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.


Making Deposits


While I’m no expert on marriage and family relations, I do know a few things from experience, observation, and research that contribute to successful relationships. One particular concept that’s on my mind today is Stephen Covey’s emotional bank account. My husband and I discussed this before we got married, and we’re still referring to it. Why? Because it works.

A simple but revolutionary idea, the emotional bank account works pretty much like a bank account at a financial institution.  If I want to use my debit card, I have to make regular deposits to my account. I also have to make sure that the money in my account is sufficient to cover all withdrawals; otherwise, I’ll be overdrawn and have to pay a huge overdraft fee. Naturally, I don’t like that so I keep a close watch on my expenditures.

The idea of deposits and withdrawals works exactly the same in interpersonal relationships. This is so simple to see, and yet sometimes emotions like anger or resentment or plain old selfishness get in the way of our vision. Often we get so caught up in what we want when we want it that we can’t see the dynamics that are going on.  “Me-ness” runs rampant.

While everyone has a different idea of what constitutes a deposit, sincere compliments, hugs, acts of service, and common courtesies can make everyone stand a little taller.  Is it really that hard to say, “You look great,” or to iron your husband’s shirt (or your wife’s blouse)?  These are little things, and yet I’m convinced that in relationships, the little things are the big things.  Apologizing when you’ve hurt or disappointed someone can actually be a deposit. So can occasionally doing things you don’t really enjoy like accompanying your sweetie to an event that’s important to him. Not because you like basketball games or church socials but because you love the person.

Deposits are important because sooner or later you’re going to make a withdrawal, usually unintentionally.  Sometimes it’s something little like forgetting to pick up the dry-cleaning, and sometimes it’s a doozy like forgetting an anniversary. At times like these, you need to make sure your account is still solvent.

Not long ago my daughter Carrie was putting some clothes that her husband Rich had washed into the dryer when she began to notice stains that hadn’t been Shouted out, and now the tiny shirts were ruined for good. Plus, Rich had used hot water, and some dark clothes had faded on some white ones. She began to get exasperated and downright angry as she thought, “How hard would it have been to pick up the Shout and spray it on Emma’s shirt? And why couldn’t he reach up and change the water temperature to warm?” Still fuming, she then began to remember all of the wonderful things Rich did for the children and her every single day.  Before her laundry experience was over, she was feeling grateful again, and their relationship was “in the chips.” If Rich had not consistently made deposits, her anger could have escalated to the point that she’d have been really irritated and critical.

 A friend of mine used to call this “piling up your chips.” Call it what you like. Just do it. Just make some deposits and see what happens.

Hair Color and Lipstick

For those of you who read my blog on a somewhat regular basis, you know by now that I don’t have a theme. Sometimes the posts might be religious in nature, while at other times they might range from family excursions and experiences to politics and friends. I’m telling you this because today’s thoughts have nothing to do with anything I’ve ever written before. It is a topic, however, that I’ve been thinking about lately.

At church Sunday a friend made a comment about my hair. Was it a little longer than usual? A little darker too? Yes…and yes again. “I like it,” she said. “My hair’s probably longer than it’s been in years, and I’m enjoying wearing it this way.” While she went on to say that while some people might have a problem with the length and color (auburn) of her hair, she didn’t care. After all, why should it be anyone else’s concern how a woman “of a certain age” wears her hair? Sophia and I then got into a somewhat animated conversation about how much better off we’d all be if people minded their own business. We’ve earned the privilege to wear our hair and make-up any darned way we want to, so if you’re thinking of saying something disparaging for our “own good,” keep it to yourself.

Is there a rule somewhere that says one must be dowdy once she reaches midlife? What about when she crosses over into later adulthood? Does that mean a woman should stop caring about her appearance? I think not. In fact, there are tons of women who would look a thousand times better if they’d just do a little “something, something.” I’m not saying a 60 year old should try to look 40 or even 50. I am saying, however, that she needs to try to make the most of what she has. Ditto to her young counterparts. How hard can it be to pluck your eyebrows or put on some lipstick?

I think it was Nora Ephron who said that the single most important thing women could do to improve their appearance is to color their hair. I think she has a point there. Why be gray if you don’t have to be? In fact, you can be blond, auburn, brunette, and all sorts of colors in-between. You can have high lights or low lights. In a word, coloring your hair can be FUN. Yes, I know there are some women who feel that it’s too artificial (or something). If they only knew how much better they’d look if….Oh and by the way, for those with that attitude, I can’t help but notice that they have no compunction about wearing makeup. Is that natural? No, it’s artificial (or something).

I once had a friend (I still have her, but I don’t get to see her much anymore) who said she’d stop caring about her appearance when she was six feet under. Hmmm. I’m not so sure about that part. But I do know that how I wear my hair is my business, so if you have negative comments, keep them to yourself. And sheesh, put on some lipstick please.

Outbursts and Hissy-fits

Okay, I wasn’t going to jump into the fray, the one about the sense of growing incivility in the United States, but a recent comment from a blogging buddy in Utah has pushed me in. The eyes of the nation are upon us here in South Carolina…and not for the reasons we’d like. Lately we’ve had instances of our elected officials saying and doing embarrassing things. Is it a Southern thing? Is the South racist? That’s what Burl in Utah says many of his acquaintances think.

Where to start? Let’ start at the top with our governor. Not only does he leave the state to fly to South America to visit with his mistress, but he does so without telling anyone where he’s going, not even Jenny. No one. After returning from his trip south, the governor held a press conference in which he rambled pathetically about his woes. Soul mate was used to describe this mysterious Venezuelan beauty, and the lovesick governor said that he was trying to fall back in love with his wife. Huh?  Doesn’t he know when to stop talking? I actually thought that maybe we as a state were getting beyond this scandal until watching a short segment on Jay Leno this week in which he and Seinfeld held an entertaining dialogue about Sanford’s behavior.

Fast forward to last week when Joe Wilson yelled, “You lie!” to the President of the United States before both houses of Congress, before the millions of viewers tuned in to hear Obama’s remarks. Appalled at Wilson’s lack of civility, I thought, “Yet another blow to the Palmetto state’s image.” Earlier this week I read an update on the man who threw shoes at President bush. No one said merely, “Tsk tsk.” No. He served prison time in his own country for insulting the leader of another country.  According to him, punishment was painful and included electric shock.

Back to Burl’s question about whether the outburst was at least partially motivated by racism. I don’t know. I do know that perhaps an Ivy League white person could be resentful of a black man who is extremely intelligent, erudite, smooth, unruffled, sophisticated, and suave.  In fact, as I recall the event, Obama’s cool demeanor was quite a contrast to Wilson’s hot one.

Moving along, I might as well mention Serena Williams and Kanye West.  While both of them acted in childish ways, I’m somehow more inclined to overlook Serena’s explosion, probably because it wasn’t typical of her.  She was having a bad day, and that’s putting it mildly.  Her behavior was unbecoming and as my mother would have pronounced, “uncalled for.” As for Kanye, his deliberate interruption of Taylor Swift’s speech was more than uncalled for. It was extremely rude and bordering on unconscionable.

So at the end of the rambling post, here’s what I think. I think America is the best country in the world to live and work and play and raise children. I also think we’ve forgotten our manners and slipped into serious incivility. We’re so much into freedom of speech and individual rights that we’ve forgotten the golden rule…and the silver one too (don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done unto you).

All of the above have apologized for their outbursts, hissy-fits, and behavior. Let’s learn from that and all try to be a little kinder, a little more civil…and to rein in our tempers. Please.