Thursday, December 31, 2015

Que Sera Sera: God Grant Me Serenity

Two things are currently freaking me out a wee bit.

One is a dull ache in my tooth. At my last visit, the dentist told me I need multiple crowns. This is no surprise to me - I have terrible teeth, chock full of silver. But, I hate the dentist. No, let me be truthful, I abhor the dentist. And, I really hate spending excessive sums of money on my teeth.

But it's hurting a bit more - and that isn't good.

Then, last night, I saw a weird little dark blob at the top right-hand corner of my laptop screen. It had dripping lines coming down from it.


I panicked. I googled. And, yes, it is probably a bad, dying screen issue. And it will spread and grow, and obliterate my laptop screen - the screen I use for work - every day - every minute.


I want to fight these things. I want to swish something in my mouth and make that tooth problem disappear. I want to download an app and make that icky dark blob go away and restore my computer screen to its beautiful newness.

But it isn't going to happen.

So today I dialed the phone number to our dentist...slowly. And I called our tech team at work about my failing laptop.

I am trying hard to accept these things that I cannot deal with what is smack dab ahead of me. But everything in my being resists. Like everyone else, I prefer my life to be well-ordered, smooth-sailing. Why do these ripples need to come?

Many of my friends are going through stuff that far surpasses my own little issues. When I'm feeling too morose about teeth and computer woes, I can't help compare it to the unexpected news that came to Mary - yes, the virgin Mary of the Christmas story. Suddenly she found out she was pregnant. And unmarried. And bearing God's child.

What if she didn't want it? What if she was completely and utterly freaked out by what was about to happen? She probably tried to blink her eyes and pinch herself and pretend the angelic visit was just a dream. But as her belly swelled, she knew it was real - inevitable - this was not going away any time soon.

She had to accept it.

In Luke 1:38 it records Mary's response: "I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled."

How do we exhibit that sense of serenity in the face of challenge?

There is an old song, made popular by the chipper Doris Day, that goes "Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be..." She sings it in this nice lilting voice, but true acceptance is much harder.

Pushing past fear requires more, doesn't it? Perhaps this prayer- used by Alcoholics Anonymous - by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr says it better: "God grant me the serenity to accept what cannot be changed."

Serenity is realized when we acknowledge that we are not in charge. It is about coming to the end of us and the beginning of Him. It is understanding that we can't figure it all out, we can't control our lives, and that is okay if we take whatever it is we're frantically holding and place it in His hands.

Easier said than done - I know. But it's true.

So I'm praying today. I'm asking God to calm my worries and still my fears. And I'm doing what I know I need to do. I'm going to the dentist. I'm calling about my sad little laptop. I'll face these things and the next ones and the ones after that.

The good news is that I won't do it alone.

I don't have to be like Doris Day, skipping and singing. I can wince and moan and kvetch, all the while knowing that I have placed my future in God's capable hands.

My serenity is not something I can find on Google. It comes from praying without ceasing. Expelling my worries and breathing in His presence..

"Cast your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." I Peter 5:7

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Crying in Home Depot at Christmas

So, I had a slight little meltdown in the middle of Home Depot.

We were there to by a new kitchen faucet, a cement-spreader-thingy, and a Christmas tree.

My daughter and I have always held out for live Christmas trees. We would go to a nearby tree farm and chop one down. Or, if we were lazy, we would go to the Menard's parking lot. But, it was still real.

I didn't care that it was messy and left a trail of needles coming in and going out. I didn't care that I was terribly allergic so my hands and arms would be covered with a prickly itchy rash when I was done decorating (even if I wore gloves). I didn't care that it slopped pine-needly water all over our carpet or - one year - tipped completely over, ornaments and all, because I bought a tree with a wobbly crooked trunk.

I loved my real Christmas tree.

But this year I had a small dilemma. We had given away our rusty, inept tree stand when we moved. We thought we'd buy a new one. The new ones were $30 and the tree was at least $40 for a decent one. It made sense to buy a fake tree, right?

I circled the fake trees five times. They were all lit up and stately. There was not a crooked trunk among them. They even sold fake pine tree spray for ambiance.

My husband and I talked about it like grown ups. Maybe this was the year to do it. To buy a boxed-up, nicely portable tree. I could do this, couldn't I? It made sense. Perfect sense.

But I couldn't.

So we went and looked at kitchen faucets.

Then Milt had to find his cement squeegee thingy.

And then I sat down on one of those metal low carts used for toting lumber, and I started to cry.

It was okay. Nobody was there. And I was kind of PMSing. But I cried. Big sloppy tears. Because we've moved. And it's 80 degrees in December. And it doesn't feel like Christmas at all.

Milt was a wee bit concerned. He said I should go ahead and buy the real one. Either way. "Maybe you need it for your mental health"...said my loving husband.

But I didn't. I bought a $75 fake tree. When I got home I kept looking at it in that box. And I thought about Christmas. And I realized it wasn't all bad, this new way of celebrating. We went to a Christmas boat parade and watched lit up Santas and snowman glide down the River. We admired decorated palm trees. We put up Christmas lights without freezing - actually we got kind of hot. I went to church and sang carols, led by a bearded dude in shorts, wearing flip flops.

And I realized - like the Grinch - that Christmas is more than just a tree.

So last weekend we decorated our new tree - we are naming him "Wesley" as his boxed label says, "7-foot Wesley Spruce."

He is beautiful and kind. And he doesn't make me rashy.

Merry Christmas to each of you - no matter what your circumstance may be. Some Christmases fit our hopes and tradition and expectation. Some decidedly do not.

But, you know. And, I know. That Christmas is not about the right tree or the perfect cookie or the most beautifully wrapped present.

Love to you all this Christmas - as we celebrate our Savior who was born and the new life we have been given. As you hug your children and love on your parents. As you sing sweet carols and lick a peppermint cane.

Merry Christmas one and all.

Monday, November 2, 2015

In praise of ordinary days

We have had a flurry of activity lately.

Good friends came for a visit and filled our weekend with great food and conversation. The weekend before we went to Miami, traveling with three teenage girls to an anime convention.

And now it is Monday, and I'm taking a deep breath, because we have one more busy weekend coming up.

But - today - nothing is on my calendar. Just the regular, ordinary, everyday stuff.

And, I'm thankful - today - for ordinary days.

This the kind of day where the biggest "to-do" is filling up my favorite Votes for Women mug with multiple cups of coffee and booting up my laptop. I woke at my regular time of 5:15 a.m. (not quite as painful thanks to daylight savings time) and walked with our dog and my daughter to her bus stop.

I've spent the morning working, writing and returning emails that have sat for too long in my inbox. Later, I plan to wipe off the shelves of the refrigerator and run a sweeper over the rug. Maybe I'll empty the trash can in our bathroom, and pay some bills.

If I get crazy adventurous, I'll make sloppy joes for dinner.

Don't get me wrong. I'm the sort of person who loves change. I look forward to special events. I adore holidays and traveling and long visits with dear friends. But sometimes, I just need ordinary.

So today, I'm celebrating it.

Thank you, God, for this ordinary day.

Help me to never take it for granted, but to know that each day, each ordinary moment, is precious.

There is time to wiggle my toes. Time to sigh deeply and take five extra minutes in the shower.Time to scramble an egg and stare out the window.

Thank you for the wind in the trees and for the sun shining so brightly. Thank you for my daily work, the tasks set before me that return month after month. Thank you for today.

For this ordinary, plain-old, regular, non-spectacular day... I am deeply thankful.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Army Wives, Wax Donuts, and the Friends Who Know Me Best

Lately I've been binge-watching the show Army Wives on Netflix.

I never saw it the first-time around. And now I can watch the complete series as I sit on my orange couch in a quiet living room, emptying a bag of Mint Milano cookies. Dangerous stuff.

When I deep dive into a new book or series, I feel like I'm entering a new, unknown world. And, right now, I'm enjoying being an Army wife.

I am struck by what it means to live and serve in the Army. I stand in awe of the commitment made by these individuals - not only what it means to commit to serve and fight, but what it means to be the wives and families of those in service. One of my former students, now an army wife, confirms that much of what the show portrays is true.

I don't know how I would live with such a sense of impermanence. Army wives must be ready to pack up and move every few years. That means a new house, new friends, new schools for their kids. They cannot invest too much in their own careers, because a move would require that they pick up and go. For me, that would be a huge struggle.

They also exist under the constant threat of deployment. Sometimes they get a few weeks of warning, other times not. I watched one episode where a single mom was being deployed and panicked when she realized she had no one to care for her daughter. How little I realized about military life!

The show revolves around a group of friends - four wives and one husband. Pamela (the fiery, redhead police officer), Roxie (the bar owner with short skirts and a sassy attitude), Denise (the elegant, motorcycle-riding paramedic), and Claudia Joy (the commander's wife who is also beginning a law degree).

Their friendship runs deep. And, in each episode, those bonds are tested and strengthened. They walk through depression, divorce, sickness, death. They cry. They laugh. They call each other. They take walks. They bond over coffee and glasses of wine. And sometimes they come around one another with no words at all.

They are moms, wives, and friends. And the more I watch - the more I thought about how much I value the circle of female friends in my own life. I have my writer and artist friends who challenge me to be see beauty, be creative and take risks. I have friends from childhood, people who have known me through summer camp romances and bad haircuts.

I have work friendships, women who raised eyebrows with me during those way-too-long, way-too-boring meetings and understood my consuming need for 3 o'clock M&Ms (no peanuts, please). And, in my new town, I'm building friendships . . . slowly. I met these friends through Instagram, church, and even my daughter's art camp where she served as a volunteer.

Army Wives reminded me to never take these friendships for granted. While I don't have a huge number, the ones I have I hold dear.

My friends make me laugh. They enjoy my adoration for Gilmore Girls and a strong cup of coffee. They understand my obsession with vintage and my odd addiction to chocolate waxy donuts. They know I am clutzy and that I can appreciate "real" literature as well as a Nicholas Sparks movie.

Friends understand all the varied parts of me. I am so thankful for the company of women.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Raising Girls to be Brave Women

When I was little, I wanted to be exactly like Nancy Drew. If I were brave like her, I would walk fearlessly into any unknown situation and not lose my cool. I would be smart and clever. I would drive my own car, face off bad guys, and solve mysteries. I'd wear a plaid skirt and penny loafers, and I'd be brave.

In reality, I was anything but brave. I was afraid of going to gymn class at 1 p.m. I was afraid of being kicked by a soccer ball or climbing the rope. I was terribly shy and didn't like talking to anyone. I was afraid of getting hurt. I was afraid of the dark, of boys, of shadows, of pretty much everything.

Sometimes I still feel like that same scared girl on the inside - a girl who worries and frets - a girl who is fearful and timid. I have to be reminded to be a brave women and to inspire a brave daughter.

What does it mean to be brave?

Fierce. Strong. Independent.

I want to be like that. I want my daughter to be like that.

In the book (and movie) The Help, the African American maid, Abileen, tells the little girl in her charge the same thing over and over. She whispers,"You is kind. You is smart. You is important." How sweet those words are to hear at any age, words that speak truth and challenge to our hearts.

But I would add one more: "You are brave." Turn to the younger woman in your charge and tell her these three thing...these three, very important, courage-inspiring, life-changing things. Tell her:

1) God has a plan for your life. It is not always easy to see the future. We tend to worry about what is around the corner. I know that I do. My mind is filled with "what ifs"... What if I'm too shy? What if I can't find my way? What if I fail? But we can be brave - despite our fears - if we know that God holds our future. Psalm 32: 7,8 has long been a favorite Bible passage of mine. It tells me that God has His eye upon me. It tells me that He is leading the way. It assures me that my braveness is enabled because He holds the results.

2) You have incredible role models. I had Nancy Drew. But I had other real-life role models too. I had grown up hearing about Florence Nightingale, Jane Addams, and Amelia Earhart. I had journeyed by covered wagon with Laura Ingalls and read braille with Helen Keller. I learned by hearing stories of other girls, other women, who had faced bigger obstacles than mine and survived. One of the best things about writing a book about brave women is that I've received notes from young girls - as young as 8 years old. They not only enjoyed the stories of these eight historical women, they were inspired by their lives. We can be brave just as they were brave.

3) You don't have to do it alone. Girls can be competitive. We give each other the once over and decide who is prettier. But life isn't a Miss America contest. I recently saw a video where 1,000 women dressed like Rosie the Riveter to celebrate the anniversary of the end of World War II. But they were also celebrating the bravery and camaraderie of women. These women, left behind during the war, rolled up their sleeves, tied up their hair and worked. They made ships. They were brave - together! And the women who celebrated came together too - young and old - to celebrate the courage of women. We are in this thing together. We can help one another. Together, we can be brave.

Are you brave? I think you are. Look into the mirror. Tell these three things to yourself. Then tell them to your daughter, your granddaughter, your nieces, your younger coworker, the child in your Sunday School class. We must speak into the lives of others.

Remember, God has an incredible plan for your life. He can make you brave. And you have incredible role models - women of faith who will inspire and motivate you. You aren't in this alone.

We are women together. Brave, smart, beautiful, kind, and important.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

My Aching Back and Why White-Out Doesn't Always Work

On a recent trip to our local home improvement store, I was helping my husband pick out boards. We are remodeling our 1960s-era kitchen, and he is cutting and staining cabinet doors. So, I was being a little picky.

The first board had strap marks across it. The second board had a big knot hole in the center. And the third board wrenched my back.

Ouch. I could feel my muscle twinge when I twisted just the wrong way. The board wasn't that heavy - just awkward. But I felt it. I knew I was in trouble.

Two days later, I'm taking a prescription tablet of cyclobenzaprine and Advil, and wishing I wasn't so old. I'm also wishing I could take back that one moment. Why didn't I settle for board #2?

Then yesterday, we went to pick up a piece of vintage treasure from a seller on Craigslist. $25. A bargain. I'm still a bit leary of meeting unknown sellers - and we were meeting at the storage facility which was fairly deserted. Just in case, I took my wallet out of my purse and hid it under my car seat. But it turned out just fine. The deal was made. $25 was a steal. And then we backed up our car to leave. I heard a whoosh of air.

We had backed up over a bolt. My husband was not happy. Luckily, the car made it safely home, and today Milt was able to repair the hole. But I wished that I could reverse time for just a moment. I wanted to rewind and have a do-over.

Have you ever felt like that?

What if you hadn't done that one last thing that wrecked havoc with your life?

When I was in college, they had these fancy new typewriters that let you back up and "automatically" erase with built in white-out tape. So cool. They let me undo my typing errors so almost no one could see.

But life isn't like that, is it? We have no back up ability. We can't rewind. We can't white it out. What's done is done. No crying over spilled milk, so they say.

So as I sit here - my back aching and looking at my Kia Soul with the bolt hole now patched, I realize that life goes on. We are a bit beat up, a little scarred, but we're still chugging. Moving forward - sometimes with a limp.

The only do-over that really works is God. How thankful I am that I believe in a God who forgives, who wipes my slate clean, who lets me heal and be purified even when I mess up -big time. Scripture tells us that even though are sins are scarlet, we will be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18) And having tried to get stains out of carpet, I love that metaphor.

We will be made clean. Good as new. Better than a rewind because it can't be undone or merely covered up. Now, in this life, we will have slips and falls and missteps. Then, with God's help, we will  be purified, complete, perfected, healed.

I like the sound of that. Especially today.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What is it really like to live in Florida?

Moving from the Midwest to Florida, I had certain expectations. Some good. Others bad.

I looked forward to throwing away my down coat and my plastic ice scraper. I worried about humidity and hurricanes. Well, I've been here for six months now - January through July - and I have a much better idea of what there is to love (and maybe not love as much) about my new home.

What you give up...

1) Grass Lawns. The grass in our Florida front yard is crab grass. They have all sorts of fancy names for it here, but it is definitely the stuff we tried hard to kill in the Midwest. This is weedy, finnicky grass. The ground is sandy. Even after what seemed like a drenching downpour, the sand appears untouched and parched. Yes, we do have green lawns - but if you look closely you can see the difference.

2) Seasons. Perhaps my biggest shock was to give up any semblance of seasons. I remember stopping at a restaurant in December and hearing a Christmas carol. Why are they playing Christmas music now? I wondered. Then I was Christmastime. Every month feels like June or July. There are seasons but they they are much more subtle. Leaves fall off trees, flowers bloom, but they seem completely random. My internal clock is messed up. I miss family birthdays and holidays surprise me. What month is this anyway?

3) Boots and Wool Jackets. Being from Chicago, I have a huge assortment of winter clothing. I love my tall leather boots and my fuzzy sweaters. I adore scarves and hats. But now, I have very limited time to wear them. They are still in my closet, but shoved to the very back. I sorted through a giant tub of socks and tights and threw most of them out. I had ten pairs of black knee highs. I had a fleece lined pair of tights - fleece lined!!! That's how cold it got during my Chicago commute. Now I wear shorts. Shorts. All the time.

4) Pizza. They will tell you they have pizza here. There are neon "pizza" signs that beckon you as you drive up and down the coast. But they lie. This is not pizza. This is soggy, floppy cheese pie. My husband is in serious Chicago pizza withdrawal - not for the deep dish kind (which I do love on occasion), but for the crisp, thin crust, cut in squares with Italian sausage type. Sigh.

What you gain . . .

1) Sunshine. I always experienced a bit of seasonal depression from January until March. It was not just the freezing snow and ice, but the gloom. I'd look at the grey cloudy sky and long for just one peek of sun. Now I've gotten my wish. Every day. It is sunny in Florida. Really sunny. It is also lush and green. For some reason I thought too much sunshine would result in parched lawns. In Chicago, my August lawn looked dead and brown. Here, everything grows like wild - all the time. It is like we live in a tropical forest. We chop things down, and they resurrect.

2) Beach. Perhaps I should say nature, but the beach is one of the main reasons that this is a very outdoorsy place. People are active. They kayak. They bike. They fish. They surf. They walk up and down the beach. They run. They have racks and racks of sporty clothing in the stores. Maybe it's the overabundance of serotonin from so much sunlight, or maybe it's the natural beauty that surrounds. I can walk to the Halifax River (one block to the west of my house) or the Atlantic Ocean (one and half blocks to the East). There is a huge state park just one mile north. Nature beckons me. The beach calms me. If I'm ever feeling stressed, just sitting on the great expanse of the beach and staring at the ocean waves calms me. I did not have this in my Chicago suburb.

3) Calm. I am used to a frantic pace of life. I had 49 years in Chicago where we "go, go, go." I commuted to my job - one and a half hours each way - by car, then train, then walking. And suddenly I reached Florida, and life slowed to a halt. It is quieter here. People don't hurry. That has its upside and its downside. Contractors are not in a hurry to get their jobs done. But people also stop to talk and smile and relax. I am gradually adjusting to this pace of life. It is small towny and quaint. There are two traffic lights and one train crossing. There is not much crime. Maybe everyone is sedated by the lapping sound of waves.

There are pros and cons of living in Florida. I was warned about cost of living and unemployment. I was warned about living in a land of retirees. But overall my worst fears were misplaced. This is a town like any other. It has its downside. It has its perks.

I'm quite happy with our move - six months in. And I'm all in. I've thrown out my gigantic, floor-length, grey, poofy down coat. I've purchased six pairs of shorts and am now sporting a persistent tan.

Do I miss Chicago? Yes. I always will.

But I am enjoying our new coastal Florida home.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Legacy of Swedish Pancakes

On one of my last visits to my grandparent’s home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, they decided to lead my husband, daughter, and I out of town, so we followed their rambling Buick toward the expressway on-ramp. 

When we stopped to buy gas, my grandma – “Honey” as I always called her – pressed a 3 X 5 inch piece of paper into my hand. On it, in her large looped cursive writing, was the recipe for her Swedish pancakes.

The thin, crepe-like pancakes were my favorite, and I had helped her make them many times. If I close my eyes right now, I can remember how she’d lift my hand to show how the batter should be just right, coating the spoon.

The oil, she’d explain, should be spitting a bit. Then the batter was poured and the pan tilted – this way and that – to make a thin pancake with sprawling crisped edges.

Honey’s Swedish Pancakes.

That day, I tucked the paper safely into my purse, and later set it on the kitchen shelf right underneath my spices. That recipe is my legacy, my inheritance, a tangible reminder of our relationship.

I wonder what it is I’ll leave behind to my daughter and my daughter’s daughter. Will it be a recipe, my wedding ring, my Bible with the cracked leather binding? Maybe it’s not a “thing” at all.

Psalm 37:18 says our inheritance from God endures “forever.”

As a child of our Heavenly Father, you might think I would be most excited about inheriting my mansion in the sky. But my God-given legacy is more like Honey’s recipe. It is the knowledge that His hand is directing mine, giving me hope and comfort, leading me through good days and bad. It is love poured out in ordinary moments. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In Praise of Facebook Friendships

My husband looks at the number of "friends" listed on my Facebook page and laughs. "Those aren't all your friends," he quips. "How come I've never met most of them?"

And, he's right. He hasn't.

I have 955 friends on my Facebook feed, many who I have not seen face-to-face in years, even decades. Some were friends who I grew up with in the little south suburban, quarry town of Thornton, Illinois, where I was born. We were classmates together at Parkside Elementary and Wolcott Junior High. I rode my bike to school with Amy and went to birthday parties with Jill.

Still others are friends who I sat in Sunday School next to and ran the Awana circle with back at First Baptist Church in South Holland. We played four square in the church basement and had lock-in nights playing capture the flag in the church lot. We sat in the back row, left side of the church sanctuary, and went out after the service for pizza.

I have friends who went to college with me in Chicago and Normal, Illinois. They sat in class with me, took long walks along the Chicago River, and ate at Bagel Nosh. Amanda, my only lasting Columbia College friend, remembers evenings spent avoiding creepy men lurking in the south Loop while waiting for our ride home. My "Normal" friends remember our blinding fear of Dr. Tarr and his Intro to Research class intended to make us resign from grad school. Together, we survived late nights and final exams.

My work friends are sprinkled across the list as well. Carolyn was one of my first bosses - and I remember getting both of us our afternoon coffee as we rented out actual "films" - in the days before VCR technology. My other Caroline boss is now an installation artist - and I stand amazed at her creativity. My crazy friends from our creative team at Moody. My professor friends.

Many of my friends have moved cross country. My friend Beth is on the other coast in California. Her work on behalf of women and charities continues to inspire me. I have international friends like Amy and Michael who live in Ireland, and Adelina in Romania.

Many of my former students are on that list... Because of Facebook, I get to see them marry, become parents. I have watched some walk away from the faith. I have seen their careers flourish. I have spoken into their lives during times of crisis. I have sent recommendations and advice.

I have new friends on my list. Some of them are in the fledgling stage where we have said hello in person or interacted only on social media. They are people who have common interests. They are people I would like to know better.

And there are so many others. I am friends with relatives - near and distant. I've gotten to see my cousin's daughter's children. I am friends with my parent's friends - people I knew as a child. I am friends with my childhood pastor's wife - Mrs. Shirley Rice - a woman who prayed with me to commit my life to God and continues to inspire me.

The variety of people connected to me on my Facebook page keep me honest and real. It is also challenging. One of my friends says that some days reading her fb feed makes her blood pressure spike. I can relate. When reactions to the legalization of gay marriage erupted on social media, I had friends speaking passionately to both sides of the issue. There are times I'm tempted to block or unfriend someone whose ideas I don't like. Most of the time I think better of it.

My Facebook friends challenge me. I am glad they aren't all like me. I have friends who are vegans. I have friends who love guns. I have friends who fight injustice. I have friends who post hilarious videos. I have rockabilly friends, feminist friends, literary friends, parenting friends...

They all matter.

Facebook friends are not fake friends to me. While I may not see all of them face-to-face, Facebook allows this parade of people I have known and loved to continue to speak into my life. It allows me to stay current with who they are and where they are going. It lets me hear them in a way I hadn't previously been able to do. I can know what they are thinking. I can watch how they change. I can weep with those who weep. I can rejoice with those who rejoice.

As I scan my Facebook list of faces and names, I see people who have meant something to me. And we are connected still.

I am grateful for my Facebook friends.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Slowing Down in Savannah, Georgia

Southern charm. I had heard about it, but I have never quite experienced it until I walked the gorgeous cobblestone streets of Savannah, Georgia.

Recently, I took an entire week of vacation time and traveled a short 3 1/2 hour trip to Savannah. What a gorgeous, historical, romantic city! Milt, Sabrina and I met up with our good friends, the Obermaiers and visited SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) a school that both our daughter and their daughter are considering.

In Savannah, we stayed at the B-Historic - a quaint hotel located right downtown. How great to be able to park our car for the entire visit and explore the city on foot.

The first thing you'll notice about Savannah are the historic town squares. There is not just one beautiful square/park - as you find in many small Southern towns -  but dozens of them, arranged like a grid throughout the historic section of the city. Central to each one is a monument honoring a person of significance. Juliette Gordon Low (founder of the Girl Scouts). John Wesley (co-founder of Methodism). Casimir Pulaski (the Polish war hero who we also love in Chicago). There are trees dripping with moss and park benches and fountains.

My husband says Savannah reminds him a bit of New Orleans. It has lots of iron fretwork and mossy trees. The buildings are old and restored - and businesses (even McDonalds) find their homes in historic, repurposed structures. The streets are uneven with cobblestones. Pedicabs are one way to get around for those who don't want to walk.

You can easily make your way on foot from one end of the district to the other. On the far side is the River with restaurants and shops and flag-draped riverboats offering tours. Walk a bit back into town you will hit Market Street - a central area with plenty of restaurants and bus tours - haunted ghosts and history along with trolley rides. Our group stopped to tour the Colonial Cemetery - where one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence is laid to rest.

Broad Street is filled with shops - plenty of high-end boutiques as well as the more artistic variety. I think that the art college has left its mark on the town. I also noted several cool restored movie theatres - one offered a James Bond film series. Milt was wishing he could stay and enjoy that one.

We ate our way through Savannah. We started each morning at the Gallery Espresso - an artsy little cafe offering teas, coffee, wine in the evenings, and freshly-made baked goods and salads. Sabrina and I also enjoyed peach lemonade with rosemary syrup at the Griffin - another SCAD coffee/tea house.

We visited the Scottish Pub for lunch which offered traditional pub fare plus Scotch eggs, Bangers-n-Mash, and Shepherd's Pie. My dinner order was the southern shrimp-n-grits. We tried to sneak in the back way to Mrs. Wilke's Dining Room - an establishment that was recently visited by President Obama. When the owner wouldn't let us in that way, we decided to skip the two-hour wait and visit another time.

On Market Street we visited a huge candy store and sampled pralines - still warm and sugary and packed with pecans. They offered us cookie tastings at Byrd's Famous Cookies - a Savannah staple since the 1920s. I brought home a bag of tiny, tangy peach cookies.

The food, the history, the architecture, the shopping. This is definitely the perfect city for a weekend destination. Beautiful, lovely Savannah. I plan to come back!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fiesty Flannery: A Visit to the Author's Childhood Home

In college, my friend Amy and I were shameless Flannery O'Connor groupies. 

We were fellow writers and students at a midwest Bible college. In our Creative Writing course, the professor introduced us to many authors we had never read - but Flannery quickly became our favorite.

Her characters were unexpected: disturbing, grotesque, and larger-than-life. Yet they were also ordinary - the type of people you might encounter at your local WalMart. They were overweight, loud-mouthed, some suffered deformities, others were drifters. They spoke crassly, and then (often in the same breath) they would speak about God.

As she said so well, "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."

We had never read faith stories like these. Flannery O'Connor's stories were not the sanctified, made-for-tv Christian-novels we had grown up on by authors like Grace Livingston Hill or Janette Oke. These were rough and tumble, edgy, almost obscene. Yet, they felt real because they pushed hard at the core center of our beliefs.

The other thing we noticed is that her stories were marked by violence. A gunshot stifles an old woman. A book is thrown across a crowded doctor's waiting room squarely knocking into the forehead of an obnoxious talker. Flannery doesn't just speak truth, she smacks you in the face with it.

I loved that then. I still do.

Before we went to Savannah, Georgia, I gave my book of Flannery's Collected Stories to my daughter. Read one of these, I urged her, bookmarking two of my favorites: "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and "Revelation." And she did. 

"Interesting," she said when she was done, raising her eyebrows with a curious look on her face. I plopped on the edge of her bed, and we talked about that annoying grandmother, the disturbing Misfit and his memorable last line: "She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

Sabrina went along with me to visit Flannery's childhood home. How wonderful it is to walk where one of your favorite author's walked. Her home is next door to her wealthy aunt's mansion in Savannah, Georgia. It is simple and period-correct...a front visitor's parlour where they have her baby buggy - complete with her initials MFO (I never knew before that Mary was her true first name).

They have a collection of her childhood books. In the front leaf of a book of fairytales, the young Mary Flannery offered her critique. "I did not like this book." Upstairs is a tiny bathroom. Our guide told us Mary would sit on the toilet, and make her young girlfriends get in the tub. Then she would read stories to her captive audience. One little girl left crying, asking her parents not to maker her return. 

She left this home in her early teens when her father accepted a job near Atlanta. At age 15, she lost her dad to complications of lupus, a disease that would later take her own life at age 39. She was so young when she died, 10 years younger than I am now.

She studied at the University of Iowa. She published two novels and many short stories. She inspired Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits. Flannery, as she was later called, never married. She was pigeon-toed and an only child. She was fiercely opinionated and darkly religious. 

Nothing about Flannery was easy or calm. She embodies sharp angles and unanswerable questions - I love that she challenges to think hard about our faith. As she said, "All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful."

Her dark sense of humor sometimes makes me gulp with laughter: "She could never be a saint," quips Flannery, "but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick."

Thank you, fierce Flannery for sharing your view of the world with us. I will treasure this moment where our paths intersected - even though we were decades apart.

If you are in Savannah, take a few moments to visit her childhood home:

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Messy Downside of Perfect Parenting

My teenage daughter is volunteering at a children's art camp this summer.

There is one little girl who wears 8 rubber bands on her left wrist. When she drinks a bottle of water, she moves one rubber band from the left wrist to her right. Her goal, she informed my daughter, is to drink all 8. Her mom says it is very important.

The majority of the children - age 6 to 10 - say they are vegetarians. Their snacks are carefully restricted, and so (it seems) are their lives. Most of them leave art camp to rush over to another pre-scheduled summer activity.

Something about this parenting style makes me nervous.

Rubber bands. Eight glasses of water?

Why do these children sound like a group of 40-something women doing power yoga? Why are they worried about fluid intake and calories?

As a mom of one, I can only claim so much parental experience. But I do have some. And, I know that one lesson I have learned the hard way is to set aside the whole parenting-I-must-do-everything-perfectly attitude. The guilt trip for you and for your child needs to stop.

When my daughter was an infant, I started reading parenting books. I was in a mad frenzy to do everything right. I wanted straight As in mama-hood. And my attitude was causing a series of emotional breakdowns along the way.

I remember the night I tried "tough love" in letting my daughter go to sleep on her own. I had her door closed, and I sat outside, the wood pressing into my spine, the carpet scratchy on my bare legs, and tears running down my cheeks. My daughter was wailing in the closed bedroom.

Finally my husband came out - "What are you doing?"

"We have to do this," I sobbed.

"Why?" he said.

"Because, the books say she has to learn to comfort herself," I explained.

And he said to me, "That's ridiculous." And it was.

But sleeping on her own was just one of my parental worries that spurred me on to craziness. Daily I would Google my concerns: Why was she crying all the time? When should I switch to formula? How could I get her to pee in an actual potty? Was it a sign of dismal parenting that she thought Barney was a real person and had all the words to Elmo videos memorized. And on, and on, and on my neurotic parenting went. I my effort to be a good parent, I was making myself miserable.

And then someone (older and wise) said to me, "You know what. All kids learn to pee in a potty eventually. And no child I have ever met is still drinking formula at age 18."

They were so right. So I stopped (mostly). I tried to quit beating myself up. I tried to stop worrying if nap time didn't happen on schedule or I didn't have the most perfectly balanced meal. I remembered how I would play outside in my pajamas as a kid - catching fireflies and scabbing my knees. I remembered sparklers and kick the can and a million other little joys that have nothing to do with wise parenting or safety concerns.

Messy parenting is freeing.

My daughter is 17 now. She is not perfect. She is quirky and has her struggles. But she has amazed me as well and far exceeded my expectations. She is strong and brilliant and beautiful and creative and sleeps through the night (sometimes). So there are a few things I know now that I wish I had realized then.

1) I am not mess-free - and neither is my child. We don't fit every other person's prediction of how life should look or be. God made us individually. As a parent, I need some grace and flexibility - and so does my child.

2) Your child is not you. Resist the urge to put 40-year-old or 30-year-old or 20-year-old concerns onto an 8-year-old. They don't need to lose a few pounds or worry about their cholesterol. They don't struggle with self esteem. They are little. They are wonderful. They need to be crazy and goofy and full of mischief.

3) These moments with your kids are fleeting. Enjoy them, and try to take a deep breath before you let stress and worry kick in. Take time to just be with your child. Pull them out of some scheduled activities and let them have down time. Take off those rubber bands and let them drink water straight out of a germy fountain. Mix it with brightly colored Kool Aid - even the kind with real sugar.

4) When you start to freak out and think you're aren't doing something right, that you must have missed that secret session of "How to Be a Mom," stop yourself and say with me, "It will be okay. They will be okay." (Breathe deeply and repeat as needed.)

Sure there will be trials. Yes, you will have anxious, crazy, messy moments, but in the meantime you should actually smile and breathe deeply and enjoy your little one. Because nothing you do or don't do will prevent difficult times, your own parental failures, or unexpected disasters.

And, through each moment, both good and bad, I have found that loving and living fully and imperfectly is better than any prescribed idea of what parenting should look like.

By letting them be kids, we become better moms.

Friday, June 12, 2015

What I Learned From the Mentoring Group I Didn't Want to Join

I received the invitation to be in a professional women's mentoring group at work. And I thought - "What a wonderful idea...for someone else."

Joining a mentoring program seemed like another "to do" on my pretty big list. I am a mom of a teenager. I work full time. We just finishing a cross-country move. I try to make time to write. And, occasionally, I clean house and cook.

And, as long as I can remember, I have been a reluctant joiner. I don't really appreciate being assigned to relationships one-on-one or in a group. I prefer to go it alone quite a bit, and (when I do connect to others) I've found that relationships are best that happen naturally.

But this invitation was different. It came from a former student and colleague who I greatly respect. She is kind and smart and thoughtful. She wanted to improve professional life and opportunities for women at our organization. How could I say no?

So, I said yes.

For the past months I have been mentoring, and frankly being mentored right back, by a wonderful woman named Eunice. She has been patient with my on-again-off-again Skype connections and my forgetfulness of what exactly we were talking about two weeks ago.

Even during our first conversation, I found myself relaxing. It became not "what can I teach her" but how can we - two women working for the same organization - grow together. We realized that we were both different - and yet the same.

She is from the Dominican Republic. I am from the United States.

She has two daughters. I have one.

She just had to unexpectedly put a new roof on her house. So did I. Same weekend!

She works in a left brain field (legal/accounting). I work in a right brain area (fundraising/writing).

She and I talked frankly about what we fear at work - confrontation, asking for what we want, facing office issues like gossip, and the future. I offered examples and advice from my 25 years of service at the same place. She gave me insights about how she views our organization as a newer employee.

It was wonderful.

Mentoring or the idea of mentoring can be intimidating. I tend to think of myself as someone who has not yet arrived. Surely I am not an expert. What do I have to offer? What if they expect me to know more than I do?

But once I set aside those fears and took the plunge, I learned a few significant things:

1) Connection is important. While we all have some friendly relationships at work, the desire to connect in a meaningful way is something most of us desire. It takes a regular investment of time to do this at the office. Too often women are balancing multiple responsibilities - in and out of work. Taking time to meet new women is frankly not a priority for many of us. Mentoring relationships make time for this.

2) You have more to offer than you realize. You don't have to "know" business or be an expert. If you've worked in any capacity for a number of years, you have gained experiences that will be helpful to someone else. Just as we will naturally share a recipe or household tip, sharing work advice becomes second nature. I found that once I quit fretting about what I was supposed to say, I had plenty to share.

3) Mentoring is about learning. As I talked to Eunice about my own past and listened to her own concerns and work situation, I found myself reflecting and processing my own work history. It helped me verbalize what I have learned in the past, and understand what I think today. As we shared, I grew.

I would encourage you - if you get the opportunity - to consider participating in a professional mentoring relationship with someone either ahead of you in the journey or following close behind.

The time commitment was less than I thought. We worked around each other's schedules, and I found myself looking forward to that prioritized twice-a-month conversation. For me, it also brought unexpected joy - and I know I will continue my friendship with Eunice in the future.

To build a great company of women, we need to take time - make time - to learn from and listen to one another.

Thanks, Kim Pickett, for your work to bring Envision to Moody Bible Institute.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

After the Big Leap: Settling in After Major Change

I've been sighing a lot lately. 


"What's wrong?" says my mildly concerned husband.

"Nothing," I reply. "Sigh...."

And nothing is wrong. Really. Well, there are a lot of concerns floating around me - even fairly significant ones about family and friends. But my personal life has settled into a much more quiet and normal routine.

We've made our big move - one of the biggest changes I've ever experienced. And, we've landed, feet on the ground, planted firmly on the other end.

When we were in junior high, my teacher had this wild idea that I could learn gymnastics. They had this leather vaulting horse that we were supposed to run toward at full-speed, jump hard on a wooden bouncing board and hurdle ourselves into the sky, over the vault and onto the blue vinyl mats on the other end.

Olympic champion Kerri Strug made it look easy . . . even with a sprained ankle.

It is not easy. It is terrifying.

If you know me at all, you know I am not an athlete. So, maybe you are, and you enjoy this sort of thing. Be quiet. I don't like you.

But I am not. And, in 7th grade, I was horrified at the prospect of hurdling my 80-lb body over anything.

But Miss Weckering was glaring at me over her clipboard, so I ran (reluctantly), and I jumped (lightly), and I sort of crashed, stumbled, fell over the stupid vault. And I made it (somehow) to the other side.

That's how I felt about our move to Florida.

I faced the prospect of a major job change, a house sale, clearing of our mountains of possessions, moving three cars, a dog, and my 88-year-old mother-in-law. Finding a place to live. And sorting through piles of paperwork.

And now I've landed. A bit beat up. But, I've landed.

I'm on the blue vinyl mat.

Laying here, a bit bruised but whole, on the other side.

And now, I'm sighing.

I think that I have post-stress malaise. The kind of sadness you feel when you no longer have a huge snowball chasing you down a hill. It is relief, but you kind of miss the crazy.

I am so much like those crabby Israelites who bitched all the way to the Promised Land. Over and over again God provided for them. And they complained. And moaned. And sighed.

Big sighs.

To me, they seem just plain selfish. But I realize that they, too, had gone through a major time of transition. They had left everything they knew (the good and the bad), and they were following God one step at a time into the unknown. They had to trust and believe and not look back.

So I'm pressing forward. I can get past this as well.

And I'm trying to remember gratefulness. I need to stop and thank God for getting me this far. I need to remember the way He's blessed us and cared for us and provided unthinkable things that cleared our way. I need to be overwhelmed with His love.

I am ashamed that I'm not. How quickly I forget God's goodness and turn to my own mixed-up perspective.

So - I'm pulling myself up off the gym mat. I'm saying, "Thank you, God." 

Thank you for getting me to the other side. Help me not to miss the crazy. 

Help me to keep looking forward and upward. 

Help me to get over myself and my mixed-up, selfish, neurotic emotions, and to focus on you.

And, help me to quit sighing.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Time I Knew I Was A True Mama

I remember one distinct moment when I knew I was no longer just a girl, I was a mama.

We were camping in Door County, Wisconsin. Sabrina had invited a friend to stay with us for the week. Uninvited, but equally present, was a horrible stomach virus.

First, her friend puked all over the back part of the camper, including all over the cute, little blue shag rug I put between the girl's beds. I pulled it out and suds it out in a hot bucket of soapy water.

I called her girlfriend's mom, and (after many rounds of sickness) I fed her saltines and 7-up. This particular bug was hard-hitting and relentless and highly contagious.

But I remember first staring long and hard at that smelly, revolting mess and thinking, "Now. I am truly a mother. Only a mom would do this."

There was no one else to clean it up. I was it. I was the one who called upon to fix the problem. I was the mama.

So I cleaned it up.

And then, Sabrina got sick. And then, my husband followed suit.

Each time I would take a deep breath and talk to myself. "This is it," I would say. "You can do this. You love these people."

Myself would answer back with angry hissing sounds. "I absolutely, positively cannot do this. There is no possible way."

The commentary would wage back and forth between myself and myself. And myself won.

I washed that stupid blue rug until the fourth time it got soiled . . . I threw it out.

I washed and cleaned because I loved them all: my daughter, my husband, and my daughter's friend.

They say you marry in sickness and health, but you mother the same way. You mother when you don't feel like it anymore, when you are sad, when you are tired, when you are angry, when you are pukey.

You mother because a deep part of you loves this person - and you have absolutely no choice. You mother because you love.

So thank you, to my mom. To my grandma. To my mother-in-law. To all the moms who do the impossible every day because they have no choice and because they choose to mother.

You are loved and needed and appreciated.

When we were children, we had no understanding of what it means to parent. You thought that your mom and dad were invincible, that they could do anything and cure anything. You no understanding of the days they almost turned away, when they didn't think they had an ounce of can-do-spirit left in them. But, moms (and dads), you did it anyway.

For that, I am forever thankful.

Blessings on you today.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My New Jet Setting Life and What I've Learned About Airports and Planes

I have never flown as often as I have in the past six months. And, I've traveled solo.

Relocating from Chicago to Florida meant that I would need to travel back to home base, occasionally, for my job. Plus, I've added in conferences, work meetings in other states, speaking engagements, and one more trip for my daughter to attend an anime convention. So, I've been in and out of airports... a lot.

Following is a list of unrelated incidents and observations from this newbie frequent flier:

1) Orlando Airport has the most children. Children bearing Mickey Mouse ears and in full-blown meltdowns from over stimulation. I have never, ever in my life seen so many cranky kids and adults with glazed-over eyes clutching their cups of coffee.

2) There is something joyous about going through security alone. For all of you mamas out there, you know what I mean. You only need to take off your shoes and coat, and unpack your Ziploc baggie of essentials. You only need to keep track of you.

3) Even then, I mess up. In the tiniest airport ever - Grand Rapids - I was pulled aside for an extra security check. The TSA agent asked me if I had any weapons. Really? Me? No. What I did have - I soon discovered was a renegade bottle of water.

4) Women have it rough. I stood next to one woman who was shouting to the TSA agent: "It's a breast pump." "Great," she told me. "Now the entire airport knows I'm lactating." She said that one time she even had to take a drink of her breast milk to show it was the real thing. Oh dear.

5) Starbucks is your friend. I only went through one airport - Midway - where Starbucks was not clearly evident and abounding. I hated that. I almost felt paralyzed with confusion.

6) I am always fearful I will drop my suitcase on someone's head while lifting it into the overhead bin. Thankful for the chivalrous man who helped me on the last flight. Thank you kind sir. You have no idea.

7) Southwest rules. They just do.

8) There is no gum for sale in the Orlando Airport. I know. Travesty. The clerk told me to buy Mentos. Really?! How will my ears ever pop?

9) I still get a childlike thrill at take-off - and always put my hand out to help the pilot break when we land. Always.

10) I have enjoyed many, many packets of Ritz Cracker Chips - which we all delightfully accept - and I will probably never ever buy or eat them anywhere else. They're kind of like 7up when you are sick. You are so grateful and happy just to have a little treat.

11) You really do need to check in 24 hours in advance. I once went renegade and didn't. I was in something like the "E" section - behind everyone else. When I got to the boarding gate, they needed to "check" my bag. Bummer. Now, I sit by my computer like a hawk searching for its prey - ready to pounce at that exact minute. Once, I claimed B-1!!!!

12) Choosing your seat is strategic. In Southwest, you choose your seat. Avoid the screaming kids (I know - I had one once - but I don't now). Avoid the coughers - you just know you'll be sick two days later. Avoid the strange chatty men that smile and pat the seat next to them. Avoid the center seat. Try to get near the front for a quick escape.

13) I really like flying. It is like a little mini-vacation. I can read, chew my gum, eat my little bag of Ritz Cracker Chips, have a Coke with ice, watch a little home decorating, do some writing, and then I'm there - somewhere else.

14) Coming home is the best. Tap my sparkly red shoes and take me home. As much as I enjoy the momentary sense of freedom and the quiet hotel room with full control of the lights, air and tv channel, I miss everyone the minute I leave.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Prayer for Nepal

Like thousands of others, I am praying today for the people of Nepal.

The country is devastated - physically and emotionally.

How many lives must be lost, oh God? 

I am praying for help and peace and comfort. How it aches our hearts to know that we cannot do much except pray and send a check. Such little to do with such overwhelming need.

When I was a little girl - probably 5th grade or so - my parents talked about becoming missionaries to Nepal. They were both public school teachers, and they had heard of great need in that country for Christian teachers.

We talked about this - as a family - and we were all ready to go. Then, the country closed to outside missionaries, and our plans were cancelled. But dreams of Nepal stayed in my heart.

When I was packing for our move, I found my construction-paper covered report from 5th grade on the country of Nepal, its people, its products, and other random assorted facts written on large-ruled notebook paper with encyclopedia and National Geographic photos cut and carefully pasted on the pages.

Years later, Nepal entered my heart again with a book. Conor Grennan wrote a book titled Little Princes. It is his memoir about life after college. He had decided to spend his first year of post-school freedom traveling the globe. To offset what he saw as a selfish pursuit, he started by volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal.

What he didn't expect was that the needs of those children would break his heart and change the entire course of his life as he began an organization to save children who had been trafficked.

I decided to teach that book for my freshman English class - and was thrilled when I found out that I had an international student from Nepal. Hanna had a gorgeous smile and taught me the correct pronunciation of her beloved home country.

She told me about the beauty of the mountains and endless cups of tea. She talked about her parents who married out of love and broke traditions of arranged betrothals. She lit up as she described her heart to reach the people of her country with God's love.

I pray for Hanna today - she had not heard from her family when I last emailed her. How hard it is not to know. I pray for the orphans of Nepal and Conor's work there. I pray for the people who do not know if there loved ones are safe. I pray for those who lost homes and all of their earthly possessions. I pray for the children who lost parents and the parents who lost children. I pray for the grief of seeing roads broken and buildings crumbled.

I pray for God to heal and to comfort and to be present for His people today.

Praying and weeping with you, Nepal.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I Prayed for You Today

I walked on the beach this morning. And, as I walked, I prayed.

I asked God to be with my good friend Jill as she says goodbye-for-now, today, to her father.

for Teryn who has battled illness for the past year.

for my friend Amanda and her daughter Meg who is serving God across the seas.

for my friend Ben and his sister Stephanie, who is grappling with a diagnosis.

for my brother-in-law Dave and for Bob and his family.

for my friends Rachel and James and their baby son.

for Junias, and Anna, and Melissa.

for so many of you who have shared with me your fears and worries and struggles and concerns.

I prayed and asked God for His healing and comfort -

for His peace and joy -

to do what only He can do.

And then the sun came out,

it peeked over the clouds,

and it changed everything.

God can do that.

We serve an amazing, awe-inspiring God who can do anything.

He holds all of this - all of our cares, worries, sicknesses, fears, concerns, all of it, in the palm of His hands. Nothing is impossible for Him.

As I walked back home holding the most perfect tiny shell in my hand,

a contrast to the magnificence of the sunrise and the vastness of the ocean.

I was thinking of how God cares for us, despite His grandeur,

and the words of an old hymn came to my mind.

"All your anxieties, all your cares,

Come to the mercy seat, leave them there.

Never a burden, He cannot bear.

Never a friend, like Jesus."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Advice for College Graduates on Getting Your First Job - Part Two

Here's some helpful job-searching advice from former graduates who are now working (many of them in their desired field)! I received so many suggestions that I'm stretching these out over two more posts.

On Getting Your Foot in the Door…

Volunteer! Sharon writes, “My current job, as well as one previous job, I got through volunteering. 
The organization knew me and valued me as a volunteer, and thought I would make a valuable employee.”

“If you can’t work for money, work for free. Don’t be afraid of a day job, but keep building your portfolio,” Karen said.

Nailing That Interview . . .

Candy was impressed by one particular “fresh-out-of-college” candidate, “I hired Kaitlyn right out of college. She was professional, to the interview a few minutes early, sent me a link to her online portfolio, had good questions, and seemed to be a learner. I have continued to be impressed.”

Finding Job Possibilities …

“Make connections and network,” advises Kaitlyn. “Get your name out there. My advisor at school told me about an opening and told the organization about me. Don’t be too picky for your first job; eve if it’s not exactly what you want to do.”

“Don’t be afraid to go for the big guns,” Andie advises. “As long as you’re mostly qualified, there’s no hurt in trying. I never would have thought Christianity Today would interview me.”

David took the wrong job to meet the right people. “So much of the opportunities I have been given are because of networking in circles that I wanted to be a part of. Started as a social media specialist, but I wanted to be in radio. Getting your foot in the door is less about working a job that will be good in the future and more about meeting the people you could work with.”

Don’t Give Up!

Jesse talks about how long this might take: “Persistence! It can be really frustrating to be rejected over and over or to not get a response when you send your resume out. But, you can’t lose heart. It took me a year and a half after graduation to get a job in my field. You just have to keep going.”

“It may take you a while to figure out what God has given you both talent and passion for,” Luci says. “Don’t be afraid to try new jobs.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Advice for College Grads on Getting Your First Job - Part One

As a former college professor, I still get Facebook messages from students asking me for career advice. One of the most common is - How do I find my first job?

I know it is daunting. College provides a sense of security. You know exactly what you are doing for the next four years. Then, many books and exams later, suddenly it is senior year, graduation, and the unknown is thrust upon you.You are forced to make some serious choices. Should you return home to live with mom  and dad? Find a job? Get an apartment? Go to graduate school?

Just a few bits of personal advice if you decide to attempt that first job search:

1) Go for your big dreams first. My first round of resumes were sent to my dream jobs. I think I had ten of them. I was wildly unqualified. I had education, but not a huge amount of experience. Nevertheless I sent those first resumes out with high hopes and prayers. I only heard back from two, but two was great! One was an actual interview. The second, my letter to Oprah Winfrey Productions, was returned with a signed photo of Ms. Winfrey herself. They had misfiled my resume as a fan letter. Sigh.... I did go to that one interview, and I didn't get the job, but it provided needed experience and was a huge boost to my self confidence.

2) Then, spread your net wide. Apply for a LOT of jobs. Don't be too picky. In my time, we printed resumes, now much of the application process is electronic. Look at all of the job listing services you can find. Apply for anything that sounds like a possibility. It is tedious and exhausting, but it is necessary. Even if you don't like the job, the interview process will be helpful and informative. And sometimes a bad lead can develop (through connections) into another good one.

3) Proofread your resume and cover letter. I've seen many resumes, electronic portfolios, and cover letters with typos. Aaaack!!!! Have one friend - maybe two or three (literate) friends - read and proof your outgoing job applications and resume material. Mistakes are deadly in this situation. They reflect poorly on who you are, your work ethic, and your abilities.

4) Check your social image. Change your email address from to something that sound clear and professional. Maybe just use your name. Keep it simple and clean. Look critically at your Facebook profile and delete anything necessary. Google your name to see what appears. Employers today are savvy.

5) Get solid references. Before you leave college, ask a few key professors or staff members if they will serve as references. Some may write you a "blank" referral letter to use again and again. Others may serve as character references. Don't ask professors you don't know well or those whose classes you failed. If you over cut their class, didn't turn in a project, etc....don't ask for a reference!

6) Be realistic. Realize that to get that first job may take sacrifice. You might have to relocate. You may have to take a job title or salary that is not within your original expectations. If your search is too narrow, you will have trouble finding that first position. Consider the opportunities that will extend from that first job - whether it means transferring up within a large company or even just gaining work experience in a field you desire. Some trade-offs are worth it. And, your expenses are low right now, so you may be able to settle for a lower salary.

7) Prepare for interviews. Dress up. Don't wear schlumpy clothes to your first interview, even if it is a casual environment. Take off the knit cap. Don't wear flip flops. Look sharp. Suits are still expected. Have a physical copy of your resume with you. Bring samples of your work. Know the company you are interviewing with and have one or two questions prepared that show your understanding of what they do. Even better, bring a sample of what you can do directly related to that job. For example, one public relations candidate brought a press release she had written for a future event at the non-profit to which she was applying. She go the job.

8) Be patient. This is not a quick or painless process. It is humiliating. It is tedious. It is discouraging. It is overwhelming. But each interview is a bonus. Each call-back is a good sign. Each person is a possible lead. Let everyone know what you are doing. Talk about it. Pray about it. And then take one day at a time. Don't give up. It will happen. It just might not happen as soon or as easily as you'd expect.

This is part one of a small series. I've asked recent graduates how they secured their first jobs. In the next few days, I'll share their responses and advice to you as you begin your own search. Check back - there's some great things coming!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Save Beach Driving: Daytona Beach, Florida

I am a new resident. My husband and I moved from the Chicago area to Ormond Beach, Florida, in January.

And one of the reasons we chose this town is that my husband has always loved Daytona Beach.

It is one of the few beaches where cars are allowed to drive - directly on the sand and next to the ocean.

Every year, we would vacation in Daytona and try to get a hotel room that looked directly at the Atlantic Ocean. It was the only time of year my night-owl spouse would rise early. He'd jump out of bed, grab a blanket and cup of tea, and watch the sunrise.

Then we'd pack up the car and head to the beach.

In Daytona, you can park right where you are relaxing. You can keep your belongings in your car and return to it as often as you'd like. No need to lug your children and belongings from a hot parking lot and trek to the sand.

We'd open the trunk and maybe play the car radio. He loved to watch the cars drive by. Some have their windows tightly shut, air-conditioning on. Some are jeeps - no windows or doors - teenagers wearing sunscreen and blaring tunes. There is the occasional vintage convertible - much to my husband's delight.

There is so much to watch and enjoy.

Cars drive very slowly - and become part of the bustle that is Daytona. It is historically a part of this beach. As new residents, we went to the Granada beach entrance and walked through the tribute to the Ormond Beach races that happened here first.

I did not realize that the first land races in automobiles were in Ormond . . . on the beach. How incredible it must have been to see these cars flying on the sand. Certainly - in those days - it was a spectacle.

There isn't racing now, and I'm afraid there won't be driving either.

We've learned that the city council is planning to shut down beach driving. Motivations are masked by environmental concerns, but it appears this all comes down to money. Big hotels are moving in - and they want private beaches and no cars.

That is sad.

I hate when the one unique feature of a place is destroyed. It is the shopping mall syndrome where everything starts to be like everything else. Nothing is forever, of course, but couldn't we preserve the one unique feature of Daytona Beach?

There is a group fighting to allow residents to vote on this matter. Currently, they have little say or influence. There only recourse is not to reelect a government that refuses to listen.

Hopefully it won't be too late.

For more information, see and follow their Facebook pages: FREE Daytona Beach and Let Volusia Vote.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Prayer for the Overwhelmed

Sometimes life can be too much.
Too much to accomplish in too little time.

Too many worries
flooding my brain.

I turn to my computer,
flit from page to page.
I am distracted, unable to focus.


We are muddled, and messy,
and worn.

Lord, is there room for You
in these crowded moments?
Is there room for your peace, and
hope, and light?

Breathe deeply, friends.
Not just to center ourselves, but to
seek emotional, spiritual and mental rest in Him.
Leave your burdens at His feet, knowing He cares for you.

He is our resting place in times of trouble.

He steps into our lives and tells us
to set down our nets,
to sit at His feet,
to follow close.

He has a better way.
He is enough.

Quiet your heart.
Still your brain.
Allow yourself to feel cared for
And loved.

God sees you now - even in the messy -
even when we don't see Him.

Knowing I am seen, and that God has my back,
gives me strength and peace today.
He doesn't take away my to-do list,
but He gives me courage to tackle number one.

If you are overwhelmed,
if you are having one of those days where life seems a bit much,
where the concerns of life flood in,
let's pray together to the God who sees and knows and can do.

Praying with you today.