Let’s Hear the Good News

One of the things I love about this time of year is all the posts and pictures of graduates, prom attendees, and weddings. Spring seems to be the time of new beginnings when people share their family’s good news. I’m certain there is good news during other times of the year, but spring seems to be the season for sharing it the most. Under all the layers of trauma and bad news that seems to monopolize the media streams, I just want to hear more good news.

A consensus of marketing agencies says good news doesn’t sell. I pray that is not really true, but even if it is can’t we change that? Everyone loves a feel-good story. I am not convinced we need to hear the same bad news three of four times per day or per week. It feels like the daily news’s rendition of what’s happening in the world is to keep repeating the bad news until some more bad news happens. Well to be fair, some news networks will end the daily report with at least one good news story. It would be wonderful to have more of those.

Uplifting stories not only make us smile; they give us hope. We take pleasure in knowing people are doing good in the world. When someone is rewarded for their work over and above the call of duty, we feel proud. When the underdog wins and overcomes hard times, we all feel like cheering. Good news is encouraging to everyone in the beloved community. Good news motivates us to do good works as well.

Here are some uplifting stories that made the news in May: “A teenage umpire saves a little leaguer from a dust devil; a WWI soldier’s letter to his mom in 1919 is returned to his granddaughter; a teen broke the scholarship record of ten million dollars and has his choice of 149 colleges; a woman once homeless wins $5M in the California lottery; and a 7th grader stops the school bus from veering into traffic after the driver passes out.” These stories will not be broadcasted over and over again like the last violent act of a shooter. They will not receive additional sound bites like the current politicians whose jargon is more backbiting and falsehood than promises and reform. These inspirational stories will fade into the channels of history never to be mentioned again. We should change this.

As I work with children and teens, I see fear and hopelessness. They are bombarded with bad news. They are preparing for bad news. Stranger danger drills, practices for intruder alerts, cyber bullies, climate change, and the end of the world forecasts are ever present in their environment. How are they to believe they have a bright future ahead? More than that how are they to believe they can make a difference in their world? There are mission-based companies in the fields of technology and science doing good that our youth need to hear about. There are also young people who are exemplifying great leadership abilities by make contributions to their communities right now. Our youth need to know these stories. I enjoy seeing their faces light up when they see or hear stories of incredible young people living their dreams.

Have you heard of Campbell Remess, who created Project 365 when he was 9 years old to give gifts to the kids in a local hospital; or Sidney Keys III, who at age 11 started book clubs under the title: “Books n Bros” to encouraged boys from 8 to 12 to embrace literacy? You can learn about these youths and others by googling “children making a positive difference in 2023.” You can also find them on TED Talks and CNN Young Wonders. There are children who have written books, started non-profits, and become advocates for gun safety. There are adults, especially first responders, who have dedicated their lives to helping others beyond their normal jobs. There are brand new college graduates entering the job market for the first time and they need to know that their efforts can add goodness to our world.

Just today I heard a story of a school janitor who is leading the school chess club to national championship. He actually thanked the job that laid him off and caused him to take this janitorial position. Everyday people in our world are making a positive difference with no fanfare or recognition. Their stories deserve to be told. We can be the town crier. We don’t have to wait for the media moguls to decide what needs to be broadcasted, we can use our platforms to spread the good news. What good thing is going on in your family? Who is making a difference in your community? Have you heard or seen someone going beyond the call of duty to create safety, art, literacy, or awareness in your city? Spread the good news. Tell someone all about it, and ask them to share it with the people in their sphere of influence. At the same time limit the amount of bad news you repeat or listen to. Turn off repetitious broadcasts of heinous acts of violence or nonsensical political rhetoric. Tune into positive change agents and advocates who want to make positive change in our world, personally and geographically.

I’d like to believe every one of this year’s graduates, whether high school or college, will be contributors to the good that we so desperately need to hear and see in our nation. I prefer to imagine every new wedding becoming an outstanding family in communities all over the land, and the proms are just the beginning of many celebrations of overcomers and high achievers. I am determined to be a harbinger of good news, inspirational news, and motivational news even in the midst of trauma and mind-blowing disasters, because these negative things are not the only things that are happening around us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about pretending terrible things don’t happen, I’m talking about not letting them consume everything good.

In the midst of trauma and terrible things happening communities come together to help and support the injured. Individuals turn into charitable manpower contributing time and money to resource material losses. Organizations exist and are being formed to meet the needs of persons whose means have been depleted by nature or by humans. Strangers have leapt to action to rescue endangered children, adults, and animals. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, “Difficult times often bring out the best in people,” but I agree. Sometimes the worst situations and circumstances finds a way to bring out the best in the community; suddenly we become true neighbors. This is good news.

What’s the good news in your neighborhood? family? city? state? Let’s hear it. Come on, share it! Start with your family and friends, then spread it on your media feed. Consider sending an email to your local news commentator. Share it with teachers at the middle or high school. Schedule them for career day at your local elementary school. Perhaps you could invite the person or persons to be guest speakers at your next club meeting or church social. Perhaps you are the source of good news. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn just a little. You may be just the inspiration someone needs to make a good news move of their own. We can do this.

Let’s become Good News Influencers in our society. Let’s do it for our youth. Let’s do it to spread hope. Let’s do it because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t let spring be the only season to spread the good news.

Morehouse School Medicine Graduates 2023

What are you working for?

It seems like we spend most of our adult lives working – eight hours plus per day on the job and another two or three hours in household chores. In times past, we could multiply these hours by thirty or forty years on the same job. Today, those years may be applied to a diverse number of jobs. Nevertheless, work occupies much of our time and energy. Why? What are we working for? Are our standard answers to these questions really true? Are we achieving the goals we want to accomplish?

I can remember my first job at the age of fifteen. All I wanted was to have my own money to spend on whatever I wanted. No longer would my mother be able to dictate my spending. It turns out, she didn’t have to; life took care of that. There was bus fare, uniforms, the cost of lunch, toiletries, and I had to support my own habits. Taxes! No one told me that the government was allowed to take a portion of my money for taxes. My first big purchase was a folk guitar which cost $75. I had to save up for it over several paydays on the layaway plan. It wasn’t long before I realized I had to work for necessities before I could afford pleasures. As I grew older living expenses became larger along with taxes, and I continued to learn I wasn’t in complete control of my money.

My mom’s generation had a better understanding of delayed gratification (of course this is a broad generality assuming that everyone was like my mom). They knew how to save and wait for the ability to finance their dreams. Their goals were to see their children achieve and accomplish more than they had. Many of them left the Deep South and the life of agriculture for better opportunities (least wise they thought it was for better opportunities). Working in factories and on assembly lines replaced the seasonal work of sowing and harvesting crops. However, many of them still worked from sunup to sundown, and the cost of living was harsh as the winter weather. Yet the sacrifice seemed worth it if their children were able to get a quality education that would lead to upward mobility. Some of us became teachers, doctors, lawyers, and preachers as a result of their hard labor. Others simply followed their parents into the workforce of steel mills, factories, and domestic work. My mom and her generation would say they were working for posterity.

I certainly can’t speak for my entire generation, but I venture to say we want similar things for our children. However, we also want upward mobility for ourselves. Delayed gratification is not celebrated. We want it faster. We want more and we are willing to make changes to get it. We are not the generation who will remain in one job for thirty years. We are not the people who will live in the same neighborhood for a lifetime. Our educational choices include both public and private institutions. Our occupations include entrepreneurship and multiple streams of income. There is extended family disconnect because we will move across the country or across the world for perceived opportunities, financial or otherwise. It seems like we are working for a better house, a better car, better benefits, better vacations, more prestige and power. We have more debt than the previous generations, but we know what we’re working for. Do we?

Late in life I had an epiphany that I tried to teach my children and grandchildren. It was a plan to enjoy life more whether in work or in leisure. Here is how the plan works. Choose a career path that you believe you would enjoy doing. In other words, you love it so much you would consider doing it for free. If you are going to spend a great deal of your time and energy working, why not enjoy the work? Pursue the necessary education for it. It may not include a four-year college degree; it may be a trade school or an apprenticeship. Whatever the educational requirements are, pay as you go so that you don’t carry debt into your future. Curtail your spending desires. Determine your real needs. Do you need a new car? Do you need to buy a house now? Do you need to take luxury vacations every year. Whatever you determine your real needs to be map out a budget of time and money to achieve those needs/wants efficiently and frugally. Your dreams/goals don’t have to look like anyone else’s vision. Don’t compete with your peers or your neighbors. Don’t be swayed by media or advertisements. Choose your path, but don’t be afraid to start over or to reinvent yourself. I’m pleased to say one of my sons and one of my grands seem to be pursuing this plan and are happy for it.

I discovered early on that I love being a teacher, so it became easy to implement this gift/talent/calling into multiple areas of my life. Although I’m not a morning person, when I arrive in front of my students, I come alive. If you know anything about teaching, you know this is not the profession for mega-bucks. However, there are major benefits to being a mother like the same off days as your children. Being a teacher has met my goals and dreams in so many ways. I worked to spend time with my family and to travel. My children and grandchildren were afforded summer vacations (and sometimes spring break vacations) since they were very young. My sons and I set out to see every amusement park in America. We didn’t make it to all of them, but we certainly had fun trying. My grandchildren and I made a point of going to museums and beaches, as well as visiting our family members across the states. They got to meet great aunts and uncles, and cousins across the nation. Being a teacher also means life-long learning, so every vacation had an educational component. My goals were simple, but I knew what I was working for, and it hasn’t changed much since I retired.

While I’d love to downsize my home (we are empty nesters now), trading higher cost for a smaller property would interrupt our goals. My husband came out of a three-year retirement to pursue his artistic vocation (www.donwilsonartist900.com) and play golf. I retired but I still find time to be a substitute teacher during the school year. I also volunteer as a GED teacher. The extra money is for traveling and writing conferences. We work to fulfill our personal dreams and goals. We also work to spend more time with the family and our friends; to help others (charities and volunteerism); and to produce our craft (fine art for my husband and books for me). We have reinvented ourselves several times over the years. Teaching and writing are always at the center of my desires. I drive a pretty old car. I’ve held on to clothes until they came back in style. I’ve driven to more vacation spots than I have ever flown to because I’m cost conscious. However, I am not deprived of the things I enjoy the most – the things that I work for – the things that are important to me.

The cost of living and taxes are not going away. We all work to pay these, but what else are we working for? I would love to hear your perspective whether you are very happy or somewhat disillusioned. What can you do to make your labor truly worth it? What are your true priorities? There are no right or wrong answers. This is not a competition. This is about what’s right for you and what brings you the most satisfaction in life.

Focus on your wants and needs. Become proactive in your choices. Forget about competing in the rat race. Help others along the way. Work to live and enjoy life.

Don and I enjoying life with our dog, Lady Love

The Mysteries of Grief

Grief is a complicated emotion. It is a mixture of sorrow, sadness, misery, pain, and heartache. Yet no two people seem to experience grief in the same way. Some people become angry while others become despondent. Some people isolate themselves while others seek the company of friends and family. Grief seems to affect everyone differently. No matter how we describe grief, loss is its center piece.

Grief is a mystery to me. Even when you have experienced grief in the past, it doesn’t make the next time any easier. No amount of experience prepares you for the next time. Grief’s power does not seem to dwindle. It seems to come in waves. Just when you think you’ve overcome its effects, it washes over you again. Logic does not affect it. No matter how much reason and truth you throw at it, grief tends to linger until it wears itself out. Bits of comfort may have a temporary effect in the face of this strong emotion.

So why am I tackling this subject? Because grief is all around us. It has almost become a national phenomenon with gun violence, natural disasters, the residue of the Pandemic, and societal ills economically and politically. People of all ages are hurting. They are grieving the losses of normalcy, safety, ownership, health, good will, and loved ones. Many are losing hope that things will ever be right again. We’ve lost the “good old days,” and we can’t seem to phantom what the “good new days” will be like. How do you console people who have lost hope, people who have so many losses?

One of my granddaughters turned twenty-one on the 18th of this month. It should have been a happy day of celebration, and to some extent it was. Unfortunately, a dear friend and classmate died on that day. On the last day of his military training, he passed out on the field and died shortly thereafter. His family was looking forward to celebrating his accomplishment in a achieving his dream to be a United States marine. His death doesn’t just affect his immediate family, it affects whole communities: his fellow soldiers on the base, his neighborhood and local community, his high school where he was in the band and played sports, his church family, out of town relatives, and more. If you knew him, then you are experiencing some level of grief because he was generous, loving, dedicated, committed, helpful, kind, and full of life. Noah Evans will be greatly missed.

I have been trying to comfort my granddaughter by telling her the truth. Here is some of the things I toid her. “Waves of grief will come and go. Bouts of crying is normal and helps relieve some of the pressure that builds up. Try to go for a walk or do other exercise, it will help you get to sleep when your body is tired. Communicate with others who share your feelings, those who are also grieving. Cherish the memories. Remember he was right where he wanted to be pursuing his dream. Journal your thoughts and feelings. Pray and immerse yourself in scripture. Speak with a counselor. Do not isolate yourself from the people who love you. Make a memory book. Don’t be embarrassed about how you feel. I can’t change anything, but I can listen, and I can give you a hug any time you need one.” Is this enough? Does it really help? I can only hope. One thing is for certain, this will not be our last experience with grief.

If my premise is true grief is prevalent in our society, so what can we do? We can be more compassionate and realize that many people are quietly hurting. We can show kindness just for the sake of being nice to other human beings. Kindness is a welcoming healing balm in most any situation. We can be patient. Many people are doing the best they can under the circumstances. We can be charitable. It’s not always possible to replace the loss of others, but we can contribute to their recovery. We can be active listeners. We don’t have to have the same experiences to listen to someone’s heart. Sometimes the suffering just wants to be seen and heard. Lastly, we can offer common courtesy to everyone whether an acquaintance or a stranger. The golden rule still applies; treat others the way you want to be treated. Lastly, examine your own heart. Are you grieving the loss of someone or something? Have you been bombarded with losses over the last couple of years? Give yourself permission to grieve and share your grief with someone who loves you.

Although grief is a mysterious emotion it is a definite part of life. It can be brought on by the smallest thing or by a huge disaster. It can be a tangible loss or a perceived loss. It can be all-consuming or only for moment. It can produce a gamut of emotions such as anger, despair, hopelessness, numbness, shock, and confusion. It can also cause multiple physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, loss of appetite, anxiety attacks, and muscle aches and pains. We can do our part to demystify grief when we share the human experience with empathy and compassion. Don’t forget grief will someday come your way if it hasn’t already.

Queen Elizabeth once said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” Love your family, love your friends, love your neighbors, love yourself. “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – Lord Alfred Tennyson

Divine Encounters by Don Wilson

All in The Family

By now you know that family is one of my highest priorities, and when I say family, I am not only speaking of blood relations. My identity, my values, and my worldview are steeped in the love of a multi-generational heritage. I don’t know any other way. From my childhood I have always had three to four generations uniquely tied to my life – my grandparents, great grandparents, the elderly lady down the street, the old gentleman from the church, the children in my daycare center, my high school students, my children’s friends. People of all ages have been and are a part of my proverbial village. I find this to be a great advantage and a blessing because every generation has made my life richer with their unique perspective.

I’ll have to admit my family is a lot like a fruit cocktail tree. (That’s a specialty tree grafted to bear a variety of different fruits such as plums, nectarines, apricots, and peaches at the same time.) You will find a wide variety of opinions, beliefs, moods, outlooks, and attitudes among us. You might even question whether one of us truly belongs to the family, but in time you will see the inseparably connections. The foundations of our fore parents keep us well-grounded and attached to each other. Faith and love keep us thriving and growing.

While it may be true that people are living longer today than in times past, it’s also true that quality of life and human connection contributes to long life. We can’t give medicines all the credit. Our lives are richer and fuller when we invest time (work and pleasure) into the lives of others. That goes for the very young as well as the very old. You haven’t enjoyed the wonders of nature and the world until you’ve seen it through the eyes of a child. You can’t learn to appreciate you stand next to a master gardening in whose hands have tilled and sown the soil. Our souls are enriched when we receive the expressions of all ages.

Sadly, we are losing these interpersonal intergenerational connections. In our mobile and transient society many of us may not live near our relatives or childhood neighbors. Some of us multi-taskers may have difficulty finding the time to socialize with our extended family and community. I won’t even mention those of us who think a text, tag, or tweet is sufficient. I guess the real question is about value. How much to we value people? How much do we value relationships? Are our interpersonal connections worth the time and travel?

The other day I had a conversation with my sixteen-year-old granddaughter. She is such a joy to talk to. She’s a deep thinker, very creative, and kind of an old soul. My grandmother would say she’s been here before. At any rate, she paid me such a wonderful complement by saying she liked talking to me because I “got her” and she always knew what she would get when she shared something with me, meaning honesty. I worked hard to establish this bond with her when she was very young. I had no idea that she would one day live so far away. I was used to seeing her every day. Yet the distance between California and Georgia has not broken our bond. We Facetime often and I plan to visit her this summer. Our relationship is genuine. I am interested in the things that concern and interest her. Sometimes we respectfully agree to disagree. I’d like to think I’m helping to shape her worldview just as my ancestors helped to shape mine. I am certain she’s reshaping my view of the world by sharing the perspective of a progressive young woman of this era.

The last time my mom (soon to be 91), my oldest son (44), my other granddaughter (soon to be 21), and myself (no I’m not telling you my age😀) sat in the family room talking we had so much fun laughing at and with each other. We ran through a variety of subjects: high fashion in our various school days, dating (or courting depending on one’s age group), cooking successes and failures, and ghost stories. It was so reminiscent of a conversation I had years ago with my grandmother, my aunt, and my cousins. We were sharing the human experience from one generation to another. We were sharing our love, adventures, dreams and goals, but more importantly this fellowship was all in the family.

I believe family connections and multi-generational relationships are needed to give us balance and a sense of belonging. We all need stories of perseverance and persistence to encourage us. We need stories of success and survival in the face of failure to inspire us. We can benefit from stories of witty invention and following dreams to motivate us. Stories of defeat and disappointment have value as well. These interpersonal connections can build strong foundations for the young and give value and purpose to our elders. All of this is in the family, the family of our birth and the family of our beloved community. All we have to do is seek out these relationships.

Be intentional. Reach out to that great aunt or uncle. Invite your elderly neighbor to brunch. Ask the eldest member of your family to share something from their childhood. Give a young child an opportunity to talk about their favorite things. Have a multi-generational talent show. Use photos albums (even the ones on your phone) as springboards to conversations. Plan a family reunion. Take a multi-generational vacation. Make an effort to be in the physical presence of someone outside of your age range. Seek to understand persons outside of your range of experiences. You may be surprised at the vicarious wealth and resources available to you. You may even be surprised that you really enjoy the contact.

“A good life depends on the strength of our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and strangers.” David Lammy

Connect, relate, enjoy, and appreciate every generation! Afterall, it’s all in the family.

The Ark Experience in Kentucky
Spring Break 2023
A Multi-generational vacation.

Beware of Labels

Most of you know I don’t like the identity labels used to determine what generation someone belongs to i.e., GenX, Millennials, Gen Z, Silent Generation, etc. However, this post is not about those labels. This post is about a different kind of label. I think I’ll call these “pigeon-hole labels.” Here’s a definition I got from the internet for pigeon-hole: “disapproving – used to say someone or something is unfairly thought of or described as belonging to a particular group, having only particular skills, etc.” (www.britannica.com) One example of this is to say, “Everyone who is homeless has a mental illness.” This is unfair and an untrue descriptive statement. Mental illness becomes a pigeon-hole label for the homeless people. It becomes a way to disapprove of two separate groups by pairing them together,

Working in the school system for many years I readily admit I have heard, accepted, and used labels indiscriminately. Yet, I am most bothered by students using negative labels about themselves or other students. They call themselves dumb, clumsy, and ugly. I’ve also heard students call other students crazy, stupid, and trolls. There was one student in my class that the other students called The Thing (ref. The Fantastic Four). It was not a term of endearment. He was taller than all the other children, overweight, and academically behind. One day when we were outside, I asked him why he wasn’t playing with the other kids. He said he was tired of chasing them around. I said then play something different. He said I can’t they only let me be the monster. He spent the rest of recess sitting on the sidewalk watching the other kids play. It was sad that the other kids called him a monster, but it was sadder still that he accepted this label.

As adults we must become more aware of how we use labels. People have so many attributes. No one label is ever enough to describe someone. While a family may be poor, they may also be resilient. A person with a learning disability may also be the most caring and giving individual in the room. A person who enjoys physical activities may not have any desire to be an athlete, they may choose to be a math whiz instead. We must be careful not to make one label so big that a person cannot see themselves in a different light.

There is a music video I love, it shows children and young adults holding signs with descriptive negative labels such as “Lost, Rebellious. Worthless” in front of their sad faces. At the end of video, as the song progresses, those labels are changed to more positive descriptions such as “Triumphant, Forgiven, Victorius.” These positive labels are held under smiling faces. (https://youtu.be/xctUxzZhNRs). Last week I shared this video with a friend and colleague. In turn she shared a story with me. It was about a boy who used to attend the afterschool program at the Boys and Girls Club. One day he saw a sign that said they served “disadvantaged youth.” He said that was when he discovered he was “disadvantaged.” Although he laughed when he said it, it was obviously painful to him. My friend said she felt an immediate conviction. I replied, “Labels are hard to outlive and stick until corrected by someone in authority.” I shared my friend’s conviction.

No one wants to be pigeon-holed, but too many people are, especially youth and young adults. They are not all hoodlums, gangsters, lazy, entitled, selfish, losers. When we as adults affirm negative labels, we are guilty of destroying hope and vision. We are guilty of damaging the self-worth of another individual regardless of age. This is not the way of our ancestors. This is not the way to build community.

The so-called Silent Generation (my mom’s generation) spoke success over their children, the Baby Boomers (my generation), and the Baby Boomers promoted adventure and prosperity in the lives of the Gen-Xers (my sons’ generation). What is being spoken over the next generations? Is it hopeful, redeeming, transforming, or visionary? Does it build up self-worth and security in one’s identity? Or does it bring shame, insecurity, and rejection? Beware of labels; they have the power to build up or tear down.

It would be interesting to see what labels we carry around about ourselves. As you ponder your labels, imagine what labels your children and grandchildren carry with them every day. It may give you a chance to change their perspective by giving them some new positive and true labels. You have the power to influence character.

Be caring. Be wise. Be selfless. Be the best you can be.

Who Is Writing Your Story

As a writer I spend a lot of time writing and revising stories. Many of my stories are fictional, but some of the stories are not. My first published book was a memoir of my time in ministry (Musing of a Pastor’s Heart). The root of almost everything I write, including poetry, begins with an oral or written narrative. I am convinced everyone regardless of their station in life has a deeper broader history. Beyond the easily seen surface knowledge is a story. Their lineage, their career choices, their relationships, and their personal worldview are just chapters to their life story. The question is will we ever know those stories, and if so, who will tell them or write them? Yet, no story ever goes completely untold because we leave parts of our story with everyone we love and invest our time in.

I have a relative on my husband’s side of the family that I have known since my childhood. We grew up together. We went to the same elementary school, and we had the same babysitter. He and I were talking about those days when he mentioned how mean he thought his father was when he was a child, but now he realizes his dad was only trying to teach him how to be a man. The story the son tells is much different from the story I would tell. His father was retired military and a disabled veteran when I first met him. He seemed very family oriented. He was kind and jolly around me and my family. His wife and my mom were good friends. I always thought he was in pain. He walked with a steady limp. Of course, I never asked him about the braces on his legs because it wasn’t my place. I admired how he worked every day and always had time to cook for family gatherings. Looking back, I realize I really don’t know much about him as a person at all; his impact on my life was small but kind. He organized and catered my engagement party after my husband, his nephew, proposed. It also strikes me that his son may not know much about his dad either. He said his dad never talked about his time in the service, and he really didn’t ask him questions about it. Now the father is gone along with his wife, siblings and peers. There is no one left to tell his story.

Why did he join the army at a young age? How did he feel about missing the first five years of his son’s life and leaving his wife to handle life her own? What happened to his legs? Why did he continue to work? How did he end up working at the VA after his 20 plus years of service? Where did he learn to cook? Why was he strict with his son? Did he have hobbies? Did he see the world? Was he treated fairly in his family, in the military, or on his job? There is no place to go for these answers. We can only look at the picture albums and make assumptions. His valuable life story remains incomplete for his son, his grandchildren, and his family friends.

The ancestry search engines are all the rage today, but wouldn’t it be great to have detailed stories to go with documents and pictures? First and secondhand accounts of events would make your ancestors stories completer and more interesting. The same can be said for your story.

I have cousins on my paternal grandfather’s side of the family who have worked diligently to verify our family history. We have birth certificates, death certificates, census reports, photographs, and obituaries. They wanted to verify the history that had been written and passed down through the oral tradition. It was a lot of work and research. I appreciate all of their efforts. It has truly enriched my life. Yet, I must say I am also grateful for the firsthand stories I heard from my great grandparents, my great aunts and uncles, my grandparents and my 90-year-old mother – stories I have shared with my children and grandchildren along with pictures and documents. I also have information written by my maternal grandmother about her parents and grandparents. She recorded the names, dates of birth and death, and the occupations of her parents, grandparents, and their siblings. Next to each name she wrote a verse of scripture. How I wish I knew why she added these verses. I believe there is some significance and insight there, but I can only guess. At any rate, I laminated the pages and included them in my cherished family history box. For me it is a blessing to have items written in the handwriting of my ancestors.

I’d like to think that parts of our stories are written on the hearts of our children and others who shared the path of our lives – each person carrying a chapter or two. More often than not, we get to hear part of these chapters in the eulogy or remarks from family and friends at the funeral. Perhaps a retirement party, awards’ ceremony, or a family reunion will bring out a few paragraphs. But what if we were more intentional about writing these stories; how would that affect the next generation?

Last year, my godson’s girlfriend (now wife) created a wealth book for him for his birthday. She contacted his family and friends asking each to give her a memory or a comment about him along with pictures. The book also included his own words about his wealth. It’s a beautiful cross section of his life and his influence. (To understand how wealth is defined in this case click this blog link: What is Your Net Worth?) I can imagine this book becoming a family treasure and being passed down to his children. They will be afforded a part of their dad’s story that they were not alive to witness. I am so thankful that I have a copy to cherish and share.

My children and grandchildren (and perhaps someday, great grandchildren) as well as extended family and friends will have several sources of my story. They will have the books I’ve written, my personal journals, my photo albums, my family history box and a mountain of notebooks. They will have my collection of teacher and preacher ceramic figurines. They will have my cherished library as well as all the cards and letters I have saved through the years. Hopefully, they will have the testimonials of friends and colleagues with their funny, adventurous, and embarrassing chapters of the life we shared. Perhaps some of my students will share a paragraph or two, but I hope they all will have a portion of my story written their hearts as I have the stories of my ancestors written in my heart.

The fact is we don’t know who will write our stories or who will share our legacy, but we can be sure someone will tell our story if we live a life worth remembering. I love this quote from Billy Graham, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” (There’s that wealth again.)

May your life and mine be worthy of an oral or written story sharing from one generation to the next. Be Safe. Be Intentional. You are a recipient of a legacy, pass it on!

These books also have a grandparent version. Click the book to be directed to Amazon.

Fine Tuning for Harmony

I love music, particularly instrumental music. I still remember going to Severance Hall and listening to the Cleveland Orchestra during my childhood. Being in the audience of that beautiful hall and listening to the music of Beethoven, Strauss, and Mozart was a place of enchantment for me. The music captured my spirit and took away to faraway places. Years later, I was blessed to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic. My adult appetite began to embrace opera and world class musicians and singers like: Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, Luciano Pavarotti, Andre Watts, and Yo-Yo Ma. (Just to mention a few.) During the holidays last year, I enjoyed the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. It’s amazing to see how so many instruments and voices can harmonize and make such sweet music.

When you first arrive in a concert hall (or a jazz club) you would not believe that all those people on stage with their various instruments could actually create such beautiful harmonies. Everyone seems to be playing a different note as they warm up and prepare to play. The brass instruments sound like bad drivers honking their horns. The strings sound like cats and babies whining. The woodwinds sound like squeaks and the percussions rumble in the background. Everyone seems to be doing their own thing with no regard for the people around them. Then the conductor takes his or her place and silence permeates the air. The baton is raised, and every note is aligned in perfect harmony. All the fine tuning, all the cacophony disappears into a unified composition of musicianship.

As I watch the students in my class I hope for future unity. As I watch the news and see the various acts of violence, I pray for someone to bring silence and harmony. As I see the heroes and she-roes who sacrifice their time and use their talents to help the homeless and the elderly, I believe human harmony is possible. As I see the youth speaking out against injustice and presenting intelligent ideas about state and federal policies, I am convinced that the different views are the beginning of the fine-tuning process that will bring progress. Every day I ask myself how I can participate in the beloved community to bring more harmony and less dissonance.

Could we fine tune our language to make communication possible between diverse people? Could we fine tune how we express our opinions to allow others the right to have a different opinion without physical conflict? What will it take for us to realize that we are all playing on the same stage called life? We all want the same things: health, happiness, and the means to take care of and protect our families. I’ll admit I probably have more questions than answers, but I believe we each have the ability to influence positive change, especially starting with ourselves.

My ideas, my expectations, my goals, and my efforts today are grounded in the foundations of my grandparents, great grandparents, and parents’ teachings. They embraced the pursuit of happiness, but they did not embrace destroying someone else to get there. They expected every generation to do better than the last but doing better had to include honesty and integrity. They taught us by example to be neighborly and generous because helping someone else was always the right thing to do. They held the baton that taught me how to perform both then and now. So here I am today, trying to figure out how to bring harmony to my small sphere of influence using the tools that they gave me. If it is true that adults (or elders) hold the baton, it is up to us to lead the harmonious composition of love and respect for the next generations.

Well, this post was a little more preachy than I wanted it to be. Yet, I can’t help what motivates my muse to write. I hope something like listening to a beautiful musical composition by a world class orchestra motivates us all to live a better life in community with others.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing, Til Earth and Heaven Ring, Ring With the Harmonies of Liberty…” – James Weldon Johnson

Finding Balance

Image result for Free Clip Art Balance Scale

In my mind’s eye I picture a scale where the heavy side is about to tip the entire apparatus over. On one side there is so little, and on the other side it is loaded with clutter. Sometimes, this scale represents the worrisome thoughts that overload and throw off any peace I may have had. This usually ends in a night of insomnia. Other times, it’s a heavy load of creative ideas that just won’t stop coming. This is my writer’s flaw – thinking and re-thinking story lines. At any rate trying to find balance can be quite difficult. My mental scale is always swinging and seldom fully balanced.

I would love to say I have found the key to finding balance, but that is so far from the truth, that I can’t even attempt a fictitious version of that story. The best I can do is talk about recognizing when it’s time to take something off the scale. For me that looks like full conversations with myself better known as introspection. “What’s going on with you, Pat? Are you stressed? Do you have too many projects going on at once? Are you working on fumes due to lack of sleep? Are you carrying someone else’s burdens? Have you taken the time to prioritize things – first things first? Do you need some help? Have you asked for help? What’s the real deal?” These questions usually slow me down enough to consider why my world is out of balance.

One of the most common things that weighs me down is saying yes to too many things. Too many good things are just as harmful as too many bad things. Before you know it, you have agreed to do more than you have the time to do or more than you want to make the time to do. Whether work or volunteerism, the tendency to overcommit can definitely throw your mental and emotional scales out of balance. Getting to the root reason of why we can’t say no is a critical one. Relationships that can’t handle an occasional no may be relationships that need to be reconsidered. Yet, it is up to us to prioritize our activities and our relationships. Date books are very old school, but I find I do a much better job of balancing my life and my time by keeping a calendar in front of me. Before I give answers about my availability, I literally check my availability. Whether it’s your smart phone calendar, a day planner, or sticky notes on the window, it’s important to plan and schedule your commitments realistically.

Have you ever overscheduled yourself? I have, too many times. Recently, I agreed to pick up my granddaughter from college for her spring break, signed up to attend a writer’s conference, and committed to fill in for a teacher friend all on the same dates. All of these things are important to me. They all need to be done. Yet, it is impossible for me to be in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina at the same time. As I was saying yes to my teacher friend, I had this nagging feeling that the dates were an issue, but instead of looking at my calendar I agreed to do it. Now I have a dilemma. The writer’s conference is definitely out. Perhaps I can get someone else in the family to pick up my granddaughter, but asking someone to drive to Tennessee is not a small thing. Perhaps I can find someone to work in my place for my teacher friend. I haven’t worked any of this out yet. On top of being over committed, I feel bad because I’ve got to let someone down. The scales are leaning.

Yesterday, I had the thought: I don’t want to be needed anymore. That is evidence that I need to find that balance that keeps me mentally and emotionally stable. Balance includes work, leisure, rest, relationships, personal discipline (This will link you to my blog entitled: A Disciplined Life), quiet time, and personal getaways. I love those signs that say: “Live, Laugh, and Love.” True balance has to have those elements as well. Finding balance isn’t a one-time event. It is a practice in daily living. So don’t beat yourself up, just find a strategy that works for you. Whether you use a day planner or introspection, therapy or a life coach, you can change the weight of your scales.

Say yes when it’s right for you. Say no when it’s best for you. Make the rest of your life, the best of your life. Manage your scales in a way that brings you peace, joy, and fulfillment.

What if you could choose how you want to feel as opposed to simply reacting to the reality that surrounds you? Amazon

Where I Belong

Being a part of a support group for care providers, I have heard people of all ages talk about feelings of not belonging. They would say things like: “I don’t know where I fit in” or “I’m really not a part of the group, I just help out where I can.” That feeling of not belonging becomes a stumbling block for building strong relationships. It makes you shy away from sharing and being a part of a harmonious group. We all like to know where we belong and where we fit in because everyone hates the feeling of being left out.

As an only child, I can remember making myself feel quite sad because of classmates and friends who had great relationships with their siblings (as least from my perspective). Those kids seem to have a special place in life; they were part of a whole that I had never known. I would imagine what it would be like to have a big brother or little sister. I imagined never being alone, and always having someone to talk to after school and on the weekends. I would imagine how they would always take up for me and include me in all their fun. These kinds of feelings make some people resentful, but I think these thoughts depressed me. I became unhappy with everything. I believed I was an outsider; I believed that my friends and classmates didn’t really want me around because they had siblings so why would they need me. Little by little, I began isolating myself from others including social groups that I was a member of.

One day, my best friend’s mother explained self-fulfilling prophecy to me. She said, “You think you’re alone, so you make yourself alone, then you say see no one wants to be with me. You said it, so you made it happen.” I was stunned. “You mean I’m doing it to myself?” I was. I allowed the thoughts in my head to override the reality of my life. Truth was my best friend’s mom made me feel like one of her kids. My best friend’s siblings treated me like an additional sibling. They never treated me like an outsider. My best friend and I are still friends after all these years, but more importantly that family taught me to understand and enjoy where I belonged.

I belonged to a glee club; I sang first soprano I belonged to that section of singers. I belonged to a karate dojo; I earned a brown belt and I belonged to that school of martial arts. I belonged to a church and served as a junior usher. I belonged to Angel Flight as a member in good standing. From those early middle school and high school days I learned to belong to many groups, circles, and communities. I learned where I belonged was where I truly wanted to be – my sorority, my prayer group, my support groups, my church, the PTA, the writer’s club, on the mission field, serving the homeless, married with children, grandparents raising grandchildren. I belong in my family and family has expanded exponentially because I want others to belong with me. I know where I belong each and every day whether alone or with others,

Perhaps this season of holidays has you questioning where you belong? Perhaps you are suffering from SAD (Season Affective Disorder – a mood disorder that happens at the same time every year). If so, maybe you should ask yourself if you are creating a space of self-fulfilling prophecy. Are you isolating yourself from the places and people where you already belong – your church, your synagogue, your temple, your community center, your bowling league, your neighborhood gym, your sewing circle, your golf buddies, your walking club, your virtual cooking class, your book club, your blood family, lunch with your siblings, daddy’s day out, your tailgate friends, your 12-step program. Where you belonged before, you can belong again. You can even create new places and groups where you want to belong in the future. You are only limited by the thoughts in your head, and please don’t be afraid to discuss those thoughts with someone. That may be the very thing you need to set you free to enjoy where you belong.

Over the years, I have developed deep friendships with people who are only children like me. Each of us have reached the age of old refined wine, and each of us have fulfilling and joyful lives. We belong to each other like sisters and brothers from another mother. We belong to organizations, programs and groups that satisfies our creativity and interests. We belong to the culture around us expressed through the arts and academia. We belong to our community as contributors to a better society. We are not alone. We are not left out. We are not isolated. We are right where we belong today and prepared to be right where we belong tomorrow as we grow and mature.

My wish for each of you is to understand and know where you belong in this season of your life (not just this season of the year). I hope you will find and maintain your place in your neighborhood, in the “Beloved” community, in the global community, and in your immediate world.

Peace, Love, Joy, Hope. Happy Holy Days!

Mirror, Mirror!

I wasn’t a Disney princess kind of girl, but one of my granddaughters loves everything Disney. I bought all the story books just to read them to her. The one that always stood out in my mind was Snow White. I love the part where the evil queen looks in the magic mirror every day asking the same question, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all.” Later I associated Michael Jackson’s song, Man in the Mirror, with the same general idea. “I’m looking at the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways.” It makes sense to me that we all need to talk to our reflection in the mirror from time to time.

Those of you who have been following me for a while know how big I am on introspection. According to Merriam-Webster introspection is “a reflective looking inward; an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings.” I like this definition because it’s simple. Introspection requires looking on the inside to see what’s true and what’s real regardless of the facade you may show on the outside. That’s what so fascinating about the evil queen in the Snow-White story. She was beautiful on the outside and she considered that to be enough, but she was ugly and mean spirited on the inside. The mirror said Snow White was the fairest because she was beautiful inside as well as outside. The evil queen couldn’t come close to the beautiful character traits of Snow White. Nor could she initiate the love and affection that came Snow White’s way. People and animals were drawn to Snow White’s inner beauty.

What do we see when we look in the mirror? Do we see only the outside and forget all about what’s on the inside? It may be harder than you think to examine your true self. Sometimes rather than examining our own thoughts and feelings, we make comparisons. We say things like “I’m doing better than so-and-so,” or “At least I’m not as bad as so-and-so.” This is not true introspection. This may be more closely related to compromise or denial. It may also point to the influencers in our life whether from associations or social media. Like the wicked queen, we may be satisfied with the responses we receive as long as they agree with how we feel. What do we do when the answer is honest and painful? Do we change or do we turn on the one who had the nerve to tell us the truth? This is the problem many of our teenagers are having, discerning and understanding what’s really true.

I was subbing at a school a few weeks back and I was somewhat surprised to see how much the students were into their outward appearance: fabulous fake nails of every color, false eyelashes that looked like slain caterpillars, multicolored synthetic and human hair, and color coordinate crocks, leggings, jeggings, and jeans galore with and without prefab holes; name brand sneakers, slogan shirts, and tats. (Why did I think you had to be 18 or older to get a tattoo?) Add to that cell phones, ear buds, and I-watches. I was shocked at the amount of money invested in the outward appearance of the students. I was also a little dismayed by some of their behaviors and language. What’s wrong with being fashionable and smart, handsome and kind, stylist and articulate? Is there anything wrong with showing off your intellect and character?

I asked one young lady if she had a role model for her style and her answer floored me. She said, “Not really, I just dress to fit in.” I asked her if she had a career path in mind and she said, “Not really I’ll probably just get a regular job. I found out later that a regular job is at a store or something. The teacher in me continued to look at this child hoping for a glimpse of her soul. Finally, there it was, the true prodigy. As we began talking about communication and speech techniques in class, I brought up the style of spoken word poets. She lit up. She was animated, smiling, and contributing to the discussion with enthusiasm. Turns out she considered herself a poet. She even shared one of her poems with the class, a true spoken word poet. I wish I could have videoed that moment. It would have been great for her parents and her other teachers to see the true character of this young lady. She was anything but nonresponsive and nonchalant. It would be even better if she could see herself – talented, gifted, valuable, able to contribute to her academic community.

It may sound old fashion, but our kids need positive role models and mentors. They need an opportunity to see a potential reflection of themselves at a later time in life. Their peers and social media are not enough to foster the hope and possibilities of future successes. They need to hear the truth and importance of character, and intelligence. They need to know that they can be great and accomplish their dreams with hard work and perseverance before they become old and jaded like the evil queen. Like the community of dwarfs, we must protect and watch over our youth until they reach their true destiny as princesses and princes before the evil of this world can destroy them. Wow, I know that sounds over the top, but I see teenagers who feel hopeless, depressed, unseen, and alone every week. They need to be affirmed. They need to be assured. They need to feel useful and valued and seen. When they look into our faces, they need to see faith in their abilities and their dreams reflected back to them.

I’m looking at myself in the mirror and I’m realizing how many people invested in my outcome; how many times I questioned myself and heard from them that I could make it, I could do it. Snow White never knew that the mirror said she was the fairest of all. She would have been content to live as the housekeeper of the seven dwarfs for the rest of her life, but the evil queen was determined to destroy her. We must identify the wicked enemies of our children, the predators, the naysayers, the liars who espouse shortcuts and self-medicating, the carrot danglers – all those who will discourage or dissuade the progress of our youth. We must be the counterpoint to all that is negative so that each one of our children will reach their full potential and claim their rich inheritance. They aren’t in Disneyworld; they are here in the real world with us and it’s up to us to tell them what’s really important, and what’s really true. Hard work, character, and intelligence are the catalyst for success. “Mirror, Mirror on the wall,” tell your children they are the fairest, the best, and the worthy before it’s too late.

Be safe. Be proactive. Be a role model. Be involved.

Brandon is the first spoken word poet to compete on AGT and to receive the Golden Buzzer award in the first round, going on to win the entire competition! Amazon