Friday, June 6, 2014

Lessons I Learned From Being A Poll Greeter

For nearly thirty years, I was a journalist. When it came to politics, what being a journalist meant to me is that while I HAD my political opinions, I kept them to myself. They did not to figure in any way, shape, form or fashion into the unbiased news coverage I had committed to delivering when I began my career. (Too bad more of today's journalists don't hold to that standard. But, I digress...) So for thirty years, I never campaigned for a candidate, never put a sign in my front yard or bumper sticker on my car, and never endorsed anyone.  
After a long day of greeting voters at the polls
alongside the candidate's mom

This year, that all changed. No longer a journalist, I jumped on board with a candidate I believed in. The long campaign came to a close this week on primary election day. I volunteered as a poll greeter. My role was simply to smile and greet voters as they entered the precinct, and politely ask for their vote for my candidate. Easy, right? 

Mostly. But there were a few bumps and wrinkles along the way. Happens the first time you do anything! So, here are some of the lessons I learned from being a poll greeter. If you read them, you might have a different attitude the next time you go to the polls. You might have a different attitude about life in general!  

1. Be nice and smile.

For the most part, the voters at the precinct where I stood... for 8 hours.. in the hot sun... were pleasant. For the most part. But to those who snarled, sniped and bit my head off... a simple nod, a quick wave on your way to the voting booth, or even (gasp) A SMILE would have been nice. We were not there to bother you, harass you or dipsy your doodle in any way. Mostly, we were thanking you for taking the time to come out and vote at all. And, we welcomed the opportunity to let you know that our candidate would appreciate your vote. You know, whether you are smiling at the poll greeter, the grocery store checker, the car wash guy or at your reflection in the mirror...just remember...smiling is polite. It doesn't hurt. It doesn't cost anything, and BONUS...  smiling makes you look younger. So, unpucker those lips, unfurrow those brows, and roll the calendar back a few pages.  Next election day, you'll be able to spot me. I'll be the one smiling at every poll greeter I encounter. Even the ones who are supporting the opposition. And on that note...

2. The opposition is not the enemy.

You stand mighty close to the poll greeters for the opposing candidate at many precincts. And, that's ok. Just because you don't agree on a candidate doesn't mean you shouldn't be civil. In my case, the "opposition" and I  shared a few laughs, the shade of a tent, potato chips and bottled water, and a genuine desire to participate in the political process. And on that note...

3. Voting is a teachable moment.

Participation in the political process was disappointing in this election, as voter turnout was low. What WAS encouraging was the number of parents who took their children to the polls. Each child came out proudly sporting an "I Voted" sticker. Of course, they hadn't, but they had watched mom or dad exercise their right to vote. Hopefully, this experience will encourage them to become consistent, responsible and informed voters one day. And on that note...

4. Be informed.

I was shocked at the number of voters who told me that they didn't know anything about any of the candidates and would make up their minds once they were inside and looked at the ballot... for the first time. Yikes! People! There are many ways to research candidates and learn about their stand on the issues. Go to their websites.. they all have them! Non-partisan groups also have websites that spell out candidates' positions on issues. Get a sample ballot from the elections supervisor's office. You don't even have to get out of your recliner. Get it on line! Exercising your right to vote is important. Voting wisely is even more important. Be informed. Be responsible. Be prepared. And on that note...

5. Be prepared.

This one is for poll greeters more than voters. Thankfully, I packed a small cooler with water bottles. I drank them all and had to run out for more! I packed a windbreaker and an umbrella (which I did NOT need) but did not pack sunscreen, food, or a way out of the blistering sun (which I DID need.) Luckily, I don't burn, I don't eat a lot during the day and a wonderful campaign team member stopped by with a tent to help take off the heat. (Thanks, Miles.) Next time, regardless of what my day holds, I'll be better prepared. Like my mama used to say, "better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it." And on that note...

6. Have a great attitude, regardless of how things turn out.

My mama also said that. It was something to remember as---at the end of the long election day--- I watched the candidate I'd supported tell all of us that the election had not gone the way we had hoped. It was a remarkable moment. I had signed onto Don Hembree's campaign for Alabama House District 101 because I believe in his character, judgment, ethics, integrity and leadership abilities. He demonstrated them every day of the campaign. And he lived them out the night that things took the turn that none of us wanted. He was gracious, thankful and hopeful about the future.

And so... the most important lessons we can all take away from my experience as a first-time poll greeter and from the candidate I worked for are these:

Be honest. Be committed. Be prepared. Be informed. Be truthful. Work hard. Do the right thing even when it's not the easy thing. Be nice and smile... even if you don't feel like it. Look for teachable moments. Give it all you've got. And, if things don't work out the way you'd hoped... give thanks for the experience and then turn an eye to the future. You never know what might await you!

See you next election day!    

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Don't Junk Up The Place! (Chapel A Day 2014 Day 5)

I smiled as my feet pounded the pavement. It was good to be back out running, after days of pretty but cold weather.. or warm but rainy weather.

I smiled as I put my earbuds in and began to listen to music that pumped me up. I smiled as I put one foot in front of the other on my 5 mile route which included pavement and beautiful white beach sand.

About halfway into my run, I stopped smiling. Strewn along my usual route, I came upon discarded beer cans and a broken wine bottle. I ran past cigarette butts tossed on the streets and in the sand. I veered around smashed fruit in the middle of the road. It wasn't a lot of litter, but then again... any litter is too much litter.

It took me back to the "chapel" of Day 5's Lenten Journey.
© 2014 Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
The Cross of Pensacola Beach. It stands high above the sands as you wind westward toward Ft. Pickens. According to the website, the cross commemorates the first Christian mass held in the United States. It's been a fixture on Pensacola Beach since 1959. Hurricanes have come... and gone... dunes have been flattened, boats upended... houses destroyed.. but the beach cross...and the dune on which it is anchored... still stand.

I wasn't really sure why I was drawn to the outdoor sanctuary of Day 5. It took a morning run on Day 6 to help me figure it out and be able to write about it.

This beach is so very precious to those of us who have been blessed to grow up on.. or to grow up a sand dollar's throw from. Vacation season on this beach, and many other beaches, has begun.Disclaimer:  I AM NOT BLAMING THE UNUSUAL AMOUNT OF LITTER I ENCOUNTERED ON VISITORS! The timing may be coincidental. But, it got me to thinking.

© 2014 Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
We beach-lovers and beach-dwellers love visitors. We love sharing our slice of Paradise with teenagers, families and college students. We love watching folks from the frozen north stand at the surf and watch a sunrise or sunset.. or frolicking dolphins.. or surfers... or sand crabs. 

We only ask that visitors and residents alike treat this beautiful place with respect while they are here.. and clean up after themselves. Like the beach cross, we want the beauty of this beach to be around as long as "forever" may be. We want it to be pretty for those who come after us.

It made me think about Planet Earth. 

You know.. I bet the One who created this beach.. and everything else on this planet wants us to stop junkin' up the place. I bet He wants us to respect his creation  for as long as we are here.. and to clean up after ourselves in order to keep things pretty for those who come after us. 

By the way, the website also has this to say about the cross "There is no scientific explanation as to why the dune and the cross have been spared so many times. According to several residents, the answer will never come from science but instead can be found from within."
© 2014 Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc


On my return path on the day's run, I came across a random grocery bag drifting across the street. Well, how about that? God had just provided me with a way to put action to my feelings! After all, you can put a lot of discarded beer cans and cigarette butts in one of those bags. Coincidence? Nah. How do I know that? The answer comes from within.

I stooped, I scooped...and, I smiled.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Run For Your Life! (Chapel A Day 2014 Day 4)

"Run for your life!" the little boy called as he dashed toward the street and away from an angry, swarming mass of yellow jackets. Their underground nest had been stirred up by the little boy's father who was working in the lawn with an electric hedge trimmer. 

If you read this blog very often, you'll understand why this perfectly average--- but thankfully NOT every day event--- got me to thinkin.'

My grandmother had a saying. "Be careful! You're about to stir up a hornet's nest!" Usually, I heard her say that when her church-lady girlfriends were over eating pound cake and drinking coffee. But, I thought of my grandmother---and the somewhat dramatic little boy---on Day 4 of this Lenten journey. I was attending a spiritual seminar at Christ Episcopal Church in Pensacola. The speaker's topic was Julian of Norwich... considered by many to be one of the most important Christian mystics. On what seemed to be her deathbed in 1373, Julian said she had 16 visions of Jesus Christ. She recovered and wrote about those visions.

In some ways... Julian stirred up a hornet's nest.

Her visions resulted in views about suffering, Hell, grace, forgiveness, and God's mercy that were not necessarily in line with the "official" theology of the times. Seemingly unafraid of the backlash that might result...

She. Wrote. About. Them. 

And people still read about them more than 600 years later.

During a break in the seminar, I headed here..
to the little chapel attached to the church. I knelt at the altar and prayed. And, I wondered whether I feel strongly enough about something to risk talking, or writing, about it---even if it might stir up a hornet's nest? Do you?

Sometimes, we back away from standing up for our faith, principles, values, ethics or just plain ol' likes and dislikes because of fear. We fear people will make fun, or ostracize, or challenge, or think we are NUTS!

But, maybe, like Julian, we should consider trying to determine what's really important in life to us.. and how, by sharing that, we might make a positive difference in someone else's life. I do not believe that means you have license to force your views on others, or be theological or social bullies, or substitute fanaticism for forthrightness. But, having a belief and taking a stand for that belief are good things.

So, here's the rub. I don't agree with everything Julian of Norwich wrote. Some of her views are way different than mine. Some of the seminar speaker's interpretations of her views and visions are wayyyyyyyyyy different than mine. 

But, that's ok.

641 years after she had those visions, Julian of Norwich stirred up a hornet's nest in my heart and my mind and sent me on a search for deeper answers about the things I believe. She inspired me to be stronger in what I believe and smarter in the way I communicate those beliefs. 

The little boy who dashed into the street that day was running AWAY from the hornet's nest. Julian has inspired me to run TOWARD it. Who knows? I might just be...

Runnin' for my life.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Got Gas? (Chapel A Day 2014 Day 3)

I was worn out from working at my demanding job, raising two amazing----and over-the-top energetic---daughters, running a household and volunteering at my church and the girls' schools. I LOVED it! But... I was DRAINED. And.... I couldn't figure out how to get un-drained---physically and emotionally.

Then someone told me about a speaker she'd heard who addressed "running out of gas." He'd said something like this: People are like cars. They run hard and well and with little help when they are well fueled. When they run out of gas, they sputter, limp to the side of the road and stop. And, guess what? They cannot gas themselves up. Someone has to do it for them.

Interesting. How many of us try to gas ourselves up when we run out of fuel? Perhaps we try get going again with caffeine, food, alcohol, relationships...  Maybe what we need is for someone to take us to the filling station.

I thought about this on Day 3 of my Chapel A Day 2014 Lenten journey. I'm sacrificing an hour a day in spiritual reflection. My goal is to do this in a different chapel, or church, or synagogue, or outdoor "sanctuary" every day of Lent until Easter. This day found me in the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel in downtown Pensacola.  I'm not Catholic, but I often find myself sitting in the back row of a daily Mass kneeling and praying and,... well, filling up.

This time, there was something different. At the end of the service, the parishioners were invited to remain for the Stations of the Cross... a way of retracing the steps of Jesus from His conviction to His crucifixion to His burial through structured prayer. I'd never done this. I thought it might be a good idea to try. So, I did.

It was very moving... spiritually and literally. With the aid of plaques depicting 14 stops, or stations, along this journey.. and with the structured prayers.. we moved around the church... one station to the next. We prayed and sang in unison. Some cried. Some smiled. All, it occurred to me, were filling up.

You out of gas? There's a book.. or a devotional.. or a speaker.. or a Sunday School class.. or a retreat.. or a time apart for prayer.. or a church that's just waiting to fill you up. 

Let them. 

Because, if you don't... there are destructive habits, people and circumstances that are also waiting to fill you up. 

Don't let them.

Got gas? Well, how about finding a "Station" where you can fill up with Premium Grade A fuel? 

Your bill's already been paid.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Push to Open (Chapel A Day 2014 Day 2)

If  you didn't know it was a little chapel... you might think it's just an extension of the beautiful church it sits alongside. That's what I thought, until a friend told me about the chapel that sits next to Christ the King church in Daphne, AL. It is open 24/7.

I stopped in on Day 2 of my Lenten journey. The chapel is beautiful and peaceful. I spent the first few moments taking it all in. Then I prayed, and read some from my favorite devotional. I felt that there was a reason I should have stepped into this chapel on this day. As often happens during these chapel visits, however, the "word" on why I was here... wasn't coming to me easily.

So, I sat.

I looked around. On the wall are depictions of the seven stations of the cross- a pictorial escort of Christ's journey from the Garden of Gethsemane to Golgotha. I studied each one, and as always, was moved by the telling of the story that changed history.

But... that's not why I was here.

I studied the statues of Jesus and Mary. I thought about their relationship as mother and son.. and as woman and Savior. As always... both relationships boggled my mind. 

But.. that's not why I was here.

Okay, then.. what?????? Whhhaaatttt??? I (very prayerfully and respectfully) thought.

I was on the very back row, sitting in a pew against the wall. I glanced over to my left and this caught my eye.

Really, Drexel? All of the beautiful, spiritual, thought-provoking and spirit-stirring items in this chapel and you land on the "Push to Open" button?


"Push to Open." The words are wheelchair level...about 24 inches below a depiction of Jesus...pushing his way toward His destiny Pushing through the throngs of people lining the dusty streets...some jeering, some weeping, some simply dazed. Pushing through the closed minds of those who would put him to death, so that He could open the door to life... for the world.

"Push to Open."

I sat for a few moments with my eyes closed, imagining the scene as it played out all of those centuries ago. When I opened my eyes, I looked back at the button. This time, the word "PUSH" did not stand out to me. This time, the word "OPEN" jumped out. 

It occurred to me that He is done with the pushing part. He never was a pushy guy to begin with. Nope. No more pushing. Now, it's up to us to open the way, by opening the door.

"Push to Open." Try it. You never know Who might be waiting on the other side.

You're In My Seat (Chapel A Day 2014 Day 1)

"You're in my seat," said the young woman, her jaw set, her eyes steely, her arms crossed across her chest and clutching her textbook.

I looked up and replied, "I'm sorry?"

"That's my seat. I picked it yesterday. It's MY SEAT."

"Well, alrighty, then," I thought.  I had missed the first day of class and obviously had missed the fact that...

This. Was. Her. Seat.

So, I smiled, got  up.. and took my seat... to another seat.

I thought about the classroom encounter as I sat in the sanctuary of my church awaiting the start of the Ash Wednesday service. The church was filling up almost to capacity. Worshipers were streaming in, some confidently striding to what most certainly was "their seat" but upon arriving at said pew, discovered that on this crowded night, "their seat" had been hijacked by another. 

C'mon, admit it. You do the same thing. Your name may not be on the pew, but it might as well be. And, if you stroll in late one Sunday and find someone else's seat is parked in your seat, you are tempted to stand there---stare--- and say, 

"You're. In. My. Seat."

Tonight, I entered the church not from the front doors, but from a side door, opposite from where I usually sit. I was one of the first ones to arrive. I stood for a moment, breathed in the air of the 200 year old church, settled my thoughts... and opened my eyes.

"Wait," I thought, "Something is different." At first, I couldn't put my finger on it. Then, as I slowly looked around me, I focused in on this.

I knew this stained glass window was here. I walk beneath it after receiving communion at the altar every Sunday. You know...  as I head back to MY SEAT on MY side of the church. But, when I sit in MY SEAT each Sunday... on the opposite side of where I stood tonight... this is the wall I primarily see.

It's not a bad sight.. not bad at all...

But, I kind of liked the new view, as well. Which caused me to ponder... What would happen if we vowed to re-seat our seat every now and then? 

What if, during this season of Lent, we went out of our way to look at the people, our surroundings and even our circumstances from a different point of view? What if we asked God to open our eyes to what HE wants us to see.. or where HE wants us to "sit?" What if there's something, or someone, beautiful out there that we pass by every day, but we never see.. because we don't want to switch seats? What if there is someone on the opposite side of the room.. ,the sanctuary.. the community.. or your family... who needs us to get out of our seat.. and come sit with them? What if we once or twice took the deliberate step of giving up OUR SEAT (or meal, or clothes, or time, or money) to someone who needs it more than we do.. or to someone who simply needs a new view? 

What if... 

As I made my way to MY SEAT... on MY side of the sanctuary, the place began to quickly fill. I sat in my pew, and turned my eyes forward to another stained glass window. This one:

I look at it every Sunday. Tonight, on Ash Wednesday, my eyes were drawn to the open arms of Jesus, who gave up HIS SEAT. He spent 40 days in a sacrificial posture before taking a journey that would give us all the opportunity to see...and a whole new way. As I locked eyes with the eyes in the painting, I could almost hear Him say:

"Welcome to My house. By the way, you're in My seat. And, I am so glad about that."

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Lesson I've Learned From Sunrises

Photo by: Drexel Gilbert
© 2014 Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc. 
I made a promise to myself in 2013 to witness more sunrises. I have. In fact, I've taken a picture of the sunrise almost every day for the past several months. The sun is a great teacher. I've learned many lessons from a year of watching it break across the horizon.

Here's a lesson I've learned from sunrises:

Like snowflakes, no two sunrises are the same. Some sunrises are brilliant, with flashes of orange, pink and fuchsia exploding across the azure sky. Some sunrises are shy, with the dawn playing peek-a-boo behind fluffy white clouds that frolic from here to there on the heavenly playground. Some sunrises go into hiding, ducking undercover behind an oppressive gray blanket. The sun is there. It just won't, or can't, come out to play. Some sunrises are just blotted out by storms that rage and howl and screech. The strongest rays of this brightest force still cannot penetrate the black, angry skies.

Like snowflakes.. and sunrises.. no two people are the same. And, no one person is the same every day.

There are days when we will awaken in a blaze of color. We will be ready to embrace the promise of a new day, a new opportunity to write another page in this book that we call life, a new challenge, a new life. Those days will be filled with smiles and laughter and love and promise and joy and hope. They will be filled with brilliant colors and energy and success. We will be bold and adventuresome and confident! We will be spot on! We will score! WE. WILL. WIN!

Then, there will be days of  hesitation. Do we really want to go out and face the day? Or would it be better to hole up and hold back? Maybe we should just take a peek at the life that's going on around us, but then dash back inside. Perhaps we need a brief interlude with friends, colleagues and loved ones followed by a time apart to reflect and plan and debrief.

Some days, we will not want to go outside and play. Period. We are still here. We just need to be alone. Maybe we need some solitude to gain perspective, strength and confidence. Maybe we need to read, write, work, sing, play...or cry.  Alone.

And, some days.... we feel blotted out by the storms. Like the weather, our life seems to be out of control. We may rage against our hurts and fears and anguish. We may howl as turbulent winds whip through the atmosphere that is our life. We may screech in pain and loneliness and emptiness.

And that's okay. Because...

The most important lesson I've learned from sunrises is this:

Another one's a-comin'.

Regardless of how wonderful... or how dreadful... .today has been, tomorrow's sunrise offers a fresh start. Tomorrow's sunrise offers another opportunity to smile, to be kind, to take a chance, to make a friend, to break a bad habit, to start a good habit, to apply for a job, to quit a job,to climb, to build, to create, to reach up, to reach out, to love.... to live.
Photo by: Drexel Gilbert
© 2014 Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc. 

Here comes the sun. 

What will you do with it?