Friday, February 16, 2018

Hit the Brakes - Chapel A Day (Day 2)

Do you ever find yourself staring at the food you're heating in the microwave and saying, through gritted teeth, "Hurrrryyyy uppppp!" I do.

We live such busy lives. From the time our feet hit the floor early in the morning to the time we lay our weary heads upon our pillow late at night, we go-go-go all day-day-day. We want fast food, fast wifi, and fast cars. 

Maybe it's time to hit the brakes. But, how?

That's the question I pondered in today's chapel-a-day time. I'm giving up an hour of "my"
time each day of Lent and giving it back to God. I want to spend that time thinking and praying about what I can do to become a better person for God, for others, and for myself. Today, I realized that the first step is probably to hit the brakes.

Jesus knew the importance of that. In scripture, we're told that he often went off by himself to pray. Other times, he would stop what he was doing and take time to talk to someone who needed him. He advised his friend Martha to "slow down, already." (Loose translation!) 

Granted, Jesus didn't have a cellphone that dinged every 3 minutes with a text, email, or Facebook notification. He didn't have a 9-5 job with a crabby boss who watched the clock, or children who needed to be carpooled to soccer or ballet...or both... at the same time. But, he did have places to go, people to see, and things to do... really important things. He still found a way to pace himself. Perhaps if we did the same, and started running our own lives, instead of letting our lives run us, we might find ourselves happier, healthier, and more spiritually fulfilled. Which brings me back to my earlier question: How? Well, I'm ruminating on that. But here are three things that might be worth considering.

1- How important (really important) are the items on our daily "to-do" list? Are we prioritizing them, or just cramming as much as we can into that list? What can we live/do without?  

2- How much time do we spend each day with media- TV, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Google-surfing? What if we cut that time in half and spent it with real people and participating in real, rather than virtual, activities?

3- When's the last time we put down the smartphone, Ipad, or Kindle and actually read a book... you know, the kind with real pages that you can turn. I read a study (um... online) which concluded that the light that comes from computer screens and cellphones can increase your risk for disease and decrease your level of quality sleep. Maybe a good "page-turner" every now would be good for us. There's something calming about reading a book, or a devotional, or.. dare I say it? A few passages of scripture from the Bible. 

Those are all good questions. But, my chapel time today led me to believe that the main question to ask is: 

"What and who might I see if I slow down instead of racing from here to there and back again every day?"  I'm going to work on finding the answer to that by, well... by hitting the brakes.

I'll let you know how it goes.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Just Say it!

"You look very nice."

I heard the male voice just behind my left shoulder, as I made my way through the crowds after a long, hot tiring day of selling books at a Florida arts festival. I turned and looked at the gentleman who'd fallen in step with me.

Sweaty, disheveled, and exhausted, I laughed and said, "Wait.. who, me?"

"Yes, you. You look very nice. " Then, he stopped and said, "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be inappropriate."

Normally, I would have just mumbled a quick "thank you" and hurried on. But, he was seemed sincere, polite and respectful. I sensed that I should also stop. 

So, I did. And, I waited.

He continued. "I have just decided, 'what the heck' these days.  I have so many friends who have died, are dying, or are sick. Life's too short. If I want to say something nice these days... I just say it."

He hesitated, then looked me in the eye and asked, "Is it okay? What I said to you?"

"Of course," I replied. "And, thank you very much. I actually needed to hear that today." Then, we both moved on... in the opposite directions that led to our respective lives. 

It's funny how a random, 60-second encounter with a total stranger can continue to rattle around in your brain until you finally stop racing from here to there and really consider what was said.

"Life's too short. If I want to say something nice these days... I just say it."

16 little words that are hugely profound.

I began to think about all the missed opportunities I've had to give a quick compliment, to say something nice to someone, to lift someone up, to encourage, to heal. The reasons for letting the moment pass probably seemed good at the time. 

"I'm in a hurry." "They are in a hurry." "I will say something next time." "I don't know them." "They'll reject it." "They'll think I'm weird." 

So what? Life's too short.

We are just a few days into the new year. What have you done with your "new start" on the timeline that is your life? We are each given 24 hours every day to DO SOMETHING. Even if that "something" is simply speaking a complimentary or uplifting word to someone we know, or perhaps to someone we don't. We can choose to opt out using any of the above excuses. Oh, you mean these?

"I'm/They're in a hurry." It takes 5 seconds to give a compliment or speak a kind word to someone.
"I will say something next time." What if there isn't a next time for one or both of you?
"I don't know them." Maybe it will lead to an introduction.
"They'll reject it."  So? You've still managed to put positive energy out there. It will do some good.
"They'll think I'm weird." Or, they may think you're kind. They may even think you're a gift. 

So, here's the deal. Let's go out on a limb and say something nice to someone every day for the next 7 days. Even if it's a total stranger. Perhaps, especially if it's a total stranger. We may make someone's day. We may make our own day! 

We will almost certainly make good use of our time.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

30 Days of Thanks-Being Thankful Isn’t Always Easy

     This month, I’m blogging about Thanksgiving. Not just the November day of celebration, but about developing a lifestyle of thanksgiving, which can radically change your life. Several years ago, I wrote a bible study called “30 Days of Thanks.” What I determined during my research is that “thanksgiving” boils down to four things:

 Thanksgiving is gratitude
 Thanksgiving is sacrifice 
 Thanksgiving is relationship
 Thanksgiving is a call to action

     Last blog, I wrote about gratitude as a lifestyle. Read it here. Thanksgiving is also sacrifice. Ouch. Sacrifice? Like… give something up? Like… put someone or something else ahead of my own interests? thanks when the world around me is falling apart?
Like… not being #1? Yeah. Like that.
     In the Old Testament, "sacrifice" had a very literal meaning. It typically meant a physical sacrifice of food or animals, offered on an altar to God as a means of showing repentance or gratitude. When Christ came on the scene, the meaning of sacrifice began to change. The apostle Paul tells us that sacrifice is often less about the act and more about the heart. Because what is in our heart will determine the way we act. (Funny how that works, huh?)
     Thanksgiving is sacrifice because it is not always easy. 
     Sometimes we just don't feel like giving thanks!
     We can't see the good in what is happening in our own lives, in the lives of our family or friends, or in the world. We are sad, or hurting, or angry, or confused, and we just don't feel like saying "Thank you, God." We see innocent people murdered, lives cut short by disease, and relationships splintered by hurtful actions.
     So, why should we give thanks? Lots of reasons. First, giving thanks takes the focus off what is troubling us and puts it on God. It keeps us from being paralyzed by fear, anger, or grief. It keeps us from rash actions that may be driven by our fear, anger, or grief. Sacrificial thanks may not change our situation, but it may change us. And if we are changed, we may view our situation differently and be more open to finding solutions to problems or challenges.
     Hear me on this: giving thanks in difficult times doesn’t mean we ignore what is troubling us. It means we thank God in the midst of what is troubling us. It doesn’t mean we ignore the evil in the world- whether it’s our own little world or the world at large. It means we give thanks to God that we are the kind of person who does recognize evil and who is motivated to find ways to change the situation. It doesn’t mean that our heart doesn’t hurt. It means we open our hurting heart to the one source that is able to bring healing.  
     Sometimes, we have to ask God to show us what we can be thankful for. And, when he does… and when we do… there’s one last step. We look for ways to “do good.” In the book of Hebrews, we are told "to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
     In my last blog post, I asked you to take inventory of your life and write down what you are truly thankful for. People, community, church, health, possessions, forgiveness, grace, etc.
     Now, I want you to list at least one or two things that you find it difficult, if not impossible, to be thankful for. Then I want you to really think about those things, meditate on them, pray about them. Then write down one or two ways you can still give thanks. Sacrificial thanks. From your heart. Don't feel like giving thanks? Do it anyway... for just this one month. Then... do good. See if it makes a difference in your life. I believe it will. And, I would be thankful to hear from you about that! 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

30 Days of Thanks-It's More than Words

“30 Days of Thanks.” It’s a thing. For the past several years, people have used the entire month of November, not just Thanksgiving Day, as an opportunity to reflect on what they are thankful for in their lives. They post about it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They write about the people, things, and opportunities for which they give thanks. That’s a good thing. And, I’ve read that if we do something consistently for 30 days, it becomes a habit. That makes “30 Days of Thanks” an even better thing.
I’ve been encouraging a journey of 30 Days of Thanks since before it was “a thing.” In 2009, I wrote a bible study on the importance of a thankful lifestyle. Here’s what I learned.

Thanksgiving is an act of gratitude
Thanksgiving is an act of sacrifice
Thanksgiving is a call relationship
Thanksgiving is a call to action

     Did you notice that in each of those statements, “thanksgiving” is a noun that requires an action? How about that? Thanksgiving is something we “do” and as such, becomes part of who we are. Thanksgiving is largely about the attitude of the heart. Why is that so important?                       
     The practice of giving thanks is established in both the Old and New Testaments. The act of gratitude, giving thanks first and foremost to God, was a crucial part of not only worship but also of lifestyle because “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17.)  
     Thanksgiving is also an act of gratitude toward others. When someone shows you a kindness, feel grateful instead of entitled. When someone offers to open the door, pick up the tab, or pay you a compliment, accept their courtesy and then tell them how much you appreciate them. Your appreciation will be a boost to their spirit, and to yours! Why?
      Because the act of gratitude takes the focus off "self" and puts it on God and on the people who make our life worth living. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger than our own ego. It reminds us that our life is full not only because of our own effort but because of answers to prayer and acts of love from other people. It prevents us from becoming arrogant and thinking we've gotten to where we are without any help---from "above" and from others. It keeps our heart soft instead of allowing it to become hard. It reminds us of just how much we need God and others in our lives. This attitude of gratitude will spill over to people with whom we meet and interact. Have you ever known anyone who was just-so-joyful because they were just-so-thankful? Not just in the moment but in every moment of every day. They've allowed gratitude to become an attitude.
     How can we show our gratitude to God?

 Talk to him (prayer)
 Read his “letters” to you (bible study)
 Pay it forward (use what he gives to us to bless others)
 Be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world (service)
 Follow the example of Jesus (be kind, giving, forgiving, moral, instructive)

     How can we show our gratitude to others?

Talk to them (spend time talking, not just texting or emailing)
Write a letter of thanks or appreciation to them
Pay it forward (do something nice for no reason at all)
Be the hands & feet of Jesus (don’t wait for someone else to supply a need)
Follow the example of Jesus (be kind, giving, forgiving, moral, instructive)

     One of the first ways we can begin to cultivate a mindset of gratitude, or thankfulness, is to take inventory of our life. Despite the hassles and heartbreaks our life may be sprinkled with, when we take inventory we are often surprised to see just how much we have to be thankful for--- the people in our life, our health, our possessions, our community (church, neighborhood, school, work) spiritual gifts--- ours and others (forgiveness, grace, peace, joy, patience, contentment, etc.)
     I challenge you to take that inventory TODAY. Today, write a list of what and who you have to be thankful for. Take your list and put it somewhere you will see it every day, preferably in the mornings. Put it by the coffeemaker or your toothbrush, or tape it to your bathroom mirror. 
     Read the list every morning and find one way, just one way for that one day, to demonstrate your gratitude to God for the goodness he has shown you, recalling that every good and perfect gift has come from him. They may be outright gifts, or opportunities he puts in your path, or people, or the wisdom and strength to do what you have to do. Find one way, just one way for that one day, to demonstrate your gratitude to others for the blessings they bring to your life. It may be your spouse, or your children, or your parents, or your friends, or the postman, or the lady who checks you out at Publix. It doesn't matter who it is. Give thanks for them and give thanks TO them!
      Oh, and add one more thank-you to the list every single day until the end of the month (regardless of when you begin the list.) As you watch your list grow, see if it makes a difference in your attitude and life. I'm betting it will. I'd love to hear from you about that!

          Next blog: Thanksgiving is an act of sacrifice

PS-I’m thankful for you and that you have taken the time to read this. God bless you in this special month of thanksgiving.     

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Those Who Stay

     I’ve been reading a lot of mean-spirited comments regarding people who are not evacuating ahead of Hurricane Irma. After spending a lifetime as a television journalist, I’ve learned that there are many real and legitimate reasons why people do not flee from an impending storm. I have been one of those people for most of my adult life.

     In September of 1979, I was a frightened cub reporter who said goodbye to my evacuating parents and siblings and then drove to the television station where I worked. I would be there, in and out of the Hurricane Frederic’s wicked weather, for days. Did I want to pack up and get out of town? You bet! Could I? No. The career I had chosen required me to stay behind. It required me to do my best to keep the viewers in my area informed, calm, and safe. The storm eventually passed and my family returned.

     25 years later, in September of 2004, I was a frightened, seasoned anchor who said goodbye to my evacuating children and then drove to the television station where I worked. I would be there, in and out of the wicked weather caused by Hurricane Ivan, for days.  You see the pattern. It was a pattern that replayed itself every hurricane season when a storm came to town. 

     Who doesn’t evacuate? And, why? Well, of course, there are “hurricane cowboys” who think it will be adventurous to ride out a storm, even though they have the time and resources to get out of town. And, I'll agree with you that they are irresponsible, reckless, and so very foolish. Sometimes there are those who truly believe the storm will not be “that bad.” And, they live (hopefully) to regret not taking the warnings seriously. But, those two groups are in the minority. 

     Most of the ones who stay behind simply can’t leave for one reason or another.  First responders, hospital personnel, and journalists are just a few of the people who can’t evacuate. Ministers stay to keep watch over their churches and congregations.Sometimes people are recovering from surgery, or have medical conditions that prohibit them from packing up and heading out. Some refuse to leave aging and sick family members who can't evacuate. Some people have no transportation. Some don’t have the financial resources. Some can’t get away until it’s too late- the roads are gridlocked and there’s no fuel.

     If you have been reading my blog, you know that circumstances put me in the Orlando area ahead of this storm.The scheduling was coincidental, accidental, or providential depending on how you want to look at it. I drove by a stretch of Orlando's Highway 192 late yesterday that was lined with hotels, grocery stores, and gas stations. They were all open. Someone has to stay and take care of the customers—the customers who are hunkering down and the customers who are trying to get out of town. I thought of the front desk personnel at hotels. Instead of leaving for safer ground, they are still here, making sure that those from mandatory evacuation areas (like Miami and the Florida Keys for instance) are checked in, tucked in, and calmed down. Both of my daughters have careers that keep them from leaving. (Funny how life plays out sometimes, isn’t it?) My son-in-law is a doctor, my sister is a nurse, and they also cannot leave. Thankfully, we are not under mandatory evacuation orders, and we have safe places to go. But we all know it is going to be a difficult and frightening ride. The only upside is that we will be close to each other and my girls won’t have to face this monster from a distance of hundreds of miles away from their mama-bear mother.
     Many people in Florida have never seen a hurricane this large and powerful. They are frightened. They are apprehensive. They are already weary. Every westward or eastward blink that Hurricane Irma makes spikes the anxiety meter.

     So, here’s what I propose. Hold off on criticizing the people who have not evacuated. There will be time enough to take to task those who defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed when they absolutely could have, and should have, left. Instead, pray for them. Pray for their safety and that their foolishness will not endanger law enforcement and/or medical personnel. Pray for the ones who can’t leave. Pray for people who stay to help others. Pray for the people who stay to inform others. Pray for the ones whose jobs demand their presence. Pray for the ones who can’t leave because of health or family concerns. Pray for the people who open their homes and businesses to those who have nowhere else to go. Pray for the ones who have evacuated and for the ones who are stuck in evacuation traffic. Pray for the ones who are not in mandatory evacuation areas, but who will most certainly experience pain and loss of some kind.

     Just. Pray.

     Florida will appreciate it. And, we will thank you on the other side of it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Faith Before the Storm

I’m going to stop writing about life’s struggles. No, really. I mean it.  It seems like every time I write a blog, or a Sunday School lesson, or a magazine article, or a book about the challenges in life… that particular topic comes home to roost right on top of my ever-lovin' head.
But, for real, people. I write about how to overcome issues with self-control, and the most aggravating human being on the planet since National Lampoon’s Cousin Eddie crosses my path. I write about choosing joy instead of giving into stressful circumstances, and I get a flat tire on the road to nowhere. I write about seeking peace and my life goes cattywampus times twelve. OR--- as is the case of the past few days--- I write a blog post about surviving Hurricane Harvey and other storms of life and I find myself driving TOWARD the next hurricane, a tyrant named Irma, because of a pre-arranged appointment that can’t be rescheduled. Really, Life?

Yes, here I sit in Orlando. Florida. The PLAN was to arrive early in the week, and head home no later than Saturday. The REALITY is that by the time I can extricate myself from things here, the impact of Hurricane Irma will make driving home perilous. So, it looks like I’ll be hunkering down--- with my two daughters who, coincidentally, live in Orlando and Tampa. You know those cities. They are currently in Irma’s bloodshot-eyed line of sight.
So, the question for me today is: Where is your faith in all of this, Drexel? You are an unabashed Jesus-freak. You beat the drum of faith and trust. You say, “Jesus, take the wheel” and you claim to mean it. After all, you just wrote a blog explaining the process of trusting God in the healing process that follows a storm. And, here you are, scrambling for water and peanut butter, drawing up a plan of action… with one eye on the lines at the gas station and one eye on the hurricane weather radar.  I ain’t gonna lie. The anxiety meter has spiked. As the cases of water pile up in my car, so do the “what ifs?” in my mind.
The question again: “Where is your faith, Drexel?” The answer to my question is this: My faith is where it has always been. In God. While I keep my eyes on safety plans and provisions supplies, I choose to remember that He has his eye on me and on those I love. I do not know how this unwelcome tryst with Hurricane Irma will end. Will she barge right up the spine of central Florida? Will she decide to two-step to the east and possibly move into open water? We just don’t know. What we do know is that wherever she lands, Irma will cause damage. So, I wait. I watch. I pray. But I'm not expecting God to do it all! I use the brains, logic, and critical thinking skills he gave me. So, I also plan. I have three possible locations for evacuation. I know where the official shelter in my area is located. I have water, batteries, flashlights, wading boots, non-perishable food. I’ve fueled up the cars.
I also look for ways to be thankful in this situation. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances.”) It’s hard to be thankful when you look at the radar screen and see nothing but a huge blob of angry red that is covering ¾ of the state of Florida. Having said that, I made a list. I am thankful that, as a coastal resident my entire life, I understand how to prepare for hurricanes. I am thankful that I have been able to find provisions. I am thankful that I have options for shelter from the storm in the event I do need to evacuate. And, I am thankful that I have both of my daughters within hugging distance. I was a television news anchor for almost thirty years. I spent countless hurricanes separated from my daughters. If this hurricane comes our way, I won’t be holed up in the bunker of a television station while my kids are hours, or days, away from me. There’s something weirdly comforting about that.
For all of my friends and family in Florida, and those whom I will never meet, we don’t know what the next few days will bring. None of us in Florida, or beyond, knows where Irma will eventually end up. So, let's plan. Let's prepare. Let's pray. Let's hold onto God and to each other. Let’s be smart. Let’s be kind to each other as we seek out provisions and prepare our homes. Let’s be compassionate and helpful to those around us. Let's leave for safer ground, if necessary. Mostly, let’s have faith that God will bring us through whatever is coming our way.  
Back to what I said at the beginning of this little piece, it seems like everything I choose to write about quickly shows up in my life, kind of like a challenge to put my money where my mouth is. To make me prove that what I write is what I believe and what I live.So, from here on out, I’m thinking that I’m only going to write about fluffy white clouds. And rainbows. And butterflies. And puppies. Can I get an amen?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

After The Storm

    Today is National Grief Awareness Day. I’d planned weeks ago to write a blog about grieving as it relates to our relationships. Then, a beast named Harvey came to town. Not to my town, but it might as well have been. My town has been plundered by Harvey’s wicked brothers and sisters through the years. I bet you’ve heard of them. Frederic, Elena, Katrina… and Ivan to name just a few members of this dysfunctional family.
     When storms like these barge into our lives, they take advantage of us, make a mess of things, and harm us physically… and emotionally.  They steal from us.They steal our homes, our possessions, our sense of security. Sometimes they steal people we love.
     You want to talk grief? Walk through a neighborhood after a storm like Harvey finally gets the heck out of there. Look at the slumped shoulders, defeated faces, and vacant stares of the people who are returning to find “nothing” where the “something” of their lives used to be. I’ve seen it.
     I’ve seen it as a journalist who covered every northern Gulf Coast hurricane from Frederic to Katrina. But, I’ve also seen it as the adult daughter of parents who basically lost everything when Ivan stormed into town.
     I was a TV news anchor in Mobile, Alabama that September night in 2004. Initially, we thought Ivan was heading west of us. At pretty much the last minute, he hooked east. My parents, my siblings, and even my children (who had evacuated to “safety”) were now in the bullseye. It would be several days before the roads would be clear enough for me to be reunited with my family. Cell phone coverage was spotty at best. When my mom would get a signal and call, she couldn’t talk. All she could do was sob. 
     When I was finally able to get to her, I saw why. Their house, and pretty much everything that had been inside, was gone… swept away by wind and water...or buried. 
Aerial shot of my parents' home after Ivan from the back. Photograph: Pensacola News Journal
Ground level from the front. See that one remaining front wall?
There was basically nothing behind it, but air.
     From mid-September to December, my mother would go daily to the place where her home used to be and dig through the shambles Ivan had left behind. She was looking for anything that might have survived the storm. It didn’t matter how damaged the “anything” might be. She just wanted to get back some of what Ivan had stolen from her. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t about “things.” Things can be replaced. It was about memories and life. It was about photographs, her grandfather’s glasses, a trinket her brother had given her when she was just 8 years old, an afghan that her mother had made by hand.
     Someone told me that I should stop her from going to the house every day. They told me it wasn’t healthy. I begged to differ. I told my well-intentioned friend to think of it like this: Some people grieve the loss of a loved one by returning to the cemetery every day for--- well, for as long as it takes. Others rarely, or even never, return. Grieving is deeply personal. What’s right for one person may not be for another. And while a loss to a storm is different from the loss of a loved one, it's still a loss. It's real. It hurts.And, we have to heal in the way that's best for us. 
        Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the 5 stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.* Most physicians will tell you it’s a good model to work from. But not everyone’s grief looks the same. Not everyone goes through all of the stages, and if they do, they may not come in that exact order. 
     So, what can you do? If you are the one experiencing the loss, don’t deny your grief. Don’t stuff it back and put on a brave face 24/7. Acknowledging the loss is painful, but it’s essential to begin the steps to healing. Cry… or scream if you have to. Talk to a friend or a counselor. Don’t refuse help from anyone and don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help, whether it’s from a family member or the Red Cross. Remember there are people who love you and who want to help you reassemble your life.
     And remember to pray. Then pray again. And again. 
     If you are helping someone who is grieving after the storm, don’t try to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. Let them grieve in their own way. Be encouraging, but not demanding. Listen a lot and talk a little. Hold them while they cry.Sit silently with them when they cannot speak. Answer your phone when they call, even if it’s midnight.
      And remember to pray. Then pray again. And again.
    The important thing to remember is that when you, or someone you know, feel the emotions of grief, it’s okay. The grieving process helps us return to a healthier state of mind and body. Don’t let the emotions rule your life, but don’t shut them out of your life, either. Let them happen, work your way through them, and come out stronger on the other side. 
     It’s not easy. I know that. But, I also know from more than thirty years of interviewing people who have grieved the losses caused by weather thieves with names like Andrew, and Charley and Alicia…and Harvey… that the storm does eventually pass. The sun does eventually shine. The heart does eventually heal.
      We’re going to see a lot of spirit and spunk in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. We always do after storms like these. But, we are also going to see a lot of grief. If you are one of those affected, I may not know your name, but I understand your loss. Please know that I am praying for you. I pray for your recovery and the return of peace to your life. I will pray. Then pray again. And again. And, if you want to share your story with me, I’m happy to listen. You are not alone.