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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Wind

Photo Credit:  Alvimann from morgueFile.com
As I listen to the wind howling outside, I’m thinking about how much of an influence wind can have.  It can be beautiful in just the right amounts.  Too much or too little of it and we grumble.  Strong winds have the potential to be incredibly damaging, while just enough of a breeze can enable our kites to soar.  The right dose of wind can allow us to tolerate our South Texas summer days without melting into a puddle on the pavement.

The other day, my uncle and cousin were planning a Sunday bike ride.  What is the very first thing they checked on their phone to see if a bike ride was a good idea?  Yep.  The wind.  Once my cousin found out there were going to be 17-mile-an-hour winds on Sunday afternoon, they opted for an early morning ride instead.  Wind makes a difference.  It would have been great if that wind was pushing their backs the whole time, but there is that funny part called the return ride when it’s blowing in your face at the exact same speed.  Not quite as exhilarating.

You’ve heard the idiom, “They took the wind out of my sails.”  And, most, if not all of us, have had someone take the wind out of our sails by making us feel less confident or less determined to do something.  Right?  Did you go ahead and mark them off of your birthday party list?  Ha!

On the flip side, have you ever been the wind that someone needed in order to set sail?  Has someone given you just the right amount of wind in your life so that you could really start to soar?  Wind can make all the difference.

My 6-year-old daughter brought home a booklet the other day from school.  On the front, it read – “I’m a Star!”  Inside of this packet were letters written to her from each of her classmates.  Each child in first grade gets a chance to be the Star Student of the week and have show-and-tell by sharing different things about themselves and bringing favorite items from home.  It was my daughter’s turn that week and I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the notes with her. 

I want to share a few of them with you.  The children’s unique spelling is just precious, so I’m sharing that too:  “You are special becase you are nis and giving.  You are the nicis prcin I have ever met.  You are very talitid at math.  I like the way that you act.  You are special because you can dans.  You are pritey.  You are koot.  You are the best lrnr in are class.  You are kind to pepl.  I never met a frind like you.  I like to play with you.”

You should have seen the smile on my daughter’s face as she read these letters out loud to me.  It was priceless.  I watched the wind fill her sails.  I saw the wind make her soar.  There was an extra skip in her step that evening after reading these heartfelt notes.  The wind was visible as she flew through the house that night.

I don’t think it’s coincidental that the right people seem to come along at the right time in our lives.  I rather think it’s Providential and heaven-sent.  Aren’t we sometimes that sailboat out there in the waters of life just tossing back and forth, to and fro, but not really moving anywhere?  We know we need to move forward, but we just can’t seem to find a way to do it.  We need the wind to move us.  We need God-given wind and I think many times that comes in the form of a friend, family member, or other loved one who gives us the strength to do just that…to move forward.

Maybe some of you out there suffer with white-coat-syndrome?  Maybe you have it so bad that you’ve put off going for a check-up for many years now because of it?  Maybe you miraculously found the courage to go on Monday?  Yes.  I did.  I totally did.  One of my friends sent me a sweetly simple text that morning saying, “Praying for you.”  And, my husband left me an encouraging voice mail just minutes before I walked into the doctor’s office. They both knew I needed some wind that morning and it came at just the right time.

I love the “Pay It Forward” movement that describes the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the original benefactor.  We can certainly pay it forward and we can also PRAY it forward.  I love that idea as well.

Another friend of mine had an appointment recently and I wanted to pray it forward.  I knew just how wonderful it felt knowing that I was being prayed for at a time when I was too nervous to pray for myself.  So, I called her and sent her a text to let her know.  I prayed it forward.  Who can you pray it forward to this week?

As I listen to the blowing wind, I think I’ll stop and say a little prayer.  Thank you, God, for sending people our way to be our wind…just the right amount…exactly when we need it most.  I’m grateful that you want us to soar.  I’m glad you find the ways and the people to fill our sails.  I’m thankful for you, Lord, and all those special ones in our lives who are the wind beneath our wings.  Amen.

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

You're Invited

Photo Credit:  cohdra from morgueFile.com
Who doesn’t love to get an invitation in the mail?  My children leap for joy when they find a birthday party invite tucked neatly inside the stack of bills and other random mail in the kitchen.  Sometimes a tug-of-war ensues to determine which one of them gets to open that glorious envelope, but most of the time the invitation comes out in one piece.

When we get an invitation, it means that another person wants our presence there, right? (Well, maybe our presents, too, but hey, who doesn’t love a present here and there?  Ha ha!).  These days, invitations can come in many forms – in the mail, in an e-mail, a text, a facebook invite, a phone call, or possibly just word of mouth.  However we’re invited, we can all agree that it feels good to be on the receiving end.

I even remember as a child that some kids would dangle their invitation like a carrot and say, “If you don’t do this or that, I won’t invite you to my birthday party.”  For some reason, I recall that enticement working pretty well.  I can neither confirm nor deny that I ever said those words myself.

This past weekend in church, Father Bentil shared with us about the wedding at Cana.  I’m sure that all of the people in town were excited to receive that wedding invitation.  During that time, weddings lasted for several days and the families of the bride and groom were responsible for providing the food and wine until the celebration was over.  Running out of food or wine would bring great dishonor to the family name. 

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was very concerned when she saw that the wine was running low.  Maybe she was involved in the planning or the organization of the wedding or maybe she just couldn’t bear to see the family shamed?  Either way, she knew that her Son could do something to help the situation, so she asked.

Jesus performed His first miracle during the wedding at Cana by turning water into wine...the very best quality wine at that…superior to anything that had been served thus far.  I’m certain that this miracle made a strong and lasting impression.  Well, here I am talking about it some 2000 years later, so there ya have it.  I’m also very sure that the family was thrilled that they had decided to send Jesus an invitation.  He was able to perform this amazing miracle because they had invited Him.

I wonder why Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding?  Who knows for sure, but some say that Jesus may have chosen a wedding because it is something that most everyone in every culture can relate to.  An ordinary setting became the stage for an extraordinary miracle.  So, maybe Jesus wants to do something extraordinary in OUR everyday lives?

First things first…we have to invite Him.  Father Bentil encouraged us to contemplate whether or not we are inviting Jesus into our families, our relationships, our marriages…our very hearts.  Are we?  Sometimes yes.  Sometimes no.

Take the wine for example.  Jesus could have just turned the water into a mediocre wine or anything comparable to that which was already being served, right?  Yes, He could have.  But, He didn’t.  The wine He produced was THE best!  The quality of wine He made was so unbelievable that it probably left the host family speechless, as well as everyone who tasted it. 

Don’t you think that Jesus would do the same for us?  Maybe we don’t need Him to turn our water into wine (I didn’t just say that, did I?!), but surely He can take care of our own needs in a big, beautiful way, too.  If we invite Him into every aspect of our lives, I’m quite certain that He would leave us speechless as well.

When we have a gathering, we make a list of our besties and family, but do we include Jesus?  He’s patiently waiting for our invitation.  And, during a time where RSVPs are few and far between, we could count on Him to be the very first one to say, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

I don’t think Jesus needs an ultra-fancy invitation full of glitter and confetti (although that sounds like sooo much fun!).  I’m sure a simple prayer would do…one that says, “You’re invited.”

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Slow Down

Photo Credit:  clarita from morgueFile.com
Let’s start this Sips with a little fun.  Say “toy boat” out loud.  Okay, great.  Now, say “toy boat” out loud really fast three times in a row.  Go ahead.  Try it.  I know you’ve said it several times by now and are possibly wondering why on earth the third “toy boat” you’re saying sounds nothing like the first “toy boat” you said.

My daughter challenged me a few weeks ago with this and I’ve been randomly practicing since then.  Something happens when I try to say those words too fast.  It just comes out all wrong.  I can only say them properly when I slow down.

It’s hard to believe that half of January has zoomed by already.  Most of you have taken down all the Christmas decorations by now…well, most of the d├ęcor anyhow.  Some of you might be contemplating leaving up the outdoor lights all year?  It’s your call.  I won’t judge.  We’ll name them New Year lights and we all know that 2016 lasts until next December, so I say go ahead and roll with it.

In reminiscing a bit about the Christmas season, I want to share about an interesting gift we found under our tree.  In my 9-year-old daughter’s letter to Santa, she said she wished for a pair of crutches…real ones.  It’s certainly a unique request, but Santa brought her some child-size crutches, much to her delight. 

I’m still not exactly sure why she wanted crutches.  She does plan to be a doctor one day, so maybe that prompted the desire?  Or, maybe she wanted to jump into someone else’s shoes and see what it felt like to hobble around with limited mobility?  Maybe crutches just sounded cool?  Whatever the reason, the crutches are a big hit.  All three children fight over who gets to use them on a daily basis.  It’s strange really.  But, the one thing that it does make them do is…slow down.  Ahhhh...

When I’m in another room and hear the slow, creaky crutches coming down the hall, I can’t help but think about my grandmother, Omi.  She used a walker for many years, so that sound brings back a flood of memories for me.  Gosh, I miss her.  She died during my first year away at college.  I miss listening to her amazingly captivating stories about Germany.  I miss her delicious food.  I miss counting to twelve in German with her as I held her wrist watch.  I miss her accent. 

Omi listened intently to everything I had to say, as nonsensical as it may have been.  She played “restaurant” and “grocery store” with me a countless number of times.  She let me sell handmade paper snowflakes for a dime in her neighborhood and didn’t tell me what a crazy idea it was.  She supported me in everything I did.  Oh, how I loved her (and still do).  When my children slowed down to use the crutches, that’s when I slowed down to remember…and I’m glad I did.

We’re a pretty fast-paced society, aren’t we?  Okay, let’s be real.  We’re a super-duper-ooper-crazy-fast society.  We are.  If our devices don’t get us the info. we need in a matter of nanoseconds, we panic.  If our drive-through food order takes more than two minutes, we fret.  If the express lane at the grocery store doesn’t live up to its name, we grumble.  In fact, waiting for anything at any time can make our heads spin.  I’m guilty.  Truly.

Why are we rushing?  Where in the world are we going anyway?  Can the stress of hurrying around all the time be healthy for us?  And, are we really that good at multi-tasking?  I found some information that I thought was worthy of sharing.  Some studies show that chronic stress can actually shrink our brains.  What?!  And, it turns out that maybe we aren’t supposed to be doing so much multi-tasking.  One resource said that when our brains try to do two things at one time, it actually does the “divide-and-conquer” trick and only dedicates half of our gray matter to each task.  What?!  Who knows, but I do know that I’m not up for brain shrinkage OR only using half of the brain God gave me.  I vote for slowing down.

Along with slowing down, I found another nifty piece of shareable information while surfing the net.  Did you know that making mistakes can actually make us more likeable?  Yep.  It turns out that people who never (or rarely) make mistakes are perceived as less likeable than those who commit the occasional blunder.  If, uhem, WHEN we mess up, it can make us appear more human and others will be drawn to us.  Studies show that perfection can create distance and an unappealing air of invincibility.  So, flaws win.  Isn’t that great news?  Awesomeness.  If you happened to write down “be perfect” on your list of resolutions this year, you can go ahead and mark it off the list with a big black Sharpie.  Oh, you’re welcome.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room…you know…the 1.4 billion dollar Powerball jackpot.  Honestly, I don’t normally play.  I pass the lottery road sign each and every week and watch the numbers rise and fall and it never phases me.  However, for some reason, I got the fever…the Powerball fever that everyone else seems to have as well.  So, yes, I’m buying a ticket for Wednesday’s drawing.  However, have I slowed down to ponder on how the winnings could be used?  Have you?

It’s fun to dream.  Maybe you’ll buy a jet, a yacht, a bigger house, or a faster car?  Maybe you’ll buy a NBA team or a NFL franchise?  Maybe you’ll make a difference in another country by providing a means of education or clean water?  Maybe you’ll start some sort of Foundation?  Maybe you’ll give it all away?  Maybe you’ll help all the homeless find a home?  Maybe you’ll bury the money or hide it all in your mattress?  Whatever you decide to do, be sure to slow down after you win, thank God, and maybe hire three peeps: an ultra-competent tax pro, an ultra-competent attorney, and an ultra-competent financial advisor so that your billion dollar blessing will stay a blessing and not a curse.

In actuality, if we slow down to notice the people and things that we have surrounding us, we might realize just how wealthy we already are.  Now, I must go.  I need to practice.  Slowly this time…“Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat.”

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

On The Other End

Photo Credit:  gracey from morgueFile.com
Happy New Year, Sunshines!  It’s great to be back in the writing groove.  I’ve missed it!  I want to start this writing year by sharing a precious story that my Uncle Erol sent to me last November:

When I was a young boy, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood.  I remember the polished, old case fastened to the wall.  The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box.  I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it.

Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person.  Her name was "Information Please" and there was nothing she did not know.  “Information Please” could supply anyone's number and the correct time.

My personal experience with the genie-in-a-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor.  Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer.  The pain was terrible, but there seemed no point in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy.

I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway.  The telephone!  Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing.  Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear.

"Information, please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head.  A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear.  "Information." “I hurt my finger..." I wailed into the phone.  The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.  "Isn't your mother home?" came the question.  "Nobody's home but me," I blubbered.  "Are you bleeding?" the voice asked.  "No," I replied.  "I hit my finger with a hammer and it hurts."  "Can you open the icebox?" she asked.  I said I could.  "Then chip off a little bit of ice and hold it to your finger," said the voice.

After that, I called "Information Please" for everything.  I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was.  She also helped me with my math.  She told me that my pet chipmunk that I had caught in the park would eat fruit and nuts.

Then, there was the time Petey, our pet canary, died.  I called "Information Please” and told her the sad story.  She listened, and then said things that grown-ups say to soothe a child.  But I was not consoled.  I asked her, "Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?"

She must have sensed my deep concern, for she quietly said, "Wayne, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in."  Somehow I felt better.  Another day I was on the telephone with "Information Please” and asked her, "How do I spell fix?”

All of this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.  However, when I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston.  I missed my friend very much.

"Information Please" belonged in that old wooden box back home and I somehow never thought of trying the shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.  As I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me.  Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity, I would recall the serene sense of security I had back then.  I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

A few years later, on my way to college, my plane put down in Seattle.  I had about a half-hour or so between planes.  I spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now.  Then, without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information Please."

Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well.  "Information."  I hadn't planned this, but I heard myself saying, "Could you please tell me how to spell fix?"  There was a long pause.  Then came the soft-spoken answer, "I guess your finger must have healed by now."  I laughed, "So it's really you," I said.  "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time in my life."

"I wonder," she said, "if you know how much your calls meant to me.  I never had any children and I used to look forward to your calls."  I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister.  "Please do," she said. "Just ask for Sally."

Three months later, I was back in Seattle.  A different voice answered, "Information."  I asked for Sally.  "Are you a friend?" she said.  "Yes, a very old friend," I answered.  "I'm sorry to have to tell you this," she said.  "Sally had been working part-time the last few years because she was sick.  She died five weeks ago."

Before I could hang up, she said, "Wait a minute, did you say your name was Wayne?"  "Yes,” I answered.  “Well, Sally left a message for you.  She wrote it down in case you called.  Let me read it to you."  The note said, "Tell him there are other worlds to sing in.  He'll know what I mean."  I thanked her and hung up.  I knew what Sally meant. 

This sweet story reaffirms the fact that we should never underestimate the impression we may make on someone else.  We all have the opportunity to touch someone’s life in a meaningful, memorable way.

I had a similar experience before Christmas.  I had spent time at my children’s elementary school with some other mommas preparing for the school Christmas play.  We helped make costumes, ironed, decorated trees, wrapped presents, etc.  After much anticipation, the day finally came for the big show.

Much to my surprise, I was on schedule to arrive early to get a good seat and enjoy the children’s performance.  Since I am always running a bit late, I was extra stoked about my early arrival that day.  Well, it just so happens that there is a train track not too far from the school.  An untimely train was poking along the tracks and came to a complete stop...blocking the road.  Of course, I was on the wrong side of the tracks.  I waited and waited and waited.  Then, I felt the urge to move, you know, DO something.  I got out of line to travel down a gravel road…to no avail.  So, I got back in line…much farther back this time.  I was now not early or on time.  I was going to be late, and quite possibly even miss the show completely if I didn’t get across those tracks!

I needed to call someone.  Who could help me?  Of course, I said a little prayer first and asked God to just move that train.  God didn’t move the train, but I think He probably led me to call the school’s secretary.  Cassie calmly answered the phone.  I hurriedly explained my dire situation.  After I entertained the notion of just parking my car and climbing through the opening between the train cars (NOT advisable, by the way), she lovingly encouraged me with simple, clear directions on how to get to the auditorium another way.  She was my rock that day...my calm in the frantic little storm I was in.  I was glad she was on the other end.  I just might have been in the local newspaper as the crazy lady who climbed over a train.  Thank you, Cassie, for keeping me, uhem, “on track.”  If anyone is dying to know…I did finally make it to the program…in one piece…thanks to Cassie.

Whose life have you touched today?  Have you been “Information Please” for someone?  Or, has someone been a calm voice for you on the other end of the line?

This year, let’s challenge ourselves to be available…for others…for God.  We just never know whose life we’ll touch.  Father Bentil recently shared with the congregation that the Three Kings offered the very best from their treasuries to Jesus – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  We may not have any of these gifts to offer, but we CAN offer the best we have and that is our very selves.

Let’s try in 2016 to offer our very selves to God and to others through the Christ-like qualities of service, forgiveness, love, kindness, patience, sacrifice, and friendliness.  We just might change the life on the receiving end.

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!