Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Humbled (Part 1)

I had two humbling experiences this week. This one took place at school.

I am feeling pretty proud of myself, having volunteered to work the gate at our school’s volleyball tournament on Saturday. I sign up for the two hour early morning shift. Being a morning person, I know I can be perky, take their money, and give directions to the various courts, all at the same time, but, no. The Athletic Director looks at the sign-up sheet and says, “It’s easy to get people to work the gate; I need you to work the clock.” “But I’ve never worked the clock!” The panic is evident in my voice. “It’s easy. Every time a team scores, you push two buttons.”

It’s easy, he says, assuming that those two simple words will calm me down. But if it is not be easy for me, I will feel really, really stupid.

On Saturday morning, the varsity volleyball coach, thrilled to see that I have shown up, greets me with a smile. “Just so you know, I’ve never done this before.” “It’s easy,” he says. “Just push these two buttons when someone scores. Oh, and you’ll need to set the timer when someone calls a time out. Just push this button, this button, and then this one. And remember, it is very important to push this button to the off position before you reset it. You’ve kept the books at games for years. Compared to that, this will be a piece of cake.” As he walks away, I look down at the endless array of buttons I have to choose from, none of which have an obvious off position.

What have I gotten myself into? I love to learn new things, but not like this! I like advance warning, time to practice, and, most importantly, written directions. What I have is learn as you go in front of coaches, players, parents, and refs, every mistake noticed, every mistake public, humbling, humbling, humbling.

I muddle through and two hours later I am finished, having managed to work the clock for six games with just a few mishaps. This is one time when, instead of being proud to have learned something new, I am definitely humbled by it.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

James 4:10

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stretch Armstrong

One of my son’s favorite toys as a little boy was a rubberized doll called Stretch Armstrong. Stretch was unique in that his arms and legs could be pulled and stretched to about four times their original length. Stretch could not stretch himself, though. The stretching required an outside source.

The same is true of my Christian walk. Every time I submit to the will of God, I stretch a little. Every moment I spend in the presence of God, I stretch even more. On my knees, stretch, in the word, stretch, serve others, stretch, deny myself, stretch.

Even though it appears I am stretching, changing, and growing as a result of these things, in reality, just like Stretch Armstrong, I can’t stretch myself. Only God can stretch me. Only God can change me.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gratitude

My beloved and I are on a plane headed for Dallas from Kansas City. With security heightened it has taken longer than usual to get through security checkpoints. In addition to the usual forbidden items, they have recently added any liquid, gel, or paste. After searching my purse, they threw my brand new, unopened water bottle away.

I should have known, but a little inconvenience in the name of safety is a small price to pay. I positioned myself across from the security checkpoint, watching each person’s reaction as they were pulled aside for a body or carry-on search. Most patiently followed the directives of the airport personnel, but some travelers went out of their way to let everyone know how annoyed they were.

How soon we forget. No doubt every passenger who boarded what would become their tomb on September 11, 2001 anticipated a routine flight. No doubt their primary concern that day was catching their plane.

I have been to other countries where it was commonplace to see soldiers stationed throughout the airport with machine guns, and this was before September 11. I read that anyone flying out of New Delhi, India should arrive three and a half hours before take-off. Sure puts the ninety minutes required for my flight in perspective.

Unfortunately, while security measures are tightening all over the world, we in the U.S. are adjusting to some of these issues for the first time. While we have no choice but to follow these security measures, we are in complete control as to how we respond to them.

What if I were to respond with gratitude? Would I be more tolerant as I stand in line to check in? Would I smile and say a kind word to the one who x-rays my luggage or to the one who checks my ID? Would my gratitude be evident as I put all of my belongings in a tub to be x-rayed? As the alarm goes off and I am pulled aside to be searched, am I grateful that TSA is taking every precaution for the safety of all passengers? Will I thank every employee I come in contact with who is just doing his job? Is it possible to be grateful and it not become evident to those around me?

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:18

Monday, September 18, 2006

Expired

My beloved and I planned a relaxing weekend getaway to visit Kindred Spirit and Sammy in Kansas City. We purchased our airline tickets months in advance. We printed up our own boarding passes the night before.

The day of our trip, we left in plenty of time to leave our car in long term parking and still arrive 90 minutes before take-off as recommended. We hopped aboard the shuttle that would drop us off at the door to our terminal. Or so we thought. Neither of us paid any attention to the destination of the shuttle we chose. It was not until it arrived at terminal E that we realized that it was not going anywhere near terminal A, which was our destination. Bailing out at terminal E, we ran half a block down the sidewalk and tried to get on two more wrong shuttles before landing on the shuttle that would deposit us at the door to terminal A.

At this point we still felt pretty good, that is, until we checked in our luggage and showed our identification and boarding passes to the lady behind the counter. She peered over her glasses. “I’m sorry sir. It’s expired.” “What’s expired?” my beloved asked. “Your driver’s license,” she answered. “Apparently you had a birthday four days ago. Well your license expired then. That means your boarding pass is no good.” “No good?” “No good. I’ll have to print you another one; and you really need to get that license renewed.”

She printed another boarding pass and attached a sticker to it. This sticker flagged my beloved as the person who is attempting to board a plane as a passenger with an expired driver’s license. As a result, while I sailed through security both to and from Kansas City, he was pulled over and searched, first with a wand, then by hand.

My beloved chose to be good-natured about the whole thing. His driver’s license is, after all, expired, and while I don’t understand the connection between an expired driver’s license and terrorist activity, I am deeply appreciative of our government’s attempts to protect us in the air.

It just goes to show that no matter how well we plan, things happen that are beyond our control. What is within our control is how we respond. As the apostle Paul wrote from behind bars:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5

Saturday, September 16, 2006

It Could Have Been Worse

My wallet was stolen. I don’t know when. I don’t know how. I certainly don’t know by whom. I do, however, know how much. Using two ATM cards, and two credit cards, he or she managed to do over $2200.00 worth of damage to my checking accounts and credit card accounts in one day, before I even knew the wallet was gone and before the banking institutions put a temporary freeze on the accounts due to “unusual spending activity.”

Friday: I spend all evening canceling those cards, filing a police report, and sinking into a black hole.

What am I going to do? Gotta pray. Give it to God. Don’t worry.

How can I get out of this black hole?

Saturday: I make a list. I call it:

It Could Have Been Worse

…if my social security card had been in my wallet (identity theft)

…if the banking institutions had not put a freeze on the accounts when they did

…if the bank had chosen not to believe that those were fraudulent charges

…if the bank had not replaced the money stolen from my checking accounts

…if they had been able to access my savings account with my ATM

…if I were not getting paid in a few days


Sunday: this praise hymn gets stuck in my head:

When upon life's billows
You are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged,
Thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings,
Name them one by one,
And it will surprise you
What the Lord hath done
Refrain:

Are you ever burdened
With a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy
You are called to bear?
Count your many blessings,
Every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing
As the days go by.
Refrain:

When you look at others
With their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you
His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings,
Money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven,
Nor your home on high.
Refrain:

So, amid the conflict,
Whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged,
God is over all;
Count your many blessings,
Angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you
To your journey's end.
Refrain:

Refrain:
Count your blessings,
Name them one by one;
Count your blessings,
See what God hath done;
Count your blessings,
Name them one by one;
Count your many blessings,
See what God hath done.

J. Oatman Jr., 1897

Monday: I feel better already!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I'm Sorry

Why is it so hard to say, “I’m sorry?”

Why are others sometimes resistant to accepting my apology?

Is it them?

Is it me?


I used to be queen of the flippant, “Sorry!”

How about the belligerent “Ok, so I’m sorry. Now are you happy?!”

Then there’s the sarcastic, “I’m sorry already!”

The annoyed, “I said I’m sorry. What more do you want?”

The demanding, “How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?”

Or how about, “Once again, I’ll be the one to apologize!”

I used to get hung up on being right, on winning the argument. And I sure wasn’t going to apologize if I did not do anything wrong (in my way of thinking), or, if I was not the one that started it in the first place. For example, "I only said that hurtful thing to you because of what you said to me." The "You started it so you need to apologize to me" line of reasoning.

Many years ago, I realized that I had no clue how to apologize, because my apologies never seemed to help the situation. Here I was, patting myself on the back for saying, “Sorry!”, while at the same time, my words, my tone, and even my body language were sending another message.

Who is supposed to apologize, anyway? The one who started it? The one who acted the worst? I used to think so, but who is going to make that call? Honestly, I no longer think the answers to those questions are important. I have discovered that there is usually something for which I need to apologize, whether I started it or not.

Think of an apology as salve. Let’s say your body is burned and you need some type of medical attention, fast. You want salve, slathered on, coating your burn, going deep into the wound. Then, and only then, will you relax as you feel it begin to do its work. It numbs the pain. Oh, you still have the wound. You still remember the pain. You may even feel vulnerable, fearing that the pain will return. It will take time to heal completely, but you can deal with it because of the salve.

I think for the apology salve to work, I also need to act fast. Here are some things I have come to believe are important when I apologize.

1. I think of apologizing as an event that deserves my undivided attention. I want to send the message that what is about to happen is important. It will mean turning the TV off or stepping away from loading the dishwasher.

2. I will use my loved one’s name. Who doesn’t love the sound of their own name?

3. I will look my loved one in the eye. The eyes are the window to the soul. It is my loved one’s soul I have wounded. It needs the salve.

4. I will gently touch my loved one as I speak. I will be sensitive to this because he may be so hurt he will not welcome my touch. If that is the case, I will try touch later when the salve has had time to take effect.

5. I will use my soothing voice, which to a loved one is a salve of its own.

6. I will say, “I’m sorry” in descriptive terms. For example, “Loved one, I’ve been thinking about it, and I realize that I owe you an apology. I hurt you when I (fill in the blank with specifics). I love you and I am deeply sorry. " Here the salve is going directly to the wound.

7. I will give my loved one time alone, time to heal. I will accept that I cannot regulate how much time that will take.

8. I will pray for my loved one’s healing and for the relationship to heal.

9. I will realize that my loved one may feel vulnerable, fearing that the pain will return.

10. I will take care to give my loved one and our relationship extra care and attention, just as I would if he were hurt physically.

I think Peter has the right idea.

Finally, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil for evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

I Peter 3:8-9

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mayonnaise Sandwich

When we were first married, my beloved was in the Air Force. We lived in town the first year and he commuted to the base just outside of town. From time to time, one of the other airmen would call for a ride. Usually he didn’t mind, but he always dreaded the call from Larry.

Larry was in his early 20’s, married, with children. His wife stayed home to care for the children and money was scarce. Every day Larry packed the same lunch: mayonnaise sandwiches. He took two pieces of white bread, slathered mayonnaise in between, and called it a sandwich. Now, that’s just sad.

Even sadder were the stories he told. He told great tales about dating movie stars, or about his previous job as a commander in the Russian military. My beloved could never tell if Larry believed his own tales, or if he created this fantasy world as a way to cope with the realities of his real life.

That was over 30 years ago, but I’ve never been able to forget that mayonnaise sandwich. It had nothing of substance, nothing of value. Yet he filled up on it every day.

What do I fill up on every day that substitutes for substance, for nutritional value (physical or spiritual) in my life? Is it television, the internet, my own thoughts, or just piddling? Is it complaining, worry, depression, or just idleness? Do I get so distracted by the urgent that I lose sight of the important? Is it just me, or does this happen to you?

It happened to Martha. Her sister, Mary sat at the feet of their guest, Jesus, “listening to what he said.” Martha, on the other hand, was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” and complained to Jesus about it. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“The Lord answered, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:38-42

Friday, September 08, 2006

Happy Birthday To Me

I don’t look different. I don’t feel different, but I am.

As of today I am 50.

50 years old.

Fifty.

Five-0.

The big 5.

I’ve been calling myself 50 for several months now, trying to get used to it.

AARP has been stalking me for months; they send me stuff in the mail on a regular basis.

Have you ever lined up pictures of yourself that span decades? Did you notice that with each passing decade your eyes look more and more weary? Try doing it in reverse. I found a recent photo of myself, and one taken about 20 years ago. I could not get over how rested I looked in the younger one. Sure didn’t think so at the time with four children under the age of 8.

I’m one of those kinds of people who go to a workshop or a meeting and checks each item off the program or agenda as it is completed. I feel like I have been doing that with each phase of my adult life.

Got married. Check.

(Spent months planning for the wedding day and not one minute planning for the marriage)

Finished graduate school. Check.

(Had no clue I would go back to school 20 years later)

Done with pregnancy. Check.

(Ok. A little day surgery backed that one up)

Last child in school all day. Check.

(Thought it would mean more time to my self. In reality meant going from part time to full time work.)

Became a grandma. Check.

(Ok. That one's a first, but too important not to mention. I’m in the club!)

Last child left for college. Turned 50 two weeks later. Check. Check.

(Too much to process all at once.)

In contrast, I have decided to approach the second half of my life (positive thinking) as an adventure. As long as God continues to bless me with good health, I refuse to just sit and look, or twiddle my thumbs, or waste away in front of the TV. This time around, I want to check off firsts, not lasts.

Started blogging. Check.

(Met some really neat Christian women/fellow bloggers on-line as a result.)

Started taking a spin class. Check.

(Hardest workout I’ve ever had, next to running. I feel great!)

Learning Spanish. Check.

(Invested in a conversational Spanish program that I listen to in the car. It’s a start.)

Meet my friend Nancy at 5:45 a.m. for power walking. Check.

(Each one brings a topic of the day to discuss. Time flies!)

That’s all I’ve got so far, but the adventure has only begun!

"Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, til I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come."

Psalms 71:18

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Icky Twerp & Slam Bang Theatre



"Don't let schooling interfere
with
your education."

~ Mark Twain ~

As a child of the sixties in Dallas, I enjoyed watching a local TV show called Slam Bang Theatre on channel 11 at 7:00 a.m. Hosted by the late Robert Camfield, who played a goofy looking fellow named Icky Twerp, the one hour show ran the Three Stooges, Edgar Kennedy shorts, and cartoons such as Mighty Heroes, Mighty Mouse, Popeye the Sailor, and Rocket Robin Hood. Icky had an assistant with an ape-mask named Ajax who would pedal the projector as Icky Twerp said “roll ‘em”. In between shows, Icky picked children from the studio audience to come on stage and participate in contests. My favorite contest was when he timed children to see who could hold their breath the longest. I also participated from the comfort of my living room and (in my estimation) always held my breath longer than any of those kids on TV.

This no-frills, low budget, childish television show concept (come on, a gorilla mask?) was immensely popular to children. It grabbed our attention and held it for one hour. I got up early to watch it in the morning. I even hurried home in the afternoon to watch it again after school. Why? Icky Twerp. He risked looking foolish to adults to get down on my level so that he could relate to me. He presented me with childish humor, he spoke my childish language, and he gave me childish entertainment.

Many adults (my parents included) considered time spent with Icky Twerp a waste of time. In looking back, though, he taught me some valuable lessons that have broad applications about relating to children, especially in my current job as a high school principal. While I have never donned a spiky wig or ill-fitting suit to make kids laugh, I have learned that my impact on the students is directly related to the relationship I have with them. Here are a few of the lessons Icky modeled for me:

Get to know your audience on a personal level.

Icky used children in the audience as contestants and he talked to them on their level.

I begin the school year by learning all of my student’s names (thank you, flash cards). There are only 250 in our high school so it is not too difficult. Who doesn’t love the sound of their name?

I think it is important to learn who plays athletics, which students are in choir, band, theatre, or student government, who is not involved in any way, and who has interests outside of school. Hopefully this communicates that what is important to them is important to me.

Discover their likes & dislikes.

Icky knew what cartoons and shows kids would like. He knew they had to be short, in keeping with our attention span, and varied to keep us interested.

I use student surveys, student advisory councils, and town hall meetings to give kids a forum whereby they can voice their opinions and know that they will be heard and their wishes considered. When decisions are reached with the help of these councils, I announce the results to the student body giving full credit for the decision to the advisory council. The goal here is to empower the student body, while at the same time giving them ownership of their school. With ownership comes responsibility.

Discover what makes them laugh and be willing to risk looking foolish.

Icky knew that we would not be frightened or intimidated by him if he dressed in a goofy way. He deliberately acted silly so we would laugh and enjoy being with him.

My teachers and I try to create fun activities for the kids, to balance out all of the structure and rules. There are a few times a year, like homecoming and Christmas, when the teachers and I act out skits or sing silly songs to entertain the kids.

Let the kids know how much you enjoy their company.

The kids in the audience could tell that Icky got a kick out of being with them.

Before and after school, during lunch, and in between classes, I walk the halls and interact with students. I try to attend the same number of games of each sport. I also go to choral and band concerts, as well as theatrical productions. Each week, we have a student recognition assembly, where kids are recognized for their accomplishments, their servant leadership, and given prizes for good behavior (no demerits).

Do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do.

Icky clearly loved his job. He was consistently happy and bubbly.

Each week during student recognition, I remind the kids that there are 250 reasons why I love my job. Beyond that, however, it is important each day that my words, my tone, and my attitude leave no doubt. Some days, this is easier than others!

That’s it. That’s pretty much all I learned from Icky Twerp, but what a valuable education it turned out to be!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Majestic Porch

Last May, my entire family journeyed to Florida for vacation, all 9 of us. My beloved and I drove down with my son-in-law Yibby (childhood nick name), and Lovie. Sweet Pea, my precious grandson (Little Bud), and Kindred Spirit flew, so that Little Bud would not have to endure the 12 hour car trip. My other son-in-law, Sammy (inside joke regarding his feet, which look like big, thick sandwiches) flew with My Buddy as neither of them could stay the entire week.

We rented a house in a beautiful community called Watercolor. There were blocks and blocks of Victorian homes just minutes from the beach, some inhabited by their owners, and some built as investment properties. There was a community pool across the street from our house. Our rental home was provided with four bicycles, which we used every day to ride miles and miles of bicycle trails within and surrounding the area.

I rode my bike for hours every day. One of my favorite rides was to a neighboring resort area called Seaside. Every day, I took off for Seaside, cut through the touristy shopping areas, and headed for the residential area just off of the beach. Like Watercolor, the Seaside community is a mixture of residences and rental properties. My favorite home was a two-story colonial bed and breakfast with a majestic porch. Each day, I stopped in front of the house and stared. I even took my camera one day and surreptitiously took pictures of that porch. It was breathtaking. A real Gone With the Wind southern plantation colonial home. I fully expected to see Scarlett O’Hara pull up in a horse and buggy, wearing those parlor drapes, or to find her out back in the dried up garden blowing the dust off of that radish, “As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again!”

Occasionally, I would coerce another family member to go with me to see Majestic Porch. One day, Kindred Spirit and I were parked on our bikes in front of the house. I could not take my eyes off of that porch. Kindred Spirit said, “Why don’t you knock on the door and ask to see the house? It is a bed and breakfast after all. I’m sure the owner will be flattered and show you around.”

I mustered up my courage, leaned forward, and headed for the porch. As I reached the top step, the door flung open and a grim-looking older woman filled the doorway. “Yes?” she drolled. Absolutely terrified, I plastered on my cheery face and stammered, as her eyes bored into me. “Hi. Um. I noticed that this is a, uh, bed and breakfast. We are vacationing in the area and, well, uh, I thought that next time, er, maybe we might consider staying here, you know. Your home is so beautiful. Do you have any, uh, information we can take with us?”

She continued glaring at me for a moment then turned to go inside, pulling the door almost shut as I craned my neck to get a glimpse inside. She returned to the porch a moment later and thrust a piece of paper in my hand. “Here,” she said. “These are the prices.” With that she turned and went inside, shutting the door firmly behind her. Kindred Spirit and I just stood there. We looked at each other and, shoulders slumped, walked slowly back to our bikes. “Sorry, Mom, my mother-in-law usually has a good response when she does that kind of thing.”

We rode our bikes back in silence. I was so disappointed. I assumed that, based on the beauty of that fa├žade that the inside must be just as beautiful, but I was wrong, because the beauty of the inside is dependent on those who inhabit it.

How often do I do that with people? How often do I assume that an attractive person is warm and sweet and worth getting to know? How often do I not even notice someone who might not be as attractive on the outside? How many times have I taken the time to get to know someone, only to find them more attractive once I did, because the beauty of their heart transcended their outer appearance?

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I Samuel 16:7