd be so embarrassed that I'd crawl on the bottom rack of the grocery cart. It was especially embarrassing when she'd tell stories on me. There was one encounter in a restroom at a restaurant that was quite hilarious. I wasn't with my Mom at the time but she recounted the story later. A woman was in there lamenting to her daughter about some behavioral issues and my Mom, ever the non-stop conversationalist, interjected with affirmation that she dealt with the same thing with me. The woman kindly responded, but interjected a few expletives unexpectedly. Not towards my Mom, but it took my Mom so off guard that she would say that in front of her very young child that I thought it would break her of talking to strangers. Um, not so much.

On a recent trip to visit friends in Virginia, I began to observe this characteristic in myself. Heaven help me, I've become my Mother! I'm single and find myself traversing through life solo quite a bit. I'll chalk up my bent to be like her on the fact that I need somebody to talk to along the way. I found myself making small talk with folks at the airport gate waiting to board. This is when I decided to pay attention to myself and figure out if I truly am my Mother. Here are just a few examples to confirm my findings...

As I left the hotel on day two, the front desk clerk said, "I feel like you've been here for weeks!" Hmm, just checked in yesterday. I told her I'd take that as a compliment, but I'd only been there for a day. She said, "But weren't you just here two weeks ago?" Actually, I was there about six months ago. She said, "Oh, well, it's hard to forget a friendly face." I told her I was glad I could make such an impression and it was good to know I had friendly faces that will remember me when I visit.

I went to see friends in a local community theater production of The Wizard of Oz. As we were waiting for the doors to open the second night of the performance, I struck up a conversation with the family in front of me. In the short time we were standing there, I discovered they had brought their granddaughter to the play, had seen The Miracle Worker at a local theater that afternoon, been rear-ended after that play, and decided to go ahead and come on to the evening production of the Wizard to have a good ending to the day. At intermission, we hooked back up again and discussed the performers and I gave her the background info I knew from my inside connections with the cast. I also found out the husband was native to the area and an alumni of the high school my friend's daughter attends. And, the wife is an Army Brat. After that encounter there was no denying how proud my Mom would be that I'm carrying on her tradition.

As I departed for home, I took my rental back to the airport and as I got out of the car and began to babble on to the rental agents, the very nice rental car jockey, who was an older gentlemen that spoke broken English, said, "Would you like ride to terminal?" I said, "Bless your heart, I'd love that!" The other option is dragging your bags on the rental bus back to the terminal, normally replete with a ga-zillion people with stacks and stacks of luggage in your face. I hopped in the passenger side of the car and off we went. Yes, even on the short ride to the terminal I made small talk. What a sweet man. I tipped him, though I wanted to give him a hug because of his kindness, but thought that was too much. Oh my word, I've not only become my Mother, but I'm going overboard.

Reflecting back on those encounters, and many others that I pay more attention to now, I am not at all embarrassed to say I've become my Mother. She was a precious lady who drizzled her bubbly-ness wherever she went. If I can provide a few drops of bubbly everywhere I go, I will be a happy girl.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Ride of Redemption

He had found himself in financial distress. Due to life circumstances, the challenge of making ends meet had become a daily task. We are never prepared for some of the obstacles that come before us on this journey called life, many which come at our doing, most of which are out of our control. Such was the plight of this man. To address these constraints, measures had to be taken. It was time to sell one of his most prized possessions - his motorcycle. For those riders out there, you know the freedom that comes from strapping on the back of a bike, letting the wind whip around you and being free to ride, releasing your worries and woes to the wind. It was just like that for this man. An escape from the pressures of life that were weighing him down and a chance to commune with The Creator while riding amidst His Creation. But, he had to let that go.

As offers were being made, this man's Dad stepped into the picture and made a counteroffer. This offer consisted of strict instructions - his son would need to house and care for the bike, and let him know when he wanted to ride. No explanation was necessary from this Dad. The motive behind it was clear. He had watched his son suffer long enough and couldn't bear to watch him lose something he'd worked so hard to own. This Father was redeeming what his son could not keep himself. What sacrifice for one he loved.

We find ourselves in deep distress. Our lives consist of sin and we exist in a fallen world. We definitely can't do anything on our own. We have no way to live in freedom, or shake off the worries and woes of our lives. But, there was a Father once, a Heavenly Father, who saw our need. A need we couldn't fill on our own. We were a people without hope. But this Heavenly Father sacrificed His Only Son, Jesus, so our lives could be redeemed. Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, we are free to ride. We can live in freedom from the bondage of our sin here on earth, and as His Children, when we accept Him, we live with the unending hope of eternal life with Him when we leave this world. What sacrifice for the ones He loved.

"But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children." - Galatians 4:4-5

I am thankful I am redeemed...and free to ride eternally with Him.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

On this day ten years ago, you passed from this life into the next. When I think back to that day, and the days following, I cannot even fathom how I went through the motions aside from the grace of God. It was such a surreal time as I sat in your hospital room the day before you passed, knowing your time was short and you were already drifting out of this world. My mind reflected on so many things...every moment of my life up until that point...every moment I would now live without you here...and reflecting that 35 years ago that day you were also in a hospital bed, holding a baby you'd longed for after many, many I had no idea what the future held and I couldn't imagine you not being here to experience it with me.

I miss you daily, but am surrounded by things that trigger sweet memories. My backpack for work sits on a stool that you painted. When I reach for a knife to chop vegetables, they sit in a wooden holder that you painted in a class we took together. I pull a book off the shelf and see the inscription you wrote. And, when the memories that I have surrounding me in my house aren't enough, I go to the local craft store and stroll around the aisles you and I walked together before. Or I pop in a movie that we both loved. Or open a bottle of Pleasures perfume and take a whiff of your signature scent.

I knew my life would never be the same, and after ten years, it surely isn't. I've worked at four different places in the last ten years, but back working with the same team that walked through losing you with me. For that, I'm thankful. God has used your life to mold me for ministry. Somehow I feel that was a prayer you prayed that I may have never known for my ministry to be as vibrant as it is and be grounded in the foundation of the legacy you left me. Losing you showed me the void that so many women have by not having a godly, wonderful Mother like you. Because of that, I've been able to touch the lives of so many young women...more than I could ever give birth to...and hopefully make a difference in their lives. I've stood before groups of women sharing my testimony and teaching, all laced with stories about you and the lessons you've taught me. Your life lives on, Mom.

I've become you. I talk to random people I don't know. I sometimes speak the truth a little too quickly. I cry a bit too easily at sappy movies and books. But, I still haven't finished an of my goals after you passed away. You always made afghans and blankets for new babies and newlyweds. After two failed attempts, I'm on blanket number three and hope third times charm. If you were here, you'd have finished the first two that looked a bit like a failure to me. I long to be more and more like you to keep your remnant alive in this world.

I could spend days, oh really months, with you filling you in on all the things in my life that have happened in the last ten years. I'd sense we'd shed some tears and you'd hold me while I shared the saddest times. And you'd remind me that it's these times where we learn the most about what God is teaching us. I'd want to introduce you to all the people who've come into my life that you never met...but you'd love like I do. We'd laugh about the funny times...oh how I miss your laughter! But as much as I wish you were here, I know you are living in a place that is unlike anything I can imagine and have a fully glorified and restored body....something you left this world without but now you have. I know you are heavenly beautiful...because you were oh so beautiful on earth.

The one prayer you lifted up has yet to be answered...I'm still not married, your one request to the Lord for me. Like your prayers that were lifted up for 18 years for a child, I am not giving up on that longing. You would be happy to know that there is an army of people praying that for me in your earthly absence. Your prayers are continuing. As much for my own desire do I pray that happens one day to fulfill a longing I know you had for me.

Until we meet again in that city that lies four square, my love for you never ends, my Mother, my Rose,

From Your Rose

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Musings for the Week - Sightings, Sweet Compliments and Speaking Engagements

1. I see the most exotic things on my short drive to and from work. My commute went from 30-45 minutes one way to 10-15 minutes one way, but I have to say the view is much more enjoyable. I've seen friendly construction workers along my route waving at the passing rush hour crowd. The wildlife I see is amazing. Chickens....multiple geese...deer. You'd think I lived in the country. During the season when the little geese are born, I normally have to yield to Mother Goose leading her pack across the street in front of my building. Never mess with Mother Goose. One afternoon on the way home, I had to dart to miss a deer crossing the street in the heat of summer, certainly in search of water. This summer we all were. The lunch commutes have also been interesting but not in the happy wildlife way. One day on my way to lunch I witnessed a car accident in the middle of Hurstbourne Lane. Even though I wasn't involved, it was startling. Another day, a car jetted around a line of vehicles waiting to turn left, clearly an illegal move. It was one of those times you wished a cop was around. Well, he was, and took off after him. Three cheers for our local government officials! The most unpleasant sighting? On my way to lunch, I had to go around a car with their flashers on that had stopped in the middle of the road so one of the passengers could, um, er, relieve themselves. Quite non-appetizing on the way to lunch.

2. My blogging has decreased because my life has increased. I have a thousand ideas in my head for content but never time to process and put on paper...or screen...or whatever. One of my distractions is my new Kindle. The end of June I decided to take the plunge and buy an e-reader. Over the last two years my reading has increased, which I love, and costing out the price of books over time and the investment in the Kindle just made sense...especially when the price dropped. The first book I read on my Kindle was The Help. I have a theory about movie theaters...the first movie you see there forever shapes your opinion of the theater...until another movie trumps that experience. As movie theaters go, so goes e-readers. I had heard great things about The Help and thought this was the perfect first read to break in my Kindle. And I chose wisely. That book is one of the few books I've read in a while that I just didn't want to put down. If you haven't read it, do so. I think it should be required reading for high school's just that good. I just finished the second book on my Kindle...Cutting for Stone. A much longer book and although it was a slower read due to all the medical procedure descriptions, it was worth the read. By the end of the book, if you are wanting to shed a tear for the character you've followed throughout this journey, it's a good book. And I did.

3. You know those days when you just need a pick me up? The selfish side of you wants something pleasant and uplifting to fall from the sky. I've had a couple of those moments lately when just that sort of thing happened. Well, nothing fell out of the sky, but I had some unexpected compliments that just made my day. The first time was a few weeks ago at the hair salon. The designers there don't accept tips, which is refreshing, because they hock their products where every sale gets them commission in lieu of tips. After my wash, the designer wanted to try out their new lip tints on me, of which I always oblige where free beauty treatments are involved. As she was applying the color...Verbena...she said "You have got the best lips!" Sigh..I'd always hoped to hear that from the man of my dreams, but nonetheless, it made my day. A week or so later, I was shopping at the grocery for items to make some dishes for the Labor Day picnics I was attending and was in the produce aisle to get some fresh veggies. A lady was next to me on her cell phone and I whipped around her not really paying much more attention to her. Shortly thereafter, she came up to me and said, "Excuse me, but what perfume are you wearing?" I had to admit it was Bath and Body Works...I always wear the lotion or spray. This day I was wearing Warm Vanilla Sugar Spray. She said, "Well, it smells wonderful...and I've had a cold and I can finally breathe!..and that's a very good thing!" Ah, it's the small things.

4. I ordered some supplies yesterday from a shipping supply store for a promotional mailout we are doing. I love my job and if I told you the cool package we're putting together, you would know why. Let's just say it involves silver platters and fake money. If I tell you more, I'd have to kill you. I ordered boxes to ship these said silver platters and as I completed the order, they told me I was eligible for a free gift. What's the free gift? My choices were a Hall & Oates Greatest Hits CD or a Hall & Oates Christmas CD. Now those two options are top of my list of CDs I'm longing to buy...not. I guess that's why they call it "free." I didn't choose either one and figured the supply company could just surprise me.

5. Back in April, I was asked by a sweet friend if I would speak at the women's brunch at her church in September. Her husband is pastor and I've known them for years. Beth grew up at our church and met Jason while he was in Seminary here. I love speaking and ministering to women and having this opportunity is a true blessing. I'll be speaking on the same topic I spoke about at my church's women's conference in March, "Where is God When You are Lonely?" I cease never to be amazed at how God provides these kinds of opportunities from out of the blue. Truly, they aren't from out of the blue, but are sovereignly timed in my journey of ministry.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Runaway Bride

On any given weekend, you can tune into one of a variety of cable channels and catch a viewing of the romantic comedy, Runaway Bride. The story is of Maggie Carpenter, played by Julia Roberts, who has a difficult time finishing a wedding ceremony...her own. Ike Graham, played by Richard Gere, is a reporter in need of a career-saving article and decides to do an in-depth look at this phenomenon known as "the runaway bride." Whilst visiting her little hometown of Hale, Maryland, he interviews all of her past beaus and the bride herself. As any romantic comedy aficionado can predict, Ike falls for said runaway bride. Ike figures he can keep her from running if she just keeps her eye on him.

During the ceremony, Maggie is heading down the aisle. All is good. Her eyes are locked on her groom. Then, flash, a camera flash goes off and she's distracted. One little distraction and she hesitates, then runs out of the church making Ike her latest victim. I won't tell you how the movie ends in case you haven't seen it, but it's definitely worth watching.

As a child of God, I am so easily distracted from Him. Ooo, shiny object! Oooo, puppy! Ooo, squirrel! Ooo, latest book to read! Ooo, my phone is chiming for my attention! Ooo, Starbucks! Ooo, my need to socialize! Ooo, the latest television show! One flash of something else and my focus on Him quickly changes to that "something else." You could say I am the Runaway Bride. Oh, those that know me best know that when the day comes I marry (and I hopefully say 'when', not 'if'!) I'll be the most committed bride on the planet because I have waited and prayed so long for the man God has for me. But in my spiritual life, sadly, I am the Runaway Bride.

I'm the bride of Christ, part of His Church, and He is my Bridegroom. I should long to keep my eyes fixed on Him, never wavering, much like I dream of keeping my eyes on that future husband I long to meet at the end of the wedding aisle. Like many girls, I dream of that day. And, I can't imagine taking my eyes off the man who loves me enough to die for me and has pursued me to be his very own. But, wait, isn't that what Christ did for me? He died for me. He pursued me to be His very own. Oh, that my heart would be as devoted to Christ as it is to my future husband.

I should meditate more on this passage in Hebrews, "Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured the cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God's Throne."

He did more than slay dragons for me, or fight tigers for me. He did more than buy a diamond ring to place on my left hand. He gave His Life for me. Shed His Blood for me. And His Righteousness covers my sin so I am white as snow...adorned like a beautiful bride. May the flashes of life never distract me from the One who loves me so.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This Trip Brought to You by the Letter S

I just returned from my annual trek to the little south Georgia town of Adel to visit Chad, Tracy and little Allison. As my friend, Christie and I were driving down, she reminded me this was our fifth trip. I thought about recapping each of the past years (which you can read here...trip one, trip two, trip three and trip four) but had an epiphany on the drive home to do something different. To celebrate this milestone, I decided to recap the trip by using five "S" words to describe this year's adventure.

Sashes - When we arrived Thursday evening, we shared with Chad and Tracy our fifth-year realization. Tracy had just returned from a women's meeting from their church where Chad serves as Minister of Music and had told all the ladies about our coming arrival. We joked that there would be sashes for us to wear that stated "Five-Years!" to wear proudly to church on Sunday so everyone could identify who we were. One of the running jokes of the visit was, "well, we'll have our sashes on, so they'll know who we are." Unfortunately, we didn't have sashes, but we were still welcomed with open arms as we have been the last four years.

Spaghetti - Tracy is a marvelous cook. Our visits always involve her favorite dishes of the moment and I always get great cooking tips from her. I can't enumerate the number of cooking tips and products I use today based on my annual Adel visits. This year, one of our meals was Tracy's world-famous (or at least Adel famous) baked spaghetti. The secret, my friends, is in the sauce, as I can attest to by reading the recipe. I can't tell you or I'd have to kill you, but let me say it is to die for. To prove the famous-ness of her dish, she invited their friend, Whitney, over to eat with us and as soon as soon as she heard what was being served, she proclaimed "Awesome!" We enjoyed a lot of great home-cooked meals, as usual, and Chad was a wonderful dish washer since we seem to dirty a lot of dishes during our stay.

Surprise - Before the trip, Tracy informed us they had a surprise for us on Saturday. I love surprises!! Christie guessed the surprise on our way down, and although Tracy didn't confirm...she was right. Great friends, Kevin and Sarah, came over from Tampa to spend the day with us. I had kept in touch with Sarah via Facebook, but hadn't laid eyes on them in a couple of years. We affectionely call them the "Sugar Family" (a bonus "S" for you and an inside joke that would take another blogpost to explain) and it was wonderful to see them and catch up on their lives. They recently moved to Florida as Kevin is active military (Navy) and is stationed at Fort MacDill Air Force Base. Spending the day with the "Sugar" family and Chad and Tracy was a great blast from the past and one of those comfort moments you want to last so much longer than it does.

Swap - As with every trip, we played lots and lots of games. This year we played a lot of cards....Rook...Golf....Tricks....and a game called Swap. Swap resembles UNO but a lot more fun and "active" as you swap your hand multiple times during the game. This is one game we played late into the night one evening and got slap happy...or more appropriately, "swap" happy. This one may be worth purchasing. I can also report that I still stink at Wii Mario Kart...even though I love it, I can't get out of last place. Thank goodness I don't drive in real life that badly.

Sibling - The trip had added fun from 16-month old Allison. Last year she was four months old, and too young to realize we were there. This year we got to love on her and watch her play, babble, and say her newest word, "Okay." "Allison, ready to go to bed?"..."Okay" You could ask her just about anything and she'd reply softly..."Okay" cute. I thought it would take time for her to warm up to us since we only see her a couple of times a year, but when we arrived, she came outside to greet us in the driveway and was all smiles. She even took each of our hands and escorted us into the house. Precious. Where does this "S" word, sibling, come into play? Tracy is expecting baby number two in February and in about six months, Allison's world will be rocked. One of our road trip tasks was to come up with name options for the next baby. We were given instructions from Tracy on the characteristics of a name that we needed to keep in mind and we presented a few that fit the bill. We are sworn to secrecy and would have to kill you (see spaghetti sauce recipe above) if we shared any of the names. Come February, we'll all know.

The trip was over all too quickly but our time was sweet...yet another bonus "S." Time with friends...especially the lifelong always memorable and fun. Thanks to Chad and Tracy for five years of great memories....with more to come.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who's in My Seat?

Air travel is always an interesting experience for me. In the past year I've flown to Virginia, Orlando, and DC on various carriers and connecting in random cities. Pre-September 11, flying was a lot more enjoyable. Security allowed friends to actually meet you at the didn't have to disrobe prior to boarding...the amount of liquids in your carry-on luggage wasn't measured. But, even with all the hassles of traveling, I've enjoyed passing the time by watching people. I like to imagine their stories....where are they going? it for personal or business? Everyone has a story to tell and my imagination runs wild.

Unfortunately, I'm not the normal social butterfly on flights as I am on the ground. Normally by the time I buckle in, I'm just about out...asleep. I should use this opportunity to meet my seat mates, and there have been some interesting folks I have met along my life of travels in between my snoozing. I flew to Rochester, NY, transferring in Chicago the day after the University of Kentucky won the NCAA basketball championship. As I proudly donned my blue UK shirt, I felt like enlisted military as everyone almost saluted...well, not really, but they smiled and nodded like they just encountered royalty. I flew from Atlanta to San Francisco sitting next to Carlos Santana's cousin. He was a real hoot...and very intrigued I was from Kentucky. He said, "It's so green and lush there." Last November during the east coast Nor'easter that flooded a majority of the coastal area, I flew into Newport News, Virginia. Without a delay at all, I flew right in without a problem. I had more trouble staying dry getting in my ride to leave than our plane had getting there. The trek there initiated a lot of great conversations with people that had no idea what we would face once we landed.

I recently read this blog post "The Sky Stories of Seat 10D." A sales VP, who clearly travels a lot, has decided to conduct an experiment. He bought a nice leather-like journal and wrote his story on why he was traveling in the front of the book, along with his Twitter handle, e-mail and other contact info. He's asked the future occupants of seat 10D to leave the journal in the seat back pocket and enter in their story...where are they going?...why?..who are they? And, has asked them to contact him so he can write about the adventures of this little journal. This is about the coolest idea I've heard in a long time. If those airplane seats could talk. This reminds me of that Where's George? site where people log the serial numbers of their dollar bills to track the travels of their currency. The oddity and quirky-ness of me just finds this airport seat notebook experiment fascinating.

Now I'm contemplating what I can do similar to track future travelers on my trips. Maybe I'll leave a journal in my hotel room at my next destnation and see if others will journal and contact me via Twitter about their trips. Or, maybe I'll just follow in this brilliant sales VP's footsteps and do the same...leave a notebook in the seat pocket of my next airplane ride and see what happens. The fantasizing romancer in me can visualize the coolest of stories that could be turned into the greatest of novels. This from a girl who wrote a soldier deployed during Desert Storm hoping for a romance to start similar to the love story of my parents. Sadly, I never heard from him. I'm convinced he died in combat and that was my husband to be. Ahh, but I digress. I've got a few months before my next flight...plenty of time to devise an intriguing experiment to meet the world...all from my airplane seat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Full of GLEE

I just finished watching the first half of Season 1 of the FOX show, GLEE. Typically I'm a late adopter to the hip and new shows. Mad Men was the last show I got wind of before it debuted and actually became a fan when the world was just finding out about its uniqueness. But I'd heard so many people rave about GLEE and when I heard a few 80s songs from the GLEE cast, I was intrigued. My friend, Amy, decided that our summer project was to catch up on the show, but alas, the second half of Season 1 just ended and won't be on DVD until September 24. Hmmm, Hulu, here we come!

For those of you who have been living under a rock and don't know about the show, it is replete with unique and quirky characters. There is Will Schuester (sigh...) the Spanish teacher who was a Glee Club member in his high school days and is given the daunting task of leading this unrespected group of singers. Will is also married to a quite strange woman who can't work more than four hours a week, thinks Will needs to get a better-paying job, and fakes a pregnancy. There is Sue Sylvester....the woman you love to hate. The sassy coach of the cheerleading squad (The Cheerios) who spews biting comments to anyone in her path, especially Will. I love me crazy...but Sue has revealed some soft sides, which makes me a bit endeared to her. Then there is Emma Pillsbury. The school counselor who is a germaphobe and quite attracted to Mr. Schu. Like all good counselors, she sees potential in him and how much better he can be...and even is the one to keep him leading Glee Club when he is about to bail.

But of all the characters in the show, the kids of Glee are the ones that make my heart melt each week. (Aside from my Emma-like crush on Mr. Schu, of course) Every member of Glee are those kids in high school everyone made fun of....or Gleeks, as they are called on the show. They can't walk down the high school hallways without getting slushies thrown in their faces. There is Rachel...the daughter of two gay dads and the butt of the cheerleaders' taunting. There is Artie...a wheelchair-bound singer who doesn't let his wheels keep him from dancing. He's found acceptance in Glee, more than he ever had before. Mercedes is the full-figured African American teen who can belt a song like Aretha or Whitney. But because she doesn't have the figure of a Cheerio, she's not Miss Popular either. Mercedes befriends Kurt, the homosexual member of Glee. His mother died when he was young leaving his father to raise him. Acceptance is found in his Glee family. I could go on...Quinn, the pregnant teenager, ex-Cheerio...Finn, the football star turned singer...Puck, the bad boy with talent.

The show is full of drama. Just reading these short bios indicates that these people are a breeding ground for drama. But it's reality, folks. The world is full of stories just like these. You are surrounded by people just like these. Though I don't agree with the homosexual lifestyle...nor pre-marital sex that leads to Quinn's current predicament, my heart goes out to people who walk similar roads. Oh, how we all wish our lives were so nice and buttoned up that the journey was easy and smooth. But the road ahead is normally full of pot holes and speed bumps and if we aren't grabbing to the steering wheel strong enough, we can veer off into places we don't need to go. Then we find ourselves like these kids...unloved, made fun of, and slushies in our faces.

For all of Mr. Schu's faults and sins, I love him (beyond the fact that he is cute, sings and dances) because he sees potential in those most have no time for. As I live and strive to imitate Christ, I can't but love those who are unlovable. For I, too, have been a Gleek in my life and found the love of Christ through those who loved me beyond myself. It reminds me of the passage in Matthew, where Jesus says "Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." May I never forget that truth...and always have a towel handy at my side to wipe away the slushies...and the tears...from the faces of hurting people.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just Like Family

Last Sunday night, Blake preached a sermon in a series on "What is the Church" and posed a statement at the end for us to finish..."My church felt like family when..." He closed by having various church members share their personal stories and by the end of that sharing time, the tears were flowing for me. I take for granted sometimes the work of God when I see it happening all around me every day, but when I take time to reflect and hear testimonies...testimonies of people I walked some of those roads's overwhelming.

I began to would I finish that statement? Honestly, I could write a book. But, instead, I'll do what I do My church felt like family long before I took my first breath. My Dad accepted Christ at my church and it was where he learned at the feet of many a man who has made him the spiritual rock he is today. My parents struggled with infertility and the loss of a child born premature and my church was there. When Mom was expecting me, the church provided many things (cribs, high chairs, etc) for her to use because she just couldn't bear buying anything for fear this baby may never be born. My church felt like family because it was my home away from home. My Dad was a Deacon and Sunday School teacher, and my Mom was a Sunday School teacher so if we weren't at home, school or work, we were at church. Even those folks they served side by side with became family...and their children and grandchildren are my family today.

When you think about family, you may let your mind only go to the good times. But every family has struggles, tragedies, and hard times. My church has been no different in my life. In 1991 my Dad went through a difficult time in leadership as one pastor was departing and another one was working to come on the scene. It was hurtful and hard to watch my Dad, who spent all hours of the night praying for our church's future, to be humiliated off the platform. But in families, you have those times. Even in that darkness, one staff member reached out to me in love, of which I'll never forget. Nine years later our church suffered a dark time again. The very things my Dad tried to help prevent had manifested itself and we all feared that God would remove His Spirit from our church for extreme disobedience. My church felt like family when a sweet saint and pillar of our church walked up to us as we all were in tears, fearing our family was crumbling away, to remind us that God was not finished with us yet. Do you know those times in your family when you think there is no hope for some situation? We felt it then. We experienced hurt and pain on every turn. Not a time one would reflect on positively. But as the problems of the past were removed and we started fresh and anew, God was ever so faithful and the blessings and joy that came out of that pain and hurt were unbelievable. No one who stands in the midst of our church family today would believe we ever experienced a painful time. True evidence of God's amazing grace.

My church felt like family when my Mom passed away....even during the months preceding her death. The love of my church showed as they prayed and wept with us while Mom was strong and ready to be free from the pain of this world. The visits, the food, the was family. And my Dad will still tell you that many people will say they will pray for you and you wonder if they truly will, but there was one church member who stood with him at my Mom's casket and prayed right there. Two months after my Mom's passing, a family invited us for the Thanksgiving holiday so we wouldn't be alone. That is family. My church felt like family the times I've been in the hospital...or been unemployed...or needed rides to the airport...or fill in the blank. I've made friends for life through my church family from Tennessee to Trinidad. There are very few states in the union I could visit that I could not find a family that has moved on from our church that would take me in and let me visit. No matter where I roam, even if I leave my hometown, this church will always be home.

From a person like me that has very little biological family, my church has become my family. I have been blessed and pray that I'll be as much a blessing to others as many have been to me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Table Topics - VBS Memories

Tis the season for Vacation Bible School! For those not familiar with this annual summer ritual, churches host a week-long event - sometimes during the day, sometimes in the evenings - inviting children to come and learn about Jesus. There is always some catchy theme to get them hooked and make learning about the Gospel fun! My church is having VBS the week of June 21 and our theme this year is Saddle Ridge Ranch - "Roundin' up Questions, Drivin' Home Answers." The kids get to be together in worship at Worship Rally Valley and get lunch everyday at Big Sky Grill. I am helping this weekend at our VBS work day to help prepare crafts and truly wish I could actually be able to be at VBS everyday seeing those cute kids running around screaming "Yeehaw!"

Thinking about VBS made me think about my favorite VBS memories. There are so many, but I'll narrow it down to two - of which neither include raw macaroni cross formations or other craft projects. When I think of VBS, I think of being able to wear shorts to church! When I was little, the only time I was allowed to wear shorts in the sanctuary of our church was during VBS, per my Dad. I felt like such a little rebel as we lined up on the porch each day waiting to march into the sanctuary to "Onward Christian Soldiers" whilst wearing my t-shirt and shorts. Life at church has gotten much more relaxed, but I will still never forget that memory. The other memory that sticks out in my mind is the treat we got every year on the last day of VBS. My family attended a church for a couple of years that was close to our house and the pastor was a good friend of my Dad's. He pastored the church I attend now before I was born...Dr. Beach. He was the pastor that walked me through my decision to accept Christ and baptized me. One of his favorite things was White Castles. (For you southerners, that's a burger similar to Krystals) Each year on Friday, we all were treated to White Castles. They carried in bags and bags of those little square burgers and I remember the quirkiest thing - the teachers asked us to break down the little boxes that held the burgers so we could make our trash more compact. Why I remember that, I have no idea.

So, that brings us to today's Table Topic...

"What are your favorite memories from VBS?"

Attention...Salute...Pledge (that's an inside joke for you VBS-ers)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Defying Gravity

A couple of weeks ago some friends of mine attended the local Broadway Across America production of Wicked. I love the theater and especially a musical! I'd heard about Wicked but never had seen the play. The most I knew about it was that it was a prequel of sorts to The Wizard of Oz and featured the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West. The Wizard of Oz always gave me nightmares as a fact the first nightmare I remember having was after watching The Wizard of Oz. Of course, it could have been due to the Orange Crush and Twinkies I ate during my viewing. No matter how many times I watched it, I never liked that witch. Due to that factor, seeing this musical was appealing for the normal theater musical reasons, but aside from that, I'd not be all that motivated to see it. Boy, had I been missing out. After seeing the story come to life I'm ready to change my name to Elphaba and paint myself green.

I don't want to ruin the story for those that may not have seen it, but the plot surrounds the life of Elphaba, the soon to be Wicked Witch. Even at her conception, she was a "mistake" and unplanned. She was different, being born green and all. And so began her life as someone that is not the norm. Elphaba lives her life caring for her crippled sister, Nessarose, the more loved of the two siblings. The story begins to unfold when Elphaba goes off to attend Shiz University where she befriends (and I use that term loosely) Glinda, her polar opposite. From there the story takes twists and turns that intertwine the story of the Wizard of Oz into this prequel and begin to unfold the unique relationship that blossoms between Glinda and Elphaba. That summary will suffice to keep those who haven't seen it anxious to get to the nearest theater.

The author of the original book, Gregory Maguire, has written many books that take a twist on our childlike tales. Although I'm not a proponent of his homosexual lifestyle, of which I'm sure the basis of his "acceptance" theme is rooted, I do applaud his way of making the underdog shine in this story. We live in a world where the outward is viewed as more important than the inward. Elphaba was green...different....even had powers others didn't possess. But, she was special and had a purpose beyond her mistaken birth and oddity in appearance. And the story shows how being different didn't stop her from experiencing life to the fullest.

I could share many things from the play that would fill a book. I knew even this play could "preach" when one of the first lines was "Are we born wicked or is it thrust upon us?" Biblically, we're born wicked...but that's another discussion for another day. I'll just share two parts of the play that were powerful to me. Elphaba and Glinda are in a love triangle with Fiyero. At one point, Fiyero says to Elphaba, "You're beautiful." She replies, "Don't lie." Fiyero replies, "I'm not lying...I'm just looking at things in a different way." How many women want to hear a man say that? The song that both Glinda and Elphaba sing at different times in this triangle of the story is called "I'm not that girl" and the shared lyrics they both sing are..."Don't wish, don't start, Wishing only wounds the heart: There's a girl I know, He loves her so, I'm not that girl..." I won't ruin it and tell you who gets Fiyero in the end. Let's just say we can give three cheers for the romantic underdogs in the crowd!

One of the closing songs truly touched my heart. It was titled "For Good" and summarized the development between Glinda and Elphaba. I love good character books, in movies, in plays. The words spoke to me a lot about friends in my life and how I feel about their impact on me. And my favorite lyrics were "Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I've been changed for good." Relationships in my life change me, and always for good...and usually for the better. What a beautiful cap to a wonderful story of two very different people making a change in each other. Wow.

If you have a chance to see this musical, pay the money to go. We were blessed with discounts and scored floor seats during a weeknight showing for very reasonable prices. You'll definitely leave there ready to defy gravity with nothing keeping you down. And, you will be changed for good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Level Up

I love video games. But, I stink at video games. Which makes me the ultimate opponent if you want to win. I can't get past 11th place on Wii Mario Kart (which those of you who play know that is next to last place). Nonetheless, I never give up. I spent a roomful of quarters at the local arcade when I was a teenager. Pac-Man was my game, but I'd play just about anything that would eat my quarter, and then eat another, and so on. This is clearly why I don't gamble, or I'd own Vegas. I even have an affinity to online games, which, thankfully, require no quarters to be inserted in my computer to play.

The thrill of the games for me is more than just winning (obviously since I rarely do) but getting through each level. Most games are designed to take you through various levels of play that increase in difficulty. The ease of the first level of play always indicates to me how difficult future levels will be. If I can't make it past level one, I'm doomed. (Pun intended) But no matter how many levels I conquer, I just want to get to that next one and conquer it too. Clearly, though, when I reach a new level it's like a sucker punch to the gut. Whoa! More obstacles, new pits to avoid, tricky roads to's literally a whole new world. (Cue the song from Aladdin) Every level ends one of two fail and you hear that horrible music indicating the game has ended, or you succeed and you see beautifully displayed on the screen...Level Up! What affirming and validating words those can be to the competitive spirit!

My Thelma (Amy) took me to dinner last night for Mother's Day as her spiritual mama. (Oh how I love her) We always have the greatest conversations because our minds are frighteningly similar. It may have something to do with the fact that her grandmother and my mother were very good friends and very much alike. She was sharing about life and the struggles that come along with walking the road when this analogy came to mind. On our spiritual journey, we're always striving to achieve a "Level Up!" When we become followers of Christ and begin that personal relationship, we're literally babies in the faith. Our first levels are covering the basics of life. Even the smallest of obstacles are tough at that stage. But as we grow in Him, He challenges us. In "church speak" we call that "sanctification" ...the process of being made holy. Each level, the road gets a bit tougher, the challenges a bit messier, but the rewards oh so much sweeter. It's as if when we conquer one level of sanctification, God says "My child, buckle up, we're going on a new ride!" And we realize that the success of each "Level Up!" is done only through the power of God. Nothing on our own. Yet, He chooses us to grow us and prepare us for future levels. Only He sees the complete video game of our lives.

If we had our druthers, we'd rather breeze through each level with ease. But, what reward is there in that? Seeing the "Level Up!" on the screen of our lives is a blessing and reward that assures us we're seeking Him and growing more and more like Christ. He knows exactly when we can handle each level and takes us through our game of life precisely when He wants us to be there. If you could have a life with no loss, or struggle, or tragedy, would you choose it? I might answer quickly with an affirming YES! but if I were to truly reflect on my past, I would have to admit that without those difficult levels, I wouldn't be the person God has molded me to be today. And it amazes me at what more He will teach me at every level of life.

You never like to see "Game Over" come across the screen of your video game because it means you failed. One day, when my life on earth is through, I'll walk into Heaven, bow at Jesus' feet and I long to hear Him say..."Game Over, my child...Well done, My good and faithful servant. Let eternity begin!" I'll have reached the ultimate Level Up.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Musings for the Week - Reorg, Road Trip and Reward

This month has flown by and I must squeeze in one more blogpost so as not to have a month with only one post...egad, that would be so wrong!

1. My company just went through its first reorg. I've been through many in my life, so it's nothing new to me. At a previous company, a reorg was quickly followed by a move about the office, but since we all just moved to a new office, hopefully that won't be the case. This change did affect me and a restructuring of my reporting hierarchy. I now report directly to the President...which, since I'm not a VP, makes me what I like to call myself..."special staff." I dotted line report to another VP that oversees the other part of my multi-tasking (read: sometimes schizophrenic) job. And, the bonus of this reorg is I will be somewhat reporting (somewhat because the person is a contractor and I can't truly report to a contractor) to a former boss of mine. No one I report to is located at my office, which is also a blast from my past..been there, done that too. When reorgs happen, they can be painful, and although the transition will be challenging to be sure, the end result should be fantastic. Amy, my former boss, (not the Thelma to my Louise, Amy) was great to work for and work with. She knows her stuff and I learned a lot from her. Working for a small company has lots of perks, but it also creates a vacuum that makes it hard to be innovative at times. After an almost two-hour call yesterday, I feel like I just got into the kayak with someone who is rowing in time with me. She may read this blog and think I'm sucking up...who me? I'll never forget when we parted ways at the last company. She was my boss and had to do my exit interview during a downsizing where she was remaining. Due to her California location, she had to do it over the phone...and got choked up. The tears from almost 10 years ago are long gone and just like the circle of life, we are back in the saddle working together again. My life is a riot.

2. I just returned from visiting friends to see a sweet girl play the lead in her high school's performance of Grease. Hayley is certainly destined to make it to Broadway with the powerful voice she has...and her theatrical skills. Sadly, she didn't get to blow the roof off with "Hopelessly Devoted" since the rights to buy the use of that song were too expensive. But, her pipes rang true on every other tune and she definitely worked it during "You're the One that I Want."...although a 17 year old "working it" seems so wrong to say. Bonus that I was able to attend the cast dinner at her request and meet all her cast family...and the boy that just asked her out. During intermission, he got down on one knee and asked her to go out with him. He's cute...and young...and better treat her right. But he has the googly eyes for her (as does she). Ahh, young love.

3. Once I return from one trip, I'm ready for another. I'm planning to visit my friends, Paige and Steve, in Alabama over Memorial Day Weekend. Due to the high prices of holiday airfare, I am jumping into Bluebelle and hitting the open road. There is something liberating about a drive down the highway jamming to my favorite tunes or listening to my favorite audiobook. I hope the weather is beautiful because that will make the drive even better. They serve at Ft. Benning Army Post with Steve as the youth pastor. A few years ago, I was able to be there over the July 4th holiday weekend and it was a blast. I have to say there are very few places I'd rather be during patriotic holidays than in the midst of those who serve our country sacrificially to give me the right to live in freedom.

4. A few weeks ago I was asked to speak at an annual women's event at a church in Knoxville. It was a blessing to get an email from a friend of mine asking me to pray about this opportunity. Her husband is pastor and she grew up at my church, where they met while he was in seminary. They are a sweet couple I haven't seen in a long time and was humbled and honored to be asked. As much as I wanted to jump and say yes without a blink of a prayer, I did give it a week to pray just to make sure it was where God was leading. After a week with no feelings of saying no, I said yes. So in September, I get the privilege of speaking to a group of women once again. The longing I had to do more speaking has manifested itself twice this year already and, if God allows, there may be more I don't even know about yet. It's the unspoken prayers like that, when answered, give me hope for all those longings yet to be fulfilled. God is always at work and His Timing is oh so perfect.

5. I've gotten two coupons in the mail recently for free Starbucks. Goodness, how blessed I am! It doesn't get much better than that unless I get coupons in the mail for free Qdoba! I'm about a week away from my next book club and, again, still haven't finished my book. Sounds like I need to use those coupons and get reading!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Three Times

After just experiencing the Easter season, I've been reflecting on the number three. We know from Scripture that Christ rose from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion. The Trinity is made up of three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we know the story of Peter, the disciple who denied Christ three Jesus predicted.

I have a soft place in my heart for Peter. He was always the outspoken disciple. The one who would question things, be bold and possibly say things other disciples might be thinking but afraid to utter. Surely a man with this personality wouldn't deny the One who called him to follow? But, he did. And not just once, but three times. Jesus predicted Peter would deny him and he vehemently disagreed. Peter, in his strong and bold way, said he would never disown Jesus...even more emphatically he'd die before that would ever happen. Oh how his words would come back to haunt him as he did deny Christ three times. My words do too at times when I claim Jesus as my Lord but rarely place Him in the driver's seat of my life. I can hear Him say to me, "Rose, I want you to trust Me, but I know tomorrow you won't." And I reply, "But Lord, You KNOW I trust You. You have parted the Red Seas of my life, and done miraculous things. I would never distrust You." Then I wake up the next morning and before the birds chirp out my window, I've already had moments where I fret and worry over the day forgetting to trust in the One Who is the Ultimate Holder of all of my days. Yes, Peter, I know how you feel.

After Jesus' resurrection, He appeared at times before He ascended to Heaven. Many theologians would say those appearances showed His Love to assure His Followers the ultimate plan for His Coming. One such appearance came at the Sea of Galilee. Some of the disciples were there fishing, and one of them just happened to be Peter. They had a night that most fishermen dread...a night with nothing caught, zilch, zippo. That morning when Jesus appeared to them, they didn't realize it was Him as He said "Have you caught any fish?" Sadly, no. And Jesus instructed them to cast their nets out and they could barely pull the nets in from all the fish they caught. Immediately, John knew it was the Lord. This was the prelude to Peter's restoration. Jesus was setting the stage. Just the way He does in our lives. He blesses us in a big way to show us His Presence, then loves us though we be so unlovable.

Jesus asked them to come, sit and have breakfast. I love that line. He has just said the word "Drop your nets" and had these disciples haul in the largest lug of fish they'd seen and He calls them to come be with Him. He's not a Savior that pours out the blessings and says "Enjoy! Catch ya later!" (pun intended) He is a Savior that wants to walk with us through those blessings. And breakfast was going to be where Jesus assured Peter He loved him..because He knew Peter needed the reassurance. Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?" And Peter replied, "Yes, Lord, I love You." And Jesus called him to serve Him by saying "Feed my sheep." I just noticed recently when reading this that Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him three times. The same number of times Peter denied Jesus. It's as if Jesus was restoring Peter for every denial made. With every question "Do you love Me?" came Jesus' assuring to Peter that He loved him too. With every reply "Yes, Lord, I love You" softened the heart of a man who failed His Lord but wanted to be His servant. Every day I hear the Lord ask me "Do you love Me?" and I answer, "Yes, Lord." And even in those times when I don't trust Him, don't follow Him, waver in my faith in Him, He still says "I love You, do you love Me?" That is a love that never fails, never ends, never gives up. For Peter, Jesus asked three times. For us, He's asking us that every day of our lives.

Peter did serve faithfully. I love the passage in I Peter that describes a godly woman as one with a gentle and quiet spirit. I've always believed that Peter modeled that very trait after his own wife. A woman, who I have to believe, balanced his bold, outspoken ways with her gentle words, quiet spirit and loving soul. A model of what Christ was to him when he was so unlovable.

Historians note that Peter died a martyr....crucified upside down on a cross...for Christ. He followed Christ even unto death....and there is no denying that fact.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Last week I headed to Orlando for our first Midmarket CIO Forum. Nothing really funny happened on the way there....well, nothing worthy of a full blogpost...but as always, a trip, whether for business or pleasure provides good fodder for reading.

1. Airports are interesting places. I love to travel but, not so much. What spurs more fear in my heart is having to actually walk out on the runway and see the metal tube I'm climbing into. I prefer walking down a nice hallway onto the plane as if I'm just walking into another room at the airport. Thankfully, I only had to de-plane on the runway, which is fine, because the flight is over. The first flight from Louisville to Cincinnati was oversold, and overweight. The last two folks who booked tickets were told long before boarding (at the early hour of 7:30am) that they would most likely get bumped. As I was boarding one of the two soon-to-be-bumped passengers was arguing with the check-in attendant. He explained to her that the plane was overweight, etc. To which she replied, "Well, I'm not overweight!" You gotta love people. The best highlight of the four airports I visited? Eating at a Qdoba in the Orlando airport. When we saw the Qdoba sign, I thought I had just glimpsed the Promised Land.

2. Shuttle services are hit and miss. As staff, we didn't get to enjoy the Towne Car and SUV transportation our attendees did, but had to take an airport shuttle. We walked out to the shuttle stand with our happy yellow vouchers when the Shuttle Nazi (see Seinfeld's Soup Nazi episode) said "You need to go inside and buy ticket!!" Off we went rolling our luggage back indoors. When we arrived at the shuttle stand, she took our tickets and gave us a pager ala your local eatery, that would go off in 30 minutes or less indicating our shuttle was ready to roll. Now never mind that there were two shuttles just sitting there not going anywhere, but we just sat and enjoyed the sunshine while we waited. One of my co-workers I was traveling with asked Shuttle Nazi if he had time to go in and buy some sunglasses. She replied "NO! The shuttle could come any minute." So he waited. For 20 minutes. The very friendly shuttle driver, Todd, appeared as our pager went off and we all cheered. As I hopped in the shotgun seat (being charming works wonders for me), I told the driver, "Todd, you have an opportunity to redeem your shuttle company. The poor lady at your shuttle stand was not having a good day and lacked in her customer service skills. You have 30 minutes to make us love your service." And he did. It was quite an entertaining ride to the hotel. Yes, I tipped him.

3. It pays to know people everywhere I go. When I first found out about my trip to Orlando, a dear friend of mine, Joyce, offered to meet up with me while I was in Florida. She lives about an hour away and is the mother of one of my friends here. Spending time with her comes far too rarely and being with her is like drinking from a fresh water fountain. My only true free time was Saturday afternoon and she was sweet enough to meet me at the hotel for a late lunch. It was glorious. Those are the kinds of memories I love to make.

4. Being charming and enchanting is fun and rewarding. Our goal at this event was to host the 100+ folks that attended, showing them first-class, white glove treatment along the way. I thrive on being charming as my Mom always taught me "you catch more bees with honey than vinegar", but even for the most bubbly of souls, it can be wearing. But, the rewards along the way are worth it. Joe was the Meeting Concierge at the hotel. He always stopped by the information desk - my main location for work during most of the event - and would make sure we were fine, had what we needed, etc. One morning he stopped by and asked me "Can I get you a drink?...a latte, a cappuccino, a mocha?" Music to my ears! I smiled charmingly and in my most southern belle voice said "Why, of course! I'll take a skinny mocha!" One of my co-workers thought he was hitting on me, but he did ask her what she'd like to drink as well. In response to her question, I said, "I don't know...I just work the charm and reap the benefits." He had me at "mocha" so it was a pretty easy close for him.

5. I missed meeting a president. During our stay, former President George H Bush and Barbara were also at our hotel. I was so excited that I was on a hunt to see them, get my picture with them, and be all charming. Well, I never got to see them. Although I saw many a secret service agent and co-workers caught glimpses of he and Babs, but never got a photo. Had it been Dubya I would have put much more effort into getting a photo opp with that handsome man. Joe, my mocha provider and inside scoopster, informed me one day the time of the Bushes arrival. He told me all the ins and outs of how they get them in the hotel and where the secret service stays. I won't go into that much detail here as it may cause a breach of national security and since I'm already an ancestor of a presidential assassin, I best keep my intel to myself. Maybe at the next conference I'll rub elbows with the rich and famous.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The World Around Us

I've been working on my session for our church's upcoming women's conference and dwelling on my topic A LOT these days....Loneliness. Specifically, my session is entitled "Where is God When You Are Lonely?" I find that I'm the perfect demographic for this topic...I'm an only child...still single at forty-(cough)-four years old...have a very, very small remaining biological family. But on most days, I don't feel lonely because I'm blessed in so many other ways. The creeping in of loneliness, though, occurs regularly. And, if you were honest with yourself, it does for you too, no matter your place or stage in life.

When I'm going to be speaking on a topic, I immerse myself in thinking about it so I glean anything along my path that God may want to show me. It also keeps my focus on the topic and task at hand. You may think, "Gosh, dwelling on loneliness has to be a real downer." And, I would respond that it can be, but what I've learned from Scripture and study during this preparation time helps thwart those frequent moments. I could go on in more detail, but then I wouldn't want to spill my outline before the conference.

A few weeks ago, I was buzzing around on a Saturday with 10,653 things to do. We had our office move, lunch with a friend, and other errands. The trip to the grocery store that day ended up happening around 7:30 that night. This single gal grocery shopping on a Saturday night should speak lonely I guess, but a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do. As I finished up my shopping, I stopped by the deli counter to pick up a few things and saw a smartly dressed elderly man. He had his cane in his shopping cart, along with a few essential items. He reminded me of my Dad, though he looked much older. His head was donned with a sporty newsboy cap, a light jacket and dress pants. He was quite the handsome man. He was having a conversation with the man behind the counter and I deduced that he was waiting for the next batch of chicken to finish frying. The attendant wrapped up the biggest chicken breast in the bunch, all hot out of the fryer for him to take home, with a warning that the chicken was pretty hot. The sweet man said, "Oh it'll cool down some by the time I get home and eat it."

I love to people watch. I observe them and imagine all sorts of stories about their life. This sweet man most likely lived alone. Probably a widower. And on a Saturday night he headed to the grocery to fill his small cupboards with what he needed for the week and pick up a treat for dinner...some freshly fried chicken. As I headed to the checkout, I couldn't stop thinking about this man. Week in and week out this could be his life. I wondered if he had family? Does he have friends to play cards with? talk with? My heart went out to him and it took all I had not to go up to him and talk to him. I realized amidst the busy life I may wear thin of at times, I am blessed to be surrounded by many who love me.

The next time I may not hold back when I see a sweet man like that and reach out and say hello. It could be the only interaction that person has that day. If you are lonely, there is probably someone just as lonely as you walking down your grocery aisle. Be aware of the world around you...someone's loneliness could bring you a blessing.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

From The Mixed Up Files of Rose E Frankweiler

Ok, I'm not the owner of a statue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (only those literary geeks, or children's teachers will get that), but I feel like my life is a swirling bunch of excitement right now. And, when I think about it, this book title comes to mind. My friend, Amy, talks about how her hair feels on fire at times and I can identify. But, no matter the multiple "GAHS!" I might exclaim, I'm right where I want to be and where I hope God wants me to be.

I get harassed (see: Amy) about not blogging enough and given the past week and the upcoming two weeks, this may be the only chance to utter coherent words. Putting it all in perspective in words makes this planner feel a bit more in control of what is next on the list. Though God laughs as He knows so much of what is happening is merely His Sanctification in my life to see me let go of the control and let Him take the wheel. (With apologies to Carrie Underwood) For those endearing blog readers, here is a snippet of my, frazzled, and full of excitement.

Our office moved locations last weekend and I LOVE the new facility. From the 10 minute commute to the big screen TVs in the break room and conference rooms, I feel like I'm in a "real" office. The new office layout has made it easier to have a bit more seclusion and focus and boy, did I need it this week as every aspect of the jobs I do (which my boss told me yesterday were two day jobs) had their challenges. Realizing there are only so many hours in the day and I can't do it all was one of those "control" reminders this week. I do love my job because even in the midst of things, we have pranks going on ala The Office and the laughter amidst the work is a wonderful release.

I leave a week from today to head to Orlando for a business trip. We're launching an event and it's exciting and frightening all at the same time. We want this to be successful and we're hoping, even with all the hitches that will inevitably happen, we will leave there knowing we've begun a new line of business. I don't know all the ins and outs of what the event will look like, but again, see "control sanctification" above. The highlight of my trip - aside from staying at a swanky hotel - is a lunch date when I arrive with a sweet redhead who is the mother of one of my dear friends. We've never been able to connect for dinner when she visits and being an hour away provided the perfect opportunity. That time of refreshment will kick off a busy four days of work.

I land on Wednesday, two days before our church's women's conference. On that Friday night, I'll be speaking on "Where is God When You are Lonely?" The timing of all this is a bit daunting, but I remember daily that none of this took God by surprise. He knew I'd be in Orlando. He knew my flight schedule. And, thankfully, He knows what I'm going to say. Because right now, I'm still working on that part. My prayer is to complete the session by the end of day Monday and be able to pray over and prepare more in sunny Orlando.

Along with that I am blessed to have friends visiting - before and after Orlando - that I can't wait to see and spend time with that adds a nice benefit among the rest of my exciting life. There are still bills to pay, laundry to do, taxes to start, Wednesday night Bible studies to prepare for...and life to live. But unlike Claudia in the aforementioned book, I don't want to run away to teach a lesson in "Claudia appreciation." I lead an exciting live and remind myself when I try to take control of everything in my life that the One Who truly has control is so much better at orchestrating my days than I'll ever be. May I never want to run away from life, but long to run to Him.