How to Live Forever and be a Billionaire … Wait, Make That Trillionaire

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Sound a little extreme?  Maybe so.  But have you tried our brand new soup made from powdered unicorn horn, camels milk and babies breath?  Guaranteed success every time.  You will not believe the results.  In fact, if you give the same dedication to this soup regimen that you give to all your other efforts to be healthy and save money, you will absolutely flush another $39.99 down the toilet in less than thirty seconds!  Sign here please…

What is it about the human race that loves extremes so much?  Marketers know all about this proclivity and they capitalize on it in 100% of their advertising.  “This revolutionary laundry soap will remove every single stain your children could possibly inflict upon their clothing and give you a massage!” People involved in movements of some kind use it as well.  Politicians clearly think we’re insane with the claims they make.  “If you vote for me, I’ll make sure education is completely overhauled, that no one is ever hungry again, that platinum health benefits are free to every American, that your dogs will live to be 35 instead of 15.” There is no such thing as a moderate political claim.

I might be slightly exaggerating but seriously, when was the last time you saw an honest ad?  “This pill will help you feel slightly better than before you took it.  So it’s likely a very good idea.”  “I will try not to completely destroy your country while I’m in office and will make every effort to improve on a few things.” “This stain remover will take care of a few of the things that your kid can get into, but won’t even think about touching that bloody grass stain.”  Oh gosh no.  Everything is the end of the world, or the cure for it.  And if you don’t do it, you’ll die. Alone.  Broke and miserable and no one will come to your funeral.

How many people do you know who categorize themselves as OCD?  And how many of them do you know who are actually, clinically OCD?  My answer is like, 200 and honestly, probably 1.  I know one person in all the people who are self diagnosed with OCD who could probably benefit from a medical diagnosis.  Most of us who claim this are just intolerant of imperfection and hard to deal with.  OCD has nothing to do with it, and frankly, calling ourselves OCD is possibly insulting to those with the clinical condition.  We should probably just go ahead and admit that we’re selfish and demanding.  Is there a pill we can take for that?

My mom and dad taught us good words.  Big words that most people don’t learn all their lives, much less when they’re seven.  The first of these good words was discretion.  I didn’t know the full depth of its meaning at the time, but they employed it when they were allowing us to decide how many cookies we should eat, how late we were going to stay up and so forth.  They would say, “use discretion” as we sprinted for the candy bag.  What a brilliant thing to teach a child.  Synonymous with “Think before you put 12 cookies on your plate.  If you stay up til midnight how will you feel for school tomorrow?  Remember that everything you do now has consequences later.”  Use discretion.  Humanity needs this phrase.  It’s a game changer.

While we are inundated with miracle cures, fantastical claims, ego boosting platitudes to reach for the stars … remember to use discretion.  Remember that ordinary is actually a pretty wonderful place to be and it’s reality.  A friend of mine recently sent our study group an article called “The Power of an Ordinary Life”, that you can read if you click here. It was full of beauty and wonderfulness … permission for your life to be ordinary and fabulous.

So, why go with the less extreme and shoot for ordinary?  Such a thought is so counter cultural it almost sounds like heresy. Here are a few reasons to consider moderation:

  1. It is reality.  Most of us aren’t born with the talent to be all stars.  The world isn’t designed that way, and that’s super great for us.  We can calm down and enjoy our lives.  Olympians stand out for a good reason.  Bill Murray tweeted this during the Olympics and it’s almost ridiculous how much I loved it.bill-murray-every-olympic-event-tweetYes.  This. Ordinary is a good place to live.  We don’t all have to swim like Michael Phelps, tumble like Aly Raisman, or run like Hussein Bolt.  We could just be the best versions of ourselves.  I for one, am an excellent omelet maker.  Come by on a Sunday night, and I will prove this non extraordinary claim.
  2. Usually, the one who is actually right, feels no need to scream about it.  Just recently I read two articles giving opposing views about a parenting choice.  One was over the top, obnoxiously omniscient throughout and claimed that if you weren’t making her choice, you supported killing babies.  The other was professional, quiet, made good points and addressed as many concerns as possible in as calm a voice as possible.  Guess which one I put more stock in.  Ignore the extreme claims and believe the non anxious research.  It might not be as eye catching, so it’s probably telling you the truth.  We have neither the time nor the motivation to live our lives in extremes of perfection, so believe in reality and be happy.
  3. There is Biblical precedent for it. Philippians 4:5 says “Let your moderation be known to all men…” Ecclesiastes 7:16 states “It is not good to eat too much honey…” (Unless it is raw, local honey because then it will cure everything bad that has ever happened to you…) There are hundreds of verses teaching the wisdom of contentment, satisfaction with the life God has given you and living in moderation.  God gives promises of peace, joy and fulfillment for those who find their way to approaching life with discretion. Proceed accordingly. And just for the record, I love local, raw honey.
  4. Lastly, if you are prone to believe every screaming voice, no one will give you any attention when you find the things that are truly miraculous or horrific.  I completely believe in miracles of healing, in fantastical bravery, in heroism that defies all logic.  I don’t believe you can drink a protein shake that achieves these things.  I believe that some actual atrocities of humanity are being allowed and perpetuated by society.  Child slavery is a real thing and is probably supported by your buying choices (I’m looking at you Hershey’s chocolate squares).  Sex trafficking happens and is far more prevalent than we like to think.  Abortion kills actual human lives.  Some things are extremely bad, and if we scream about every little thing, no one will listen when we talk about the big ones.
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Four of the people in my life who make it complicated enough without your scare tactics or nonsensical claims!

I’m a mom.  I have enough people yelling at me and giving me guilt trips.  I don’t need an add to claim to get every stain from every article of clothing, I just need ONE that will remove mildew stains.  I don’t need you to claim that every nutritional choice I’m making is killing my children.  I just need to know how much protein is really in that protein bar, or is it just a candy bar wrapped in green and natural brown to trick my brain into thinking it’s healthy (that’s a real thing they do.  Buyer beware).  Turn off your ears to the late night screamer adds and try something for yourself to see if it makes YOU feel better.  Read ingredient labels so you can tell for yourself if you’re drinking lemonade or a cleverly marketed, chemical concoction.  You may be healthier for it.  You will definitely be more informed for it.

Enjoy your delightful, ordinary life … and always use discretion.

If you have an extraordinary, ordinary talent (such as omelet making), please tell me about it in the comments.  Let’s spend a few minutes glorying in the way we were uniquely designed!

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Four Things to do When Life Isn’t Behaving …

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My newly made planner for 2015. My 2014 Susan Branch Calendar sacrificed its life to make this wonderfulness a reality.

For list makers, goal setters and other planning nut jobs, this time of year is especially wonderful.  I start making my yearly “Goals Program” in December and hit the ground running in January.  I charge into a new year determined to be the Worlds Best version of myself.  It’s big fun.  I recommend insanity.  But there are millions of posts this time of year about goals and resolutions, so I won’t bore you with the details of mine … this post is about the things that happen that have nothing to do with your plan ….

The idea of “unplanning” my life a little bit came to me when I ran into an older lady at our church.  I don’t mean I saw her and approached her calmly because I hadn’t spoken to her in a while … I mean I ran into her.  I wasn’t paying attention and I almost knocked the poor woman over.  After I grabbed her to keep her upright, laughed, hugged her and sincerely apologized, she said something really wonderful to me.

“Oh, I’m so glad you weren’t paying attention!  It gave me a chance to hug you and say hi!  I haven’t seen you in forever!”  What a sweetheart.  Also, what a fabulous perspective on mistakes, detours, derailed plans, life.  I really needed it.

So I am switching my thoughts on goals and plans.  I will still make them, obviously, but here are things I’ve decided to do when they go awry.  Also a few thoughts on when something unexpected comes up that wasn’t even a missed plan, it wasn’t on my radar at all.

1.  Remember that most unplanned things aren’t a problem until we make them a problem.  

Of course there are exceptions to this, disease, car crashes … those sorts of things are a problem in themselves.  I’m talking about roadwork, getting cut off, traffic delays, missing a meeting, smacking face first into a 75 year old lady in your church hallway.  Your attitude determines whether or not these things will ruin your day.  My dad used to call them “adventures”.  If you see your life as an adventure, having to make a detour won’t upset you so much.  Life is what you make of it.  So make it great.

2.  Most mistakes can be fixed with just the right word at just the right time.

I have a problem with my mouth.  It is always opening and saying things.  I have learned that, while words spoken can’t ever be taken back, there are ways to mend the things you broke when you opened your mouth.  Recently I was on Facebook and in a super bad mood.  As a side note, it’s always a good idea to get on Facebook when you’re ready to spit nails.  I was following a thread about something non-important and noticed a friend’s comment had been taken poorly by the group and people were reacting negatively towards her.  I went into attack mode, defending my friend while eviscerating the person who had been unkind and thereby started an entirely new war.  Really.  Nothing is more vicious than a group of mommies with nothing to do but follow pointless Facebook threads.  The next day I noticed that the thread had exploded thanks to my hostile comment and one lady was even considering leaving the group.  Sigh. I apologized on the thread, promised them that I now had my head on straight (and had drunk several cups of coffee that morning, improving my outlook on life) and begged the poor woman not to leave the group based solely on my stupidity.  She accepted my apology, stayed in the group and I think she might even like me now.

If I had waited one more day to try and make amends, I doubt the story would be the same.  Sometimes everyone needs time to cool down, but sometimes the situation needs to be diffused immediately.  When broiling over words and tempers are involved usually a soft word is what’s needed, not days and days for the problem to fester and grow.  Stop the madness!  Apologize quickly and completely (even if you were partially right, now’s not the time!) and let everyone move on with their lives!  And when in doubt … just keep your mouth shut in the first place and stay off the internet when you’re a grouch.

3. Have a positive default setting for when things go really wrong.

Ever heard the phrase, “Bad hair days are good hat days”?  We all know that things are going to go wrong in our lives eventually.  If you plan your immediate reaction to the negatives in life, it will make them a bit easier to deal with.  For instance, when something upsetting happens to my mom, she buys chocolate for us all to eat.  No kidding.  Who doesn’t win in that scenario?  There are doctors who would call that an unhealthy relationship with food.  I call it delicious.

When Jason and I were first married we had two miscarriages in one year.  I took every test the medical world could offer and they all had “normal” results.  When I got pregnant for the third time, I made a plan for how I would react if I once again lost the pregnancy.  I actually made a list of the things in my life that would still be good even if I couldn’t have the baby I desired so desperately.  He was a boy.  Sometimes you don’t have to put your default setting to use.  That’s always nice.

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My oldest son, Jack. He’s six now.

4. Use the opportunity to help someone else.

This entire world is broken.  That is just a fact.  I love to see the positive and silver lining, and I wear rose colored glasses on purpose, but sometimes even I have to get real.  People need help, healing, love, hugs … us.  If you’re thinking, “How am I supposed to deliver healing when I’M so sick?!” I have some fabulous news for you!  God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty.  It’s awesome.  So many times the things we look at as a struggle and a heart ache, someone else can look to as a light at the end of their very dark tunnel.  If you have health problems, use them to help others with the same problem. If you’ve lost a parent, you can now reach out with empathy to others who have suffered the same loss.  If you have a child who is making terrible choices, other parents may one day look to you to figure out how to live through their own precious child’s crisis.

Many of you are probably well aware that the current and effective “Amber Alert” system grew out of the greatest tragedy imaginable.  I was a teenager when the beautiful little Amber was snatched from her street by a psychopath and the manhunt that ensued was brutal and heartbreaking.  On the other side of it, Amber’s parents took their horror story and turned it into something that has given hundreds of parents back their children.  Can you imagine that? Heartache will happen anyway.  We might as well help each other through.

I do realize this isn’t a typical “Happy New Year!” post.  But since our year definitely will not go as planned, we might as well have a plan for it … see what I did there?

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And really, Happy New Year!  I hope all of your lists work out.

The Eye of the Beholder

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I heard a quote the other day that I just love:  “Anyone can love a rose, but it takes a great deal to love a leaf.  It is ordinary to love the beautiful, but it is beautiful to love the ordinary.”

I have a conch shell on my bathroom windowsill that is impossible to dust. No one would think it was anything special, just at a glance. It is thickly coated in some sort of white crust, and into the crust is embedded all these tiny little shells that no doubt belonged to tiny sea creatures who wandered up looking for a spot to land. I’m guessing they finally just left their shells there after fruitlessly trying to disconnect from the muck. One can only hope they found a safe harbor before being eaten by something … probably the thing that lived in my conch shell. As unlovely as it is now, it was actually a slimy mossy green when I got it, and I bleached it and scrubbed it until it is now its white crusty, spiderweb catching self. I think it’s beautiful.

Here it is in all it's inglory!

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I do not have an artistic eye, though I’m working on it. I usually last about 12 minutes in an art gallery. I look long and hard at sculptures that appear to have been dropped, then glued back together, and I see no deeper meaning.

I always wind up thinking, “My five year old could make that, and then we’d really be banking!” Those kinds of things are worth a fortune. So I spend my obligatory 12 minutes working my way through the art I understand and then, once I’ve passed the Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses stuff I’m all, “So, someone mentioned going for pizza after this? Is anyone else starving?”

America has a strange idea of beauty now. Have you noticed? Beauty is only attributed to young, smooth, perfect sorts of things. I mean, we seem to like weird artwork, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to other stuff or people, we miss the boat a lot. Not all Americans, but mainstream folks, even Christians seem to place a higher value on that which is fun to look at. Just try finding a popular Christian musician that isn’t pretty. I’m telling you, IF they exist, they are super rare!

Not just Christians though, of course. Hollywood is kind of low on talent, but ridiculously high in the beauty category. It is full of gorgeous, young, smooth women who are twenty pounds underweight, and full of people of ordinary size who are all grocery store clerks in movies. I feel bad for Hollywood women.  They only have a shelf life of approximately three months.  Then they develop a wrinkle that can’t be airbrushed out and their career is shot, unless you’re Betty White who is adorable, or Meryl Streep who is just too fabulous to be shunted away. Still it’s pretty hard to get a job in Hollywood, even for a guy, if you don’t have just the perfect look. I guess if they feel you’re worth the trouble, they might also try to give you just the perfect look. Heaven forbid people just look normal. It might give people the impression that they are worthy of attention just like they are.

Anyone watching the night Susan Boyle debuted on “Britain’s Got Talent” knows exactly what I’m talking about.  You should watch it on Youtube if you didn’t see it live.  People’s reactions to her were incredible.  The obvious, not just distaste, but utter lack of respect shown to her before she started singing will blow your mind.  Also, everyone’s reaction AFTER she started singing will blow your minds.  How could someone with slightly crooked teeth, who doesn’t fall in the 16-22 age range and isn’t a stick figure possibly be talented?  An anomaly of the first order no doubt.  Someone completely forgot to tell her that she was worthless because she wasn’t a super model.  I think we should all use a little less plastic and paint.

Here is my thought about my conch shell, and unbeautiful people (I learned that word from a five-year-old. It’s so awesome that every word processor underlines it with a red squiggly line). I don’t think my conch shell is beautiful because I bought it at a shell shop somewhere in Missouri a thousand miles from an actual beach. You can find shells in places like that.  It’s just weird. I guess they’re there for people who spend money to have perfectly polished and beautiful things to decorate their house. I am obviously not one of those people. If you added up everything I’ve spent on my home decor, it probably wouldn’t equal what one of those pretty conch shells would cost you.

But I ask you this: Was your pretty and polished conch shell fished out of the sea for you on a mission trip to Belize?  Was it handed to you with love by one of the sweetest teenagers in existence?  Was it smuggled, somewhat illegally, through customs wrapped artfully in dirty clothes in your luggage?  I’m just sayin.  My story is cooler. Just so you know, I have nothing against spending money on your house … but I have nothing against my way either.

Everything in my house is either a token of an experience that I loved, or given to me by someone I love. I hate those random psych questions that ask, “If your house was on fire and your family was safe and you knew you could save one thing, what would you save?” I usually sit for a moment and mentally run through every picture, book, bottle of sand (yes, sand is a decoration at my house) and then flee the room in tears. I would want to save all of it. It all has meaning to me. That query is even more bizarre when they tell you you can only save one family member. My husband refers to a Captain Kirkism as an answer.  “I don’t believe in a no win scenario.  I would save them all.”   I refuse to answer altogether.  I don’t think Jason or I would do very well on a psyche evaluation.

It is my personal opinion that people are more beautiful the longer they live and the less they botox. If you will sit and share your life story with a kid for an hour, or if you can describe what it was like to huddle in a foxhole, or fearlessly march onto a beach in Normandy under constant German fire, or you still knit, sew or crochet, you are a beautiful person. If you sag somewhere because you’ve had three children, or your skin is puckered from surgery, or your hands are calloused from years of using them for your livelihood, that’s all because life has happened to you.  If you’re a single or foster parent, don’t even get me started on your level of amazingness.

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The greatest beauty lies in reality: in the depth of our experiences. Smile lines are a mark of a life spent finding joy in trials. Not the mark of a perfect life.

So, we should expand our definition of beauty a little bit, right?  At least enough to include ourselves, for pete’s sake!  It isn’t because we’re humble that we don’t think we’re beautiful, it’s because we’ve been lied to, we’re insecure, we’re inundated with plastic figurines all painted to perfect specifications by toddlers in China.  So forget the Walmart version of you, or the Dillards version if you happen to have more money.  We are my conch shell.  We have a story that is worth being a bit banged up for.  We are real people, with real purpose in life.  We are loved by God.  Jesus would rather die than live without us.  If nothing else in this entire world is beautiful, that is beautiful.  End of story.

Poisoning People for Fun and Profit

 

I have always had a thing for words. Like, since I was old enough to start noticing their usefulness in getting what I wanted.  Especially when this included grating on my older brother and sister’s nerves. It was big fun when, in an argument, Ryan would make some perfectly lucid 6-year-old point, and I would spout back in my three-year-old wisdom, “Well you’re just too preposition to know better!”. He would usually respond to this by running to Mom yelling, “Mom, Julie’s talking weird again!” Argument won.

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Words in pretty much any form are beloved by me.  Listening to a really fabulous speech or sermon took my breath away even when I was much too young for that to be cool.  Speaking them for myself was, of course, fabulous.  Written words … heaven.  You don’t even want to see my “written words” collection.  But just in case you do ever happen upon one of my bookshelves and feel the urge to pull a book out, please put it on the table for re-shelving by the competent maniac librarian who has them all categorized in a very specific order.  The pulling-books-off-the-shelves stage was a very hard moment in my toddlers’ lives.  I say moment, because I pretty muchly lost my mind over it, and they never tried it again.  I mean, really.  Have a little respect for the crazy person and her library.  18-month-olds.  Sheesh.

My problem is that words come too easily, too naturally to me. Just the perfect word to zap someone in their place is usually right on the tip of my tongue. This would be perfect except my Mom ruined it for me.  Imagine if you will the kindest, most considerate person on the planet.  I mean, so nice that it’s actually just ridiculous.  Now double it.  Now imagine they raised you.  Sigh.

65% of the conversations I had with my mother up to the age of like 17, were the following:

Me:  “So then I told them (insert brilliant, just-funny-enough-to-make-everyone-laugh, just-true-enough-to-make-one-person-really-pale comment)”.

Mom with a horrified and disappointed look on her face: “But you didn’t really say that, did you?” She always gave me the benefit of the doubt, knowing my love of words also extended to the ability to embellish details of stories after the fact.

Me: too honest to say no, too embarrassed to admit out loud that I really did say whatever horrible thing I had said.

Mom: (insert various forms of telling your child to go apologize immediately.)

Sad times, friends.  Apologizing for the perfect zinger tends to take the “zing” out.  Brutal for a budding verbal martial artist.

I can’t remember how old I was before I started to realize on my own that my words had the same effect on others that their words had on me. I do remember that I was much older than I should have been for that insight. I will also say that whoever made up that idiotic childhood taunt, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” had probably never been spoken to before. Or more likely, they had been talked to too much, and this fictional phrase was their defense mechanism. Today, I’m sure they would have been assigned a syndrome. Off the point a bit, my favorite version of this saying remains Gilligan’s from “Gilligan’s Island”.  His phrasing was far more accurate in my opinion, “Sticks and stones may break my bones … so please, don’t throw sticks and stones.”

In my childhood verbiage was fun to experiment with. The many sounds words made tickled my brain, sizzled on my tongue. I used them ecstatically, with reckless abandon. The more powerful the word, the better. In my adulthood, I have discovered the truth about them. They can be extremely dangerous in the wrong circumstances. Hitler used them to build his Third Reich, to justify genocide, to work people into a frenzy for his cruel, lustful regime.  When teaching on the Nazis in my World History classes I had many students ask me, “How could he ever get people to do the things they did?” Just with words.  What a frightening prospect.

So here is my happy note (I always enjoy the happy note). Like any powerful thing, language is also wonderful! The right word spoken at the right moment is pure brilliance!

My mom had a quote about kindness that I remind myself of constantly when raising my own kids, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.” Really. Kindness is available to your lips 24 hours a day at no expense to you whatsoever. How much does it really cost you to say something healing, instead of corrupting? To be honest, instead of manipulative? To do a little research before posting some preposterous media-cooked-up horror story on your Facebook page?  Good words are just as free as terrible ones.  That is comforting to me.

Jason and I have four beautiful children … that we had in four not always-so-beautiful years.  An interesting phenomenon happens to you when you have more than two children, as anyone with three plus will attest to.  People have a weird idea that they are allowed to say anything whatsoever to you, no matter how personal, even if they don’t know you.

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The pretty lady on my right is my precious mom

It cracks me up the amount of people who ask us if we’re finished, to which I actually respond with a smile and a “We think probably so,” instead of what I’d rather say, “None of your cotton pickin’ business”.  They also feel free to ask us about our sex life.  “You do know what causes that, don’t you?”  to which I want to respond with either “No, can you explain it to me?  I was homeschooled.” or “Yes!  We LOVE doing what causes this.” depending on my mood.  I’ve even been asked on multiple occasions if I’ve finally taken care of that problem – Really?  I could go on a while, but I won’t.  I will say, that today someone spoke the most wonderful words to me when I was out with my four children at a restaurant.

An older couple were sitting beside us while we ate.  When they were getting up to leave, the man grinned at my kids and said, “Are they all yours?” I smiled back and said they were.  He got a little teary eyed and said, “The only thing that could possibly be better than this, would be to add a couple more.”  Love.

 They both smiled and waved at the kids as they left.  My heart just glowed from his sweet words.  The waitress came with the check and asked me as I was paying if they were all mine, and if we were done.  I smiled and said, “We think probably so.”  Nice moments can’t last forever.  That’s okay.  She had to clean up the mess they made, so she’s way more entitled to ask than that random lady in the toilet paper aisle at Walmart.

Because of their incredibleness, I’m fairly certain my love affair with words will continue as long as I live.  I will try to be more cautious though, remembering the impact words have on people.  I’ll keep in mind the next time the anger boils up and I just want to rip someone to shreds that it’s usually not the customer service representative’s fault that my phone bill was double this month.  Niceness will always get me farther than yelling.  I know.  I’ve tried both.

Our friends, children, coworkers, staff are collecting the things that we say and turning it into our legacy with them.  They don’t care how much money we make, or what car we drive or how nice our clothes are.  They only care about how our words make them feel.  So let’s make them feel awesome!  And whatever we do, let’s just please not throw sticks and stones.

Broken Crayons

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Image courtesy of trashfreeliving.com

I walk around this house all day picking things up.  You would think that my house would eventually get clean because of this, but the truth is there’s always “stuff” where it’s not supposed to be no matter how many times I clean.  Lately, the things out of place that I find most annoying are broken toys, particularly crayons.  My three-year-old is a little creature of habit and lately he has been cultivating a habit of breaking crayons for the mere pleasure of hearing them snap.  Also, there is a lovely feeling of power that fills him when something solid cracks between his herculean fingers.  Behold the mighty Caleb who has the ability to snap crayons in a single blow!  I guarantee you, he is thinking along these lines.

The most irritating thing about broken crayons is that all their potential for coloring is still intact.  They are still as color worthy as before, but now, no one will touch them because they present a slightly more complicated grip, pressure on paper, they aren’t as pretty etc… Grr!  Even Caleb, the great breaker of the crayons himself, no longer has any use for them once they are broken, unless it’s to peel the paper off and leave IT scattered around with the crayons.  Paper ripping is just an added bonus to ruining crayons.

There always seems to be someone in my life who is very difficult to deal with.  I used to think that they were placed especially in my path because I had some sort of knack for working with hardship cases, and now I’ve come to the conclusion that, as I am not the least bit adept at dealing with these people, they merely come into my life so much because there are too many of them to avoid.  Grown up people, looking for the rush that comes with the power to hurt something that appears solid, have snapped them in half with their words, or actions, or an artful combination of the two.  Unfortunately, broken crayons and people are everywhere.

Lately there has been a particularly hard individual.  Don’t worry, if you’re reading this blog and you’ve recently made my acquaintance, it’s not you.  If I thought there was a chance that the person in question read my blog, I wouldn’t mention them at all.  Now that we’ve got that settled, here we go.  This person is more difficult because unlike most of the broken people in my life, I have discovered that I don’t like her.  It’s a weird feeling for me.  I usually like everyone.  Truly, even people that are super broken, unlovely, hard to deal with, I’m all over it.  But not with her.  So here are things I’ve learned about dealing with difficult people …

1. Every person is important because they exist.

People don’t earn importance because of the things that they do.  People are important because they are flesh and blood.  They are living here on this planet, so they’re just as valuable as I am.  They possess just as much potential for coloring this world with their existence, and there isn’t any option about throwing them away just because they are broken in a couple of places and have some of their paper ripped off.  SOMEONE somewhere will have to deal with them.

2. I don’t like everyone and that is just life.  Unfriending them on Facebook just makes me immature.

Again, a very hard concept for me.  I can usually find something about a person that I just love and that makes me connect with them all the better and like them even more.  Enjoying people’s peopleness is usually easy for me.  Here is the shocker of the day.  I almost unfriended this person on Facebook.  I know, right?  The ultimate disgrace!  Being “unfriended” on a social network.  That’ll teach HER to be hard to deal with!  I didn’t actually do that, I just wanted to. But then I realized that, I am actually a grown-up so I should act like it, and all people deserve some dignity … even in the Facebookosphere.

3.  Everyone is broken, just in different places.

There are people out there who find me a difficult person to deal with.  Somewhere, someone might even be writing a blog post about me and how annoying I am.  It’s true.  There are no perfect crayons in the box of the world.  We are broken because the world is broken.  Because people say the wrong things at the wrong time.  Because humanity has fallen.  That’s all.  It’s just us here.  Some of us have just been melted, pressed back into place, and had paper rewrapped around the weak spots, but some people have no one to do that for them.  So their brokenness is just out there, for everyone to see.  It isn’t fair, but it is reality.  I have mostly surrounded myself with people who are willing to put up with my breaks and bulges where I got fixed.  They know that the paper isn’t hiding my other faults very well, but they don’t care, because they love me.  Everyone needs people who pretend the paper is doing its job.  We should be those people for the other broken people.

4.  Jesus liked the broken crayons best.

I imagine that if Jesus came into my house and sat down to color with Caleb, He would not reach for the newest box of crayons.  He would probably use the smaller pieces, the blunt edges, the ruined parts to make his work of art.  When I complained to Jesus about the person I almost unfriended on Facebook, He said as much to me (not out loud).  He reminded me of Mary Magdalene, one of His favorite followers, who was a prostitute before she met Him.  And of Zaccheus and Peter and … of myself.  All of us hopeless cases.  He had the time to mess with us.  He used our broken parts to make His story more beautiful and more interesting.  How could we not take the time for these others?

5.  People stuff does not fit nicely into a crayon box.

There are no really perfect categories for humanity.  We’ve discussed this before.  Shoving people into little boxes just doesn’t seem to work out.  We have no idea of the depth of most people.  I can’t remember who said it, but someone famous who’s name you would surely be impressed with said once that “The most complex character in fiction is not remotely as complicated as the simplest person in real life.”  Something like that was said by someone famous once.  I promise.  You get the idea, of course.  People don’t tell us why they are the way they are.  Most of the time, they don’t even know it themselves.  They don’t apologize for being hard to deal with, for lying horizontal, when you need them to stick up straight so you can fit more things into the box.  People just are what they are.

6. The Earth revolves around the sun … not around me.

Obvious.  I know that.  In my head I know it.  But still in my selfish heart there is the thought that this life is a movie with me as the main character.  Everyone that comes in and out of the scenes does so to further my story.  Wrong.  People who decide that life is all in the pursuit of their own happiness are delusional.  I’ve seen many quotes swirling around on Facebook and Twitter: memes to the effect of, “if someone is in your life that isn’t contributing to your happiness, walk away from them,  Life is too short for that”.  Some are a bit more subtle in their selfishness, “A person who hurts you gives up their right to be in your life”… blah blah blah.  It all comes to the same thing.  Broken people sometimes look for others to break because they think it will make them look less broken.  So they hurt people.  They hurt you, or me.  But life is not just about us.  Sometimes people-breakers have to have someone stick with them.  Someone they have hurt even.  I have had many people stick with me in the past even after I have stabbed them in the back, said the wrong thing to them … hurt their feelings.   I’m glad their only source of humanity wasn’t wrapped up in the wisdom of Facebook memes.  If any of you friends are reading this post, thanks for dealing with this difficult person.  I love you.

So maybe all of this doesn’t help when dealing with the crayon pieces scattered throughout your life, but it helps me.  A little more perspective is always a plus for a brain like mine.  I tend to think that everyone’s life experience is similar to mine, and therefore, they should all behave exactly as I do. However, the ramifications of there being 6 billion Juliens running around in this world are so catastrophic, I just don’t let my mind settle there.

 

P.S. Just to clarify, I am in no way recommending that someone stay in an abusive relationship.  I am talking merely about hurt feelings here, and figuring out people at large.  If someone hits you, or is cruel to you … get away from them immediately.  Someone else can help them with their brokenness.  That doesn’t need to be you.

Miscellaneous Monday….NEW stuff I gotta share

A fabulous post for a Monday! Love it!

Explore Newness

dixiecollage

It’s Monday {again} :o)!  How do the weekends fly by sooooo fast?!!!  I even took work off Thursday and Friday, and the weekend still zoomed by too quickly!  Last week, my hubby and I traveled south, to Utah’s Dixie.  It was really nice and WARM there!  The red rocks, blue skies, and blooming flowers made for nice NEW photos!

We made it a very quick trip and was back home by Friday evening – then Saturday I attended a GREAT Family History Fair and took a few NEW classes.  Now I’m motivated to ‘get back at it’!  (I seem to I do genealogy in spurts :o)  I also recently noticed this family history blog:  DearMYRTLE’s Genealogy Blog …I like to visit once in a while, to keep myself motivated to do more researching – (because sometimes, when those brick walls pop up, I can get a bit discouraged).

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Things That Go Bump in Your Life

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Fear has always been a ridiculously big part of my life.  As a kid, I had so many irrational fears that my parents monitored every single movie and tv show I watched, and every book I read.  “Goosebumps”?  Ha!  Forget that!  I could barely read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” without having nightmares.  I was petrified of the dark, I was obsessed with the idea of a kidnapper coming in the middle of the night and snatching me.  I had nightmares of these two boys at church who were actually quite nice, but in my nightmares about them they had glowing red eyes … which I picked up from the “Care Bears Movie”.  I know, right?  The one movie you’d think would be totally safe for your children to watch and not gain any new phobias.

I was deathly afraid of heights.  Riding roller coasters was completely out of the question.  I went to Six Flags once with our youth group and our youth director MADE me ride one of the rides.  I’ve never quite figured out why it was such a big deal to him, but he forced the issue and I rode it.  It was one of those that goes forwards and upside down a bunch of times and then hits the height of its horribleness and does the whole thing again in reverse.  I nearly threw up on my youth director afterwards, and he stopped insisting I ride things.  I still feel it might have served him right to get puked on.

I’ve learned lots of things about fear over the years.  Some are easily conquered.  I thought I was afraid of bugs until I moved to the country and our house has various, harmless bugs in it all the time.  I’m more afraid of the toxic chemicals filling my kid’s lungs than I am of there being live june bugs around, so I put up with the june bugs.  Also, I have a weird aversion to the crunching sound they make when you kill them.  I still hate scorpions with a passion, and I would never crush one myself until I had kids.  You wouldn’t believe the stuff you can do when you think your child might get hurt if you don’t.  It’s a truly awful sound though.  ((Shudder))

I still squish every spider that I encounter.  Jason assures me that there are only two kinds of spiders in Texas that are dangerous, the black widow and the brown recluse.  So, I squish every spider I encounter just in case its a black widow or a brown recluse.  I mean, if you google images of brown recluse spiders, EVERY brown spider you’ve ever seen comes up!  No joke.  There’s no telling what these monsters look like.  Death to all brown spiders.  As a side note, you should never google “brown recluse spider bite”.  Trust me on that, you don’t want to know.

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I’m pretty sure this isn’t even what they look like. There are six other spiders under this heading that are completely different. One is quite clearly a tarantula. Just sayin’.
The fear of unknowns in the future are always big with me.  I used to fear losing people that I love to death, or that my kids would get sick, or that I would die and leave them with no mom.  My mother reminded me of something very important that has helped me cope with this one.  She reminded me that God gives us just enough grace to be sufficient for what we’re going through right now.  Not the grace to go through the problems others face, or the grace for everything that will happen in our future … just right now.  But, when we need it, that grace will be there.  This has proven to be absolutely true in my life.  An unexplainable peace surrounds me when I’m going through something incredibly painful.  I remind myself of this quite frequently when I’m drawn into fearful speculation about the future.  Don’t rob what is good today just to worry over the future.

Most of my current fears are not that serious, but they can have a hugely negative impact on your calm.  Fear of what others will think of me … or my kids … or my husband.  Just whatever, it is immobilizing.  And kind of silly.  Here’s the deal, you can’t control other people’s minds.  Short of like, hypnosis or something, which my voice is not soothing enough to master, people can think whatever they want.  It’s an American thing.  We can say we don’t care what they think but we do, and sometimes we even should.  Not caring what anyone else thinks of you can get you into trouble.

I strive to have a healthy dose of self-awareness and leave behind the self consciousness.  I want to be presentable, to comb my hair, to not wear pants in public that were clearly meant to be pajamas … those sorts of things.  However, the self-consciousness thing hits me at the worst possible times.  One of my children throwing themselves on the floor and crying … in the doctor’s office waiting room, while two dozen elderly people stare at me like, “In my day, I never would have allowed my children to behave that way in public.”  Yeah, I think, but in your day CPS wasn’t really a thing either.  Instead of saying that, I calmly scrape my child up off the floor, threaten them under my breath and propel them through the door into the doctor’s office.

A little known fact about me is that just when I think I look like a dignified, put together person, I trip.  Literally.  I physically trip over my own feet when I think I’m handling this whole walking thing really well.  So now you know.  If you see me walking down a perfectly straight, completely obstacle free hallway and stumble headlong over thin air, you will know that was a moment I was trying to look cool.

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This is how Lily faces her fears. She may be onto something here.
Facing fears is never simple, but we have to do it, or we’ll just walk around being perfect basket cases all the time.  I push aside my fears of the things I can’t control.  I swallow hard and close my eyes and ignore the sound of that scorpion crunching.  I simply avoid heights at all costs.  That’s a lot easier when you’re an adult.  People can’t force you to ride roller coasters any more when you hit your thirties.  Nice perk.  I actually get a little freaked out still to go grab something from the car when it’s dark outside.  Anything could be lurking in that black void.  You just never know.  As far as what people will think if you fail, no worries.  Edison, Einstein, Walt Disney, J.K. Rowling … all of them faced multiple and brutal failures before their success.  They still thought Edison was nuts even after he succeeded.  And did you know Harry Potter was rejected like 28 times before someone finally published it?  I bet those other jokers are pretty bummed out right about now.  I bet Jo Rowling is pretty glad she kept trying.

Fear is normal.  We all do it.  So dream big, lift your head high after you trip and smile like you did it on purpose, plunge into the darkness to retrieve the phone you left out in the truck … it’ll be okay.  Everyone is still afraid of the dark at 34 years old.  They’re just too cool to admit it.  Also, I’m NOT afraid of thunderstorms or clowns.  I just feel like I should get some credit for that.

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I’m pretty sure this is what an actual brown recluse looks like. See what I mean? Totally different spider than the first picture!

You just went and googled “brown recluse spider bite” didn’t you?  I was right, wasn’t I?  Disgusting.  Told you so.

Plans and Other Futile Attempts at Sanity

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Jason and I when we were just married
 Getting married was a hugely eye opening experience for me.  Not so much from learning how to live with another human every day, I’d been doing that all my life, more from finding out things about me.  Weird, I know.  You’d think it was revelations about HIM that would make the whole business upsetting, but he’s actually remarkably tame.  It’s me we all need to worry about.

So, here’s the thing about me that I never knew until I got married.  I want to be super jovial, go with the flow, happiness is stopping in the middle of your carefully ordered life to smell the roses.  I always thought I was like that and then Jason came along.  And I’m actually not that easy going.  Who knew?

My normal when I’m traveling somewhere is to have a carefully ordered itinerary in mind and charge ahead toward the destinations, plowing over whatever obstacles dare to get in my way.  The reason I always thought I was spontaneous and easy going is that I actually mentally plan normal stuff along the way.  There is a destination in my brain called “lunch” and “rest stop” and “historical marker”.  But don’t add random things in!  Now you’re just messing with my mind!  Jason’s idea of traveling is … well, enjoying the journey.  What?  Who even came up with this idea?  In my defense though, while It sounds great in theory, when the wedding is six hours away and you’re already running late, I’m not a super fan of stopping at every creek and river from Waco to Lubbock to see how the water’s flowing.  This is what I get for marrying a man who kayaked from Maine to Texas.  He just can’t pass water without looking at it.  Sigh.

 

I am a planner.  I love it!  I buy planners, I make my own planners, I make lesson plans that would be the envy of elementary teachers everywhere.  It’s truly something to behold.  I follow through on about 35% of everything I plan to do.  I know.  You all want to be just like me when you grow up.  By sheer volume though, of all the things I write down, 35% still turns out to be a lot.

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These pictures do no justice to how detailed this planner is

If you think I’m uptight when traveling, you should see me at New Years.  I start planning my yearly goals a couple of weeks into December.  This is when I get a planner, or refills, or here lately I make my own.  Those store bought ones just do not have all the things I need.  By the time the ball drops on New Year’s Eve night I have categories and subcategories for every one of the months of the upcoming year.  It’s May right now.  I have no idea where that planner is.

So why am I not president yet, or at least, like, Secretary of State?  I mean, it seemed inevitable at the start of January.

Here’s the deal about my plans and my life.  Life is like the anti-plan.  It is the arch enemy of everything I write down in my carefully organized, personalized, categorized notebook.  I actually feel kind of cool though, having an arch enemy.  It makes me think I’m a little closer to being like Sherlock.  But anyway, back to my point.  You just can’t fit your actual life into those little plastic page protector things.  Trust me, if it was possible, I would have done it.  I love page protectors.  One of my favorite quotes ever is by John Lennon who’s song lyrics state “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”  My life in a nutshell.

You should have SEEN my plans at the start of this school year.  Jack should be doing quantum physics right now.  He should speak Spanish fluently and have had a thorough introduction to French and Latin.  A compulsive planner should never read “A Well-Trained Mind”.  It literally makes us crazy.  The other day we learned some stuff about graphing that was pretty fun.  And we played with play doh.

I know there are ways around these disruptions, because planning works for some people.  My friend Susan (name was changed to protect the potentially embarrassed), has a very orderly life and when she plans to get pregnant at a certain time of year so that it coincides with her teaching schedule, that is what happens.  Really, she even gets PREGNANT on a schedule.  It’s just wrong.  Also, using only the natural birth control known as the “Rhythm Method”.  If you’re unfamiliar with birth control, that method is 100% drug and procedure free.  It works beautifully if you want to have four kids in four years. My husband and I employed it with pretty much all of our children. And, it could actually work if you’re Susan.  So yeah, some people’s plans work out.  I’m pretty sure I’m just going to have to learn to deal.

So what do we do about plans that go amiss?  Personally, I take lots of deep breaths.  I remind myself that there is Someone’s plan that IS working out in my life and I don’t have the whole picture yet.  I remind myself that no one’s plans work perfectly, (even Susan’s) and that life is still good anyway.  Sometimes I cry too, and yell at people.  I forgot to mention that.

But be all this as it may, I’m still going to make New Year’s goal charts and add more tabs and page protectors to my planners. I’m still going to buy more curriculum than I could possibly need in all four of my children’s life times and make more attempts at teaching them dead languages!  Some of my plans work out too.  I did write and publish a 400 page novel last year.  That’s not nothing.  Zig Ziglar taught me all growing up (through his tapes, not personally) that you reach 100% of the goals you never set.  So … I guess it’s pretty inevitable that if you do set goals, you won’t reach all of them.  Still, I get more accomplished when I plan to accomplish something.  And then I try super hard not to get too emotionally attached to my checklist.  I remind myself to live the life that is happening to me right now.  Smiling at my kids and so forth.  I write that on my list too sometimes.  I know.  I need therapy… and chocolate.  Oh, and more play doh, if anyone has extra lying around.

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

 

Heroes in the Elevator

A couple of weeks ago, a group of firefighters answered a call to rescue a little family from an elevator.  Firefighters are pretty much always my heroes anyway … I mean, who else would sign up to run into a burning building to save complete strangers, except someone heroic?  Still, these kinda went above and beyond to, not only rescue, but keep calm a little four-year-old girl by singing “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen”.  Not sure why this story made me misty eyed, but it kinda did.

firefighters

Do ya’ll remember that question in your class at school … your third grade teacher or whoever would ask, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  Answers used to be awesome.  “Firefighter, policeman, mommy, ballerina …” now, and this is just from kids I’ve personally asked, more and more it’s “famous, in a band, an actress like so and so, Taylor Swift.”  Hm … our kids seem to be missing several crucial points.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with being famous, or being Taylor Swift for that matter, but I think they could aim higher.)  What our kids are reaching for are professions that they look up to, idolize.  People who they perceive as heroes.  Nothing wrong with that.  Mostly.

The term hero is badly misused I think.  Our kids use it to describe how they feel about anyone, from Hollywood actors to the X-men.  In my opinion, heroes are rarely famous.  Sometimes celebrities use their fame for good, certainly, and of course, some people are simply too heroic to ignore.  Mother Teresa didn’t seek limelight, but she was one of the greatest women of our time, and her selflessness threw her into the public eye.  I hope my daughters try to emulate her one day instead of some silly teen idol.  My personal favorite definition of hero comes from the wonderfully hilarious Dwight Schrutt, from “The Office”, who, after spraying Pam’s ex-boyfriend with pepper spray to keep him from beating up Jim, states, “I am not a hero.  You know who’s a real hero?  Hiro … from ‘Heroes’.”  Thank you Dwight, just for being you.

(This isn’t the exact clip, but it’s still pretty awesome!)

So, seriously though, I thought it would be fun to talk about some everyday heroes.  Things real people do right now, tomorrow, when the situation arises, whether they are ever famous or not.  So, here goes.  Some of my personal heroes.

I have a former student named Katy Lauderdale.  Katy attends UT now and has turned into a really fabulous young lady.  The other day, she found someone’s debit card on the sidewalk and picked it up. When she got home she looked up the owner’s name in their directory, got ahold of her and set up a place to meet so she could return it.  When Katy arrived, the other girl had tears in her eyes.  She confessed to Katy that it had been a really hard semester, and that her faith in the goodness of humanity was almost gone … until she got a call from Katy.  Katy hugged her and told her that she was going to be okay.

How great is that?  How broke were you in college?  That’ll tell you how great it is!  If you never went to collegeor did, but you had money, allow me to explain.  Picture standing in a Walmart and trying to decide between buying shampoo, or toothpaste that week, because you can only afford one or the other.  So, you think, I guess I can just put corn starch in my hair this week … and brush my teeth with water, because on a second glance at your bank account, you’ll actually be overdrawn with buying your weekly Ramen Noodles and can’t afford either.  That should give you a vague idea of college kid brokeness … or at least how broke I was!

M’kay, in case that one didn’t do it for you, here’s another fantastic tale of heroics.  Last year a friend of mine named Devin Dickinson collapsed.  He’s a normal healthy 30-year-old with very little medical trouble, so this is obviously hugely alarming.  They got him to the hospital and many days and tests later (Devin, correct me if my timeline’s off, buddy!) he was diagnosed with Guillian-Barr Syndrome.  If you don’t know what that is, it attacks the peripheral nervous system the way Multiple Sclerosis attacks the central nervous system.  So anyway, Devin is making huge leaps in his comeback, but it is a long slow process.  To celebrate how far he had come in his recovery, at his year anniversary of being diagnosed Devin’s entire family went to Disney World.

They were greeted at the door with buttons that said, “I’m Celebrating!”  After which, they were escorted to the front of every line, brought in to rides by separate entrances  and treated like royalty for their entire visit.  Brilliant!  Another reason I love Disney!  Sorry if you’re not a fan … actually, I’m just sorry FOR you!  You’re missing out on a lot of wonderful. (Of course “wonderful” is a noun.  I was an English teacher … I can make up nouns if I want to.)  There are two stories of awesomeness in this account, of course.  The Dickinson’s entire family, especially Devin, and the people who work at Disney World.

My last set of heroes are my favorites because they are heroic every single minute of their day and for the rest of their lives.  Foster parents and people who adopt.  I know a few couples who are brave enough to do this and, in my mind, they are real life superstars.  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Brian and Jasmine Jamar,  are now the proud parents of not just one, but three little boys.  All brothers from the worst background you could possibly think up.  They are now our official nephews and three of the most wonderful kids in my life.

Imagine the kind of courage it takes to not only Foster three kids who were three, four and five-years-old when they first got them, but to start out parenting with three children who have no connection to you whatsoever.  There is no logical reason for Foster parents who adopt to bring a perfect stranger’s children into their home and treat them with kindness, dignity and respect (something which these boys had never received before).  If you think the money’s good, you’re completely out of your mind, and after you adopt, there’s no money at all.  No one in their right mind would do this.  Thankfully, there is a force for which there is no explanation embedded in these people’s souls.  Love.  Nothing in the world is as weird or wonderful as that.  And nothing is as wonderful as witnessing the effects of love on a previously unloved child.  If you had met those three before, and then you met them again now, you wouldn’t even recognize them.

I could write an entire book about these kinds of people, but I’ll just include one more family and leave you to your happy and heroic thoughts.  My friends Andrea and Justin Chambers have been Foster parents for years. I don’t have all the details of the heartbreaks they have endured in that timeframe, but I can tell you every time they weren’t granted a child that they had Fostered their hearts were shattered because they just cared so much.  Every child that came into their home was treated as if they would stay forever.  There are not two more wonderful people on the planet and now, after all these years of giving many children a loving home for a few months or even a couple of years, Andrea and Justin have been able to and are in the process of adopting three precious children, all from different homes and backgrounds.

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Justin and Andrea’s Christmas card
I don’t think actors are beautiful really, I think Foster parents are.  That’s just an opinion of course, but still …

Of course the common denominator of all these heroes is so simple.  Just love.  Love causes firefighters and policemen to run INTO a situation when all normal people run away from it.  And gives them the kindness to sing to a little girl, instead of just telling her to calm down.  Love causes strangers to give special attention to a man in a wheelchair and insure that he has a wonderful time at “the happiest place on earth”.  Foster parents … no words for that kind of love.

I Corinthians 13 says that if we could speak with the tongues of men and angels and if we could prophecy and understand every mystery in the world and had all knowledge and could move mountains but don’t have love, we have nothing.  We ARE nothing.  Just think what we can be if we have love.  We can be anything.  We are heroes  just waiting to happen.

 

Please feel free to comment about your own personal heroes!  I would love to know about them!

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