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."
     Truth.
     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
www.drexelgilbert.com.
"30 Days to Better Love" 



      

      





Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pick Up a Flower- Pick Up the Romance

     It's National Water a Flower Day. I don't make things like this up. I just share them. I have a brown thumb. Kill every plant that is courageous enough to venture into my home or flower bed. Growing flowers? Don't like to do it. Receiving flowers? That's another story. Which leads to today's entry. 

     In the grocery store last week, a nice looking 30-something man got in line behind me. I glanced at him. He had a newspaper, a bottle of wine, and a bouquet of flowers. I smiled and said, "Smart man!" He blushed (yes, he did)) and smiled back. I asked him to go ahead of me. "Any guy who takes flowers home to his sweetie deserves to be at the head of the line!" The cashier and two ladies behind us began to clap.

     Men who want to spice up their relationship can go a long way in that department by giving flowers. In my relationship book, "30 Days to Better Love," Day 1 addresses why men should give her flowers and what will probably happen if he does. I'll tell you more in this short video. Watch it. Then water your relationship by giving her flowers. You never know what might bloom.

Click here to watch: 30 Days to Better Love- Day 1

Leave a comment below and you will be entered in a drawing for a free bouquet of roses! Hurry! Drawing to take place June 5, 2017!

P.S. There's a whole lot of guys (and gals) who are feeling a whole lot of romance because of the book. You can invest in your relationship by buying the book. Find it here: 
Buy 30 Days to Better Love: A Guide for Men



Monday, May 29, 2017

JFK's Birthday-Jackie's Legacy: 5 Parenting Lessons Inspired by a First Lady

     John F. Kennedy would have been 100 years old May 29. He was the 35th President of the United States. He did a lot of smart things during his political career. But, that’s not what this is about. This is about what may be the smartest thing John F. Kennedy did in his personal life.

     He married Jackie.


     Why was that a smart move? Not because Jackie was smart, beautiful, graceful and cultured. Indeed, she was all of those things and more. But what I find most admirable about the former first lady is that she was a good mother.

     Jackie Kennedy once told a reporter something that became my mantra as a mom. She said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” Jackie Kennedy set the bar high. And from all accounts, she was at the top of that bar.

     Was she perfect? Surely not. Did she “bungle” a few things along the way? Surely so. But on the 100th anniversary of her famous husband’s birth, her quote can both and inspire and challenge parents of today to remember the importance of loving, teaching, guiding, restraining, and yes--- correcting--- our children.

     Somehow--- with the grace of God--- I managed to raise two little girls who are exceptional young women making a difference in the world. Was I a perfect mom? Certainly not. Did I bungle things along the way? Absolutely. But I learned a lot along that way. I’m not Jackie Kennedy, but here are a few things I’ve learned about parenting through the years.

     *Love your children unconditionally. Love them when they make A’s. Love them when they C’s. Love them when they smile. Love them when they sneer. Love them when they walk in the door and give you a hug. Love them when they slam the door and give you the cold shoulder. Love them when they do what you want them to do. Love them when they do what they want to do. Love is not about approval. Love is about LOVE.

     Children need a safe place to be themselves. That means they need a safe place to be happy, sad, sweet, snippy, generous, stingy, loving and even loathing. Love them in spite of themselves. This will help them grow into confident, emotionally healthy, loving human beings. It will serve them well in their own adult relationships. HAVING SAID THIS, PLEASE NOTE! This does not mean letting your children run over you and anyone else in their path. That is not "love!" To truly love your child, you must also-

     *Discipline your children. GASP! I know that goes against much of today’s common thought. I don’t care. I’m right on this one, people. I’ve seen so many children who are undisciplined and allowed free rein to do and say whatever they please. The result? Their parents are unhappy. Anyone around them is unhappy. Frankly, the children are unhappy. A very wise friend of mine in the child care industry once told me, “Children want boundaries. They want to be told “no” every now and then.” Really? Really.

     Now, by discipline, I do not mean physical violence against the child. If you are doing that- STOP IT.  Discipline means teaching children about proper behavior. It means holding them accountable for improper behavior. It means teaching them how to apologize and mean it. It means having them earn privileges instead of teaching them to expect them. It means teaching them how to be good losers as well as good winners. It means expecting the best of them and not tolerating the worst from them. It means guiding them and teaching them how to live and thrive in society. It’s your job. Do it.

     *Spend time with your children. It’s a busy world. We wake up at O’dark-thirty and hit the floor running. We run all day and into the night with jobs, errands, housework, yard work, greetings, meetings, and competing. Chatting with a talkative toddler or a testy teenager may not be what you FEEL like doing. Do it anyway. When you shut out everything else, sit down, look your child in the eye and really listen to what they are saying, you communicate their value. Their value to you and to the world. You tell them that what they are saying and feeling is of worth. You build their confidence and inspire them to be better at what they do. On that note:

   *Encourage them. I don’t know what tickles your child’s fancy. Maybe it’s soccer, or baseball, or football, or art, or reading, or writing, or singing, or cheerleading, or dancing. When they find their passion, do everything you can to encourage it. I might have been dog tired from a long day at work in the television newsroom, but when my little dancer daughters wanted to show me their latest ballet or jazz moves, I put on the music, turned down the soup on the stove, sat on the couch and watched them. For as long as it took.

     *Learn to say "no."  This may offend some of you, but, oh well. Parents who give their children every little thing they ask for, even before they know what to do with it, are doing those children no favors. What ever happened to working for it? Saving for it? Waiting for it? I see 8-year-olds watching PG-13 movies, 6th graders being chauffeured to "prom" in a limo, 16-year-old being given brand new cars, but no curfew to go along with it. Appropriate boundaries are good for children. They teach your children how to function in the adult world when the time comes. Who cares if "everybody else is doing it?" You are not "everybody else's" parent.

     And remember that "parent" is the key word. You are not your child's best friend. You are their mother. Or their father. You are the adult. And when you guide them with love, encouragement, discipline, time, and restraint--- you will help them become adults with purpose, passion, and principles.

    I don’t know if Jackie did any of those things, exactly. I have a feeling she did all of those things, and more, generally. She seems to have raised two exceptional human beings. And that may be the best birthday gift she could have ever given her husband. If you are a parent who unconditionally loves, disciplines, spends time with, encourages and restrains your children, it will be the best gift you can give them, as well.




*For more on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, visit https://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/Life-of-Jacqueline-B-Kennedy.aspx

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sometimes You Just Need to Bake a Pan of Cornbread

     Sometimes you just need to bake a pan of cornbread, you know?

     We are rushing headlong to the end of May. May is a month of transitions. School lets out for summer. Kids move from one grade to the next. Older ones graduate high school. Some come home from college for the summer, with truckloads of dirty laundry and stomachs that never fill up! Some graduate from college and move away. Sometimes far, far away. Daughters prepare to become June brides. Sons practice their garter-flinging skills as they prepare to become grooms. Snowbirds head north for the summer. Families pack up for the beach or the mountains. Spring ends. Hurricane season begins. May is the month that heralds change.

     And that’s not a bad thing.

    June brings opportunities. New projects to start. New people to meet. New places to go. New lives to begin. But, in the midst of all the change, we sometimes have a momentary longing for “what was.” We wonder how our kids grew up so quickly. How they moved from snaggle-toothed kindergartners to sophisticated college grads, or movers-and-shakers in their chosen career. We marvel at, and at the same time struggle with, rapidly advancing technology. We are so happy that we are out of the “diaper phase,” but are anxious about entering the “driver’s license phase.”  We don’t fear change, but we have a soft-spot for the way things used to be.

     How do you handle that longing? With scrapbooks or videos of days gone by? By visiting childhood friends, or cranking up “your music” on Pandora radio? Maybe it’s by cooking and eating your comfort food. That’s what I do. And my food is cornbread. Homemade. With buttermilk. Like my mama makes.
  
     It didn’t matter what we were celebrating or commiserating in our house when I was
growing up. Homemade buttermilk cornbread was always on the table. Its accessories ranged from black-eyed peas to chicken and dumplings, to turnip greens or meatloaf. If I was sick, my mama made cornbread. If I won an award, my mama made cornbread. If I’d had a rough day at school, my mama made cornbread. If I needed a little lovin’ after being scolded for a mischievous act, my mama made cornbread. If I was happy for no reason at all, my mama made cornbread.

     This May has been a month of transitions for me. My youngest graduated college and moved away. Kinda far, far away. I put my house on the market. I jettisoned a lot of “things” in the process. All good, positive changes… but change nonetheless.
I don’t want to go back to the past. I love my present! I love where my adult children are, and the difference they are making in the world. I’m all about embracing change and looking for something new to do, read, eat or cook every single day! Maybe you are the same way. But sometimes, after a rapid succession of transitions, you just need to indulge in the familiar. For just a little bit. Sometimes you just need a smidgen of the old days to give you the fortification to reach out to the new ones.

     Sometimes, you just need to bake a pan of cornbread. And eat it. Y’all    

Friday, March 3, 2017

Choices


     I did NOT want to get out of bed. I’d pulled a 24-hour study and writing shift before finally putting head to pillow at midnight the night before. I stared at that hateful old clock, which was blinking 5:00! 5:00! 5:00! at me. I had a choice. I could hit snooze and roll back over for more sleep, or I could be strong and roll out of bed and into the day.
     I rolled out.
     I rolled out not because I am strong, but because I’d made a promise the day before on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent, a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal leading up to Easter. For Christians who observe Lent, it’s traditional to fast from something during this 6-week period. 
     My take on fasting for Lent is that if I “give up” something:
  • It needs to be something that is important to me in order for it to be a sacrifice.
  • It needs to have purpose. Does God really care if I give up Krispy Kreme doughnuts for 6 weeks? I don't think so, but He does care about WHY I would choose to give them up and HOW it's supposed to impact my relationship with Him. And that means--
  • The space that's left by what I "do without" needs to be filled with something that enriches my spiritual life and relationship with God.
     For years, the thing I’ve cherished most (other than family) is my time. There’s so little of it. It goes so fast. And, it’s our only non-renewable resource. So, during Lent, I “give up” that very thing. I sacrifice an hour of time every day and fill that hour up with God, through study, prayer, and church.
     On this first morning after Ash Wednesday, I’d marked my calendar to attend an early morning church service. I’m Methodist, but it’s hard to find Protestant churches that are open on weekdays. (We should really do something about that.) So, I made my way to a small Catholic church tucked away in a patch of beautiful woods.
     You know, God has a sense of humor. The scriptures were about, of all things, “choices.” You know, like the one I’d made a couple of hours earlier. The priest’s homily talked about “choices.” You know, like the ones we make every day. He talked about how those daily choices can lead us to a day filled with light--- or not. A day filled with joy--- or not. A day filled with peace--- or not.
     After I left the church, I thought a lot about the choices we make every day. Oh, sure. We have big choices to make- whether to take the job or not, whether to buy the car or not, whether to enter into a relationship or not. But we also have “small” choices that we encounter all day every day.
  • We can choose to gossip or hold our tongue.
  • We can choose to respond IN-KIND to UNKIND words or we can smile and let it go.
  • We can choose to sit numbly in front of the television or we can go for a walk, or read a book, or volunteer in a soup kitchen.
  • We can choose to complain or look for reasons to be grateful.
  • We can choose to criticize or we can compliment.
  • We can choose to keep our eyes glued to our phone or we can turn off the phone and have a real conversation.
  • We can choose to buy that dress or give the money we would have spent on it to our church or to a charity.
  • We can choose to eat lunch out every day, or we can brown bag it and give the money we would have spent to a homeless shelter.
  • We can worry or we can pray.
  • We can try to control everything and everyone, or we can surrender control to the One who is.. well... in control.
      The point is—we have choices every day in our life regardless of the season. They may seem like small choices at the time, but they can have a big impact on they way we live our lives. We hold these choices in our hands. What choices will you make today? You know you'll have to.

       Choose wisely.