Category Archives: Encouragement

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.

 

Well?

Many people are sick. They are fighting cancer, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, mental illnesses and more. My heart breaks for these people who are suffering some of the worst kinds of Satan’s curses.

Even healthy people suffer occasional bouts of flu or other temporary ailments.

I know people who are not sick but behave as if they are. They milk minor headaches, stomach issues, and pains for all the sympathy they can get.

These people are the adult equivalents of kids who create ways to miss school.

Like truant students, these people pretend to be sick or exaggerate the severity of their ailments to gain something they want: an excuse to miss work or to get out of washing dishes or to shirk their responsibility in a group project. They are deceivers.

No, I am not  qualified to assess people’s health. But I know what I know. I have observed obvious attempts to gain release from fulfilling responsibilities by feigning sickness. I won’t say I have never done it. Shame on me.

Something is not right if I can go for a mani-pedi, shop for clothes or show up for my bowling league, but I am too impaired to go to work, to church, to the school event I agreed to supervise or to the kitchen to bake the pan of lasagna I agreed to provide for the deacons’ luncheon.

God did not call me to manipulate people or situations for my benefit.

Good health is a wonderful blessing, but it comes with obligations.  Healthy people perform the jobs assigned to them.  They get up, dress up and show up every time.

In chapter five of John, Jesus asked an infirm man if he wanted to be well. That seemed at first to be a silly question. But maybe it wasn’t.

Photo by  elizabeth lies on Unsplash 

Photo by  Antonika Chanel on Unsplash

 

YOU’RE WELCOME

Have you ever inserted yourself into a group without an invitation?

At the end of my junior year in college, I needed a roommate for the next year. My current roommate had decided not to return, and my other friends had roommates.

Two girls I knew casually lived on my dorm floor in a room with three beds.

I asked if I could share their room.

These girls were Pam and Patti Sanders, cousins from Paducah, Kentucky.

If they were unhappy getting a new roommate, they didn’t let me know.

Their welcome was a blessed relief.

Forty-plus years later, I remember their kindness.

Compare Patti and Pam’s welcome to this one.

I accepted a medical transcriptionist position at a hospital. On my first day, I faced an unwelcoming committee of one.

As I settled into my new work area, the transcriptionist sitting nearest me said, “You can call that your chair if you want to, but that will always be Jackie’s chair.”

Jackie, the former chair occupant, had left her position to move to another state.

My new coworker’s comment stung.

Entrances are hard. Walking into a party solo is awkward for single people. A student enters a new school with dread. New hires to a workplace crave acceptance. Visitors to a church fear rejection.

One Sunday our minister interviewed, in front of the congregation, four people who attend church nowhere. He asked them why they stay away from church.

One turnoff, they said, was the cool reception they received when they visited a church.

That motivated me, after the service, to approach a couple sitting in front of me. I introduced myself and asked if they were visitors.

“No,” one of them said. “We have been members for 20 years.”

(We attend a large church.)

They didn’t need a welcome, but our conversation was pleasant and embarrassed no one.

Relaxed partygoers do not intentionally shun uncomfortable guests. They eat, drink and mix with friends and assume everyone else is doing the same.

Students established in a school do not intend to avoid new students. They are focused on passing calculus or having a date to the prom.

The unwelcoming woman at my new job didn’t make the chair remark because she wanted to hurt me. She spoke out of her sadness over losing her friend.

Church members who fail to interact with visitors are not unkind people. They are busy people. Distractions keep them from showing visitors a warm reception.

Offering welcomes can be costly.

Patti and Pam’s welcome cost them one-third of their living space.

For relaxed partygoers, students, coworkers, and church members, the cost is less tangible.

It may require them to leave their comfort zones, endure mild inconvenience, and risk rejection.

They must take their focus off themselves and place it on someone else.

Those who master this graceful art leave blessed people in their wake.

One partygoer, one student, one coworker, or one church member can make a difference.

Look for opportunities to be that person.

IT IS WHAT IT IS

Two tough days for me each year are the days I go to the dentist for cleanings.

I’ve gone to the dentist since I was a child. I know the dentist and her staff are my friends. I like them. I just don’t like what they do.

At the dentist’s office last Monday, I said with confidence to the hygienist, “You should find less plaque buildup on this exam. I have a new toothbrush with a built-in timer. I now brush for two full minutes twice a day.”

I waited for a bit of praise, but I didn’t get it.

I got this instead.

“Four minutes,” said the hygienist.

“What?” I asked.

“Brush for four minutes at bedtime, two minutes on top and two minutes on bottom. Two minutes in the morning is good, though.”

Just when I think I’ve adhered to the rules, the rules get tougher.

I realize that I pay my dental professionals to care about and care for my teeth.

If I am unhappy, I can stop visiting them any time I choose. But I won’t  do that.

My teeth are important to me.

But today, so many experts (paid and unpaid) tell me how to take care of myself that I am overwhelmed with “good” advice.

From computer, television, and smartphone screens, from billboards, and from literally tons of unsolicited mail I pull from my mailbox, professionals offer me their advice.

Medical doctors say I should spend several hours each week exercising.

Opticians urge me to wear sunglasses when I am outside and safety glasses when I mow.

Dermatologists tell me to wear SPF 30 sunscreen.

Naturalists tout the benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar.

Audiologists say I should wear ear protection.

Personal trainers insist that I wear weights on my wrists and ankles.

Therapists whisper, “Go to your happy place.”

Psychiatrists tell me to take antidepressants and practice cognitive behavioral therapy.

Herbalists tell me to drink green tea.

Nutritionists tell me to stop eating salt, sugar, fat, wheat, gluten, dairy products, eggs, soy, artificial colors or flavors; meats from animals treated with antibiotics, steroids, or hormones; fish bred and grown in dirty water; and plants that have been exposed to herbicides or pesticides.

Apparently, Mark Twain got it right when he wrote, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

I am all for being as healthy, comfortable, attractive, and active as I can be. But this overload of “healthful advice” is oppressive.

As a good friend said to me this week, “Facts are facts. It is what it is. I am getting older.”

We all are. No one has yet developed a product, activity, or mindset that will stop the aging process.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16, the Apostle Paul acknowledged that our outer selves are wasting away. He encouraged us to be focused upon being renewed inwardly day by day.

Inspired advice.

I throw away 99% of the advertisements I find in my mailbox.

I did recently, however, save a brochure urging me to make my final arrangements now so when I die, my grieving family will be spared that task.

That, I deemed to be advice worth heeding.