Monday, October 10, 2011

Making Change

It used to be that a basic skill everyone learned was to "make change". This skill allowed one to give the correct change to someone else and also enabled the change recipient to make sure the correct change had been given. Nowadays, cashiers count on their cash registers to tell them the amount of change the customer should receive. The art of "making change" is being lost.
 I am sure there are different ways to make change, but the way I learned involved counting back up to the amount that had been paid. For those who have never learned, suppose an item totalled $1.13 and the customer paid with a $20 bill. Counting up from $1.13, two pennies make .15 and a dime makes .25, add three quarters to total two dollars, three singles to total five dollars, another five is ten dollars and finally a ten dollar bill adds up to $20. It makes more sense when you see it done, but trust me, that would make the correct change. I might have to pause and calculate to tell you the amount, but I am confident the change is made correctly. What would happen if the next time I made a purchase I asked the cashier to make the change herself instead of relying on the cash register? I suspect she would be so used to just counting out what the machine told her that she would tell me that making change on her own is just too much effort.

Making change does require effort. Now, I am not talking about change in my pocket. I am talking about change in myself or change in the world. Change requires a great deal of effort. How much effort am I willing to exert to make change? What need for change empassions me enough to be willing to exert the effort? And how long would I really be willing to keep working for it?

We recently re-watched the movie "Amazing Grace" which chronicles the efforts of William Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade in England. Wilberforce worked for more than twenty years until the slave trade was abolished in England (chronicled in the movie) and another 26 years until all British slaves were set free, that being just a few days before his death. An article at states:  "On Sunday 28 October 1787 Wilberforce wrote in his diary: 'God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the Reformation of society.' "  This statement by Wilberforce was also quoted in the movie. He spent his whole life making change, not only regarding the slave trade, but in many other areas. His faith was both the catalyst and the fuel that kept his efforts continuous against all opposition until change was made.

Like making change from a purchase, the art of making change in society is becoming a lost art. Few are truly willing to persist in the face of opposition and long battles. Few are willing to sacrifice their own comfort and energy in order to effect "the reformation of society."

I am challenged and convicted as I think about the change needed in our world and the efforts of William Wilberforce over two hundred years ago. The need for reformation in our society is just as great. Am I willing to exert the effort to "make change"?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm?!

     It was only a week ago that we in the Northeast were preparing for the unknown of a hurricane aimed right at New York City.  Even before Hurricane Irene made landfall forecasters emphasized that the impact of this storm would not be limited to coastal areas due to its large size and that even those far inland should prepare for the possibility of flooding and power outages. Now that the storm has passed,  many in unexpected places like Vermont and upstate New York are dealing with the devastation caused by Irene. Even one of our family members in central New York experienced a flooded basement and damaged memories from the tropical downpour. As we all prepared in our different ways I heard the phrase "the calm before the storm" spoken by many and I began to think about the irony of it. Was there really calm in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast before Irene began to affect us all?
     Often there really is a period of calm weather before a big storm. The day before Irene's outer edges began to creep into our area was absolutely gorgeous! Yet, we have come to use the phrase to describe a quiet time before a period of tremendous activity. That application of the phrase would not describe the time before Irene's arrival at all. It was not in the least calm in our area.
     I had gone out when talk first began of the storm possibly heading in our direction to get water bottles and batteries "just in case". I needed them anyway. As Irene's direction became more fixed and some of our other plans began to be shifted because of her expected arrival, I realized that I wouldn't have enough food in the house since our travel plans had been delayed. So, I went back to the store on that beautiful, "calm before the storm" day. I have never seen so many people in the grocery store and the roads were a bustle of activity! People were out stocking up on supplies or getting in their last shot at some outdoor activities or taking the day off and heading to the Dutchess County Fair before it closed two days earlier than planned. As I observed how many people were very active in this "calm before the storm" I began to wonder how many of them might be very nervous because of the unpredictable nature of the predicted weather. I would expect that many of them were nervous, even though most of us tried to laugh off our concerns, after all we are hundreds of miles inland, but were we really calm?
     Maybe you are like me. I like knowing what to expect as much as I can. That's why I like to do my research before I go to a new place. I understand that my research can only tell me so much, but as far as I can, I like to be prepared. So, I listened to the possible scenarios regarding the storm and I did what I could to be prepared. Was I calm? Well, I don't think I was really afraid, but on the other hand not knowing what to expect kept me from feeling absolutely comfortable and kept me active in making sure I had prepared as much as possible. The whole idea of being prepared is to be ready when the unexpected occurs, right?
     For those in our immediate circle the preparations were just that. Our family experienced a few travel inconveniences, but no damage and not even a power outage. For many living very near us and many living hundreds of miles away from us, in areas thought to be out of reach of a hurricane or tropical storm, life will never be the same and all future events will in some way connect back to what they experienced when Irene came to town. Do I feel my preparations were a waste of time and energy? Absolutely not! I would do the same again, because life cannot be predicted.
     In times past a storm like Irene would have come upon us without warning. Before satellites and computer models gathered information to be dispersed through mass media, people had to take time to be prepared in times of calm because they really had no way of knowing when that bad storm was going to hit. They learned to recognize signs that severe weather might be on the way, but they really didn't know what to expect. How different are our lives now? Although weather forecasters can tell us to expect a storm, they still can't really tell us how that storm will impact our individual lives. I prepared, but was spared any loss while people only a few miles away from me experienced a drastic loss of property and severe impact on their lives.
     All our lives have times of calm and times of storms, the literal and figurative kind.  Life can't be predicted, but storms will come without question, so the wise can prepare even before they notice the hint of a storm on the horizon. The calm times in life are the times to prepare, to fortify ourselves on the inside so that when the storms come we can meet them knowing that we have done all we can to be ready and face the trial with a measure of confidence. Life can't be predicted, but we can prepare ourselves by developing a foundation of faith and an anchor of Truth that will not change regardless of our circumstances.
     This psalm came up in my daily reading this week and I thought it very appropriate to recent events. What I saw in it is that the city of God cannot be destroyed by earthquakes or floods or turmoil in the world and that when the world is in chaos I can find my calm in the storm by being still and remembering that HE is God!

Psalm 46
 (from the New Living Translation)

1 God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
2 So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3 Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
4 A river brings joy to the city of our God,
the sacred home of the Most High.
5 God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
From the very break of day, God will protect it.
6 The nations are in chaos,
and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
and the earth melts!
7 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress
8 Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
9 He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”
11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Turning Points

Within a week my family will reach a major turning point. Since my youngest daughter was small we assured her that there would come a time, because of the five and six year age difference between her and her sister and brother, that she would be an "only child", the only child at home. As we all know, this great adventure called life rarely goes as we expect and the time we expected to have one child at home came and went. But very soon it will be here at last.

I firmly believe that our lives do follow a plan. The difficulty that we all face is accepting that the plan isn't our own! These past few years haven't turned out at all as I expected. I've struggled to understand and re-adjust. I think my greatest peace came as I threw out my expectations and accepted that the way things had happened was exactly as it was supposed to be, even if it wasn't the way I wanted it to be. Then I could enjoy life as it was, instead of trying to figure out what went wrong and fix it.

Looking back I see so many benefits to our family. Relationships were strengthened. Each of us learned and matured in ways that wouldn't have happened if events had proceeded according to my expectations. And who knows what benefits will reveal themselves as this unforeseen future moves forward?

It's been an unexpected journey that has taken us to this turning point. I guess it's time to buckle up and get ready to enjoy and experience the ride as we move on toward the next one!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


What is it about natural beauty that causes our jaws to drop? Why do we respond with awe-inspired wonder at something we know the ingenuity of man couldn't possibly create? I think it's because deep within ourselves we know that we need to be reminded that there is Someone bigger than ourselves.

This past weekend I had the tremendous privilege of taking a friend on her first journey, not only outside the borders of the USA, but on her first ever real vacation. We took a weekend trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, so that our friend could use her passport, obtained for a trip she ended up unable to take. I have been to the Falls before, but honestly, I never get tired of them and would go again tomorrow. During our most recent trip we spent most of the day right along the Niagara River in view of the Falls almost all the time and we found ourselves constantly drawn to watch them, snap another photo and just wonder at their unending flow, unending majesty, unending power. Truly, the most significant moment of the weekend for me came as we rode the famous Maid of the Mist boat as close to the Falls as the vessel could safely go. There is a point when the boat stops in the center of the Horseshoe Falls. Those on the journey are drenched with mist and surrounded by the constant crashing of the tremendous amount of water constantly flowing over the jagged cliff. It was at that moment when our friend turned around and said "Thank you so much!".  I understood her feelings at that place.

My last journey on the Maid of the Mist had been almost exactly seven years ago in the midst of a time that was one of the most difficult in my life. At that same moment of the trip toward the Falls I remember feeling overwhelmingly safe. I wanted to be inside the Falls and the boat just couldn't get close enough. I wanted that moment, surrounded by the tangible illustration and awareness of a Power so much bigger than me, never to end. The reminder that God, in His unending majesty and power, had created these overwhelmingly beautiful and powerful Falls made me feel that my problems were not insurmountable and reminded me that His power was enough to carry me through the trials I would return to when the trip inside the Falls was over. I left the Maid of the Mist with a peace I had been unable to attain before my journey close to the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls.

I expect my friend felt some of that peace and safety that I felt surrounded by the Falls. That, to me, is a gift far more precious than the trip itself. I wish you that same kind of peace as you experience the natural beauty that is near to you.

Blessings, Friend.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Time and priorities…again

According to Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life we were created for relationship with God and others. My summary of his thoughts would be that there are, in essence, two relational directives in the Bible summed up in this statement “Love God and love other people”.   Makes it all pretty simple, doesn’t it? Warren goes on to state that the way most people spell love is “T-I-M-E”.  So, once again, I am challenged to evaluate my priorities based on the way I spend my time.  Where am I spending my time and does it indicate that relationships are a priority to me? Even further, are the relationships that I am investing in the most important relationships in my life?

Like many moms, I work outside the home. There goes a sizable chunk of my day. Do I work for me, for my own enjoyment and satisfaction? Well, I do enjoy my job and the people I work with, but I think my greatest job satisfaction has become the knowledge that I am, to a small degree, investing in the lives of young people. When I see some of our students near or after their high school graduation and see the young men and women they are becoming I feel a sense of pride. Whomever they are becoming, my contact with them at school becomes a small piece of that.

How else does the time I spend at my job indicate relational priority? Working in the school district has kept me close to what happens in my kids’ education. I only have one left in the district now, but having a school job makes me more accessible to her than I would be if I was employed in another realm. Truthfully, being accessible to my kids was the reason I looked for a school job to begin with.  Relational priority? Yes! Also, the added income has helped us pay off some debts and taken a lot of pressure off of my husband. Relational priority again!

The downside of working outside the home is that all the things I would take care of while the rest of the family was otherwise engaged at school or work need to be done when I get home. I once calculated how much time I had to actually do all the regular chores like laundry, cooking, food shopping, bill-paying, etc. Since I try to leave the time after dinner to spend with my husband and we may have meetings of one kind or another in the evening, only two hours a day was left for everything necessary to run my home. Often those two hours include things my kids or husband need me to do in addition to my standard to-do list. Sometimes, I will have a coffee date with one of my kids. That leaves little time for coffee dates with friends or other social gatherings.  I guess what that says to me is that my family is my relational priority. I am okay with that.

I do miss spending time with friends. I do miss having enough time to keep up with my blog. I miss having time to do some of the other things that are on my to-do wish list. Still, I know that this time with all my kids at home is fleeting. Within a few years, a very few years for us, my nest will be empty. When it is, I don’t want to regret not investing more time in my family.
So, dear blogging friend, I might not visit with you as much as I would like, but you are still important to me. I hope you understand that my time is limited and my priorities are established. Be blessed and I will be in touch!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Back From China!

Well, friends, I know it's been a while since I was able to post. My life has been full of activity for the past month and I just haven't had time. I have missed blogging. It is something I truly enjoy.

So, the major event of the past month was our long-anticipated trip to China. We took a direct flight from JFK to Beijing that traveled over the North Pole. It was awesome to think about where we were as we flew over the North lands. I didn't have a window seat, so I can't tell you what it looked like there. But I did have a window seat for our trip from Beijing to Shanghai for the second part of our journey after a few days in Beijing. I can't tell you why the sight of the mountains of China stirs me up emotionally, but that is the image that I remember from the film that first kindled my desire to visit China. I would have to say the beauty of those mountains, so unlike any other mountains I have seen, was the high point of my visit to China. I saw those mountains, not only from my window seat, but from our climb up the Great Wall of China.

The Great Wall is an amazing structure. It is more than 2000 miles long and hundreds of years old. It is an amazing work of man. Only parts of it have been restored for tourists to visit, climb and admire. At any restored location there is only so far you can go. Tom and I stopped several times on our climb up the steep Great Wall stairs and declared that we could not climb any farther up. We had only been in China for about a day and our bodies had not quite adjusted to the twelve hour time difference. I think it's called jet lag! Not only that, our trip to the Great Wall was the last stop after a busy day. As much as we wanted to, we just couldn't make it to the top. We didn't get as far up as we could go, but we did go farther than we thought we could! On one of our stops to catch our breath and consider if we could go any further, we sat on the uneven, worn, steps and looked out at the mountains. As I looked out I said to Tom, "Man made this, but man could never make that!" It was truly breath-taking.
Our tour was designed to show us many of the beautiful creations that the Chinese produce: beautiful gardens, silk, embroidery, hand knotted silk rugs. All of it was lovely, but none of that beauty compares to the natural beauty of the land itself. What I bring back with me couldn't be stored in a suitcase, or purchased with money. What I bring back with me is the memory of a beauty that man can only try to mimic, but can never recreate. A beauty that only the Hands that created the universe are capable of. I wouldn't trade that for...all the tea in China! Blessings!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Things We Cannot Change

"There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people we can’t live without but have to let go."
When I checked the announcements online for my daughter's high school this week I found the above posted as the quote of the week. There was no source given for the quote, but it struck me as well-chosen for the events this school community has recently experienced. 
It seems the news headlines are full of tragedies no matter where one lives. The international news is overwhelmingly tragic if one takes the time to truly meditate on it, but sometimes tragedy happens close to home, and sometimes closer than when first realized. I don't want to go into details. The details are too painful. I will say only this: It is always tragic when a young person's life is cut short, but when it is cut short brutally and intentionally, the tragedy is beyond what the mind and heart are able to comprehend.
The young person lost was a recent graduate of my kids' high school. That's close. Though I didn't know her well, she went through the school where I work and I know that I had spoken with her several times. That's closer. When we got together with a small group of friends later that week I heard that the young lady was found in the neighborhood where one of my friends lives and had been a friend of her daughter's. That is as close as I can handle right now.  I can't imagine how the young lady's friends and family are coping with this unimaginable loss. To them, this isn't a news headline, it's life, and life at it's unutterable worst.
How does one cope with tragedy in whatever form it comes to us? How do those on the other side of the world in Japan cope with the loss of life as they had known it? How does this family cope with the loss of their daughter and the publicity associated with their very personal agony? How do employers cope with the fact that they can't afford to keep all their employees and have to tell good people that their position has been eliminated? How do those whose jobs have been lost, some of my co-workers for example, face an uncertain future?
These are the things we don't want to happen as the quote referred to. Somehow we have to learn how to accept them. These situations cause us to learn things that we didn't want to know. Somehow the learning has to make us stronger.  And then there are the people we can't live without...That's the most difficult aspect of the truth that quote presents. How do we ever find the strength to let them go?
That quote puts me in mind of a very famous prayer:  

God grant me the serenity 
      to accept the things I cannot change;
  courage to change the things I can; 
  and wisdom to know the difference. 

As you deal with whatever tragedy affects your life may God grant you such serenity. Be blessed, dear one.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Small, But Valuable

Those words, "small, but valuable" jumped out at me from the movie screen several years ago. In the film, "You've Got Mail" Meg Ryan's character, Kathleen Kelly, is writing to her unknown "cyber-friend" played by Tom Hanks. She says, "I lead a small life. Small, but valuable...." The rest of her words haven't stuck with me, but those have.
I have never heard anyone describe their life in those terms, "small, but valuable". What a great way to describe my life and yours. Most of us aren't on public platforms. We don't reach a wide audience or influence large numbers of people. We just go about our lives. We touch the people we come in contact with and influence them unknowingly. In a culture where bigger is often deemed better it is easy to think that a small life doesn't carry much weight, that it doesn't have value.
Years ago pretty much everyone had a small life. Very few people imagined that life could be "bigger". There were few platforms to push a person's influence beyond the walls of their small community.  Now mass communication allows for a lot more comparison with those who have a wider circle of influence. Does a wider circle of influence make a person more valuable?
I guess those words jumped out at me because my life was small (I guess it still is) and, I thought, not worth as much as someone else whose life was "bigger". Who am I comparing myself to anyway? What makes their life more important? Isn't what I am able to give to those around me just as valuable?
What you and I have to give to those whose lives we touch everyday is worth much more to them than anything they hear or see in any form of mass communication. What makes a small life valuable is the personal touch, the things that only a real, live, right-there person can give. You and I are real, live and right-there to the person whose face we see next. Give every bit that your small life has to offer. It will be of greater worth than you will ever know.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Deep Impact

I have been thinking lately about how our culture has come to believe that the more people know about you or your activity the better it is. Mega churches and huge stadiums are a creation of our time. Before the invention of technologies like radio and television or the internet, even those whose names were well know could live in relative anonymity. These days we often measure our success in how many come to our events or access our materials rather than how deeply our message impacts a few.
I propose a change in our philosophy concerning impact. I have been thinking of it as the “Jerry Maguire” model of ministry. In the movie “Jerry Maguire” the lead character played by Tom Cruise is a successful sports agent. The definition of success in that context is representing star players with big contracts and high commissions for the agent. More clients, more money. Jerry has an epiphany of sorts and proposes a change in the agency’s approach: Fewer clients, deeper relationship and personal investment in each one. This proposed philosophy change gets Jerry fired and leaves him with one client, Rod, so he is forced into actually implementing this change. Over time Jerry and Rod develop a relationship that deeply impacts them both. Jerry has the pleasure of seeing Rod succeed in a way that he never would have without the personal attention and investment of Jerry Maguire and Jerry learns through Rod’s example how to have real relationships.
Is more really better? Each one of us desires to make an impact on the world, but is that impact to be measured by the number of people we impact or the depth of the impact we have on a few lives? A deeper impact potentially affects just as many people in the long run. Those few that I impact have their own circle of influence. As they invest in a few in their circle, my impact widens. When those they influence invest in their circle, my impact widens again and remains a deeper impact because of each tier of influence receiving a focused investment.
I have often felt insignificant. Maybe you have as well. I have measured myself against the idea of a wider influence. I have often felt trapped into spending my life on a few. Opportunities to reach wider haven’t been available or even satisfying when they exist. I have come to see that those I am able to influence are actually those I need to focus on. As I have learned to invest more deeply in those who are currently in my circle of influence, I have found the results to be deeply satisfying.  
Often we are reaching for the wider influence and miss the opportunity to make a deeper, more lasting and far-reaching impact.  Deeper impact costs more on my part because deeper invests more of me. There may be more chance for hurt or conflict or frustration when I don’t see the kind of results I am looking for. Yet, deeper investment in another can affect me more significantly as well. I am transformed as I invest in the lives of a few and watch them grow and succeed.  I suppose there is value in both wide and deep impact, but I would rather spend my life deeply investing in a few and sharing in their growth and success in life than reaching wide and having a shallow impact on many people.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Time and Priorities

I have been thinking lately about how quickly time flies and how often I don’t seem able to do the things I really want to do. The question is then: What are my priorities? What I choose to do or not do is the truest indication of my priorities. How I spend my time is the best gauge of what is important to me. So, what is important to me?
I guess based on my choices, what I really want to do isn’t as important to me as what I feel I should do. I should do the laundry, make the dinner, pay the bills. I want to write more frequently, read good books, spend more one-on-one time with friends and family.  So, it seems most often the “shoulds” win the battle for my time and energy. But are they really the most important activities? If I let those activities slide and do what I want to do will I feel more like I am accomplishing something valuable and important? Or will I feel guilty as I watch the mundane responsibilities, the necessary stuff, snowball into a mound of unfinished work?
I suppose the trick is to do a better job of finding the balance between the “want-tos” and the “have-tos”. They will both always be calling for my attention. If I don’t do the necessary tasks of life I end up with a big mess in my house and personal affairs. Neglect in that area is noticeable to anyone. If I don’t do the other things there is still a mess of sorts, but it’s on the inside of me and no one else knows about it.
There will always be business to keep in order, necessary tasks calling for my attention. Yet, there is another call as well. Perhaps it’s even a higher call: the call to feed the soul, to explore and fulfill the purpose for which I was created. I am not just referring to a need for rest, although rest is important. Feeding the soul is about nurturing those inner spaces. Spaces that require beauty and inspiration. Spaces that say, “This is what I was made for.” Spaces that aren’t satisfied by the completion of tasks, so much as the exploration of creativity and ideas.  Spaces that are only satisfied in the intangible and spiritual realms. 
We were each created with a need to feed the soul. How we satisfy the soul is as unique as our fingerprint. As time ticks by I want to choose to keep the inner spaces just as much a priority as the outer spaces of my life. How I spend my time will tell the story of my choices.