Diving Lessons

Five children, ages seven to ten, were lined up side-by-side on the cement pool deck, my sister and I among them. Our diving coach stood about ten feet in front of us, clapping out the same rhythm, “Step: 1 -2- 3, JUMP!”

Five new divers took three steps forward as counted, and then jumped as high as we could. After jumping, we’d scramble back to the starting point on the deck to do it again. And again. And again. After a while, we added throwing our arms up in the air, while kicking up our left knee before jumping. Step by repetitive step, we learned a dive approach.

I remember practicing that darn three-step approach for days. Finally, we were allowed to move to the diving board. Step: 1 – 2 – 3, knee and arms up, pushing down on the flexible board, bouncing up high, sailing up into the air and landing in the water.

Now, as an adult, diving is one of my favorite sports to watch. The movements in the air are amazing, as are the perfect entries. But those dives start on the board. Fancy dives just don’t happen without a strong approach and a high bounce.

We’ve all had the experience of crawling before walking, and babbling before we speak. These are necessary beginning steps to a new skill. We don’t usually question why these steps are needed, because it makes sense that it’s ‘practice, practice, practice’ that shapes and prepares us for growth.

Not that it’s easy. Diving into a new skill, or branching out into a new job or volunteer position can be very daunting. How am I supposed to know if I can do it? If God called me here, shouldn’t I see success quickly?

I often struggle with these questions. I have hope that I’ll be successful, but doubt comes in with expectations. I want mastery of new skills to come fast and easy. But if I’d just look back on my diving experience, I’d certainly be comforted.

Not everything comes quickly, and really, it rarely happens that way. Having to work hard to make the most of our opportunities is truly a universal truth.


If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.

~Mark Spitz, Winner of 7 Gold Medals at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games


Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come.  ~Serena Williams, Winner of 2 Gold Medals at 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games


Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.

~Malcolm Gladwell


If you’re feeling called to something new, don’t decide that it’s not for you if you’re not immediately successful. Just take a deep breath and try to enjoy the season of learning. It can be as much fun as finally mastering the new skill.

Be kind and gentle with yourself, knowing that good things eventually come with open eyes, open ears and a willingness to practice.

Step: 1 – 2 – 3. You begin at the beginning. But with work and practice, who knows how high you’ll soar?


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What Do You Have Faith In?

When you sit down in a chair, do you sit there holding on for dear life, praying that the chair won’t break? Or do you have faith that it won’t crumble under your weight and drop you to the floor?

Well. That’s silly. Of course you believe the chair will hold you. The faith we have in furniture is so great that we never even think about it really. Our trust is complete.

When my son got his driver’s license, we had faith in him. We trusted that he would not be harmed, and that he would drive defensively. Then he had an accident. His fault. The car had to have thousands of dollars of work, while we became a one-car family.

After the car was repaired, we had faith that this wouldn’t happen again. We handed over the keys, and told him that we trusted that he would be safe. Then he had another accident. His fault. The car had thousands of dollars of work, while we became a one-car family once again. Oh, and just to top it all off, our insurance company dropped us. Sigh. Who could blame them really.

Now you would think that after two expensive accidents, this child’s driving career would be toast, but you’d be wrong. We had faith, and we handed those keys over once again.

It’s fascinating how we have so much faith in furniture, isn’t it? And how we have rock-solid faith in our children, and in people in general, even though they will eventually fail us. That’s just how people are, we’re all well-meaning mistake machines, and that’s just how it is. But still, we have faith.

Faith is a gift, we all have it. But like all gifts that we’ve been given, it’s up to us to decide how and where to activate it. We almost universally apply it to things like cars starting, doors opening and chairs not collapsing, but almost universally struggle when applying it to God.

The boy with two accidents? “Here’s the keys!” The God who made me and supports my life? “Um…I don’t know…”

Jesus said if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we’ll be calling mountains to move, but I’ve never seen that happen, have you? So faith truly is a difficult gift to activate when it comes to God, and Jesus surely knew it.

But he also knew it wasn’t impossible. If we already know how to trust created things, then certainly there’s hope in placing our trust in the Creator. Maybe our faith starts small, but it can grow if we’ll only hang in there and practice it.

We make it a habit to exercise and build up our muscle strength so we’ll be ready to face the day. If we don’t, our muscles will be weak and useless. If we don’t continually practice faith and trust in our Creator, it won’t be there when we need it most either.

It’s okay to start small, even smaller than a mustard seed. I’m not really interested in moving a mountain anyway. Trusting God like I trust my desk chair? That’ll be a great start.


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Called? Yes! Gifted? Not So Sure…

Have you ever felt called to do something that you’ve never done? Somehow you know in the stillness of your heart it’s the right thing to do, but have no idea where to start?

I think it happens all the time. I also think that it results in so much confusion that many dismiss the call or even quit before reaching the starting line.

When my dad retired, he and my mom began spending their winters in Florida. Over time, the stay in Florida got longer, so they decided to become Florida residents.

They had an easy transition to the new state, new home, new everything really. They were full of life and loved to socialize, so it didn’t take long before they had a wide circle of friends.

One of the activities my dad got involved in, much to my surprise, was Habitat for Humanity. A new friend of his worked with the charity, building houses for underprivileged families. My dad loved that idea.

Diving right in, he started up on the roofs, pounding nails into roofing shingles in the Florida sun. It couldn’t have been very comfortable or very stimulating work, but he really enjoyed it. When he hit his 70’s, the crew boss invited him to come down from the roof and never return. My dad saw the wisdom in that, so it was goodbye to roofs, and hello to drywall. He didn’t care, he just wanted to be a part of something good.

I mentioned that I was surprised. It’s not that I doubted his desire, or the worthiness of the charity. I just thought it was an odd choice. He never was the “handyman type.” He told me once that his dad (who could fix anything) didn’t want children around when he made repairs, so he never learned how to work with plumbing, electricity, or redecorating.

So I asked him why he thought he was able to help with constructing a house, because It sure didn’t sound like a perfect match of skill and purpose to me.

Let me tell you, his answer was priceless. “You can do anything if a professional shows you how.”

I love that. It’s such a great mantra for anyone who doubts their call in life.

His reasoning was so clear, simple and true. Never laid a roof? Have a roofer show you, and you’re on your way. Never hung drywall? Take the time to show up, listen and practice. You’ll get it done.

You may have heard that God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. That means you don’t have to begin your new adventure unprepared and alone. Instead, like my dad, seek out others with experience in the field. Take classes, read books, find out how the professionals did it.

My dad never thought he’d be a tradesman. He just wanted to do his best. Isn’t that all that we can hope for too?

The key is to show up. Listen. Practice. With a little help, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll accomplish.



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Photo credits:

Photo by Ray Hennessy, Lance Asper, Janko Ferlic

A Silent Retreat Experience

On October 2nd, I drove four and a half hours west to St. Louis, Missouri to attend my first silent retreat. Although I had read the outline of daily activities, mailed to me months ago, I was still a little nervous. This was going to be an adventure.

When I arrived, I checked in and picked up my name tag and room assignment. I found out there were 81 women attending, and I was one of the 25 ‘first timers’. Each retreat participant got their own room with a private bathroom with shower. The room was about as big as a decent sized walk-in closet. If I put my suitcase on the available floor space, I wouldn’t be able to get past to the bathroom. First lesson in simplicity. How big does a room need to be? And the first of many gifts…I was on the ‘river side’ of the dorm, giving me beautiful views of the Mississippi River (and sunrises), and right next to a little alcove sitting area. I spent many hours there.

I had some free time until lunch, so I walked the grounds. Even though silence didn’t begin until after the first meal, my fellow retreatants were already sinking into the quiet. Adirondack chairs, arranged to view of the river, were filling up fast. And everywhere you looked were reminders of the gift of silence. From wall signs to floor mats.

The White House Retreat Center is run by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests. Although it is Catholic in spirit, all men and women of Christian faith are welcome. Each day begins with Morning Prayer, followed by breakfast and the first of three to four Conferences a day.

The Conferences are meetings of all the participants, to hear a talk given by the retreat director. This retreat was built around the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which I had heard of, but never studied.

After each session, we were given work sheets with a review of the main points of the talk, and questions to meditate and pray over. In the free time after each conference, you could choose to study the sheets, pray independently, take a walk, or even take a nap. We were told there is no ‘right way’ to proceed in the retreat. Wherever you felt call to go, that’s where God wanted you to be.

Spiritual directors were available by appointment, and a small library was open for our use. I found a book I really liked, called The Examen. The examen is a five step process of reviewing your day, compiled by St. Ignatius of Loyola. I only had time to read the first step “Gratitude”, so after I got home, I ordered the book from Amazon, along with the Autobiography of St. Ignatius.

I had a wonderful experience on retreat. I really connected with the themes of the talks, and the grounds were just gorgeous. So many flowers. So many monarch butterflies!

Keeping silence was easy for me. I think I could have stayed an additional day, but not more. I say that because of the study material given. For me, it was very challenging, with new ideas and questions to ponder several times a day.

At the last lunch before leaving, my table mates and I could talk, and it was fun to introduce ourselves, even though we’d seen each other for three days. (There was time to speak and visit after dinner until the 8 pm conference, but it was optional. I decided to keep silence.) We all agreed that somehow we all felt like family, even though we didn’t speak until the last day.

I definitely think I’d attend this kind of retreat again someday. It’s a unique opportunity to come away from the everyday and sink into silence and the presence of the Lord. It’s such a great renewal of spirit and relationship with God.

Who wouldn’t want that?


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Thank you for all the wonderful comments on my last post, and the entries for the Chicken Soup for the Soul giveaway. The winner of the My Kind (of) America is: Estelle Soger! Congratulations Estelle, and I’ll be sure and get a copy of the book to you 🙂



Yay! A Book Give-Away!

I am so proud to be one of the 101 contributing writers to the recently published Chicken Soup for the Soul book: My Kind (of) America. A call had gone out for stories about kindness, demonstrating that our country is filled with people helping people.


This is a book about hope and the true American spirit. It reminds us that a kind America is everyone’s kind of America.            ~Amazon.com


This is a book about Americans doing what we do best: being kind, compassionate, generous, and welcoming. That’s my kind of America.”    ~Amy Newmark


The book happened to be published on the same day I attended a luncheon given by Chicken Soup for the Soul’s publisher, Amy Newmark. She was in town for a conference, and so invited contributors living in the area to come together for a meal, to learn more about the Chicken Soup company, and to meet each other too.

A smiling group of Chicken Soup Writers!

Amy Newmark and Me

We all learned a lot about the company, and I met fellow writers that came from all sorts of backgrounds. A few were hoping to write their own book someday, but most just had a story to tell, and were excited to have a platform to share it.

I really appreciated the generosity of Chicken Soup Publishing, as well as the warm welcome from Ms. Newmark. She really made us all feel valued and special. And this is such a great moment for a book like this to come out. National News organizations are really good at telling us about the hard and tragic, but not so good about helping us to realize that people like you and me can make a big difference in the world. One act a time.

I would love to give away a copy of this spirit-lifting book. (I wish I had enough for everyone.) I really think you’ll love it. All you have to do to enter is make a comment on this post. That’s your entry form. This coming weekend, I’ll choose the winner.

So go ahead and make a comment, and we’ll see who ends up with a free copy of the book!


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A Time To Be Silent

I am going on retreat this week, and I have to say that I’m both excited and nervous. I’ve never attended a silent retreat, so this will be a new experience for me. There will be talks to attend, and time for all to come together for prayer, so I’m thankful for a little structure in the quiet days ahead.

Participants are not allowed to have computers or iPADS or internet, so I will be silent on the web and social media too. Please know that I will keep you in my heart when I pray, and I’ll look forward to sharing the experience with you when I get back.

In the meantime, I saw this quote on Twitter, and really liked it, so I thought I’d share.

See you in a week, with a Chicken Soup for the Soul book give-away, okay? It’s a date!


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Why Don’t You Fly?

Have you noticed that some birds would rather walk than fly?

Well, maybe I should say ‘hop’. Driving down the street, I notice a robin staring me down from the pavement ten yards ahead. As I quickly approach, the bird starts hopping to the curb. I can’t help thinking, “Why don’t you fly?”

Later that day, out for a post-dinner stroll, a bird stands in the middle of the sidewalk in front of me. Suddenly, he turns and starts hopping like crazy, thinking he can outrun me or something? “Dude!”, I think, “Why don’t you fly?”

I’m sure there must be a biological reason for the hopping thing. Soaring through the air looks easy, but it must take a lot of energy and effort…maybe that robin in the road was just plain tired. Or hurt. Or conserving energy.

Ok. I get that. Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to fly either.

Have you ever turned down a Friday night invitation to go out with friends, because what you really wanted was a PB&J and a nap? A week of work, mixed with evening projects and volunteering, has snatched away your last ounce of energy. Maybe your friends won’t understand why you can’t blast yourself off the couch, but you know. It’s what you need to recover your strength.

And it’s not only physical exhaustion that can slow us down to a crawl (or hop…). Being emotionally hurt also vaporizes strength. People around us hurt feelings and slam hearts with even the smallest of criticisms or slights. Ugh. It’s awfully hard to fly when life keeps weighting down our wings.

There’s a time and a place for everything; there’s a time to fly and a time to walk. And ‘walk time’ doesn’t mean it’s impossible to fly anymore. It just means that for now, we need some rest. Our bodies and souls sing quietly in harmony: “Not now. Rest. Be at peace.”

If I try to take off now, I might not have the stamina. Rest might feel indulgent or selfish, but believe me, it isn’t. Sometimes, being grounded is the most important place to be.

Maybe you’re at a place in life where flying seems impossible. Whether you’re tired, hurt or waiting for the next great thing to come along, you know for now, the ground is going to be your primary mode of transportation. People might ask you, “Why don’t you fly?” Just be patient with them, and don’t let those words push you to do anything before you’re ready.

Just tell them that you’re officially grounded for the day. Maybe they’d like to join you? You might invite them to slow down too. Why not grab a coffee at the outdoor cafe, or sit on a park bench together and enjoy the breeze?

No flying today. But who knows? Maybe tomorrow you’ll be soaring again among the clouds. That sounds so good.

But you know, for today…grounded sounds perfect too.


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Photo credit: Turdus-migration, Slava-Bowman, Ben-Etienne, Frankie


Resistance Vs. Courage

How often do you get an up-close look at the rewards of courage and the futility of resistance?

My husband and I like to watch a television show called ‘The Profit’. Marcus Lemonis, a very successful businessman, meets with small business owners who are facing bankruptcy or failure. He offers the owners his own money and expertise to save the companies. The deal always includes a clause that states he is in complete control. Of everything.


Basically he teaches the business owners how to run more efficiently, market their ideas on a wider stage, and even change product packaging. Everything about the company is fair game. He knows how to make a promising product take off and become very successful.

In the beginning, all the businesses are excited and hopeful about Mr. Lemonis, his money, and his ideas. But as the new process rolls out, some stand stunned as warehouses are cleaned out, formulas change and balance sheets are scrutinized. It’s a life changing moment. Will they see the project through to success? Or will they push back, angry that the beloved brand is morphing into something they don’t recognize anymore?

I recognize that ‘change is hard’. I understand how new ideas become overwhelming.

But it always surprises Mr. Lemonis. He’s convinced that his new ways will succeed, so he’s just baffled by owners who fight him on basic business decisions that make 100% sense in the marketplace.

Resistance. Why do some entrepreneurs make all the changes easily, while the others balk at even the smallest suggestions? From what I’ve seen, the ones who can adapt to change and new leadership, are the people who are humble and courageous.

Humble people realize they don’t know everything, and are open to new ideas. If there’s a expert ready to teach, they’re ready to learn. It’s not that they value themselves less, they just understand that we can learn a lot from each other. The business owners who lack humility see any suggestion as a personal insult. Instead of studying a new idea and looking for the value in it, they feel ‘ganged up on’ and devalued. Pride tells them to resist any change and reject whoever suggests it.

Humility lives hand-in-hand with courage. It’s a good thing to listen to correction, but it’s an even greater thing to adopt the new direction and implement it. It takes a brave and determined person to step out into something unfamiliar, trusting in something that’s never been done before.

Resistance vs. Courage. Resistance wants to live in the same place, doing the same thing. The hope of success is never enough to take the leap because it’s too comfortable to stay planted.

I never thought much about why we enjoy watching The Profit. But now I think it’s because we have a ringside seat every week to the epic battle between Courage and Resistance. Humility vs. Pride.

It demonstrates that if a small businessman can succeed in life being humble and brave…well…maybe we can too.



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Vacation Is Fun! But Is It Holy?

This summer was a busy one, full of fun adventures and time away.

We visited my son and his family on the west coast, took in a few baseball games, and saw my man James in concert too.

We also spent a week with my daughter and her family in Michigan. This is the third summer we’ve rented a home together; enjoying the beach and pool, strolling the farmers market, visiting wineries and hiking to lighthouses too.

The grandchildren are ages 5, 3, almost 2 and two months. They all needed supervision, and have attentions spans that vary from thirty seconds to thirty minutes. It’s activity and action from sunup to bedtime. So did I squeeze in a little prayer time while I was away? Honestly, I didn’t. (Well, there were those ‘on the fly’ prayers, but nothing formal.)

I spent the days playing dolls, coloring, swimming, and looking for shoes (not usually mine, more often a grandchild’s!).

Vacation time together is so much fun. But is it holy too?

One morning, we woke up to a steady rain. Uh oh. Being outside kept the kids moving and having fun, so – what should we do now?

My son-in-law located an indoor water park about 45 minutes away. Sold! Lunches were hastily made, children squeezed into their suits and shoes slipped on feet. Out we went, ready for adventure.

We got to the pool, and wonder of wonders, it wasn’t crowded at all. Too good to be true! Yeah well…it was. The doors didn’t open for another hour and a half, which is roughly ten years to a five year old.

We fed the kids lunch to pass the time (fifteen minutes of it), while looking on-line for a nice park to play in. (It wasn’t raining then.) Let’s just say it took longer than it should have to find one, but it turned out great. Fun on swings and slides for the kids, while the baby snoozed in the stroller.

An hour later, we were whooping it up at the water park.

Was this a holy day?

Well, what is holiness but a denial of self, serving others and a desire to bring joy to someone other than myself?

~Mom, Dad, Papa and Nana didn’t need to be entertained on a rainy day, the kids did. 

~Lunches were made, not for our benefit, but for theirs.

~We drove for twenty minutes looking for a park, not because any of the adults were dying to conquer a jungle gym. But the grandchildren were.

~On the way home, we visited at not one, but two Dollar Stores to find that toy Granddaughter #2 just ‘had to have’.

Honestly, I can’t think of many activities that embody holiness more than a family vacation. That whole week was a prayer; planning, serving and loving those little lives.

I’ll bet your summer was holy too. Just look back and see how many times you brought peace to chaos, or made someone else smile.

Holiness isn’t always found on your knees. Sometimes it’s waiting for you in water sprays, smiles, crayons and campfires…and S’mores!


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Life Lessons: Taught By a Toddler

Many years ago, we had an eighteen-month-old foster daughter who was the sweetest little girl you’d ever want to meet. We took her into our family when she was three months old, just a little bundle of potential, but already I could tell she’d be a loving person. And always ready for fun.

She loved to play dolls with my five year old daughter. They were inseparable really. It was heartwarming to see how well they bonded, which made my toddler’s behavior one day so unexplainable.

She normally woke up from naps with a huge grin and a hug for mom. But not that day. She was grumpy and quick to dissolve into tears. Even the offer of her favorite snack wouldn’t lure her into a good mood. What’s going on?

No fever. No new teeth popping up. Hmmm. I was really hoping it wasn’t the ‘terrible two’s’ making an early entrance.

After two days of this, the whole house was tipping to one side. None of us could figure out what was wrong. Our little girl’s once booming appetite continued to nosedive, right along with her attitude.

Day three arrived. So did the answer to her sudden change in personality. I walked into her room to get her ready for the day, and noticed some random red spots on her tummy. Looking a her back, yep, same thing. Holy Cow. This child has the chicken pox.

Of course she’d feel crabby. My five-year-old had her own case of it two weeks before, and I just figured that our toddler dodged it. Yeah well, not so much.

Whenever I think back to that morning, I’m reminded of the saying, “You never know what people are going through.” I thought my toddler was just acting out. Little did I know she was beginning her battle with that hidden virus.

I’ve encountered salespeople who were rude, short-tempered, or just downright dismissive. I’m sure you have too. It’s very easy to get offended, or to be tempted to respond in kind. “How sad that people can let their negative emotions pop to the surface so easily,” we think. “Why can’t they just look at the bright side of life?”

But now I understand a little better. How do I know what that rude salesperson is facing in his own life? Flat tires. A failing relationship. A rejection letter in response to an application. These are only a few of the reasons that could have reached into his life and tipped the scales toward bitterness.

Maybe that person is really suffering today.

And whether it’s true that the crabby, impatient people we meet are facing hardships or not, I can still respond with calm and patience because I’ll just never know. I think it’s much better to treat someone with kindness and think the best, than to get angry and think the worst.

Our foster daughter sailed through the chicken pox, and went on to be the happy little girl we knew she was.

That gives me a lot of hope. Who knows? With a little kindness and patience from me, that sales clerk might make a fast recovery too.


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Dear Friends, I’ve decided to take the summer off from blogging. We have some trips planned, and family visits too, so I know it would be hard to keep up here. I hope you all have a restful and blessed few months, and I’ll see you back here in September!

I may still post on the Facebook page for the blog from time to time, so I hope to see you there.