Focus, Connie. Focus.

About five years ago, my friend Connie and I began coming up with a “Word of the Year,” something that would direct our thinking and acting throughout the upcoming year. Weary of making resolutions that bit the dust after a few weeks, we thought that a word that could encapsulate several goals would work better. Turns out we were right. Not only did we make most of our decisions based on our individual words, but we also found ourselves permanently changing our behavior. Well, semi-permanently. There are still times when I have to remind myself to have COURAGE, to BELIEVE, and to say YES more often.

After much thought and deliberation, Connie came up with her word last week. It’ s EXPLORATION. Curious, I asked her whether she meant exploration of other places, interests, and ideas or whether she meant inner exploration. Was she planning to take more trips, hike on the Appalachian Trail, take up painting, or discover inner talents? “All of it. Everything,” she answered. And guess what? She’s already started. If the fates are with us, we’re going on a road trip to Washington, DC with a couple of friends later this month.

Enough about Connie. What about Jayne? My word for 2012 is FOCUS. That doesn’t sound as exciting as EXPLORATION, but it’s something I definitely need to work on. Besides, I’m pretty good about the exploring part. I could stand some improvement in that area, but I need a huge amount of improvement in the focusing department. My husband often says, “You just need to concentrate on one thing at a time,” or “If you’d just pay attention and do one thing at a time, you’d get more accomplished…and maybe you wouldn’t misplace so many things.”

Then too, there are several projects I’m working on, and I know that I need to focus on one at a time. Should I correct the galleys for a book I’m self-publishing? Should I write a few paragraphs for a ebook that I’m writing about what every technical/community college student needs to know? Should I clean out the refrigerator? Should I mail the packages to Olivia and Carrie? Or maybe it’s time to clean out some closets. Or no, that can wait. What’s really important is playing Words with Friends with my brother. Then again, classes begin next week, and we’re using a new text for an intro class so I better get busy on that. But not until I start reading this new book I ordered for my Kindle.

See what I mean? I need to focus focus focus focus.

I knew my decision was a good one when I went to church today. During Relief Society, Michelle shared her enthusiasm for a blog she’d read about using a word to guide one’s thinking instead of making resolutions. She encouraged us to use verbs and then shared examples of some words that we might like. Several class members, including yours truly, participated by sharing their words.

Here’s what I found especially interesting. While talking to us about THE WORD, Michelle used some variation of focus at least a half a dozen times. Then Kitty spoke up and said that she needed a word that would help her focus. Another person said that she was trying to focus on gratitude, and yet another said that she was focusing more on being fully present.

So FOCUS is my word for 2012. I’ve already cleaned out the refrigerator tonight. I have my to-do list ready for tomorrow, and I’m going to focus on doing one thing at a time…and on being mindful of the tremendous opportunities and blessings that I enjoy.

What’s your word?

Shake it Off

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs.

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs. Hmmm, now that I think of it, sometimes the criticism and skepticism are right up front.

So should a person go for it or continue playing it safe? I think you know my answer to that! It’s tied into positive psychology, a mindset that emphasizes optimism, personal choice, and happiness in human development and overall mental health. Generally, the so-called lay person thinks of psychology as a field in which people with mental and emotional disorders are helped by talk therapy, drugs, or ECT, and while those things happen, psychology is much, much more.

Here’s a neat story that fits nicely into this topic. A couple of Sundays ago, I attended church in Myrtle Beach and heard a story about an old donkey who fell in a deep, dried-up well. His owner tried to get him out, but his efforts were in vain. Finally, he realized that nothing he did was going to get the donkey out of the well, so he came up with an alternate plan. He called his neighbors and asked them to bring their shovels so that they could help him fill in the well. After all, it was dry and useless, and the donkey was old anyway.

At first, the donkey brayed and carried on something fierce. He was scared and angry. Still, the men persisted in their dirt shoveling. Suddenly, they realized that the donkey was quiet, and when they looked down into the well to see what was going on, they saw something remarkable. Every time someone hurled a shovel of dirt on him, the donkey shook it off and then stepped up on it. The men continued shoveling, and the donkey continued climbing until eventually he was above ground.

You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to see the moral of the story. When life throws dirt on you, shake it off and keep stepping up. You don’t have to get buried by dirt. You don’t have to stay trapped at the bottom of a well. No matter how many people are actively involved in shoveling dirt on you, you have a choice to shake it off and step up…or not.

One of my friends got a rejection letter about a story she had submitted to a magazine. I wrote her on Facebook and said, “Yay! It means you’re actually doing something instead of just talking about it.” Another had a poem of hers criticized for having too many gerunds. Did it bother her? Probably. And yet I know she’ll shake off the dirt and try again. As I write this, I’m thinking of people who are making jewelry, drawing birds, writing stories, writing books, and training for a marathon. I feel certain that in all of their lives there are people with their shovels raised and ready to use.

I hope my friends stay the course. I hope they keep shaking off the dust regardless of who’s shoveling it or how much gets dumped on them. I hope they’ll read this donkey story and that it will help them the way it helped me.

Wandering in the Desert

When Paul and Amanda and Olivia were here this past weekend, Paul and I had a brief conversation about some psychology books I had recently read. He listened politely (someone taught him some excellent manners), but then mentioned that he looked at those specific books as “self-help.” I’m not above reading self-help books, so it kind of caught me off guard. Then he said that if he needed any help, he’d look to the scriptures for answers.

Hmmm. I agree with him that the scriptures are replete with advice, stories, and instructions on how to how a fuller richer life. There’s also lots of encouragement about overcoming fear, many reminders about loving one another, and several stories about people who veered off the straight and narrow and faced some dire consequences.  In fact, there are so many parallels between self-help books and the scriptures that I can say with assurance that regularly dipping into these types of literature has saved my life (figuratively speaking) on many occasions.

Back to Paul. I talked a little bit about the exodus out of Egypt and of how, to me, that was an example of how people don’t have to live lives of slavery…or even of unhappiness. A person can change his life IF he has the desire. He might have to leave behind a former way of life, walk through the Red Sea, and wander around in the desert for a while, but he can do it. In other words, change is hard. Whether the proverbial desert is for four days or four years or longer, you’re going to have to work, and you might have to eat manna instead of steak and potatoes.

Last night as I recalled our conversation, I thought of the man who led this exodus, Moses.  I thought of how he tried to get out of his “calling” by telling God that he had speech issues.  But God knew that Moses was the man He wanted and wouldn’t take no for an answer. We know the rest of the story. We know that Moses led the people out of bondage and that his brother Aaron was his mouthpiece (at least some of the time).

What I’m getting from this second story is that God wants everyone to use the gifts He’s given us, and when we agree to do so, He’ll find a way to help us succeed. It might not be a speech challenge. It could be your looks, your social status, or your misperceptions about your abilities. Whatever it is, God can work through and with you IF you’re willing to walk around in the desert for a while. Overnight success is pretty unlikely.

So yes, I agree with Paul about the scriptures being the original self-help book(s). Sometimes I just need a little helpful commentary to help me understand them better, and that’s where psychology, philosophy, and literature come in.

Ask Billy

This is without a doubt the shortest and yet perhaps the most profound post I’ve ever written.

One of the many topics that arose during lunch with Nancy today is the importance of living one’s life to the fullest. Yeap, for those of you who know me, that sounds like a familiar refrain. Nothing new, huh? And yet, don’t we all need reminding of the importance of seizing the day every now and then? For me, the reminder came from a poem that I recently read in a book entitled Risking Everything. The poem, “My Dead Friends” by Marie Howe, moved me. 

I’m posting it here for you to read and ponder.

My Dead Friends

I have begun
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering
  question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive
   a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling–
   whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s
   ashes were–
it’s green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and
   he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says I’ll do.

What do you think, my friends? Do you want to continue playing it safe? Are you going to keep worrying about what the neighbors might think? Will your relatives disown you? Are you willing to live a safe but boring life, or will you take Billy’s advice and say YES??? You know what I’m doing, right? I’m heading to the circus where’s more life and less worry.

Bravely Taking a Step

Fear of the unknown, fear of change, and even fear of success (FOS) can prevent people from living their dreams. Sometimes, however, playing it safe is the riskiest choice a person can make. By this time next week, my friend and his family will be strolling around the viaduct in Auckland trying to decide which trendy café or restaurant to dine in. Where will you be?

My friend Connie posted a link to a blog on courage on her facebook page today, and it reminded me of how much we all need to be a little braver (or maybe a lot braver) in living our lives. Last week, a former colleague of mine took a HUGE step towards changing his life, and I’ve been thinking of how difficult it must have been for him to step out of the security of his life and literally fly into a new one.

I missed Ray (a.k.a. Mr. Hines) at work yesterday morning. He’s the math instructor who’s been teaching in the classroom next to the room where I keep a couple of office hours on MW’s.  I’ve listened to his math lectures since January, and I’ve often admired his enthusiasm and diligence.

He didn’t call in sick. And no, he didn’t get fired. He’s on his way to Auckland, New Zealand, a beautiful area that he’s always wanted to visit. Recently he and his wife found teaching positions there, and they decided to go for it. They sold their home, cars, and much of their furniture. What they couldn’t sell, they gave away. “Carpe diem” is their motto…or one of them at least.

Some people might say, “Well, it’s easy for them. They probably don’t have a family.” Actually, they do. The parents of two young sons, Ray and his wife have parents and other extended family members who live in the United States. They’ll be missed. Other people might say, “They’re nuts to sell everything they own to go off on an adventure like that. It’s downright foolhardy!” Regardless of what anyone might say, this young family will soon be enjoying some of the sights and sounds of the beautiful South Pacific. They had the courage to pursue their dreams, and if things don’t work out, they’ll move back.

In psychology, we often talk about the paralyzing effect that fear can have. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, and even fear of success (FOS) can prevent people from living their dreams. Sometimes, however, playing it safe is the riskiest choice a person can make.

By this time next week, Ray and his family might be strolling around the viaduct in Auckland trying to decide which trendy café or restaurant to dine in. Where will you be? Will you still be saying, “Someday, I’m going to….”?

Thank you, Mrs. Peale

Thank you, Mrs. Norman Vincent Peale. Because of your faith in your husband’s message, you took his manuscript to a publisher who saw its merit. Because you didn’t give up when your husband was ready to throw in the towel, millions have read and benefitted from The Power of Positive Thinking.


Thank you, Mrs. Norman Vincent Peale. Because of your faith in your husband’s message, you took his manuscript to a publisher who saw its merit. Because you didn’t give up when your husband was ready to throw in the towel, millions have read and benefitted from The Power of Positive Thinking.

Getting this manuscript to a publisher was no simple feat. After having it rejected several times, Dr. Peale tossed it in the trashcan and forbade his wife to remove it. She was in a dilemma. Not wanting to disrespect her husband’s wishes and yet knowing the power of his message, she decided to take the trashcan containing the discarded manuscript to another publisher. That one said YES, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Power of Positive Thinking was first published in 1952 and continues to be a best seller. I’m fortunate enough to have a 1st edition on my bookshelf, and I refer to it quite often. When discussing the merits of cognitive psychology in my introductory class, I often quote Peale’s famous quote to, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” That’s a lot easier said than done sometimes, but I’d rather try it than wallow in miserable thoughts.

While I have been encouraged and uplifted by Dr. Peale’s words many ties, I’m just as impressed with his wife Ruth’s strength and personality. Without her determination, tenacity, and faith, this magnificent book might have never come to fruition. So often we hear, “You can’t,” or, “It’s already been done.” When we push through despite the naysayers and stumble a bit, there are always those who say, “The handwriting’s on the wall. It’s not happening for you!”

Don’t these people realize that people need encouragement? Everyone needs someone in his corner who will give hope and confidence, someone who will infuse him with courage. In Dr. Peale’s case, I think his wife had more faith in his work than he did. In an interview towards the end of her 101-year-old life, she said that she didn’t have as much doubt as he did. I loved reading that. It told me that even one of the positive thinkers of the 20th century sometimes faltered but with the support of someone who believed in him, Dr. Peale ultimately succeeded.

Perseverance and persistence are important. So are encouragement and support. Is there someone in your life whom you can infuse with courage (encourage) to JUST DO IT?

Quick Beach Trip

This is not one of those posts that raises a social issue, nothing deep or ponderous. Nope. It’s just a post about family and how dear they are. It’s important to take the time to get together whenever an opportunity presents itself.

 This is not one of those posts that raises a social issue, nothing deep or ponderous. Nope. It’s just a post about family and how dear they are. It’s important to take the time to get together whenever an opportunity presents itself.

This past Saturday my sister and I made a mad dash to the beach for a reunion of sorts with our brothers and their wives. I say “of sorts” because it wasn’t long or structured.. The younger of my two brothers, David, and his wife Becky had made the trek from Virginia Beach to check out some property, and when we learned of their impending visit to SC, we couldn’t let the opportunity to see them slip by.

Once on the Grand Strand, we did a little shopping and bookstore browsing before having lunch at Nacho Hippo, a perfect place to meet for lunch. FYI, the noise level at night might be a bit too much for the older set. I like it so much that I bought a blue tie-dyed t-shirt that says Hip Happens on the back. They come in all colors.

After lunch, the gals did a bit more shopping at Market Commons, and while we were in Anthropologie, my sister Ann and I began to get a little anxious about the time. With a couple more stops to make and a two and 1/2 hour trip ahead of us, we knew we had to hustle. We headed out walking the mile or so from the Commons to our little beach bungalow in Seagate, and although it was a tad warm, we enjoyed our little jaunt. The gentle breeze, the warm sun, the children playing, and the waddling ducks all added to our pleasure.

Quick note about one of the ducks that we slowed down to watch. It was black and quite noisy as it waffled between going to the water and scooting back to the safety of the embankment. Go to the water for a snack or stay on safe ground? Take a chance or play it safe? Although the squawking duck was much more vocal than many humans, its quandary was the same. Fear holds far too many of us back from taking a chance, even when we know the water (or whatever it may be) holds some great stuff in store.

Becky and Lisa caught up with us just as we completed our walk, and the four of us peeked in the windows of a perfect condo for David and Becky. Sure hope they go through with it! I can already envision the younger generation chilling on the patio while the children frolic in the spacious backyard.

It was a great day, and I’m glad we took the time to reunite for a little while. Being together always reckminds me of some of the things I especially loved about our parents. Mike and David have our mother’s sense of humor, and Ann has our father’s logical mind. Our brothers walk like our dad, and Ann has his curly hair. On the way home, Ann and I talked about how we all got a great start in life, right beaneath  our mother’s heart.

Follow-up to Missing Fathers

As I was cleaning out one of my bookbags yesterday, I came across something I’d clipped from The State newspaper a few months ago. Although I don’t know the exact date of the publication, I know that it was somewhat recent and that the information was borrowed from The Aiken Standard. If anything, the stats mentioned are even worse now…not better. Nothing will get better until people open their hearts and minds and pocketbooks and get involved with this social issue.

According to the newspaper(s), the most recent Kids Count data places SC as as “45th in the nation in the living quality for children…In South Carolina, 31.3 percent of the children live in single parent families and 47.2 percent of children are born to single mothers. It is not shocking from those figures to find that 20.8 percent statewide test not ready for the first grade.”

Will things improve? “With cuts to education budgets as well as those of health and social services, it seems unlikely that South Carolina’s children will fare better in years to come.” Distressing, isn’t it?

What will you do? What will you say? What advice do you have to the state’s parents? To its young people? In the words of Solomon Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Where Have All the Fathers Gone?

What’s happening to our young people? What are you doing to make the world a little better for this lost generation?

As Connie was leaving my house after book club last week, she spotted a picture of Paul and Olivia and paused to look at it. “Love it,” she said.  “Me too,” I replied. I then went on to say that every picture I’ve seen of him and his precious daughter shows him smiling. Plus, he’s usually cradling her lovingly in his arms or kissing her. Connie went on to say, “Well, you know there’s a special bond between a dad and his daughter. I still miss mine every day.”

Connie loved her father. I loved mine too. My daughters love and admire their dad, and my husband’s daughters think he’s the cat’s meow. He is. Why am I going on and on about filial love? Because children need fathers. They need mothers AND fathers providing support, love, guidance, and the sense of security that all children need.

Today 42 percent of children born in SC are born to single mothers, and I just can’t “get it.” I’m not blaming the moms. It takes two to tango, and sometime between conception and birth, the father often decides the prom is over. Or it could be that the mother doesn’t want him around in a steady, committed way. Maybe she thinks she can be both a mother and father, especially if the “baby daddy” helps her financially. This is crazy thinking.

I’ve recently read of unmarried women who want to have children but don’t want a relationship with a man. In fact, it’s fine with them if they never see him. A sperm donor is all that’s required.  On the surface, this sounds “okay,” and I can well understand the desire for fulfillment. Motherhood is not overrated. In fact, it’s downright awesome!

At the same time, I can’t understand why a woman would deliberately bring a child into the world with the knowledge that this precious being will never (in all likelihood) know his father.  To me, it’s a selfish act, especially when one considers all of the unwanted children who are hungry for love. Why not adopt one of them? Does a woman like this sincerely believe that her personality, resources, strength, and love are all that a child needs? She’s wrong. People have a desire to know who they are where they came from.

I have tons of research to back me up on the above…all of it disheartening.  Rather than drag out the statistics this afternoon, however, I’ll just mention an incident that my friend Tilara wrote about. She told a story of three young men who are currently in prison because of armed robbery. None really had paternal influence in their homes, and yet the 19-year-old’s father showed up in court to beg for mercy for his son. The son hadn’t seen his dad since he was 2, and now this young man has a 2-year-old child of his own.

Tilara’s post really touched my heart and spurred me to action. It’s one thing not to say anything for fear of offending someone. It’s another to stand quietly by and watch the missteps of what Tilara has accurately dubbed “the lost generation.” In her words: Tonight when I turn out my light to go to sleep, I am going to pray for these three boys, but I am also going to pray for all of the other boys that find themselves in this lost generation.  Most of all I am going to pray that as a nation, we (everyone) look in the mirror tomorrow morning, and ask ourselves “What role can I play, in making our world a little better for this lost generation.”

What’s happening to our young people? What are you doing to make the world a little better for this lost generation?

Reba’s Reminder


While I was out walking earlier this evening, I was listening to my iPod and thinking of how much truth there is in country music. Reba reminded me of that as she confidently belted out “Consider Me Gone.”

I don’t remember all of the words and am too lazy/disinclined to look them up right now, so you’ll have to be content with this paraphrase:

“If I’m not the one thing you can’t stand to lose,
If I’m not that arrow to the heart of you,
If you don’t get drunk on my kiss,
If you think you can do better than this,
Then I guess we’re done,
Consider me gone.”

Go Reba! Tell it like it is. This song reminded me that everybody deserves the very best that life and love have to offer.  I repeat EVERYBODY deserves the BEST. No exceptions. So why don’t more people realize that? You don’t have to settle. You don’t have to take leftovers or crumbs. You deserve the best. Truly, you do. And if you’re in a “relationship” with someone who thinks he or she can do better or who doesn’t get drunk on your kiss, bid them adieu.

Yes, it will be painful. Yes, you might be alone for a while. Is that any worse than being with someone who’s lukewarm about you???  Someone who neither appreciates nor respects you? Again, you deserve the best, something that Etta James calls “A Sunday Kind of Love.”