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? Like...giving 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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Empty Nest

     In the early, middle, and even later years of having my daughters at home, I never really considered the concept of the “empty nest.” Surely that wasn’t really a thing. Guess what? It really is a thing. My oldest was married 5 years ago and lives 7 hours away. My youngest moved 5 months ago. She lives 7 hours away.The empty nest has come home to roost.
     So, how am I handling it? Depends on when you ask. But, as I settle into life as an empty-nester I am learning a few things:

     1.  I can now prepare asparagus and broccoli for dinner without hearing "Ewwwww! Do I HAVE to eat that?"

     2.  I can clean the bathrooms on Monday and they are still clean on Friday.

     3.  Laundry really doesn't have to be done every day. Who knew?

     I am also learning that if I could roll the clock back a few months (or years):

     1.  I would happily return to preparing spaghetti, macaroni and cheese and chicken nachos every night.

     2. I would happily pick up those clothes that always piled up behind the bathroom door and scrub the tub every day.

     3. There are worse things than washing, drying and folding clothes.

I miss my kids. There. I said it.

     Don't get me wrong. I'm not sitting around moping. I'm up and at 'em every day, living my life, working hard and moving forward. I know this is why we raise our children... to eventually release them to become happy, healthy, independent adults who will live productive, happy, prosperous lives…and live those lives in such a way as to have a positive influence on society. I get that. I also get this: 

                                                   I. Miss. My. Kids.

     Someone recently said to me, "But you wouldn't want them to live with you forever would you?" Actually.... I kinda’ get the whole "Dallas" thing now. You remember “Dallas,” right? 
     The entire, flawed, fun, feuding, fussin’, cussin’, lovin’ Ewing family---grandparents, parents, kids, etc.--- all living under one roof! 
     I could SO be Miss Ellie, happily moving through life with all of my brood living under the same roof. Now hear this: Each family would have their own wing complete with their own bathrooms and laundry rooms!  There would be total autonomy for each family, with no butting into one another's business. But, everyone could gather together around the dinner table at night and give thanks for the food (asparagus for me... mac 'n cheese for them) and for each other.
    Does that sound old-fashioned and sappy in today's modern world where careers, and life's obligations and responsibilities are separating us not just geographically but also relationally? (Yes, Grammarly, I know it's not a word, but it should be.)
    Well, don't expect me to apologize. As Miss Ellie would say, "We may be right and we may be wrong, but we're family, we stick together and that's what makes us unbeatable."
    Wonder if Southfork can be rented for a family vacation?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Relationships: How are Yours?

My career path has taken an unexpected turn in recent years. After a lifetime of television journalism and corporate coaching, I find myself in the position of “relationship mentor.” You know, someone who helps someone else find deeper meaning, greater happiness, more stability, and richer satisfaction in their relationships. 
Photo: ©  2017 Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
Most of my work comes in the faith-based arena, but I’ve come to believe that everything in life boils down to relationship. It’s how you treat others and how you expect others to treat you. It’s learning how to give with as much enthusiasm as you take. It’s learning to put the other person’s needs ahead of your own sometimes. But it’s also about knowing when to stand your ground when you need something from the other person, and knowing how to properly articulate that need. Relationship is about honesty. And trust. And courage. And endurance.
Relationships are not just between lovers. They may be between spouses, children, parents, or friends. They may be between businesses and clients, teachers and students, pastors and congregations. And then there’s the ultimate relationship. The one between you and God. If we don’t get that one right, not much else seems to come together,
All relationships are structured differently and have different needs and desired outcomes. But they also share many things in common.
  •          Relationship is the coming together of two or more people for the purpose of connection, fulfillment, companionship, and/or the achievement of common goals.
  •          There are needs, wants, and desires between those in the relationship.
  •          Outside influences can positively or negatively impact the dynamics of the relationship.
  •          Internal struggles can positively or negatively impact the dynamics of the relationship.
  •          Relationships can be mutually satisfying with give and take on both, or all, sides.
  •          Relationships can also become one-sided, with one person giving their all and the other person taking it all.
  •          Relationships can be vibrant, growing, and thriving. You know, the kind that make you smile or laugh out loud when you think about them.
  •          Relationships can become stale, not from lack of love, but from lack of use. They can also become ugly, when trust is violated and when the give and take is out of balance.

How do I know these things? Not because I have a degree in psychology. I don’t. Not because I am a counselor. I’m not. Not because I perfectly understand everything there is to know about humans and our relationships. I don’t.
What I do have is a lifetime of experience with my own relationships-some that worked, and some that failed miserably. I have a lifetime of interviewing people about subjects as far apart as A is from Z, and coming to realize that every story I ever covered in 35 years of journalism boiled down to “relationship” in one form or another.
I’ve researched. I’ve interviewed. I’ve talked about the ins and outs of good and bad relationships with husbands, wives, children, parents, psychologists, counselors, business leaders, politicians, ministers, ministers’ wives, scientists, professors, bartenders, fishermen, nurses, and baristas. I’ve heard stories that made me want to shout with happiness. I’ve heard stories that left me weeping on the floor. I’ve written books that have helped some people find their way back to a healthy, happy relationship. I’ve held the hands of others who decided it was time to walk away from a destructive relationship and walk toward a healthier life.
I had to face up to the fact that, as hard as I’d tried, I could not save all of my own relationships. Some of broken relationships I bore at least some of the responsibility for. Even “relationship mentors” who love Jesus and want to do the right thing when it comes to relating to other people don’t get it right in their own lives every time. But some of us try to take our mistakes, embarrassment, and heartbreak and use them to help others from falling into the same pit.
And that is where this blog post, and the next few posts to come, are headed. In the direction that will hopefully help you, and lots of other people, develop and maintain great relationships. Even the best of them can use a boost every now and then. And, even the best of them need work, and attention, and consistency.
The good news is that relationships have been around since the beginning of time. God created us for relationship… with him first, then with others. God did not create us to be loners. In the creation story in the book of Genesis, the only place where God says, “It is not good…” is in Gen. 2:18. “It is not good that man should be alone.” God knows we crave those ties that bind us to one another. He knows we need love relationships that connect our heart to another’s heart.
He also knows, and we should as well, that our relationships go into making up who we are and how we conduct ourselves in the world. Our relationships speak to how we feel about ourselves and how we take those feelings and project them onto others. Do you have healthy, or unhealthy, relationships? Do your relationships build you up, or tear you down? Do your relationships feed you, or feed on you?
Relationships are precious gifts. Whether they are with lovers, family, friends, or others who are in your social, faith, or business circle, you should choose them wisely and enter into them with great care. How do you do that? Check back in a few days for the next blog installment for important and practical guidance on how to enter into healthy relationships and avoid harmful ones.
In the meantime, take a few minutes and write down a list of the relationships that mean the most to you. Start with your family, then move to your friends, and beyond. Try giving the people on your list a call, or dropping them a card or email, and telling them how much they mean to you… and why. Bring joy to their life and it will rebound to you. I promise.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Got Girlfriends?

          Today is National Girlfriends Day- a day for women to celebrate the girlfriends who make our lives richer, fuller, more fun, and more stable. Do you remember your first gal-pal?
     Mine was a little blonde named Mary Ann. We were in first grade in a tiny school in central Arkansas. I don't remember much about her because my family lived there only a short time. But I clearly remember riding my bike to her house for a tea party with her dolls. I remember we took turns pushing each other on the swings at recess and that we shared our crayons. I remember collecting colorful fall leaves with her, then pressing them between sheets of wax paper. I remember us giggling at a lady with blue hair on the train we took to the next city for a field trip. I don't remember Mary Ann's face, but I do remember her smile. I hope she is still smiling!
      It's crucial for women to have girlfriends. My girlfriends range in age from their early 20’s to their late 80’s! I devote a lot of time to women's friendships in the Sunday School classes and conferences that I lead. Why? Because while men friends and lovers are wonderful, there are some things only a woman understands. There are some conversations, some situations, even some secrets that can only be shared with another woman. It's important that the woman, or women, with whom you share these things understands your heart and mind. It's also important that whatever you share goes straight into the friendship vault- a vault to which only the two of you have the combination. 
     Healthy, nurturing, trustworthy friendships don't happen willy-nilly. Like anything else that's important to have, you must work at it. Here are four ways to cultivate and grow those friendships.
     *1. Initiate. If you want a friend, be a friend. In the Bible, God said it isn't good for us to live alone. That verse is usually associated with marriage, but a lot of really smart scholars say it's a deeper verse that indicates God's understanding of our need for association and relationship in areas outside of marriage. Initiate that relationship! Reach out to someone new. Change where you sit in church or at social gatherings. Join a book or supper club. Keep your eyes and heart open for opportunities to initiate conversation. Sometimes we must take our eyes off dead center to really see the wonderful people and friendship opportunities around us.
     Once you've spotted a potential friend, smile and make eye contact. Introduce yourself. Make a phone call. Send a card. Once you're introduced, get moving! Invite them to lunch. Broke? Invite them for a walk in the park. Too hot? Invite them for a walk through the mall. Busy? Make a quick call or send a card. Stop with the excuses, already, and just do it.
        In established friendships, reintroduce yourself. You may know each other, but do you really "know" each other? How often do you let loose, let go, and really open up?  When we do that, walls come down and we grow closer, initiating binding ties that can't be broken by time or circumstances. One of my favorite games to play is the “random fact” game. Does she like Jiffy or Skippy peanut butter? Most embarrassing moment? Most exciting moment? First kiss? Last kiss? Bucket list of travel spots? Most unusual thing about her that no one would ever guess? It’s fun and it can spark a conversation that leads to a deeper understanding of each other and a deeper love for each other. Try it.
          2. Communicate. It's true that we can have girlfriends we don't see for weeks, months, or years, and still pick up right where we left off. But it's so much better to keep the conversation going. And technology has made that much easier! How do you keep the talk-flow moving and keep it meaningful and not just a lot of chatter?  Find time to be alone-together where there are no distractions, just conversation. Make an "appointment" with your girlfriends. You schedule time for your boss, dentist and nail technician. Schedule time with the women who lift you up! 
     Remember, communicating does not always mean running your mouth. A big part of communicating is listening. When you do that, you hear a lot of things---some of them "unspoken." Also, be consistent in your communication. For relationships to thrive and grow, communication should be frequent. Be as open as possible, sharing concerns as well as celebrations. But be very aware of the friendship vault! These no holds barred conversations must be kept confidential. No gossip, no speculation, no pressing for more information than she is prepared to give, and no judgment. If she asks for your advice then by all means, give it--- in love. If she doesn't, then zip it. And hug her. And tell her you love her and are there for her.
     3. Associate. It's not enough to initiate a relationship or even to communicate within that relationship. We must take active, consistent steps to associate with our girlfriends if those friendships are to grow, and become strong and sustaining. And don't wait to be asked. Be proactive. Reach out. Spend time together. Move beyond the one-hour lunch on Wednesday. Go to a movie together, or to a museum, or an art show. Go to the park and feed the ducks. Ride bikes to your favorite breakfast joint. Walk your dogs together. Go to the farmer’s market. Walk the beach and look for seashells. The time for these activities doesn't just fall out of the sky. You'll have to work with each other in scheduling issues. Everybody's busy, but if we want something badly enough, we find time for it. Make the time. You'll be glad you did.
     4. Habituate. It's sometimes easier to begin a friendship than it is to sustain it. You take steps 1, 2, and 3 but then life gets in the way. The days and the weeks wear on you with their responsibilities, crises, activities and NOISE. You may lose your enthusiasm and discipline for initiating, communicating, and associating. One way to overcome that is to create the habit of consciously, daily, making an effort to create routines that encourage you to reach out and reach back to your girlfriends. If you need to put "Call my bud" on your daily or weekly to-do list, then do it, until it becomes a habit! Tape her picture to your laptop screen or refrigerator door. Anything that will remind you that despite the busyness of life, your friendship is important. It's important enough to invest your time. The payoff will be priceless!
*This is an excerpt from Drexel's women's bible study "Soul Sisters."
© 2017 Drexel Gilbert Enterprises


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Vacation-YayCation! 5 Steps to a Happy Family Summer Vacation

     "I love it," the dad said with a laugh as he walked past me on Main Street in Walt DisneyWorld. "We've only been here an hour and I'm already fussing at the kids!" He hugged his wife and they both giggled.This particular dad was obviously joking around. But traveling with young children can be no laughing matter! Over-the-top excitement, fatigue, hunger, and heat can propel the kids into CrankyLand and cause parents to say, "Now, remind me again why we decided to do this?"
     On the other hand, summer vacations can provide parents and children with excellent opportunities for creating happy memories and for strengthening relationships. Here are five ways to turn your family vacation into a Yay-Cation that you will remember fondly for years to come.
     Feed your faces. Be sure everyone eats breakfast. Don't let the rush to pack, load and check the list "just one more time" distract you from eating at least a light breakfast (looking at you, Mom.) You need fuel for the day. Not only does a healthy breakfast kick-start your metabolism, studies show it improves your mood! Include protein, dairy and/or whole grains. Hungry kids are cranky kids, so munch on high protein snacks during the day. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Staying hydrated can give you more energy and regulate body temperature. Hot kids=hot mess. Drink water.

     Slow down. Don't overpack your daily agenda. Your kids may want to be the first ones in and the last ones out, but remember the "eyes are bigger than the stomach" saying. If you spend the day racing from points a to z, you will just "see" things instead of experience them. A slower pace encourages conversation with the kids. It's better to do less and do it well. Take leisurely water and bathroom breaks. Stop on the road or the trail for a picnic lunch. Sit by the lake and feed the ducks. The idea is to create memories instead of a timetable.

     Embrace your inner child. We are so used to adulting, it's hard to let go on vacation. Just do it. Cannonball into the pool, throw water balloons on the beach, build a sandcastle, ride the darn rollercoaster for crying out loud, wear a cowboy hat, do the line dance, buy the t-shirt, eat the ice cream, conquer the water slide, take silly selfies with the kids. You can go back to adulting on Monday. For now---let loose! Your kids will never forget the fun that they, and you, had!

     Conduct a daily debriefing. Everybody get together at the end of the day, after bathtime and before bedtime to talk about the day. What worked? What didn't? What was each one's favorite part of the day? What's the funniest thing that happened? What do you want to do again? DOCUMENT. Record the debriefing on your smartphone or video camera. These are moments you will never be able to recapture. Let the kids lead the conversation. They will always remember it! And they will love you for letting them take the lead.

     Sleep. It's tempting at night to Just.Keep.Going. Resist. If everybody sleeps (looking at you, Mom) everybody stands a better chance of waking up refreshed, happy, and ready to tackle the next day. 

      Here's to YayCation! Safe travels!


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Relationships Ain't For Sissies

     I was scanning through the channels on my car radio when a sad song about a breakup came on. "Nobody Wins" laments the loss of a relationship and, with apologies to Brenda
Lee, there's nothing really remarkable about the lyrics. With the exception of one line. 
     "The loving is easy, it's the living that's hard."
     To misquote Bette Davis, "Relationships ain't for sissies."  Too many of us enter into relationships believing those sappy sayings such as "all you need is love, "love conquers all," and "love means never having to say you're sorry."
     I hate to be blunt, but.... bull.
     Love, real love, is not just about the feelings. Don't get me wrong! Those feelings are great! They make you go all gooey on the inside when you see your honey and they touch you in just that right spot on the back of your neck. But, feelings come and go. The fairy dust (as one of my girlfriends calls it) can fly away at a moment's notice in the face of a disagreement, financial difficulty, acts of mistrust, or just the daily responsibilities of life. That's when "it's the living that's hard." And that's when the act of love, not just the feeling of love, can make or break the relationship.
     What do you do when the living is hard? Here are five suggestions:

     *If you are married, remember your wedding vows. You know the ones: "for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others be faithful only unto you." Made you all mushy the day you promised those things. But, they can be hard to live out. When the living is hard, perhaps you and your spouse can repeat your vows to each other. If that's uncomfortable, write them out and say them aloud to yourself. Remember why you said them on that very important day. Ask yourself, "what is the one thing I can do today to act out my vows, regardless of my feelings?"

 *Say "I'm sorry." I adore the movie "Love Story." I cry every time Jenny tells Oliver "love means never having to say you're sorry." Then, I wipe my eyes, blow my nose, look at the screen and say "baloney!" We all do and say hurtful things to the people we love, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. Saying "I'm sorry" is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It demonstrates your depth of character and your commitment to making the relationship work. Warning: Be sure you MEAN IT when you say those important two words. Saying them, but not living them, will spur mistrust and resentment.

      *Talk it out. The "silent treatment" is a popular maneuver in too many relationships. Silence may be golden in church or the library, but in a relationship it's worthless. Learn how to talk through your issues in a calm, logical way. Perhaps each of you could take a piece of paper, write down three things that are bothering you, then take turns talking about them. Did you catch that? TAKE TURNS. It's a conversation not a lecture. Time yourselves if necessary. Acknowledge the other person's feelings and words. You don't have to agree with them, but try to see their perspective and find common ground.

     *Never go to bed without kissing your mate.Someone told me one time of a couple in their 80's who'd never gone to bed without a kiss. The husband said sometimes the bed would be shaking because of the anger of the moment. But in the light of day, they found the desire, will, and strength to make amends and move the relationship forward. BTW, kissing burns calories. So, go "work out." It will make your body and your relationship healthier!

     *Bring back romance. Take steps to overcome the disagreements and difficulties that threaten your "fairy dust." Decide to infuse some romance into your relationship. Go for a long walk or a drive. Hold hands. Dance in the kitchen. Kiss your partner when they walk out the door in the morning--- not a peck on the lips, but a hot-and-bothered can't-wait-til-you-get-home kiss. Rub your partner's feet when they get home. Go on a picnic. Take a bubble bath. Light candles and play love songs from your courtship. The idea is to WORK at your relationship.
Brenda Lee had it right. Sometimes, "the loving is easy. It's the living that's hard." But nothing worth having comes easily. Or so I've heard. 

*For more ideas on how to bring romance back to your relationship, check out
"30 Days to Better Love"