A Remarkable Week in the Neighborhood

It was an odd week on Planet Earth – the week at the end of November and beginning of December. But a remarkable one too.

I share a booth at Amy’s Antique and Flea Mall. On the last day of November, I was a little over $20 short of my goal for enough sales to cover my part of the booth rental, and I was disappointed. This minor issue seemed to be a judgment on me that felt like criticism. Clearly, I do not stock things that people want to buy. Rationally, I shouldn’t worry about it. The booth is a hobby, not a career. But who wants to feel as if nobody likes your shelves or stools?

This day brought rain storms, which meant surely nobody was going shopping in out-of-the-way antique malls, and I wouldn’t make rent. I had accepted this fate as I was eating lunch with my booth partner Linda Lee. She headed toward the booth afterwards, and I did too. Might as well. Maybe I could move a table or stool into just the right spot to make it irresistible to a passerby.

I was in my car behind hers. When we reached the traffic light to turn toward the building, Linda sailed through. I stopped. I could have pressed on through the yellow, but I braked instead. Then a strange thing happened. When I pulled up to the back where vendors enter, one of the people who works in the booth had fallen while removing items from a truck. When Linda had walked in, the lady was standing. By the time I pulled up after missing the light, she was on the ground and couldn’t get up.

I went to get help, and she is OK now. But I did recognize simple facts. If I had made rent, I wouldn’t have gone to the booth. Also, no one drove by while we were out there assisting her. If I had not missed that light, she would have been out there for a good while longer. It was not hard to draw the conclusion that going for help is a better outcome than improving my bric-a-brac sales.

Cast Bread and Connections

This was a Wednesday, and in this season I was practicing something my mother had once told me: “Cast your bread upon the waters and it comes back buttered.” I had a number of handmade, found-objects art pieces in my house; they weren’t doing anyone any good in here, so I started to send them out through various individuals. Later that afternoon as I headed to my volunteer work in the church kitchen, I grabbed two art pieces to take with me. One of these I gave to my pastor’s wife, Mary Ruth Wolf, when I saw her after the prayer service.

I am a copywriter, as you may know. That is my profession. The next day I had an amazing telephone conversation related to an amazing copywriting project. I am writing several dozen profiles of individuals for a client, and one of these individuals is by nature of his role within the top 10 U.S. military professionals. Gen John Hyten is head of USSTRATCOM based in Nebraska; he reports directly to the Secretary of Defense and to the President. So that’s a high rank. I felt some intimidation as I prepared for the call – which I believed was a reasonable state of being in this case – but I had heard the general was a nice man.

Also, someone on his staff had called earlier to ask me what year I graduated from Huntingdon – an odd way for them to prepare for my questions, but that did mean they checked my website. The caller said he knew someone who went there. In any case, during the interview, Gen Hyten was eloquent on matters great and small, and I was moved by his insights and experiences. As we closed, I prompted, “You knew someone who went to Huntingdon?”

“Yes,” he said, “Linda Crosby.” It took a moment to recognize the name of one of my dearest friends from my class year.

“You knew Linda?” I asked. “I loved her.” As the general explained, he and Linda had grown up together in Huntsville and were good friends. Their families were friends as well.

“Small world,” he said. Indeed.

I met my frequent lunch companion Jan for a quick bite to eat then headed to the McInnis Recycling Center way out on Norman Bridge Road with a trunk full of electronics to drop off. This was the only day of the week they accept this kind of recycling, and sometimes they charge for certain things – like CRT monitors. I had six dollars in cash and not enough time to get to an ATM and across town before the center stopped accepting recycling at 2:00. Maybe my items don’t require payment, I hoped.

The center is staffed by adults with intellectual, mental, and/or physical disabilities. When I arrived, there was a lady who directed me to drive my car into the warehouse to have the electronic items removed from the trunk. Her voice had a different tone – more staccato – compared to the general’s eloquence. But what I noticed was that I did everything she said.

Her instructions were basic: “Drive the car.” The workers took what I had in my trunk, and I was not charged for any of the items being recycled. But as the lady directed me to back out of the warehouse, she asked, “Do you have any money? Read the sign.”

I read the sign. It said, “Donations are appreciated for electronic recycling.” I delayed my departure as I opened my wallet, took out my six dollars, got out of the car, and walked into the office. The worker there asked, “May I help you?”

“I want to make a donation,” I said.

As I drove home, I thought about the authority of the general with the very high rank, and how the lady in the warehouse had her own unmistakable authority. I wasn’t going to disregard her directions for how to proceed and how to give; I complied with her instructions.

My thoughts meandered to the school crossing guard who in her official role is obeyed by people of every station of society. No one drives off and says, “I told that school crossing guard exactly what I thought about her ‘little traffic rules.’” For at that moment, the school crossing guard represents a community’s most tender values: the protection of children.

Then came Friday. That afternoon I had stopped in my booth and felt the familiar disappointment of stocking unpopular, unwanted items. After a heavy sigh, I thought to myself, “I am not going to let this good week end with a feeling of disappointment about a silly booth that represents a tiny fraction of my work life. I’m not going home with this feeling.”

What could I do instead? I said to myself, “I’m going to see Pat Stewart.”

My 85-year-old friend lived in an assisted living facility way out Narrow Lane Road. This was a pretty significant journey for Friday afternoon traffic in December, but I headed down the bypass and found Pat in her room. We had a nice visit. I told her about the phone call with the general, how he knew a friend of mine, and about the timing of my visit to the booth.

We both agreed that you never know what’s happening that you can’t see. I said to her, “I better head back home. It will take a while to get there.” And it did. With accidents amid Friday close-of-business drivers, it took me 45 minutes to get home. I remember not being too bothered by the delay, but trusting that – as I had learned – delays can set up important circumstances. You never know, you know?

Acts with Impact

Then it was Saturday. That morning I felt the familiar disappointment about that booth and my poor instinct for selecting items that anybody actually wants. But there were other things to do that day, and I pushed my inadequate mercantile abilities out of mind. Sometime in the afternoon, while visiting my sister Anne’s house to watch a football game, I checked my email. I had a message from Mary Ruth. It seems that she and Jay, my pastor, had been looking at the piece I gave her that Wednesday, and they were wondering about getting more of them for Christmas gifts… around 25 in total… and would it be possible to have them by Dec. 20.

So I said to my sister, “I’m going home for a moment to count my art pieces. I’ll be back shortly.” There were 14 at home, six in my booth. So, yes, they bought out all my stock, and with these plus a few more, I fulfilled the order.

If anybody else had done that for me, it would have been a very nice thing, and I would have been grateful. But a pastor and his wife have certain roles of influence by virtue of their roles in the church body. The Wolfs’ endorsement of me and my pieces was a large gift to receive, and it meant a lot to me to be the beneficiary of this request of theirs.

I know as well that influence comes within all levels of authority and in all kinds of roles. Life changes in the small acts as well as the big ones.

Many of you may have surmised that that Friday afternoon was the last time I saw Pat Stewart. Some days later, she had a stroke from which she did not recover, and the last few weeks were difficult for her. Then, on Christmas Day, she took her last breath on earth – leaving behind family and many friends, but joining a heavenly celebration with those who had gone on ahead, including a husband, a son and a baby girl who died at birth.

Pat did small things for me that made a big difference. She helped me find a place in Sunday school, for instance. And in her role of delivering juice and crackers to Sunday school rooms, collecting attendance sheets, preparing sweet tea for church suppers and answering the phone at the preschool desk, she touched countless lives over and over – and mine again and again.

So what lesson do I learn from this remarkable week? “There are no ordinary people,” C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Weight of Glory.”

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

Or said another way: Be a good neighbor, y’all.

Listen to that voice… the one that says yes, the one that says no, the one that says wait, the one that says slow, the one that says stop, the one that says go.

Happy New Year,


When the Game Was Afoot

While watching the Auburn vs. Alabama game with my sister Jane and niece Natalie, we segued slightly to a conversation about technology. I was telling them that I am old enough to be amazed at what an iPad can do. I can hold this device in my hands and stream a movie or TV program. It’s not plugged in, not connected to any wires. It’s just entertainment that drops down from the heavens to keep me from being unoccupied. Or something like that.

This topic came up because I had made a recent purchase. As I explained to them, I had in mind what I would buy and pushed back on every tempting offer of upgrade even before the sales clerk could finish her statements. She eventually said, “And you’re probably not going to want…” And I said, “No.”

But then, as she handed me my package, I asked a question that I quickly regretted – because it came right out of the 1990s: “Does it come with written instructions?” The salesperson looked at me oddly as my 20th Century question hung in the air. “No written instructions,” she said. “You can Google it.” Oh, yes. I had forgotten about Google. That was a helpful tip.

In any case, because Jane, Natalie and I were watching the Iron Bowl, I moved on to tell a story about a radio trivia quiz I had once answered. It was the first day of class for my sophomore year in college, and I was getting dressed in my dorm room when I heard the disc jockey ask, “What was the score of the Alabama-Auburn game in 1971?”

I knew this score. 31-7. As I explained to Natalie, my early-20s niece, there was no Google then. This score was something I remembered. My other sister’s boyfriend was an Alabama fan, and after the game, someone had given him a jacket with the words “Alabama 1 31-7” screenprinted on the back. That’s why I remembered.

But the far more notorious or delightful score (depending on your view) was the tally that occurred the next year, 1972. Alabama had led 16-0 into the fourth quarter, and two blocked punts put Auburn on top. I had listened to this game on the radio, incidentally. As I explained to Natalie, there was no ESPN, no ESPN2, no SEC Network, no live streaming. Sometimes games weren’t televised, and you had to listen on the radio.

In any case, back in 1981, I was a young college student, but I hadn’t been born yesterday, and I knew the DJ was trying to throw people off by asking the Iron Bowl score for 1971. Probably the first ten callers were rushing to their touchtone and rotary dial landlines to say, “17-16!”

Clearly, there was a game afoot. I found a coin and headed for the hallway. Again, as I described these primitive conditions to Natalie, there were no cell phones. I had to use the hall phone to call the radio station. When the DJ answered, I gave the correct score, and he said, “You’re a smart lady, aren’t you?”

I don’t know if he had been disappointed that I hadn’t been thrown off by a year. But still, I knew what I knew. He said he was going to put me on the air, and he told me to turn up my radio so I could hear the question when he asked it. Problem was, the radio was in the dorm room in a stereo case. I was in the hallway. I had to call out to my roommate, Lisa Baughn Bond, to turn up the radio. Problem was, standing in the doorway of our room, Lisa resisted this request.

As it happens, we were not supposed to turn up radios really loud, and Lisa didn’t want the dorm mothers to get upset. Lisa was always a very nice person and didn’t like to do things that were upsetting to people. Me either, you know? But there was a game afoot. I explained to Lisa that I was on the phone with the radio station, and I needed to hear the question.

Fortunately, against her better judgment and with disregard for propriety, Lisa turned up the radio volume in our dorm room so that I could hear the station while standing at the hall phone.

So the disc jockey came back to me, asked the question, and I answered, “I think everybody knows that score was 31 to 7.”

I heard a cheer or two in the dorm; others were apparently listening. Later, when I was on campus, three guys walked past me, and one asked, “What was the score?” As I told Natalie, that was a little like going viral back in my day.

She and Jane asked if I got my prize. No, I didn’t. I had won a Command Performance haircut. This was a new model for beauty salons; it was the kind of place where you could walk in to get a haircut – and you didn’t even need to make an appointment in advance. But at the time I only knew how to drive to a handful of places in Montgomery – for example, toward the two malls, the Super Foods, my other sister’s house, and which way was home. I didn’t know where the radio station was, and it’s not like we had Google Maps to guide me. I answered the question, enjoyed the moment, but skipped out on the prize.

Life at the P.O. (and Beyond)

I’m not a postal employee, but my experience as a postal customer has given me a lot of opportunity over the years to be of service to others.

For example, I know that if the line stretches to the door in December, and there are three windows open, you’ll be fine. It’s just a 20-minute wait. You are better sticking it out than saying, “I’ll come back later.” Because no amount of “coming back later” will be less time than that 20 minutes ahead of you right now.

So that’s what I would advise people if I’m walking the route between my car and my P.O. box, and I see a look of dismay as they open the door. Or if I hear something like, “Ugh. That line.”

On the other hand, if two windows are open or only one, it gets a little more iffy. I can’t help you there. Because who knows.  

One time a young man had left the checkout area, returning to the lobby with a stunned, confused look on his face. At the moment, I was headed back to my car after checking my box, and our conversation started with, “Excuse me, ma’am.” He didn’t understand why he’d just spent so much money when all he wanted was a PO box and a roll of stamps.  

“Is that how much stamps are now?” he asked.  

I stopped, took a look at his receipt. “When you buy a ‘roll’, it is,” I explained. “That’s one hundred stamps. One hundred times 47 cents is $47 dollars. If you get a ‘sheet,’ that’s 10 stamps, or $4.70.”

“Shooo-weeee,” he said. “I better go take some of these back.”

Glad to be of help. Poor guy.

I don’t loiter at the post office. I’m just walking to my box from my car and back again as these opportunities to serve arise.

Usually these interactions are with strangers. On day last week, however, I was delighted to pull open the glass doors, step into the lobby and come face to face with my friend Marcia. It turns out she was interested in making a postage purchase but wasn’t sure how to use the self-checkout kiosk. A first-timer. So we stepped up to face the kiosk, and I showed her step by step how it’s done. We chatted, said “good to see you again,” went on our way. 

My trip to the post office is not a hobby. The contents of my box has implications for my life several days a month. But I don’t always know which days. It’s where I get my checks. I’ll usually have a sense in my head of when one is due, and if it’s there, that’s great. I get a lift. If not, I sigh and tell myself, “don’t worry.” But I still might feel a sense of dismay or disappointment. 

So the point I’m making is that I may be having a good day or a bad day at the P.O. when I see someone else’s need. And whether I’m going or coming, I may be having to call upon a sense of trust myself that all will be well.

That’s also why I know how important the contents of the boxes can be to the individuals who rely on them. 

This past Saturday, I had just pulled an envelope out of my own box when I turned to face a dilemma. Someone needed help, and he’d already left the post office. I could see five small envelopes on the floor, and I knew they were checks. Payments to a lawn service. Clearly, they’d fallen out of the owner’s hands when he pulled out his mail, and he was gone. 

I started to resolve the dilemma by stacking the envelopes in a neat pile, assuming no one would bother them, and they’d be there when he came back on Monday. But I couldn’t leave it at that. Didn’t seem like I’d done enough. So I walked back again, picked up the envelopes and headed inside to speak to a cashier. Two windows were open. One customer in line. “I can do this,” I thought.

When the first cashier completed a transaction, I held up the envelopes and explained that they had fallen out of someone’s hands. I thought the person ahead of me in line would grant me just a little grace at this interruption, given that I was only handing something over. The cashier listened to my explanation, understood the problem, and said she’d put them back in the box.

I left with my own mail and returned to my life. Which at this moment comes down to this one part of one verse in Psalm 37: “Trust in the Lord and do good.”

I don’t control much of anything else, but I do control my level of trust in God’s control, and I do control whether I respond to opportunities to serve.

We all need a little help, a little grace. And we need people watching out for others. Even, frankly, in the operation of government services. Mr. Rogers said his mother once told him, “When times are scary, look for the helpers.” Most times are a little scary. So be a helper. And look for them too. 

I have missed my mother in this season, though, the truth is, I miss her in most seasons. But I remember she often told me, “When you see something on the floor, pick it up.” Let me hasten to add, I NEVER liked it when she told me that. Nor have I ever forgotten her words. And I follow this instruction all the time – though not the “floor,” but the ground – when I’m out in the world and see little pieces of debris. Nails, screws, bolts and stuff.

treesornamentAs some of you know, I’ve created art pieces out of the debris I pick up on my morning walk, and I call it The Nail’s Pace Collection. Because I say, “I walk at a nail’s pace.” I suppose — given that I make art out of things I pick up — I could have called myself a “pick-up artist,” but that didn’t sound right for some reason.

In any case, I recently made some found-objects Christmas ornaments, and they’re at Amy’s Antique and Flea Mall, 849 North Eastern Blvd. Prices range from $9.95-$11.95. ornaments2

If you’d check them out for your gifts and your own tree, it’d be a big help to me. 

Just wanted you to know.


Take care,



Scattered Reflections

mirrorAlong my walking path this week I came to scatterings from a looking glass. Clearly, objects in the mirror were closer than they appeared. And somehow they collided.

In any case, I thought about those verses from 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror…” and how, for now, we only know in part.

This can especially be true in environments where we might feel like we’ve dropped in from another planet – like, for me, this past Sunday in preschool Sunday school.

At the art table, a 4-year-old sitting next to me was working on a picture. He turned to look at the art of the 4-year-old next to him, then turned back to me. With a nod toward his little colleague’s artwork, he asked, “Is that scribble scrabble?”

I didn’t know what to say – mainly because I didn’t know what was contained in his use of the term scribble scrabble. I figured it was something he had picked up at home, but I wasn’t sure the weight his family (and therefore this 4-year-old) gave to the term. Was it a negative or positive assessment? Should I embrace it or steer away? I tried to steer away.

“He’s drawing a pretty picture,” I said.

“Well,” the kid responded, “it looks like scribble scrabble to me.”

At that table a little earlier, a little girl told me she was drawing hearts. They were a kind of heart that a 4-year-old would draw – indentions at the top, but with rounded rather than sharp lines that meet at the bottom. The girl across the table from her was also drawing hearts, and in a desire to offer instructional assistance to her preschool colleague, she rushed over with marker in hand to show her how it’s done.

I had an instinct to protect the first girl’s art as one that was her own expression, though I appreciated the desire to help someone else get her heart right. That is a good instinct as well. All of our hearts are a work in progress, and we need lots of help getting them right. But … sometimes it’s more important to work on our own heart than try to fix someone else’s.

At the puzzle table, I have drawn different conclusions. With art, you can lean toward allowing someone’s personal expression to override correction and assistance. With puzzles, however, it’s about getting it right.

I figured out this much on my own: you cannot pretend that a puzzle piece fits where it does not belong. So, if a child has put a piece where it doesn’t belong, I’m not going to say, “Yes, you have gotten that right,” or “Just put the pieces wherever you want. It’s your puzzle.”

That’d be weird.

Art vs. puzzles – I notice they provide formats for early instruction of grace vs. truth. Grace is love, acceptance. Truth is reality, structure. We might prefer one over the other but need both (as modeled by Jesus “who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14)

I’m not a parent, and I’m not a teacher. I’m in the marketing and communication field. So I come at these tasks from that perspective. It’s as if I’m serving little 4-year-old clients, and it’s as if their time in this classroom is a “user test” of the church. They are becoming familiar with church – the buildings, the hallways, the stairwells, the chairs and tables, also the people and the stories from the Bible about God and His son Jesus.

Hopefully they are associating church with good things and not bad things, and this is a place they will want to stay connected to or to return later on.

I remember things from my childhood church experiences, but I’m more likely to remember chairs, stairwells and hallways than actual lessons. On a visit some months ago, I walked through and recognized the old preschool hallway, including the wooden door that opens at the top, stays shut at the bottom, so a parent can hand a child over. Though I remember very little in specifics, I associated the hallway with good feelings.

I suppose those were the early days of my journey toward grace and truth, and the balance between the two, but I don’t see it clearly. I’ve only got a little bit of the picture, fragments of memory. Even so, just as you can trust an uncertain future to a certain God, you can see the same in the days gone by and know for sure He was there all along, walking beside you the whole way.

Be not afraid, y’all.

What Starts Today Began a Long Time Ago

Last Thursday I drove to Birmingham for reasons having to do with the fact that I bought six containers of Play Doh in 2008. Or maybe it was because I was working at an advertising agency in the late 1980s when Autauga Medical Center opened a teen treatment unit. But it was also because I spent a dozen years working with a company that developed content management systems for church websites.

The point I’ll get to is this: whenever I have a new opportunity for my work as a copywriter, you can sure bet it’s because of something else I’ve already done.

I’ve told this story in other places. In 2008, my great niece Sally was turning 2 years old. Her mother said she needed new Play Doh. I said I’d get it. At the time I had no idea I could get this done for so little investment: six containers totaled about two dollars. When I found them at Target, I pulled them off the shelves and headed to the checkout line, where I saw my PR colleague Lenore checking out ahead of me.

We spoke. She asked, “Are you still freelance writing?”

I said, “Yes, I am. Here’s my card.”

That, again, is how that Play Doh investment turned into projects for the Business Council of Alabama, and, eventually, a coffee table book sponsored by the BCA to promote economic development. Also, when Lenore moved on to become editor of Alabama Living, she didn’t have time for an article assignment that she’d been offered for Business Alabama. She gave the editor my name, and that’s how I ended up at an economic development conference last February, where I ran into another long-time colleague, Julie.

About that. In the late ‘80s, Julie was marketing director for what was then Autauga Medical Center, and I was a copywriter for the ad agency helping her promote the new teen treatment unit. Now she’s with Central Alabama Electric Cooperative.

CAEC has a leadership consultant who assists with their organizational planning. One day Julie and Mike were talking about a project for another of his clients, and, having seen me at that recent event, Julie gave him my name and contact information. He called on her referral. That particular project didn’t pan out, but when I followed up later to check on its status, Mike and I began to talk about some of his own projects.

We’ve gotten through many of the pieces of Mike’s projects, but as we get into next steps, I thought the person who would best be able to help us move forward is my buddy Jason. I was his client for about 12 years when he was marketing director for Axletree Media. Now he’s running his own branding and marketing shop, and he and I set a time to meet with Mike in Birmingham. And that’s why I was driving I-65N last Thursday thinking about how I got on that road in the first place.

All I can say is, in this work, nothing starts today. Or, rather, everything that starts today actually got its start sometime back.

IMG_5409This week I received an email from an advertising colleague who said she was sitting in the security building of the Toyota plant in Huntsville and saw that BCA coffee table book, Alabama: Moving Forward, on the table. Cate sent me a picture as proof. Last week, I got a text from a PR friend who was in Washington calling on our congressional delegation. Linda saw the same book on Senator Sessions’ coffee table and sent me proof. So sweet they both did that. I was touched.

The point is: I wrote those chapters in 2011, five years ago. I was pretty sure the book had been forgotten, until I got these reminders that those contacts that came this month were generated by something that happened a long time ago. In this work, things don’t drop in out of the blue, or pop up out of the ground, or fall down from the sky of their own accord, even if it seems that way, because everything comes from something that came before.

This week I’ve been working on a big new project. I’m pretty sure that I can trace that back to my seventh grade science teacher because the work’s being done for her son. Also, I have a new assignment writing/editing a newsletter for the Montgomery Area Council on Aging. That came from my PR colleague Rosemary, who was visiting the agency for a Leadership Montgomery meeting when someone mentioned a need, and she mentioned my name.

You know what’s been pretty good preparation for me to interview clients being nourished through the Meals on Wheels program? All those stories I wrote about people I met at church….

So, if you should be out someday and you hear of someone who needs website copy or case studies or an email series or blogs or white papers or articles or other types of stories for their businesses and organizations… I hope you’ll think of me. Whatever it is, I can tell you this: I’ve been getting ready for that opportunity for a good long while.

Be not afraid, y’all.

“Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” Ecclesiastes 11:6 (NIV)

A 3-Step Program for the Next 15 Years

20150122_202141Some time ago, I read a series of sermons on Leviticus that brought many themes and verses into my awareness. I don’t know how much I would have gotten out of reading Leviticus on my own, but the sermon series provided an enlightening guide, and even today some of the verses stand out. Like this set in the 26th chapter:

“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land. I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid.” Leviticus 26:3-6 (NIV)

Now, who doesn’t want an outcome like that? I especially am interested in this part: you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I think of the worries, the concerns… the sounds, the sights, the fears… that intrude in my dreams. So I was thinking, sleeping through the night, unafraid – that is a fine goal to have.

One of my biggest concerns, workwise, is the future – 14, 15 years from now. Will I have done the things I needed to do to provide for life then? Will I spend these 14, 15 years with worry, or will I not? That thought is sort of how my plan came into being. I devised a little program for myself, which I’ll share with you here.

I looked ahead to see where I wanted to be, then looked back to see what needs to be accomplished each month, each week, most days to be where I want to be. Now, I have this level of effort in sight: this is what I need to do to get where I want to go. But I know it won’t “just happen.” So…

I asked a question: what will it take for me to be able to do this? What resources do I need within me to perform at this level, to pursue these kinds of opportunities, to get this work done? How can I personally accomplish these steps every week, given my strengths and given my weaknesses? I have plenty of things/issues that could serve as stumbling blocks – the things that start happening after fear, discouragement, guilt, etc. start taking over. So, I asked, what will I need to keep from stumbling?

I’m going to need energy and confidence. So…

My next question was: where can I find the confidence and the energy I need for accomplishing this goal? Where can I find the physical/emotional resources I will need to stay on track? The things that I’m going to need I discovered that I could put in three categories, and I came up with my own acronym.

Now, I should mention here, I’d never had an acronym before, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like having one. They seem so trendy. But once this thinking made sense, I decided “it’s time.” And here is the first letter…

A, for Attitude. You know what a stumbling block can be? A negative emotion. You’ve probably got your own list, but these things can fall into the area of feeling guilt-ridden, bitter, afraid… you know the ones. Prayer and scripture are certainly protectors of the attitude, but the other categories affect attitude as well.

Henry Cloud says you need belief to accomplish a goal; a belief that you can do it. You may have it at the beginning, but something happens and you can start spiraling. The lack of belief becomes pervasive – you think “it’s always going to be this way”; permanent – “it’s never going to change”; personal – “it’s me, that’s the way I am.” I want to stay away from that place, so I need the second letter…

A, for Activity. A body at rest tends to stay at rest, they say, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion. You can’t argue with physics. Within this category is a range of everything from a morning walk to following up on a work project to writing a story or post or visiting a friend. Oh, and sometimes it’s the things I dread – something that might be “awkward,” but has to be done. In those cases, I try to remember from Isaiah 54: “Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame; do not fear disgrace, you will not be humiliated.” (A good prayer for the creative arts.) Motion builds encouragement. If I dread doing something but go ahead and do it, I get rid of the dread plus have the potentially positive outcome. And if it’s a negative outcome, at least I’m dealing in reality – which, they say, is a better choice than the alternative.

This A for Activity also goes out from the belief that I am not the only one active. God is active on my behalf. If I am active, He can put things in my path, and I can see them. Then, when something good happens (by any measure), it helps my attitude and increases my energy and confidence. And another thing, the measure isn’t always linear. Obviously, some activities lend themselves to more productive outcomes than others. But you don’t always know. I have made good contacts by happenstance while waiting to cross a street or while visiting a friend in a rehab facility. The main thing in common: I was in motion when it happened.

And now for this other letter…

H, for Habits. This is how I avoid the daily pitfalls and make the daily progress. A daily work schedule is in this list, and also my morning walks. The verse I think about for this one is from Hebrews 3: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness.” First of all, these 14 or 15 years will need to be accomplished during the intervening days between now and then. That means this day is important.

Also, the hardened heart is central to a negative cause and effect. Fits of pique. Disgruntlement. Things seeming permanent, pervasive and personal. If this stuff piles up, attitude, activity and habits all get sidetracked, and choices are made from which bad outcomes would follow. So I would just say, a hardened heart is a bad habit to have.

So that’s my program – A.A.H. Oh, there could be more letters, and I could put them in a different order. Maybe next year, I’ll add an H and move things around, and make my program H.A.H.A. But for now, I’m here: A.A.H.

And what does this program provide? I think of it this way…

AAH is the sound of insight, new ideas and creativity. It is the sound of satisfaction, sort of like eating a good meal and being full. And it is the sound of a relaxed spirit. Like the kind that subscribes to this promise: you will lie down at night and no one will make you afraid.