No Place Like Home

This week marks the eightieth anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” film. On August 11, 1939 there were three test market showings. Fun fact taken from the Cape Cinema website:

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“Special within our history is the premiere of the Wizard of Oz in 1939. It is difficult for many to believe but we proudly hold a poster from one of the anniversaries of that premier in our lobby, right above the Box Office. Part of the difficulty is the conflicting information you may find online. Our premiere of the show took place on August 11th, 1939 which was one day previous to the technical world premiere. As one of three test markets, we played the film before anyone else and feature a showing every year on its anniversary. For those wondering, Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West) was engaged at the Cape Playhouse at the time and arranged for the showing on Cape Cod, far away from the other test markets in Wisconsin.”

The movie’s theme is what all lifestyle coaches and even to some extent licensed counselors advise- when we have questions about our lives, we generally already know or have the answers in our “toolbox”.

In the case of the three compadres with Dorothy- the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow- they are reminded by the Wizard that they already possess courage, a heart and a brain. They did not have to keep looking for it but rather recognize that which was in them. In Dorothy’s case, she learns that one cannot run away from consequences for there is no place like home. The things she desires in life have been with her all along.

Yet, I cannot help but think it was the journey down the yellow brick road and the collective purpose of the four friends going to see the wizard that helped mold and shaped them. I cannot help but think that while we may have the tools within us, those tools sometimes lie dormant or are not fully functional until we experience life. Either we must have a chance to rise to an occasion or a chance to allow the experience shape the tools into what is necessary for us to continue along the journey.

I have seen it time and time again with friends and relatives who find that they do have the courage, heart or mind to traverse through tough situations. They may feel ill equipped for the journey or that a wicked witch is after them yet they persevere. If they were to be asked about their capabilities before the events, they would probably say that they couldn’t do it yet they do.

While I believe that we have many of the tools needed to help us in situations, I believe those tools are placed within our grasp by God. He knows what we need for this life journey. We need to trust Him that we will have everything we need when we need it. Sometimes the tools are a gift in the hand of a friend or stranger. Sometimes the tools need to be reused, cleaned and dusted off. Sometimes the tools need to be taken out of the box. And sometimes the tools have to be used over and over again.

Regardless we do not have to look too hard to find our tools. We just need to open our eyes, pay attention to our surroundings and be present. To ask for assistance when needed. To join with others in the experience. To hold on tightly even if the wind blows stronger than we can handle.

What about you? What do you already possess but for some reason don’t realize it? Creativity? Organization? Kindness? Grace under pressure? Resilience? Courage? Intelligence? Love?

Are you trying to get away from home? Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually? Why is that? Is it due to some tragedy? To some experience completely out of your control? Or behavioral consequences? What is home for you? More than just where we were raised, home can mean many different things: sanctuary, peace, familiarity,

Who are your compadres for your experience? Are you traveling solo or with others? Do you know where you are headed? What tools or information or equipment do you think you need?

Of course, with all analogies the story can only be taken so far. And, we know that The Wizard of Oz is just a story. However, God’s story and His care for us is real. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Tools that we can rely upon.

Inversion

Inversion: a reversal of position, order, form, or relationship (www.merriam-webster.com)

Recently I was listening a sermon by one of my nephews. Click here to hear it or any others of his. In it, he was describing “inversion philosophy”: If having difficulty in working out a solution to a problem, try reversing the outcome. Rather than decide that my outcome is such and such, figure out what could I do to have the totally different outcome. For instance, if I were a business person and wanted to have the best customer service, what would be the worst behavior I would need to exhibit in order to produce the worst service? I then could fashion my business practice to not do those behaviors but to do the opposite.

The opposite can tell us a a lot about what we don’t want and therefore can be beneficial.

In case there was any confusion-  this is NOT I nor any resemblance of me when I try a yoga pose.

In case there was any confusion- this is NOT I nor any resemblance of me when I try a yoga pose.

This practice can be done in the financial, mathematical, emotional or psychological world- that looking by a different aka inverted view may help find the solution. There are some reports that there are benefits in the physical world as well. In doing the various yoga poses, there seems to be many that are done with one’s head hanging down (or at least it seems to me.) Supposedly it is good for one’s immune system and the like to do so. I cannot say that I am there yet- I feel everything rushing to my head and sinuses and cannot say that I feel rejuvenated when I come back upright.

There are proponents for actually hanging upside down: benefits to one’s disc and spine, relieve of back pain and sciatica issues. It also seems to help with depression,mood, leg edema and with circulation. There are caveats- a person with uncontrolled blood pressure or glaucoma can experience problems with the inverted pressure since it raises blood and eye pressure.

We also see inversion thinking in the moral world through the lessons that are told through fables and stories. The bad behavior of the character is something to which we should not ascribe. Think of the boy who cried wolf or the story of Jonah and the whale. Those stories of what not to do have consequences that we would be wise to avoid and therefore we should heed the advice of the opposite, or inverted thinking.

On a practical note, the inversion- or looking at something from a different and opposite viewpoint can be very eye-opening. This summer I repainted the roof on our screened porch. In order to do so and not use a ladder (of which I am loathe to do) I accessed the roof through our bedroom window. Being on top of the roof allowed me to see our back yard and the other surrounding yards. It gave me a whole new perspective and an idea of what to do in the design of some of our gardens.

What about you? Are you struggling with a problem or situation or decision? Can you image the opposite of what you want to achieve? What does that look like? How can you reverse those goals to obtain what you really want?

Lessons From Dale

On a recent visit home, our son was telling us about life lessons he had recently heard on a podcast. On it, the producer reminded the listeners that to be a good conversationalist one has to be willing to learn. One needs to take the posture of listening and thinking to oneself- “What can I learn from this person who is talking?

First edition, 11th printing (February 1937), Courtesy of Wikipedia

First edition, 11th printing (February 1937), Courtesy of Wikipedia

I love this idea. Which of course is nothing new. We should always treat others as if their presence is a gift to us: a gift of time, experience, advice, of being. It is one of the tenants from the still published and still offered courses by Dale Carnegie. HIs signature book was “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It was first published in 1937 and is still in print. I never read the book nor took any of the courses yet have always been intrigued by that title. In some ways it seems so contrived and calculating: to win friends and intentionally influence others. Yet that is what we do or try to do with one another whether we want to think it happens or not.


According to Wikipedia the book was broken down into different sections: things that the book will do for you (presumably if you pay the money for the course and/or books); fundamental techniques for handling people; ways to make people like you; ways to influence people to the way you think; how to be a leader without giving people offense or feeling of resentment; letters that produce miraculous results (removed in later editions of the book) and ways to make your home life happier (again, removed in subsequent re-printings of the book).

Part of his explanation of making people like you is to take a genuine interest in others and listen to what they say. That does seem cold and calculating and not at all organic. However, the rationale that by listening, we may learn something new is a great posture of humble listening: To recognize value in each interaction with one another and that in that interaction, someone may teach us something new.

The thing that I have noticed lately is the lack of one another really listening. (I include myself with this.) There is no longer the art of conversation but rather joint monologues. I think of the “play dates” for two-year-olds. At that age, there is not interactive play- just side by side individual play. Our conversations are like that. One person will speak and another will speak either over top of that person or interrupt or continue on a totally different wavelength and/or topic. Very rarely is there a conversation where the conversational ball gets tossed back and forth with the addition of new and interesting information being shared. It is almost as if everyone has a limited time to get his/her point across about any topic and so conversations become this quick exchange of “my” information.

I do think that the time factor is part of the problem. Our days are jam packed with transactions: running here and there, trying to accomplish whatever we deem important. We don’t get a chance to really speak to the people we know and love in our lives nor much less listen to the peripheral people that we bump shoulders with- the customers in the grocery store, at the gas pump, folks who are walking down the street, and in some cases the people living next door to us.

Just yesterday I was able to truly listen to a stranger and it was only due to the fact that I had some extra time. My friend and I had gone grocery shopping together and as my order was smaller, I was finished sooner than she. In one aisle I encountered a gentleman who was having a little trouble seeing the items on the shelves and so I made a brief comment to help him out. This led to a ten minute discussion where the man told me some of his life story.

The whole time I was with him because I was thinking of my son’s comment about his podcast, I consciously thought, “Be present with him. Really listen and recognize the gift that he has brought to your day.” It was a wonderful discussion. Now in all honesty, I didn’t learn any encyclopedic knowledge but I did get a taste of what I have been thinking and writing about. Plus the chore of going to the store didn’t seem so burdensome. After this encounter I began wondering, What next? Whom will I meet at the next place? I was prepared to keep my eyes and ears opened.

What about you? What are your interactions with people like? Are they strictly transactional? Do you listen? Could you repeat back what you have been told? Do you know the eye color of the person who just spoke to you? I realized that many times I see people with out truly seeing them.

In my encounter at the grocery store, I intentionally wanted to connect and so I saw him and his interesting pale almost amber/brown eyes. Of course, in this day and age we need to be smart. You don’t want to have the reputation of the creepy starer in the neighborhood or being accused of longingly looking at a person when all you are doing is trying to look them in the eye. But I know for myself I need to be more intentional in my listening skills and part of that requires me to zero in on the face of the speaker.

I do not know how much I win friends or influence people and that is really not my intent. I think the beauty of the lessons is to connect with others and build community. When we have an understanding community, we will win friends and influence others for the betterment of society.

1%

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We have seen both our grown sons in the last couple of weeks. Quite a feat as they are busy young men. It is interesting their respective personalities- some things are similar to each other and us and some are not.

Both boys are pretty organized with their lives, not just the logistical organization of home and scheduling, but the organization of learning, growing, self-improvement. While they both are very active, they seemed to have a good balance on work/life.

Our one son is probably a little more scheduled than his brother. He has set timers on his computer to remind him of the different tasks in the morning. “workout”; “breakfast”, “shower”. Mh first thought is “oh no. a schedule?” (For as organized as I am and as often as I write a schedule, I find that I am too much of a free spirit to actually stick to a schedule.)

But for him the schedule gives him freedom: he doesn’t feel rushed or overwhelmed. He has wiggle room in his schedule so he is prepared for interruptions. I liken it to Financial Peace University. One of the goals of having financial peace is that one doesn’t have the extra stress of unpaid bills and worry over money. There is a freedom in knowing that things are generally covered and their is a freedom to have wiggle room and be financially generous.

As we were talking through a current scheduling dilemma I am in, he suggested- “1% Mom. Just do 1% or one thing extra each day. The idea is to slowly build into change.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

I have been saying this for YEARS and while I have practiced it before, in my overwhelming state of a packed to-do list of responsibilities, I had forgotten. I liked having someone else give me “permission” to break out of my norm and try something new.

So, I give you permission to break out of your norm or rut or whatever place you feel stuck. Try 1 %. Just one thing extra or different each day. It might be a small change to a bigger goal or it might be just something new you want to try.

I am giving it a try. For this week so far (as I write this it is three days in- not a routine yet), I have been able to stick to a small change in my schedule: write my journal pages first thing in the morning. And I have noticed that some of the other routines I have wanted to do are falling into place as well: daily yoga stretch, three hours of concentrated writing. Once again, when we prime the pump for change, it starts a flow of other change.

What about you? Where are you stuck in your life? What can you do to unstick? What would be your 1%?

What is in a name?

Perhaps you heard the news? Merideth, a media conglomerate sold Sports Illustrated (which they acquired from Time Warner in 2018) for $110 Billion to Authentic Brands Group. The new company is not interested in the magazine for any literary or informational purposes. Rather, Authentic Brands is only interested in the intellectual properties of the magazine: branding, marketing and interest that the name Sports Illustrated promotes. [As I write that sentence it makes me smile- “intellectual” properties from the magazine that became well known for its annual swimsuit edition. Obviously people bought SI for the articles.] As it was reported on NPR, “Authentic Brands also controls the rights to a wide array of brands, including such pop cultural figures as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley; such sports figures as Julius Erving and Shaquille O'Neill; and such fashion lines as Juicy Couture.”

In essence the company exists and promotes, not any substance or content or character but rather how people feel about the name: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Shaquille O”Neill, Juicy Couture, etc. In a world where appearances are everything, it is no surprise. It is all about shallow thinking-how do I feel rather than what does this person’s character say and represent?

Yet, in looking into the idea of “branding” I came across some interesting tidbits. Branding has its origins in livestock branding- putting a mark on one’s sheep to denote ownership. Eventually it became a guide for quality as well as ownership. In the ancient world, brands or seals were used to describe quality of ceramics, textiles, food. Partly, as a necessity to the illiterate society, a brand contained pictures of the item and the manufacturer. The idea that a consistent representation would let the consumer know the quality and consistency of the product. So, it is no surprise that the over the last thousand years, brands have morphed into brand identification, awareness and loyalty. Brands consist of four types of meaning: attributes; benefits; values and personality. The way it is described, the brand has taken over the person. Which is certainly the case in what the Authentic Brand Group has done with the various actors and sports figures it acquired. Having purchased one’s name, the group can use it for anything they want. Personally, I would find that upsetting.

Just recently I was in my favorite art gallery (actually, to clarify it is the only art gallery that I have ever patronized) to see about my favorite artist (The ninety-six-year old artist who painted my “Petunia in an Onion Patch” painting.) I chatted with the gallery owner and she gave me an update on the health of Vivian Oswell. She saw paint on the back of my hands and asked if I was a painter too?

“Well, I actually am house painting at the moment..” I said, “But years ago I did paint some primitive type items and sold them in a small shop in town. I am sure that the purchasers have given those items to a Goodwill somewhere.”

That prompted her to tell me about another local artist who would peruse the paper for estate, garage and yard sales. He would go around and repurchase his work- especially if it had not been properly cared for, example the print was fading, etc. He did not want people to see a half done work or ones that did not show his craft in the optimum light. When she mentioned his name, I recalled that we had a print of one of his paintings that I got at a local thrift shop. I purchased the picture, not necessarily for the print but for the frame. However, I did use the print in another frame and have it hanging in our bathroom. She showed me his work hanging in the gallery and I found the original of my print.

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What I found interesting was that for this artist, his name on the picture meant everything to him. It was more than just what the picture represented, it was the representative quality of his work, his integrity and in essence, his character. Yes, his work is a “brand” but it was so much more than that to him and to those who admire his work. For him, if his work was sullied, so too would he be sullied. He could not separate his “brand” with what and who he was.

What about you? What is your brand? Is it separate from the essence of who you are? How do you go about keeping your character, your integrity or your name? Have you ever lost your “brand”? How do you go about getting it back? Can you?

I was reminded of the Proverb (22:1) “A good name is more desirable than riches.” When you think about it, our name is all we have. Our character, integrity and essence are the only things that can transcend time and are certainly the things people remember about us.

What’s in your name?


Attitude Adjustments

I have been thinking a lot about attitude lately. In general, how does one cultivate a good attitude especially when one has a tendency towards a poor one? As with so much in life- once we are thinking and spending time pondering an idea, we hear all sorts of advice on the subject.

Recently I was part of a women’s retreat. It was a time full of faith and fellowship. There was much authentic sharing during the weekend. I was amazed at how quickly, humbly and willingly women were in sharing their hurts and sorrows.

While I am amazed at the depth of courage and strength these women shared, I couldn’t help wondering, what is wrong with me? For whatever reason, I feel that I am not in a place of deep sorrow or hurt. In fact, life is pretty good. I felt almost a pressure to say my life was terrible when it really isn’t. I am always cognizant of the pain and sorrows of others and generally do not share all the good going on in my life because I don’t want it to seem like a competition or a “in your face,” etc. However, by not sharing my story in my “abundance” I am not being truly authentic with others, and by my unspoken words, have made it a competition.

That is wrong of me. It keeps me separated from others and is not the community into which God has called us .

I realized that we do need to share with one another ALL the things going on in our lives. The good, the bad and the ugly (equal emphasis on all, not just the bad and ugly). For focusing on all aspects of life, helps keep things in perspective. When I am going through difficulty and I hear someone share about the good things in life, I can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Although I must admit that in my immature moments, I can be a little jealous of the shared good times. However, many times the stories involving good times have difficulty woven in. When I hear the total picture, I can learn to be grateful for others’ stories and not focus solely on myself. Conversely, when I hear that someone is having a tough time, I can reflect and be grateful for what I am experiencing and also (if it seems like an appropriate time) be able to share my perspective.

God is good and He wants to give good things to His children. Sometimes we do not recognize His gifts as good but when we gain eternal perspective, it is all good. Hearing all sides of life- good, bad and the ugly helps me gain that eternal perspective.

I also think the tendency to negativity is another way that the father of lies tries to chip away at our soul and keep us separated. It is all part of the “not good enough, nothing will ever work out, hopeless state” he wants to keep us in. The Father of Light tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, there is a future and plan for each one of us and that through Christ there is hope in an eternal tomorrow.

And so as I have been thinking about optimism, I have come across these ideas:

A mosaic made during the women’s retreat to demonstrate how our brokenness is used by God to create something unexpected and beautiful.

A mosaic made during the women’s retreat to demonstrate how our brokenness is used by God to create something unexpected and beautiful.

  • No-Complaint Day. One practical way to stay optimistic is to practice a set amount of time with no complaints. Typically starting for one day and continuing each day without complaints for about a month. However, if you are a complaining type person (yours truly somedays), you might want to set the bar low at first (1 hour or half a day). But if you can, try and go a whole day without complaints.

  • Glad Game. If you are the type which complaining rolls off your tongue and even one hour of no-complaints gives you pause, you might have to institute the “glad game” while you are resetting your thoughts. The glad game comes from the old Pollyanna books/movies. Pollyanna, the main character would play the glad game whenever she felt sad or disappointed. Instead of saying the such and such happened she would say, “I am glad such and such happened because… (and reframe the negative to a positive). Kind of corny but as a person thinketh, so he/she doeth. If we start thinking positive thoughts, we are more likely to remain positive.

  • Smile more. If you do not think that smiling matters, try it for a day. When you are out and about, or even among your family and friends, try smiling at people. Again, if this is not your nature, those who know you might wonder if you have lost a few marbles. But, most people respond by smiling back. It creates an atmosphere of joy and encouragement.

  • Repeat positive affirmations: Some people have a daily mantra of positive thoughts. I prefer to remember the truths that God has said: I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am his cherished child, He has a plan and purpose for my life. Find scripture that has meaning for you and say it in the morning and throughout the day. Especially when the father of lies gets into your head to tell you otherwise.

  • Each day when you wake, choose to be optimistic that day. Some days may be quite easy to remain positive: the sun is shining, you get a good night’s sleep, you feel reasonably well, there were no “crisis phone calls” in the middle of the night and your hair isn’t frizzing. The real test will be when the days are dark, damp and miserable and your soul feels the same way.

What about you? Are you naturally optimistic or pessimistic? Do you naturally complain? (Or as I like to justify my complaining, “just stating facts…”) Are you going through a really tough time? Is there someone you know who might have gone through something similar and is now in a different place? Could you reach out to him or her? How do you re-frame your thoughts?

Lord, I choose this day to be positive for you- to relinquish all control, all fears, all doubts, all worries to you. Come into my heart, soul and mind and transform my negative thoughts and actions to positive ones. I rejoice that you will always be near me, that you are before and behind me and that you guide my steps. Amen.”

What the past can tell the future…

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The other day I was talking to our son. I cannot remember the specific topic but it brought to mind a slim volume that I purchased years ago, “Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior”. In it, are 110 rules for civility and decent behavior in company and conversation. George Washington wrote down these rules when he was 14, drawing upon a French book of maxims that were intended to “polish manners, keep alive the best affections of the heart, impress the obligation of moral virtues, teach how to treat others in social relations, and above all, inculcate the practice of a perfect self-control”. Of course there were rules that seem applicable to that period of time. Some rules are still said today but use different verbiage. And other rules are timeless. If only certain Presidents referred to this book, I wonder how our foreign and domestic relationships would be?

Some of the rules are priceless:

#2: When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.

#13: Kill no vermin as fleas, lice, ticks &c in the sight of others; if you see any filth or thick spittle, put your foot dexteriously upon it; if it be upon the clothes of your companions, put it off privately; and if it be upon your own clothes, return thanks to him who puts it off.

Interestingly, the 45th maxim:

#45: Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or private, presently or at some other time, in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no sign of cholar, but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

Other great advice:

#48 Wherein you reprove another, be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precepts.

#38: In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.

Just last week I heard a story on NPR about a new book Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks. He talks about disagreement, civility, and getting along. He has some passionate and interesting theories on what the country’s discourse should be but I did agree with his interview’s final statement:

“Disagreement in a democracy is the source of our strength. If it's performed with respect and warmheartedness — even with love — that's how we avoid stagnation and mediocrity. I'm all about disagreement, but it has to be done in the climate of respect, warm heartedness and love.”

Also last week there was a protest by both sides of the aisle: March for Life, ACLU, conservative and liberal organizations. They were united against the National Park Service proposal to charge a fee for protest costs. (extra security, barriers, etc.) In a rare instance eight seemingly polarized organizations banned together and submitted a letter to the NPS explaining their position:

“Our organizations do not agree on all issues, but one principle we unreservedly support is our right to gather together to express ourselves,” the letter said. “The quintessential locations for these expressive gatherings in the United States are the National Mall and the public spaces surrounding the White House. . . . We are very concerned that, should these rules go into effect, they will chill speech and harm our national discourse.”

How refreshing to know that we CAN agree on something. Perhaps that what unites us is stronger and bigger than what divides us. What unites these groups is the recognition of all rights to protest- not those who can afford it.

What once again strikes me about “civility and decent behavior”- it is all about putting the other person first.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Easier said then done but necessary for all our sakes.

What about you? Have you read or heard any thought-provoking words lately? Were they new ideas or a rehash of one’s that have been around? Why is it that we need to “repackage” in a fresh way, ideas and thoughts that are not new? What other ideas unite seemingly polarized groups?

This week, be aware of the stories and news you hear. Are there common denominators in seemingly opposite views?

How can we demonstrate civility and decent behavior in company and conversation?