Jobless – Part 7

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” – Kurt Vonnegut

“Building up expectations, creating unrealistic time frames, feeling like our end goal is the end all, be all can all lead to frustration or anxiety. We end up feeling as though we have to power through what we want rather than enjoy the process and just let the result come as it may.” – Gretchen Bleiler

So it’s been over four months now. I have to admit it is getting more difficult as time goes on. When you know you work hard and are pretty darn good at your job, you really don’t think finding a new one will be difficult. Then you realize some of the roadblocks….that you’re perceived as older than you view yourself, your salary isn’t really crazy high but higher than many simply as a result of being in the work force for a long time (so that makes another pool of employees more attractive), and even when you tell folks that you are OK with the idea of commuting an hour or two away for the right job (and are capable of deciding that for yourself before you seriously entertain any job), they don’t always believe you. Even though they don’t really know you.

I guess there is comfort in that, too…these people don’t really know you. They’re looking at you through eyes that see the experiences and people they have experienced in their lives, and not really you. They’re forming an impression of you and one or two sentences poorly worded can impact that impression. I’m a straight shooter. Sometimes people can get the wrong impression with that….or even doubt what I say. Logically I know I can’t control that, but should I try to fit in more and be a bit less me? The recruiters would tell me a resounding yes, but I am looking for a certain kind of workplace. While they test me during these interviews, I also test them. What better way to find if we are compatible?

Having hired people in my past, I understand the random nature of it. Did I always hire the best person? Nope. Did I always believe the answers they gave me to my questions? Nope. Sometimes I just was tired of interviewing and hired the next good person, instead of the stellar one I interviewed three weeks ago. I figured it was just easier. Does that make sense? Not necessarily. The whole process doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And I interviewed folks under the old interview system, since I didn’t hire people in my last job. These days you can simply be out of the mix because your resume has the wrong key words. Or your Linked In profile isn’t exaggerating your accomplishments. Sometimes I giggle when I read those of people I know, but truth is that it probably works for them. I’m confident in my own accomplishments, but always really careful about their authenticity. Maybe I downplay some things. I’m bad with knowing the quantitative results of my past experience. Did I save clients $1.2 million in 2018 as a result of the work I did negotiating rate increases and such? Maybe, that was something I was good at, but I never thought to keep track of that sort of thing. What was the total amount of premium for the book of business I managed? I get asked that a lot and have absolutely no clue. Someone gave me a thinly veiled suggestion that I should make up numbers because no one could dispute them. Well, I could dispute them. That’s enough. But I would advise you to keep track of this sort of thing….it would come in handy. I just never took the time, because I was focused on the job at hand.

I’ve looked at my bank accounts lately and cringed. Don’t worry….I’m doing fine financially….but what if I go six more months without a job? Those savings I had for this possibility becoming reality…..I really didn’t want to use them!

So it’s time to start looking at my budget and see what I can cut. Last week I finished getting outstanding dental work done. At the end of this month I will cancel my COBRA dental coverage. I’m looking at things like cable TV…..I may turn it on once a week. Is that a necessary expense? I don’t think so. My home phone… I need it? I think I have included it on a couple of job applications, so I will try not to use it on them in the future and see if I can do that in a month or two. I’ll also probably take some time to look at things like my car and homeowner’s insurance. Is it time to change? I haven’t looked at it for years. When I start thinking about these things I realize there is some fat in my budget, and some things I can manage better that I have been neglecting. Why not cut some of it now instead of later?

While at times frustrating, I still can’t help but be grateful for this time. Waiting is one of the best exercises of our faith. If I really trust God, this is one of those times where the rubber meets the road. When those worried moments hit, I tell myself “Exercise that faith.” And I breathe in and out a few times and it’s all OK. I do trust. I may not know the next road, but the godly GPS is there and working well.

I can spend only so much time job hunting and I have decided I need to make a more concentrated effort to use my time well. I’m someone who could easily read my life away, but that’s not the healthiest approach (though it will always be a large part of my life…..and there is a ton of books on my list I have yet to get to.) I have complained that my job often made me too sedentary….why the heck am I still spending so much time sitting down? It’s time to plan more and better and enjoy the opportunity to be more active. I can volunteer more and spend more time with friends. There are tons of places in the area I have said I wanted to go. Why not now? That’s my plan for the next few weeks. To plan my days better and not be idle. Life was meant to be savored, working or not. But it takes effort. When we make that effort, we reap the rewards. So why not do it?


That College Scandal

When I applied to college, I didn’t really understand it was a matter of them choosing me. I thought I chose them. I remember being in awe of my friends who paid the exorbitant $25 application fee to several schools. I decided UNC-CH would be my “winner”, filled in my application… hand, got a check for $25 from my parents for UNC Admissions, sent it in and waited for my acceptance. Not anxiously…..because like I said….I had no clue they could turn me down.

And I did receive that acceptance…..pretty quickly. Before some friends who had applied “early decision.” Once again, I hadn’t. It seemed really binding and as this was really my decision, it was as though they were unnecessarily forcing me into a marriage. Because what if I changed my mind? (Not that I planned to pay another application fee.) Remember I don’t like people telling me what to do.

I remember I received the acceptance before the early decision friends because at least one got mad at me because I was accepted before they were. I didn’t understand their problem. Why did it matter when you got the letter? We were all getting in.

And then some friends did not get in, and my innocence waned. Soon I was on pins and needles for my friends, and I understood why people applied to multiple colleges. I understood why they went early decision when they knew that was where they wanted to go. And I finally understood how fortunate I was……Carolina certainly does turn people down. A lot of them.

I remember very little about the application. It was long. I filled it out myself. In ink. My parents didn’t help, and I don’t think they even read it before I sent it in. I’m sure the thought was that I was applying, and therefore it needed to be my work. And I probably didn’t want to hear that I should have been more careful with my handwriting.

But as tough as I now know it was for students to get in college then, it has gotten far crazier since then. I helped both my niece and my goddaughter with their applications to UNC (and incidentally both got in, though my goddaughter chose another school.) The application process is easier in many ways than it was when I was applying…..the common app helps so much when applying to multiple schools. But then there are the many extra questions, which varied by school, and out of control. Wish I could remember them now. One of Maggie’s was “Who is your most favorite and least favorite superhero and why?” From my memory, my two or three questions were all related to why I wanted to go to Carolina and why I was qualified to be a student there. I’m sure the superhero question got a far better quality of student. Progress. (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)

Note that while I did help my niece and goddaughter (and a few others) with college applications. I will say it was grueling for them and I made them come up with their own answers. But I was like Chuck Barris and kept pulling out the gong when their answers didn’t cut it. I kept saying “No, no, no!”, “The people reviewing these are probably going to be people my age”, and “Read what they say they are looking for and tell me how that answer will sway them.” They hated me for a time during the process….this I know. But it was a necessary time of torture. I suspect some parents are outright writing their kids applications for them…..but Aunt Kim felt like it needed to be their work. With a bit of coaching.

It’s a competitive world out there for college these days. When I took the SAF, I did not study for it beforehand. It didn’t occur to me you could. Taking it even once was horrendous for someone like me who has a short attention span. And it was a Saturday morning! The first hour I was good. The second my attention was sketchy. By the third hour I was making designs down the answer sheet and not reading most of the questions. Somehow my scores were still enough and sufficient to get me in a good school. But now there are SAT prep classes and students are taking it many times. It blows my mind. And the number of schools they apply to. Phenomenal. And the application fee is more than $25. Mind blowing the money that goes into that process.

More and more students feel the need to attend colleges be successful. And a 4-year degree is not enough. Most believe they need graduate school for most careers. And yet it still doesn’t seem enough. Many still struggle to find good jobs and once they begin, the jobs take over their lives. I loved my 20s. I made some of my best friends then. We worked, but nights and weekends were ours for fun. A lot of “kids” today are working 12 hours a day. And weekends. Companies reward this. I find it insane.

But then we have my young heroes. Those who eschew convention and decide they can’t be locked up in an office. They are the vagabonds. They travel the world on a shoestring. They work to live an adventurous lifestyle. As much fun as my life has been, I have never been able to toss away convention to the degree they do. But they tempt me. I try to live vicariously through them. I closely follow the son of friends of a friend of a Facebook friend of mine. Yep, you got it. Makes me laugh too. But in a random conversation my friend started he came up with regard to my comment in this discussion. So yes….,I stalk him. (He does a vlog. He doesn’t mind.) It’s a weird world.

But a few young folks are realizing another secret we had somehow forgotten. They don’t need college. There are many, many occupations for which they just need skills and they are working towards building those. Some with parental support, some defying everything their parents wanted for them. But they are earning a good living. Not spending money on college tuition. And strategizing as to how they can build it better. They may take a class if it will teach them a new skill. But a degree? To them it is a piece of paper that doesn’t translate into cash. They aren’t wrong

So back to my original subject. These Hollywood parents. I have some sympathy for them. They have lots of things excess money can buy, and kids that are probably normal rebellious high school students who have never had to work too hard or make their own goals. I suspect these parents were desperate. Embarrassed that their kids would not do what they felt needed to be done to be a success, as they were. So they do what they can….crazy things to those of us looking in….to hopefully get them to the next step. But it blew up in their faces. As it should have. But how many other students have passed through college already in the same way? We’ll never know.I know those types were in school way back when with me.

But yet….I am glad I got into college on my own. I would have liked a guidance counselor who helped me a bit more and shown me how to apply for scholarships. I had no clue and we did not have that then. My parents sacrificed financially to send me to UNC. I still am amazed they did it. I only had one student loan for my time there, my senior year. Which took forever to pay off and taught me a great lesson. Renting money is expensive. There were no semesters abroad, no spring break trips. I worked my summers and any other time I could (though not during school my first three years.) But I was so fortunate with what I had. I always knew that. And I wanted to be there. Very much.

Did college make me a better employee? No, I don’t think so. A strong work ethic and co-workers at my first job who were great trainers did that. I already had decent basic readings writing, and math skills, which also have helped. But college did make me a better human being. I learned how to live with others….some different culturally and economically, some just brats and prima donnas. But many superstar human beings.

The world opened up to me….I was able to see history being made up close and personal and hear lectures by some of the finest and most provocative speakers around. I had professors who were celebrities in themselves….Walter Cronkite’s head writer, the former head of UNESCO, a couple of famous authors, experts in subjects far and wide. Interesting and compelling human beings. I debated issues of importance…..really debated, in real life situations and challenging and being challenged on ideas I thought to be incontestable. They weren’t. That confused and delighted me. I learned. Just not always in the classroom. These were my selfish years…..and I am so grateful.

Don’t force your children into college if they don’t want to go. There are many paths to a happy and successful life. Don’t try to make them live your dreams. Encourage them to live their passions. At the end of life, doesn’t happy and purposeful trump everything? And remind them they can always change directions. Remind you of that, too. It’s not too late. We forget that sometimes.

Yeah, I’m not a fan of lying and cheating and throwing around large sums of money to get your way. I have major issues with the entitled. Parents on a mission for the flesh of their flesh can become monsters….but I suspect they’re really caught up in a warped idea of what will make for a good life for them and feel it is their responsibility to give that to them. Misplaced love.

Love your child enough to give them wings. Teach them how to be humble and happy…,and chart their own course. Yes, they could have heartbreak ahead. But maybe God’s plan for their purpose is something glorious you never considered. Be there when they need you….but push them out of the nest and wait for them to fly. That’s the purpose for which they were designed.

The Cherry Weeps…..But Then Blooms

My precious yard guy and I had a discussion last summer. My weeping cherry had fallen victim to some sort of tree disease that was going around. Trees all over town were hit. The greenery died prematurely.  He looked at it and said “It’s dead, Kim. You’re probably going to have to get rid of it.”
I love that tree. It’s the perfect size, the perfect shape. I love where it sits in my yard, right above my glorious quince bush. (I just found out the name of that bush this year thanks to my Facebook friends. They teach me things all the time that I can’t easily Google.) Whoever landscaped my yard did a wonderful job. The idea of losing this perfect tree was inconceivable, I just couldn’t. 

So I denied it. I wouldn’t believe it. I declared it was still alive. He gave me that indulgent “OK….we’ll wait for now, but you’ll see.”
So I waited. It had no leaves the rest of summer or through the winter. With the warm weather, the quince bush below bloomed. Amazing, vibrant orange. But the weeping cherry was desolate in comparison. No blooms there.
Then this week. I was in the car, pulling out of my driveway, and looked in that direction. I saw cherry blooms. Not the normal covering, but some. There are signs of life there. You have to look a bit closer, but it is beautiful. It seems to be getting better. The blooms seem to be increasing.
It’s interesting to me that this happens as we begin the countdown to Easter…..the celebration of rebirth. Sometimes we are that tree. Sick and hit by outside and inside plagues. Worn down and tired and a bit dead inside. And worn out. Ugly. Purposeless. Trying to find our joy, but we just can’t touch it. And those who look at us do so with pitying eyes that see the disease, that see the death, and doubt our possibilities. Sometimes we believe them. Sometimes that inner glimmer shines just a bit, defiantly, and we refuse to live as dead.
Then it happens. We start to bloom. We come to life. Slowly,  but surely, we fight the blight. Sometimes beyond us works to make us the gorgeous vision of what we were meant to be. Even we seem a bit surprised of the change.
I love the message of Easter. I’m starting to enjoy observing the season of Lent. Anticipation of the dead coming back to life. The renewal of our purpose. The death of winter turning to the blooming of spring.

I’ve felt a bit of the blight lately. Tired and rundown. Emotional and a bit purposeless. I’ve been challenged by several to observe Lent in some very positive ways. To give away my stuff that sits unused. Let it have new life in someone else’s hand.

The ladies of my church are going to focus on the simple act of walking. Together and on our own. Adding the disclipline of action. Maybe praying as we go, for ourselves and each other and our world. Maybe communing with God. Maybe encouraging each other. Maybe letting God encourage us. Maybe celebrating our bodies and where they are now, and where they can be if we treat them well. Maybe looking around and seeing needs we can meet.

Some people use Lent to give up things that have a hold on them, Just 40 days of this self denial can give new perspective. Especially if you replace it with positive things that free you.

I’m someone who easily loses focus. I need to constantly reset. This is not a bad thing. It is who I am and I know it about myself. It is who most of us are, I believe. We have short attention spans and we are prone to wander. I eventually re-evaluate and recommit to living my purpose, even as that purpose changes. Sometimes just moving forward in faith, not sure where God is leading me. I’m at that place now. Feeling like change is coming, and preparing to embrace it. To set the fear aside and live life well.

God is here. He leads me to good things. He reminds me he is bigger than people. That ultimately he is in control. And that which worries me or paralyzes me is in vain. He shows me that this short life can be long and eternal. We all change this world forever…..the question is how. Do we improve it, make it worse, or increase the mediocrity?

For now that weeping cherry tree is not weeping. It blooms. It is adding beauty to the world. What is ahead for it? I have no clue. But for today I will celebrate it and be glad I wasn’t hasty to remove it. It brings me hope and contentment and a reminder that the experts and those who give us their opinions are sometimes wrong. It makes me smile. Sometimes you need to go with your gut and live in anticipation of the gift of rebirth. Joy.

On Being A Grownup

Often I feel like being a grownup is over-rated. I see people who think it means the fun is zapped from your life. I certainly don’t believe that….if you do it correctly, the fun increases, as does your ability to create fun in most life situations. You learn life is short….and you want to make it good. Being a grownup should make life easier, and better.

I’ve been thinking a lot about maturity lately, though. There just seem to be a lot of adults around that don’t seem to have gained much of it in their lifetimes. When can you tell where it is lacking? Look for the drama.
What do I consider drama? Responding to life in ways that make you appear to be a hormone-controlled adolescent. Oh, I remember those days well. Going home from school and laying on my bed crying for no reason….or a stupid reason. Saying “I hate you” to anyone who didn’t make me happy at the moment. Trying to play games to get my own way….and not grasping why everyone didn’t understand that the “rules” I expected others to abide by, didn’t necessarily apply to me. Silly thoughtless pranks, words that cut, making decisions solely to hurt those who have hurt me. Remember?
When you are an adolescent, your changing hormones sometimes control your body. Our body chemistry always controls human beings to a degree. We are pre-disposed to certain things – some to anger, some to tears, some to stuffing everything inside until we blow, some to depression and mania, some to perfect calm. While some of these body fluctuations change and settle down as we get older, some stay with us forever. The difference between an adolescent and a grown-up? These changes are new to the adolescent and we need to gently teach them how to manage them, and apply a lot of grace when they get it wrong. An adult should have somewhat mastered the art.
As you age, you should get better at exercising self-control. You should know yourself well enough to know your strengths and weaknesses. You should get help for things you can’t manage yourself….and know that sonetimes asking for help is the greatest show of strength. You should realize life just isn’t all about you and your feelings. While it is natural to see and respond to the actions of others, at the heart of our thought life should always be “So, what am I doing wrong here?” Your biggest God-given responsibility is always the person you are becoming. That is where you have choices. That is where you can make the biggest difference in this world. Most often the choices of others are out if your control….and you should keep them there.
Life in itself has a lot of drama. People get sick. People die. People get married. People get divorced. People wrong us. People love us. People make bad decisions. People make good decisions. People win. People lose. People triumph. People fall.
When life happens, there doesn’t have to be a scene. You don’t have to make everything a dramatic event…or make the dramatic events of others your dramatic event. You don’t show your love any more when you do. In fact, you often show your own selfishness – you make their issues about you. 
You don’t have to condemn. You don’t have to be the angel of righteousness. You don’t have to be the Holy Spirit. Others hold down those jobs and responsibilities….and they are better at it than you.
Because you are hurt or scarred by others, does not mean your best place to reside is in the crux of that. And because you love someone, you don’t have to solve their problems for them. If you’re spending too much time thinking on their issues, or worrying about them, you’re probably neglecting your own purpose. Offering a hand up when someone falls down is usually the right thing to do. Carrying them around on your back when they have legs that work, is taking everything a bit too far.
The emotions that come when someone wrongs us are natural. They become wrong when we let them control our future. We are all “done wrong” at some point in life. Forgiving and moving on does not mean they were right….it means your future is not controlled by their actions. I’ve been told some unbelievable stories of forgiveness during my time on this earth. What’s interesting is that if you watch their lives, you can easily see these true forgivers are people of power. Those who stay victims stay weak. Often forgiving is not a one-time decision….it is a constant process until it no longer controls us. Until it no longer has power in our lives.
It’s weird to me when I see hatred directed at people from someone who has wronged them. This is something I want to study a bit more…..I just don’t understand it. My thought is “So you did this to them, what gives you the indulgence to hate?” I know there have probably been times in my life where people looking on my life thought the same thing about me. Splinter, meet plank. I figure studying this may demonstrate that to me more. But I am willing to face the pain if seeing that plank in my eye so I can change me. So I can see truth better. I read something recently that was talking about people evaluating other people…. it said our opinion says much more about us than it does about those we evaluate. It made me start looking inward a bit more when I find myself “evaluating.”
As we reflect on our plan to get our life on an emotionally even keel…and I can tell you that from my experience, living life mostly in balance does make life better….we have to consider the feelings of others around us. Sometimes those feelings won’t be rational to us – they are looking at the world through a different lens, that has been distorted by their own set of problems and experiences, and body chemistry. They act out of pain, out of fear, out of emotion….just as we do, but yet differently. Or maybe not so differently, and that is why we combust when together. We see in others that in ourselves that we hate or fear.
Life should be more fun as we grow up, because we learn the art of self-control. We learn to mind our own business, and have faith that others will work out their own challenges without our taking over or acting as their avenging angel. We should roll our eyes a bit at the drama…and get to the business of enjoying our life and employing our purpose. Remember all those things that we thought were so important and dramatic in our past? Many of them are now just a blip in our life experience. Not even enough to register as life-changing. Almost amusing because of the energy we devoted to them. We can see now how those around us (those we probably considered our best friends during that time) threw gasoline on the fire to make it even more spectacular, instead of handing us a bucket of water to put out the flames. They may have been well meaning but dead wrong in their approach. They added to the destruction instead of helping us rebuild.
So how are you doing? Are you living your life now as a grown-up or a child? It’s a choice. And one that will impact the quality of your life and the lives of others. Life is short….make it good. Find peace and purpose. Be a fireman…..not an arsonist.

The Kimmons and Me

I met John and Nancy Kimmons when I was around nine years old and my family began to go to their church (Covenant ARP on Greenbriar Rd.) They were very different types of people and I had very different relationships with each of them.

I consider John Kimmons Sr. to be my first adult friend. When I was in high school and whoever was appointed to be our Sunday School teacher never showed up one semester, we spent about six weeks or so on our own….our high school Sunday School class was very small, usually only three or four of us at the most, and we would just hole up in our room (which was in the corner of the church basement) and hang out. One day John popped his head in the window and saw us there without adults, came inside, and became our self-appointed teacher. Well, teacher of sorts. No curriculum. He just talked to us. Like people. He shared his shortcomings, his humor, his faith. Like I said, he was a friend. He was quite open and honest about everything. More than most adults would be with teenagers. An alcoholic, he told stories of where he had been. What it had done to his family. The regret he had that his children had grown up with that man who drank. He talked of his days as a salesman. He introduced me to contemporary Christian music, and would loan me his albums. He had long conversations with me about dating and marriage (I don’t think my perpetual singleness has anything to do with the promise he made me make about making sure I was cherished….and not just loved….when I decided to marry.) He made me laugh often, made me think, and I always felt he had the very manner of Christ. I saw Jesus as a better friend as a result of that relationship.

But oh, Nancy…..Mrs. Kimmons…..our early relationship was a bit different. She had the demeanor of the teacher she was. I kinda always felt like I was getting in trouble when I was around her. OK, often I was usually in trouble. There were a few lectures. When John was laid back and funny and I would have easily done anything he requested of me, Nancy made me want to rebel. Of course, I didn’t. She was tough and I was a bit scared of her!

While John taught me to think about the goodness and forgiveness of Christ, and taught me how to be comfortable with my faith, Nancy challenged me in a different way. For example, I hated….really hated….having to be in the kid’s plays at church. They made me physically ill. I had a tendency to start giggling uncontrollably in my nervousness, or talk with a voice shaking with fear. Not what you want people to see at the point in life where you are approaching adolescence.

It was time for play practice to begin one Christmas and Nancy was in charge. When I told my Mom how much I dreaded it, she said I didn’t have to be in it if I didn’t want to (Mom hates that sort of thing, too.) I went to Nancy and said “Mrs. Kimmons, my mom said I don’t have to be in the play this year.” Nancy knew my issues, I know, and I believe most adults would have just agreed and said it was OK. I thought she was going to give me a hard time and was surprised when she said “If that is what you want to do, Kim, that’s fine.” It was one of those times you turn around and want to do a fist pump. Score! But as I walked away she said “But you say you are a Christian, and you know that God says where you are weak, there He is strong.” Pow!

With great strength I just continued to walk away, but I guarantee there was horror in my eyes. “Why is she doing this to me?” “Isn’t that emotional blackmail?” “I hate her.” Yeah, I think that was the general train of my thoughts. But I kept thinking. And I started praying. And I cried out to the Lord to make me not have to do it. In the end, however, I couldn’t deny that she was right. Yes, I was in the play and yes, it was hard, and yes I had to pray a lot, but it was OK.  It was a day of reckoning. If I trust God, sometimes I have to do things I hate, that I am not good at, that don’t come naturally. Sometimes my minutes should be sacrifices, times where I deny me and my comfort, and let God work through the great weakness. (So OK, my whole life should be like that….but yes, I am a sinner. God gets that.) It is a lesson I carry with me to this day and am still trying to perfect. I’m not there yet, but I haven’t stopped trying.

John died when I was in college, and while it was one of my greatest losses, I also was prepared for it. He prepared me. In one of our talks he said “This heart isn’t going to last forever and one day you will hear it has given out. When it does, know that my body will go over to Winston so that medical students can learn from it, and my soul will be more content than ever.”  His was a presence just made for heaven, so I was always able to find comfort in that. My life suffered loss when he died, but because I knew how much better he felt having shed that body and damaged heart, I had to rejoice.

During subsequent years, I saw Nancy going about life, seemingly so strong and capable through everything. Yet now I know from talks with her how difficult it was. I know she missed John every day. But she also knew God wasn’t done with her yet, so she spent her time well. She invested in ministries and people. Her first few years moving to Greensboro were difficult, but she knew it was best. She had already learned “When we are weak, then He is strong”….so she put it into practice. I always just thought she was strong naturally. It was pretty amazing to learn how much she had to lean on God, too.

These past few years,, as she was in her 90s, I have seen a difference in Nancy, a vulnerability. She was shakier on her feet, shakier in her confidence. I think she was at the point where she felt she was a resident of heaven, and an alien to earth. As several mentioned at her memorial service, Nancy probably got to heaven and said “What took you so long?” She was ready to go….several years ago. In her own way, like her husband John, Nancy prepared me for her death. She was never as blunt as John about it, but she made no secret of the fact that she longed for heaven.

Like with John, I rejoice that she has shed that body and that her soul soars. Like with John, I will miss her so very much. Like with John, she will never die as long as I am on this earth. My eyes will remain open to the things that they both loved, and I will pray as they would have prayed. The lessons both taught me are part of the fabric of who I am. God has breathed through them into me. They both lived their lives as modern day disciples, and spent their lives investing in others. What a great legacy. What a gift for people like me.

Nancy’s memorial service this week was perfection. The service was so beautifully a gift from her family to her and to their dad John, and Nancy had planned it with her son John (my former pastor and teacher.) Yes Nancy was a planner…and in this case she couldn’t have done it any better and her kids and grandkids couldn’t have executed it more perfectly. There was laughter, there were tears. There was music. The room was full, and when John Jr. asked how many people in that room had been discipled by his mom, hands went up all over. Mine included, of course. I was privileged…I got some of the prime time and the prime lessons. I got the wisdom of someone who not only knew life well, who not only knew God well, but knew me well. The delivery changed as the years went on…..from bluntness and correction, to pure encouragement. She wasn’t my first adult friend, at least as I realized it at the time, but she was my friend indeed.

Nancy’s last words to me were that she loved me, and those were my last to her. The great thing about love like ours is that it goes beyond this earth. The love doesn’t stop by earthly death… it just flows from heaven. Purer, truer, and carried in me with the power of God’s spirit. My hope is that I can pass on the lessons that were passed on to me, and multiply the love. They are great and treasured gifts and were made for sharing. Let me know if you need extra. I’ve got plenty to give and it would be a privilege to share them with you.

Shaking Up the Comfort Zone -Falalalala lala lala

From Luke 1…..(Contemporary English Version)

“When Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest by the name of Zechariah from the priestly group of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was from the family of Aaron. Both of them were good people and pleased the Lord God by obeying all that he had commanded. But they did not have children. Elizabeth could not have any, and both Zechariah and Elizabeth were already old.

One day Zechariah’s group of priests were on duty, and he was serving God as a priest. According to the customs of the priests, he had been chosen to go into the Lord’s temple that day and to burn incense, while the people stood outside praying.

All at once an angel from the Lord appeared to Zechariah at the right side of the altar. Zechariah was confused and afraid when he saw the angel. But the angel told him:

Don’t be afraid Zechariah! God has heard your prayers. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son and you will name him John. His birth will make you very happy and many people will be glad. Your son will be a great servant of the Lord. He must never drink wine or beer, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be with him from the time he is born.

John will lead many people in Israel to turn back to the Lord their God. He will go ahead do the Lord with the same power and Spirit that Elijah had.  And because of John, parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to. That is how John will get people ready for the Lord.

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know this is going to happen? My wife and I are both very old.’

The angel answered ‘I am Gabriel, God’s servant, and I was sent to tell you this good news. You have not believed what I have said. So you will not be able to say a thing until all of this happens. But everything will take place when it is supposed to.’ “(V 5-20)
When everyone else is focused on the birth of Jesus this Christmas, I find myself focused on the birth of another special baby, John, the child of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zech and Liz (really, they were just normal people like you and me) were at a time in their life when I suspect they thought they had it all pretty much figured out. A good life, a simple life, a life of quiet purpose and routine. Obedient to what they saw as God’s path for them. Then this angel comes along smack dab in the middle of all of that, and they find out their life is about to change!

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them. Reconciled to a quiet life without children of their own, they are told that their status is a-changing. Not only that, they are going to have to raise a kid who’s not quite “normal”. One who comes with some special handling required. A child who had a purpose even before he was conceived. One they will have to keep from ever drinking beer or wine, for goodness’ sake! Doesn’t God realize they are too tired for all of this? No wonder Zechariah finds himself struck dumb for a while!
I’ve been going through one of those times lately when I have felt blessed NOT to be a parent. It’s a scary thing. I think all kids come with the same instructions as John, and yeah….for those of you that are parents you have a tremendous job that remains as long as both you and that child is on this earth. Your responsibility is to be to be teaching and encouraging and preparing them for their life’s purpose every day…but it is also releasing them to their own purpose from day one. They are on one hand your responsibility, but on the other hand they do not belong to you at all. They belong to God. They were created to be themselves. You, however, were especially chosen to be their parent.

But I also think of my own responsibilities to the Johns of the world. Who can identify the special ones? Do we all come with the same sort of warranty? Not having children does not take me off the hook. It’s still my job to teach and encourage. Angels can still come to me at any time to prod me towards a job or responsibility I feel totally unprepared for. Maybe my job is to light the incense to create the environment that will make others breathe in the breathe of God more deeply, but maybe, even at this time of life (when coasting through seems pretty appealing), more is expected of me.

It has made me think. Will I pay attention when God wants to shake my life up, or will I go on doing my comfortable routine (which looks way more respectable to those on the outside) and ignore the angel? Will I listen to the angel, but argue about it and think I have a better idea of God’s plan? Will I really stop and smell the incense or just continue to let it burn in the background so the senses of others are aroused?
When we find ourselves in our comfort zone, God’s probably not going to be able to do his best work. How much can we really lean on him there? If instead we approach life as a free fall, and God as the one who gives us the thumbs up as to when to jump, how exhilarating can our life be?
I write a lot about living a purposeful life because I have a really short attention span and I constantly have to remind myself. I’m easily distracted. But I want to be willing to be struck dumb like Zechariah. I want God to use me in a way I would never expect. And I want to hear the voices of angels when they speak to me and believe them, and not listen to them like they are Charlie Brown’s teacher. When God sends me a message about a mission, I want to be ready, willing and able to say (once the shock passes) “Here I am, all ready to go.”

You’re never too old or too young to be used by God. You’re never inadequate. He sees your limitations as assets. You just need to say “Well OK….I guess I’ll do it.” Don’t even bother to fasten your seat belt. The ride is beginning and it just may render you speechless. But possibly like John, it will make parents more thoughtful of their children and people think right.  Now wouldn’t that be something?!

Look at those kids of yours a bit closer today, regardless of their age. God has given them a purpose… are you encouraging them to live that, discouraging it, ignoring it, or putting up road blocks? Don’t forget to pray and watch…God has given you a special seat in their lives for a reason.

Children or not, may God’s angel speak to you, and may you be open to listening and ready to do whatever hysterical thing is asked. Because God has a definite sense of humor. It may be a baby for the old barren folks, or something equally as absurd. Go with it!

Make this a very special Christmas Eve. Be the gift!

Don’t Assume

From time to time I get frustrated by statements that people make…statements that indicate they think everyone is like them, should be like them, shares their opinions, or fits in a little box of expectations.

One thing you can count on…in almost every group of people there is someone who belies definition, or doesn’t look at a specific issue the same way you do.  We think we know others, even those we have never met or engaged in much conversation.  We think those who disagree with us should be punished and subtlety look for ways to do it. 
Here is a list of assumptions I have experienced and have heard that I think poison our world. Assumptions that are not necessarily truth.  These assumptions have limited lives, made people less than they are, have kept people from their potential, and have been used to cultivate lies in brains.  They bring division and not unity.  They are the roots of a lot of evil, directed at ourselves and others.  Here are some thoughts, many learned the hard way.

Don’t assume that:

everyone wants to do the right thing.

the idea of who you think you are, is really all that you are.

because you believe something for a long time, it is right.

investing in negative things will produce positive results.

the majority should always rule.

how something looks is how something is.

because people follow you, doesn’t mean you are correct or a worthy leader.

because you have experienced the same thing as someone else, you know what they are going through.

what you hear on the news is always truth, or what you would have found significant had you been there.

you have to agree with those you love.

you know your own limits.

everything that is true, is right.

everyone who attends church, or belongs to a church, is a person of faith.

everyone who does not attend church is not a person of faith.

people who look you in the eye are telling you the truth.

you are limited by your age.

it is easy for everyone to attend a party.

you really understand what others think of you.

because someone laughs at your teasing, it doesn’t hurt them.

more money solves money problems.

you cannot be an athlete.

because you follow or do what you are told, doesn’t mean you haven’t made a decision.

all good people share the same faith.

people who have children, or teach children, like children.

those who flatter you, like you.

people’s reactions have anything to do with you.

schools breed learners.

people who do not have children, do not have children by choice…..or those who do have children want them.

everything that is legal, is moral, or everything illegal, immoral.

those who don’t want children don’t like children….or would be bad parents if they chose to have them.

retirement means you never work again.

your doctor can read your mind.

all single people have made the choice to be single, or all singles want to be married.

all married people would marry their spouse again if given a choice.

everyone thinks that the United States is the best country on earth.

someone’s sexuality can be determined by the way they talk, or by the way they look.

a marriage or family that looks good on the outside, is really good on the inside.

a marriage or family that looks bad on the outside is really bad on the inside.

everyone sees all the colors that you do.

all people of a particular race were raised the same, or hold the same values.

people who compliment you are telling the truth.

people who tell you that you look younger than your age really mean it, or those who guess your age are guessing the age they think really you are.

everyone is a team player.

those who say they will keep a secret will keep your confidence.

people who look happy, are really happy.

people who look mean are really mean.

anyone can ever stop prayer in schools.

Sunday is the Sabbath for all.

holding a job means you work.

just because it is in print, it is true and accurate.

everyone looks forward to holidays or wants to spend holidays with their family.

all who work on holidays are unhappy about it.

God says the same thing to each person, or expects everyone to believe or do the same things.

those who are in prison are guilty.

those who are declared innocent, are innocent.

freedoms should always be exercised.

quiet people are shy.

the advice of all parents is in the best interest of their child.

those who live in big houses are rich.

those who are homeless are poor.

where there is smoke there is fire.

cleanliness is really next to godliness.

everyone likes to receive gifts.

all pastors are Christians or have a closer relationship with God than you do.

those who profess to be atheists don’t hear the voice of God.

those who have pets love animals.

those who don’t have pets don’t love animals.

all lawyers are sleazy.

some lawyers aren’t sleazy.

all doctors have compassion and common sense.

everyone good at their job, likes their job.

they who cry loudest feel more.

you know the heart of someone you have never met, or even those you have.

those who appear healthy really are.

those who say they are sick are really sick.

age brings wisdom.

all members of a family are alike and live life the same way.

you can’t do something because you have never been able to do it before.

the fat lack willpower.

the thin are healthy.

bullying is limited to the playground.

your vote doesn’t count.

your vote counts.

treatment is available for addicts, even if they want it.

the words of an addict is truth, or that because they love you they won’t lie to you.

birthdays are significant to all people, or a celebration for all people.

today is the way it is always going to be.

the strong can’t be weak and the weak can’t be strong.

everyone has someone with whom to celebrate a holiday, birthday, or special event.

those who appear in control feel that way beneath their skin.

if someone tells you it doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t.

those who borrow money will ever pay you back.

your sacrifices will ever be appreciated.

our political or justice system will work fine without your attention.

because someone does not speak your language or is from a different culture, they don’t understand what you are going through.

celebrities are their image.

everyone sick has someone to hold their hand.

feelings tell you the truth.

people can read your mind.  Even those who love you.

you can read the mind of those that you know and/or love.

the movie is like the book.

you really are good at forming first impressions.

that God views you in the same way that people view you.

you have better things to do than sit on a jury.

people will tell you what they really think.

someone else’s opinion of you is correct, whoever they might be.

someone else’s opinion of you is wrong, even if it is different than you have always been told.

because you sing and people applaud, you are good at it.

the highly educated are smart, or those with no education are dumb.

there is much value in having cake if you can’t eat it.

people owe you their secrets.

you have the moral right to speculate on the private lives of others.

it is true, unless they have told you it is true.

everyone has been the guest of honor at a party.

it is true because they told you it was.

you are too old or too young to help someone else.

that the biggest winner is the one who takes home the trophy or has the highest score.

how old you are has anything to do with your age.

hurting someone who has hurt you, damages them more than you.

attending the same event produces the same experience.

childish behavior is limited to children.

the weather report is accurate.

life is fair.

“I love you” means the same thing to everyone.

you have done anything that God was not aware of or cannot forgive.

how you live your life doesn’t matter.

you are the center of the universe.

you are not important.

Assume little.  New opportunities and a bigger world of possibilities open to you when the door to your mind has not been shut.  Remove the deadbolt.  Don’t be part of the lynch mob. Think before you speak.  Look at the finish line before you join the race.  Forgive and forget. Notice you don’t exist in a bubble.  And sometimes admit you are wrong.