A few years ago I met with another writer every Wednesday morning at a coffee shop to work. Laptops set up across from each other, unlimited refills of coffee and the fresh pastries made for a very productive couple of hours. One morning I was sharing how at the beginning of the year I had decided I wanted a theme for the year. I wanted God to amaze me. I wanted to see His glory in the small things and His power in action. I wanted to be amazed. But I had to confess God seemed to have a different theme for that year. I told her His theme seemed to be focused on my self control. Her response was “If God can help you with self control He’ll amaze a lot of people!”
This week I’ve been reading a book that recommends spending the year with just one word. To explore the depths and treasures of the meanings not just in general but in specific application. As the news fills with obits for Nelson Mandela they search for just the right words to sum up his life, his story, his impact on the world he was born into and the world he left behind. Revolutionary. Hero. Icon. Humble. Passionate. Faithful. Gone.
I wonder what word you would use to describe the year you just had. Is it a word you chose in the beginning of the year with optimism and anticipation? Is it a word you look back and see has been following your every move for the past 12 months? Is it a word you are proud of? Is it a word you are known for?
I still love to be amazed by God. He is still refining my self control and amazing people around me. I have a word for next year. It has already begun nudging me and narrowing my focus and revealing some of its depth. I am excited and a bit fearful of where this word will take me. It is not a word to companion with without risk and vulnerability. But it is a word that at the end of the year, at the end of my life, I will be truly grateful if it is the first word you think of when you think of me.
What’s your word?
Several years ago I was watching a home make over show. In exchange for letting a camera crew and some creative types into the homeowners lives for a weekend, the homeowners got a couple of rooms in their home cleared out and remodeled. The first thing the crews did was unload the rooms and put everything on tarps in the driveway for the homeowners to sort into four piles: Keep, Sell, Donate, Toss. With a vigilant host/designer helping them make decisions on what was truly worth keeping and what was ready to move on, one moment in one show stuck with me.
Sitting on an upturned bucket in her driveway a woman was arguing with the host about keeping an item. He asked he the basic questions. “When was the last time you used it?” “Does it have sentimental value?”
Her reply was simply, “I’m keeping it to remind me of something?”
His quick question was “What?”
The admission, “I don’t remember,” sealed the fate of said item. It wasn’t working. Whatever it was supposed to remind her of was forgotten. It wasn’t doing it’s job and it was time for it to move on. With a sigh and dropped shoulders all of the fight she had just moments before defending the item’s place in her life was gone as she put it in the Sell pile.
This season I wonder if the things we do are because they have value and meaning, because they remind us of something or are they simply things we do out of habit or social pressure or obligation. If you don’t have a meaningful reason for doing it, why are you doing it?
If it’s lost it’s value, maybe, just maybe it’s time to let it go.
are great if you are baking cookies. But not if you are being creative. By it’s very nature creativity is not uniform. It is individual. Even if it starts with a common theme or media or even a pattern. Creativity takes on the perspective, the strengths and the flaws of the creator. It is the uniqueness, the rarity, the personal that makes it beautiful and valuable.
Right now on the internet there are millions of bloggers who write on every topic imaginable. They add their experience, their perspective, their opinions and they take the collective risk to hit the publish button and set their words free. Some have thousands of followers and others write day after day without a single comment or maybe even a single reader.
But each is finding their own way, each is writing their own words. You can get a template for your blog. You can add the recommended plugins and widgets. You can follow the “3 points and a picture” format. But what is totally you is the words you chose and the words you chose to omit.
There are a couple of dozen bloggers I read regularly but none of their blogs is as important to me as mine is. I can read their words but only I can write mine.
Who wants a cookie?
Years ago as a single mother I would save up enough to take my son out for dinner. He would get to choose whatever he wanted from the menu while I was doing the same. When the orders were placed he told the server what he had decided on. It was his choice and he expressed it clearly. However, when the meals arrived he would look at his plate with the food he had chosen and look at my plate and the food I had chosen. Suddenly, he didn’t want what he had asked for. He wanted what I had ordered. Since I wasn’t about to waste food or money I would trade with him. Until one night I ordered what really sounded good to me. Liver and onions. It came with mashed potatoes and peas. He no longer wanted to trade.
The thing is I didn’t order liver and onions because he would eat it if he didn’t like his own order. I ordered liver and onions because I like liver and onions. It really was what I wanted. No object lesson. I didn’t suffer through my dinner. I enjoyed it. He sat eating his dinner amazed that I actually liked my dinner. The waitress had asked us both same question, “What would you like?” and we both had answered. We both got what we asked for. I was very satisfied with my decision and my dinner. He had to accept that what he asked for and got was good.
How often do you want to trade with someone because you are not satisfied with what you asked for?
How often are you bewildered by someone being happy with a decision that is not your taste?
How do you like your liver and onions?
I want to stay in my office until all the books I have in me have been written.
I want to stay in my reading chair until all the books I have gathered have been read.
I want to stay in my craft cottage until I run out of supplies and all the projects I can think of have been created.
I want to stay in my kitchen until the last cookie has been decorated and the last of the sugar has been sprinkled.
I want to sit by the fire with the one I love until the last of the wine has been shared.
I want to have my hands filled with the hands of children I love.
I want to see the faces of family and friends through the blur of happy tears.
What do you want?
Yes, this is my prayer list. Or a part of it. Years ago I found the admonition to pray without ceasing to be unrealistic. But since I adopted my prayer by association I find it has become part of my moment by moment day.
A friend who was frustrated with her life said she was ready to throw in the towel. I pray for her while folding towels.
A friend who sat and listened to my story after sharing hers ( a really rare thing) on a snowy day in Colorado (not such a rare thing) has a husband who’s medical condition makes it difficult for him to fly his plane. Living on the approach route to San Jose International Airport ( call me if you are coming to town. No, really, I’m 10 minutes from the airport.) I pray for them every time I see a plane coming in.
A friend I have never met, but hold dear, has a daughter who just got a very special dog. The Labrador has been trained as a seizure dog and the teenager who now relies on this dog has a better chance at a normal life. As I let my own, very untrained labs in and out of the back yard a dozen times a day to do their business or chase squirrels I thank God for the people who train working dogs and for the precious child who is watched over by loving puppy eyes.
A spatula, a rose garden, a pen, the coffee table, assorted coffee mugs, my tape gun, my glue gun, filling the van with gas and countless other touch points through out my day bring people and situations to my heart and mind. Each a nudge to lift them in prayer. My life is surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses masquerading as laundry and dishes and socks dangling from the mouth of a puppy who wants to go outside again.
Who is on your prayer list? Who is on your heart?
Tonight across the country young men and women will stand alone atop a platform in the gap between the field and the stands and answer this question.
These teenagers will look up at a panel of judges and respond with a salute. Between them and the judges are rows of family, friends, and hundreds of strangers waiting for this moment. A quick turn on their heels and the raise of their arms moves the focus from them to the uniformed performers who have been preparing weeks and months in the heat and cold, the wind and the rain.
Are they ever really ready? These kids have worked hard. They have learned what they were taught. They practiced the music. The memorized the patterns of the field work. But the question is “are they ready?”
I have a lot of things left to do. Projects I want to see come to fruition. None of them will be accomplished in a vacuum. All of them require a team, a band. Each has a part to play and a place on the field. As I look at those projects I start seeing the players step up. I can’t wait for the moment when I can salute, knowing my band is ready. I can hear them warming up now.
What are you working on? Who’s playing in your band? Is your band ready?
Things and days have meaning because we give it to them. Traditions are unique to individuals and families and cultures because they have been given meaning consistently and repetitively. Some are repeated so long that the original meaning is lost or diluted by time. Others are started with the best of intentions only to die before they take root in the hearts of those observing them. Most are accidental. A few are contrived. Those that have sprung up in the past 100 years or so tend to be driven by consumerism and social pressure.
Eleven years ago a tradition began in our home that I do not know of being observed by anyone else. I may be wrong about that but based on the origins for us, I doubt it. October 2002 in a little kindergarten class a patient woman named Mrs. Goldsmith was teaching 20 energetic young students. The theme for the fall months was cowboys and ranches. Stick horses were made and named and ridden with enthusiastic imagination. The naming of these ponies and stallions was almost as critical as the decision of the riders in choosing their own cowboy or cowgirl name. Gingerbread Grace and her faithful horse Rosie galloped around together for weeks.
But then the collision occurred. The draw of many young ladies to don the tiara, the long white gloves and the ball gown for the parties at the end of October is a mighty force. The gown was selected. The sparkles shone bright. But the call of the cowgirl was just as strong. Thus began the tradition of Cowboy Chili on October 31st for the Princess. Made from scratch and simmered on the back burner for hours to thicken, a slab of corn bread and sweet tea became the annual fortification before taking Daddy’s hand and heading out into the night to make her royal rounds.
The little Princess is taller than me now. She’s opted to hand out candy with her friend this year, bumping me from my front door duties. Those tears earlier were from cutting the onions. Eleven years of making chili you would think I would be used to the onions by now.
Have we become a nation so bombarded by sound and noise and advice and information that we have stopped listening in self defense?
I have learned to enjoy watching football the past couple of years from going to high school games to hear the pep band. Football on tv is harder for me to watch. At a live game there are people commenting on the play or the players or the coach or any number of things. But then they take a breath or a bite of hot dog or something and for a few minutes they don’t talk. On tv the commentators seem compelled to fill every nanosecond with the sound of their own voice. Having just watched several games of the World Series I feel for the guys in the broadcast booth. Baseball moves so much slower than football and that tension to fill the lulls must be agonizing at times.
With all the advances in technology and communication, education and entertainment, I believe as a society we have actually become less evolved. We no longer know the phone numbers of those we love. We have them programmed in our phones. We don’t call. We text or email. Dinner around the home table is more the occasion than the norm. Cartoons have their own channel and are on 24 hours a day instead of just Saturday morning. If AM and FM were not enough choices for audio entertainment in the car now they come with surround sound Dolby theaters built in so your children won’t be tempted to look out the window at any point in the 5 minute drive to school let alone the possibility of an hour drive anywhere.
This morning there were a dozen or so near misses between cars and bikes and students all trying to navigate a one block section of 6 lane surface street. Each seemed focused on where they were going or what they were doing and surprised when someone suddenly appeared in their way or their mirror or their face. One student walking forward ran into the bus stop pole while looking backward to yell at someone crossing the street.
All this to say, I think we have lost our senses. Our listening skills, our power of observation, our mental acuity and in loosing those I think we may be loosing our humanity. Voices become noise, people become obstacles, and getting there becomes more important than the journey.
This morning I posted on another website I blog for using the headline construction technique often recommended to catch the readers attention. I can now testify it works. Maybe it worked too well.
What I thought was a positive update to a situation had two distinct and opposite responses. The first group panicked thinking no one would take the situation as direly as they had just yesterday. The second group saw the remaining need and offered direct and useful options to meet that need.
The good news is it had impact. Now if I can just hone my skills to get a more consistently positive reaction and action from my readers.