Category Archives: Encouragement

PLAN F

I have a part-time job teaching English online to non-native English speakers.

My company connects me with students who want to learn English or want to improve their English skills.

I work on a platform that enables my students and me to see and speak with each other in real time.

During our lessons, I didn’t want my online students to be distracted by the bookshelves and cluttered tabletops of my home office. Therefore, with Dan’s help, I constructed a backdrop.

Now, my students see only me in front of this flowery board.

I showed it to a friend, who said she thought it was attractive.

“Well, it’s my Plan F backdrop,”  I said.

She understood what I meant.

“I know all about Plan F,” she said. “It’s where I live much of my life.”

Isn’t it the truth?

No one starts with Plan F, of course. We all start with Plan A, the one we hope will work because we consider it to be the best plan.

When Plan A fails, as it usually does, we move to Plan B. When Plan B fails, we move to Plan C, and so on.

Plan F is where I stopped working on my backdrop because, though it was not as good as Plan A, it was acceptable. Had it not been, I would have moved on to Plan G or decided my students could tolerate looking at my messy office background.

I have been fortunate in my life. Some of my Plan A’s have succeeded. My husband and I just celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary.

Many of my Plan A’s, however, have failed.

The recipe was a flop. Rabbits ate my first crop of lettuce. Editors rejected my submitted manuscript. My printer ink cartridge wouldn’t slide into place on my first three tries to insert it.

The Bible is full of examples of people who lived in the land of Plan F.

I think first of the woman Jesus met at a well in Samaria.

[Jesus] told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

The Samaritan woman was living with Plan F.

King David slept with the wife of a soldier who was away fighting the king’s battle. The woman became pregnant.

David was in trouble.

Plan A: David brought the man home for a break from military life, thinking the man would sleep with his wife. The baby the woman carried would then be thought to be her husband’s child.

But the man didn’t visit his wife during his furlough.

Plan B: David gave instructions for the man to be put at the front of the battle line so he would be killed. Then David would marry his widow and pass off the pregnancy as a legitimate one.

Plans C-D-E, etc.: Dealing with guilt. Experiencing the condemnation of a prophet. Suffering the death of a child. Moving to repentance.

Other Bible characters didn’t succeed with Plan A: Jacob, Moses, Naomi, Elijah, and the Apostle Paul, for examples.

But all those people moved forward and found success, redemption, or new passions with Plan B or C or D or . . . Z, or Plan A2, B2, C2.

Life is hard. Everyone has missed the mark on a first try.

Aren’t we blessed that our God is not a scorekeeper?

His children don’t receive demerits when they move from Plan A to Plan B.

They don’t become second-class citizens in His kingdom because of do-overs.

They don’t receive a grade of F when they move to Plan F.

In the game of life, we all strike out, miss the basket, jump the gun, step out of bounds, and commit fouls, but our Coach cheers us on.

He doesn’t give up on us.

It was to redeem us from our failure at Plan A that Jesus came to earth in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closer Through Distancing

A truth many of us have seen demonstrated in our lives is this: Anything God intends for good, Satan can make bad. Anything Satan intends for bad, God can make good.

This coronavirus plague is certainly badness at its worst. Yet, God has brought blessings from it.

People are checking on neighbors they barely know. Out of their abundance, folks are sharing with people who have needs.

Simple waves from porches hold special warmth for their recipients.

I find myself writing long, newsy emails to friends who received no more than smiley faces and virtual hugs from me before the virus.

Distancing has drawn us closer.

We need each other. We always have, but this sheltering-in-place has made that need more evident.

Maybe God is using the badness of this virus to bring some of His goodness out in us.

Listen and respond as God’s Spirit urges you during this unique time. Now, more than ever before, be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Allow this forced distancing to draw you closer to others.

BRAVO!

Dan and I enjoyed one of our best evenings of 2019 last Monday.

Our six-year-old grandson, the one I refer to online as Shine, performed in his first piano recital.

The event was held at a beautiful residential center. The room sparkled with holiday lights.

The attendees consisted of about 20 performers; parents, grandparents, and friends of those performers; and several residents of the center.

Performers’ ages ranged from about 6, like Shine, all the way through late teens.

On cue, each young pianist introduced himself or herself, announced the title of the piece, sat on the piano bench, and played.

Every performance ended with a shy bow from the performer.

Some of the pieces played lasted less than a minute. Others, from the advanced players, were longer.

The audience was enraptured.

The spectators held their collective breaths and wished each participant nothing but complete success.

After each performance, the audience applauded enthusiastically.

When Shine’s turn came, he walked hesitantly toward the grand piano at the front of the room.

In a quiet voice he faced the audience, gave his name, and announced he would be playing Spooky Halloween.

I tensed, and tears filled my eyes as he seated his small body on the bench.

His teacher had instructed him to play his short piece twice.

Shine played Spooky Halloween once. Then he halted.

He looked at his mom in the audience. She gave him a smile, a nod, and a thumbs-up.

He then looked at his teacher, who also smiled, held up her pointer finger and whispered, “One more time.”

The audience listened to the song being played again.

Shine rose, bowed, and received an approving applause.

What a picture of the way life should be: Each participant doing his or her best at a chosen honorable endeavor, and everyone else applauding and encouraging.

All the pianists were outstanding. I would award first place to each of them.

But the grand prize I give to the supporting cast, the audience.

They were spectacular.

Each of us performs individually, but life is a team sport.

 

 

 

NO

When I was growing up in rural Arkansas, my dad owned a general store. It wasn’t an impressive place, but it offered most of the things people needed.

It sat just up the road from our house. Every day at noon Dad walked home for lunch.

I don’t know that “hours of operation” were ever posted, but everyone knew when the store was open.

One old man always wanted to shop between noon and one o’clock.

He did not drive to the store because he knew the store was closed.

He drove to our house, where Dad was eating lunch.

The man didn’t park on the side of the road by our house. (We had no driveway.)

He drove his old-timey, heavy, black car up to the verge of our yard. There he sat, scowling, and waiting for Dad to come out and open the store especially for him.

From behind our living room curtains, my siblings and I watched him: an angry old man sitting in our front yard, inside a gangster car, its shiny grill aimed right at our front porch.

We kids knew (and the old grouch knew) Dad would not be intimidated.

After he finished his lunch, Dad walked back to the store, with the black car trailing him.

Dad didn’t feel obliged to meet unreasonable expectations of others. He was not a people pleaser.

For years, I had trouble refusing any request.

Early in our marriage, when Dan and I had almost no excess money, I opened the front door one day to a lightbulb salesman.

This man was selling lightbulbs guaranteed to last forever.

“These bulbs will never burn out,” he said.

I bought a box of five for $25.

I didn’t want or need the lightbulbs, but I could not find the courage to say no to the salesman.

Dan came home soon afterward. When I told him what I had done, he got back into his car, carrying the box of lightbulbs. He found the salesman, who was still peddling in the neighborhood.

Dan retrieved my $25 check and gave the lightbulbs back to the seller.

I simply have trouble telling people no.

Back when friends had parties for the purpose of selling cookware, wall art, makeup, vitamins, and the like, I went when I was invited.

I never wanted to go. Usually I found the least expensive item for sale and bought it.

I went to those parties simply to be nice.

I want to be nice, and you probably do too.

But recognize the difference between being nice and being a people pleaser.

When I am nice, my concern is for the other person. That reflects kindness.

When I am a people pleaser, my concern is for my own image. That reflects selfishness.

According to an article I found at www.learning-mind.com, being a people pleaser leads to unhealthy consequences.

  • People use you.
  • You suppress far too much.
  • Nobody will ever know the true you.
  • You have extreme pressure to keep up appearances.
  • You become a control freak.

Jesus’ concern was always for others. But a people pleaser, Jesus was not.

He spoke the truth. He carried out His God-given mission. He was not interested in being popular or enabling people to be selfish.

My mission is to serve God and other people.

This means I should say no when saying yes is harmful to the other person.

I should say no when the other person’s expectations are unreasonable.

And this is the hard one. I should say no when I am tempted to say yes simply to be a people pleaser.

LIES, ALL LIES

I am efficient. 

I am inefficient.

 

I am successful.

I am a failure.

 

I am a generous giver.

I am a thankless taker.

 

I am 100% honest.

I am a complete hypocrite.

Every one of those statements, when taken as an absolute, is a lie.

Each lie could be turned into a truth by the addition of the word sometimes.

Sometimes I am an efficient, successful, generous, and honest person.

But sometimes I am an inefficient, failing, thankless, and hypocritical person.

My adversary wants me to define myself by my performance.

If he convinces me I am always an efficient, successful, generous, and honest person, I will become prideful.

A prideful Christian is not an effective Christian and not a threat to this adversary.

If he convinces me I am always an inefficient, failing, thankless, and hypocritical person, I will become defeated.

A defeated Christian is not an effective Christian and not a threat to this adversary.

This adversary’s goal is to disable Christians.

He accomplishes his goal by telling us lies.

He is wily, this adversary.

Sly as a fox.

A roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

I’m guessing he whispers lies to you, as he does to me.

Fortunately, we have an effective weapon in our arsenal.

That weapon is the Truth.

The Truth is this:

  • Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we fail.
  • God loves us all the time.
  • God loves us because He is love.
  • God forgives us based on Christ’s performance, not on our own.

When Satan whispers lies to you, shout the Truth to him.

CANDY

Our two-year-old granddaughter, whom I call Glitter, sparkles.

Hers is a world of Lift-the-Flap books, bubbles, and baby dolls she covers with Band-Aids.

(Her grandmother is one of her chief suppliers.)

Glitter enjoys good health and a keen intelligence that are gifts from God.

Her parents love her unconditionally and provide for her everything she needs.

They give her many things, but not everything, she wants.

I was at her house the other day when she said, “Grandma, I want some of the c-word.”

“What?” I said.

“She wants candy,” her older brother said.

“We didn’t want her to know when we were talking about candy, so we started calling it the c-word. Now she calls candy the c-word too.”

The candy in their house is on a high shelf, out of Glitter’s reach.

Sometimes her parents give her candy, but sometimes they say no.

A parent who never says no is not a good parent.

As Glitter grows, her parents will continue saying no to many of her c-word requests:

No, you can’t . . .

  • Color on the living room wall.
  • Cross the street by yourself.
  • Cut your own hair.

 Later they will say, No, you can’t . . .

  • Cook on the stove when you’re home alone.
  • Copy your term paper from the Internet.
  • Consume alcohol when you’re in middle school.

After that they will say, No, you can’t . . .

  • Consume alcohol when you’re in high school.
  • Cheat on your SAT.
  • Continue living in our basement until you’re 35.

They will say no to many other things.

But one day, Glitter will decide for herself what she can do.

Her parents pray she will say no to herself, when no is the appropriate response.

Some adults never develop an inner voice that tells them no.

With no outer voice telling them no, they become self-indulgent junkies, living for the next fix.

Junkies abuse, steal, and even kill to get what they crave.

And they crave the very things that made them the sick people they are.

God anticipated this tendency in people.

That is why His Word emphasizes the importance of developing and practicing self-control.

Consider the pain suffered by these self-indulgent Bible characters, and the pain they inflicted upon other people in their lives.

  • Adam and Eve
  • Cain
  • Esau
  • Jacob
  • Moses
  • Samson
  • King David

With that epic last example, I will stop, though more names could be added.

I confess to having damaged myself and others through a lack of self-control.

You probably have too.

Don’t succumb to Satan’s temptation to be self-indulgent.

Learn to tell yourself no.

 

 

 

BEING KIND

 

Being kind is more important

Than getting things right,

Than snagging the window seat on a long plane flight.

 

Than getting that prime, much desired parking space

Another driver took right in front of your face.

 

Than getting the biggest piece of strawberry cake

Your cousin grabbed first at the picnic by the lake.

 

Being kind is more important

Than getting to have the last word

In the argument that half the neighborhood heard.

 

Than getting to correct another person’s grammar

With the grace and subtlety of a noisy sledgehammer.

 

Than getting to tell “that stupid driver” off

When he navigates a rude and intentional cutoff.

 

Being kind is more important

 Than getting the big prize,

Or having a nicer house than the other guys.

 

Than getting the acclaim of being the best,

In a world where you think everything’s a contest.

 

Than getting your mate to say, “You’re right. I was wrong.”

So he can seem weak, and you can feel strong.

 

Being kind is more important

 Than getting praise for your knowledge

From someone who missed out on going to college.

 

Than getting the promotion or winning the game

So some other person can experience some shame.

 

Than getting to be the standout queen or king.

Being kind is more important than getting anything.

 

WATER

When I was a little girl . . .

“Oh, no!” I hear readers shouting. “Not another one of her ‘When I was a little girl’ stories!”

I begin again.

When I was a little girl, I had everything I needed.

My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other people in my community loved me.

I was never without food, clothes, a clean bed, a place to go to school, books or anything else a child needs.

But I lived in an area where everyone lived on the cusp of being without one of life’s necessities: water.

I grew up in rural north Arkansas. We experienced a drought every summer.

People’s lawns were crispy instead of lush. Plants in vegetable gardens shriveled and died. Stock ponds went dry. Creeks turned into cracked beds of dirt. Lake Norfork grew wide beaches.

Every summer, the main topic of conversation was rain.

Though the sky sometimes grew dark and threatened, the rain almost always skipped over us, and watered other lawns, gardens, ponds, creeks and lakes.

My family had a “dug” well, not a “drilled” well.

Our well had been dug many years earlier by people using shovels. After the diggers reached below the level of the water table, they lined the well with stones to keep it from collapsing.

The well was then covered, and water could be drawn from it using a bucket and chain.

Many people had dug wells. Some of those wells had legends associated with them.

It was said that an angry fiancée had thrown her engagement ring into our well when her boyfriend wronged her in some way. We never saw the diamond ring. I doubt it was ever there.

Water from this well was pumped into our house to meet all our water needs, except in the summer during the inevitable drought.

Then, our well ran dry.

Every summer.

A summer drought was as certain as gravity.

Drilled wells were much deeper and were dug with powerful machines. People who had drilled wells never ran out of water.

Every summer Dad said, “I’ve got to have a well drilled.”

But he didn’t.

So, when our well ran dry, we “carried” water in barrels, washtubs, and buckets from the homes of neighbors who had drilled wells.

It was a miserable situation.

We suffered from this lack of water, especially Mom, who did all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, bathing of the children and “carrying” of the water.

My siblings and I took our baths in teacups.

When we saw a lush lawn or thriving vegetable garden in the dead of summer, we said, “Someone has watered it.”

Living things require water. Some plants and animals require less water than other plants and animals.

And, out of necessity, some people survive on less water than others.

Some form of the word water (watered, watering, etc.) appears over 600 times in the NIV Bible. (Thank you, Bible Gateway.)

In the Old Testament, the word usually refers to physical water.

In the New Testament, water is sometimes used literally.

Matthew 3:16 reads, As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.

Jesus walked on water, the disciples fished in water, a Samaritan woman went to a well to draw water, Jesus turned water into wine, Pilate washed his hands in water.

Jesus said, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward” (Matthew 10:42).

Jesus also used the word water figuratively.

“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38).

Physical water gives physical life. Spiritual water gives spiritual life.

Water is a powerful metaphor for love.

When I see happy, healthy, thriving children, I think, Someone has watered them with love.

In fact, thriving people of any age have been watered with love.

No one thrives without love.

I encourage you today to be a waterer.

Give someone a bottle of cold water.

Tutor a child.

Comfort a crying baby.

Visit a lonely neighbor.

Smile at a harried cashier.

Give over a parking space.

Share a cookie.

Water everyone you know with love.

HELD HOSTAGE BY A SEWING MACHINE

I have a long and hateful history with sewing machines.

When I was a little girl, my mother made my dresses. They were lovely works of art.

I wanted to be the seamstress my mother was.

When I was about 12, I began sewing simple dresses for my baby sister.

I was not then, am not now, and never will be the seamstress my mother was.

I once put in a zipper both upside-down and backward.

As an adult, I have approached sewing machines with trepidation.

For years I didn’t sew anything that required the use of a machine.

I was afraid of it.

I knew I would never sew again unless I obligated myself to do so.

So, I obligated myself.

I invited my 10-year-old granddaughter, Sparkle, over to make a doll dress.

That forced me to uncover the machine, set it up, and test it.

Success!

Sparkle and I made this little dress, and we both felt proud.

No longer does my sewing machine hold me hostage.

I plan to help my seven-year-old granddaughter sew a pillow.

Many of us bow to a fear of something.

Several years ago, I prepared a dinner and took it to a friend who had recently lost his wife.

I instructed him to microwave the food when he was ready to eat it.

“I can’t use the microwave,” he said. “Peggy used it all the time, but I’m afraid of the thing.”

Other people are held hostage by airplanes; deep water; loud, opinionated relatives; elevators; bullies at work; and big life changes.

These things themselves do not make one’s heart palpitate and hands tremble.

It is the fear of them

Fear kept me from my sewing machine for years.

That is what fear does.

It stops us.

Fear of navigating in downtown Indianapolis stops me driving north of Southport Road.

Fear of learning new programs prevents me from fully utilizing my computer.

At one time, I was afraid to speak in front of groups of adults.

I love the English language and relish opportunities to teach it, especially to adult learners.

Muhammad met the mountain when I was offered a position to teach at Indiana Business College in the early 1990s.

My passion for English and my desire to teach came up against my fear of speaking to crowds of adults.

My passion and desire helped me push through my fear.

I taught English grammar and composition to adults for five years.

If I develop enough passion and desire, I will overcome my fear of driving in downtown Indianapolis and of learning new skills on my computer.

When we are afraid of something, we respond in one of three ways:

  • We avoid it. (I don’t have to drive in Indy or learn new computer programs.)
  • We can get someone else to do it. (Thank goodness for friends and family.)
  • We can push past the fear and find a way to do the thing.

Maybe you fear nothing and nobody. If so, good for you.

Most of us don’t live in your world.

If you have a fear that holds you hostage, consider your options.

You have three.

 

HOW, EXACTLY?

I read many “how to” books for writers: How to Start a Blog that People Will Read (Mike Omar), Effective Magazine Writing (Roger Palms), Devoted to Writing (Nancy Robinson Masters), Pray, Write, Grow (Ed Cyzewski), Unleash the Writer Within (Cecil Murphy), and many others.

Amazon was happy to help me amass my impressive libraries, the one on my bookshelf and the one on my Kindle.

Every author offers worthwhile advice.

I discovered one of the most helpful pieces of advice while reading Crafting the Personal Essay by Dinty W. Moore. (I know. I also thought immediately of beef stew.)

On page 151 Moore writes:

Most writers–beginning and accomplished–are just too hard on themselves. Be hard on your sentences, be hard on your paragraphs, be ceaseless and unrelenting in your revisions, but stop questioning your ability to be a writer. If you put pen to paper, or put electronic words on the page, you are a writer. Let go of that worry and focus on how good a writer you can become.

Many of us, both writers and nonwriters, are too hard on ourselves.

At some point around the age of 16, most of us said, “I’ll never learn to drive a car!” When we became adults, we used more self-defeating language. “I’ll never beat the smoking habit!” “I’ll never get this bedroom painted!”

Many of us have gone on to accomplish things we swore we would never master. Good for us!

But we didn’t accomplish those things by spending our time and energy beating ourselves up and predicting certain failure. We took a driving course; we found experts to help us quit smoking; we kept working on those bedroom walls, taking pleasure in each successful step toward completion.

Sometimes we convince ourselves we have failed at achieving a goal when we never set a goal in the first place.

When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I needed to nail down my own definition of a successful writer.

If I don’t know where I’m going, how will I know when I get there?

This is the way I defined success as a writer.

A successful writer takes pleasure in working with words. She enjoys developing ideas, writing about them, and revising her writing until it meets her standards.

 A successful writer finds outlets so others can read what she writes.

 A successful writer has an audience of readers who enjoy reading what she writes.

 By that definition, I am a successful writer.

Beating myself up and repeatedly telling myself I would never write anything worth reading did nothing toward helping me become a successful writer.

I became a successful writer by:

  • Sitting for many hours in a chair in front of my computer and writing, rewriting, revising, editing, proofreading, and rewriting more.
  • Doing what was necessary to start a blog and learn how to use it.
  • Listening to and observing people to learn what they want to read.

Alternatively, I could choose this definition of “a successful writer.”

A successful writer earns enough money from her work to support her family.

 A successful writer’s work is sought after by reputable publishers. 

 A successful writer gains renown and is recognized wherever she goes.

By that definition, I am not a successful writer.

I must decide which definition, or blending of definitions, satisfies my desire to succeed. No one else can define “success” for me.

If I am satisfied with the first definition, at which I am already successful, I will continue doing what I have been doing, always trying to become better at it.

If I am not satisfied with the first definition of success and want to work toward the second definition, I will need to do research, spend more hours at my computer, enroll in writing classes, hire a writing coach, and give up activities in which I now participate so I can devote that time and energy to writing.

What are you, my reader, telling yourself you will never accomplish? What does success  look like to you?

Be specific and reasonable. Don’t set a nebulous goal like, “I want to travel.” Ask yourself, “Where do I want to go? When do I want to go there? Whom would I like to take with me? How long do I want to stay? How will I pay for the trip?”

Make a written list of steps you must take in order to reach that goal. Then begin working through those steps.

Plan your work and work your plan.

As you make progress, you may need to tweak your goal. Maybe the person you want to go with you does not want to go. Invite someone else to go with you.

If I had set as a goal, “I want to be a successful writer,” but had not defined for myself what “being a successful writer” meant to me, if I had taken no steps toward reaching that goal, and if I had continually told myself I would never become a writer, you would not be reading this blog post today.

Much truth lies in this famous quote by Henry Ford: Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right.