Archives

Special Women’s Retreats

Yesterday, I did something I hadn’t done since April 2011, I was a guest speaker at a women’s retreat.

Occasionally I receive requests asking if I still do speaking engagements saying I was recommended by a friend who heard me speak some years ago, etc. Since my speaking business has been non-existent for seven years, I am always caught by surprise that people would still remember me. I guess it pays to keep the same phone number for so many years.

I don’t know why I accepted this time, except I liked the lady who contacted me and my signature talk was exactly what they wanted for their retreat. Part of me was curious to see if I was capable of doing a presentation seated since I can no longer stand long enough to deliver a 45-60 minute talk.

So glad I accepted. It was a special time. Their theme was a Recipe for Life. The ladies were delightful making me feel right at home as if I were a friend instead of the speaker.

Retreats are a special treat for a speaker. They are an opportunity to see women taking time from busy, hectic schedules to unwind and enjoy time with their friends. Watching as they talk, laugh, and spend time refreshing and renewing their thoughts and minds. I loved that not one cell phone rang.

In one-on-one conversations, a couple of them shared painful experiences when they were going through dark times; some I could relate to while others were things I haven’t experienced yet. I was deeply honored to hear their stories and thank them for their trust.

I couldn’t believe it had been seven years since I had done my last retreat representing my small speaking ministry focused on living a life in balance. 2011 seemed like an eternity ago, when speaking, blogging, everything was put aside so I could care for my daughter after her diagnosis of stage-IV cancer.

Seven years ago, I found other speakers for my upcoming commitments, except one at a retreat where I was the only speaker scheduled to speak four times during the weekend. I already had the talks prepared and wasn’t sure I could find a replacement on short notice, so I did it. The ladies at that retreat also welcomed me as a friend and blessed me with so much love and support. I still am in contact with several of them today.

As I refreshed my talk for Saturday, I was pleased to see that I had remained true to many of the changes referenced in my talk but realized there are still many more that await my attention.

However, I have learned one important thing. I no longer try to do what only God can do? Try to control the uncontrollable, stop the unstoppable, or fix the unfixable.

I often hear people ask, “If God is in control, why doesn’t he change this, or do that, or make this thing better?” I honestly don’t know. But, I have found time and time again that He is trustworthy and faithful. He knows what we need. Knows how our stories end. That’s good enough for me.

I love speaking, making people laugh, but an engagement requires a lot of preparation, strength and stamina. Not sure that is what I should be doing at this stage of my life. Think I’ll let God tell me what He wants me to do.

Which is exactly what I encouraged the women to consider adding to their Recipe for Life on Saturday, since God knows how to combine just the right ingredients to meet all of our needs, no matter what our situation.

Ending on a Positive Note: Age brings the wisdom of allowing God to put your life into perspective. It’s amazing what He can do if we just get out of His way.

“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will direct your path.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Looking for Good

Some years ago, I began to intentionally look for the positive things in my simple, everyday life. I found saying thank you for small kindnesses or letting people know I appreciated them for doing their job well, was very rewarding. Sometimes, it’s hard to spot optimism, but you can find it if you look for it.

I do most of my shopping online because health issues make it difficult to actually shop in person. Online doesn’t always produce a positive experience, but I am slowly weeding out the stores where I have encountered a bad experience. As my shopping outlets are shrinking, some are gaining my trust. Those stores have made it easier to find products I like, easier to maneuver ordering and return policies. And, make it easier to accept shopping online as my new way of life.

Whenever a customer service experience goes well, I thank the young rep (most of them are young these days) for making my order experience go smoothly. If there is a follow-up survey after the experience, I always take the time to complete it. It doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes and time is the one thing I have plenty of.

However, it’s impossible to do doctor visits online. This time of year brings annual visits to several different doctors for a mammogram, ultrasounds, scans, etc. Doctor visits are difficult and usually leave me exhausted.

I try to be punctual for appointments and have my insurance card (and co-pay) readily available. I try to smile, answer questions, and be pleasant with the staff. This week proved to be a bit of a struggle as I encountered several folks who were just downright rude.

I try to overlook rudeness, if possible. I remember having bad days when I was working; days when everything went wrong. Often, we can be rude without even knowing it, I’m sure my life has found me guilty on many occasions.

However, this week one incident sort of got under my skin. Checking in to see the doctor, a young lady was extremely rude to me and to everyone who came in after me. I noticed that most people came through the door with a pleasant expression on their face, but after a few minutes of being treated with no respect, they became irritated. Many lashed out in frustration with anger in their voices.

After seeing the doctor and stopping at the check-out station, the same young lady didn’t even look at me before she said angrily, “Is May 6th okay?”

Trying to keep my cool, I explained I would need to schedule the ultrasound before making an appointment with the doctor. The reason for seeing him was to follow-up to learn the ultrasound results.

It was obvious she wasn’t listening. After repeating my words three times, I stopped talking.

After an awkward pause, she looked up at me with a blank stare. I then said, “Miss, I don’t mean to be impolite, but you are not listening to what I am saying. I must schedule the ultrasound before scheduling the doctor appointment.”

She was angry. Her face was a dark thundercloud; filled with such pain that I somehow knew she wasn’t angry with me.

Her name tag read Susan, so I quietly said, “Susan, obviously you are very upset. I’m sure this isn’t the way you normally do your job. I’m sorry you are having such a bad day. I’m going to say a prayer for your day to get better.”

Susan sat and just looked at me. My mind was whirling, thinking I had said too much, gone too far. I could see Susan was struggling. Her eyes filled with tears. Finally focusing, she leaned forward and whispered, “I am so sorry. Of course, the ultrasound should be scheduled before the doctor’s appointment. In fact, why don’t I schedule your ultrasound and call you back to confirm the date?” I told her that wasn’t necessary, but she insisted.

In the parking lot, I sat for a few minutes praying for Susan; asking God to guide her through the issues that were causing her such pain. I prayed she would find peace in her life.

A thought occurred to me that if I could fill out a survey, I could take a few minutes to pray for people like Susan, even when they didn’t know I was praying. That thought made me happy and is certainly more productive than getting angry.

The next day, Susan called to confirm the ultrasound appointment just as she promised. As we wound up our conversation, she said, “Yesterday was really a rough day for me. Thanks again for your kindness in helping me get through it.” 

Whether we approach someone with positive or negative expectations, they will often (not always) tend to move toward fulfilling our expectations. Seeing positive possibilities in others will encourage them to bring out the best in themselves.

Look for the good in others, and you will likely find it. But encouraging them helps us grow and creates more positive thinking in our own lives.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Ending on a Positive Note: Sometimes God gives us the right words to say to help someone who is struggling with something we don’t understand (or need to understand). I am amazed at God’s faithfulness when we put our trust in Him.

Be Where You Are

I am a curious person. I love to read. I love to learn. I always have.

A good friend told me years ago, “Ag if you weren’t so busy being a mom and taking care of your kids, I think you would be a professional student.” Doris was pretty close to the truth. The only problem is learning doesn’t always happen in a classroom. Doesn’t always require doing research or turning in homework.

One doesn’t even have to be seeking knowledge to learn. Life lessons are there for the taking, all around us. Sometimes learning occurs in weird places, happening in our daily lives when we don’t even expect it.

I am reminded of the quote, “Wherever you go, there you are.”  Loving quotes, especially simple ones filled with wisdom, I feel compelled to give credit to the person who originally spoke the meaningful words.

No matter where you go, there you are. I’ve heard variations of that phrase for years and never knew who actually said it. So, I googled it and found lots of references to who and where the phrase originated. Not sure I know much more than when I started my search.

Google listed credit references to Star Trek, Stephen King, Muppet Magazine, One Day at a Time, comic books, songs, TV shows, movies, and even a guy from the 70s who claimed credit for starting the phrase himself.  My favorite credit line was from The Brady Bunch, “and remember kids, a very wise man once said, ‘wherever you go, there you are.’” Who am I to argue with wise old Dad Brady?  Even Confucius got a nod. That one seems a bit questionable, but who is still around that could confirm or deny that claim?

I am getting off track. Seem to do that a lot these days. Old age, I guess.

This week, I finished writing a little devotional book, and my neighbor asked me, “So what’s next?” I knew she meant was there another book planned? I replied, “Whatever comes along.” Those words were so freeing. I didn’t even think about them, they just popped out.

No longer does my life have to be about work, accomplishments, striving to meet deadlines or expectations set by others. I am where I am.

After all these years, I still love to read, to learn, and my curiosity is still thriving. The only difference is that time is no longer on my side. I’m okay with that. I am where I am, where I belong. This time of life fits like an old comfortable pair of shoes.

The phrase, “Wherever you are, there you are,” is starting to make perfect sense.  Where am I? Just trying to make sure I am really there, present in the everyday moments of my life. To quote a famous sailor, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.”

Ending on a Positive Note: All I have to do is enjoy THIS time, THESE moments. Taking things as they come, not wasting time wishing things were different.

 

To Have and To Hold

 

Wedding DayTom and I have been married fifty-three years today. Taking our vows in front of God, family, and friends on that balmy, rainy Saturday night in 1964 still glows brightly in my memory.

Tom had a head full of hair, twinkling brown eyes, and was a few pounds lighter than today. I wore a pill-box veil and a size eight wedding gown that my mother had to take it in at the waist. It is now carefully folded in my cedar chest; never to be worn again.

Remembering our wedding vows makes me reflect on how young we were in March 1964. Even though we loved each other and were confident we had chosen wisely, what had we really known about spending the rest of our life together?

I, Agnes, take you, Tom, to be my lawful wedding husband…
Fifty-three years ago, that word husband was brand new. At that point, my experience of marriage was limited to choosing the perfect white dress, making an appointment to get my hair done, being excited about picking out new furniture, and putting gifts away in the apartment that was to be our first home. Oh, and hoping Tom would like my cooking.

To have and to hold from this day forward…
That phrase sounded so romantic. Our love seemed so complete. We walked down the aisle. Tom carried me over the threshold of our new home, a feat he certainly couldn’t do today. I was clueless as to what life would be like along the way to spending 19,345 days together. Our love was just so new, I had no idea how much stronger it would need to be to survive what was to come.

For better, for worse…
I thought our life would be all “for better” days. I couldn’t have even imagined the “for worse” days in front of us. Days of having to live with bad decisions and learning to make the best of whatever came our way.

Struggling to understand and live with the loss of so many loved ones; parents, brothers, and close friends who were like family. I certainly could never have fathomed the unbearable pain of losing one of our children.

Our youth made it hard to comprehend that life could not be perfectly planned. We still had to learn we were not in control.

For richer, for poorer…
We couldn’t imagine the hardships that awaited us, the sacrifices we would have to make. We thought if we worked hard and planned wisely, we would always have more money than bills.

The only thing I did know for sure…when we had children, we would love them with all our hearts. Wouldn’t matter if they were girls or boys, we knew they would be the most important part of our lives. We wanted four, but the doctor stopped us at two. God blessed us beyond measure with two beautiful, bright, funny, kind, and loving daughters who were more than enough. We felt complete. However, when our sweet granddaughters arrived, we discovered our hearts could expand with more love, a love that melted into pure joy.

In sickness and in health…
We weren’t thinking of living with heart attacks and strokes. Our young minds had never even heard of cancer, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s; unknown diseases that would impact our future in unbelievable ways.

To love and to cherish…
As we stood before the minister vowing to love and cherish, we thought our love was perfect, as we shared common goals and seemed to be on the same wavelength. How could we have realized our thinking could be so different when we starting sharing one another’s space? We never envisioned being angry over insignificant things like taking out the garbage or the way we organized the garage.

Until death do us part…
Planning to grow old together, we were two young kids who had not lived long enough to have experienced life’s uncertainty, pain, or loss. Death was for really old people and seemed so far away.

This is my solemn vow…
Our life has been a good one, but not without obstacles and trials along the way. Married life starts out on a high note. With a little luck couples mature at the same time and enjoy a long life together.

Our vows were sacred and we meant them to last forever. Although marriage was harder than we ever dreamed, we did grow into one union, promising never to leave or forsake the other. Though our life has been tough at times we are grateful for mostly “for better” days.

Never considering ourselves poor, but certainly not rich, we prefer to use my mother’s definition as a measure. “No one is ever poor if they are surrounded by people who love them.” That perception has given us more riches than we could ever have dreamed possible. Our lives have been all about family, belonging to each other, and to a God that continues to offer strength, guidance, and faithfulness.

Has health turned to sickness? Today, the boundaries of our world together are defined by our health issues. Tom is still the same man I fell in love with so many years ago, but our illnesses have taken their toll on both of us. We struggle to do things we used to take for granted. We walk like those little Weebles; you know the little wooden people that wobble but never fall down, at least not lately.

Tom’s brown eyes still twinkle when he makes me laugh.  Holding his hand still, makes me feel safe and warm inside. He still makes me feel loved. The oldest in our families now, we talk about our myriads of memories, a lot. Memories serving as the fabric that weaves our happy life together.

People occasionally ask for our secret. How did we stay married so long when many others gave up? Our answer is simple. We took vows; honored our commitments. It was the right thing to do. We loved each other enough to work at making it last. But, at this stage of comfortable love, I tease him that maybe I just have too many years of training invested in him to start over.

Just as we vowed, we are still holding on, still together, and just as we planned growing old together. I believe God knew we belonged together and that’s why He gave us the forever kind of love.

Ending on a Positive Note: Today is a special day, but in many ways, it’s just another day; an ordinary day. We are so grateful for each other and thank God for blessing us with fifty-three years of wonderful ordinary days.

Everybody Has a Story

Several days ago, I walked down the hall to get my mail. I always check the bulletin board sign-up sheets for upcoming events scheduled for our building. Coming up was a breakfast, a chili luncheon, our monthly birthday party with one of our favorites scheduled to provide entertainment. An every other month trip to the Casino was planned, plus the usual exercise, bingo, dominoes, and card game nights, along with Friday morning Bible Study. Usually there was a pen hanging from the bulletin board to make it convenient for us to sign up. Looked all around, no pen in sight.

So I wheeled my walker into the manager’s office next door to get a pen. The manager was on the phone. While waiting for Sandy to get off the phone, I said good morning to a fellow seated across from me. I had never seen him before and was surprised when he told me he had lived in the building for years. His apartment was just a few doors from ours.

We struck up a general conversation. How long have you lived here? Do you like it? Have you always lived in Cincinnati? Informative, but pretty boring stuff. He spoke in a monotone. No smiles. No interest in our conversation.

I decided to try one more question. Even though I knew the answer, I asked if he was retired. He told me he had been retired a long time. So, I asked the obvious, “What kind of work did you do?” His whole body went through a transformation. He sat up straighter and in a voice filled with pride, he replied, “I was a newspaper reporter for the Kentucky Post.” I am discovering many older people only see their value in their former profession.

His question asking if I remembered the Kentucky Post made me laugh. He chuckled when I told him I remembered not only the Kentucky Post, but the two afternoon papers, the Cincinnati Post and the Cincinnati Times Star. I even recalled those two papers later merging before finally closing up shop leaving only the original morning paper, The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Bert went on to tell me his beat had been a mixed bag. “I was an investigative reporter so I handled everything under the sun, but occasionally got assigned a really great story like the opening of Riverfront Stadium.”

With that remark, we were off to the races. I was a huge fan of the Cincinnati Reds. I asked him his opinion of Riverfront the first time he saw it.

Bert replied, “Found it a disappointment. How about you, did you like it?”

I told him Riverfront had never done much for me either. Too much concrete didn’t allow room for much character. However, I did remember one fun fact I heard during a TV interview. Roy Rogers, who was born in Cincinnati, said his family lived where Riverfront Stadium has been constructed and joked he was born at second base.

He hooted when I told him, “I did think Riverfront Stadium was very appropriately named until they changed it to Cinergy Field. I retaliated by calling it Riverfront until they tore it down.”

I continued, “Crosley Field had such charm and personality. What wonderful memories were in that little ballpark; the sun deck, the moon deck, the terrace in left field, watching Ronnie Dale at the organ playing special songs every time one of the hometown players hit a home-run.”

He seemed surprised that a woman was a fan, prompting me to tell him my mother had also been a huge fan. He almost choked on his words. “Your mother was a Reds fan?” Yep, she had fallen in love with baseball when we first moved to the Cincinnati area in 1954.

“She loved the Reds and so did my mother-in-law. They never missed a game, listening on the radio or watching on TV. My husband and I took them to the last game at Crosley Field and then to the first game at Riverfront, two weeks apart in 1970.”

We agreed the best name for Riverfront was in the mid-70s when it was labeled the Home of the Big Red Machine. Many local Cincinnati fans referred to the Big Red Machine as the best team to ever play the game. Who doesn’t remember Pete Rose and his head first slides, Johnny Bench’s bullet throws to second, (little) Joe Morgan, Tony (Doggy) Perez, Davey Concepcion, Ken Griffin, Sr., George Foster, and Cesar Geronimo?  That team could hit, run, field and create excitement for fans, even when they didn’t win the game.

By this time, Sandy was off the phone. I left them to talk and I went back to the mail room to put my ‘John Hancock’ on a few sheets. As I was leaving the mail room, I noticed that Bert had a small box on top of the mailboxes, so I took it with me.

His walker was different from mine and couldn’t accommodate the box, so I offered to take the box down the hall for him. Arriving at his apartment, I found UPS had left a big box outside his door. Accepting my offer to take both boxes inside his apartment, he unlocked the door and asked me to put them in his library.

Assuming his second bedroom was his library, I put the two boxes on top of a hard backed chair so he could easily access them. I couldn’t help but notice he had books all over the room. Some were neatly arranged on book shelves circling his library while others were stacked on top of his desk, a little table across the room, and one small stack was on the floor next to a comfy chair.

Asking if I liked to read, we fell into an easy conversation about our love of books; briefly discussing favorite authors and a few favorite books.

As I headed for the door, I asked if I could do anything else for him. He said he was fine, but thanked me for bringing in his UPS boxes and for brightening his day with my smile and conversation. I had enjoyed my time with this sweet, old guy who had lived an interesting life.

Ending on a Positive Note: Our eyes cannot see the stories people carry inside. There has to be a conversation. An interesting conversation with a real person is always a fascinating pause in any day. Hope you are taking time to enjoy the people around you.

Do You Talk to Yourself?

Do you talk to yourself? I certainly do. I think everyone does it. Sometimes without even realizing it. We continuously carry on an inner dialogue about how we view life, people, and even ourselves.

Perhaps the better question to ask is not do we talk to ourselves but HOW do we talk to ourselves? Sometimes the most destructive relationship we have is with our own selves.

How do you talk to your friends? If you talked to your friends the same way you talk to yourself, you probably wouldn’t have any friends.

We tell ourselves things like ‘I should’, ‘I must’, ‘I have to’, ‘I’ve got to’, ‘Why didn’t I’, ‘I’m no good’, ‘I can’t do it’, ‘I won’t’ and  ‘It will never happen’.

Have you ever said to yourself, “I can’t believe I did that, I must be really stupid, or an idiot?”

Over fifteen years ago, we had just closed on our first condo in Mason.  My daughter, Stacy couldn’t wait to see it, so I took a card table and a couple of folding chairs so she and the girls could join us for pizza after we finished the closing.

My brother, Wayne stopped by so he could see the new condo or maybe just have an opportunity to see our granddaughters.  Jenna was three and Jessica was three months old. I really couldn’t blame him because they were at such a cute age.

After touring the condo, we were eating our pizza. Wayne was sitting in the floor with Jenna. He was yakking on about something and said, “I couldn’t believe I was so stupid.”

Immediately, Jenna piped up, “Uncle Wayne, you said a bad word. We’re not allowed to use that word at our house.”

Very confused, he looked at me and mouthed, “What did I say?” After explaining he had said stupid, Wayne apologized to Jenna for using the “S” word and she went back to her pizza.

Have you ever called yourself stupid, dumb, or an idiot? I am much better than I used to be, but I still struggle with my inner voice reminding me of my faults, failures and my short comings. I tell myself that by now, I should be beyond that negative self-talk. I should be stronger than I am, further along than I am.

Although I have learned to recognize and talk back to my destructive internal voice, sometimes it still gets the best of me.

“I’m wasting my time. I might as well give up. I can’t do anything right. I’m stupid (or ugly, or fat). I just made a fool out of myself. Everyone is laughing at me. Who do I think I am? I’m a miserable mess of a human being. I can’t do it. Why try? I’ll just mess it up again. No one likes me. I’m not good enough.”

Do those words sound familiar? If we want to get healthy and whole we must pay attention to what we say to ourselves and challenge it with the truth. I don’t mean simply replacing negative self-talk with positive words of affirmation such as:

“I’m so wonderful. I can do anything. I can do no wrong. I deserve to be _________(fill in the blank) ___________.

Our body hears everything we say and will pick up negative images from the way we talk externally or internally.

When I was still working, I found practicing difficult conversations in my mind helped me to effectively communicate about a tough issue, without anger.

I have heard professional athletes, before a big game, often mutter words under their breath to calm themselves down or pump themselves up.

I remember seeing my girls playing with their dolls and stuffed animals, playing pretend and talking out loud to make sense of their world.

Lately, I find myself having a little internal daily chat about my blessings and life’s confusions. I’m not sure it helps me solve anything, but it seems to clarify my thoughts and keep me focused on the important things in my life.

Recently, I was having a little personal chat about a sweatshirt I had purchased last summer. I was certain I had put it in my chest of drawers. As I was walking through the apartment saying to no one, “If I were a brand new Oak Ridge Boys sweatshirt, where would I be?” Then thirty minutes later: “Aha! Here you are. Right where I put you. In the coat closet.”  

Tom laughs at me, asking, “Who in the world are you talking to?”

I respond, “Hey, talking to yourself is a sign of genius. I read somewhere Albert Einstein was constantly talking to himself.”

Well, I’m surely not a genius, but maybe talking to myself is a sign of sanity helping me focus and keep things in perspective.

However, I guess it can also make me look like I’m crazy. So far, I have been able to confine my external self-talking to the privacy of my own home, but if you see me driving or walking down the street yakking on and on to nobody, I guess I’m just conversing with the voices in my head or being my own therapist.

Ending on a Positive Note: If talking to yourself helps you make sense of your life, go for it. Who knows, you may be talking to the person who knows you the best.

A Brand New Year

For last year’s words belong

to last year’s language

and next year’s words

await another voice.

And to make an end is to

MAKE A BEGINNING.”

-T.S. Eliot-

___________________________________________

Happy New Year 2017!

Welcoming every New Year is a time for reflection on expectations, opportunities, and change.

I sort of gave up on resolutions a few years ago. I never was successful with keeping them. I got tired of feeling guilty, tired of beating myself up.

In the last seven years, my life has been altered so drastically I barely have had time to contemplate the changes. Frustration, pain, and sorrow often seemed to represent the only changes that were taking place in my life.

I retired, lost too many beloved family members; too many friends. Downsizing, battling health issues, getting rid of years of accumulated “stuff” and working to find a new purpose for living presented tough times.

The transition has been difficult and slow. Adapting to a new style of living. I have learned to prioritize my life, not my stuff. My faith has become more childlike and simple, like my life.

In 2017, I will not waste my days focusing on expectations. I will just take what comes my way and accept what I can’t control. If opportunities arise, I will take the ones that make sense and dismiss those that don’t fit. And change, well, change is what it is. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. Most of the time, change is just different.

Regardless of the reason, changing your life can be overwhelming. Concentrating on the important things, staying positive, and never forgetting who is truly in charge helps you make it through the difficult and changing times.

I am in a good place.

 

Ending on a Positive Note: God’s promise in Isaiah 41:10 reminds me, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.”