The Grief of a Friend (A Lament for Rob)

Rob and Scott_mountainThe phone rang at 1:39 a.m. Good news never comes at 1:39 a.m. on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. This phone call was no exception.

“My dad passed away!” The voice on the other end was shaky, broken up, difficult to understand.

My husband’s voice sounded tight, confused from waking from a deep sleep, now wrestling against disbelief and fear and trying to get more information.

I’d been sleeping so soundly I’d barely heard the phone ring, but my conscious mind took over as soon as I recognized the voice. A son in anguish.

My husband’s best and closest friend of 44 years, Rob, was dead. Suddenly, unexpectedly gone.

My husband, Scott, had just seen him, laughed and talked with him, only hours before. Now his friend lay face down on his bedroom floor, arms sprawled, heart no longer beating. The massive heart attack came without warning, without invitation, and violently stole a father, husband, new grandfather, and dear friend.

We arrived just after the coroner and stood out in the chilly night with his middle son and his son’s girlfriend, unable to enter the house while the coroner and detectives did their work, determining cause of death and making sure no foul play was afoot. I watched an hour later as they walked outside the house, heaving a large black body bag and heading toward the coroner’s white, unmarked van. Scott’s friend was in that zipped-up, suffocating, plastic, temporary coffin. He was leaving the house he loved for the last time.

My husband and I have spent the last five days grieving and processing what happened, but we find we struggle to comprehend it. It’s too surreal, too raw . . . too wrong. We haven’t gotten much work done this week. Too often tears come and the mind begins to wander back to last Saturday night when the world changed, when everything stood still and we were unable to breathe or take it in.

My heart aches over the loss of a man who died too young, who died senselessly, but more so, my heart aches for my husband. When a person dies, people talk about the family’s loss and their pain, they’re quick to comfort the spouse and children and parents, which is a good thing and should be so, but too often they neglect the very real despair over a friend’s loss. No one shows up at a friend’s house carrying a chicken and broccoli casserole and saying, “I’m praying for you. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” While the family is surrounded by comforters, a friend is often left to grieve alone.

I wrote Rob’s obituary for the family. I wrote the usual—“He is survived by his wife and three sons, his granddaughter, his siblings . . .” but nowhere did I mention Scott—the close friend who knew this person longer than almost anyone else alive, the one who had gone into business with him, the one with whom he shared his sorrows and joys and profound thoughts about unique gardening tips and heirloom tomatoes and the best way to fix a transmission and life and love and hopes and dreams and UFOs.

Rob and Scott_wedding2Scott will never again receive a daily text or a phone call in which he’ll hear Rob say, “Where you at?” He will receive only silence. Just last night, I asked Scott a question and he began his answer with, “I’m not sure, I’ll need to check with Ro—” only to interrupt himself with a stunned and pained look. The reminder of a deep loss, that grief has now become a wedded companion to my husband.

When grief comes, it never leaves. There will never again be a time when Scott doesn’t at some level grieve. It is now part of who he is. Grief is achingly raw and agonizing right now, and in the future it will lessen, but for the rest of his life, it will pop up unexpectedly with hurricane force, and the void will glaringly present itself yet again.

We have hope. We know we will see Rob again someday. We know this isn’t goodbye forever. We know he is in a better place, where the weather is superior to San Diego’s perfect day, food is more amazing than the best Portillo’s sandwich and fries, where heart attacks never happen, and laughter and joy ring out in a constant refrain of hallelujahs. And yet . . . not yet. Our mourning has not turned to dancing. Not yet.

We cannot—and must not—rush the process of grief, as too often our culture encourages in an effort to push off the discomfort and inconvenience of death.

No, grief and hope are not mutually exclusive. As people of faith, we always have hope that a time is coming when we will experience no more pain or tears or suffering or death. But grief has its important place too, reminding us that loss reverberates through an entire community, not just a nuclear family. David ripped his clothes in grief and lamented over the loss of his best friend, Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:11-12). Even Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). We too must dive deeply into grief’s waters, lamenting and allowing ourselves to freely feel the pain of what is unnatural—death. We can hope, but we must never allow it to become so superficial and pat in our faith that we fail to experience the rawest of emotions.

And so today, as Scott and I prepare to enter Rob’s church and celebrate Rob’s life with his family, we will allow ourselves to laugh at Rob’s crazy antics and to cry over the man who lived, who touched our lives, and whom we will miss terribly as long as we draw breath.

We will grieve. And because of and through those tears, we will draw strength and hope from our Savior who knows what it is to be a friend and to weep bitterly over a friend’s loss. And slowly as we weep and allow ourselves to feel the not yet, the hope of soon will quietly comfort and become our wedded companion as well, for “friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family” (Proverbs 18:24, MSG)—not even death can take that away.

Posted in grace, Suffering | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Privacy Policy

Author Nike Chillemi posted this, specific to her, and agreed to let me copy and paste.

Europe recently passed legislation that requires blogs, newsletters, websites, ecommerce stores, and other businesses to make their privacy policy clear. In keeping with this legislation, please see our privacy policy below.

Definition of GDPR: The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) seeks to create a data protection law framework across the EU and aims to give back to data users, control of their personal data, while imposing strict rules on those hosting and processing this data, anywhere in the world.

Personal Identification Information

The Blog {Ginger Kolbaba} may collect personal identification information from Users in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, when Users visit the Blog, fill out a form, and in connection with other activities, services, features, or resources made available on the Blog. Users may be asked for, as appropriate, name and email address. Users may, however, visit the Blog anonymously. The Blog will collect personal identification information from Users only if they voluntarily submit such information to us. Users can always refuse to supply personally identification information, except that it may prevent them from engaging in certain Blog-related activities.

Non-Personal Identification Information

The Blog may collect non-personal identification information about Users whenever they interact with the Blog. Non-personal identification information may include the browser name, the type of computer, and technical information about Users’ means of connection to our Blog/Site, such as the operating system and the Internet service providers utilized and other similar information.

Web Browser Cookies

The Blog may use “cookies” to enhance User experience. User’s web browser places cookies on their hard drive for record-keeping purposes and sometimes to track information about them. User may choose to set their web browser to refuse cookies, or to alert you when cookies are being sent. If they do so, note that some parts of the Site may not function properly.

How the Blog Uses Collected Information

In the future, Blog {Ginger Kolbaba} may collect and use Users’ personal information for the following purposes:

  • To send periodic emails
    The Blog {Ginger Kolbaba} may use the email address to respond more personally to inquiries, questions, and/or other requests.

Sharing Your Personal Information

The Blog {Ginger Kolbaba} does not sell, trade, or rent Users’ personal identification information to others. We may share generic aggregated demographic information not linked to any personal identification information regarding visitors and users with our business partners, trusted affiliates, and advertisers for the purposes outlined above.

Third Party Websites

In the future, although not currently planned, Users may find advertising or other content on the Blog {Ginger Kolbaba} that links to the sites and services of our partners, suppliers, advertisers, sponsors, licensors and other third parties. The Blog does not control the content or links that appear on these sites and are not responsible for the practices employed by websites linked to or from our Blog. In addition, these sites or services, including their content and links, may be constantly changing. These sites and services may have their own privacy policies and customer service policies. Browsing and interaction on any other website, including websites which have a link to the Blog {Ginger Kolbaba}, is subject to that website’s own terms and policies.

Compliance with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

Protecting the privacy of the very young is especially important to the Blog {Ginger Kolbaba}. For that reason, the Blog never collects or maintains information at our Blog from those we actually know are under 13, and no part of our website is structured to attract anyone under 13.

Changes to This Privacy Policy

The Blog {Ginger Kolbaba} has the discretion to update this privacy policy at any time. When the Blog does, the administrator will post a notification on the main page of the Blog and revise the updated date at the bottom of this page. We encourage Users to check the Blog under the “category: Privacy Policy” for any changes to stay informed about how we are helping to protect the personal information we collect. You acknowledge and agree that it is your responsibility to review this “Privacy Policy” periodically and become aware of modifications.

Your Acceptance of These Terms

By using this Blog {Ginger Kolbaba}, you signify your acceptance of this “Privacy Policy.” If you do not agree to this policy, please feel free to leave this Blog. Your continued use of the Blog following the posting of this Privacy Policy and/or changes to this policy will be deemed your acceptance of those changes. This Privacy Policy policy was built by the web’s #1 privacy policy generator.

Contacting the Blog {Ginger Kolbaba}

If you have any questions about this “Privacy Policy,” the practices of this Blog, or your dealings with this Blog, please contact the Blog {Ginger Kolbaba} administrator by posting a comment.

This document was last updated on May 24, 2018

Category: “Privacy Policy”


Posted in Privacy Policy | Leave a comment

Before You Say Something You May Regret . . .

blog post photo_woman yellingShe hadn’t prepared. Everyone else arrived that Monday night at the drama rehearsal with their lines memorized, ready to dive in. But she constantly flubbed her words, went blank, and essentially wasted our time. I could tell the cast and crew were as frustrated as I was. And the opening night performance was speeding toward us.

Finally, after she missed yet another cue, one actor sighed heavily and looked at me for back up. As the director I had to do something, but I was unhappy enough that I wasn’t sure I could carefully choose my words not to make things worse.

“Let’s take a five-minute break,” I announced. I motioned to her that I wanted to talk privately. In the hallway, just as I was ready to lay into her for her irresponsible actions, a quiet voice whispered to my soul, Be gentle with her. I breathed in deeply, paused, and looked at her.

Her tense face gave her away; she expected a tongue lashing!

Too many times in my life I’m ashamed to admit that’s exactly what I would have done. But this time, instead, I went a different direction.

“What’s going on?” I said as kindly as I could. “I know you didn’t mean to come to rehearsal ill prepared, so something must have happened?”

Tears flooded her eyes. “I’m sorry I don’t have my lines memorized. I wanted to work on them.” A sob broke from her lips. “My best friend died over the weekend.”

Gulp. I almost reamed her out, I realized. Like a clichéd bull in a china shop, storming into a situation and causing untold damage, I almost added to her anguish.

“I’m so sorry. Don’t worry, I know you’ll get there. I’m more concerned about you, okay?” I meant it.

I’d learned a powerful lesson. Proverbs 12:25 tells us that “an encouraging word cheers a person up.”

Even when we have every right to argue our case and get snippy because of someone else’s opinions or actions or lack of, our better choice is to stop, breathe, and as the Holy Spirit encouraged me, “be gentle.” Even when we want to get on social media and tell somebody what we really think (!), perhaps we do ourselves a better service by pausing and being merciful.

I’ve found that when I’m in those situations, if rather than assuming something and creating an entire narrative that justifies my anger or frustration and that may not be (and probably isn’t) true, I do better by starting with kindness and a desire to understand the other person. A simple, probing question of “What’s going on in your life?” or “Tell me more” does more to build a bridge than an angry outburst and a defiant accusation ever will.

When we learn about another person’s situation and let grace guide us, only then can we truly encourage—and only then will we avoid doing something we may regret.

Posted in grace, kindness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Chat with Author Dawna Hetzler on Living and Loving Freely

dawna-hetzler-3When we place walls around our hearts to protect ourselves, it actually keeps us from doing the very things we most desire: to love and live freely. But tearing them down is no easy task, and often we need help—something we aren’t usually too eager to seek. It’s easier to stay hidden behind the walls of our pain, afraid that if we risk reaching out to others, we’ll reinjure our fragile spirits.

Dawna Hetzler knows that truth firsthand. During a conversation with a friend, her friend commented on how difficult it is for women to be real and vulnerable with one another because, she admitted, “We all have walls around our hearts.”

The woman’s honest confession stuck with Dawna and she began some self-evaluation. “I couldn’t get that wall image out of my mind,” Dawna says. “Was it true that I worked under those conditions as well? Was I avoiding real and transparent relationships because I had erected walls around my heart?”

That realization put her on a path to figure out how to break down her walls and help other women do the same. Soon she started a group called The Jericho Girls, in which women meet monthly to encourage and challenge one another to work through those vulnerable areas. The result has brought her—and many women—deep healing, freedom, and joy in their lives and relationships.

I first met Dawna through our column-writing work with Positive Note magazine. I found we had a lot in common. For instance, I like the mountains, and she lives in them. What are the odds? We’re both huge animal lovers. Neither of us is a morning person so we both need lots of coffee to get moving, thinking, and possibly even breathing. And we both seem to have been born with the uncoordinated gene (I’m sure that’s the official scientific term) that allows us to trip over our own feet.

But we also share deeper interests and commitments, such as a desire to inhabit the grace and joy that life with God offers—and to help others discover those same opportunities. I wanted to learn more about her journey.

The Jericho Girls group seems like a safe place more women need to go. How has it changed your life?

I thought I was a transparent person, but after a few meetings with the Jericho Girls, I soon identified my own barriers. One of my biggest obstacles was that I’d erected a wall of esteem—I placed my identity in how much I could do. Because our self-worth is found only in God, I realized that I needed to break down that wall. As I did, I found this amazing freedom to be able to love and risk being vulnerable and real. But most important, I relearned that God loves me as I am—not because of what I do or don’t do. I also learned how to build healthy walls, one being boundaries, which has been life-changing.

Why do you call the group The Jericho Girls?

In the Bible, there is a story about how the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho and God brought those walls crashing down. So we too need to identify the walls in our hearts, understand that most of them are there because of fear, and then let God bring them down!

You wrote about this experience in your book, Walls of a Warrior?walls-of-a-warrior

Yes. I wanted other women to discover and live in the freedom that I and my fellow Jericho Girls have found. Now hundreds of Jericho Girls meet to discuss their walls and to pursue authentic relationships. That’s all God. He’s so much bigger than we believe. And he can do so much more than we can imagine.

Seeing women’s lives changed must bring you a lot of joy.

It really does! Other than being on a beach with my husband, David, and unplugged from the world, my greatest contentment comes from speaking into the lives of women. We have so much to offer one another.

Speaking of reaching out to help others find freedom, you do that with animals too, I understand.

I do. I have an amazing soft spot for rescuing dogs—especially Siberian Huskies. I have two rescues right now: Mya and Zorro. They have strong personalities and can be stubborn, which reminds me of myself. They’ve taught me about unconditional love and how not to hold a grudge. They’re so forgiving, which is a lesson I need to be constantly reminded of.

Animals have a special way of breaking down our walls!

They really do. I think God uses them to remind us of his love for us.

In what way?

He is the ultimate unconditional lover. I believe we all need to be constantly reminded that God loves us. You and I are seen, known, and loved by the God of the universe. When we feel hopeless, he is the God of hope. If we feel forgotten, he sees us. When we are at our most difficult moments and are tempted to keep our eyes focused on our circumstances, we can instead lift our eyes to the One who transcends all circumstances. And at the end of the day, we can rest in the knowledge that He loves us. He loves me. He loves you! When we grasp even a minute portion of that truth, our lives change forever. What amazing grace.

** To find out more about Dawna, Jericho Girls, and Walls of a Warrior, check out her website at

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

God Is Not a God of Second Chances—and the Clouds Prove It

girl with cloudsThis summer my husband, Scott, and I have taken a profound interest in clouds. We’ve had the most stunning skies this year. Beautiful puffy, fluffy, billowy, white clouds or cottony swishes splashed across the sky that reflect brilliant sunbeams behind and around them. And at dusk—oh my!—the colors are magnificent. Magentas, ambers, baby blues, pinks, burgundies, silvers. Breathtaking. It’s as if the angels grabbed a box of Crayolas and decorated the heavens. I’ve often noted that the sky looks like giant bowls of sherbet or dreamsicle ice cream (but that could be my ever-dieting, sugar-starved brain taking over).

Almost every evening, Scott and I walk outside, point to the sky, and ooh and aah. Like five-year-olds we identify flying dragons and Irish Setters wearing party hats. My favorite was the walrus playing a trumpet.

If this summer’s cloud offerings have reminded me of anything, it’s that every day I get up and the clouds are brand new again. New shapes and colors for me to enjoy and appreciate (even the gray, dull, drearily blanketed ones). Don’t like today’s clouds? No biggie. Tomorrow will offer a plethora of new choices. No need even to wait for tomorrow. Just wait a few minutes and the sky will change.

Interestingly, in the midst of the change is a permanence. Every morning, the sun comes up in the east. Every night, the sun sets in the west and the moon appears. Every day, a smattering of clouds cover the sky. It’s guaranteed. Apparently, in the midst of great creativity, God loves routine. Just as when I was five and my father would twirl me round and round, and dizzily, I’d exclaim, “Do it again!” God loves to “do it again!” and again and again.

Looking at clouds, it really hit me: God isn’t a God of second chances. Woe to us if he were. God is a God of infinite chances. Just as those clouds change and reform, God’s grace toward us is new every day, every minute. Different amounts and shapes and colors, to be sure. But always there, renewing and routine. Something we can count on.

So if I mess up and say something rude to my husband (not that that ever happens), and I loathe myself for doing it but then turn right around and do it again the next day and the next, God is there to forgive me and help me to grow stronger and more mature. The next day, and the next day, and the next. Maybe that’s why we’re here for a lifetime—because it takes that much routine for us to be transformed into the image of Jesus.

And when we need grace, thank God we don’t have to wait for a second time around. Thank God we don’t even have to wait for the next day. We have grace right then—the kind and amount and shape and color we need for that specific thing. Guaranteed.

I don’t know about you, but too many times I’ve beaten myself up over some mean or stupid thing I’ve done. And I’ve wondered, How much grace does God really have for me? At what point is he going to draw the line and say, “Nope. No more for Ginger. She hasn’t learned the lesson the past 5.3 million times, so I’m finished forgiving her”? But then I can look up at the clouds and gain a renewed sense of hope. Because even as the clouds are “doing it again!” so our God says to us, “Let me do it again. Here’s my mercy and grace and forgiveness for you again.” And again and again.

So last night as Scott and I stood outside and observed the clouds, within a matter of minutes, I watched my flying dragon change into an oversized squawking goose, and the Irish Setter’s hat morphed into a pink cotton-candy-colored Elvis wig. I smiled, filled with awe at God’s abundant creativity. But mostly I smiled at the routine of it all.

The Bible puts it this way: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23, NRSV).

I’m not sure I’ll ever look at clouds the same way. They point to a God who loves routine, who loves to creatively pour out grace on us whenever we need it, whose faithfulness is as certain to us as the sky. And most of all, they point to a God of infinite chances.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

How Heeding One Teacher’s Words Changed the Course of My Life

To celebrate teachers at the beginning of a new school year—and before they’ve become glazed over and can no longer appreciate my gratitude, articulate a coherent thought, or participate in a compassionate action because their students have shoved those abilities right out of them—I’d like to offer some encouragement that their work is not in vain. Teachers really do make a huge impression, as I can attest when one teacher’s words to me changed the course of my life. . . .

During my junior year in college, Dr. George Rable, my advanced American Civilization professor, assigned a 20-page research paper as a course project. Throughout the semester, he made the students bring in our work and pass it to another student, who then read it and made comments. With each paper I received, I pulled out a red pen and peppered the paper with all sorts of observations.

This is passive.

What does this sentence mean?

Orientate is not a word.

You need to flesh out this argument. “Prove” it to me.

This sentence is choppy; how about this wording instead?

Those were all the types of things I’d seen on my own papers that my professor had evaluated. Basically I imitated what I’d seen, but didn’t think much more about it.

At the end of the semester, Dr. Rable called me into his office to discuss my next year’s classes, as he was also my advisor.

“Have you thought about what you’re going to do after you graduate?” he asked me.

I smiled. “I’m going to make use of my American studies degree and become a great American actress on Broadway.”

He laughed. He had been a consistent attendee at all my plays, so he already knew my draw to the stage. He also knew that while I liked history, I was not inclined to continue on the academic path to earn a master’s degree, and that I really didn’t want to become a teacher or a museum curator (nothing against either of those virtuous career choices). “Well, you know,” he said, “if the acting thing doesn’t work out, I’d encourage you to become an editor.”

Huh? His statement threw me. An editor? I didn’t know a thing about editors. I had no idea what they did. Or why. The only thing I could vaguely recall was that Jackie Kennedy Onassis was an editor for Doubleday. And why I even knew that was beyond me.

Dr. Rable went on to explain that what I’d thought was just mimicking his work on my classmates’ research papers had actually been editing and that I had a good gut for it. In fact, my editorial skills were what landed me with an “A” in the class.

I shrugged, thanked him, and politely filed his comment way back to the nether regions of my brain. I wouldn’t need a back-up job. He’d seen me act! I was going to take Broadway by storm. Surely he knew that. And anyway, an editor? Seriously? How boring would that be? You’re at a desk, behind a computer all day. You receive no accolades, no applause, no credit. You don’t get opening night flowers. And the audience doesn’t even know you exist.

Thanks, but no thanks.

And so when I graduated, I pursued professional acting. I loved it. I got to travel, meet new people, kiss hottie actors, and take on different personalities that were completely unlike my own. I performed in everything from children’s theatre to outdoor dramas to musicals to Shakespeare and everything in between. There was only one problem: after five years working professionally, I didn’t make much money and I needed a new car. (Okay, that was really two problems.)

My little red Chevette, which I’d had since I was a sophomore in high school, was a rusted-out, 11-year-old, tin can that resembled a Flintstone mobile (I could see the road rushing by in patches just beneath my feet while I drove). It desperately needed a proper junkyard funeral. I required new—or at least, new to me—transportation. But I didn’t have the funds and hated to go to my parents to ask for help. I was 27 years old, after all.

And as much as the theater life fit my late-night-owl personality, the truth was that in addition to never having enough cash, I had also grown tired of the instability, the constant auditions, the never-ending diets, and the near-neuroses of many of my fellow actors. It was time for a change. I needed to, gasp, look for other employment. But what?

I scanned the help-wanted ads. Nothing. I tried temp agencies and networking. But I didn’t want just a job. If I was going to quit pursuing a full-time acting career, my new employment had to be something I’d love just as much. Something that wouldn’t make me miss the bright lights of the stage.

One day several months into my search, a friend mentioned that I should check the job board at our church. I didn’t even know it had a job board!

“Good idea. Thanks!” I told her.

The following Sunday I headed to a church hallway on the other side of the building that I’d never frequented. There I stood before a large, cork bulletin board covered with photocopied postings and announcements.

I glanced at each listing.

Janitor. Nope, hated cleaning.

Short-order cook. Ha. I could barely make mac and cheese from a box.

Paralegal. Nah-uh. Training needed.

I sighed heavily, certain that this too had been a bust. But just as I began to turn away, my eyes grazed over a short listing off to the side. It announced an opening for an editorial coordinator at a small, but national magazine called Leadership. Immediately I recognized the magazine title—my dad had subscribed to it for years. At first I sloughed it off. The job was out in the suburbs—too far for me to commute every day.

And then the weirdest thing happened. Into my brain rushed words that I hadn’t thought of since that spring afternoon five years before: If the acting thing doesn’t work out, become an editor.

I stepped closer to the posting and scrutinized the job’s details. Lots of clerical skills, but also proofreading, interacting with authors, receiving free subscriptions and books, writing opportunities, and the possibility to advance into a more active editorial role.

What would it hurt? I thought and jotted down the contact information.

It’s now been more than twenty years since I took that job (did I mention I went to college when I was eight?). It was the best job—and life—change I could have made. All thanks to one professor who saw skills in me that I didn’t even know I had or how to name them. His words pointed me in the right direction. My simple but belated yes to his encouragement and to that job opening changed my life for the better—not to mention I could afford a new car.

I may no longer receive a standing ovation for my work or hear the instant feedback from a live audience or have my name in lights, but I’ve discovered that’s okay. I still entertain and educate people. I still rub shoulders with celebrities and travel all over the world. I’ve edited magazines and books and read amazing stories that have made me a better person. I sharpen authors’ skills and hopefully make readers’ lives a little happier, stronger, and more empowered.

And I have learned the power of words—both spoken and written. Speaking into another’s life, as Dr. Rable did into mine and how I try to continue that gift, even in my small editorial way, allows me to encourage and challenge the reader to think differently, to take a risk, or to embrace who that individual is. And when I receive an email from someone who read a piece that I sculpted until it was just right and I learn that it saved her marriage or parenting or health or faith in some way, I’m overwhelmed at my blessings. And I’m so grateful that I heard and acted on that professor’s simple, seemingly insignificant words from many years before.

So thank you, Dr. Rable, and thank you, teachers, for the good words you speak into your students’ lives. Even when you think what you say falls on shallow, dry ground, somewhere, somehow in the future, those words can take root and grow to change a life for the better.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Why We Need More Couples Celebrating Their 50th Anniversary

It was a simple affair. No formal invitations. No huge bridal party. Just an announcement after the Sunday morning church service that John McFarland and Genny Cheek were getting married. Anyone who wanted to stay for the wedding was welcome.

That September 12th in 1965 forever changed the course of one man and one woman’s lives. That day they had no idea the joy their decision could bring. Or the heartache. But they said “I do” while a church filled with Sunday morning worshipers and a few friends and family looked on.

Today, the thought of a twenty-three and a twenty-one year old tying the knot would bring accusations of pregnancy or craziness. But in the ’60s, those ages didn’t raise any eyebrows. John was still in college studying to become a doctor. Genny wanted to pursue a career as a beautician. Neither would see their goals realized.

John felt God’s tap on his shoulder and after graduation continued his studies, but this time in seminary to become a pastor. That meant Genny would forego her schooling to get a clerical job to help pay the bills.

And two years later, their little family of two grew to a little family of three. Genny had wanted a child. Had prayed for God to give her this one thing. And he said yes.

They moved to a small, inner-city church and began their ministry. They loved God and were just head strong enough to commit to wanting to change the world. And many times, that iron sharpening iron that the Bible talks about caused intense sparks. But they stayed together.

John went on to pursue his doctorate, while Genny continued to work. Then later, Genny went to school to become a nurse and then a licensed therapist. And they continued to love God, serve the church, and mature.

Now retired—“happily,” as Genny states—they’ve enter a new season of life. Still together, still sharpening iron, still laughing and sharing their lives together.

John and Genny are my parents, and today they celebrate fifty years together. Not all good. Not all bad. Growing and stretching and challenging, to be sure, as all marriages are. Some days were filled with tears (when John was diagnosed with cancer and years later when Genny faced open heart surgery) and others filled with laughter.

I’m grateful to celebrate a couple’s commitment of fifty years together. I’m twice as blessed that the couple are my parents. I remember when I was in school, as other kids’ parents broke up and mine stayed together, I felt guilty, as though my good fortune was something to be ashamed of. I no longer feel that way. Every day I’m grateful that my parents chose to stick it out—sometimes when everything within them screamed to quit.

Why did they stay together? Because they made a vow. Marriage isn’t easy. But every day they take each other’s hands and declare, “A vow is a vow.” But more, I think it’s because they trust God’s plan for marriage. They don’t always understand it; they don’t really need to.

I look at my own marriage and in the times I want to quit, to run away, to be “free,” I think of my parents’ relationship and how they dug in their heels. I don’t look at their easy times—anyone can stay married when it’s easy. I look at the roughest times, when they don’t like each other and still trust God and stick it out. It’s to those times that I seek strength for my own commitment. And I inhale deeply, sigh loudly, and dig in my own heels. I can do this thing called marriage, because I’ve seen others forge ahead.

We need people in our lives who can show us how to “do” marriage—all of it, the fun times and the messiest of the messy ones. The best models? The ones who have been married forever. I’d say fifty years counts.

Parents 50th anniversarySo thank you, John and Genny, Mom and Dad, for modeling commitment—not when it was easy, but when it was hard. Thank you for teaching me through your lives what true love looks like. I’ve learned more from watching your marriage than I could have ever learned from any other source.

Happy Golden Anniversary. I love you.

P.S. I didn’t get you a card.

Posted in Marriage | Leave a comment

How God Uses Entitled, Spoiled, Judgmental, Spiteful People (Or: So That’s the Story of Jonah)

2336528544_12c8c64896_zQuick: What’s the miracle in the story of Jonah?

If you answered that he was swallowed by a whale, spit up three days later, and survived to tell the story, then you are . . . incorrect, but thanks for playing.

I think the miracle is something that hits closer to home (at least for me).

Yesterday I attended my parents’ church and listened to a great sermon on the subject. Rev. Daniel Taylor suggested that we’ve been thinking all wrong about the story of Jonah—even though many of us have probably heard it about a gabillion times.

But in case you haven’t, or need a refresher, here’s the gist. Jonah is an Old Testament Jew who reluctantly accepts the job of prophet. God calls him to go to a large city, Nineveh (which is filled with Gentiles, or non-Jews), to warn the people that God has seen their wrongdoing and is ready to judge them, but if they acknowledge their faults and turn from their injustices, God will forgive and spare them.

Jonah isn’t interested in the job offer, since he doesn’t want to deal with those nasty, wicked, non-Jewish people and doesn’t care whether they live or die. They aren’t part of his culture or his religion. They aren’t his homies, so why should he be the one to have to tell them? And since he believes they don’t deserve God’s compassion, he opts to take a pass.

He runs away, gets swallowed by a whale, hangs out in the creature’s belly for three days, and then gets projectile vomited onto shore, where God comes to Jonah a second time.

Still not hip to the idea—but hey, if a whale is the first challenge, what’s the second if Jonah refuses again?—Jonah agrees. Barely.

He halfheartedly shares the warning (judgment is coming), but neglects to include the good news (mercy is available). And when all the people (as in more than 100,000), including the king, grieve their actions and seek God’s compassion, Jonah rejoices, sees the error of his ways, realizes that God loves everyone, not just the chosen few, and thanks God for using little, insignificant him to change an entire city.

Haha, no. Actually, he takes his superior, bratified self out of town and rails against God for his kindness and then he melodramatically wishes that he were dead, because the city doesn’t deserve God’s compassion.

So here’s the miracle:

God chose a real stinker of a person as an instrument to share his joy and redemption with those who don’t know him.

One self-righteous, entitled, mean-spirited, spoiled, rotten, arrogant person who half-heartedly and begrudgingly obeyed God’s request influenced and transformed an entire city.

And not only that—God chose him. It wasn’t as though overnight Jonah became those things. Jonah was like that all along—and still God chose to use him. And when Jonah refused, God gave him another opportunity.

Too often we believe that we have to be perfect and have all our junk together before God will want to use us for his purposes. We think we can’t share the good news (the Source of all joy and happiness and peace) with others because we’ve made so many mistakes. And really, what difference can little insignificant you and I make anyway?

If you believe that, then God would like to point you to Jonah. If God used Jonah in all his condemnatory glory, then I have no doubt he’s ready and eager to use me. And you.

whaleSo the next time God whispers for you to do something for him that will bring help and joy to others, and if you offer him a bunch of excuses why you can’t or won’t do it, try to stay away from the ocean, Sea World, or even Long John Silvers. Just sayin’.


photo credit: <a href=”″>Argentina</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Harness Happiness When Work Projects Bring You Down

Help paper clips sayingI had finished a team project for a job I was working, feeling good with the results and pleased with myself. I was happy. I’d confidently moved on to the next project. Then a month later while checking my email one evening (big mistake!), I learned that one member of the team hadn’t fulfilled her part and so the whole thing had to be redone. I had to go back to the project, help her finish her work, and then tweak my portion to make sure it fit together with the whole. I was not happy. In fact, it ruined my entire evening.

While watching MasterChef that night, all I could think of was that project and how tight my schedule already was, and how I didn’t have time—or energy—to revisit something I’d already completed and had approved. Those home chefs were slicing and dicing food, while I was slicing and dicing conversations I really wanted to have, but knew I couldn’t. I really wasn’t happy!

As I went to bed, thoughts still swirling and overtaking any semblance of peace I’d had before I read the email, I stared at the ceiling and wished for sleep to overtake me, but knew my mind wouldn’t cooperate. I replayed the email and the months of work I’d done with the team. I tossed and turned. I sighed heavily and glanced at the clock multiple times. Then a tiny dose of insecurity began to sneak into my thoughts. What if the issue wasn’t the other team member? What if the team didn’t like my work and this was just an excuse? What if, gulp, they didn’t like me?

That only opened Pandora’s Box. Now I began to think about my entire career. Maybe I was just terrible at it all. Maybe I should give up. I began to compare myself to others who were so much better at the work.

It was a dreadful night.

The next morning, dragging out of bed—which also made me unhappy—I realized how quickly happiness can come and fade. One email moved me instantly from having a good day to wearing me out, frustrating me, making me lose sleep, and all manner of other negative issues.

I grabbed a cup of coffee, went to my office, and gave myself a pep talk: “It is what it is. Don’t overanalyze or read too much into it. It probably doesn’t have to do with you—even though you are dealing with the consequences. Just make the most of it, see the positives where you can, and go from there.”

I dove in and got through the project “renovations.” Although I’d have rather not had to deal with it, I was pleased with the way it turned out. And felt my happiness return.

Happiness can be fickle. It comes and goes like the wind, and many times I find myself pursuing it because, well, happiness feels good. I’d much rather be happy than cranky—even in the midst of emails that mess up my schedule, workload, and mental capacity.

One thing that would have helped me maintain my happiness? Well, actually there are a few things:

(1) Don’t check work-related emails in the evening. Nope, don’t do it. We have the power to choose not to go there. So don’t. What’s there in the evening will still be there in the morning. And it will allow us to maintain focus as well as a sense of peace and calm in those hours with family and friends before we head off to bed.

(2) Don’t go down the “what if I’m the problem?” road. Where will it get us? Nowhere but Unhappyville. Take the issues at face value, face them straight on, and then move on.

(3) Isolate the issue. One restructured project does not an entire career or life make. Or break.

(4) Focus on the good. Thank God that we have a job that gave us a project that needs to be reworked. Philippians 4:8 (NIV) puts it this way: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” And the reward? Peace. And happiness.

So the next time I’m tempted to glance at my work email, perhaps it’s best to refocus my thoughts and wait so that my companion “happiness” will stick around a little longer.

What are some ways you’ve maintained happiness in the midst of rough work projects?


Newsworthy note: My book Your Best Happily Ever After releases August 1! It’s filled with great ways to catch and keep happiness. Available at online retailers and bookstores. Check it out!

photo credit: <a href=”″>Office Rescue</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Posted in Happiness | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Danger of Being Right (Or: Thinking Better of Saying, “Ha, Ha, Ya Dimwit!”)

arrogant woman_shutterstock_189992249Last week I stopped at the grocery store. I purchased two large bags of green beans, along with a few other items. The beans were on sale: two bags for six dollars.

As I was checking out, the teenaged cashier rang up the veggies and sent them down to the bagger who promptly and unceremoniously shoved them into a sack. Mid-swipe of the next item, the cashier paused, looking thoughtful.

“You know if you want the sale on the peas you have to buy four bags.”

I didn’t buy peas, so I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I said in my politest voice, “Huh?

“The peas. If you want the sale, you have to buy four bags. Not two.”

“What peas?”

He rolled his eyes and looked at me like I was an idiot. Then he said slowly and loudly, as though I were a deaf idiot, “You wooonnn’t get the saaallle priiiccce if you oooonly buy twooo bags of peeeeas. You have to buy fourrrrr.”

Yeah, I got it. Four bags of peas.

“There’s a sign back there but people don’t read it,” he continued.

I scrunched my face slightly, still not sure why we were having this conversation. “I’m sorry. What peas are you talking about?”

He sighed and rolled his eyes again. Then he reached over and pulled out one of the bean bags. He flipped it with his wrist as if to say, See? Peas, you moron.

“Those are beans,” I said, half looking around to see if I was being punked. “They’re on sale two for six dollars. I saw the sign. I didn’t see the sign for the peas . . . or . . . the peas themselves.”

He ignored me. “Well, lady, you aren’t going to get the sale price.”

“What price are the beans coming up as?”

“Three dollars each.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll take those.”

Apparently, we need to start teaching people the difference between peas and beans. Other than they’re both green.

Dare I get too cocky, as I walked out of the store, smirking at his idiocy, I realized that too often I’ve also perpetrated that kind of proud and self-assured ignorance.

Several years ago while teaching at a conference in the Toronto area, I had a friendly debate with a Canadian about the fact that Toronto sits on the bank of Lake Erie (it doesn’t). The Toronto resident tried politely to assure me that it sits on the shores of Lake Ontario (it does).

But no, in my arrogance I dove face-first into stupidity and reiterated that I had flown over Lake Erie to get there, and therefore Toronto was on Lake Erie. To be fair to my poor, misguided, albeit woefully oblivious, pride, I had actually flown over Lake Erie—and then I flew over the other lake while apparently I was napping or having my brain sucked out by the thin air at 30,000 feet.

When I realized the truth about Toronto’s location, I was mortified that not only had I been wrong, but I’d acted so arrogant about what I thought was truth. If I could have found that woman, I would have eaten any amount of proverbial crow to apologize to her. (At this point, I can only hope she reads this blog post.)

How often do we rush into judgment and make comments about something we do not really know or understand? How often do we catch snippets of gossip or biased news that the media hands out and jump to conclusions without practicing due diligence to discover the facts? How often do we blurt out first without considering someone else’s experience, expertise, or reality?

For me, the answer to the above is that I do those things too often. If I make a comment and then someone corrects me (correctly), I should accept and shut up so that perhaps I can learn something. But no, in my glory, I blaze a trail through Stupidville, reiterating my point and proving that I shouldn’t just blaze a trail there, but set up residence.

As Abraham Lincoln once said (also attributed to Mark Twain), “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

The Bible sums it up this way: “Even fools seem smart when they are quiet” (Proverbs 17:28, CEV).

For my young cashier friend, I could have grabbed the bag from his hand, pointed at the beans, and shouted, “Ha! They’re beeeaaaannns. Not peeeeas. Score!” Yes, I would have been right with that fact, but oh so wrong with the way I handled it. And to what end?

I appreciate the way my Canadian friend handled me. She stated the truth and when I continued to disbelieve her, instead of pulling out her phone and showing me Toronto on her Google maps, she simply smiled kindly (leaving me my dignity) and then changed the subject.

Some facts matter and we should set the record straight. But beans versus peas and Lake Erie versus Lake Ontario? It really doesn’t matter. We can let it go, let everyone maintain their dignity and respect, and look a whole lot smarter than we might actually be.

So the next time we’re set to dispute something someone else has said, perhaps it’s better for us to keep silent. If the other person is wrong, then they will show their own foolishness. And if we are wrong, no one will be the wiser.

Posted in kindness, Silence | 4 Comments