Is that your duck…or just a quacker?

lessons-from-ducks

As many of you know, I live on a beautiful lake in east Tennessee. Words like “breathtaking” or “beautiful” are so inadequate to describe the beauty and nature that I am fortunate enough to see each day. It would be like saying that a hurricane is a “little wind.” Words are just useless…but, hopefully, you catch my drift. Each morning, I look forward to what the day may reveal in the way of natural beauty and nature. We have had a wonderful Spring – not too hot, not too cool. Just right! And, oh my, the flowers, smells, sunrises, sunsets and new little “nature babies” are everywhere. So this week’s post is about some of those little babies…

We don’t know what happened to her, only that she was hurt. At first, we couldn’t figure out whether she had been hit by a car, been in a fight with a predator, or had gotten her foot stuck in a crevice or between rocks. The bottom line, however, was that she could only hop around on one foot. There was no way we could catch her, to take her to the vet. We simply had to watch her struggles, and each morning we were greeted with apprehension as to whether she had made it through another night, or had succumbed to the injury and died. Despite all the odds, she seemed to get stronger each day, and although her foot did not completely heal the way it was supposed to, she could still fly, and she now walked with a limp – a little “hop” actually. So one of our neighbors (the animal-loving ones…) named her “Hoppy.”

For the past three years, we have looked forward to Hoppy returning to our lake (and homes) each spring. This year, she had a little surprise for us…she was pregnant, and ended up having 11 (count ’em – ELEVEN) little ducklings. They have been adorable and we have had so much fun watching their “antics,” and watching them grow each day. As a result of my doing this, I have made some huge discoveries regarding motherhood.

Each day, this little mother has been responsible for feeding all of the ducklings, teaching them the “ways of the wild,” and keeping them safe every moment of their lives. (By the way, she really is a single Mom, with no help from anyone else, with the exception of a few neighbors who put out food for her and the babies.) We usually try not to count how many babies there are, because when you see that one is missing, you know that something bad happened. But I can’t seem to help myself, I count. So far (and they are almost totally grown now) she has only lost ONE baby. That is remarkable for this lake area, as we have eagles and hawks!

I have spent hours watching them, and what I see amazes me!! On one occasion, she apparently sensed some “danger” nearby, emitted a little sound that I could just barely hear, and every one of those ten babies swam to her side as if she were a magnet, and then they swam as “one unit” away from the danger, with her wings spread over them. You could hardly tell where a duckling started or ended. They looked like one bundle of feathers going down the lake.

I have watched as she finds a food source, and makes certain that each duckling is eating – all while she fervently scans about for danger. She is at attention and on guard every moment. Once they have all eaten, she will eat a little herself, and then off they go. It has been so much fun watching those babies learning how to eat. Some times they get too tired and will simply lay down in front of the food and eat. Other times, they will peck around the area quickly, getting as much food as possible. On another occasion, we had just put a little cracked corn out for them, knowing that they would be showing up within minutes to eat. In fact, they were in the next lot, watching us, waiting for the food. Mama took her time, but as she was watching the area closely, three HUGE crows zoomed into the tree just above the pile of corn. “In a New York second,” Mom gave another signal (I never heard it…), and ALL TEN of those babies raced over to the food before the crows could even get out of the tree! One crow made the mistake of trying to peck a little one, and Mama gave him a pretty good bite. He did not make a second attempt, and the babies got the food that was intended for them.

After eating, Mom took them back down to the water, and showed them how to “clean up.” She ducked her head under the water, came back up, spread her wings and flapped, all the while cleaning herself. Once she had done that a couple of times, she then gave another “silent” signal and all the babies began doing the same thing! Some got it right; some had to work at it a little harder. They were so adorable, doing everything that Mom did in perfect synchronization.

Those babies are smart! When Mom gives them direction, they respond immediately! They don’t lag behind, they don’t question “why,” they just act upon her instruction. Somehow they know that their livelihood and success depends solely on the teachings of their parent. And, of course, watching them got me to thinking about human parents and what lessons they are teaching their children. Do they let their children “slide,” and not follow directions or advice? Do they teach them lessons for failure or success? Do they love the children enough to be disciplined and to discipline? And most importantly, do they teach them by example? Those baby ducks get it! They KNOW that if they don’t do exactly what Mom is doing, they will not live to see another day. What are your children, grandbabies, nieces, nephews, etc., seeing when they watch you or observe your daily life actions? Is it something that will help them face the battles in life? Will they learn love and respect by watching what you do? Will they learn how to treat others with kindness and compassion? Will they learn how to work together? Will they realize the wonder and joy of what it means to be part of a family? Are you teaching them skills that can be used to succeed in life? Just WHAT are you saying to others as you live your life each day? Animals seem to get this…wouldn’t it be wonderful if humans got it too? Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

 

It’s just what I do…

One of the great blessings in my life is that I have wonderful friends who live all over the world! We can go weeks, months, or even years without seeing each other, and still slip into that easy comfort of closeness and friendship when we do actually get together. What makes things even more fun is when we meet for a fun-filled vacation at various “spots” that appeal to our sense of adventure and relaxation. This week’s story is about one such “adventure….”

Anyone who knows me, knows what I have done in my career, and why… I have worked all of my life working with, advocating for, protecting, providing care, and LOVING “old” people. The correct word to describe them is “elders,” but I wanted all of you to understand who I am talking about. I know that my love for this special group started as a child, loving my grandparents. And, oh my, did I LOVE them!! That love continued to grow as I fell hard and fast for each and every old person who attended all of my Daddy’s little country churches over the years. So, when I say I LOVE old people, it is not said lightly. It means they FILL my heart, that my emotions swell with joy, love, compassion, and that I just want to take care of them and make certain they have a wonderful quality of life.

Now, getting back to the story…As much as I love elders, there are times when I don’t want to feel the responsibility of caring for them; times when I simply want to turn off all the feelings, just relax and take care of me for a little while. I call these times vacations! And to be honest, I really have to work at turning off those “nurturing” feelings during this all too short timeframe. I don’t want to see an old person, think about an old person, take care of an old person…

So, some of my friends and I decided to go the “islands” for a vacation, and we were all going to meet in Atlanta at the airport and then fly to our final destination. All of our flights actually arrived on time in Atlanta (which was EXTREMELY UNUSUAL – lol!), and we had a “decent” layover before the next connecting flight. As we were sitting at our gate, waiting, we began to smell freshly popped popcorn. Our noses went on alert, searching for the source. I finally said, “I’ll go find the popcorn and get us some!” I began making my way down the terminal, just like an old coon dog, sniffing out where the popcorn was. I finally saw a little kiosk…the source of that wonderful smell. Standing behind the kiosk was an employee who obviously thought that this was her very last day on earth, and she had to come to work!! Really, what an attitude!! Grumpy and rude would not even begin to describe this woman accurately.

Standing in front of the kiosk was a short, very old woman, who would have fit Hollywood’s usual portrayal of a Russian itinerant worker. Her face was tracked with hundreds of lines reflecting a very long life of hardship, poverty, and possible sorrow. Shoulders stooped, the woman wore a dark olive shawl, draped over her head, and a long, thick skirt in the same color and material. Workman boots completed the outfit, and there was not one tooth in her mouth that I could see. And, she was OLD! From my observations, I determined that she could not speak the English language, and she did not have any money; however, she wanted some popcorn. She was trying to convey to the horrible employee that she just wanted a little taste of the popcorn, but did not have any money. I was standing in line behind the Russian woman, and there was this monster-sized cowboy standing behind me. He had to have been from Texas! He wore a huge 10-gallon hat, had cowboy boots the size of watermelons, and I’m certain he had to turn sideways to get those shoulders through a door!

As I was standing there, I began to feel my heart starting up…FEELING…wanting to put my arms around her…wanting to protect her…wanting to simply love her…My brain kicked in to counteract those feelings…stop it…you are on vacation…not your job…not your responsibility…you NEED this break…I emotionally took a step back to see how the situation might develop. The little Russian woman continued to try to convey what she wanted, and the employee continued to get uglier and uglier in her actions. The employee then “shushed” and waved the woman away, like she was a fly or insect. That was all it took for me. I swept into action, vacation or no vacation, it did not matter at that point. I leaned in to the employee, and in a voice that you hope you don’t EVER hear from me, said these words, “Give her the largest bag of popcorn that you have. Put a smile on your face as you are giving the popcorn to her, and THANK HER for her business! I will pay for it!! Do it NOW!” The employee hurriedly did exactly what I asked. As she was doing this, the cowboy leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Ma’am, if you had not done that, I was fixin’ to!” (Yes, cowboys ARE wonderful!!) The Russian woman realized what I had done, and followed me all the way to my gate, blowing kisses to me, with a big ole’ smile on her face. That is what my friends saw as I came back to my seat with their popcorn. I gave them all of their popcorn, and nobody said anything until we had “settled in.” They then all looked at me, and said, “What did you do this time?” My response? “Oh, you know me…It’s what I do…”

How can you NOT do a kindness for someone when it is well within your power to do so? Whether a person is old, young, middle-aged, poor, rich, in-between, what does it matter? The compassion and power to help others is something that lies within all of us. Some of us just act more readily when prompted. Amy Grant’s grandfather, A. M. Burton, made a statement years ago that went something like this: “Life is made up of golden chances, opportunities to do good. One lost is lost forever. If we miss doing a kindness to a friend, we can never do that kindness again. If we might speak a pleasant word, or offer a bit of worthwhile counsel or advice and fail to do so, we can never have just that opportunity again. Giving is a way of life.” How about joining me in giving as much as we can, whenever we can? It’s what we do! Just for this week…

“I don’t want to be a burden…”

Most of you know that I began this blog as a way to deal with my own grief…while watching my Mother slowly die, literally and figuratively, of Alzheimer’s Disease. Those who loved her beyond reason, had to stand by and watch her descend into that living hell. She remained home, with family, until we could no longer give her the care that she so desperately needed. One of our strategies, to keep her home as long as possible, was to “share” the responsibility of her care among the four children and my Father. Part of my responsibility (and honor) was to stay with her and Daddy, one week out of every month (more often, as I could)…

Mother had gotten to a point where she could not bathe herself, go to the bathroom by herself, or feed herself. So, on this particular day, it was time for her shower. I found it easier (and safer) to just get in the shower with her, and gently bathe her as we talked, laughed, and reminisced. Some times this was a difficult task for her, in that she could not follow or understand anything that I was saying. Other times, bathing was easy, and she would assist me with her own care.

We were both in the shower, drenched from head to toe, and she placed her hand on my arm and made me stop. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I never wanted you children to have to do this. I never wanted to be a burden.” Those words broke my heart and I struggled to find just the right thing to say, to convince her that she was never a burden to us. With a smile on my face, I said, “Mama, didn’t you tell me that when I was a baby, while nursing, the only way you could get me to go to sleep was to let me pinch the skin under your arm, and roll it back and forth between my fingers?” She smiled so sweetly with the memory, and said, “Yes, that’s right.” I asked her, “Didn’t it hurt?” She said, “Yes, but that motion somehow soothed you, and you would go to sleep every time.” I then said, “Didn’t you spend countless, sleepless nights, sitting by my bed, or laying beside me, or just holding me, because I was so sick that you would not leave me alone?” Again, she said, “Yes, I did!” I continued to tell her that there were too many examples to count, too many memories of selfless sacrifices that she had made not only in my behalf, but for all of her children. I asked her if she considered being our Mother a burden. She looked at me in shock, and said, “No! I loved all of you, and I wanted to take care of you!” I then explained that we were doing the same thing for her now; that we wanted to take care of her, out of our love for her. She smiled through tears, and said “OK, then! That’s settled.”

Some times the greatest gift we can give someone is to simply accept their help and caring. Those who are being cared for DO feel like a “burden” to their family. You have a choice as to how you are going to make that person feel…You have a choice as to HOW you are going to give that care – either out of guilt or out of love…and your actions will indicate which choice you made. Have you let your parents, or loved ones, know that they are NOT a burden? Or do you let them know how inconvenienced you are? I tell families and caregivers all the time, “It’s not that you just gave the care, and got it accomplished, but rather, HOW you gave the care.” Do you make them feel guilty? Let those individuals, the ones you are caring for, know that providing care and assistance is an act of love… I don’t ever want someone I love to feel as if they are a burden to me. Caring should be given freely, from the heart. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I just want to sharpen my pencil…”

pencil-sharpener

I’m wondering how many of you remember the item in the picture? Did you use this kind of pencil sharpener at school when you were little? Some will readily recognize the item, while others will simply not have a clue. But what you need to know is this little object had a lot to do with shaping me as a person. Here’s this week’s story…

As a child, I was very, very small; not “bigger than a minute.” In fact, I pretty much stayed that way until I reached young adulthood. In college, I would eat a Whopper hamburger each night and wash it down with a pint of half and half, just to break 100 pounds! I could hold the weight for only a few days, and then I would drop back down to under 100. And oh my, would it not be nice to have that “problem” now…

Each year, on the first day of school, the maintenance man would choose the shortest, smallest child and take a measurement as to where the pencil sharpeners for each room should be mounted. Each year, up until the fourth grade, I was that child! I would go up to that pencil sharpener, in front of the entire class, hold my little arms up as if I were sharpening a pencil, and they would take the measurement. After the first time, I caught on and realized that I was being singled out as the smallest child, and it would make me so upset. You see, to me, my height, or small frame, did not matter. I always thought that I was as big an anyone else, and that I could do anything that they could do. So it came as quite a shock that anyone considered me “little,” or “small.” In my head, it meant that I was “less” than the other children, that “less” was expected of me, or worse, that I “could not do” things as well.  I DID NOT LIKE THAT!! And you see, I had been taught, loved and supported by my family for those first five years of my life to believe that I could do anything….that I was no better or worse than anyone else, and no one was better or worse than me. I kept thinking, I will just show them…I worked hard to excel in everything!! No one was ever going to “out do” me! I even tried to eat more so that I could be bigger each year (not that it worked…). And so it began…all A’s…fastest runner on the playground…biggest, fastest talker (I’m sure all of you who know me are getting a real chuckle out of that one!)…best singer in the music shows…best actress in the school play…”must” win at games…most “popular” in school…it went on and on…Most of my school life was spent accepting “challenges,” and proving people wrong…all because of that dad-blasted pencil sharpener…

My senior Chemistry class was taught by the football coach, and my particular class was filled with the entire football team. There were only three of us ladies in the class. If we won the game on Friday night, we had a party in class on Monday. If we lost the game, we had a pop quiz. Early on, the coach began “picking on” me. For the first time ever, I failed a test…and received a big, old fat “F!” In front of the class, he held the test just out of my reach, giggled with delight, and told me that I was going to fail his class. I was humiliated!! I went home and all of those old “pencil sharpener” feelings bubbled up. It had been years since I had experienced anything like that! It made me angry, and the anger prompted action. I decided that I would never give the coach the satisfaction of failing me for chemistry! I decided that he would eat his words, and that I would prove him wrong. It was a very long year, with him pushing me and making fun of me in front of the class. I aced the class, and was exempt from even taking the final exam. I had come through once again, all because of that goofy pencil sharpener…

In today’s world, the coach would have been called a bully, and certainly, rightfully so! However, because of my experience as a child, with that pencil sharpener, I was equipped to face the challenges that were thrown at me. I know it probably sounds so silly, but most of us are “shaped” by “defining moments” in life, and our response to them. I could have let the “measuring” experience defeat me, but I just could not accept an image in my head, being smaller and “less” than anyone. It just would not compute!!

I don’t think that I could have ever been a parent. Actions, words, habits…you never know which “one little thing” is going to impact a child’s world negatively (or positively), and shape their future. The experience with the pencil sharpener could have defeated me, but my parents had already laid the foundation. They had already made me strong, no matter what my physical size might have been. I don’t think adults think hard enough about the effect they have on children’s lives. A spirit can be broken, or nurtured/cultivated, so easily. We need to think! How we face current challenges, disappointments, and failures is usually determined by how we were taught to face them when we were little. I’m going to continue to “prove them wrong” every time, and I intend to always be aware of my teaching “opportunities” with children and young adults. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Just. Let. Go.

the-end

OK, OK, I KNOW!!! I took off an entire month from the blog. All I can say in my defense is that I apparently needed a little “breather.” So, if you will all forgive me, I am back, and I am going to try my best to continue to post on a weekly basis. Being right in the middle of summer, and seeing and hearing about family and friends’ vacations, I was reminded of some of my own that were more memorable than others. So, this week’s story is about one of those vacations…

One of the most wonderful benefits of having friends all across the nation, is the knowledge that at some point in time, you can arrange to get together for visiting and fun times. A number of years ago, there was a group of us that would go on vacation together each summer. It never really mattered where we went…we always knew there would be good food, lots of laughs, AND adventures!!!

This particular summer we decided to meet up in Lake Tahoe. Each of us had rented a little “Theme” cabin at a resort, close by the Truckee River. Of course, it was our plan to raft down the river during our stay. Although the river was listed as “white water rapids,” the part we were going to be on did not look like anything more than “mild swirls…” (Now, a little aside…I am not known for my expert swimming abilities and/or water skills. Make no mistake, I LOVE the water…as long as I am wearing two items…a life vest…and nose plugs. I can’t help it! I just suck up water through my nose when underwater…I’m like a human vacuum cleaner…Nothing I have tried has helped or made it better. So, you can imagine what I look like…go ahead….picture it…) All of my friends know about this particular “attribute,” and they watch out for me. They know that it would not take much for me to panic and lose even the small skill of swimming that I do possess. So, whenever I am in the water, someone is in with me…within reach…Go ahead and laugh, but know this. This “respect” for water does NOT inhibit my actions. I will try almost anything. I just take “necessary” precautions…

The day arrived for our rafting adventure. There were eight of us. Since the rapids were very mild, and the attendants told us it was very rare for a raft to be overturned, and…not wanting to really look like a nerd, I chose not to wear my nose plugs. So there we were, two at the front of the raft, two at the center, and my best friend and I sitting on the back. We set off and were having such a wonderful time, laughing, enjoying being together, and just being outside in all that glorious beauty. One of my friends at the front kept wanting to make the ride a little more adventuresome, so instead of just allowing us to “drift” down the river, she would try to direct the raft toward the more “active” rapids. She was “admonished” the entire time, and asked not to do this, as all of us just wanted to make the ride last as long as possible, and not have to “work” at it. She just could not help herself, though, and she kept trying to redirect our path. I was enjoying the trip so much, that, eventually, I zoned out and did not pay her anymore attention. Everything was fine until she had somehow gotten us over to one side of the river. The last words I heard from everyone was, “Cat, watch out for that tree…..!!!” I looked up just in time to see the branch swiftly approaching my chest. There was no where to go! The branch caught me in the chest and flipped me over backwards into the water. Knowing my fear and my ability to panic in a heartbeat, my best friend grabbed the waist of my swimming shorts as I flipped over, to keep me from being tossed from the raft. However, she (and I) now had a new quandary…she was holding my bottom up on the raft, but my chest and head were underwater. She knew that if she kept holding me in the raft, that I would surely drown, so she just let go. She and some other friends jumped in immediately to help. Here’s the funny part…when she let go, I simply flipped over and then stood up in about two feet of water. I was safe!! Even without the nose plugs!!!  Since the rapids had taken our raft on down the river, we were stranded, until a raft came by with a bunch of guys on a bachelor’s party/trip, drunker than a skunk! They pulled us into their rafts and we made it to the end of our river journey safely.

If my friend had held on, trying to save me, I really would have drowned in two feet of water. By letting go, she allowed me to take my own action…and she placed herself in a position to offer assistance. Some times, in life situations, we hold on, when letting go would have the better result. We hold on to children, scared that we will no longer be able to protect them from the world’s harms, or that they might grow distant from our love…we hold on to old beliefs and biases that limit our growth – personally, professionally, and spiritually…we hold on to relationships and friendships, trying to make them work when they will not…we hold on to grudges that hurt only the ones holding the grudge…we hold on to an old way of life, when a change in direction would be so much better…we hold on to a job, when there is no joy in the work…we hold on to “worries,” when no amount of worrying has ever changed an outcome…we hold on to fears, and “cultivate” them, instead of facing them and educating ourselves…All of us usually have good intentions, but maybe right now is the time to JUST. LET. GO. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“You’re getting a little too pure….”

Among many other valuable lessons in life, my Father taught me how to drive a car…and a truck…He was so very patient (and BRAVE!!) We started when I was about five years old, and he would let me sit in his lap and “help” him drive to church. Yes, I KNOW, it is a wonder I am alive today!!! LOL! Just to send you into a real “tizzy,” I also used to lay up over the back seat of the car, right next to the back windshield, and gaze at the stars at night…So, yes, I am a one-woman-wonder…I survived!! So…getting back to learning how to drive…As I got older, I got to sit behind the steering wheel myself, with Daddy in the passenger seat. He never hollered at me, or shouted out in fear, he never reprimanded me. He simply, gently, taught me. Whenever I would get to going a little too fast, he would always comment, “You’re getting a little too pure…” I knew what that meant, and I would slow down a little. To his and my credit, I have had only one wreck in my life, and it was the fault of the other driver. I’m thinking his teaching methods were pretty successful!

Driving was not the only lesson and skill he taught me. My father is one of the most gentle, humble, soft-spoken spirits you will ever meet. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he is not around, words cannot describe the sense of bereftness that is felt. He worked hard all of his life to provide for his family. He was both a carpenter and a preacher. (A pretty good combination, even if I do say so myself.) As a carpenter, he taught me how to paint and build. My brother has always laughed and said, “It’s a crying shame when your sister has more tools than you do!” And I always say, “And I know how to use them…” There is no greater pride when I build something, and when I get through with the project, my first thought is…”just like Daddy.”

But the greatest lesson he taught me was how to live “Christ-like.” I have watched my Father all of my life, and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he LIVES his beliefs and faith. There were times when I wanted him to get angry at a situation, to lash out at individuals who were hurting him or our family, but he never would. He ALWAYS turned the other cheek…”70 times 70…” His faith, along with my Mother’s, has been the driving force in my life. It is the one thing that I am sure of in this life!

About halfway through my life, I realized that he and I never really verbalized our love for each other. I always told Mother I loved her, but I could not remember doing that very much with Daddy. Once I made that realization, I set about to correct it. He now hears the words “I love you” each time we talk and each time we are together. He KNOWS it!! He will turn 89 this year, and I am so thankful that I have him! He will never know how his lessons direct my path and my actions, even when I tell him. So, on this past Father’s Day, as well as all the other days, I love and appreciate him even more. What a blessing that God gave me to him and Mother!

So men, it takes more than “making a baby” to be a real Father…it’s always being there, always supporting, always providing, always teaching and guiding, always loving…and ALWAYS living an example before them…the RIGHT example. So pay attention, little ones look up to you, and want to be just like you. And no matter how old a child grows, you will always be their Daddy. Make it count! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

And then I heard this low, sexy voice…

Most of us can share similar stories about the lessons our parents have taught us. No matter where you live in the world, it seems that most parents caution their children in the same way…”Don’t cross your eyes; they will get stuck that way!” “Don’t go outside with a wet head; you will catch a cold!” “Always leave home wearing clean underwear. You might be in an accident.” (As if you are going to end up with clean underwear should said accident occur…) As I was growing up,  my Mother imparted numerous “words of wisdom” on how to be safe. This week’s story involves some of those lessons…

Being a “career woman” most of my adult life, travel has been a necessary requirement in the pursuit of my business. Flying on planes, obtaining rental cars, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, connecting with limousine services, etc., etc., etc. has been a part of my daily and weekly routine. Since I am female, my Mother was especially careful in teaching my sisters and me how to be safe, and to be ever vigilant of our surroundings. She would tell us before getting into a vehicle…never go up to a car without looking around and under the car (someone could be under the car with a razor blade, with the goal of slicing your achilles tendon, rendering you defenseless). I have never figured out how someone could get under the car to begin with, and then how they could get to me before I stomped them into senseless oblivion. But ask me if I still, to this day, look under a car before getting in it, and the answer would be “yes.” She told us to always check the back seat, to make certain that someone was not hiding there. (Yes, with the intent, again, to do us harm.) When we had completed all of these necessary tasks, we could then safely get into a car. We had completed “the checklist.”

I would not be able to tell you whether I have been conscious of these “lessons”  or not, but I can tell you that very obviously I complete all the tasks when I travel. It has all become very “second-nature” to me…I don’t even think about it…I just do it.

So…I end up getting into Houston, TX, late one night. (Yes, all my flights had been delayed, yet again, for SOME reason…) In most airports you can obtain your rental car in the actual airport, and walk right out to the parking lot to pick up the reserved car. In Houston, however, the rental car companies are not on the airport property. You complete all of the rental agreement papers in the airport, and then a shuttle takes you to your car. And on this particular night, the shuttle took us to a very dark, deserted parking lot. I was on the shuttle with about eight business men. The shuttle driver, being a good Southern gentleman, elected to drop me off first, since I was the only woman. He also felt the need to wait until I actually got into the car safely before he pulled away. (A very nice, considerate young man!) 

I got off the shuttle and realized that I could not approach the car, and certainly NOT enter it until I had completed Mama’s safety checks. I placed my briefcase, suitcase, and garment bag on the ground near the shuttle bus door. I leaned down and looked under the car (to make certain that the person with the razor blade was NOT there). Then I went around and checked in front of the car, as well as the other side to make certain no one was hiding in the shadows. By this time, everyone on the shuttle was anxiously waiting to see what my next move would be. (I could hear a chuckle or two from a few of the men on the bus.) I proceeded with great caution and looked in the back seat to make certain it was indeed empty. After I had completed all of these tasks, I determined that the car was safe for me to enter. I loaded up all my paraphernalia in the trunk and proceeded to the driver’s door. Just as I opened the car door, I heard this low, sexy voice saying, “Your key is in the ignition.” I whipped around with both fists up in the air, ready for the battle of my life. That voice scared me so badly that I almost wet my pants!! This was the first year that the auto industry had added the option of a voice reminder for “keys in the ignition,”  and I had never heard one before. Once I realized that there was no sex predator in the car, about to attack me, I noticed the guys on the shuttle bus were killing themselves with laughter. I turned around, gave an enormous bow and curtsy, and bid them on their way. We all had a good laugh with my antics, but you know what? I was SAFE! And I have continued to be safe all of these years.

As children, we think some of our parent’s “cautions” are silly and ridiculous. Some of you have probably even said, “I will never catch myself saying those things to my children.” But you end up telling your kids the same things. Why? Because usually what our parents teach us, are lessons that DO keep us safe; that DO help us make the right decisions; that DO give us “direction” in our lives. I don’t consciously think of each lesson that I have been taught, but they stuck! I hear their words in my head, and I follow their guidance without even thinking about it. Because of my Mother’s “safety guidance,” I have always been aware and safe as a result. Her lessons were a success! What have you taught your children? Are the lessons worth remembering? And do you deliver the lessons with love, patience and consideration? I think I will keep following my Mama’s advice…and parents, I would keep giving those lessons…Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

 

“Sticks and stones…”

As kids, we all learned those old “comebacks” to win an argument: “Oh yeah? Well, your Mama…” “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!” “I know you are, what am I?” And of course, the best one, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me!” As we grew older, we learned very quickly that words could indeed harm us. In his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum gave us a new quote regarding “sticks and stones.” He writes, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” I would like to add to that statement. Words will also break our spirit. I am sure you have guessed by now that the “power” for this week is WORDS.

At conferences, I am often asked to present a session entitled, “They’re ONLY Words…” In that presentation I tell of a little girl in the second grade. She was very tiny for her age, and had a “clubfoot.” (Also called congenital talipes equinovarus (CTEV), a congenital deformity involving one foot or both. The affected foot appears to have been rotated internally at the ankle. Without treatment, people with club feet often appear to walk on their ankles or on the sides of their feet.) In addition to this deformity, she had a “cauliflower ear” and could not hear very well with that ear. (Cauliflower ear is a condition that occurs when the external portion of the ear suffers a blow, blood clot or other collection of fluid under the perichondrium. As a result, the outer ear becomes permanently swollen and deformed, resembling a cauliflower.) I have told you the exact definition and descriptions of those two deformities because I want you to get a good visual image of this small child. This was quite a few years ago, before we had all of the latest technology to test someone’s hearing. The way they tested a child’s hearing in school went something like this: the teacher would call up one child at a time, whisper a phrase into their ear, and ask them to repeat the phrase they heard…all conducted in front of the entire class. The little girl remembered last year when this was done…how she was embarrassed and humiliated to have to go before the class, dragging her little foot, and hoping against hope that she could hear the phrase well enough to repeat it. I can just picture her…her heart pounding so loudly in that little chest that you would think it might explode…trying to remember to walk as straight as possible, not limp or drag her foot…and praying so hard that she might actually hear what the teacher would whisper in her ear. (I can never tell this story without tears springing to my eyes. I am such a visual person, and I can see this little girl in minute detail every time I recount this event. Even now, I am writing this with tears in my eyes.) So, it was time for her to walk up to the teacher. She took a little longer getting there than the rest of the children. As she was walking to the front of the class, she heard the comments: “retard,” “gimp,” “not right in the head…” Oh yes, she heard all of that!! She finally reached the teacher, turned her “good” ear to her, and tried to hide the tears already forming in her eyes. The teacher leaned down, scooped the child as closely in her arms as possible, and whispered tenderly to her, “I wish you were MY child!”  And right there, in that moment, those words made all the difference in the world to that child. Just from those few words, she discovered that she had worth and value; that someone wanted her…defects and all. Those words gave her hope!

I hear what people say to their children. I hear what people say to the people they supposedly love. I hear what people say to, and about, the people they work with. I hear what neighbors say about other neighbors. I hear what husbands and wives say to each other. I hear what children say to their parents. And my heart breaks over and over again. When did we become so cruel? When did we become so uncaring? Once a word is spoken, you can never take it back. There are no “do-overs.” You can never really correct it. Oh, you can apologize, but the memory, and that you said it in the first place, will ALWAYS be remembered. Words can absolutely destroy a person. Words can lift and encourage one’s  heart and spirit.

I always think that if this was the last time I saw a person, what words would I have left them with? Would the words be fault-finding, cruel, disrespectful, harmful, and destructive; or would the words be loving, comforting, encouraging? I want my words to be tender to the heart and soul…loving in every way. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

That’s Excellent….!!!

I had a friend who lost her Father unexpectedly this past week. Tuesday evening I attended his “celebration” service. There were two prevailing themes that were evident as family and friends remembered her father. One was his faith in, and love for, God. The other was that he had lived a life of “excellence.” Since I have been talking about our individual “powers” in my last few blogs, and I’ve already covered the power of “faith,” we will continue this week with the power of EXCELLENCE!

As a speaker, one of my goals is to consistently score the highest possible mark on conference evaluations. In other words, I want to score “excellent” on each one. I will be honest, I would still receive payment for my services, even if I got “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” I probably would not be asked to come back for a repeat performance, but I would get paid for the job that I had done. And that would be enough for me, if I were only in it for the money. However, we all know, I don’t do what I do for the money. It sure helps though, because I like to eat just as well as the next person…Fortunately, because I work HARD to accomplish this, I DO receive those excellent scores. In 35 years, I can only remember one bad evaluation, and it was REALLY bad…. The individual wrote (anonymously, of course) that I was “harsh, rude, and mean.” It just took my breath away! I went back over every second of my presentation, trying to figure out what I had said or done to cause this person to think those horrible things. After much self-analysis, I came to the conclusion that this person simply had to have been on drugs that day! There was no other reasonable explanation! 

So how do we get to a point of excellence, to where that pursuit becomes second nature to us? I think that it is a skill that can be learned. Being the best that you can be is a concept that we can teach children (and ourselves). My parents and grandparents convinced me at an early age that I could do anything that I set my mind to, and that I could accomplish anything in life, if I worked hard to attain the goals that I had established for myself. I believed them, took the message to heart, and never looked back! So you need the confidence in yourself and your abilities, and the motivation and enthusiasm to establish goals and work to accomplish them. You also need to obtain as much “book” and experiential knowledge as you can get!

When my business partner and I began our company (providing continuing education to healthcare professionals), we were not known in some states. So, we had to “cultivate” a following in those new states. We went to one state for the first time, and ONE person showed up for our training. Most companies would have cancelled that training, but we felt that you had to start somewhere! (And now we get to that “pursuit of excellence” skill…) I walked in, looked at the one person, smiled brightly, and said, “You are about to receive the best, one to one training that you will ever get in your life! You will have my undivided attention, can ask any question you want, we will go at your own personal pace, and we can even go off-topic if you like. It is all up to you. I am at your service!” I went above and beyond what she had been expecting, had there been a room full of participants. The next time we conducted a seminar in that state, we had a FULL meeting room!

It does not matter what task is at hand. Do it with excellence! In work, in play, in relationships, in beliefs, in living, in love…do it all, with excellence! Don’t be mediocre!! Don’t be ordinary, even when doing ordinary things. Be the best! Excel at what you do! I hope that whenever I have a “celebration of life” service, people will also say of me, she lived a life of excellence! Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

Man! She has an attitude!!

As mentioned in last week’s post, I indicated that I wanted to share the “powers” that each of us have within our grasp, but that many fail to see them. It usually takes a life-changing event to show a person what they are made of! So this is a continuation on that topic… I would like to show people that they don’t have to wait for a life-changing event to realize their strength. These “powers” are something that we can utilize and engage every day of our lives. Last week’s power was FAITH. This week’s power is ATTITUDE!

You get up one morning, and you’re feeling great; “on top of the world,” in fact. You KNOW that this is going to be a good day! You get dressed for work, get in your car, and merge into traffic. Everything is going really well, until someone begins riding your bumper, trying to make you go faster than you want. You can tell just by their demeanor, they have watched too much NASCAR racing, and they have convinced themselves they are, indeed, an accomplished race driver. When you think they cannot possibly get any closer to your back bumper, they finally whiz around you, and cut back in front of you so close, that you have to slam on brakes to avoid rear-ending THEM! The coffee you were drinking spills over on your clothes, and your fingers have now been burnt and are sticky. At this point, that wonderful feeling you had before leaving the house is gone! For many, this one moment will define the day for them. No matter how good their intentions were when leaving the house, everything has now been ruined. You end up with a lousy attitude for the rest of the day…

Basically, you gave that perfect stranger the control to impact your day. You’ve allowed this person to take away the positive feelings that you had when you started out that morning. You’ve allowed one simple, random act of ignorance to influence your attitude, and destroy your day.

I come across a lot of people who would love nothing better than to cause me to be as miserable as they are. But you know what? I don’t allow it, because I can control and direct my attitude. Believe me, I have found that the negative, ne’er sayer doesn’t get as much accomplished in life, and they seem to be miserable all the time. You’ve seen those people…seemingly with a dark, black cloud over their heads all the time. Gloom and doom seems to follow them around.

I like being positive. I believe very strongly that “positive” begets “positive.” I believe that you can change the direction of your life, and your success, by simply having a positive attitude. I was at a conference not too long ago…one that was three days long, and I was speaking at some point each day. After the second day, I had a conference attendee come up to me and say, “I’ve been watching you during this conference, and you’re different.” (Now, I seem to be told this quite often, and at the beginning, I can never figure out if being different is a good thing, or a bad thing…) I looked at the individual and responded, “How so?” She said, “When you enter a room, you seem to own it!” I guess I must had indicated by facial expression that the statement might not be a compliment. She immediately spoke again, and said,”I can see that I did not convey my thoughts accurately, because I certainly did not mean anything negative. What I meant to say is that when you enter a room, you EXPECT acceptance!” I looked at her bewildered, and said, “Of course! I DO expect acceptance! Why would I enter a room thinking that I would not be accepted?” I cannot imagine anyone getting up each morning, looking in a mirror, and saying to themselves…”Let’s go be a failure today!” I think you get what you expect! It is all about attitude! It is like the little train who thought he could…”I think I can…I think I can…” You know the ending…HE DID!!

Because I fly a lot, I am a member of numerous airline frequent flyer programs. As a result, the more miles you have, the more “perks” you receive. I used to fly Northwest Airlines quite a bit before Delta bought them out. Northwest called their frequent flyers “Elite.” It had been one of those trips where flight after flight had been either delayed or cancelled. All I needed was one more flight to get home, and it was not looking optimistic…We had been waiting in the gate area for hours upon hours. Everyone was so tired, including the young female agent who was very patiently enduring quite a bit of abuse from weary travelers. It got to be midnight, and the moment finally arrived when we were all going to be able to board the plane and get in the air. I stood in line, waiting for the agent to take my ticket and let me board. As I gave her the ticket, she paused a moment, and said, ” Ms. Selman, are you Elite?” I looked at her, smiled (although I was as exhausted as anyone else that night), gave her a little wink, and said, “As if I would be ANYTHING else…” She cracked up laughing, and said, “Go on and get your seat then.” Unfortunately, due to all of the rebooking of flights, my seat was at the very rear of the plane. I placed my briefcase underneath the seat, placed my coat in the overhead bin, and settled in. Just as I had finished doing all of that, I heard an attendant state, “Would passenger Selman please press your call light?” My first thought was, “Oh no! They are going to bump me from this flight!! I’m never going to get home tonight!” So, I reached up and pressed the call light. The agent from the gate came down to my seat and said, “Ms. Selman, please get your things and come with me.” I stood up, got my coat, got my briefcase and followed her, all the time asking, “Where are we going?” She said, “You’ll see!” She then proceeded to take me to the first class cabin and gave me a seat there for my trip home! Now, I know there were a lot of people on that flight, who were at higher “Elite” status than me; however, I got the first class seat because of my positive attitude. And to be honest, that happens a lot for me!

I refuse to let people bring me down with their negativity. I enjoy life! I enjoy being positive! And yes, I DO expect acceptance. I always see the glass as being half full…Life can be so much fuller, satisfying and wonderful if you go through each day with a positive outlook…even when things don’t always go your way. That’s what I do! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…