Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lighten Up!

Lightening makes people do strange things. It helped Thomas Edison discover electricity, and it made a priest out of Martin Luther. It can split huge trees, dance on water and strike your car without hurting you. It can also scare you out of your wits when you’re little, at least it did that years ago to our Brooks who was fearless in the face of just about everything else at age five. Now we have James, also 5, in the family and he’s Brooks all over again. One bolt and he’s down the hall diving between his parents in bed.

This summer, we went with James’ family to Grant’s Farm, a wildlife preserve on the land once owned by Ulysses S. Grant. While I noticed the ominous storm clouds moving in, James was too busy feeding the goats and delighting in the Galapagos turtles to notice them. Nothing was said until the obvious happened -- the gates of heaven opened and poured out 3 inches of water in 30 minutes. We were annoyed that our umbrellas were in the car, but then again, the water wasn’t the real concern; it was the lightening that stopped us in our tracks. Our only options were to stand under trees or beneath a metal roof over an animal staging area. Let’s see, metal roof or trees. We opted for the sturdier, albeit metallic, overhang. Every four minutes, an automated announcement would calmly apologize, “The bird show has been cancelled due to inclement weather, until further notice.” The adults faked bravery for the kids’ sake, but we were all shaking as the lightening struck around us -- but not on us and not on our shelter, thank the Lord. Six of us, two being 5- and 3-years-old, stood wide-eyed hoping to avoid the eye of the storm, which had to be out there somewhere. After about ten minutes, James piped up with great bravado, “I can’t believe it!” Believe what, James? “I just learned I can stand right in the rain with the lightening and not be afraid. It’s amazing!”

It is amazing! On this day for James, being surrounded by loving adults who were not bothered by bolts and sounds, who chattered and laughed just like normal right through it, calmed his fears. It's one more way God’s love works, eh?

I heard a radio announcer the other day say that he’s still scared of the dark and just as afraid to admit it to other people. Fear can be fierce and tenacious; just try to convince the person -- little or big -- that thunder and lightening are just God moving the furniture or that they won’t be scared forever. When you’re afraid, conquering that fear seems a formidable challenge, but His love allows us to remove that fear. As 1 John 4:18 reminds us, “There is no fear in love. Perfect loves drives out fear.” The next time you shiver in your shoes in the lightening or face whatever strikes fear into your heart, ask God for His perfect love to drive out that fear. It will put a fresh face on the expression “lighten up!”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Really? Who knew?

My friend wasn’t home when I called, so I left a message on her voice mail last week. I have no idea what I said, but the next day I loved her response: “Your voicemail yesterday was so bright and cheerful it made me think, ‘I can take on this day, it’s going to be OK!’ Just hearing your voice energized me. Thank you!”

It energized me when she said that. It sure wasn’t my energy that day. Seriously, I wasn’t having that great of a day myself; it wasn’t a bad day, just an ordinary, lots to do, lots of interruptions day. But hearing how my message affected her, I wanted to do that again for someone. How easy is it, to be upbeat and cheerful -- not silly over-the-top inappropriately slam-dunk vociferous, but pleasant and uplifting and assuring. I’d like to be that kind of woman, and apparently I was... without knowing it. How does that happen? And how can I be that woman more consistently and more purposefully?

I found a clue in the Bible. It turns out that God put us in relationships with each other, even strangers we meet in passing, for all kinds of reasons. We don’t have to know what’s going on in someone’s life. In fact, we can’t always and shouldn’t always know, because it would be too heavy to carry all of that weight around. But what we can do is help others lighten their loads. Proverbs 12:25 tells us: “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.”

There we have it. Have a kind word for everyone, yeah even that one woman who drives you nuts! How hard can it be, and how much it could cheer the person up! It happened for me when I left a voicemail. Good grief, I bet it could happen “in person” as well! Let’s try it and see. In either case…voice mail or “in person,” they’ll get the message! So now I know how it happened that day when I called my friend and left words that energized and cheered her up. It wasn’t my energy; it was His! I love when that happens. So does He!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Older But Wiser

The recent “Older But WiserWoman to Woman® show reminded me how aging smooths out when we stay connected through relationships and activity. We may not be quite “older but wiser” yet, but we know women who are. How can we respond to, include and affirm them? I find my older friends hesitant to articulate their needs, especially in lonely moments, so it can be difficult to know when they need me.

I grew up in a family where age was respected. We honored our elders with visits and letters and interactions, so it was natural for me to fall in step when I married into the “older but wiser” family of my husband. His parents were older than mine; his mom was already 65, a big difference when mine was 50. When I moved to my husband’s hometown, I was surrounded by smart, older women, including three of my mother-in-law’s sisters in town and two who visited frequently from out of town. They were lively, talented and interesting women who reminisced about the early 1900’s like it was yesterday. They grew up quilting and sewing, a bonus for me because “Spooky,” my mother-in-law, welcomed our mending in her sewing basket. Eventually with four kids, I had plenty of holes to patch and pants to hem, and she rejoiced in helping us with those projects. That shed a whole new light for me on helpfulness with a “servant’s spirit!”

Holidays and birthday parties were at our house and the older but wiser crowd came. My kids entertained them with their instruments and antics, but really they were just fine entertaining themselves with stories about the good old days. They were good storytellers, and we learned a lot, never knowing how much was true and how much was embellished. Everybody went home with enough favorite food to last for days, including my curried zucchini soup, which Nannie loved.

Twenty years later when the kids had all left home, I realized our social lives had pretty much revolved around the older but wiser women and two husbands who couldn’t hang on quite as long as their wives had. It was around that time at Christmas when Nannie, 94, said that she and Pickie, her 92-year-old sister, couldn’t handle the trips to our house any more. We were stunned. We thought it would never end. It didn’t bother us when Nannie’s vision faded so much that she’d try to eat the pattern off her plate. It was fine when Aunt Ada brought a “dish” of about 16 string beans because she thought they couldn’t afford any more, and we didn’t bat an eye when Spooky added grapes to her formerly fabulous potato salad. We had no problem picking them up and driving them home. But it was too much for them.

When the family gatherings stopped, I co-dependently tried to do “parties to go,” to jolly ‘em up with my meals on wheels, with my college kids thrown in for good measure when they were home from school. “No thank you,” the aunts said. When it was over, it was over.

I think it was a lot harder on me than anyone, and they weren’t even my aunts. I thought for a long time that since I was the most shaken, no one else got as much as I did out of these visits. But I see now that, as a result of those times with the sisters, our grown children genuinely enjoy spending time with their own “older but wiser” people. They all live out of town now, but I notice how they find the elderly in their neighborhoods and churches and take their kids to visit them, even though they’re not family. They’ve even invited them to family birthdays and holidays.

I’m guessing that some day -- not too long from now -- when I am the “older but wiser” one, I may be blessed to reap what I have sown in my own; it’s part of what makes me look forward to growing old. And, oh the stories I will tell at their tables! Did I really meet Art Linkletter and Miss Americas and host a radio show and make my own jams and cook from scratch and live along Lake Michigan? The younger ones will have to guess which stories are true and which have been embellished!

When we live life with honor and respect for those ahead of us on the journey, it sets a good example and it brings deep satisfaction to us and to those we honor. It pleases the Lord enough to bring it around when it’s our turn! As Lev 19:32 says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD!” Find the older but wiser woman in your life; it just might be the time to pick up the phone or go next door and learn what she has to teach you!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Everybody Knows That, Phyllis!

“Everybody knows That, Phyllis!” Well actually “everybody” doesn’t, but somebody does and that’s what I needed. It was a genius plan at 5 a.m. that rainy morning when I drove through a record setting downpour to the airport: the evening before I’d biked over to a friend’s with my extra key so she could pick up my car and drive it back home. My flight over Lake Michigan was delayed by a lightning storm and then we were off. Little did I know until later how “off” my perfect plan was!

It turns out you can’t lock your car with your remote key and expect the extra key to open it. I didn’t know that, obviously; did you? The person I was with at lunch when I got the call looked at me in shock. “Everybody knows that, Phyllis!” he volunteered. In fact, I learned that not only does the extra key not work, but it sets off the alarm, which then has to wear down, at which point the extra key still won’t work because the car’s in theft mode. Six hundred miles away on a Saturday, I was up a creek! Finally on Monday I learned from the car dealer that I’d have to mail the key… yada yada yada.

From my August e-newsletter “Little Think,” you may know I’m a firstborn with a component part to prove I’m right. It’s annoying and I fight it, but in this case I did ask my engineer and my senior producer at the studio if they knew about the key deal… and they didn’t! Neither did six others I asked. I won’t tell the person who doubled my guilt about this -- I’m not that much of a firstborn -- but it did ease my angst a bit!

Now this story could go on. I hope it doesn’t, but the thing is that the key should have arrived at another friend’s office in the little coastal town where the airport is located, and I have not heard from her yet. Did the key make it to her? I can only imagine the car being towed, or the battery being dead after warning of theft until the alarm wore down. I already owe the first friend who drove with her kids 30 minutes each way to the airport to come up with no car to drive back. Now I’ll owe another friend for receiving the key in an envelope. My lunch advisor would be saying right now, “Everybody knows that, Phyllis!” and he’d be right!

I’m just hoping and praying the key isn’t lost in the mail because it’s the only one of its kind. This car is 13-years-old with 94,000 miles on it, and it works great as my summer metal Clydesdale. But without the master key, that thing will become a monument right in front of the Greater Blacker Manistee Airport forever. Then I’d owe two friends, their husbands and their kids who came along to drive the other car back, plus the airport folks who have to stare at the car stuck outside their workplace. I’m thinking either homemade hot fudge sauce or black raspberry jelly. What would you do?

Stay tuned for the rest of the story, and please be forgiving of people who insist that “everybody knows that!” God knows I hardly know anything. He’s the only one who really knows everything, including where that key is and how this will turn out. The Bible tells me there’s nowhere I can go to hide from God, not to the depths of the sea or the ends of the earth. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say much about misplaced keys. But then it is the key to receiving His plans for me for good and not for evil. So however this story ends, it’ll all work out. I can count on Him for that. That’s what I need. And when nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…I know where to go! How nice it would be if everybody knew that!