Mirror Moments

Have you ever looked at an image in a mirror and wondered, “Who is that, and where did that person come from? When did I get to look like that??!!??”

I had something of that experience recently. I was getting ready for work. Sitting at my vanity, reaching for something, my glance hit the mirror and I saw something I hadn’t seen before. When I moved my arms forward to reach for things, the skin on the lower part of my neck got wrinkly.

My glance then happened across my hands. While grabbing things, my skin was the smooth, even texture I had always seen. But when I just held them in a resting position or was using them in other ways, wrinkles appeared where none had been before.

Where had these come from? When had time done its inexorable march on my physical self to cause me to start to look so much older than the me inside feels??

Now, lest you think these thoughts are rooted in the mind of someone so selfish and vain all I care about is my image and appearance, allow me to correct that assumption. I wear makeup because as a business owner, it makes me appear more credible. I put it on as a necessary chore, not a pleasurable one. After years of searching, I finally have a hair style that doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to look good in the morning. I wear coordinating clothes and jewelry because of my creative, artistic sense, not to be fashionable or to please anyone else (except my husband, who gave most of it to me!). I tend to wear the same necklace (my husband gave it to me for our latest anniversary) and the same bracelet (he gave it to me for Christmas last year) every day. In other words, my appearance is something I give about 1/2 an hour of my day to in the morning, and only scant attention to any other time. It’s an issue of practicality, not vanity.

So, why did the wrinkles bother me? Because when I saw them, I was instantly reminded of a conversation I’d had as a child with my grandmother. And I suddenly realized what an egotistical, self-centered jerk I had been, and how loving and gracious my grandmother had been.

I was no more than 8 or 10, and visiting their home in Syracuse, NY. I was there for the week with my older brother for Vacation Bible School, which we often did in the summer.

We were in Grandmother’s kitchen, and I was helping Grandmother and a friend of hers with some baking. At some point, I looked at their hands, compared them to my childish ones, and made some comment about the wrinkles on them. I then further compounded the immense insult by remarking about the wrinkles on their faces!

Grandmother and her friend could have rightly chosen to be offended. They could have chosen to become upset. They could have chosen to speak harshly to me. They chose none of it. They answered with love, kindly and graciously, simply saying these were signs they’d so far lived long and well, and someday I would understand.

There was something thing I realized as I reviewed that conversation in my memories. Looking at it now, from the adult’s perspective, Grandmother and her friend were likely around the same age I am now! At the time, they seemed immeasurably old. Now, at the same relative age, I look in the mirror and see someone still young looking back (except when I see wrinkles!). But I have a calendar awareness of the passage of time, as well as tangible proof like grandchildren, arthritis and gray hair (just ask my stylist).

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who could have 30, 50 or 100  years left to do all I want to accomplish in life. Okay, I admit it, 100 is pushing it! Or, I could be hit by a bus, get into an accident and my life would be over tomorrow. Don’t believe me? See When Life Turns Upside Down, in which I talk about life after a near-death experience last year. The point is, you never know.

I realized I needed to repent, and say I was sorry to God and the memory of Grandmother for being such an obnoxious, selfish and self-centered jerk of a kid. I know what you’re thinking. Kids have no filters. I certainly didn’t that day. But if time has taught me anything, it’s that a heartfelt “I am sorry” is never out of place when your conscience hits you with a guilty sting.

Finally, I realized as I reviewed that conversation the passage of time has done its work. I understand what Grandmother and her friend meant that day. I have tried to live well, for as long as I’ve had so far.

The Bible has a lot to say about aging and the experience and potential of wisdom that comes with age.

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. Job 12:12

My absolute favorite on the topic, however, is this one:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalms 90:20

I know, you’re asking, “Number our days?!?!?? What does that mean??!??” It means more than that calendar awareness of time I was mentioning before. The ancient Greeks called that calendar awareness of time Chronos time. It’s the time of clocks and calendars, that we can understand, quantify and measure. What we need is an understanding that our lives, that we see as so long, so significant, so important to us, are really just blips and specks on the timeline of eternity. In other words, what the ancient Greeks called Kairos time. Kairos time is not something quantifiable, understandable or measurable because it’s eternal. It’s all that was before and all that is and all that will be, all in one package, all in one big picture. It’s God’s view of eternal time, as He Who was and is and ever will be.

When we get a Kairos view of time, when we learn to “number our days,” as the psalmist says, we understand our own insignificance in the vastness of God’s perspective. That sounds like it would be something to bring down our self-image and not give us wisdom, right? Well, God’s views are different. When we look at things the way He sees them, we look at ourselves and our lives through His plans, His purposes and, most importantly, His immense and overwhelming love for us. We see our faults, our failings, our flaws and yes, even our wrinkles, in the light of what He has taken us through, and where He is taking us to.

One of LIFE Leadership co-founder Chris Brady‘s favorite quotes is by noted author Henry David Thoreau:

It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?

In our lives of Chronos busy-ness, getting a Kairos view of things from time to time gives us a perspective to understand what we need to be busy about. Day to day living can smother purpose, gobble up passions and devour dreams in the minutiae of things that just have to get done. An eternal view from time to time realigns our perspective, sharpens our focus and reminds us what is truly important.

So, where do we go from here? For me, going back to the start of the post, I’ve earned my current set of wrinkles, and hope to earn lots more. I want to earn more doing things that matter in life, things that have a Kairos impact on a Chronos world. For me, these are things like loving people, sharing the Gospel, and being all the light I can be wherever my life’s candle is placed, just to name a few. On a more selfish level, I want to have some more adventures, a bit of fun, and maybe even acquire a few more gray hairs (for my stylist to hide) by doing exciting things in incredible places with wonderful people.

What about you? Who do you see in the mirror each morning? How are your “mirror moments” lately? Our “mirror moments” are the best when we see not only who is physically looking back, but who is looking back from within. I wish you joy in your journey of discovery.

 

Be Still And Know — A Not So Perfect Family Christmas

Have you ever received what seems like an impossible suggestion or request or even command? How do you deal with it?

It was late December. I’d been sick for about a month, and found out the previous Tuesday I had a sinus infection. I’d probably been sick with it most of that month, but at least now I was on antibiotics. The Friday after my diagnosis, we learned my husband, who had also been sick all month, had one, too. He was given the same antibiotics.

Being sick, however, didn’t stop the massive, out-of-control freight train that was my “To Do” list and schedule. I tried to delegate some. I asked my husband (who was home and retired while I was still working full-time) to wrap the gifts. Our son took on a majority of the cookie baking, as he had every year (whether I wanted him to or not) for the past 4 or 5 years. (I still had to do the ones for the Cookie Exchange at work, and of course I’d signed up for the most complex and painstaking monster of a project imaginable!!.) The pair of them even decorated the house and yard with lights, and put up the tree, though it stayed without ornaments for over 2 weeks. My husband helped me stuff the stockings. I asked our daughter to make our traditional Christmas dessert which her husband adores, Pumpkin Cheesecake. But I was still rushed, frazzled and quite frankly, worn out. There was just too much on that “To Do” list, too little time to do it, and I was still sick . . .

Finally, at church on the Sunday before Christmas, a friend read a Scripture that touched my heart. It spoke to my illness, my “To Do” list, my hectic schedule and my lack of joy in what is normally my favorite time of year. When I heard it, I felt like God was speaking the words to me, gently slapping me upside my head.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God.” The words spoke life to my rushed, troubled heart. Sweeping aside my “To Do” list, my schedule and my self-imposed Christmas insanity, the words of Psalm 46 demanded a paradigm shift of my priorities, my schedule and my life.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to rest. Not just sleep, which my still sick body desperately needed. No, these words were calling me to true rest and peace in God. To know that perfect isn’t required, and okay is good enough. To know that the menu isn’t important, it’s who is eating the food, and making sure was Jesus our Guest, too.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to remember the Reason for the season. They reminded me again of what I’d known since childhood: Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior. It’s about His life, His sacrificial offering of Himself for us so that we can have a relationship with Him and His Father. It’s not about the food, the presents, the lights and all the other trappings, no matter how good they are. Because they are the “good” of the season, while the gift of Jesus was, is and always will be God’s greatest and best.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They insisted I deal with the emotional weight I’d been avoiding, of that first Christmas without my Mom being among us after her death the previous March. I was reminded she was celebrating the holiday with Jesus, and even though it’s different without her, and always will be, that’s okay.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They reminded me I’m not in control of my life, and God is. Even when I tried to give in to the illusion and deception of being a (recovering) control freak, the words cut through my feeble efforts to direct my life and reminded me there is One who is ultimately in control. And He is in control not just of my life, but of situations and circumstances beyond my comprehension, even reaching to the far-flung galaxies of the universe. The words reminded me I can trust the One who spun it all into existence, and holds it together by His will.

That last reminder was very helpful 2 days later (and 2 days before Christmas), when I got a call at work, telling me our daughter and 6 month old granddaughter had influenza, despite having gotten flu shots! (CDC says the shots don’t cover every strain, and they got one it didn’t, of course!) Our daughter and son-in-law wanted us to take the 2 older children (who were not sick), and have them stay with us from that day, through Christmas and for several days after.

“Be still and know that I am God.” These words ran through my mind repeatedly as I spoke to my husband, working out first if we could do it. Then, when we decided we could, we discussed the logistics of my work schedule and transportation needs, all now more complicated by the presence in our house of 2 girls, ages 4 and 6, for a few unexpected days.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Stuff I’d planned and we “always” do didn’t get done. Our daughter didn’t get the cheesecake baked before she got sick. Since small granddaughters prefer Christmas cookies to cheesecake, we were okay with that. My husband and son decorated the tree with the help of 2 small girls. As long as my delicate, breakable ornaments were put high by one of the men, I didn’t care what it looked like.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  The 4 year old and I started having coughing fits on Christmas Eve. I suspected exposure to my daughter (for me, prior to her showing symptoms on Sunday) was the culprit. Instead of the “perfect” family Christmas, we had one that was a different and not so perfect kind of family Christmas. We were missing Mom, and almost 1/2 of us were ill. But in its own way, it was perfect, because those ancient words prompted me to remember Christmas is perfect when we are with people we love and we have invited God and His presence and peace to be in our midst.

“Be still and know that I am God.” I pray your holiday season will be filled with the gentle stillness of God’s loving presence and at least some of the people you love.

Merry Christmas!

When Pain Mocks The Song — Even In The Christmas Update Letter by Terri Brady

Success 201 – Delayed Gratification

In my earlier posts, I discussed the idea the secrets of success are available to all of us, and not just the fortunate few in life. I mentioned best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki and his Cash Flow book series, and the clues he shares in it. In this post, we’ll discuss clue #2, Delayed Gratification.

What is Delayed Gratification? If you ask some people, you might get a blank stare of confusion. It is unusual to find people who actually understand it today.

However, prior to the 1960’s, Delayed Gratification was common in Western culture. Previous generations understood it very well. Credit was almost unknown to them. Purchases were made with cash or barter. Some of the only parts of society that had credit were businesses (though most operated on a cash basis) and the few who had mortgages for their homes or farms.

Today we have a credit driven culture. We often hear of young people graduating college many thousands of dollars in debt, not just in their student loans, but also because of credit cards, overspending and a failure to practice Delayed Gratification. We often hear of coworkers and relatives struggling with their finances because they got mortgages they couldn’t really afford or credit card debt due to not practicing Delayed Gratification. Some of this debt is due to life circumstances, such as job loss or catastrophic medical bills, but much more is due to a failure to practice Delayed Gratification than for other reasons.

We use Delayed Gratification when we see something we want, but don’t buy it immediately. We use the Long Term Thinking we discussed in my last post and set a goal to reach toward, understanding after we do the work to meet the goal, we can reward ourselves with the desired item.

To practice Delayed Gratification like that produces self-discipline as we do it over and over. Instead of acting on our impulses like small children, we grow into ourselves maturity and self-respect. We know we can see something we want, set goals, practice Delayed Gratification, apply some hard work and see the fruits of our rewards become manifest in our lives.

Toward this means, another purpose of Delayed Gratification is to teach us the stuff we set goals to acquire is just that, stuff. We learn the process and growth within the process is more important than the reward. By learning these things, we also learn some of the proper place in our lives of stuff, below invaluable things like relationships and undefinable things like life lessons.

I didn’t understand Delayed Gratification early in my adult life. I was a college student, paying for my needs with student loans and part-time jobs. A bit later, we got married. He’s a bit older than I am, and came equipped with credit cards, savings and cash to buy whatever we wanted and needed. A long series of financially unwise choices, including a failure to live frugally, and emergencies led to a crushing load of debt. Almost all this was debt we could have otherwise avoided, had we practiced Delayed Gratification.

It took us several years and information from our mentors and what we learned through the materials (particularly the best-selling Financial Fitness package) from LIFE Leadership to straighten out our financial mess caused by our own personal failure to practice Delayed Gratification. Now, we look at things we want, and if it’s not an immediate need we cannot live without (like necessary car repairs or medical bills), we look at our list of goals, decide where it would be appropriate on that list to reward ourselves with it, and put it on there.

Delayed Gratification is why our relatives think we’re out of touch with reality because we have smart phones but don’t use our data plan (as they do), and don’t have tablet computers (as they do). Do we have the money? Most folks have the money for something they really want, and if we looked, we could probably get a tablet. But practicing Delayed Gratification is teaching us discipline, self-denial and is an undeniable cure for the instant gratification culture in which we live today.

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Happy Mother’s Day (guest post)

I was just rereading Terri Brady‘s amazing job with her Shout Out to Moms! from 2012. It reminded me of the late great humorist Erma Bombeck, who wrote a special piece one year for Mother’s Day. I have read a lot on mothers and Mother’s Day, but so far, no one has been able to duplicate it.  I laugh and cry every time I read it. I hope you enjoy this Mother’s Day gift as much as I do.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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“When God Created Mothers”

When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of “overtime” when the angel appeared and said. “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And God said, “Have you read the specs on this order?” She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 movable parts…all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair. And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said. “Six pairs of hands…. no way.”

It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” God remarked, “it’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel. God nodded.

One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say. ‘I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

God,” said the angel touching his sleeve gently, “Get some rest tomorrow….”

I can’t,” said God, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick…can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger…and can get a nine-year old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

But tough!” said God excitedly. “You can imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

Can it think?”

Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek.

There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model.”

It’s not a leak,” said the Lord, “It’s a tear.”

What’s it for?”

It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

You are a genius, ” said the angel.

Somberly, God said, “I didn’t put it there.”

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Related Posts:

Terri Brady — Shout Out To Moms!

My Mom Was Rich – Guest Post

The following eulogy was given on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at our mother’s funeral by Suzanne Aardema, one of my younger sisters.

Suzanne said so much good stuff about our mother’s life and the example she left for us, I asked her if I could share it with you. I told Suzanne her words deserve a much wider audience than just those of us present that morning. I am reprinting it (other than the emphasis, which was how she said it) exactly as she wrote it. Thank you, Suzanne, for allowing me to post it.

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Hi. Thank you for coming.

We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, but my mom, she was rich.

Mom worked a bunch of lousy, low paying jobs in order to help make ends meet in a family with five kids, and yet mom, she was rich.

You see, my mom, she understood the secret to being rich. My mom understood that being rich is not about what you have or what you can get. Mom understood that the secret to being rich is in what you can give.

From the time that I was a young child I can remember my mom exemplifying that giving spirit in how she lived.

The door was always open. Everyone was welcome, and there was always enough for another plate at the table.

My mom and dad opened their home to so many people over the years. People who were down and out. People who needed a place to stay temporarily or for a longer time. There were the foster children, and my brother’s friend Allen from high school who had been booted out by his parents.

There was Mary, a young lost woman who mom took under her wing. Mary became a part of the family lived with us for several years until she could get back on her feet.

My friend Ray from college lived at the house for a while, and even my husband stayed there long before he was my husband or even my boyfriend.

The Makokha family came and stayed for the better part of a year, and they became a part of our extended family. Then there was Diego who lived there for like, forever and then Bruce. I’m sure that I’m missing a few names.

The door was always open and everyone was welcome. Even when times were tough, there was always enough for another plate at the table. Because my mom, she understood the secret to being rich.

I remember in my wild high school days I used to have friends sleep over a lot. One night I had permission for my friend Donna to sleep over. Well, I came home with not one, but two friends.   I can still remember sneaking my friend Vickie up the stairs on her hands and knees while mom was sitting in the living room. Of course, we were laughing so hard, she suspected something was up. But when she came upstairs and opened my bedroom door and saw the three of us there, she just laughed. Everyone was welcome.

Even in my wildest years, my mom never gave up on me. She kept hoping, praying, believing that I would come around. She bailed me out of trouble and disciplined me because she could see the bigger picture.

My mom understood that serving was better than being served. As many of you know, she was involved in this church and served in various capacities for many many years.

She sang in the choir, served in the altar guild and the prayer chain. She regularly visited shut-ins, and organized a woman’s retreat.

Mom loved this place, and she loved the people here. Even as her health declined over the past several years, the only thing that mattered to her was being able to get to Our Savior’s church every Sunday so that she could worship.

I never realized what an impact she had made here until I was speaking with my friend Arleen the other evening and she told me about how mom had supported her and the other young mothers with the moms group for many years. Mom was always there, praying, interceding, supporting.

Mom was rich in life. A loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. She loved travel, adventure and trying new things. I remember when we went to Israel together in 1993, she couldn’t wait to ride the camel. That was the highlight for her.

Mom was a woman of faith, and she understood the principle of Galatians 5:6, that the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. She lived her faith by loving the people around her.

Even in her final moments, mom gave us a gift to cherish.

I have lived overseas for almost 20 years, and my brother Rob and sister Judi have also lived outside of this area for most of their adult lives. Whenever we came to visit or mom came to visit us, there was one thing that remained constant. Whenever it was time to say goodbye, mom would tear up and cry. It never failed. She hated to say goodbye.

In her final moments, she knew that she wasn’t going to see us for a while. Her eyes opened and tears streamed down her face as she said her final goodbye.

As mom walked into the arms of Jesus, she was a very rich woman. It has nothing to do with the amount of finances that she did or didn’t have in her bank account.

Her life was rich because she understood that being rich is not about how much you have or what you can get, but it is about how much you can give.

I hope her example inspires us all.

Thank you.

Christmas 2013

 From left to right (siblings in birth order): Rich, me, Judi, Suzanne, Rob & in front, Mom

A Swift and Deadly Season

Have you ever looked at a situation and wondered why? As in, why is this so, or not so? And why isn’t this being addressed?

I have gone through something like that lately, dealing with something unexpected in my life. I discovered there was a mass murderer on the loose in the world, killing indiscriminately, regardless of race, creed, sex, age and socioeconomic standing. The mass murderer to which I refer is pancreatic cancer.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, pancreatic cancer is ranked #4 on the list of cancer killers. The following figures are a compilation from the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. I highlighted the 2013 statistics for pancreatic cancer, so they could be more easily visible for you.

Cancer   Type

Estimated   New Cases

Estimated   Deaths

Bladder 72,570 15,210
Breast (Female – Male) 232,340 – 2,240 39,620 – 410
Colon and Rectal (Combined) 142,820 50,830
Endometrial 49,560 8,190
Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer 59,938 12,586
Leukemia (All Types) 48,610 23,720
Lung (Including Bronchus) 228,190 159,480
Melanoma 76,690 9,480
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 69,740 19,020
Pancreatic 45,220 38,460
Prostate 238,590 29,720
Thyroid 60,220 1,850

Percentage of patients deceased within 5 years of diagnosis:

1. Pancreatic cancer – 94%

2. Liver cancer – 83.9%

3. Esophageal cancer – 82.7%

4. Lung cancer – 83.4%

5. Stomach cancer – 72.3%

6. Brain cancer – 66.5%

7. Ovarian cancer – 55.8%

8. Oral cancer – 37.8%

9. Kidney cancer – 28.2%

10. Rectal cancer – 33.5%

11. Colon cancer – 35.1%

12. Laryngeal cancer – 39.4%

13. Cervical cancer – 32.1%

14. Prostate cancer – 0.8%

15. Breast cancer – 10.8%

16. Bladder cancer – 22.1%

17. Skin cancer – 8.7%

18. Uterine cancer – 18.5%

19. Thyroid cancer – 2.3%

20. Bone cancer – 33.6%

21. Leukemia – 44%

In the last 5 years, pancreatic cancer has listed film star Patrick Swayze and Apple mogul Steve Jobs among its most famous victims. Pancreatic cancer is so deadly because it is usually not found until patients are symptomatic, and by then it is usually in more advanced stages.

Many pancreatic cancers tend to be swift growers, with times between diagnosis and death for most patients measured in weeks or months. Battles with pancreatic cancer are, as I titled this post, swift and deadly seasons for many patients, measured in weeks or months, instead of years as is the case for most other cancers. As you saw in my compiled statistics above, the 5 year survival rates for pancreatic cancers are shockingly low.

Breast cancer is discovered through self-exams and mammograms. Prostate cancer markers are found through a simple blood test. Colon cancer is found in a colonoscopy. Lung and throat cancers are found through x-rays and other tests. Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, is found when areas of the skin are seen to change. The only way to find pancreatic cancer is when a patient arrives at their doctor’s office, complaining of its symptoms. And by then, it’s far too often too late. There are no currently viable tests for early detection of this deadly disease.

The media was very vocal about Patrick Swayze’s and Steve Jobs’ fights with pancreatic cancer. Now, I want to tell you about someone lesser known and no less loved. Her name was Barbara.

Barbara was born on July 2nd in Albany, NY. Her father was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, VMI. His exploits there were so legendary, a movie was made, called “Brother Rat,” and Eddie Albert played him. By the time Barbara was born, he was a entrepreneur, who would later be quite successful. Barbara’s mother worked for the railroad.

Barbara was a studious child. Her parents were divorced, and her mother remarried several more times to a succession of step-fathers of varying character. Barbara went to both public and parochial schools, and eventually graduated with high honors from high school. Offered a full-ride academic scholarship to Syracuse University, Barbara gave up college to marry her high school sweetheart, George, and the pair settled briefly in Florida while George served in the Navy, where they started their family.

After George left the Navy, the small family returned to their hometown and settled down. While they looked into moving elsewhere once or twice, nothing ever came of it, and they raised their family in the same town where they grew up. All their children graduated from the same high school, and a couple of them even had one or two of the same teachers. George and Barbara were active in their church life, and encouraged their children to be active church members, too.

As their 5 children started to leave the nest, George and Barbara began to travel together. First was Maine, then a cross-country trip and then another one into the South. Eventually, after retirement, they explored maritime Canada. Barbara also traveled abroad with one of her children, going first to the Holy Land (Israel, Jordan and Egypt), and later to The Netherlands, where that adult child had moved with their family.

There was an esophageal cancer scare for George, and then a spinal stenosis (bone spur on the spine) for him, but they beat that, and celebrated their 50th anniversary with a cruise to Alaska on a small ship. Barbara considered it a great victory to get George on any type of cruise at all, which had long been a dream of hers. Unfortunately, within 2 years of that wonderful time, George’s cancer resurfaced, and he lost his long battle to it 6 days prior to their  52nd anniversary.

After some time of attempting to live on her own with live-in help, it became obvious to Barbara’s family she needed to move into an assisted living facility. Always opinionated, independent and stubborn, Barbara didn’t like the rules one bit. Eventually, her health demanded she move about 2 years later into another facility that was more comprehensive, which she liked even less.

On Sunday, February 9, 2013, Barbara went  as usual to church, complaining of nausea. She looked jaundiced and felt unwell, thinking she had a persistent flu-type virus. Diagnosed as a diabetic over 15 years before, her blood sugars were erratic at best, swinging wildly up and down. Later that day, Barbara insisted on being transported from her assisted living facility to a local hospital. She never went back.

Monday, the hospital found a mass in her abdomen in an MRI. They tried to do an endoscopy Tuesday, but were unable. It was decided to move her to the regional major medical center Wednesday night, hours prior to a major winter snowstorm. At the medical center on Thursday, they did the endoscopy, and confirmed it was advanced pancreatic cancer.

Within days, her 5 children and many of her 10 grandchildren knew Barbara’s pancreatic cancer was inoperable and untreatable. Barbara was moved into a local nursing home with Hospice care on February 25th, where she spent her final days.

When asked, Barbara said she wanted to be remembered “As a woman who loved her Lord first, and her family second.” She had definite opinions, clearly stated to family members, for her final arrangements, with her wake at the same funeral home, services at her church, burial next to George and a luncheon back at the church after. She told them what she wanted as part of her service, and was very clear about it.

Barbara would be among the first to tell you she was not perfect. “A sinner saved by grace,” was what she often said of her imperfections. After George died, Barbara found her life’s purpose of caring for him over, and struggled with finding another so late in life, while grieving his loss. Her grief and lack of purpose often appeared in overwhelming neediness and anger, which drove away the people to whom she most wanted to be close. Thankfully, in late December of 2013, Barbara finally found peace with herself and her situation, and the anger and neediness largely disappeared.

Barbara was always a woman of wry wit. One of the vacations George and Barbara took often with their family was wilderness camping. When asked by a friend who was well to do (and took fancier vacations, like European tours), what the family did when it rained, Barbara dryly deadpanned, “We let it.”

Barbara had great patience with the antics of her 5 rambunctious children, 10 grandchildren and multiple great-grandchildren. Her younger son was especially skilled at jollying her into good humor when he’d misbehaved, much to the consternation of the rest. Barbara was also strong-willed, which was a good thing, with 5 strong-willed kids.

By now, dear reader, if you’ve followed my blog, read my family stories and gotten to know me a little, you’ve guessed Barbara was my mother. I initially wrote this on March 11 and edited it in the days between then and now, knowing she was dying and wanting to capture my thoughts on Mom and her killer. Before she left us, I read it to her, and received her approval to publish it. I knew I’d be unable do more today than publish it. My mother Barbara’s swift and deadly season, her battle with pancreatic cancer, ended today, and she is at home in Heaven with her Lord and her beloved George.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Job 1:21
Barbara French

The Committee of They

How often are we ruled by the opinions of others? How often do we allow what we believe other people “might think” to dominate our own thoughts, attitudes, choices and actions?

When our kids were younger, they often tried a classic child persuasion ploy on my husband and myself for things they wanted. “But everyone’s doing it!” was their plaintive cry, usually after a parental “NO” had been already been heard. Upon closer questioning, it was usually found “everyone” was not doing it. Some were, and some were not, and we almost always remained firm in our resolve our kids would be in the “not” group. When told  due to budgetary restrictions to wear a style that was last year’s, or banned from an activity that was either against our beliefs or we couldn’t afford (or we didn’t have time to do), I was told “they” didn’t wear such dorky things, “they” had cool Moms and “they” got to do all the best stuff.

One day, I got sick of it. I looked at my young teenagers, interrupted one mid-rant and firmly informed them, “The Committee of ‘THEY’ don’t live here any more!” The non-ranting sibling quietly asked in the shocked silence what I’d meant. Stunned by the simplicity and profound truth of what I’d said, I told them we would make our decisions as we always did, with discussion between my husband and I, based on our values and lifestyle needs, and not based on what “everyone” else was saying or doing. “They” were not to be used as an arguing point any more, because I’d just decided “their” opinions and behavior never had any influence on us before, and therefore didn’t deserve to have any now. The kids were thunderstruck.

When told of the conversation, my peace-loving husband (bless him!) said simply, “I love it!,” backed me completely and eventually began using it himself. It took some time to get the kids to understand a “they” argument meant an almost sure automatic “NO” from us, but they eventually got the point.

As time went on, we saw how this rule applied in other areas of our lives. When faced with opposition after we started our own non-traditional business, the Committee of They chimed in with a nearly unanimously negative response. My husband and I considered “their” response, and promptly ignored it. “They” didn’t provide for our family; we did. When Committee of They told us we were not raising our children properly, we considered “their” response, consulted trusted counselors (who were also successful parents themselves), and ignored “them.” We decided we were the parents, the ones to whom God gave the responsibility to raise the kids, not “them.”

As I look deeper at life, I realize the voices of the Committee of They are persistent, pervasive and proliferating. They are persistent because we hear it constantly, no matter what we do. They are pervasive because we hear them everywhere, from our friends, family and the news media. And they are proliferating because like critics, who go nowhere and do nothing yet tear down those who do, “they” are everywhere, criticizing everything.

And “they” are growing. Think about it with me for a minute. When was the last time you had an idea you didn’t follow through on because of what “they” might think, say or do? Come on, be honest with yourself, because we’ve all had them. The incredible irony of it is we never realize others think and speak about us way less than we believe they are, just because, like us, they are too busy thinking and speaking of themselves and what “they” might think of them!  (Did I confuse you yet?) Recently, best-selling author, successful entrepreneur and leadership expert Orrin Woodward said on Twitter,

If you poll the crowd for your success advice, expect the success of the crowd.

Orrin’s partner, best-selling author, successful entrepreneur and leadership expert Chris Brady quoted recently on Twitter,

When you don’t march to the same beat as everybody else, then you have to be able to stand up for what you believe in. — Gary Major

It takes inner toughness to stand up to the Committee of They. It takes willingness to listen to trusted voices of counsel and reason, come up with a decision together and stick to it in the face of opposition. Critical bombs will be lobbed your way by The Committee of They who disagree with you. Heck, at times you’ll think it’s a war zone with all the shots “They” are taking at you!

But if you stand firm, stick to your convictions and what you believe to be your best course, you will find an inner satisfaction no outside approval from The Committee of They can offer.  And sometimes, you even get the immense personal satisfaction of showing the world (sometimes in a public arena) you were right and “they” were wrong, without ever finding a need to rub it in. The rest of the time, just knowing it for yourself is plenty good enough . . .

We They or Us

Who decides in a society who “we” is, and who “they” are? How are we “us” and those folks “them”? What makes the one human race so divisive we feel we must devolve into different groups, competing for everything, instead of sharing it?

These are the thoughts that have run through my head recently as I have pondered my stance on the subject of illegal immigration in the U.S. I thought my opinions clear and logically held. “They” (meaning the undocumented immigrants) are not here legally, which was wrong. “They” take jobs from Americans. “They” take entitlements to which they are not rightfully entitled as non-citizens. “They” . . . I could go on, but you get the picture.

I’ve had my paradigms on the subject radically shifted lately. Two events have caused me to reconsider everything I believed about this politically and socially charged topic.

The first was the TEAM LIFE Fall Leadership Conference I attended in October. At this conference, a couple was recognized for achieving the ranks of leadership in the company held by only 11 other couples. As part of their recognition, they told the riveting story of how they earned this achievement and their success.

Thelmar and Sandra were born in Guatemala. Both of them came to the U.S. as illegal immigrants, and Sandra was deported the first time she tried to come. Thelmar had been a Communist revolutionary in Guatemala, but left when he realized his life was in danger there. He came here to work against the system in the U.S., and by working within it, learned to love it. Thelmar and Sandra earned their places in the U.S., and their eventual citizenship, by hard work, dedication and a commitment to give back to the country that had taken them in when they had nowhere else to go.

Hearing their moving story, I felt like my whole accepted point of view was turned upside down and shaken. On a break later, I told my mentor I was going to have to do some serious rethinking of my views on illegal immigration, given what we’d heard.

The second event came from FaceBook. I saw a link to a video by a group called UpWorthy. It was about a high school student, a political refugee from Albania, who was planning to go to college to be a doctor. Ala’s immigration status was tangled in a paperwork mix-up that was no fault of hers, and the government threatened to deport her.

Ala’s story is part of a larger documentary, “The Dream is Now,” a film by Davis Guggenheim (Academy Award-winning director of “An Inconvenient Truth”). I will be honest. I was prepared to dislike Mr. Guggenheim’s film, simply due to his earlier work, since I disagree with his subject of the other film. But the short clip about Ala softened me enough to watch the 35 minute documentary, and I was glad I did. (Here’s the link if you want to see it: “The Dream Is Now.”)

Touro student demonstration. 11 Sept 2006

The documentary is a series of portraits of young people, denied access to employment, education and military service because of their “illegal” immigration status. These young people have done everything we tell our children about getting good grades and working hard, but success is denied them because of their “illegal” presence in the U.S.

Thelmar and Sandra’s story, and the stories of the young people as told by Mr. Guggenheim, have upended my paradigms on “illegal” immigration. I am now wondering many of the thoughts with which I opened this post. I am questioning why we deny access to our citizenship to those who have proven they are willing to become productive assets to our society. 

I used to argue illegal immigrants take jobs away from deserving citizens. Most, in fact, work undocumented jobs that most citizens don’t want. And if someone who came here illegally was able to prove themselves better equipped and able to do any other kind of job, they have earned the right to work at it by their skills and willingness. Isn’t that what we tell those born here “legally”?

I used to argue illegal immigrants took entitlements. I now understand if they are allowed to work and pursue careers like those of us born in the U.S., they wouldn’t need to seek entitlements to which their country of origin does not entitle them.

I used to argue illegal immigrants were here illegally, so that made it wrong. But then I remembered something: Who was in charge of immigration when the Mayflower showed up? Who controlled it while the U.S. was a struggling bunch of disjointed colonies? Why did we suddenly start shutting our doors and denying the truths of the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty?

Let’s look a little deeper into that poem I just mentioned. If you’ve studied poetry or history at all, you know a line or two of it. But do you know it all, or what it’s even called? It’s significant in this discussion, so here it is:

The Statue of Liberty front shot, on Liberty I...

The Statue of Liberty

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The last few lines of the poem are without question the most famous. But I want to call your attention to something about them. There is no reference to the legality of how people come. There is no commentary on where they come from, their skin color, religion or culture. There is only an open hand, and behind it an open heart, of welcome for those who would come and seek it.

If someone has come here “illegally,” and that person wants to better themselves and then work to better this society to which they have come, I now say, Let them come! Let’s accept them, give those who want to contribute a viable path to honest citizenship and deport those whose behavior suggests they are here to break laws or cause trouble. And of those who are already here, let them stay.”

How can we as a society end the “we” and “they” mentality that is so poisonously pervasive? What will change the paradigms of a whole nation, as mine were so radically altered? How can we get back to the feelings which prompted the words Emma Lazarus so eloquently penned?

“They” are not our enemy. In this issue, a strong case can be made “we,” with our hatred and fear, are our own worst enemies.  To paraphrase from the immortal Pogo, we have met the enemy, and we are us.

A Boy Like You (For David)

(Philippians 2: 7)

A boy like you.

A mom like me.

Another time, another place.

Was there anyone there

Who could have guessed?

Deity born in their town.

A dad like yours.

Siblings like mine.

Another world, a different space.

Did they ever discuss it,

In just the family there?

Majesty living among them.

Schooling like yours.

Chores like mine.

Similar, and yet, very different.

Did the thought ever intrude

On their daily lives?

The Mighty God growing up there.

A room like yours.

A garden like mine.

Maybe a cat, maybe a dog.

Did they ever remember,

As she directed His ways?

The Sovereign Lord learning these things.

A Man as I dream you’ll be.

A mom – I hope to age as gracefully.

Surely they knew

As He want on His Father’s way

That God had grown up a man there.

On Being Married 32 Years (And Counting)

How do couples who have been married a long time stay together?  What are the secrets to a happy marriage, and where can we learn them??

Marriage Day

June 7, 2012, is our 32nd anniversary.  Here’re a few things we’ve learned about one another along the way:

He can sleep anywhere, under almost any conditions.
I need darkness and quiet.

He makes the bed.
I pull up the covers.

He thinks tools should be kept where he last used them.
I think they belong in the toolbox.

We both agree dirt + mud + hardwood = NO-NO.

He thinks dinner consists of lots of meat. And hot.  Vegetables and Carbohydrates are optional.
I think dinner has all food groups, with meat as a side dish. Salad dinners in the summer are acceptable. Menus should read, “Take it or leave it.” “Silly Suppers” (pancakes/waffles or omelets) are acceptable at the chef’s discretion. Picnics are acceptable.

He thinks cooking measurements are done with the spoons one eats with, and the glasses one drinks with.
I think we own multiple sets of measuring spoons and cups for very good reasons.

He thinks ice cream is a food group, and chocolate is a dessert.

It's the picture of Italian ice-cream in a sho...

I think chocolate is a food group, and ice cream is a dessert.

He thinks cheese is optional.
I think cheese is a necessity, even mandatory.

He thinks toys for our 4 grandchildren belong in the living room, where they play with them when they visit.
I think toys belong in the room where they sleep when they visit, and can be brought down.

He thinks any towel hanging from the stove is acceptable to use on hands, dishes, cookware, or whatever.
I think hand towels are for hands and dish towels are for dishes, and that’s why we have both kinds.

He thinks dirty socks go on floors and the guest bed is an acceptable closet/bureau when unoccupied.
I think all dirty clothes go in the laundry basket, and clean ones should go on my closet door.  (We both have issues with putting stuff away!)

We both agree physical mail is for greeting cards and packages. Whatever can be done online, should be done online.

He thinks ice cream is eaten from the box, in the living room.
I think ice cream is eaten from a bowl, at the table or a soft serve stand.

We both think strawberries are the world’s best fruit.  We both love asparagus.

He thinks our backyard needs a cover for our pool filter and a shed for our garden/lawn supplies to be perfect.
I think it also needs a gazebo down to be perfect.

He thinks our 4 cats are enough pets.
I think we need to look for a small-ish dog. And set back up the fish tank.

New Living Room(Not our living room!)

He thinks leather, velvet and modern are best for decorating our house.
I think English Country is best for every area of the house except his office.  He can do what he wants in there.

He thinks a painting with fake water and motion in it would look great in our living room.
I think they make me seasick.  If he wants one, he can keep it in his office.

We laugh at a lot of it, talk over some, agree to disagree on some, don’t make major decisions until we have come to a conclusion we can both live with and don’t go to bed mad. We understand if we agreed on everything in our marriage, one of us would be unnecessary.  We know compromise is an essential part of living happily together.

We don’t talk over potentially stressful stuff when we’re tired, hungry or distracted. We try to talk to our spouse’s personality and say and do things that show them we love them in their love language.

We tolerate each other’s families and sympathize when they drive each other nuts. We back each other’s decisions about our kids/grandkids, and we try to talk those decisions over first. If one of us is away, we talk several times daily.

We tolerate each other’s foibles, faults, and failings.  We remember why we fell in love and what we still love about each other and finding new stuff to love about each other at every available opportunity. We look for humor in every disaster, knowing a funny story makes suffering worthwhile in the long run. (Tragedy + Time = Humor, and you get to pick how long the Time part lasts!) We cherish our friendships, and accept each other’s friends. We begin and end every day thanking God for each other.

Sometimes, it’s been work. Sometimes, it’s not. It’s always been worth it.  And we’ve learned all of this. How? Ask me about LIFE.  All comments asking for information will be kept confidential.

One more thing:

He thinks “Happy wife, happy life.”
I think, “Happy spouse, happy house.”

PS — He not only content-approved this post, he encouraged it!