Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas ~ Bitter and Sweet?

It’s sad to say, but loss and grief will be part of many people’s holiday celebrations this year. Holidays are supposed to be happy and fun, but grieving the absence of a loved one can turn this entire season into a painful time that blocks out happy memories of past Christmases. Certainly, the holidays will never again be exactly the same for you. With the death of a loved one, things change. That doesn’t mean, however, you’ll never be able to join in the celebration again or experience laughter and good times during the holidays. If you’re on a journey of mourning and healing, I recommend the book The Empty Chair by Psychologist Dr. Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Is there one less place setting at your Christmas table this year – one less chair where he or she always sat? Holidays usually lift us above the humdrum of life to renew and revive us, but the holiday after a loss of a loved one can have the opposite effect. Grief is tough enough to handle, but when Christmas comes it can be even more difficult. Zonnebelt-Smeenge understands; she’s been there.

She says, “Full resolution of grief is possible through a combination of time and intentional grief work.” Both of my parents died in the last five years, and I realize I didn’t come out of that grief and find my old self again; I came out a different person. Where do you find yourself in the grief process? You may accept the loss but feel as frozen inside as the ground outside. Some people cry when they look at their gift list or when they set one less place at the table. Your holiday spirit can be broken by death so that nothing sparkles but the tears. Others choose not to mention their pain or their loved one and numbly go through the motions, finding little joy in the usual holiday festivities.

Then there’s the less-than-ideal relationship you had with a deceased loved one. Zonnebelt-Smeenge assures us grief can be one of the great deepening experiences in life and maintains the importance of keeping the best aspects of loved ones alive to pass on. Celebrate the joy he or she brought into your life and try not to dwell on past hurts. Thank God you loved and were loved by this person, even if the relationship wasn’t always perfect.

In order to get control over emotions, we need to intentionally address our grieving. I’ve heard my friends say, “It’s my first holiday without my husband or child. It’s so overwhelming and no one really understands. In fact, others seem to go on and don’t even mention my loved one, much less that he’s not with us this year.” Zonnebelt-Smeenge stresses the benefits of exercise. Don’t scrap the whole holiday and deny yourself pleasure out of obligation to the deceased. Instead, buy a gift for him or her and give it to someone in need. Lay a wreath on the grave. If you’re alone at Christmas this year, consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home. Look to make new bonds out of shared losses within a grief support group.

What do you say to others? After all, this not only affects you and your holiday but how others treat you. Here’s more advice from The Empty Chair:
· Gently instruct people by expressing your needs; forgive them for not knowing how to react.
· Find time for peace and reflection. Your loved one is there in a sense, as a part of each of you.
· Lower your expectations for the holidays; be kind and gentle with yourself, and plan ahead so you’re not overwhelmed at the last minute. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re grieving, so make lists to keep track of what you have to do. To be easier on yourself, try to simplify your to-do list this year.
· Always keep in the forefront of your mind how God stepped out of heaven in the person of Christ to be among us at Christmas. He comes to us as a babe in a manger and takes on our flesh. He weeps with us over our losses. Christ was born to later die on a cross and then rise again to prove God’s never-ending love for us. Ask His Holy Spirit to dwell in you when you are lonely or sad. His grace can reach into loss and can transform grief from an ending into an entirely new beginning. If you want to talk more about this, e-mail me. I’m asking God to work with me through my own grief this Christmas season, too.

As you face the empty chair at the Christmas table, it’s going to be hard. I’d like to send you a booklet I’ve found helpful on my own journey through loss and grief. It’s called Take Heart in Your Grief. It describes how, even though it feels like your life has folded, there are ways to start up again. There are sections about what to do with a heavy heart, how to accept change, and how to overcome obstacles. To order your free copy of this booklet, call 888.988.2057.

Let me know how you cope with the bitter and the sweet this Christmas. Offering your ideas and resources can help other people who are going through the same thing and maybe lessen your own burden a bit. The “Merry” part may be diminished this year, but the “Christ” part won’t be!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Amy Grant

Here's a photo of me with award-winning recording artist Amy Grant! Be sure to tune into the show the week of December 21 to hear my exclusive Woman to Woman® interview with her.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


With social networking sites dominating our culture, we've joined in! Be sure to check out the Woman to Woman® page on Facebook!

Monday, December 1, 2008


On April 8, 2008, I flew to Michigan to celebrate Wally Bronner’s life, here and hereafter, at his memorial service. As a teenager, Wally started a sign-making business in his parents’ basement. This business grew to be Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, housed in a building the size of five football fields and full of everything Christmas. Wally was “Mr. Christmas” to millions around the world as he traveled the globe looking for decorations for the world’s biggest birthday party. I hope you will have the chance to visit Wally’s legacy, his year-round celebration of Christ’s birth, in Frankenmuth.

His memorial service was held at historic St. Lorenz Lutheran Church in Frankenmuth with 1300 people in attendance. Pondering the faith and the work of Wally Bronner, this genius of celebration, I headed from the church to Zehnder’s lovely luncheon for friends and family. I noticed posters with Wally’s picture and the words “Wally Joins His CHRIST of CHRISTmas!” I look forward to seeing him at that joyful destination some day.

Wally’s son Wayne emceed the luncheon. Wayne observed that Wally’s mind was like a 500 gig hard drive, quick and able to retain an incredible amount of information. Even more importantly, his constant joy in the Lord was both irrepressible and inspiring. Wayne recalled that his father, reading the newspaper coverage of his illness and diagnosis, observed with gratitude, “How many people get to read their own obituary?” Retaining his sharp wit and his delight in his Savior’s birth, Wally attached some Christmas holly – the same kind he always wore in the lapel of his red jacket at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland – to his IV pole. He’d laugh to medical staff and visitors, “Notice the holly and the IV!”

When he came home from the hospital, his prognosis was for an abbreviated life at age 81. Nevertheless, he welcomed visitors and prayed with and for family, friends, and staff. His organized, full-of-ideas self prevailed to the end, even suggesting how his family could most efficiently line up to receive guests at the funeral home, as well as how they could respond to each guest in 10 words or less. When giving this advice, did Wally sense that 1300 would come from far and wide to celebrate his faith, his earthly deeds, and his eternal life?

His esophageal cancer affected his voice, and when he could no longer speak, he had to use hand gestures. He’d make an X to say, “Enough of that, cut it out,” and he’d make the sign of the cross to bless people. At the very end, Wayne said, it was difficult to tell the difference between the two gestures. Wayne went on to note, though, that what had seemed confusing now made sense: “If Wally were here today and saw us weeping,” Wayne said, “he’d give an X – ‘cut that out, enough of this; pick up a piece of trash, decorate something, pray with someone. Tell someone about Jesus so you can bring a lot of people with you to heaven. You know how I love a crowd!’”

That day, I kept thinking, “Where there’s a will, there’s a Wally!” Who would have thought that a teenager’s sign-making business would grow into something so substantial and important to so many people? It makes sense, though, because, like those double-sided signs that Wally painted in his youth, his life was marked on both sides: “here and hereafter.” This was the mark made by His Creator and Redeemer, whose Life he served and celebrated.

Wally died on April 1, but he was no fool. As the late missionary Jim Elliot wrote in his journals, “He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to keep what he cannot lose.” Near the end of his life, Wally joked that he was being “recalled” by his Maker; he knew that his life was a gift, and he used that gift to celebrate and rejoice in his Creator every day.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stray Cat Syndrome

My reflections from the cottage in October, closing up for winter.

Gorgeous reds and yellows greet me mile after mile along the lakeshore and into the deepest woods. Eight deer graze outside my window. To protect my hostas, I step onto the deck and clap loudly, authoritatively. They pause and look up as if to say, “Thanks for the standing ovation!” and continue nibbling.

In addition to soaking up God’s fall genius at every turn, I love writing here because it somehow downsizes the demands of deadlines. There is, however, one problem: my internet service has been prematurely disconnected. My request for a winter service stoppage to begin on November 1 started on October 1. My provider’s 24-7 service plan sent my pleas for help across the world where English is not the primary language, and I’ve gotten nowhere. Panic, frustration, and embarrassment drove me to be proactive on my own behalf. In fact, it changed me from a content, happy person into a kind of aggressive, obstreperous, discouraged one. I looked the same, so it was deceiving to others, but I felt the symptoms growing with each passing day.

It’s not that I’m addicted to the computer; it’s just that my computer is my lifeline when I telecommute. I cannot send documents without it from the north woods. Other cottagers are not usually there this late in the season, and I hadn’t been sure if there was anyone around to help me. But I arrived back at the cottage one night and noticed lights on down the line, so I called Nini, whom I barely know. She was kind enough to let me in and share a cup of tea, some good conversation, and her computer. Lovely. I slept well that night; of course I didn’t know then that I would be three out of four days without my lifeline.

Another cottager, Deb, was enjoying her quiet, blissful fall up North, and my need for an internet connection led me to her as well. Deb plays piano and leads music at Michigan retreats for me, but we didn’t know each other that well. That first day when I asked if I could use her cottage WiFi, she replied, “Fine, come on in!” We even went out to lunch afterwards. I offered to drive, to which Deb relied, “Phyllis, I’ve never driven with you before!” You don’t know someone until you’ve let them behind the wheel, come to think of it. She took me to her favorite haunt for great soup and a visit that set us on the road to stronger friendship – conversation over soup does that (See the recipe for Peanut Soup that’s to die for in the December e-newsletter). When we came back, I used her computer again, for just a bit.

So far so good. Deb said to “come by anytime” for my computer fix. I, by nature, do not like to drop in on people, but I had become the stray cat. Necessity drove me to her door, not one but three more times. Once, she left me in her cottage while she ran errands. Another time she had the table set for dinner guests – talk about barging in! But my producer was waiting for an interview, and Deb’s wireless connection was the only way to get it to her.

This stray cat story does not mention two computer visits to the local pastor and two more to the local library, which is in the firehouse and rarely open. There was that other time I got online at a friend’s while I waited for a car tune up and then again at the actual car repair shop where they had a computer!

By this time, I needed a computer-dependence support group. But finally the day to reconnect my cottage to the world arrived. I was told to expect a tech rep some time between 8 and 10 a.m. I had an important piece that needed to be emailed back to my producer by 10:15 a.m. at the latest, so I was nervous. At 10:00, the tech guy was still a no show, and I had to make the dreaded tech call. While I was on hold for them to track down my tardy support rep, I heard an ad for a character dubbed “America’s Favorite Serial Killer” four times. It’s some kind of TV show, lauded by reviewers. I did not know we had a favorite serial killer; I also didn’t appreciate that concept floating in my head while solo in the northern woods.

The tech guy couldn’t be found, and they were so sorry. So off I trekked to Deb’s, the same day as her dinner party, though fortunately before any guests arrived. I sat there, my laptop on her placemat, fingers flying to be out as fast as I could. On her way out the door for a last minute errand, she gave me a big hug and said, “Phyllis, it’s great to see you. I have to run, but have a great winter. See you next summer!” What great boundaries, I thought. She’s subtly letting me know that enough is enough, without saying, “Please be gone when I get back!”

I had not planned to spend time with Deb, Nini, or the Pastor this fall, and they certainly had not planned for me to park at their computers. I felt like a stray cat roaming from one “feed” to another. It was embarrassing, humbling, and stressful. It also threw me onto the mercy and grace of others. They modeled it beautifully. I pray to be sensitive to recognize stray cats like me when they come my way. Those who were kind to me had no idea how difficult it was for me to ask. In the end, even though I don’t want to have to do that again, I felt taken in, cared for, and respected.

Looking back, it seems that since we’re created in the image of our Creator God, this is part of who He is. He is all things. He takes me in, cares for me every day in every way, whether I know it or not. He loves doing that and loves my “Thank you so MUCH!” response. I don’t have to question whether He’ll feed me or connect me with the power I need to get through the day. His connection with me is secure, unbreakable, and without end because of the faith He’s given me in His Son, Jesus Christ. There are no stray cats in Christ’s view. His WiFi is “Walk in Faith issued!” Knock on His door; it’s always open!

Always be kind one to another… 1 Th 5:15

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hope for Grieving Children: Africa

There’s a remarkable outreach to orphans and street kids in Zambia, led by Dick Matteson, a clinical psychologist and educator and also an ordained Methodist minister. My friend Tony Stephens of Chicago introduced me to Dick’s work and I want you to know about this, too. They feed one meal of porridge to more than 350 orphans a day, ages 5-19. Educational and recreational programming and individual counseling are also provided.

Dick partners with local pastors and volunteers to train staff in the delicate process of showing compassion to children who have lost everything, including their parents. Their loss is overwhelming, yet they respond in amazing ways to the opportunities afforded them. Teachers note how, in spite of their hunger, the children are enthused to be in school! Hope for Grieving Children is a non-governmental organization, funded solely on donations at this point, bringing hope to the hopeless through their devotion to the mandate of Christ to “do unto the least of these as you would do unto me.” For further information go to hopeforgrievingchildren.org .

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Letter

In September I was flat against the wall with deadlines, working on retreat plans for 350 women over two weekends, wanting to visit with a few friends before summer’s end, plus routine stuff. I felt frustrated enough to pour out my frustration in a letter to God. It ended up being a sacred moment with a sense of humor. Here’s exactly what happened!

"Dear God,

I look out the window at the beckoning beach and white-capped waves and want to experience you out there. But I’m too caught up experiencing you in here on my laptop, writing and planning ways to bring you to women! I don’t want to miss what you have for me here. But it’s ok with me if you want to pause in the pouring out of your insights for a second, so I can catch you on the flipside, so to speak, without being flippant!"

Of course little Bible verses popped into my head, like, “Come away with me.” The funny part was that the minute I wrote “Dear God,” this little paper clip guy appeared on the screen with, “It looks like you’re trying to write a letter. Would you like help?” He even gave me two options: Get help with writing the letter, or just write the letter without help. I’ll just write it myself; I don’t think you’d understand. Hey, you never know who’s watching!

It did help to write the letter. I left God inside with my inspired deadline materials and enjoyed Him outside on the beach, walking with friends. He can do that you know, be everywhere at once. When I got back and started working on deadlines again, sure enough, I had renewed energy and clarity. I give Him credit for that, too!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Seattle Committee

This is me, with the Seattle Ranch Retreat Committee! You can read about it in the November issue of my E-Newsletter.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I’ve flown a lot this month and aside from noticing how it isn’t like it “used to be;” i.e. all flights packed, more cranky people, no freebies, no pillows, pay-per-bag, it went well. I got from here to there and appreciated the lift! Years ago, the first time the TSA folks dissembled my suitcase and left their notification card I thought, “Hey, that’s my stuff you’re rummaging through!” After that, you find that search paper in there and you “deal.” I was tagged pretty regularly for a while. I remember my daughter-in-law feeling assaulted in Traverse City, MI (of all places) flying back to the UK from their holiday at the cottage. That rude awakening left her in tears--and she’s an experienced world traveler.

That’s when I realized TSA personalities are as variable as in any other profession. TSA can stand for 'To Secure Admirably' or 'Take Some Advantage.' Or worse. I’ve come up with some of those. This month in Seattle, the TSA gentleman checked my ticket and smiled, “Have a great day!” I told him that was at the top of my list. A few nice agents almost make up for the missing horseradish, face cream and manicure scissors I’ve forfeited. I’ve never been as bothered, though, as one woman in line behind me who had to give up her new fragrance and makeup to a TSA agent who got an earful about how she knew his wife would love it, all of it!

My least favorite is over-weight baggage. It sends sane people to the floor tossing items between bags, frantically stuffing underwear and shoes in their pockets, rushing to buy another bag for the extra pounds. I once offered to stash some college kid’s stuff in my carry-on just till we got to the destination. Her look said, “Uh, no!” Apparently timing is everything with random acts of kindness!

I compare this to my “baggage” when I come before God, which I do pretty regularly. He invites that. I lay my baggage at His feet…not literally, you know what I mean. I pour it out in words; confess it in sobs, sit there speechless. I don’t know where to toss the extra “stuff.” No one offers random acts of kindness to carry it for me. I know He puts all of it through His security check. Then I realize, there’s no long line. He does it out of love for me. His TSA stands for 'Total Surrender Accepted!' When God goes through my baggage, He doesn’t toss anything without replacing it with something better. I bring in the trials of my life. He matches me up with a way through to the other side. It’s called “The Great Exchange.” In fact, He looks through His scanner, His security check, sees my rebellion to His ways, called “sin,” and offers to exchange all of that for what Christ did for me on the cross. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the Big TSA Deal “To Save Always.” Without faith in that, also a gift from Him, I can’t get through His security line at all. But with that, I waltz through, skip through, free of overweight baggage! Helping me see the Truth of what’s going on in my life is one of His “calling cards.” Something like the long narrow TSA piece of paper left in luggage. But His “calling card” leaves relief and offers His forgiveness for the mess I’ve made or am in. Nice trade off for extra baggage, don’t you think?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Hokey Pokey

This summer I happened upon a really neat bumper sticker. By the time I found my camera, the guy had driven off. So no visual, but here’s what I saw: “The Hokey Pokey…What if that’s really what it’s all about?”

With so much seeming hocus pocus surrounding the economic issues of the day - the talking heads, the Fannies and the Freds, the locals and the Feds - it’s apparent some of the ladders we climbed were leaning against the wrong wall. So do we give up climbing? Don’t think so. No matter what mess we’re in now, this sets us up to be so much wiser in the next round.

Ready to push the panic button over your 401(k) or your mortgage crisis? Before you hit that button, please seek good counsel and take it to the Lord in prayer. (Stay tuned to Woman to Woman® in the weeks ahead for this. For now, go back and listen to the calm of Mary Hunt’s voice of experience on living below your means. She could have wiped out when she was over $100,000 in debt, but she turned it around in small, simple ways, as she shares with us.)

The Bible tells us that with Christ, all things are like new. I’m not saying Jesus will kiss it and make it better or turn your Kleenex into fresh dollar bills. I just know from personal experience that waiting on the Lord calms me down and drives me to think more clearly about my dilemma. Gather the data you need to make the wisest decision possible, trust the Lord with the outcome, and take the steps necessary to right the wrongs; that’s a winning combination. So much better than the panic button!

Remember, you’re not in this alone!

Monday, October 13, 2008

My First Mammogram

Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings back memories of my first mammogram. I pretended this was no big deal, routine baseline and all of that. I chalked it off as worth it and checked it off as done. The doctor would call if he saw anything out of the ordinary. I was quite content to be “ordinary.” With no family history of cancer, I promptly forgot about it and threw myself into November, including Thanksgiving dinner for 15 a few weeks later. Plenty to be thankful for….Nannie, age 90, all the way down to our Sarah who was 3. We each placed a kernel of corn into the dish passed around with our statement of thanks. I had a whole cob of thanks; my life was so beautifully full as a wife and mom and community and church volunteer!

Each guest left full of good food and fellowship and a generous helping of “leftovers.” With the last dish finally put away, I sank into my pillow happily exhausted, knowing I could “sleep in” the next morning! The phone next to the bed rudely changed that plan! It was my doctor. “Good morning, Phyllis, how was your Thanksgiving?” Now my doctor and I have never chatted about Thanksgiving nor any other holiday, and I’m kind of wondering if this is a dream…but I come up with, “It was wonderful…, yours?”

This was weird. Instead of the questions I usually rattled off for him, we’re talking about Thanksgiving. It was short lived. “I have some bad news for you. I’m looking at your mammogram and I don’t like what I see.” “WHY are you calling me the day after Thanksgiving? I had those tests weeks ago.” “I didn’t want to ruin your Thanksgiving.” “Ok…now what?” I would take the huge x-rays (yes, this was some years back) to a breast cancer specialist. I had lined up the highly acclaimed surgeon he recommended to address a women’s group about early detection that fall. That eased my angst somewhat.

My “wake up” call opened a whole new world, one into which many of you have ventured even further than I. The x-rays, the doctor told me, revealed a “highly suspicious mass.” What does that mean? He had worked in this field for decades and said it looked like cancer. I would need a breast excision. I was fairly stoic, not just because I don’t like to cry in front of strangers, but because the doctor didn’t seem too upset and his nurse had come with him to my women’s group and was very sweet and encouraging. I walked out to the car holding up the big brown x-ray envelope to block Niagra Falls and drove straight to my husband’s office where he said a prayer. I was pretty scared. This was all relatively new to me. One out of 10 women at that time were experiencing the same thing. But I didn’t know them.

Little did I know how many doors this dilemma would open. My pastor suggested “laying on of hands” to my women’s Bible study group. It’s not something we do all that much in our church, but he knew about it because years before he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. His church-school kindergarten teacher had shared her insights on the Biblical concept of “laying on of hands.” The day before surgery, they took the final x-rays. The tumor was gone. Of course, that got his attention!

He explained this was not twisting God’s arm, demanding special privilege, but rather pulling out all the stops, as it were, asking for strength for me to trust Him for whatever it would be, for the doctor’s hands and mind to be guided, etc. Just a few women were comfortable enough to place their hands on my head or shoulder to say a Bible verse and pray as I sat in a chair in the front of the room. I didn’t “feel” anything. But I was thankful to be prayed for, that’s for sure.

The next week I entered the hospital for outpatient surgery, chose local anesthetic and spent hours in the very cold section for pre-op procedures. This was not my favorite part. After having four children, you’d think I’d be used to exposing myself to people in white. Not. I was assigned a nursing instructor and one of her students from the minute I entered the process to the minute I left the building. This was a surprise, but then I had no choice and the whole thing was a surprise, so bring it on. I actually paid no attention to these two women as they pleasantly took notes and observed. I thought of it as kind of donating your body to science, but beforehand.

I was on pins and needles while having pins and needles put in place to pinpoint the incision location. Each room, each technician, each long wait in such a cold area seemed interminable. I was somewhere between “I can’t believe this is happening – Get me out of here- and Lord, you promise to be with me always….this would be a good time for that, right here and now.” I repeated Bible verses I had memorized, especially “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love and of power and of a sound mind.” My mind needed that verse more than any other part of my body.

Time for surgery. They wheel me in on a table, give me the local, surround the area with a tent-like apparatus and I am aware of the doctor doing what he does. In a while he says the mass does not look malignant after all, but that tests will tell. I’m back in my dressing room, receive post-op recovery instruction and am told my husband is waiting. I’m free to go home. But not before the nursing instructor and her student stand before me wide-eyed. I’d nearly forgotten they were there, except to feel them in an ethereal sense, almost like white garbed guardian angels. “Thank you for allowing us to be with you,” the instructor spoke softly. “Oh, thank YOU, for accompanying me,” I replied. She continued, “We’ve done this many times for the class we’re teaching right now and we’ve never seen anyone so calm throughout the experience. Most women break at some point, which is normal. You never wavered.” “Oh dear, if you only knew,” I told them. “I was very frightened, actually. I just kept taking my fear to the Lord in prayer. So what you saw was what He did with and for me. I’m glad we were all there to see it!”

It did turn out to be benign. I have faced other situations even more fearful than the breast cancer scare. Into each one I’ve carried the lesson I learned from those moments: to trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. He directs me in the way I should go. Whatever you’re facing right now…, illness, weakness in another area of your life…my prayer for you is to take it to Him, lay it at His feet. He comes to you with answers, with options, with hope and comfort and peace. You can read about my friend Gigi’s breast cancer story this month in my E-Newsletter. You can also get additional breast cancer resources here. Do you know what I’m talking about? Send me your story. Do you want to know more? Send your request.

Remember, you’re not in this alone!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Breast Cancer Resources

Be sure to check out the Stories of Hope about breast cancer. You can find other resources and also read an article here about how breast cancer can run in families. Check it out!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Write it Up! Your Thanksgiving Story, That is!

Here's a chance to share your thankful heart with me and perhaps with people around the world. Send me your favorite Thanksgiving story by Oct 30. The November issue of my E-Newsletter is about living in Thanksgiving mode.

Have you had an experience or encounter with something or someone that’s transformed your thinking on thankfulness? Now, rather than take things for granted, do you receive things with gratitude? What makes you thankful and why? I’ll enjoy reading your memories and insights. Be sure to let me know if I can publish your story in the E-Newsletter; and if I can publish your name or if you'd prefer to remain anonymous.

Write it up!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Meeting the Author

Kori Sosnowy Voorhees, who wrote God Loves Lucy and So Do I! met me at Cupcakes Royale on California in Seattle for a cup of tea and, but of course, cupcakes! Delicious eats...icing to write home about...and a great visit with Kori, about whom you'll hear more from me! Stay tuned.....

Monday, September 29, 2008

How Do You Gauge What's Left in Your Tank?

Oh yeah…this September, I was meeting deadlines and ready to head up to Michigan to lead two retreats with Dick Swenson, MD and Elise Arndt at Camp Arcadia! By the time I pack the car… I’m tossing files and food into paper bags. Want to hit the road. I skip filling up the gas tank to save time. An hour later I’m tooling along Route 55 North to Chicago at a decent clip, making great time, just outside of Lincoln, IL. As I pass an 18-wheeler I start to slow down and he keeps going. Did my engine die? The car only has 45,000 miles. I pulled to a stop, just inches off the road. My car’s control panel assured me of 89 miles left in the tank! Was it the battery? After 15 minutes of trying to start up, I was starting to give up. A concerned State Police Officer approached. “Are you out of fuel?” I pointed to the gauge…89 miles. “Do you feel safe? Have you called for help?” Well, “I guess I feel safe…with YOU standing there! Do you think it’s safe being this close to the highway while I wait?” He, “You should be fine.” So I waved cheerily, “ I know you have bigger fish to fry…thanks for stopping.”

I had doubts about how safe I was when, for 90 minutes, tons of trucks brushed past, shaking my car. It was like sitting on one of those vibrating motel beds we put a quarter into when we were kids. Inside my head questions and answers were vibrating, too! Was I safe, really? “Be anxious for nothing.” I thanked God for guardian angels. This scenario could have turned out differently if my car had died with a truck barreling down on me, for instance. What a total waste of TIME! Don’t miss the moment, there’s a lesson here. What if my tank was empty? Why didn’t I fill up like I always do before a trip because it’s cheaper at home and saves time in the end? That debate took up a good part of the wait! Should I get out and walk into the thistles and milkweed full of flying things? No. Make that nnn—n-n-n-no o o…I’m vibrating, remember? So I took a little nap, practicing tips from the sleep deprivation show. I’d be up really late anyway, with this delay, and needed to be sharp enough to anticipate Michigan deer at midnight!

At last, the tow truck arrives…borrowed from the set of “Cars!” The guy hoists my car. I hop into the front seat like hundreds of smokers had in similar situations on the side of the road. Hey…breathe smoke or stay by the road…easy choice. The driver had done this for 23 years, and knew his stuff. We get to the garage, now open for only 20 more minutes. No motel next door. I mentally plan to spend the night in my tilted back front seat. Maybe they could haul me back to the side of Route 55 to get that motel bed vibrato feeling…just ‘til morning!

I love helpful people who know and like their jobs! This garage was full of ‘em! During the 15 minutes I sat in the waiting area, I learned the unbreakable rule that I could not use their office computer (as much as they wanted to break the rule). A friendly office woman explained if I had to stay overnight for repairs, they would take me across town to a motel. When she discovered my Michigan destination, she put two and two together and came up with the Woman to Woman® show! She brought her husband into the waiting area to meet me. He said someone else had broken down on the highway two weeks before headed to Arcadia, MI and he’d asked if they knew me. Yes, they did. And of all things, here I was. Wasn’t that remarkable? In two weeks to have that happen! I agreed. We were having a good ole time in the garage waiting room expecting any minute to hear about my car. At last, a good natured chap entered, “Mrs. Wallace, I have good news and I have bad news.” Bad news: The discriminating sensor is malfunctioning. It’s a prejudiced sensor failing to play fair with the other sensors. The good news: all you need is a fill up because you’re on empty, but your gauge didn’t know that. Have a nice trip! And don’t believe your gauge until you can have it replaced.

What a relief and not a dime spent…thanks to the warranty up to 50,000 mi. My little nap carried me over into the wee hours. I did fuel up a lot on the way! The gauge is now replaced and I fill up before trips. I trust the gauge, but I don’t run it as low as I used to. Funny thing. I actually enjoy travel more now!

How’s your gauge? Cutting it close between departure and arrival? What are you trusting on the way to your destination? Guesswork? Blind luck? Things’ll work out? It’s all up to me? If you’re ignoring close calls, check your gauge. If you get sidelined, don’t panic. I have a phone number for you, not the one I called for a tow. But it will do that, too! It’s God’s phone number! At least that’s how I used to describe it to my kids. A really smart man in the Bible named Jeremiah, wrote down this advice from God to people stuck on empty, with broken gauges. “Call on Me in the day of trouble and I will answer you and tell you many things which you do not know!”

If your gauge needs replacing, I hope you run into friendly, helpful types who know what they’re doing and like it! Stay tuned to Woman to Woman and keep coming back to this blog and my website for fillups and gauge checks! Mainly, call God’s phone number. He doesn’t hang up on you. His 'God Squad' of angels do His bidding in your behalf. He even clears your mind when you’re on empty about what to do.

I’m coming off a Summer that filled up my “tank!” My “gauge” is accurate. As I head into Fall and Winter, I’d like to sustain that secure feeling of being filled up! I’ve exercised outdoors, hung out with friends I only see in Summer, enjoyed picking/buying/preparing/ putting up fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve intentionally sat by a lake in the quiet of the morning or in the setting sun to ponder Bible verses and talk with God and ultimately to be quiet and listen to the thoughts He sends back into my head. Can I do this in Fall and Winter? The variables change. Outdoor exercise..not so much. Friends, lake, abundance of fresh fruit/veggies lessens. But the variable of “God with us!” doesn’t change. He’s always there to set my gauge and fill my tank with whatever is needed to fuel my situation. After all, we’re not in this alone!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Yesterday I was kind of nonplussed by some encouraging magazines stuffed in a rack next to the T.P. in the women’s restroom at work. Not just placed on the ledge by the mirrors, but in the actual stall. Who put it there? Someone who longed for the 'good ole days' with an outhouse and the Sears Roebuck catalogue? I glanced at it and immediately felt kind of guilty, like when my mom would mail me articles in the mail because she knew I needed to know. Or probably like my kids feel when I forward e-mails! But in the bathroom stall…at the office? What is wrong with this picture? If we start reading in the bathroom stalls at work …then what? HR will be forced to hide cameras, time clocks or washroom monitors in there to be sure we don’t stall so long we miss work time.

I don’t want to be insensitive about this. I’m sure the intentions were pure. But I can’t even imagine taking time to read in the bathroom at home because it would stall my life! So at the office? No way. Do I just not “get it?” Another reason to revisit Dick Swenson’s hugely popular June Woman to Woman® shows, “Take a Load Off.” Riveting observations on how we choose to use our time. Reading in the office jon!?

Well, there was that time when as a single girl I worked for AT&T #1 N. Wacker Drive in Chicago! I studied guitar in Old Town and the only time I could practice was at work on my lunch hour. Where did I go? To the ladies room, of course. It was private. Thirteenth floor…really quiet. And the echo made me feel like a pro! Yeah, it was kind of weird when women would come in and I’d take my guitar outside in the hall and pretend like I was waiting to scrub the floors in there. You know what…maybe it’s not too strange to read something encouraging in the restroom at work? As long as it’s on your lunch hour!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seminar Suggestion

Here's a seminar that could be a plus for your life right now! I don't know Alicia, but I do know Mary Ann Turner, their event planner, and she pulls together the people and the knowledge to energize your faith walk and bring in into the "what-if's" and "if-only" of life! Visit the speaker's website and see if it looks like a match!

Journey with Jesus: A Day of Refreshment for Women. October 25 from 8:00am to 3:30pm, hear speaker/author Alicia Britt Chole; giving three talks. There will be workshops, breakouts, continental breakfast and lunch included. The fee for the entire day is $25.00 per person or $45.00 for two. ( Bring a friend!) For more information, contact Mary Ann Turner at 618 257-2458.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"Indian Tree"

This is the "Indian Tree" on Lake Michigan I referred to in my e-newsletter. It's 100+ years old. Tradition suggests Native Americans bent it to point to the water, like many trees on the trail leading up to it.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sleeping Bear Dunes

This is a picture of my son and his family at the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

In my July E-newsletter, the A Little Think article was about the Sleeping Bear Dunes. If you missed that article, you can find it here.

After reading my article, my daughter-in-law, Katie wrote to say; "The wait was worth it! Much better in the daylight! What an incredible expanse of natural beauty at your finger tips. After the drive through the National Forest we had to climb to the top of Sleeping Bear or at least to the second hill from the parking lot. God has created an enormous sand box and I loved playing in it with my family on a sunny Michigan afternoon."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You Don't Know...

Spontaneity can be either my curse or my blessing. A friend gave me a little kitchen sign that reads, “I am subject to bursts of enthusiasm.” I know being everybody’s cheerleader can be annoying, but it’s in my DNA, so I’ll probably stick with it!

I figure YOU DON’T KNOW... "unless." Like this week, when our grass needed mowing, my husband was really busy at the office and I saw the lawn mowing service in the neighborhood. I thought about it, really pondered it and decided it was a little odd, but I walked across the street and watched the guy standing on the big mower going up and down my neighbor’s hill. He had to see me, I was right there-- but no acknowledgement. Should I leave and pretend I just wanted a close up of his mower? Finally he turned down his engine, stepped off his mower, politely irritated to have broken his momentum.

I broke into a song and dance about would he be willing to simply mow one little section of our front yard so my husband could see what it looked like in case he ever needed help? I’d pay for it. Ok, he’d swing by when he finished the neighbor’s.

By the time he got over to our place I’d grabbed some Queen Anne cherries picked two days earlier! Yep…I walked over with the box to thank the guy and tell him he’d done enough. But wait….he wanted to do the whole side yard. He really did. No money. I held out the cherries, “Washed, from Michigan. “Where in Michigan?” Arcadia. “I grew up in Manistee!” And we were off and running. In fact it was so much fun to talk about Michigan, that we both forgot we were standing in Collinsville, IL “The horseradish Capitol of the World.”

By the time we compared Light House and fishing village stories, his two buddies had joined us for cherries and conversation. The whole thing took about 10 minutes, plus 15 to mow the yard. But out of it came a good feeling of helping out on their part and a grateful feeling of being helped on mine. A connection was established for... who knows what. They really enjoyed the cherries and I really appreciated them. We connected on a kindness level.

The side yard looked great; mowed, blown off, trimmed. They left their business card and I hoped my husband would call. He noticed, but actually mowed it over next day and said he needs the exercise. So my surprise was not for him at all. It was for me and a few young men who probably needed some Queen Anne’s to feel a bit like royalty for a few minutes in my front yard as I raved over their work. I‘ll see them again. I’ll refer them to other yard owners. Who knows where else that spontaneity on my part and theirs will lead? God has these little appointments waiting for us. They do pass if you let them. What good does it do? YOU DON’T KNOW... unless.

Friday, August 15, 2008

What's Up with That?

It’s a pretty sure bet that kids and teens constantly using cell phones put themselves at risk from the side effects of radio frequency radiation. Good luck getting your under eight kids to only use a cell phone for emergencies, and teenagers to cut down their calls to less than 10 minutes. Logic does not always prevail. Along that line, today I saw about 20 kids playing dodge ball on a tennis court with their camp counselors. Fun! Then I saw their footwear. Flip flops… on concrete courts. What about foot support and tripping on the court? I file it under “I don’t get it!”

It’s like women, us, wearing flip flops all day as a fashion statement. I think, “stupid.” But I proudly pranced in spike heels the last time they were “in,” to work in downtown Chicago. I strutted from the Chicago and Northwestern commute to 1 North Wacker Drive in those things thinking I was so “hot!”. Did I mention Crocs, which are a totally fun look, but why, for any length of time (like all day)…would one stuff their feet into plastic? This is when I feel really old…when I just don’t “get it!”

What do you think... what’s up with that?

Monday, August 4, 2008

My Olympic Event

My summer Olympic Event is going on right now! 17 of our family are in The Cottage, welcoming its 4th generation in Michigan. Getting here is both exhilarating and exhausting. Fuel prices aside, 4 come from the UK, minus luggage, which every year ends up in limbo upon arrival or departure. Fun with 4 and 2 year olds! 4 different States are represented as well. And 17 different personalities, needs, expectations and contributions!

We enjoy traditions passed down through the years. Like who can spot the church steeple first while driving into town on M-22 or making footprints of each child's first summer in wet concrete along the driveway. My kids finally confess their youthful antics, now that they have kids. I'm glad I didn't know! We challenge each other's "elephants" in the living room! Good times. Growing times.

I no longer try for the perfect vacation here, like the perfect Christmas. I get my clue from the Bible verse, "Times of refreshing come from the Lord!" It can be anywhere anytime. I simply want this cottage to be a haven of safety and peace. I want weary travelers through life to pause here and be free to be who they are without apology. Maybe even for them to be smoothed like the rocks in Lake Michigan get smooth by bumping against each other in the waves. The calm always follows the storm. My heart is gladdened by the love and respect our four adult children show one another. I delight in seeing their children interact, most of the time! All of them visit other parts of the world, but The Cottage beckons with wondrous awe.

Is it because it's the land of their beginnings? Is it the awesomeness of living right on Lake Michigan's unpredictable shoreline, seagulls swooping, fish eluding, sunset setting, night star covered location? Yes, partly. But even more it's roots...being rooted in family, the parts that work and those that don't...yet! It's using my mom's rolling pin and Fiestaware and remembering our my conversations with my folks sitting by the water's edge, floating, fishing and skiing on it.

When our kids were little, my sister and I shared the cottage. When we're expanded to 12 people our parents announced, "We're going to build next door and you guys can come over for pancakes on Saturdays!" Which we did...with lots of daily visits thrown in! My sister and I, with 7 children between us, marked cans and cereals with our initials and had fun sharing the old cottage. We gave each other space and helped each other out. One time I was dashing off to play tennis and noticed my sister's laundry in the washing machine. I thoughtfully tossed it in the dryer. Later she told me the laundry load had only paused after the pre-rinse cycle! Big help that was!

Send me your Olympic summer event! Let me know if I can share it on this page. I know there are plenty of stories going on out there. Send pictures, too! Whether your "event" is organized chaos like ours with the feeding of the 17 three times a day plus snacks while soaking up a few moments of Great Lakes glory...or something else....enjoy the "event." It will soon be a memory, part of the heritage you pass on. It's your opportunity to take home a medal on this one. There are no losers in seasonal celebrations like summertime!