Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Four F's

{Revisiting this from two years ago and realizing
that these words still hold true. 
So grateful...
Happy Thanksgiving to each of you.}

For those of you who know me, you know I love to write rhyming pieces occasionally...of course, less on the order of Robert Frost or Elizabeth Barrett Browning and more like Dr. Seuss.  But writing in this whimsical style has always been a joyful expression for me, like a child myself in oh, so many ways.  So in honor of Thanksgiving, I have written a little (nay, incredibly long) poem o' plenty to share with you all.  It is centered around the four F's for which I am most grateful...

On this Thanksgiving Day, I look back upon my year
And feel such joy and gratitude that I am healthy, here.
With great appreciation for true lessons, all they hold,
I celebrate my four "F's" and the story that they've told.

(Fine) Food is the first "F" that I am grateful for.
It represents tradition and it hits me at the core.
There's nothing more symbolic on this day, for all it stands
Than the feast that is prepared by loving, giving hands.

Light browning of the marshmallows atop sweet 'tater pie
Then baking of the biscuits as they rise a mile high.
The tastes and strong aromas bring back memories since past
Turkey, dressing, cranberries are visions that will last.

The prayer before the meal takes place
And with it all we bless -
Family, country, God and home...
Our humble, lovely nest.

The second "F" I can't forget is that of my true Friends.
Their patience, grace and love for me truly knows no ends.
Through dark and light, both day and night, together we all stand.
"Battle stations," is the cry.  "Make sure your post is manned!"

For when one sister stumbles down, the batallion then engages.
And helps the sister heal her heart in itty, bitty stages.
My life was topsy turvy once, when the war cry was called out.
My girlfriends shielded me from harm, from sorrow and from doubt.

And now that my life finds itself so joyful and so blessed,
It's my honor to give these girls a reflection of my best.
Like friends the 3rd "F" revealed, I must with thanks, recall...
My Family - in all forms it takes...extended and ours, small.

My immediate clan, here in my home, my daughter and my son
My husband leads the path we've chos'n, the race we're blessed to run.
For without these three I know I'd be a selfish, "me, me!" girl.
They keep me grounded when my head and temper start to whirl.

My daughter bright, devoted, true - a source of touching pride.
Though rarely know what's in her heart...wish I could see inside.
Her grace and faith and manners are shining more each day.
What I would do without her, I just really couldn't say.

My son with all his challenges, keeps his joy intact.
In humor and in cheerfulness, he rarely shows a lack.
The courage and the fortitude displayed throughout his life
Will aid as he grows older and meets with active strife.

My husband is my champion, my friend, my one true love.
That we were meant to share our lives was planned by God above.
We're growing older, greyer, plumper....stronger year by year.
Our lives together march ahead with favor, thanks, and cheer.

My family extended includes those folks marked by blood and birth.
My parents, siblings, nieces, nephews who bring fondness, mirth.
We gather one, two times a year to share our gladness, tears
But living life seems simpler somehow as we draw ever near.

My final "F" is number four though truly number one...
Faith - the Spirit, God the Father, God His Holy Son.
I do not know what I would do if faith filled not my soul
It's saved my life - I've found a niche in Him who makes me whole.

It isn't just the church, the Mass, the Scripture or the prayer.
It isn't just the way we give, the way we choose to care.
It's so much deeper, so much fuller, so much more profound.
It's promises and living Word and oaths to which we're bound.

Faith leads the way for my four F's and makes them become clear.
All four F's enhance my world and take away my fear.
One lucky gal to write this list to honor all great things
That bring me hope and love and peace - yes, every "good" life brings.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Emmy Win for God...Part I

So...I have a theory.

NBC's "The Voice" won the 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Program.  This in itself would not be remarkable if it weren't for the fact that "The Amazing Race," CBS' golden child, won it nine of the ten years it has existed as a category.  Aaaannnndddd, because "Race" was favored to win again this year.

Now, I'm no reality series aficionado.
My family watches a couple of reality programs that focus on uplifting and rebuilding, giving back and paying forward. 
But all in all, we like fictional television better. 
If I'm being honest, I tend to think that most reality TV is the current bane of society's existence. 
So why am I even writing about this?

Hold your horses...
It's because of my theory.

When "The Voice" pulled out the win, my son, Braden, was marveling over the unanticipated outcome. 
I said, "Braden, I have a theory about why 'The Voice' won." 
So Braden - who is all about statistics and predictions thus was rocked to the core over this unforeseen result - said, "Well, what is it, Mom?"
I told him I had recently read an article in Guideposts Magazine about the beautiful  journey producer Mark Burnett embarked upon while deciding to make The History Channel's "The Bible."

(What does this have to do with "The Voice?"  Again, hold your horses...I'm getting to it!  I promise!)

When Mark's wife, Roma Downey, the star of "Touched By An Angel," originally presented the idea to him, Mark wrote, "All I could come up with were reasons why I was wrong for this project. I’m a producer, not a theologian. This project, I was convinced, would require a deeper knowledge. The biggest question was, would a channel actually green-light this? Today’s kids probably know more about Batman and Robin than about David and Goliath, and more about the Matrix than about Daniel’s prophecies. They get their stories from the screen.  But that was it! Doing this “on the screen” would allow millions of people to discover the Bible. We knew we couldn’t teach it, but we could create an emotionally connecting dramatization that might make them open (or reopen) the Book..."

"I believe that God calls those with the right skills at the right time. Could it be that everything I’d learned about producing TV shows would culminate in this one massive project? It felt like a call. I couldn’t get it out of my head, as though the Holy Spirit was saying, “Yes, Mark, yes.”...I knew it was time to go for it again. This time it would be with a project that gave back to God for all my many blessings."

"The Bible" premiered in March 2013 and to date has had over 100 million viewers.  This series, a labor of love and thanksgiving to God for the Burnett family's many blessings, has touched millions of lives...
Has brought the amazing story of God and Christianity to faithful (and possibly non-faithful?) people worldwide...
And has defied a misconception that "real" stories of pageant kids and Kardashians, wife swapping and dramatic housewives will trump the desire to watch the greatest reality story of all time. 
"For that is what the Bible is, a story, the story of God’s love for his people, the greatest love story ever told." (MB)

So why is this relevant to "The Voice's" Emmy win?
And what IS my theory after all?

Well, Mark Burnett is not only the co-creator and executive producer of "The Bible" mini-series.
He's also the executive producer of "The Voice."
And up until 2013, nine out of ten wins for Outstanding Reality Competition Program went to "The Amazing Race."
Then Burnett embarked upon his own amazing race.
A race to create the story of God's love for His people.
A race to fulfill a call, telling that story of love to a whole new generation of people.
Then, not only 100 million views for The Bible, but...
An Emmy win for his other show.

We are blessed...
we hear a call...
we have faith in that call...
we answer that call, that God-sized dream...
we receive more blessings.

Can there be any question about the gist of my theory?

(Part II of "An Emmy Win for God" coming soon. 
A message for the terminally dense all wrapped up in 
"The Bible's" story of Abraham and Isaac. 
Stay tuned!)
Photo credit:  Geowombats on Flickr

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Remembering To Say "Thanks"


"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing;
in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." - Thessalonians 5:16-18

I metaphorically use that old adage, "Do as I say, not as I do," WAY too much.  You know what I mean?  Do you ever give advice knowing it's the right thing to do...but you don't actually do it yourself?

I do it more than I care to admit.

So, this Thanksgiving season, I decided to put my money - or in this case, my creativity - where my mouth is.  I put together a pin board so my family could remember to give thanks, writing our blessings down daily, something I've often encouraged but haven't always followed through on myself.

Then the funniest, most surprising, thing happened this morning.
I became more grateful.
Imagine that!

We've been talking in our family about perspective lately. About how sometimes it just takes a small shift in thinking to go from having a negative attitude to a sunny outlook.  One of my favorite examples of this shift is from the book, The Noticer, by Andy Andrews.  The book's central character, Jones, is teaching, a then young and homeless, Andy Andrews about gaining perspective.  They're sharing lunch on the shores of Orange Beach, just a few miles from where I grew up.  Jones asks Andy what he's eating and where he's eating it.  Confused (because they're eating the same thing in the same place) Andy responds, "Okay. I am eating sardines and Vienna the sand." 

Jones then teaches the lesson that "whatever you focus upon, increases."  If you focus on your needs, the needs will increase.  If you focus on loss, you will most likely lose.  "But a grateful perspective brings happiness and abundance into a person's life...Incidentally, you ate sardines and Vienna sausages in the sand.  I dined on surf and turf with an ocean view.  It's all about perspective."

Surf & turf with an ocean view...
Oh, yes, to have that kind of perspective.
Case in point...

My husband and I have very different body clocks and schedules.  He's an early riser, jumping out of bed with energy and a smile on his face.  I'm a night owl, often doing my best work and thinking late into the night.  Morning?  Not so much for me.  I mean, I'm not sleeping late or anything.  Most days, my alarm sounds at 6:40AM.  Then I'm up and out of bed two "snoozes" later, slowly, gingerly picking my way down the hall wrapped in a blanket.

I'm not gonna lie.  Many times during my marriage, I've been frustrated to not wake up next to my husband.  It's that sleepy, close time of day for me that I find truly rewarding.  By the time I awaken, Drew has generally gotten out of bed, worked out, is making eggs and bacon for the family (and may or may not have started a load of laundry, built a house or solved world hunger as well).  He's helping the family, of course, but still, I'm bitter that I've missed my close morning time with him.

This morning was no different except that Colleen had overslept, I had thrown my back out yesterday and couldn't go grocery shopping and we had almost nothing to eat in the house.  Drew bounded into the house, sweaty from his workout and I said, "Could you please jump in the car and run to the grocery store?  We have almost nothing to feed the kids for lunch."  He said, "No problem!" running to change his shirt.  He was back before Braden was out of bed.  While he was gone, dealing once again with my frustration that I would not see him much before he had to go to work, I took my paper from the bulletin board.  My first thanksgiving for the day?  "Today I am grateful for a husband who doesn't mind going to the grocery store."  I felt a bit under duress to write it because I knew I should be grateful...but Lord knows, I didn't want to let go of my resentment. 

Then God's amazing grace took over.  
In taking the time to write it down...
pin it to the board...
and reflect on it for a few moments,
my attitude actually changed
By the time Drew got home, I truly felt grateful.  I thanked him sincerely for going to the store and thought to myself, "You know, I am really lucky to have this man for my husband."

Who knew that doing what you say to do could actually work so well?

(Sidebar:  In addition to the grocery run, Drew also helped clean up the house and do the dishes before leaving for work.  The bonus?  That freed up more time for me to reflect on this lesson and write about it.  Wow...the blessings are endless...)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strong Enough to Break

I love my friend Joan.
"Joanie" I like to call her.
She is the perfect mix of wry humor and genuine, soulful depth.
She is honest.
She is kind.
And Lawd Ah-mighty, does she make me LAUGH!

I saw Joanie briefly a few nights ago, hijacking her before she left to get on the freeway.  I couldn't let the opportunity pass without at least touching base for a few minutes. 
Joan said, "You know what my new favorite thing to do is?  Ask for help."
Oh, how I love her forthrightness.
She went on, "I know I'm not good at everything.  So if I have a friend who can do something I can't, I just ask, 'Can you help me with that?' It's been very liberating."

Mmmmm, the simplicity of that task.
And oh, the complexity of it as well.

I, too, in these past years have become an asker.  I never felt I could before.  I thought it conveyed weakness.  I wanted to be totally in control.  Yes, I wanted to be known as "Superwoman Cynthia." 

I foolishly thought it was working, too, until my cape got caught in a web of volunteerism and false security...
And I plummeted through the air...
X-ray vision turned toward myself, seeing with clarity my true insecurity...
Super-strength abandoning me for appalling weakness...
Tasks and commitments suddenly becoming my own personal kryptonite.

I was in the pit.

Lo and behold, how could I know that the one characteristic I had forever shunned was the very one that started me on my road to healing?
I asked for every turn...
"I can't leave the house.  Can you bring dinner?"
"Can you text or email whenever you think of it so I know someone is thinking about me?"
"The children have to be driven to their after-school commitments.  Can you take them?"

Unexpectedly, I found complete and total freedom in this new way of life.  In fact, it had never registered before that time that, all of the times I had been helping others, I had been helping myself as well. 
It feels great to give.   So I asked. 
Then my circle was able to give back. 
To take care of me in my weakness. 
And the bonds of friendship with those women are forever changed. 

Thinking back on Joanie's statement and my change of heart, I read this morning's offering from Bonnie Grey on the "incourage" website.  It was entitled "Courage to Be Broken:  My Real Thanksgiving List."  She writes:

"I wanted to be strong and courageous by being competent.
I didn’t understand God could make me strong and courageous by being broken...
to understand it takes greater faith to be broken than (to be competent).
It’s what Jesus chose in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night everyone was remembering Passover and giving thanks for God’s protection from passing death.
It was the night Jesus chose not to pass death.
It was the night Jesus felt like dying –
even though He had just celebrated the Passover meal with His closest friends,
even though Jesus had given thanks, for the bread,
and even though Jesus had given thanks, for the cup.
Jesus confided –
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  
Stay here… With me.
I’m very sad.  It feels as if I’m dying…”
Matthew 26:37-38 (NIV, CEB)
Jesus didn’t want pain, but He wanted us more.
So, Jesus chose to be broken."

Such a beautiful lesson and one I embrace today.  This scripture passage and reflection is not encouraging us to wallow or complain or grow a bitter heart, mind you. 
Only to know that, in every season of our life, there are times when we need strength...strength beyond what we possess. 
When we have to be held up. 
When we have to be the broken in order to be strong.
Strong enough to say, "Can you help me?"
Strong enough to say, "I don't know the answer."
Strong enough to say, "I was wrong and am so sorry."
Strong enough to be vulnerable.

In this season of thanks, I'm so grateful I learned this lesson...
And strengthened my community forever.

Photo credit:, "Superwoman Fights the Blues"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

No Man is an Island ( No Woman Either! )

Today I'd like to go live on an island.

On an island of people who are "like" me.
People who understand why I'm loud and are equally dramatic expressive.
The ones who think my laugh - okay, okay, guffaw - is charming, not obnoxious.
An island of people who live large and uninhibited and free.
An island of people....
(Well, let's just call a spade "a spade" here...I'm really inferring "an island of Irish-Italians")
...who don't need to understand every motive, tone (or lack thereof), or observation to cut me some slack and just ACCEPT ME AS I AM!!!!

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.
Now, onto my point....

Although I know this island would be more on the order of "the island of misfit toys" from TVs beloved Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, sometimes I still long for it.I long for feeling like I fit.  Like my personality is one that belongs rather than one that needs work.  Like I can say anything I want at anytime and know that, just because I'm surrounded by my contemporaries, I won't have to explain.  Or apologize.
Like I'm "finished" rather than the work in progress I know down deep that I am.

Isn't it funny how God puts people in our lives who push us?
Question us?
Disagree with us?
Make us work to be better?
(Well, I'll admit, today it doesn't feel just feels exhausting.  But you get my drift.)

In the final analysis, I have to remember that God NEVER, EVER gives us what we don't need.  EVER.
Especially the people whom we need.
Because He sees what we cannot.
He sees that those very people may be working in us as a metallurgist works on a piece of iron to forge it into steel. 
Working out the impurities. 
Casting it in the hottest fire to make it stronger. 
Shaping the raw into the refined.

No, I won't find my best self on that island, I know.
It may assuage my momentary frustrations.
But it won't do that which He knows (and I'll admit, I know) needs doing.

"I will bring the one third through fire, and I will refine them as silver is refined, and I will test them as gold is tested.  They shall call upon my name, and I will hear them.  I will say 'They are my people,' and they shall say, 'The Lord is my God.'" - Zechariah 13:9 (NAB)

Lord, help this woman remember she is not an island unto herself...
She is part of the main.
She can walk through the fire and come out stronger.
More refined than raw.
Closer to the purest Image...
That of You.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Scared of the Dim

I was always scared of the dark.

I remember as a girl growing up in that rambling farmhouse in Malbis, Alabama, there was a night that my parents went out, leaving my eldest sister, Theresa, in charge.  (My younger sister, Liz, would often say to her, "You're not the charge around here!"  But that night, she was.)  Mama and Daddy rarely went anywhere for the evening, so this was a special circumstance.  In retrospect, my 45 year old self looks back with compassion on that poor 13 year old sister who was left to manage four younger siblings, all of whom were sassy, loud and stubborn.  In other words, Irish-Italian.

I'm sure Theresa was just done.  Ready for the house to settle down and get quiet.  Maybe she had homework to do.  Or a boy to daydream about.  But whatever the reason, she refused to come up the stairs - the dark, foreboding stairs - to get me into bed.  Fresh out of a bath, black curls wet and in tangles around my shoulders, shivering in my pink nightgown with the lace overlay, I stood at the head of the stairs, crying for her to come up.  I was making quite a ruckus already, the overhead light yet illuminated.  So you can imagine what happened when she reached out for the light switch, at the foot of the stairs next to her right hand...
and clicked me into the darkness
Into the darkness with the creaky wooden floors and farm goblins and potential burglars. 
Into the darkness that held my childish fears.


I fell to my knees sobbing and pleading and screaming and...well, "temper tantrum" was probably how it would be later described. 
Looking back on that anxious 5 year old,
I know the darkness held the fears of a child unsure
Of a child with a vivid imagination and not enough calm.
Of a child who didn't like change.

Nothing much altered those fears as I grew older.  Living by myself for awhile, I often slept with a "weapon" by my bed.  (You know, scissors, bread knife, candlestick...even matches against a threatening intruder, of course.)  Even into my married years, I could never sleep whenever Drew travelled.  It didn't matter if I had lights on or fell asleep to a TV show, I would inevitably awaken in the night and be up for hours, imagining the worst, those childish fears haunting my adulthood.

What a waste.

I'm no longer afraid when it's dark. 
Everything changed a few years ago when I came to realize that I'm not in charge. 
Of anything.
"I'm not the charge around here!"
He is.
He protects me when I'm weak. 
He comforts me when I'm afraid. 
Why worry about what may happen? 
He'll be there through it all.

I was ruminating over this change of heart this morning as I was doing the dishes, feeling a bit anxious.  I was thinking of how I have been disconnected lately from Him.   And as I pondered the reasons why, I realized, "I'm no longer scared of the dark..."

"I'm scared of the dim."

You know?

It's easy to feel Him beside me when I'm happy...elated...joyful...obviously and abundantly blessed...ignited from the inside with the light of His glory.
It's easy to feel Him beside me when I'm scared and alone...dependent...insecure...lonely...necessarily leaning on Him to carry me out of the darkness.
So He's there in the light.
And He's there in the dark.

But in the dim?  Well, I forget to search for Him there.

When things are just "normal"...
When there's laundry to do and dinner to be made.
When I'm not feeling awful but not feeling great.
When we need a new plumbing mainline and the property taxes are due...
When the kids are settled  into their school routine and the marriage is "fine" and status quo has been reached and it's not bright and it's not black...
But it's hazy. 
And I cannot see clearly ahead. 
And His outline is not blazing and not obscure but faint.

It's there that I'm scared now. 
Because I forget to reach out. 
To trace His very faintness with my fingers and KNOW
He's there through it all.
Not just in the dark.
Not just in the bright.
He is there in the dim.
In the shadows and the indistinct...
In the vagueness of living and normal light of day....
He's there.
He's still carrying me.
Yes, I need only reach out and click myself out of the dim back into the burning light of His grace.

Photo credit:  Eduardo de Sao Paulo, Flickr