Monday, September 19, 2011

Encouraging One Another

This rainy Monday morning provides evidence that the seasons are changing.  We have gone from super hydration for a streak of 90+ degree weather, a child that runs cross country at extreme temperatures and the realization that we can get fatigued from doing simply life chores in extreme weather to this. (I think its age.)  This is rain, jackets, plans A/B/C for clothing and a reminder of gloomy weather days to come.  More than just the weather changing, I'm realizing that I'm changing too.  (I use the picture to remind myself, there's beauty in what I experience too.) 

India Irie has a song about the little things that at various stages of life I really thought I understood.  It reteaches me at various seasons that the little things are ever changing.  On a recent girlfriends trip I carried a small paperback book called "Encouraging One Another" and found little time to read it while I was there.  The trip was 100% fun and sun, new experiences, stretching beyond my comfort zone and a daily opportunity to encourage one of the ladies that I was traveling with, with ample opportunities for me to be encouraged as well.  When you are in an extreme situation, you don't really need a reminder about encouragement, it happens naturally.  24 hours state side and I started reading the book in detail. (It was actually less than 24 hours.)

Psalm 69:32 indicates "Be Encouraged, You Who Worship GOD." This very short verse offers clarity that on its own merit should encourage my heart, the instructions are clear.  Be encouraged, you who worship God.  I worship God, I should be encouraged.  I believe that I'm a remedial case in basic life instruction because I have a lifetime of evidence that my God is real, and an on-time God, and at my most difficult hours He has been the only encouragement that mattered or made a difference.  But there are seasons of glass half empty that I'm working to navigate better and believing that part of that requires the ability to radically impact others in a way that matters.  After all, I have 4 decades of life experience at this point, and something should be the focus of my attention other than that math equation. (The trip was self-encouragement about embracing this phase of life.)

My little devotional introduced a concept for sentimental me, a trinket to treasure in every chapter.  There are little images that symbolize the concepts that book tries to reinforce.  The first is a baseball, a reminder that our Savior is in the stands as we live life, shouting fiercely, "Atta girl, you can do it!"  Any parent who has attended a gymnastics, swim, basketball, soccer, track, cheerleading or football game weekly understands the obligations that come about.  No matter what you are feeling, you go to the stands and turn off life to turn on "supportive parent" offering encouragement with little delusion that an Olympic star is on the horizon. (Gifted scholarship recipient maybe.... but not Olympics. Yet.)  How much more does our God care for us?  He doesn't have to turn it on or fight through what might or might not happen as a result of these skills in the future.  Our God sets the standard for encouragement. I am a slow learner.

I have been discussing love languages with my children, a fascinating exploration of what ministers most to our spirit - an exercise in self-assessment, priorities and cyclical grief - not all love languages are created equal.  When you know a persons love language, you can offer encouragement in the way that matters most to the person.  My love language is acts of service and all other things come in a distant second, third or fourth place.  My return from my trip has been filled with daily trinkets and lessons, the little things, and a BIG realization that I'm not on vacation any more.  Welcome home.

May I suggest (to all 5 readers!), write a list of the little things that routinely touch your life or encourage your heart.   Create a smile file so you have something to remind you of yourself when it starts to disappear.  It can undoubtedly change the course of your day.  When you weave them together, something nearly magical happens.  You are released from your own circumstances when you remind yourself of the reasons to smile, and when you encourage someone else - regardless of your circumstances.  My little things have been in abundance over the last week and I felt inspired to share:

  • I wasn't off the plane for 15 minutes, when I noticed a weeks worth of mail on my dashboard.  I was anticipating the number of people who would want something from me, bills in abundance and reminders of what I had not done in my day life.  I found, however, a beautiful card that brought tears to my eyes, as a member of my ministry wrote "we watch you and wonder in amazement - I see you." Enough said, I didn't open another thing.  Trinket - a card. 
  • I have started texting my high school BFF, a practice that has brought joy to my life.  I shared a few recommendations about fairly personal products and was happy to have her report, "you done good."  From high school exchanges about mean girls to adult travel and new life choices, I was reminded of the quote " make new friends, but keep the old - one is like silver, the other is gold."  I had gold brought back into my life and have embraced more responsibility in keeping it deemed precious.  Trinket - gold. 
  • Don't expect a list of sentimental hoopla and wonderful reflections on the good life.  I returned home to 5 consecutive days of ministry obligation, and I needed a sugar rush by day 4.  On a particular church anniversary night every plan for our Nursery ministry started to fall through the cracks - location, volunteers, set-up, etc.  I was solidifying my nerves when I encountered a happy praise fest that still lingers in my heart.  Surrounded by thousands of dollars of computer equipment, we created an island oasis in the corner of the room, where praises went up - and poop, and the temperature, laughter too - and my attitude went down. You simply cannot have a bad attitude and serve children well.  It helps when you are surrounded with enough love, laughter, latitude and longevity to keep it all in perspective.  I require women in my circle who have experienced more of life than the law should allow, who praise God fiercely in spite of their circumstances and who smile through the challenges of life.  Trinket - diapers.  I'm still laughing.
  • At a Youth Experience I asked a group of female teenagers to describe what they could tell about me from the outside, or from what they encounter - based on their level of exposure.  Some girls had known me for 3 hours, some for nearly 3 years.  The list of items that they observed - mother, smiling, teacher, encourager, AKA, woman of God, truth teller, ministry worker..... and wife.  Every time I'm with the young people they indicate they observe me as wife.  (No pressure, right?) The trinket for this simple exercise is that of sunglasses.  No matter how cool you might aspire to be, people see you.  Right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate - they see you.  When I'm seen I want to be the full, complete, total woman of God I aspire to be.  I want to be a package to behold that is not placed into a tiny box based on one affiliation, one characteristic or one short coming.  I am indeed the many things that they shared - with a healthy dose of sarcasm, dry humor, type A personality, loner and crybaby to boot.  I am me.  Carry your sunglasses as a trinket to see clearly, in the midst of the beaming rays of Son from our Saviour - because God sees you as you really are.  And. He. Still. Loves. YOU!  
  • All conversations are not created equal.  The trinket in this last lesson would be a monkey, one that could see, hear, and most importantly speak no evil.  I returned with a desire to create encouragement where I need it most - or at least where I need it more.  I have had a desire for couples fellowship that was substantive, entertaining, accountable... and in a recent conversation I shared that desire.  I left thinking that I would help to be a catalyst for an important couples fellowship, fill a need that exists in the lives of many women I know, I was just thrilled at the future success.  Two days later I had a conversation that resembled a game of grade school telephone the summarized less than one-tenth of my thoughts about the couples to, or not to include.  I had become the catalyst in a game of dominoes that seemed to topple over creating messiness along the way.  I felt both responsible and grieved all at the same time.  Once I started writing out the scriptures in the Bible that dealt with the power of the tongue and I realized that God was intentional in encouraging us to listen for wisdom, talk less.  The little monkey trinket serves as my reminder for that now - I think I'll live the marriage encouragement for those who have proven themselves something other than a nuisance.  I think I'll save that outreach until I've gotten more resolved about the essence of Encouraging One Another.  
So, my love language is acts of service.  Anyone within a 3,000 mile radius can figure that out and shhhh! (they don't even have to be in my circle to figure it out). My greatest pet peeve is messy relationships, when that ship has sailed I paddle backwards, use the paddles for firewood, chart a different course and eliminate the directions for that course - as to never cross it again.  I'm old(er) and I'd like to both learn from my lessons and believe people the first time when they show who they are.  I must admit however, I'm so thankful for those who have opted to love me in spite of myself.  They are a rescue team of sorts - they are my tea-drinking, coffee supporting, laughter inspiring, card sending, note writing, PhD pursuing, motherhood perfecting, wine sipping, God loving, marriage surviving, marriage thriving, friendship protecting - friends. (And not in that order.)  They likely don't need a book about Encouraging One Another - but they are smart enough to seek help from the sources that encourage most.  It might be a book, or The BOOK, but their intentions are always pure.  That quality is rare and I'm personally thankful for it.  They encourage me.  They hearten my spirit. They move me to push past the frailties in my life, as I aspire to be more encouraging to me, to my friends, and to others.    

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sickle Cell, fighting an "Orphan Disease" without a face

Julie, Rebekkah, Danielle, Kayla, Jada, Jasmine, Jannifer.......

I'm not certain how you generate interest in the Indianapolis 15th Annual Sickle Cell Walk, when on any given basis it is known as, "An Orphan Disease." My daughter understood that at 10 years of age, others not so quickly.   I'm not quite sure what the correct definition of Orphan Disease should be, but in my experience it boils down to dollars and cents.  If there are no clear cut ways to make a profit, it becomes harder to attract pharmaceutical and health care support for a tremendous cause.  
While it might be an orphan to someone, I have a friend who has been fighting the disease her entire life, and the last thing anyone with Sickle Cell needs is another missed opportunity to promote awareness.  We need encouragement to know your sickle cell status, hope for a cure and the advocacy needed to help educate people to understand why they should care.  The 15th Annual Sickle Cell Walk offers an opportunity, but people will really make the difference for the upcoming Be The Match Bone Marrow Drive and Charity Walk. 
My personal connection with Sickle Cell came as an adult when I had complications with each pregnancy.  My doctor asked if I had Sickle Cell or Sickle Cell Trait and I said no.  She tested me anyway and indicated that I was a carrier.  Wow.  How is it even possible for an adult to have the trait for a serious chronic disease and be completely unaware?  I had been married nearly 10 years, I was well past 30 years old and I was clueless about my anemia, Sickle Cell Disease and a host of other factors that make it ironic that I'm now a champion for the cause.  It simply makes no sense to me that due to the population that is impacted, the treatment regimen, the lack of advocacy and pure disparities in health care - Sickle Cell seems to be a lost cause in our society.  There is so much work to be done. 
A sorority member shared recently that she lost one of her sands due to Sickle Cell Disease.  I was quickly doing the math and realizing that this was another young woman who likely never saw her 40th birthday.  Team Rebekkah has been created in her honor, and I'm reminded about what can happen with the passion of a committed few.  How many Rebekkah's do we have to lose before we realize that lives are too precious to ignore the impact of this deadly disease.  Based on life expectancy with SCD alone, I'd be past my prime.  I look at my children, my life, my friends, my church, my community, my family and I realize that I'm a fragile work in progress - and I have so much work to do.  How is it that people  don't see the need to eliminate this "Orphan Disease" orientation - it would lessen if we rallied together and had a collective voice about why Sickle Cell matters.  Team Rebekkah will be doing that as they celebrate the life of a young woman that matters.  Not mattered.  She continues to matter enough to be a catalyst for action.  Her life matters. 
So, a campaign to register donors for bone marrow transplants comes to the 15th Annual Sickle Cell Walk on Saturday, June 25, from 7:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon at Riverside Park.  That's what I thought I was going to talk about as Martin Center, Inc. celebrates over 40 years of service to the Sickle Cell community, the time is now to encourage all community members to Be The Match and give hope to those who need a bone marrow transplant.  I'm flooded with stories, people, young women who matter, and I believe that each of those lives should generate more interest. More support. More action. 
I'm drawn to the stories of young women.  There is a 14 year old young woman in New York, Hunter, that has been cured from the disease as a result of a bone marrow transplant from a non-related donor.  I'd like to think that stories like hers resonate with enough people to make Bone Marrow Registry important.  I'd like to think that we care about the value of a life beyond socio-economic status, culture, race or ethnicity.  After 4 decades of life, however, the writing seems all too clear.  The growing population of people impacted by Sickle Cell Disease doesn't seem sexy enough to garner the attention, research dollars, support, advocacy and momentum needed to change the future.  My writing hiatus has ended because I just don't understand it.  How is it possible to know just one of these stories and not take the time to get educated and take action? 
The Bone Marrow drive effort on Saturday, June 25, at Riverside Park in Indy is free and open to the public, starting at 7:15 a.m.  A person needing a bone marrow transplant (recipient) needs to receive marrow from someone whose tissue type is close to his/her own type.  It is more likely that a donor who comes from the same racial or ethnic group as the recipient will have the same tissue traits.  Less than 30% of registered donors are individuals of color, although Sickle Cell Disease and other chronic diseases do not discriminate.  I am encouraging anyone who will listen, and ALL of my community members to Get Involved, Give Back and Live Smart.  
Individuals can register for the Sickle Cell 5K Walk/Run for $20 which includes a commemorative t-shirt, at  Proceeds from the walk support the needed programs and services including an onsite food pantry, scholarship fund, free screening services for sickle cell, cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose, in addition to needed educational & social services provided by Martin Center.  The reality is, however, that is only part of the story.  We need to get educated, rally together, advocate and change lives.  
Demitrea Kelley, Miss Black Indiana 2011, is changing lives too.  This young woman has a reason to be passionate, as SCD hits really close to home for her.  I'm more impressed, however, that my fellow Boilermaker was driven to organize a Blood Drive and get people to do something to bring awareness to this disease and save lives.  Transfusions are a reality for those who are impacted by this disease.  I know all too well the concerns, fears and impact of having a blood transfusion, much less a lifetime of transfusions.  This young woman realizes the power of one.   We'd be in a different place if each and every one of us realized our power, together.  Demitrea gives me hope that young women that I'm close too will recognize their power, rally beyond their pain and tell their story.  The disease does not discriminate agains socio-economic groups, race, ethnicity or brilliance.  I know a fiercely smart, gifted and blessed high school student with amazing potential that fights this deadly disease every day.  I want her to realize that there are millions of us standing next to her, ready to support her, ready to fight for the cure that she deserves.  Until then, she has a life to lead and a legacy to create, and I want to see it written with energy, with excellence and free from constant pain. 
Marrow transplants are the main treatment for certain life-threatening diseases like Sickle Cell.  Only 30 percent of people who need such transplants have a family member who can donate bone marrow. The other 70 percent rely on people who have registered with Be The Match so they can provide bone marrow for those who need it.  I have a friend who has been sick for the past week, and I don't know her pain.  I do know that she is in pain, she is a mother, she is a wife, she is in pain and she cannot reach her fullest potential on pain medications.  Her story matters to me.  There are 100,000 stories.  Who do they  matter to? 
My plea is simple: Get Involved, Give Back, Live Smart.

The 15th Annual Walk hosted Saturday, June 25, 2011 is timed 5K Walk/Run with a Kid’s Zone Activity and Education Center.  Riverside Park celebrates their 100th Anniversary with this historic 5K Walk/Run, where community members, volunteers and clients alike join together to increase awareness about Sickle Cell Disease.  Interested individuals can register at  Martin Center, Inc. is a 501c3 tax-exempt, charitable organization.

If you are reading this, you can make a difference today!  I'm simply wondering does it always have to hit close to home before we do something.  I feel like I'm always doing something, but maybe I'm not doing enough.  I have platforms, I have stories, I have recommendations, but I require more action.  The lack of movement makes me absolutely nuts.  I don't have to walk a mile in someone else's shoes to realize, they really hurt.  Pain shouldn't be a way of life, but a call to action. 

  • Register to join the 5K Walk/Run on June 25, 2011 by logging onto and clicking on the walk logo sponsored by HotBed Creative.
  • Make a tax-deductible contribution at the walk registration site, or mail your donation to 3549 N. College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46205.
  • Volunteer as an individual, group, or team – June 24 and June 25, 2011, call 927-5158 today.
  • Honor the life or the memory of a loved one by Getting Involved, Giving Back and Living Smart.  Martin Center, Inc. needs you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Who's Got Your Back?

I really had the best of intentions - a lesson about everyone in life having something missing.  I had been reflecting on my teaching assignment for our Teen Ministry and had a relatively rare set of nerves about talking to this audience.  I had come to believe that it mattered to me so much, that there were butterflies in my stomach for several days.  This seems nuts to me.

As a trainer, facilitator and speaker - this is what I do.  I teach lessons all the time, and given that I did indeed prepare the lesson in advance, I couldn't understand why my stomach did turns.  Fast forward, I have their attention, we are in an active dialogue, I'm elated that they are talking about the characteristics that define relationship and then I decide... it is time for the illustration.  I'm leading up to the most important relationship in our lives... the one with God.  At least that is what I thought.

With a bakers dozen of mixed up bagels and cream cheese one unseasoned teen teacher heads down what was a very clear pathway in my mind.  "We are all born with something missing.  No matter what we try to do to fill the hole, we will always have that something missing.  We tend to fill that hole with stuff - hobbies, activities, a need for attention, material things, music, overcompensation, people.  We fill the hole with people, often broken people just like us.  We keep putting the wrong things in the hole and it never gets filled up."  I just kept going.  

The facial expressions went from interested and engaged to "um, is she going to say that one more time?" And yes, for effect, I did indeed keep asking about that empty hole being filled in. Let's just say...I am working to readjust my memory of the lesson and combine pre and post bagel teaching, forever erasing the bagel illustration.  In fact, I'm hoping my confidence and dignity return any day now.

But....I'm not a teen.  As I write, I am drifting back to that lesson of, "Who's Got Your  Back?" As I taught about the importance of relationships and the characteristics that signify a true, good, beneficial relationship, I was reminded that teens aren't the only ones who need to be reminded about choices.  We can fill the empty places with many things, but I believe God is the only one that can make us whole.  With that being said, isolation does not build up, it only tears down.  I believe we work out our salvation in fellowship with other people.

Fast forward to today and the importance of relationships was all around me.  Who do you call when things aren't going well? Who do you call when its time to celebrate? Who do you look forward to spending your special days with? Who seeks out the opportunity to spend time with you? What relationships are you building? What opportunities exist to sow into the lives of others? When is too much too much? Are we clear about who has our back?

Four decades of life, you must know who has your back.  I'm a creature of habit and patterns, a planner, prone to do things in a relatively consistent manner.  I also recognize that my love language is some odd combination of acts of service, quality time and words of affirmation... in that order with a rare gift at times to linger in my mind for months after it has been given.  Yet, for those that have my back, acts of service and quality time are a no brainer - it is a requirement.  I was teaching a lesson that the kids needed to hear, but I could have been teaching to a room full of adults.  We tend to try to fill in spaces with stuff that doesn't quite get it, then we match ourselves up with something that looks or seems good, but doesn't quite result in success.  We are seekers of becoming whole.

In a classic Huxtable moment, Claire (one of my favorite iconic moms) runs after Rudy with a sandwich that she had made for her lunch.  Mom encounters a child who openly admits, "Peanut butter and tuna sounded really good, but once I put it together it just didn't look good enough to eat."  She looked at it and decided to leave it.  A seven  year old demonstrated something very valuable - you don't carry the mess you made with you once you realize it is simply a mess.

We spend a lifetime putting things together that might have seemed or sounded really good, when in actuality they don't go together at all.  When we seek to understand, examine or expand who's got our back, time and investment is required.  GIGO.  You can dress it up, fill in the gaps, make it look good - but nothing tastes as good as being fulfilled feels.  That fulfillment can't come from folks, friends, sistergirls or besties....but when you have the right ones by your side, they assuredly make the journey better.

Bad illustration for teens, maybe.  For me, a good reminder to pick carefully and keep those priorities in order along the way.  Who's got your back at one stage of life doesn't make it a permanent fit.  God is an awesome, full-time, available and unchanging God.  He also gives us some wonderful people for our journey.   Who's Got Your Back?  You ought to know.

Trusting unfaithful people when you are in trouble is like eating with a broken tooth or walking with a crippled foot.  Proverbs 25:19  I tell you, I have been on a writing hiatus.  Based on this scripture, I need not be on a reading hiatus.... rich, rich word indeed.