Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Advent-ure: A Time for Hope

Can you believe it? December is here! Really? Already? Impossible! It seems like just yesterday I was writing a New Year's blog reminding all of us of the importance of valuing our TIME! And now... eleven months of TIME are in our rear view mirror. 

What did you do with yours?

I've been skimming my journal entries for the year. There's a fair amount of wasted TIME over the past eleven months, but for the most part, I'm not too unhappy with the way my TIME was spent this year. I've met a lot of wonderful people; formed some awesome new friendships; renewed some amazing old friendships that have made my life richer and more fulfilled; become more involved with an incredible church; gotten healthier--physically, emotionally and spiritually. I've knocked a couple of items off my bucket list.. but there are a lot more to go! There have been some disappointments, setbacks, and not all of my TIME yielded the results I would have liked... but today I was reminded that there is still TIME to live a life that is.. well... a life worth living!

Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians. We light a candle on each of the four Sundays in Advent. Today, the candle was the candle of HOPE. But, 'hope' wasn't the main theme of the sermon. The message was on TIME. In addition to some awesome scriptures, the minister, Dr. Wesley Wachob,  used two quotes in his sermon that took my breath away. One was  from Henry Austin Dobson: "Time stays... we go."

Wow. That reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother this year. She told me that she views TIME in this way: 

There's a stage called "Life." The players enter stage right... move across the stage-- some more slowly, or more quickly, than others--- then exit stage left, even as new players are entering from the opposite side. The stage remains.. the players come and go. Dramas, comedies, tragedies are all played out. And the production goes on...until the end of TIME...whenever that may be.

I turned 55 this year. In years past, I've gotten a bit mopey over the turning of the calendar. Not anymore. When I hit 50, I decided to concentrate on what's still ahead, instead of all the years that are past. So, it's no wonder that the other quote from today's sermon caused my head to spin around a little.
"It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live." (Marcus Aurelius)

The sermon challenged me to consider what God would like for me to do with my TIME, but more than that, to consider what God wants to do with my TIME.  In this season of Advent, I choose to believe that God's plans for my future.. and yours.. and His... are filled with the people, the places and the purposes that will give us a life worth living. In short, as we move through this December Advent-ure, I believe God's plans for our future are filled with HOPE.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Just Open Your Mouth and 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 at the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival in Pensacola, FL. 

I turned and looked at the gentleman who'd fallen in step with me.

Sweaty, disheveled, and 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 very sincere, polite and respectful. I sensed that I should also stop. 

So, I did. 

And, I waited.

"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."

And, 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 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." And, on and on.

So what?

Life's too short.

In this, the "Thanksgiving month," it's appropriate to be thankful for the time we are given. 24 hours every day to DO SOMETHING. Even if that "something" is just a kind or uplifting word to someone we know... or someone we don't. 

Today, think of what that gentleman said. "If I want to say something nice, I just say it."

So, here's the deal. Let's go out on a limb and say something nice to someone today. Even if it's a total stranger. Perhaps, especially if it's a total stranger. I will if you will!

We may make someone's day. We may make our own day! 

We will almost certainly make good use of our time.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Get Your Head IN the Clouds!

©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
"Get your head out of the clouds!" 

I heard that more than once growing up... from a teacher, a parent, a boss. It was usually an effort to jolt me out of my daydreams of being a writer, speaker or award-winning something-or-other---and into the reality of  classwork, homework, or just plain work. 

©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
I am certain that every adult who ever told me to get my head out of the clouds did so with the best of intentions. They wanted me to focus on the matter at hand that could help me learn, grow and mature. But the more "mature" I become, the more important I realize it is to get your head IN the clouds.

©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc
We've had beautiful clouds along the Florida Gulf Coast this summer. They are fluffy clouds. God's cotton candy, strewn across a baby-blue blanket of sky. They are cumulus clouds. (I learned that in the Meteorology class I took when I returned to college at the age of 52. Getting my head in the clouds was a good idea after all, it seems.)

Sometimes, I look up and see a bear, a heart, or a puppy dog in the shape of the clouds.

Sometimes the clouds blend into the scenery of a boring drive on Interstate 10. 

©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
Sometimes, the clouds pierce my soul. They part, allowing a bowl of sunshine to spill out and wash over my spirit. That's happened to me twice recently... exactly when I needed it as I stood on a stretch of beautiful beach.

Why do I like to get my head in the clouds?

It allows me to stop confining my thoughts to the box around my brain. I can reach out and explore new opportunities, new ways of doing an old thing, new ways to stretch and grow my faith. 

I'm betting our inventors of the past spent a lot of time with their head in the clouds... imagining new and better ways of life. I imagine a lot of artists, writers and musicians spend a lot of time with their heads in the clouds and we reap the benefits of the jolt those clouds give to their creativity. I imagine the greatest theologians of the past and present spent/spend a lot of time with their head in the clouds, meeting God in one of the most unique elements of His creation.   

I hear it's supposed to be a pretty day tomorrow. There will probably be some fluffy clouds in the sky. Forget what you were told as a kid about getting your head out of the clouds. 

Take a chance. Grab a friend.. old or new...step outside...look up... and get your head in the clouds. 

You have no idea what might happen. 
©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.,

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sometimes You Don't Have to Have Eyes to See

     About eight years ago, I met a remarkable young man and his equally remarkable mother. The 7 year old boy was blind. I was watching him play t-ball. He was hitting the ball again, and again, and again! He was living out his dream with thanks to the doctors at St. Jude Children's Hospital who saved his life even when they couldn't save his eyes. He was living out his dream with thanks to his mother who always told him he could do anything he wanted to do... with or without his sight. He was living out his dream thanks to a t-ball coach who took a chance on the little boy who couldn't see with his eyes, but who had great vision of heart. He was living out his dream with thanks to a God who was watching over his every movement, on and off the field.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit with this incredible family once again. Everyone should be so fortunate as to cross the paths of people like this--people with extraordinary faith, hope...and vision. 

I produced a video devotional a few years back, based on some of the people I met... and experiences I had... as a television news anchor. Their story is logged as "The Feature." I'd love for you to watch it... and say a prayer for Jacob and his mom and family. They are doing great and I look forward to updating you on their story very soon!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What's New?

I've been in a funk. You ever get in a funk? 

You know...when your-get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone? When the creative juices run dry?  When you take two steps forward and six steps back?

Sure you have. It happens to all of us. What do you do and where do you go when you get in a funk?

I head to the water.

This morning, that water was the Gulf of Mexico. I threw off my shoes and just started walking. No plan. No timetable. I just started to walk... putting one foot in front of the other...toward the rising sun.

The water was rough today... stirred up and dark. Not unlike my spirit. Great, I thought. The water is supposed to feed and inspire me... not mirror my grumpiness. But, I just kept walking, putting one foot in front of the other.

I read an article recently about these times in life that I call a "funk." Lots of times they happen after a  period of extreme activity or success. Sometimes they happen when whatever it is we do in life suddenly stalls. Sometimes, they simply show up unannounced and don't have the good manners to just move along, already.

Athletes get in a funk. Their strategy for winning suddenly stalls. They run out of hits, putts and goals. Scientists get in a funk. Their experiments fail. Their beakers break. Their lab rats revolt. Writers get in a funk. The words that race through their minds all the time suddenly put on the brakes. I've even heard that ministers get in a funk. The words of the pages of scripture suddenly just look like... well, words on a page.

How do they get out of a funk? Maybe they try a new coach, a new formula, a new approach...a new Bible. Notice the common denominator?


And, so this morning, I decided to look my funky mood straight in the eye by looking at the stormy water in a new way. I decided to view the crashing waves not as dark and mysterious, but as cleansing. Because, I wondered, what if the waves that come in the 'funky' times of our lives do for us what these waves do for their environment: stir things up, move things around, cleanse?

Maybe it's in the funky times of our lives that negative thoughts get stirred up...loosened up... and shaken off, paving the way for a new strategy, formula or idea. Maybe the pieces of the puzzle that comprise our lives, careers, thoughts and dreams get moved around a bit, so that they fit just a little bit better.  And, as I watched the waves crash onto a shore that was strewn with pieces of broken shells, bits of seaweed and a line of footprints.. I thought that maybe the waves in the funky times of our lives provide a cleansing... as they wash away pieces of this, bits of that, and a line of the other thing...  leaving us with fresh, clean sand to begin the next leg of our journey.

I looked up at precisely that moment and saw this.

The sun began to break through a small opening in the dark sky.

I smiled and snapped the picture. Not sure if I'm out of my funk yet, but I decided that... funk or no funk... I would keep walking, putting one foot in front of the other...toward the new day. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Chasing the Sun

My eyes flew open at 3:30 a.m. I fought the insomnia monster until 4:30, then cried "uncle" and got up. I figured I could get in an hour or so of quiet time and work before the sun began to rise, and I would get an early start on my morning run. But, just as I opened the door to head out to pound the pavement.. the bottom fell out. Of the sky, that is. Rain, rain, and more rain. I grumped and flumped and stumped around. My first instinct was to go back to bed. That pillow looked really good. But, instead, I flipped on the TV and checked out the local weather radar. The rain was moving away from a nearby beach. So, I jumped in the car, drove across the bridge to that beach, and ended up here.

An hour later, I was exhausted, energized and even-tempered.

As I walked the last few yards for my "cool down," I breathed in the salt air, took in the white sand and the beautiful green water... and, as I stared out at the breathtaking horizon,  it occurred to me that we don't always have to give into the rainy times in our life. Sometimes, if we want to find the sunshine, we have to search for it... we have make an effort to find it... we may even have to chase it down.

And, as I turned from the beautiful Gulf of Mexico and headed toward my car, it also occurred to me that if it hadn't been raining over my head earlier this morning.. I would never have ended up on this beautiful stretch of beach. And, it occurred to me that sometimes...

rain in our life can be a blessing.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hooked on Leadership

He caught my eye as I walked toward the river on a very hot day. The young man in overalls,fishing with a simple cane pole, was hauling in a nice sized fish.

"What 'cha catching?" I asked.

"Mullet. Landed a couple already," he smiled. "You know, you can't fish without a license in Florida unless you are in your own county and you are using a cane pole."

Why, no. I had not known that.

He continued with a wide grin, "I didn't have a cane pole, but I had a tiki torch! So I just cut it in half, wrapped string around it and commenced to fishing!"

Eureka! I thought. This was the real life application I had been searching for, as I prepared an article on the necessity of flexibility, ingenuity and tenacity in the role of a leader.

When you are in a leadership role, situations do not always go according to plan. Wait. Let's face it. They frequently do not go according to plan. In those cases, the successful leader is able to adjust, adapt and advance---just like this determinedly creative fisherman.

  • Adjust. When confronted with obstacles, challenges, lack of resources (financial and human), and last minute changes, the successful leader doesn't fall apart along with the plan. The successful leader takes a breath, takes a step back, and takes control of the situation. Like the man who wants to fish, but learns that he can't because he doesn't have a license, the successful leader refuses to walk away, blame the plan, and abandon the goal. The successful leader will make a conscious decision to stand his or her ground, rework the plan, and search for an alternate route or innovative tools to reach the goal. The successful leader doesn't blame the circumstances or people that are interfering with the plan, but (with a nod to this fisherman) will look at the river, focus on the fish that are in there, and adjust the plan to find a way to get those fish out of the river and into the bucket. Plan A didn't work? Adjust to Plan B, or C or Z. The successful leader does not allow a "no" to translate into a "never."

  • Adapt. "How badly do you want it?" That's the question I repeatedly asked my daughters as they were growing up and pursuing this goal or that. I now pose the same question to my clients. "How badly do you want it?" Anything worth having typically doesn't come easily. As a leader, are you willing to adapt to the changing circumstances, personalities and resources? Are you willing to work harder or longer? Are you willing to try something that's never been done before--- a new way to do an old thing? Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone, stretch your mental muscles, listen to someone with less experience but perhaps more imagination? Are you willing to stop focusing on what you don't have and look around to see what you do have that will adapt to the changing situation? Are you willing to find a tiki torch, cut it in half and "commence to fishing?"

  • Advance. When a crisis hits and a plan falls apart... there is often a lot of activity. People race here and there, voices are raised, arms are flailed, blame is laid... and in the end there is very little forward movement. The successful leader who has adjusted the plan, and adapted the formula or resources or tools to meet the needs of the evolving situation, uses quiet confidence to advance toward the goal. The successful leader understands that this may mean sitting patiently, quietly and still until the bait of the new approach takes hold. It may mean moving from one spot to another until you find the most favorable environment for the adapted plan. It will always mean taking responsibility for the adjustment, ownership of the adaptation, and oversight of the advancing movement.
By the time that I finished my walk along the river and came back around to the young man with the improvised cane pole, I found he had caught more fish and was happy to show off his trophies. Like that fisherman, the successful leader also understands the importance of celebrating the ability to adjust, adapt and advance--- and of sharing that success with the people around him. 

A cane pole, a mess o' mullet---and a practical lesson on leadership qualities. 

Pay attention. It's not just another fish tale.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Just Breathe

It's been a month.

I have alternated between days where I lost my breath because I was racing around so fast, to days where I felt like I was on my last breath--- slogging through the wet cement that was my day. One step forward, two steps back. 

Until this morning---when a little breath of wind made all the difference.

I woke up just as the sun was coming up and decided to go out for an early walk. I opened the door to air that was already uncomfortably warm and stuffy. I hesitated, but decided to take the walk anyway. The neighborhood was quiet. At first, the only sound I heard came from sprinklers that were watering the increasingly green grasses of spring. Then, I heard the chirp of birds. I looked up and saw two redbirds racing from tree to tree in what looked to be a game of avian tag. They flitted here and there, then skedaddled off to parts unknown. Then, I heard the chattering of squirrels and watched as they scampered across a lawn and up a tree...then halfway down..then back up again.  

The stresses of the month began ease.

I turned my attention away from the sounds of the morning and focused on the sights. The sky was so vividly blue this morning. Crayola only wishes it had a blue that intensely beautiful. Fluffy white clouds would gather in one spot.. then suddenly dash off as if to find another place to play. 

Back on the ground, the flowers in the neighborhood yards began to open and greet the day. The hibiscus flowers were especially vibrant, although nearby roses provided colorful competition.

As I approached the house and began walking back up the driveway, a breeze began to blow. It blew softly at first.. then more briskly. The leaves in the trees began to swish back and forth. I just stood there, closed my eyes, listened to the soft movement and let the light wind wash over me. Within minutes, the temperature had dropped a bit.. and the air felt clear... and clean. It was, without question, the breath of fresh air that I had needed.

I smiled, opened my eyes, and decided that the unexpectedly early wake-up call and this spur of the moment walk had been God's gifts to me---gifts that ended with a  feeling of renewal and excitement for what this day will hold.

I am looking forward to seeing what His breath will blow my way.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day: Can You Dig It?

Photo: NASA
So today is Earth Day. You know--- Earth, as in the planet. Earth, as in the big blue globe we loved in the elementary school classroom. Earth, as in "In the beginning, God created....."

Or, Earth, as in--- dirt.

Yep. While millions of conservationists, environmentalists, and even the commander of the International Space Station (in a tweet from 240 miles ABOVE Earth) are celebrating Earth Day... Drexel is thinking about dirt.

One of my earliest memories is of digging in the dirt. One grandmother loved planting Texas Bluebonnet flowers in her front yard.. the other loved planting tomatoes, peas and butter beans. Both gardens required digging in the dirt. And, they let me help!

I loved using my little spade to dig, turn over and break up the soil. I loved reaching my little hands into the dirt, pulling up a fistful of the dark, rich soil and squishing it between my fingers. I loved watching the funny-looking roly-poly bugs and earthworms crawl in the earth.

If I was lucky, at the end of the digging and planting, my grandmothers would let me dig a hole outside the perimeter of the garden, turn on the water hose, fill the hole with water and make mud pies! 

It occurs to me that life is kinda' like digging in the dirt. Sometimes the dirt is hard and dry and we have to pound it, till it and water it to get it into a workable form. Sometimes the dirt is soggy and we have to expose it to sunlight and air. Sometimes the dirt is barren and we have to feed it and nurture it. Sometimes the dirt is filled with weeds, and we have to cull what's choking the goodness.

Sometimes, though, life---like good soil---is just right. Like the dark, rich Southeast Texas soil I dug in as a child, sometimes, the soil is just right for growing what is beautiful and healthy.

On Earth Day, I'll leave the celebrations of the planet to someone else. I'll just go digging in the dirt of my life. Gonna' feed it, weed it, water it, squish it between my fingers and see what grows.

If all else fails, I may make a mud pie! 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Little Wobbly, But Hangin' In There!

Drexel Gilbert

Look at what caught my eye in a Pensacola, FL park after church today! Those of you who know me, or who read this blog, know that I often look at life through a tilted lens. This artwork made me stop---look---tilt my head---and think. 

My title for this piece has to be:
"A little wobbly... but hangin' in there!" 

Ever have those days?

Ever wish the wobbles and bobbles would straighten out, already? "Just think how much better life would be," we think. 


Then, again, maybe it's the wobbles and bobbles that help us determine who we really are, how badly we want to reach a goal, and how hard we are willing to work to get there. Maybe the wobbles and bobbles cause us to exercise our faith; stretch outside our comfort zone; balance wisdom with imagination; stay focused on the top (the goal) and keep on climbing---one wobbly step at a time.

Next time you are feeling a little wobbly, remember this photo, start stacking up your faith; regain your balance; get creative; and keep climbing. 

The view from the top just might be an eyeful!  
Hebrews 10:35 "Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards." (CEV)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Time to Clean the Pot

"Darryl," I said to one of the morning studio camera operators. "The coffee is GREAT this morning! What did you do differently?"

Shrugging his shoulders, he replied, "I cleaned the pot."

I thought about that long ago "morning-news-moment" yesterday--- as my coffee maker was spitting and steaming, fussing and fuming and taking FOR-EV-ERRR to brew. When it finally finished, my coffee tasted---well, let's just say, it was down the drain with that cup-o-joe. So, I tried my old friend Darryl's approach, and---

I cleaned the pot.

It's amazing how much better coffee tastes when the pot is clean. And, that thought led me to this one: 

What's in the pot of my life---the pot of my mind---the pot of my mouth... that needs to be cleaned?

When we are on the fast-track of life (and who isn't?) it's easy to just 'rinse and go' instead of taking the time to really clean out the pot that brews our thoughts, attitude, actions and words. Before long, we may find that our "pot" is filled with the residue, build up and debris of life's hassles. We may find ourselves acting just like my coffee pot---spitting and steaming, fussing and fuming, and taking FOR-EV-ERRR  to do what we need to do--- the way we need to do it.

Although I like to think my pot is not all that dirty, I admit I've been running so fast lately, I've been in the rinse-and-go mode... and even a little build up can cause thoughts and actions that leave a bad taste. So, today...

Photo: WikiHow
I'm cleaning my pot.

Just like the  variety in the row of cleaners at the supermarket, there are many ways to clean your life's pot. This is what I am going to do---at least for today.

Step 1: I am going to scrub away negative thoughts that have built up in my mind. Just for today- just for the next 24 hours- every time I have a negative thought or reaction, I will write it down on a piece of paper---then cross it out.. 

Just. Like.This.

Step 2: Just for today--just for the next 24 hours--I'll  replace that negative thought or reaction with something positive or constructive. Example: Negative- I don't have enough time. Positive- I have the same 24 hours everybody else in the world has each day. What 10. 15, 20 minutes do have that I spend on "this" that I might shift to spend on "that"? 

Step 3: I'll clean up my words. Trust me... I have one of the most boringly clean mouths around. when it comes to "those" words. But, in general conversation, just for today--just for the next 24 hours-- I'll  replace spitting and steaming (I'm not being literal here, folks) with steadiness and self-control. I'll speak words that encourage, uplift, and unify.

Step 4: Quality in- Quality out. Sometimes, I buy the discount coffee brands. I'm always disappointed. The little  I save isn't worth it, because the quality of what my coffee pot brews is not first rate---no matter how clean the pot. So, just for today-- just for the next 24 hours-- I am going to only feed the pot (my brain) quality material. I started with my scripture and devotional readings this morning. I'm going to be more aware throughout the day of what's on my car radio, my television, and my laptop screen, my conversations.
Christopher Meder from

The next 24 hours might be very cleansing. And, to think. It all started with a cup of coffee... brewed in a freshly washed pot.

Monday, April 1, 2013

No April Fool

It's a new day.. a new month.. the beginnings of a new season. What will you do with it?

At the start of the year,I came to a deeper realization that time is precious and should be used accordingly. I resolved to try and do one new thing each day. See:  2013: It's Time

I've been pretty good at keeping that resolution, even if the 'new thing' was something simple. Some days I cooked a new recipe.Some days, I read a book, or story, I'd always wanted to read but had never found the time. I began running again, and some days I  take a new route.--- just because. I met a friend for lunch, when I once would have given into the "I'm just too busy" excuse. I took a few risks with my career choices. Some paid off. Others-- I'm still waiting.  Some days I visited a chapel I'd never been to before. (See my Lenten blog series.) 

One day, I decided I would talk a lot less and listen a lot more. Amazing what you can hear when you do that--- both spoken and unspoken.

But enough about me.

Would you like to consider this day to be a fresh, new start for you? Then, do it. It isn't always easy. Trust me, I know. Really. I do. The first step is usually the hardest.

It begins when you say, "I'm ready." 

I don't know what your new start looks like. Maybe you don't know yet, either. Maybe you want to get a job, quit a job, paint, write, build, plant, create, invent, improve, help... or heal. What I do know is that once the first step is taken, it's easier to take the second, the third, the fourth.. and before you know it, you just may be off and running! 

For centuries, April 1 has been reserved for pranks, jokes and hoaxes. What if you made April 1, 2013 your day to get serious--- about doing whatever it is that has been on your 'to-do' list for so long? 

It's a new day.. a new month.. the beginnings of a new season. Take that first step. And, let me know how it goes.

April 1 is shaping up to be a good day. No foolin'.


Friday, March 29, 2013

What's in YOUR hands?

My current stack. Some are perpetual.
As you see by the spines, I read 'em out!
Love this line I just read: "Put the right book in the right hands and you can change the world."

What book is in YOUR hands today?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 36 (I Went To Jail Today)

I went to jail today.

Wait---don't get carried away. I was there to do something good! I am in the beginning stages of working with a program that is designed to encourage inmates to turn their lives around.

Let me tell you something... it ain't fun hearing those steel doors close and lock behind you. Even when you know you are going to be able to leave whenever you want.

I've had the opportunity to meet some inmates . Most of the ones I've met are quiet and friendly. None have said, "I don't belong here." All the ones I've met have said to me, "I messed up." 

"Guess what?" I want to tell them. "So have I." Not in the way that these inmates have messed up. But,  I've messed up on the job. I've messed up at home. I've messed up in relationships.

In today's chapel moment--- yes, even in a jail you can find a chapel moment---I find that I am so grateful that my Christian faith teaches me that a mess-up doesn't have to last forever. I'm glad that my faith teaches forgiveness and grace. I'm glad that my faith causes me to know that our tomorrows can be so much better than our yesterdays. I'm glad that my faith tells me that if we truly want to change, we can. And, I'm glad that my faith tells me that we don't have to go it alone.

As we draw close to the end of Lent, I appreciate more and more that---Easter's comin'---with its promise of new life. I hope these inmates I've met--and indeed all of us--- will be encouraged to acknowledge and resolve the past--- but to look toward a better future. 

A future where the doors open in front of us--- instead of lock behind us.

My, What Big Teeth You Have!

It's cold, but it's officially spring and the GATORS are beginning to wake up! 
I thought a repeat of this fun photo essay that I shot and edited for a class last spring was worth another run! 

The place is Alligator Alley just off Highway 59 in Summerdale, Alabama. If you're in the neighborhood, you should check them out!

Click the link below to go to the youtube video!  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 20 (Seeing God)

On this day, I found myself halfway through the 40 days of Lent. I realized that visiting a different chapel each day--for  40 days--was harder than I had anticipated. That's mostly because few churches are open during the weekdays. So, I do what any former TV news anchor becomes adept at doing... I ad lib. In this case, I revisit chapels and sanctuaries that are special to me..

One of my favorites is this one- the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in downtown Pensacola. Its beauty, its peaceful atmosphere and its history put within my spirit a sense of calm. I truly feel God's presence when I enter this sanctuary. It doesn't matter if it is packed to the balcony with worshipers on a Sunday morning, or if I am the only one here.

God is here, too.

The Lenten season causes us to recall the 40 days that Jesus was in the wilderness...going without food and water...without any human companionship.... being tempted... and tried.

In this mid-point of Lent, I find myself crossing paths with a lot of people who are in that wilderness season of their own life. It's not a happy place, frankly. They describe it with words like: dry, sad, hurtful and lonely.

I've used words for my living more than  half of my life. But, I've been having trouble coming up with words to say in these conversations. So, I turned to the Source for words. What I found gave me renewed hope halfway through this wilderness season. Perhaps they will give you hope, too. You see, while the wilderness can be a lonely, scary place, it can also be the very place where (like the sanctuary at FUMC for me) God comes to meet you. It's happened before.

When she was hurting the most, Hagar saw God in the wilderness. (Gen.16 & 21)
When he was afraid, Jacob saw God in the wilderness. (Gen. 32)
When he was confused and separated from his family, Moses saw God in the wilderness. (Gen. 3)
When he was on a lonely mission, John the Baptist saw God in the wilderness. (Matt 1 & Mark 1)

Is it possible that sometimes... not all the time... but sometimes, we have to be in the stillness of the wilderness to see God? I don't know. I wish I did. Maybe someday I will know the answer to that... maybe we all will.

In the meantime, I take comfort in the last verse about 'the tempation' as recorded in Matthew. Chapter 4, verse 11. When the wilderness experience was over, "angels came and ministered to him."

I'm no angel.. anyone who knows me will tell you that! But, I do hope that some of what I write may 'minister' to you if you are in a wilderness season. Just remember...when you least expect it, God may show up. How cool is that? And also remember that this season is not meant to last forever.

Easter's comin.'

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 19 (Don't Get Your Drawers in an Uproar!)

"Don't get your drawers in an uproar!" 

Mama Hodie circa 1964
I think that's the closest I ever got to hearing my grandmother use salty language. Those seven little words were usually uttered when I was "having a spell" (another one of her favorite sayings) when something wasn't going my way. Mama Hodie had a way of keeping it real, even way back then.

I thought about her during today's chapel visit. The chapel is just a tiny room in Santa Rosa Medical Center in Milton, FL. It's the kind of room where Mama Hodie would be comfortable.. a small chapel in a small hospital, in a small town where people speak plainly and keep it real.

I also thought about Mama Hodie earlier this morning, when I was going through my drawers... ummmm., that's my DRESSER drawers, thank you. They were in a bit of an uproar. About once a week, I go through these drawers---straightening, folding and de-cluttering. Each time, I vow that THIS week.. .the drawers will stay in order!  But, bit by bit, I find myself shoving a rumpled and wrinkled t-shirt into this drawer; stuffing unfolded socks into that drawer; and tossing pajama tops in and out of the other drawer. And, by the end of the week.. drawers are in an uproar.

As I sat in the chapel, thinking of Mama Hodie's comment, it occurred to me that it's just that simple for life to get in an uproar. Bit by bit. A little shove here, a little stuff there, a little toss in the other place.. and before we know it... is in an uproar.

The good news is that it doesn't have to stay that way. We can yank the drawers of our life open and begin straightening, folding and de-cluttering. 

For me, that means straightening my life by getting my priorities in line with HIS priorities. First things first. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God..." Matthew 6:33. As I recently read in the devotional book "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young:

 "When MY Presence is your focal point, the pieces of your life will fall into place."

Then, the folding process is simply my means of getting organized. I do it with prayer, study, list making and calendar-accountability. For me, this formula for order leads to more peace in life.. and we can all use more of that, right?

Pray... study... write it down.. keep commitments

The de-cluttering part is a little tougher. Like those comfortable...but filled with holes... socks in my sock drawer, all of us have "stuff" in life that we have trouble releasing. But, we can try.This Lenten season I am trying to let go of the little things that keep me busy but unproductive; with matters that consume my energy without feeding my spirit; and with.situations over which I have no control. Like those socks, they may be familiar and feel weirdly comfortable.. but they don't belong in the drawer. In Luke 10:38-42, we are reminded that 

"few things are needed." 

Like the ones in my dresser, the drawers in my life won't stay clean forever. They will become messy, jumbled and cluttered again.  I'll have to stop what I'm doing and straighten them. But, after today's chapel time, one of my new goals during this Lenten season is to avoid getting my drawers in an uproar!

Mama Hodie would be proud.
Drexel and Mama Hodie 1981

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 18 (Lighting Up)

I'd visited the chapel before during this Lenten journey. The name and location of the chapel weren't important this day, though. And, it's not important to this blog entry. What's important is what I found in this chapel. 

I found light. 

Sometimes, it's hard to see the light. Sometimes, the cares of life seem strong and dark and scary. You may wonder... "where has the light gone?"
So, you search for it. You look for the light in your friends. You look for the light in activities. You look for the light in your family. You look for the light in your job. You look for the light in your bank account. You look for the light in the mirror. 

But, you can't find it.

For many years, I attended Christmas Eve services at my home church, Providence UMC in Spanish Fort, AL. At the conclusion of the service, the sanctuary was thrown into total darkness. Then... the pastor, Rev. Bob Sweet, would light a candle. The tiny flame of light would spring to life in the blackness. Two ushers would come forward and light their candle off of his. Then, they moved down the center aisle, lighting the candle of the person on the outside, who would turn to the person next to him/her and do the same. 
As we sang "Silent Night, Holy Night," the sanctuary would begin to fill with a strengthening, wonderful, holy light. By the last verse, the sanctuary was aglow in a beautiful light that took your breath away.

And, it all started with one little flame.

In John 1:5, we are told, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

What I learned in today's chapel moment is that we should keep looking for the light. But, maybe, just maybe... we should look somewhere other than to friends... activities..  .family... account....or the mirror.

Maybe.. just maybe... we should try looking to the original Light. It only takes one little flame to cause the darkness to fade away.

*sanctuary photo courtesy Providence UMC

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chapel A Day - Day 17 (One Way In- One Way Out)

Okay.... so, stay with me on this one. I promise you won't get lost. One way in--- one way out.

Today's chapel moment came not from sitting in a chapel, but from walking around in circles!

Photo ©: Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos
Chartres Cathedral in France is the site of the only surviving medieval labyrinth in the world.  
A labyrinth is a circle with a path that winds from the entry point to the center.. and then back out again. It's not like a maze, where the walker can become confused by the choices of going this way or that. The labyrinth has a structured path with no options that might lead the walker to become lost or disoriented. You enter and leave at the same point. 

One way in--one way out.

The tradition of walking the labyrinth dates back four to five thousand years. In Christianity today, many of the faithful will walk the pattern of the labyrinth as a way of settling the mind and spirit, and for focusing on developing a closer walk with God.

My introduction to the labyrinth came at the University of West Florida. The Chartres Labyrinth was re-created in the Commons Auditorium. I didn't know what to expect, as I walked into the darkened room, which was illuminated by candlelight and was filled with the soft sounds of medieval music.

I sat in a chair for a few minutes, adjusting to the dim light, listening to the music and thinking about why I was here. I took off my shoes, took a deep breath and took my first step. I walked slowly, alternating between praying.. and listening. When I got to the center, I just stopped.

 Like you, there are a lot of concerns on my mind and heart each day. Concerns for myself, my loved ones and my world. I stood in the center for a few minutes and did my best to release those concerns to the One who "holds the whole world in His hands." Then I turned, and began making my way out.

My steps were lighter on the way out, as I retraced my foorprints When I reached the exit/entry, I felt stronger and more peaceful.

I discovered in this unusual chapel moment that  my Christian faith is much like this labyrinth. Unlike other paths, this one is solid and sure. It's not a maze that can confuse and confound. It is structured, focused and secure. I can't get lost, if I stay on the path and remember... 

One Way in.... One Way out.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 16 (You Never Know What You'll Hear)

The Chapel at First United Methodist Church
Pensacola FL
The lighting in the small chapel was dim and conducive to prayer and meditation. Conducive to reading scripture and devotional material? Not so much. "That's okay," I thought. "I will just sit---and listen."

Have you ever sat in one place---for one hour---in the shadows---just listening? 

I  still haven't. 

Nope. Not that disciplined. I found my thoughts wandering from here to there. I prayed. I sang softly to myself. I tapped my feet. I whistled. I was what my grandmother used to call a "wiggle-worm."  I would corral my thoughts back in, only to have them wander off again. I almost nodded off.

I  had a flash of insight to what Peter, James and John might have felt like that night in Gethsemane. (Matthew 26) Jesus had asked them to keep watch while he prayed. Instead---they fell asleep.  "Couldn't you even keep watch for an hour?" He asked them.


I felt like I'd let the most important One down, by not even being able to sit still and listen for Him for one lousy hour. 

Immediately my thoughts jumped again. This time they landed on a stand up comedy routine I'd heard while visiting a friend's church. The routine featured two guys. One portrayed God and the other was, well---a regular guy. The regular guy had exhibited bad behavior and was apologizing to God. The regular guy said, "I just feel like I've let You down."

God replied--- "You were never holding Me up."

Wow. I guess I need to remember that. God holds ME up---not the other way around. HE doesn't need me to be still and listen to, or for, Him for an hour---or as long as it takes. 

I need it.

I stopped looking at the clock. I started looking at front of the chapel. I sat. I focused. I listened. 

What did I hear? I'll tell you in a few days when I get it all straightened out in my head and in my heart. In the meantime, I'm gonna' go back to that chapel. Who knows what else I might hear in the sounds of silence?