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When Rudolph Quit Playing the Reindeer Games

Another version of Rudolph’s story.

When Rudolph was little, he wasn’t very good at the other reindeer games. Dasher was the star, the leader. He took poor Rudolph in and told him, “You don’t have what it takes, but do what I say, and I’ll take care of you.”

So for a long time, Rudolph stumbled through the games, following Dasher’s lead. He was grateful to Dasher and would do whatever Dasher needed.

Even as he tried, Rudolph continued to fail at the games, and his well-being on the reindeer playground was utterly dependent on Dasher’s benevolence. The other reindeer laughed at Rudolph but tolerated him because of Dasher’s protection.

One day, Rudolph got tired of playing reindeer games. They  bored him, he had never liked them, and he wanted to do something different.

So he didn’t go out to play. Dasher went to him, “Why aren’t you there? You need to get out there. Do you realize how much trouble it is for me to keep you in the game and how much harder it will be when you’re late?”

Rudolph told him, “I quit.”

Dasher pranced angrily. “I didn’t tell you to do that.”

Rudolph continued on his path to do something different.

Then Dasher raced to him and patted him on the head saying, “I understand sometimes we make foolish mistakes. This is yours. If you turn back right now, I’ll forgive you and we’ll make everything well again. I want to help you succeed.”

Rudolph continued walking away.

Dasher bounded in front of him, trying to get Rudolph back into the game.

Rudolph went his own way.

Once Rudolph was on his own, he began to play games with his red nose – how to make it light, how to direct the light, and how to play his own games with it. He taught himself to fly with his red nose flashing.

All was well, and Rudolph was on his own.

One foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came and asked him to lead the reindeer.

When Rudolph went into Santa’s stable, Dasher went to him and told him, “All is forgiven. Rely  on me, and I’ll show you the ropes.”

Rudolph told him, “Thanks. But I’m fine on my own.”

When the sleigh ride began, Rudolph lit his nose, his way. All the games he had played had perfected the skills he needed to save that Christmas.

The question is – if you’re the one with a red nose that’s different from all the other reindeer, what are you doing to nurture your talents?

Your singular talent could be just the one that will one day be needed to save everyone else. It’s the talent you were born to share.

Beyond the Tough Thanksgiving

As I sat in Mass this morning, I reflected on our blessings this year and remembered when times were tougher….

Eleven years ago, we sat together at Mass on Thanksgiving morning, grateful that our burned out home had been rebuilt and we had just moved back into our home. We had only had a refrigerator since that Monday, and we were celebrating our own personal homecoming. Times were still tough; not only our home, but our family business had been hit by the fire.

Then I thought back to a Sunday months before that 2001 Thanksgiving. Our home and business had burned the night before. We knelt that Sunday in the same Church we were in this morning, wearing borrowed clothes, walking in borrowed shoes, unsure of where we would spend the night or how we would provide for our young children.

What do you do when you lose everything, and where do you go?

You slowly rebuild. With hard work, the help of good friends, and the faith of a mustard seed, it is possible to rebuild and start anew. Our faith carried us when we had nothing else upon which to rely. Those young children are now nearly grown. One is in college. The other now stands taller than his father.

On the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, they too gave thanks after their surviving terrible challenges. (Granted, our challenges were nothing compared to theirs.)

Every Thanksgiving morning since our fire, we’ve gone to Mass and I think back and thank God for giving us one. more. year. So long as I am able, we will be there each Thanksgiving morning. Giving thanks is a great way to begin a day of Thanksgiving.

None of us knows what the coming year will bring. It will have its own joys, sorrows, and challenges. Whatever it brings, I know we will not be alone. As Corrie ten Boom once wrote, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

And for that, I am most thankful.

Grocery Cart Giving

Grocery cartsA few years ago, when Aldi’s opened in Evansville, I was having a very bad day one day. As I drove into their parking lot, I prayed for God to send me a sign – any kind of sign – that things would be okay.

Then I went to get my shopping cart. In an effort to curb costs, Aldi’s shoppers pay a quarter for a grocery cart. After they finish shopping and load their groceries into their car, they return the cart to get back their quarters. The carts are kept in shelter, don’t crowd the parking lot, and save the store money in labor and replacement.

That day, a lady handed me a cart she had just used and refused to take my quarter. “Pay it forward,” she told me.

She made my day and filled me with hope.

Since that day, I’ve resolved to pay it forward whenever I shop at Aldi’s.

It seems other people have had the same idea. Yesterday, when I walked into Aldi’s, I saw four different people pay it forward. A lady gave me my cart. Everyone who shared a cart had a special glow – that glow of giving something to a complete stranger. What struck me the most was this was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. That’s a grocery shopping nightmare day of packed aisles, long checkout lanes, and more.

Yes, I paid it forward.

An interesting take-away from this is that with something as trivial as returning a grocery cart, Aldi’s raised the bar in a simple way – if you don’t put your cart back, you lose a quarter. It uses a carrot, not a stick. Their parking lot never has extra carts in it.

They reminded people of that kindergarten lesson: put things back where you found them. An unintended consequence of their raising the bar for customer behavior, I think, is that it has reminded every-day shoppers to take care of themselves and the things they use. And that has inspired many people to reach a little higher – to help strangers.

This year, I am thankful for the continued generosity of the shoppers I saw yesterday morning.

Something as simple as sharing a grocery cart and saving a stranger a quarter can change your day and the stranger’s.

A Modern Mom’s Pilgrim Progress

 

When everyone started posting their daily thankful lists, I felt guilty because I was too busy to participate.

Why is it that the unexpected always happens during weeks when my schedule’s so tight the overlapped seams have no wiggle room?

Yesterday, as I dashed out the door to teach a corporate Excel class on a college campus a 30 minute drive from my home, I accidentally grabbed my husband’s phone instead of my own – and didn’t realize it until I got to the college. Fine – I was teaching for the afternoon and had no time to text.

After the class ended (and it was after dark), a battery light lit on my dashboard. When I looked in the manual, it said it could be the alternator. Great. I talked to Richard and decided to chance driving home – we’ve dealt with dying alternators before. My concern was getting home in the dark, when I had to use headlights. I had a choice of driving through town with stoplights or along country highways, and I opted for the highways with fewer stops.

Halfway down that lone stretch of highway, the check engine light came on. I was out of state, in the middle of nowhere, and even though the lights were on, the car seemed to be driving okay. It only started getting tough when I got in town, in the land of stop lights.

There were a few popping noises, but they stopped, and the car ran fine so long as I didn’t stop; at each red light, I kept one foot on the gas and one on the brake, praying my way home. At times, I put Richard on speaker phone and talked to him about updates and where I was.

Normally, had I had my own phone, I would have spent the entire trip home phoning a friend. But their numbers were all on speed dial, on my phone. In Indiana. So I prayed and drove and rejoiced when I arrived in Evansville and saw an Auto Zone on Covert. It was closer than where I planned to go.

When I pulled in, they agreed to check it. The car died, and they had to jump it to test it; the alternator was going out. They couldn’t install one and I quickly called the Pep Boys to see if they could install a replacement. Pep Boys was 5 miles away, an 11 minute drive. I hoped to avoid a tow charge and could tell the car was struggling harder. I thought it was going to die again when I put it into reverse to leave the store.

Richard pulled up, and I yelled at him where we were going and zoomed out of the parking lot.

When I drive, I seek ways to get places the quickest way possible and have been known to grab side roads to shave seconds off my destination time. Last night, that experience prepared me for finding a  fast way to the store, in the dark, avoiding as many stop signs and stop lights as possible.

As I started and the engine sputtered, I didn’t know if the car would get the entire way there. Richard was driving behind me.

What to do? It wasn’t easy to phone a friend, so I decided to pray one. I have pretty colorful chats with Jesus on a regular basis.

Then I remembered that we give thanks in all circumstances. Next week is Thanksgiving. So as I drove, I began thanking God for the many blessings – even that the car hadn’t broken down the weekend before when we were in two different cities on three different days. It waited until after my class so I could earn money.

The car’s sputtering continued. My prayers often turn into song, so I began “Amazing Grace.” Even singing the verses I knew, there were more miles to go before we got to Pep Boys. So I went to old hymns, with Alleluias galore.

I wasn’t exactly sure where the Pep Boys was and stumbled a little when I got close.  So I asked my guardian angel to show me the way – I had no idea which roads to turn onto and couldn’t afford to make a mistake.

By the grace of God, the car made it to Pep Boys.

It turns out the problem was a little more complicated than just an alternator.

But in this circumstance, I can give thanks that it kept going to the garage, kept going while I was driving in the dark on lonely out-of-state highways, and it happened at a time when we could get it fixed.

Even though I didn’t do the daily thankful posts, I can still appreciate God’s work in my life and thank him for showing me how to make lemonade when the occasional lemon gets thrown in my path.

 

Use the Cards You’re Dealt

This morning, I met with an inspirational genius before I taught a high school speech class designed for local homeschoolers. Meeting him utterly changed my take for the day’s lesson. Our official lesson was an introduction of oral interpretation speeches.

We started by having students write on paper things they couldn’t do. Then I led them outside, where we faced a large cornfield. I carried a trash can with me. Then, I gave an example of a vespers exercise my daughter had adapted from Chicken Soup for the Classroom Soul.

I’d like you to think of something you can’t do. Maybe you can’t sing, or dance, or maybe you’re like me and can’t run, jump, catch, throw, or do a handstand. Now, imagine what would happen if whatever your can’t is exploded. What if we got rid of it right now?

Then I had them throw their papers into the trash can and continued….

Friends, we gather today to honor the memory of ‘I Can’t.’ While he was with us on earth, he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others. His name, unfortunately, has been spoken in every public building – schools, city halls, state capitols, and, yes, even the White House.

We have provided ‘I Can’t’ with a final resting place, and he is survived by his brothers and sister, ‘I Can,’ ‘I Will,’ and ‘I’m Going to Right Away.’ They are not as well-known as their famous deceased relative and are certainly not as strong and powerful yet. Perhaps someday, with your help, they will make an even bigger mark on the world.

May ‘I Can’t’ rest in peace and may everyone present pick up their lives and move forward in his absence.

I continued, handing each student a greeting card face down so they couldn’t see what it said. Some were encouraging. Others were not.

Look at your card. Did you have any control over what card you got?

They said no.

But do you have control over what you do with the card you were given?

They said yes.

So our assignment right now is to shout, in the most dramatic voice possible. Copy me. I control what I do with the cards I am given. Use your biggest, most dramatic voices.

They went down the line and each said, with growing confidence that they controlled what they did with their cards.

We then resumed a class on using dramatic techniques with oral interpretation exercises. My hope after the lesson is that they remember to focus on what they do with their cards and not on their “I can’ts” or the cards they wish they had been dealt instead.

Keeping Your Grumpy Chunks Out of My Great Day Cereal

Have you ever had a great day going when someone in a really bad mood calls you or starts to talk to you? When that happens, do you resolve not to let their bad day impact your great one?

It’s a little like what happens to milk with vinegar. A glass of milk can be cold and refreshing. But if you pour a tablespoon of vinegar into that milk, it begins a chemical process where the milk begins to curdle. Cooks do this when they don’t have buttermilk and need a quick substitute to continue a recipe.

So imagine your great day and good attitude is the glass of milk.  There are some people in this world who are just plain full of vinegar to the point it overflows and they want to share the misery. It’s like they stirred a heaping dose of Grumpy Chunks and Sour Cream into their morning bowl of wheaties. They may not even realize they want to share it.

Your job is to cover your glass of milk when the Vinegar Varmints visit. You can still greet Vinegar Varmints with a smile, but keep your heart covered so when they pour their balsamic concoction, it bounces off the sides of your cup and doesn’t impact your great mood.

If someone throws a rock at you, it can be easy to pick that rock up and throw it back at them – maybe twice as hard. But imagine in the long run if you’re having a great day, someone hits you with a rock, and you suddenly start working to return the slam. The moment you do that, your great day can be lost forever.

Is it not better sometimes if someone throws that rock at you to just keep your milk covered and let it bounce off you and then fall to the ground? I sometimes wonder if that’s what the Biblical admonition to turn the other cheek really means. You determine how much power that grumpy chunk lobbed at you really has.

Mind you – if the Vinegar Varmint lobs the Grumpy Chunk at someone else, it’s perfectly fine to protect and defend others.

But if it’s just a rock that’s thrown, it can sometimes be more effective to think:

Just because you stirred Grumpy Chunks and Sour Cream into your morning Wheaties is no reason for me to let your bad mood ruin my great day.

Moments of Fleeting Grace

We all carry a crazy patched quilt of mixed baggage with us. Some pieces are beautiful.

Others are stark in their horrific tragic moments that shred our hearts into pieces smaller than confetti. Those pieces seem to cover us at times as we struggle to mend the pieces together the best we can. Over time, new pieces are added and the sorrow of those dark patches becomes easier to bear.

As our crazy quilts grow, we sometimes fold the quilt to the most current patches and occasionally forget how dark some of the underneath patches are.

When I remember, I pray for God to take those terrible dark patches and make some good come from them. It can take years or decades to see the answer to those prayers. Sometimes the answers to those prayers are quiet, long drawn, and can be seen in the big picture.

On a very rare occasion, something will happen that brings the dark patch to the front. On an even rarer occasion, what happens is a single, lone Grace-filled moment that captures us by surprise and reminds us that all was not lost in that dark patch.

It’s almost like a single sequin is sewn into a patch that’s so black it seems like a black hole that defies time and space. But the single sequin gleams in the light, reminding us there’s a way out of the darkness.

The moment may stretch into a season. Other times, it’s still that single moment. But it’s a grace moment we can treasure, and remember, that we are not alone in the dark patches or the light patches. And we can resolve to open our hearts so we can see the sequins when they are presented to us – moments of grace that remind us we are not alone.

Those are the moments that differentiate the southern fiction of Flannery O’Conner from William Faulkner. O’Connor sees the despair and emptiness in some people’s lives but always has that lone moment of grace so fleeting you may not realize it’s there, but it’s a chance to see the wonder of God’s mercy.

And when we see it, we treasure it and cry, not quite in the darkness but in the shining light of a single sequin.

Don’t Let the Grumpy Rumps Stop You!

The following is a talk I once gave to a teen after she was humiliated by an adult who did not understand the difference between constructive criticism and condemnation.

I was thinking about it after the fact and realized that others might benefit – not just teens but anyone who knows the feeling of working hard, doing good work, and having someone slam you  after the fact. Here goes….

I’m sorry the Grumpy Rump said that. It was inappropriate and wrong.

You did good work. You are a wonderful person, and you are both loved and valued.

The sad thing is this Grumpy Rump had such a narrow vision of the world that she didn’t get it. Sometimes you do good work, and people resent what you did. So they go after you and try to discourage you so you will never ever try that path again.

I don’t know why they do what they do – that is their problem.

It does not mean your work was bad. It does not mean you are stupid. It does not mean you are unappreciated.

Other people recognize your good work and that you are a wonderful person.

We can’t help what she did. What you can help is how you respond. You can learn to ignore the Grumpy Rumps.

Don’t let the Grumpy Rumps stop you from your own success.

You do what you do, do it well, and remember that your success is the best revenge.

I know a lot about Grumpy Rumps. They have gone after me for a life time. I know how horrible it feels and how easy it is to want to just quit right here, right now.

Don’t let the Grumpy Rumps stop you from your own success.

Now, with old age, I see that God can use what the Grumpy Rumps do for good purpose. He recognized how deeply I was hurt by my own Grumpy Rumps and turned that into a desire to help others when they get slammed. That’s how I’m able to try to help you today.

One day, you may be in my shoes. You may be encouraging someone else who is in tears after a Grumpy Rump attack. You can comfort them, tell them they are valued and repeat what they must remember:

Don’t let the Grumpy Rumps stop you from your own success!

Then You Turn the Page

Lots of people have tough stories and have overcome obstacles. I am one of them. I grew up in the story of the single parent childhood, rocked with poverty mixed with a dash of scandal. In middle school, I really did walk through the snow to deliver papers on my paper route, including after the blizzard of 1977.

There is a story there – and I wrote a book about it.

In long distance perspective, I recognize that every obstacle I overcame made me who I am today. Many of those struggles sensitized me such that they developed my empathy and my gut instinct.

But the key to a happier ending doesn’t lie in wallowing in that story or using it as an excuse for bad decisions now.

The key is much simpler:

Then you turn the page.

The first step in building a better life is to turn the page, to flip the script, and to resolve to learn a newer, healthier story with a better ending.

It is possible. I know because I did it – with a lot of prayer, support from good friends, and hard work.

If you spend too much time gazing at yesterday’s storybook and pondering the sorrows of yesteryear, you just might forget that the pages on the other side of the book, the future, are blank.

And your decisions and actions now will determine what is written upon them.

When Grace is Amazing

When I have chats with God, I doubt Jesus gets bored because I tend to say exactly what I think.

This Sunday morning, we started one of our more colorful chats when I got to church. I ran late and slipped into the pew with my family during the first hymn. Things like that give a bad start to a morning of worship. As I sang and the service began, I started my divine chat…

“God, I’m never going to be Mrs. Mommy Perfect Wife who does everything right. I run late, I lose my temper, and sometimes I walk in these doors feeling like a misfit toy in the land of normal. If the Pharisee Squad were given the opportunity, I’m sure I would be the first one they would shoot because I’m irreverent, and I’ll never fit into their boards of square pegs.

“While they sit on the throne of perfection, I think of the people I’ve seen this week who are lost, hurting, and who just need someone – anyone – to tell them they matter. I’ve walked their walk and know how they feel and know exactly how badly they need to be loved and to   know the hope of Jesus Christ.”

As this freight train of a self-doubting conversation roared through my head during my chat with God, I felt as though I wasn’t worthy to be there and resisted the urge to flee.

Resting my eyes upon the crucifix, my prayer grew more intense as I begged Jesus,

“Lord, show me why I’m here. Help me focus on you and stop the doubts that pound at me from every direction.”

The sermon ended, and it was time to sing a hymn during the offering and presentation of gifts. As the hymn’s title was announced, I nearly jumped with surprise. We were singing “Amazing Grace.”

Jesus answered my prayer. “Amazing Grace” is my victory song and motivator. Every morning on my way to work, the first thing I do is sing “Amazing Grace,” followed by the “Star Spangled Banner.” Those songs are my muse, that help me start each day in a mental frame of thanksgiving and patriotism. Only in America, and only by the grace of a gracious God, could someone like me, with my background break the chains that bound me and build a simple, quiet life.

As I began to sing, I remembered the story of how John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace,” after he was rescued in a storm.

An amazing grace, that passed all understanding, set him free. It set me free.

And whenever those doubts rear their heads, or when I get distracted by members of Pharisee Squads, I must remember not to let them interfere with my relationship or chats with God.

Through many dangers, toils and snares…we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.

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