Always striving... be one step closer to heaven.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Three Words for 2015

Instead of writing New Year’s resolutions, I’ve started the last few years by picking threewords for my year – three words that would be my mantra, my go-to for inspiration, for grounding, for focus in everything I do. Each year, those three words have been forgotten for no better reason other than I allowed them to just fade away in the wind.

This year, I started off differently. In January, when everyone else was level setting and taking stock of themselves in order to establish goals and a framework for their lives, I was just being. We’d been in New Zealand for about three weeks and I was just enjoying the being. 

I hadn’t given much thought to finding three words for this year. I can’t say why, I just hadn’t. I had given up my full time job so that I could travel with my husband. So I think I was just trying to get by, day-by-day, in this place we were trying out, trying to see if we can call it home. I was living in the moment, determined that, for the time being, I wasn’t going to expend any energy on the future.

Photo by Curtis Simmons
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend several amazing days at a yoga retreat about 30 minutes outside of Queenstown, New Zealand. Readers of Condè Nast Travel Magazine have voted it into the Top 100 Hotels & Resorts in the World. Set in a stunning location, founded and built on solid conservation principles, the physical place is something to behold. Everything about this place is focused on renewing and improving – the people who make the experience possible are some of the most passionate and genuine people I have ever met in my life.

I’ve tried yoga before, but I’ve never experienced it the way I did at Aro Hā. Everything at the retreat was focused on forcing me to slow down and allow myself to really experience what was going on around me and inside of me. The overarching theme of the retreat was mindfulness.
The practice of mindfulness is simply the idea that you slow down and really experience something fully without judgment or any thoughts of past or present – experience this moment and breathe – intentional breathing.

By the end of the retreat, I was actually able to “be still,” something prescribed often in the Bible. Getting to a place where I could shut everything off and focus on that one thought is extremely difficult in the 21st Century. There is so much going on around us! Our internet enabled smart-phones keep us constantly connected to what basically accounts to useless noise. Even as I write this, I am fighting the urge to stop and pick up my phone every time it beeps or buzzes.

No, mindfulness isn’t easy; but, I’ve been there a few times now and I’ve come away from the experience with a renewed sense of wanting to do something each day that changes me and the world around me. I came away from this experience with my three words for 2015:


Later, I’ll post more about why I’ve chosen these three words. Perhaps you should find your own three words…it’s so much easier than writing resolutions. If you do, I’d love to hear what you’ve chosen.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Favorite Walmart!!

I share a weekly ritual with many women across North Texas…grocery shopping. My routine consists of agonizing over a menu full of nutritious and interesting meals, creating an exhaustive shopping list, and head out to the store with my reusable shopping bags. Sometimes I browse the sale ads from all the local stores (Tom Thumb, Kroger, Albertson’s, Central Market, Sprouts) but I almost always end up at my local Walmart Supercenter.

OK, please keep you Walmart shopper jokes to yourself…I proudly own my Walmart shopper’s card. (You’ll never find me on that sight, by the way.) I like that I can get all my shopping done in one store. I can get my shampoo and razors at the same store where I buy my Dr. Pepper and chocolate. I can’t complain about the prices either…no hassle with loyalty cards either. Just “Low prices. Every day. On everything.”

Walmart is one of the companies that people love to hate. Recently, the Huffington Post printed an article about employee wages. Apparently, the CEO makes a “little bit more” than the average store employee, but what CEO doesn’t? I personally have one of those “love-hate” relationships with our local Walmart stores. I love their low prices, who doesn’t?  What I do not love is the fact that I have to choose between waiting way too long in line for an employee to check out my basket of groceries or going through the self-check with $250+ work of groceries. That was until Walmart opened a new store in Highland Village, a cozy lakeside bedroom community in North Texas.

While I have been known to joke about my community being a bunch of “tree huggers,” I do love that both Highland Village and Flower Mound have processes in place that keep developers from stripping our communities of their aging trees. To demonstrate their commitment to our communities, Walmart completely redesigned their typical storefront to accommodate for a 125-year old pecan tree. The exterior is described as resembling a Texas ranch, with the infamous Walmart signage minimized. If you were new to the area, you might miss it all together.

I won’t go into the horrible experiences I have had at other local Walmart stores (ahem…Lewisville Main Street Walmart, you know what you did). Let’s just say that I actually enjoy my Walmart experience now that I shop regularly at the Highland Village Walmart. If it wasn’t for the low prices, I might actually forget I’m shopping at a Walmart.

Now…a little side note: Those of you that know me, know that I’m a little bit of a techy, just a little bit. I really like my iPhone; you will rarely find me without it at my side. A few years ago, I experimented with using an app called “Grocery Gadget” to plan my grocery shopping trips. I won’t go into the technicalities of that app; you are welcome to look for it in the app store of your favorite mobile device. I was pleased to walk into my Walmart and see this kiosk: 

You might remember another grocery chain trying something similar with hand-held scanners about 10 years ago. Albertson’s added it to their stores in hopes of better competing with Walmart, who had bumped Albertson’s from #1 to #2 in grocery store popularity in the DFW area. However, it didn’t catch on and within a year or two, Albertson’s had pulled the technology.  Walmart’s “Scan & Go” system is only being offered in a select few supercenters and I like being on the cutting edge of things, so I decided to give it a try. 

Come back tomorrow and I'll let you know what I think: Using “Scan & Go” for the first time.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Going Home

People go back home for many different reasons. I go back home several times a year for celebrations, high school reunions, and simply just to visit my family.  Since I’m in between jobs, I decided to go home for a few days recently. I very rarely get home by myself…usually my daughter and husband will join me when I make that drive up I-35.

While packing for my visit, I decided that I would take along my camera and practice my new hobby of photography. Usually my photo adventures are with my husband, Curtis, where I lean heavily on his newfound expertise; this time I would be choosing my own locations and shots.

I decided I was going to shoot historic downtown Shawnee. Downtown Shawnee is home to many interesting landmarks to take photos of…the mill, several theatres, an old train station, and a famous hotel. Growing up, Main Street was like any other small town Main Street, full of shops that we only visited once in awhile with our mom and dad when we were shopping for furniture or getting new shoes for Easter. The attractions that lured teens to our outdated Main St. was two of the town’s movie theatres: the Ritz and the Hornbeck.

These theatres, the Hornbeck in particular, are significant to me, since my first job was working the ticket booth in the Hornbeck theatre. The owners, the Jones family, took great pride in their historic theatres. It was a great job for a teenager; I got into the movies for free and could even bring in guests for free occasionally.

It was with a bit of nostalgia that I returned to Main Street later that evening in hopes of getting some great dusk photos. I started at the mill hoping to get a sunset shot. I then headed to 9th and Bell Street where I got shots of the historic Aldridge Hotel, Shawnee’s first “skyscraper.” I wasted a little more time just goofing off with my 2 sisters before setting up for a shot of the Hornbeck movie theatre.

I was disappointed to see that well after dusk, the marquee still wasn’t lit up. I boldly entered the theatre and asked for the lights to be turned on…I actually joked with the employees about how disappointed Mr. Jones would be about the lights not being turned on as soon as the sun set.

I went back out to set up for my shot, but was incredibly disappointed that only the marque lights had been turned on…what I really wanted a shot of was the neon “Hornbeck” sign. When I inquired about why the sign wasn’t lit, I was heart-broken to learn that the sign hadn’t been turned on in years because it was broken and was too expensive to fix.  

That got me to thinking about the many things in my life that I haven’t “fixed” because it would be too “expensive.” Expensive doesn’t always have to be about money. Sometimes things don’t get done because they aren’t important enough to put in the time or the effort to do them. Often times, however, even important things don’t get done because the effort is greater than the immediate reward.  Our society has trained us to desire immediate reward and when that doesn’t happen, we give up. Many would rather let some of things fall into neglect rather than to put in the hard work to gain momentum with or even maintain what was at one time very important to them.

What is it in your life that you’ve allow to fall into neglect because you think it's too "expensive" to fix?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why is waiting so hard?

Patience is the art of concealing your impatience. Guy Kawasaki 

The little guy in the picture is our neighborhood dog teaser. He has a regular routine…most mornings he scampers across our back fence on his way to wherever it is he goes to forage for his food. Boomer, our jack russell, will never give up the opportunity to chase him up into the neighbor’s tree that hangs over into our yard. One day last fall, I absolutely could not get Boomer to come back into the house so I decided to have a peek at what was keeping Boomer’s attention so well.

Most critters will run when humans enter the picture, but not this guy. He was in it for the long haul. He had stretched out on a branch waiting for me to entice Boomer back into the house so he could continue on with his day. I watched him for a few minutes and then decided to get my camera. He hadn’t moved so I snapped away for several minutes. I eventually got bored with shooting pictures of him…he wasn’t doing anything but just sitting there…and I was even finally able to entice Boomer back into the house. I don’t know what 30 minutes of human time equates to in squirrel time, but I’m sure this little guy was glad to finally be moving on with his day once Boomer and I finally went into the house.

I’d like to think there are plenty of people out there who assign human thought, emotion, and motive to our friends in the animal kingdom. I know that animals don’t think like we humans do, but I cannot help but wonder what was going through his little squirrel brain. Did he make a conscious decision to wait us out or was it simply the instinct to survive? Was he really being patient or just feeling secure because he was so high in the tree? Was he angry with us because we had interrupted his routine and now his tummy was growling because he knew there were nuts waiting on him?

I’d like to think that he knew eventually I would lure Boomer back into the house. He knew that eventually he would be able to go on with his day doing whatever it is that squirrels do all day.  Whatever was going through his mind, he did demonstrate the human trait of patience. Patience is something I struggle with, as I assume most people do. Eknath Easwaran, a famous spiritual leader, once said, “Patience can't be acquired overnight. It is just like building up a muscle. Every day you need to work on it.”

Gaining patience and exhibiting that same patience can be a vicious cycle…it takes patience to learn patience. What a conundrum, right? I want to be patient with where I am in life right now, but that is SO hard. They say that “good things come to those that wait,” but I’d at least like a hint. Then maybe the waiting wouldn’t be so bad.

Remember my squirrel?  It wasn’t until days later when processing the photo that I realized he had sat there the whole time with a nut in his mouth. I’m sure that nut had come from a tree he had eaten from often. He must have been OK with the waiting because he had that plump nut in his mouth…he had to know that nut was going to taste good and satisfy his hunger. That’s what I want…some inkling of what is to come so that I can be OK in the waiting. It’s the not knowing that makes the wait so hard.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What a beautiful thought...

I came across this picture the other day on Facebook. I don’t normally repost those pictures with words printed over them, but this one really spoke to me.

You see, I haven’t been enjoying life much lately. A year ago or so, I left what I thought was the job I had been growing up to do all my life. I was a teacher at a private school teaching the Microsoft Office Suite and how to handle the internet to high school students. Over the course of the seven years I taught at this school, I had to opportunity to be a part of the lives of HUNDREDS of amazing kids. Then one day, I found out that while I was hard at work investing in my students that I had worked myself out of a job. (Story for another day…really.)

I’ve had another job since then, but it wasn’t necessarily what I was wired to do. I took it because it paid the bills and provided insurance for our family. For personal reasons that have everything to do with this post but that I won’t go into now (or possibly ever), I don’t have that job anymore either.

So, here I am…unemployed now for three weeks. I’ve had a few interviews, but no solid job offer yet, and I have no job interviews on the calendar anytime soon. (Can you hear the bells and whistles from my pity party yet?)  I’m spending my days piddling around the house in between posting my resume to yet one more career site, applying for one more job that I’m fairly certain I’m not going to get, and playing with my overly hyper jack russell, Boomer. I think I may go crazy if something doesn’t come up soon. Yeah…I’ve been feeling a little sorry for myself.

But then, I saw that picture and read those words: “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet.” It caused me to stop and pause for a moment and then another moment, and then I reposted it onto my FaceBook wall. It has stuck in my mind, so this morning, I changed my desktop background to this image and my cover photo on Facebook as well. The more I thought about this sentence, the more sense it makes to me.

Yes, I have had plenty of amazingly awesome days that I can reflect on as well, (again, stories for another day!) but when you're down in the valley, the amount of time you can see the sun is drastically shorter. I can go on living in the past, worrying about what I have or have not yet accomplished in my life. Or I can look ahead to the future in eager anticipation of what is yet to come.

All I can commit to is just for today, and maybe for a little while tomorrow, I will focus on what’s in store for me in the future. I can continue to wallow in my self-pity or I can choose to take a new perspective on my life and look to those days that have not yet come and eagerly anticipate what could possibly be the best days yet. Yes, that is what I will do today, and if this works out OK I'll keep it up for longer than that...I'll let you know.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Do I Care?

Many people do not think of the educational system as a “customer” based entity, but at our school, Grapevine Faith Christian School, we do. As a provider of a high-quality private education, we really are in the business of providing a satisfactory experience for our customer: both the parent and the student. Both are asked to complete surveys on a regular basis that allows them to voice their concerns about areas they perceive we could improve and also to voice praise in those areas where we are being successful. Our parents complete a satisfaction survey every two years. This survey is professionally administered by an independent organization; the results are tallied and presented to our president and school board. These results are used in the implementation of new programs, the revamping of old programs, and a host of other uses that I can’t even being to imagine.

Our high school students complete an annual survey each spring for each of their classroom teachers. Usually there is some incentive for our students to complete the surveys…free daily grade, bonus points on a quiz or test…after all, today’s students aren’t going to take time to complete something that they feel isn’t going to directly benefit them. This survey is a little less formal, yet none the less professional. The students complete the survey anonymously, so they can feel free to be open and honest about what they are being asked. Of course, there are always those few students who look at the survey as an opportunity to really tear down some teachers, but for the most part, our students take the survey serious.

Like any other regular service provider, I work diligently to provide the best service I can to my customers. I don’t want them to feel like I am wasting their time. Call it a stewardship thing if you like. I Corinthians 4:2 says this: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” I have been given a trust; our parents send their students to our school trusting that we will not only meet their immediate physical and educational needs, but also their students’ emotional and spiritual needs as well. That is such a heavy burden to carry; a burden I do not take lightly, because I believe whole heartedly that I have been called to my occupation as teacher. My Heavenly Father has placed me in my role for His glory, not my own. Let me make this clear…I do not work to please my customers…I work to please my Creator, my Sustainer, my Giver of all good things. The fact that my “customers” are satisfied along the way…well, that’s just the icing on the cake.

Don’t get me wrong, I do take the results of my student surveys very seriously. I work to provide a quality learning environment that affords me a platform on which to deliver my instruction…my “goods,” if you would allow me to call what I provide a commodity. It is this thought that I take my student survey results seriously, and brings me to this final thought: I don’t want to be a good teacher; I want to be an amazing teacher. I want to be a teacher that does more than deliver an engaging lesson that gets the students through another 45 minutes of their day. I want to be a teacher that inspires, that encourages, that models lifelong learning as a way of life; these are but a few of the many things I want to be for my students, my “customers.”