Insight on the Beach

I’m teaching a lesson on prayer in a little while, and preparing for it has reminded me of the power and necessity of prayer. In the words of Marianne Williamson, prayer “gives inner peace in ways that neither intellectual understanding, credentials, money, sex, drugs, houses, clothes, nor any other gifts of the world can.”

We can pray about any and everything. If we have something to say, God is ready to listen. If we’re awake, then He’s awake. We are His children, and He’s always standing at the door (in a manner of speaking) ready to let us in. In fact, sometimes I think our desire to pray is the result of His call to prayer because there’s something He wants us to know. Our responsibility is to ask for guidance, inspiration, help, strength, or enlightenment and THEN LISTEN to what He has to say.

Recently, I was “laid low” by some remarks of one of my children. My heart was broken, and I was besieged by deep sadness and a literal aching in my chest. How could this have happened between us? How could she have said these things to and about me? For the first time, I realized how easy it is to take good relationships for granted. I went for a walk on the beach and had another talk with God. I didn’t have to get on my knees or use any fancy language. All I had to do is walk and talk silently. “Thank you. Help me, please. What am I not seeing? I need Thy wisdom and enlightenment, and I need it now.” Here’s what happened. Even as I was having this inner conversation, I thought, “She thinks ….” Yes, I could have thought it on my own, but I’m convinced that those words were sent right from God.

After my walk, I wrote my daughter and told her that if that’s what she thought, it was surely not the case. Soon, she replied and affirmed my suspicions. There’s more to the story than this, but we’re working our way back to each other. I’ve asked that Heavenly Father infuse this and all other situations in my life with His light and understanding. I’m listening, and I know He’ll make it clear.

One of the many blessings in my life is that my children also understand the power of prayer. I love being able to remind them to “pray about it,” regardless of what “it” might be. There’s nothing too little or too big that we can’t take it to our Maker in prayer. “Have you inquired of the Lord?” is another one of my favorite questions, and I love being able to ask it without any of them looking at me as if I’d flipped my lid.

 This post could go on and on, but I’m going to bring it to a close with part of a prayer that comes from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Send me the right thought, word, or action. Show me what my next step should be. In times of doubt and indecision, please send Your inspiration and guidance.” Beautiful, huh? I’m just wondering why we don’t do it more often. But then, that’s a topic for another day.

Get Moving!

Just a couple of quick thoughts about how Elizabeth, Carla, and I plan to use ME from this day forward. We were sitting around talking about size and shape and the impact that just a tiny bit of exercise could make on both. This is a topic that comes up quite often since we seem to eat more and move less when we’re on vacation.

I don’t have the time or inclination to get into the tremendous value of the E word (exercise) today, but I do want to mention that we all three agreed that it’s the secret to weight control, overall fitness, energy level, disease resistance, stress reduction, and even confidence level. We also agreed that sometimes it’s near nigh impossible to work in a fitness routine when life is so BUSY.  “Still,” I insisted in my diatribe with these young women, “You can do something. Just move!”

Movement and exercise are vital for both physical and psychological health, and I’m as sure of that as I am sure that the sun’s going to come up tomorrow. We sat there staring at each other for a few minutes, and then I lowered the boom (so to speak).  I asked them if they’d ever heard the phrase, “If it is to me it’s up to me,” and neither of them had. Elizabeth giggled and then asked me to repeat it.

“Hey, think of it like this. ME stands for Movement/Exercise, and if it’s going to happen, it’s up to me to get moving.  It’s up to ME and for Me.” I think they liked my little acronym, and I hope they read this blog and get moving. ME, Ladies…ME.

The 30-Second Rule

While in Myrtle Beach over the weekend, we visited Barnes and Noble. How I love a good bookstore! This one is within walking distance of our little pied-à-terre (using words like this for the benefit of Martha and Jim) at Seagate. I gravitated towards the bargain books and was torn between one with pictures of China, one about feng shui, and one by John Maxwell entitled The Maxwell Daily Reader. DH reminded me that I could always come to the bookstore to look at the China pix and that I already had about a dozen books on feng shui, so I opted for the Maxwell daily reader. By the way, I only have about ten feng shui books, not 12.

Anyway, I want to share the gist of today’s reading concerning the “30-second rule.” Maxwell reminds the reader(s) that we’ve been taught of the importance of good first impressions and that when we first meet others, we try to make ourselves look good. Reverse that process, he advises, and you’ll find this practice rewarding when you realize the positive impact it has on on others.

This does take some time and effort, however. You don’t want to be glib and full of fake flattery. Sincerity is important. Suggestions include thanking someone for something he’s done for you or for a friend or family member, praising someone for an accomplishment, or simply complimenting another on her appearance. It’s not hard, but it does require effort. It also requires that you step out of your comfort zone.

I think one reason I like this way of thinking so much is because I see it ALL THE TIME in the works of great and/or influential people. There must be something to this, right? For instance, each morning Benjamin Franklin reportedly asked himself what he could do for others that day, and in the evening he asked himself what he had actually done. Thomas S. Monson, President of the LDS church, focuses on service to others and encourages members worldwide to do, say, think, act, and live in loving, giving ways.

So what have I done so far today? Absolutely nothing. The day is young, however, and I plan to rectify my narrow-minded and selfish focus soon. In fact, I think I’ll start in my next class…and maybe I’ll donate some money to the humanitarian aid fund of the LDS Church to help the victims of Haiti’s earthquake.  In the short run, I can text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti.

First things first. I’m going to post this in hopes that you’ll follow Maxwell’s, Franklin’s, and Monson’s advice. Then I’m going out in the hall and pay someone a compliment.

Do It Anyway

If you read the blog entitled “Guiding Word,” you know that some friends and I choose a word at the beginning of each year to serve as a guide for our thinking, feeling, and acting. If you haven’t read it, you should. Ha Ha. I’m feeling pretty upbeat this morning, perhaps because of the gift of extra morning time. Church begins at 12:30 for those of us in the Camden Ward this year, and generally speaking, my mind works better during the first part of the day.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to talk about Christy’s word a few minutes: Courage. It’s something we all need a double dose of from time to time, and her post about it is so inspiring that I can’t stop thinking about it. Check it out at http://christypeake.blogspot.com.

Her post reminded me of a book entitled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Dr. Jeffers says that people see fear in the wrong way, and that it’s actually a green light to keep going. Trepidation is undeniably real, but we just need to push forward, to feel the fear and do it anyway. Sure, security and routine are safe, but can’t they be a little risky?

Jeffers believes that the killer fear is that you won’t be able to handle something, and she suggests practical ways to help you get to the point where you know you can handle anything that comes your way. You must practice positive thinking every single day until sooner or later the positivity you create will begin to seem more real.  

We all know this already, but there’s just something about Jeffers’ writing that makes you really take heed to what she’s saying. She says we need energizing everyday, and that just like eating breakfast energizes and fuels our body, reading inspirational quotes and books fuels our psyches. Take control of your mental inputs, Jeffers advises. Say things like, “I am a confident person in every situation.” Never be fearful of mistakes. Lighten up and be happy that you had the experience…that you tried.

Wouldn’t be awful to come to the end of your life and still be thinking coulda, shoulda, woulda.  From teaching Human Growth and Development, I’ve learned that the #1 regret of elderly people is that they DIDN’T give things a try, that they let their fears hold them back. By that time, it’s too late to make that call, start that business, write that article, or fly around the world. I don’t know about you, but I will not be one of those people who says on her death bed, “Sure wish I’d taken more chances.”

Jeffers offers a perfect example of how she worked through humans’ #1 fear, rejection.  These are her words lifted right from her website:  “It took many, many rejections before my first book, FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY, was finally accepted by a publisher. The worst rejection letter I ever got was that “Lady Di could be bicycling nude down the street giving this book away and nobody would read it.” Can you imagine being told that? I bet that publisher has regretted that snide comment hundreds of times. What if Jeffers had listened? What if she had given up? What if she had felt the fear and stopped?

I want to be more like Susan Jeffers and Christy Peake. I’m going to feel the fear and be courageous enough to do it anyway. What about you? As they say, life expands or contracts according to one’s courage.

Guiding Word

I can’t remember when it started for sure, but I think it’s been about four years since Connie and I starting coming up with a word for the year, a word that would guide our thinking, feeling, acting, and reacting.  Tired of creating resolutions that fell by the wayside before month’s end, we thought words would suit our purposes better, especially those concerning areas we needed to improve in. This year, Christy’s joined us, and her word is courage; Connie’s is release.

Past words include peace, yes, and believe. A quick explanation of each is in order. Peace…ah, the feeling of peace in one’s soul, peace within the family, peace for our nation, and peace for the world. I couldn’t do anything about Iraq or North Korea, but I could and did do my part to effect more peace within and without. I even went so far as to put a stencil with the words, “Love is Spoken Here,” put on my dining room wall to discourage any critical or disparaging words. The YES  year was all about a strong and resolute YES to me instead of to the demands, requests, and invitations of others that ended up making me feeling sapped and zapped. BELIEVE was about confidence and courage and optimism.

When Connie and I met for lunch today, I was still wavering between my top three choices: mindfulness, stillness, and quietude. Connie said I was already pretty mindful. In fact, she gently suggested maybe I was a little too mindful…hmmm, interesting. Stillness and quietude are similar, but I like the sound and look of quietude. It’s sort of a quaint word (to me, anyway), and online definitions indicate that it means the state of being quiet, peaceful, serene, or tranquil.

Seems like I’m always gadding about doing this and that (kind of vague, huh?), and sometimes I want nothing but quiet stillness. I need more time for reflection and meditation and pure unadulterated thought. Many spiritual leaders advocate daily quiet time in order to still the mind and make one more receptive to ideas. According to Deepak Chopra, an idea penetrating a still mind is like a pebble gently breaking the surface of a placid pond, causing the ripple effect. On the other hand, this same idea might not have a chance of getting noticed in a mind in turmoil, sort of like a skyscraper falling into a tsunami.

So for 2010, I’m going to carve out more time for quietude. I want to feel stillness and serenity regardless of the chaos and craziness going on around me. Plus, I’m all about being receptive to new ideas. 2010 should be an interesting year for Connie, Christy, and Jayne as we release needless worry and unreal expectations, step out of our comfort zones, and strive for more serenity. What about you? What’s a word that could guide your actions and thoughts?

Be Brave

As I mentioned in my other blog http://evessisters.blogspot.com, I’ve started attending a Bible study class on the book of Esther at one of the local Baptist churches.  While I’m planning to put most of what I feel, think, and learn about Esther on that site, there was just something so powerful, so strong, so soul-stirring about last night’s class that I want to share it on this blog as well. In fact, I’ve been thinking about one of the concepts on and off throughout the day. 

Last night we were asked if we knew what the most frequent command in the Bible was. Not certain, I kept quiet…and so did everyone else. I thought it might be something akin to “Love one another,” but I was dead wrong. The most frequent command in the Old and New Testaments is “Don’t be afraid.”  I was surprised, shocked actually. If it wasn’t about loving and serving others or bridling our tongues, then surely it was about some sin or another.  But no, some version of “Fear not” is the most common instruction from Genesis through Revelation.

Beth Moore, the person who wrote the materials for the course on Esther, has also produced a series of videos that accompany the workbook.  They are marvelous, and she is phenomenally inspiring. Last night she asked her audience to think of the thing(s) they were most afraid of in the world. Was it illness? Old age? Alzheimer’s? What about something happening to one of your children? Or what about your husband or sweetheart losing interest in you? What if, what if, what if????  

She then walked us through this scenario. “What if my husband becomes less attracted to me? What if he finds another woman, someone prettier and smarter and younger? What if my children like her? I’ll just die, that’s what I’ll do. And I’ll weep and wail and have a hissy fit. I’ll go to bed and not get up for weeks. I’ll never get over it. Never. I’ll be sad and mad for the rest of my life. I’ll try to poison him. I’ll slit her tires. Then I’ll scream and cry some more. And then I’ll brush off my shoulders and go back to work.”

Ms. Moore  then asked us to look at our workbooks and fill in the blanks of this phrase:  “And if __________, then _________. “ I think just about all of us started to put “I perish” in both of the empty blanks since those were Esther’s words. However, we were told to write one of our worst fears and then “God ” in the second one.  

If my husband leaves me, then God.
If something happens to one of my children, then God.
If I lose my job, then God.
If I receive a fatal diagnosis from my doctor, then God.
If I go into labor and my doctor is out of town, then God. (this one’s for Carrie)

God doesn’t promise that He won’t let “bad” things happen sometimes or that trouble will never visit you, but He does promise that HE WILL BE WITH YOU.  He says, “Trust me, not trust me not to let it happen but TRUST ME.”

As I watched and listened to the video, I was spellbound.  As DH can attest, I’m a worry wart, especially when it comes to my children. What if Carrie goes into labor while Rich is at work? What if Elizabeth gets in an accident on her way home tonight? What if Paul gets in an accident as he maneuvers the extremely busy highways in and around Atlanta? And don’t even get me started with the grandchildren. What if?? If __________, then God.

“Be brave. Be brave. Be brave,” Beth (I don’t think she’d object to the first name basis) said three times with feeling. Honestly, I don’t think there was a woman there who was unmoved.

My daughter Carrie is days (maybe hours) away from delivering her baby boy, and as the days pass, she’s becoming increasingly anxious. What if the doctor is not on call? What if he’s out of town? What if they can’t make it to Savannah on time? What if someone who’s lined up to help with the children can’t come over while she’s in the hospital?

I called her this morning and told her about last night’s lesson and reminded her that IF _______, THEN GOD.  He’s with her now and will be with her then. She just needs to have courage and fear not…and so does her mother.  Be brave Carrie. Be brave.

Website Help

Last year I went to a SC Writer’s Workshop in Myrtle Beach, and one of the things I learned is the value of self-promotion. I’m not a forward person so this was/is hard for me, yet I realized that if I ever wanted to get my work “out there,” I needed to do a little something to give it a nudge. So I came home and developed a website and have been playing around with it ever since. In On Writing, Stephen King says you need a First Reader, and in my case, I had several of them. Jeanita, however, offered the best food for thought when she asked, “What are you trying to do with it? I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do when I read it.”

Ah, eye opener. Thanks Jeanita. What I want to do is to make my transition into retirement a little easier, a little less scary. I’m using the next couple of years to ease into it so that on DAY ONE, I don’t wake up feeling purposeless. 

That said, the major purpose of the website is to sell some books, and as a means of doing so, I’m willing to meet with various groups to discuss principles in the book. For those not interested in reading about the spiritual musings of a missionary mom, I’d be happy to meet with community, church, or other interest groups to discuss topics like health, goal setting, improving mental health, overcoming depression, leading a more effective life, finding happiness and just about any other psychological topic. I’m about maxed out on the neural impulse though. Just so you’ll know.

Another reason for the website is to give my other writing projects a preliminary workout. Right now, for instance, I have a couple of book ideas and am interested in stories, anecdotes, illustrations, and other types of contributions from you. At the present, I have a contest going on about LOVE that ends on February 28. There’s a prize for the winner whose entry will be featured on the website and in the forthcoming book, The Spell Was Cast.

So please check it out at www.jaynebowers.com and give me some feedback at bowersj55@hotmail.com or bowers.jayne@yahoo.com.  What do I need to do to make it more user friendly? What should I do to make the purpose more clear? If you have any suggestions to help improve  improve the look of the site, please send them along to one of the email addresses. And be kind; use some tact. Like everyone else, I’m tender on the inside.

And please, please, please enter the contest.

P.S. to Sowing Seeds

I can’t seem to get the seed sowing image out of my mind. I’m thinking about how you plant a little itty bitty seed in the ground, and some time later, you’ll see beans, watermelons, or even a mustard tree. Remember that scripture about the mustard seed of faith growing and growing? Anyway, words can act as a catalyst for good or ill depending on what they are and how they’re spoken. For instance, if a child forgets to bring his coat home, and his mother good naturedly says, “Now, why does that not surprise me?” as she gives him a hug, he doesn’t feel quite as irresponsible and slack as he would if she’d said it with sarcasm. 

Phrases and even single words can sting, can “cut to the quick,” and as we’ve all learned, once they’re spoken, they’re out…never to be retrieved. Even if the speaker says, “I’m sorry,”  the hurt is still there, lying dormant beneath the soil (in a manner of speaking). Why not speak words of cheer, love, and kindness? Plant seeds of peace, harmony and encouragement. Something I’ve found particularly odious is parents comparing children to one another. The one who comes up short feels like a loser, and the “darling” feels more pressure to succeed. Either that, or she or he could become arrogant and prideful.

While I’m on this jag, I might as well mention the words we speak to ourselves. Whether positive or negative, the thoughts take root and grow. Thinking, “I’m too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too dull, too _______ is not healthy. Why do it to yourself?  Say instead, “Who I am is who I am, a daughter or son of a loving Creator who endowed me with certain attributes, propensities, and aptitudes.” I’m not suggesting that we don’t all have flaws and shortcomings because we do. I’m just saying that we don’t need to focus on them to the exclusion of the good stuff.

Sow some seeds of tolerance, love, encouragement, and kindness and watch them take root. Oh, and do the same for yourself; cut yourself some slack and remember who you are.  To help you in this endeavor, I’m posting one of Van Gogh’s sowers.

Vincent van Gogh's The Sower, 1888

Sowing Seeds

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Although this photograph isn’t that clear, I like it because it conjures up one of my favorite New York City memories.  I’ve wanted go to the Museum of Modern Art since 1998, and I was determined to get there on this trip by “hook or crook.” I’ve visited other museums in Manhattan but never the MoMA (there’s just something about that acronym that grabs me), and I yearned to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night “up close and personal.”

Picture this. It was bitterly cold, and we were all tired and beginning to drag a little. As the afternoon wore on, we realized that there was no way we were going to be able to visit the MoMA and go back to Rockefeller Center for a longer visit. We had actually been there the evening before, but the throngs of people and our need to get to the theater on time precluded much more than a quick walk through. Still, since I’d “been there, done that,” I wanted to go to the museum and was determined to go even if it meant breaking up our buddy system rule and going alone. My pal Jeanita, perennially upbeat and ready for adventure, volunteered to accompany me. The problem was getting there; all the taxis seemed occupied and rushed right by us. Grinning, she pointed to a rickshaw and asked, “Want to?” I was game, and as we sped along Broadway to our destination, we found ourselves laughing like schoolgirls. We certainly had a view of the hustle bustle unlike any we’d had before and were excited to be in the midst of it all.

As an aside, our rickshaw driver was a young man from Turkey who’d only been in America for a month; he was ecstatic about being here, and Jeanita and I were reminded of how fortunate we are to be living in the United States. 

Arriving at the museum, we were surprised and disappointed to learn that it closed at 5:30, and it was already 5:00. Still, I had traveled a long way and waited a long time to see Starry Night, and I wasn’t going to get the late hour or the high admission price deter me. We bought our tickets and found our way to the second floor where the Van Gogh exhibit was housed. My favorite painting was in the last room, and rather than race to it, Jeanita and I took our time (sort of) and enjoyed the hushed, almost reverential feeling of the rooms.

 Anticipation building by the moment, we turned a corner, looked to the left, and there it was: Starry Night. I’m not sure why I like this painting so much, but there’s just something about the tiny town nestled down beneath the swirling stars that touches my spirit. The action’s in the heavens, and yet sometimes we on Earth get so puffed up with our significance (or lack thereof) that we forget that we’re part of a glorious universe. Plus, there’s the church spire pointing heavenward…the cypress trees too.  Jeanita and I stood staring for a few minutes, walked away to look at other paintings, and then came back for a final stare. It was worth every dime of the admission price, and I’m so glad that I got to see it with one of my oldest and dearest friends.

starry-night

But here’s the lesson we learned: Several of the paintings in the exhibit were of people sowing seeds. In fact, it was a little surprising to see so many of them instead of other well-known Van Gogh paintings. As I was staring at yet another faceless person sowing seeds in the ground, I remembered something I had recently read in a church magazine. The message was to walk away from situations in which negative seeds were being sown. Whether gossip, hateful or sarcastic comments, or any other type of negative conversation, the article encouraged the reader to walk away. While I don’t recall the author encouraging the reader to sow positive seeds of encouragement, Jeanita and I decided on the spot that we were going to do our dead level best to do more of that.

Believe

 Oops. When reading through last year’s gratitude journal, I was reminded that my word of 2008 was BELIEVE, not YES. YES must have been 2007’s word. In any case, it made such an impact on my thinking and doing that that I still incorporate its positive power in my life.

Back to believe. I feel that it’s important to believe in one’s self and in the ability to change, to adapt, to grow, to overcome obstacles. It’s related to self-efficacy, a psychological term which loosely refers (not inclined to go find an exact textbook definition) to a person’s belief that he or she can achieve something. The higher the perceived self-efficacy, the more likely it is that someone will attempt something and persevere despite obstacles. If I’m not mistaken, Bandura, the man who popularized this term, felt that self-efficacy could even be more important in a person’s persistence than his or her actual ability…sort of like the old adage about if you think you can, you can; if you think you can’t, you’re sunk.

There’s also belief in others, in humankind. Then there’s belief in the power of love, belief in God, belief that the sun will come up tomorrow, belief that things will work out. One of the things I often tell my students who are in the middle of some crisis or another is that “This too shall pass.” You just have to believe that hurts will heal, that the pain will end. You have to believe that there is purpose in your life and that you are the son or daughter of a loving Heavenly Father who has a plan for you.  Er, I don’t go into that much detail with my students, by the way. ..separation of church and state and all that jazz.

Hmmm. Peace is this year’s word, but I’m going to keep on believing and keep on saying yes. What about you?

By the way, the picture was taken in Macy’s Department Store in NYC last month. I think I might print it out and tack it to my bulletin board.

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