Why Do You Worry about Clothes?

Sometimes in the mornings, I ask myself, “Did I wear this last time?” When I worked in an office, I kept better track of what I wore so that I could space out the outfits and not repeat them too often. Because I work at home now, I don’t keep track. However, if I go to three or four monthly meetings during a season, I’d prefer not to wear the same thing every single time. Maybe that’s just me.

I recall that some years ago I was wearing a new outfit when I ran into someone who was a passing acquaintance from my college days. We spoke. A while later, I was wearing this same outfit when I ran into that acquaintance again. I thought to myself, with curious acknowledgement, “I think I was wearing this last time I saw her.” The reason I remember the series of greetings is because that same season, I ran into her one more time, and I was wearing that exact same outfit. It’s just a bit of minutia that sticks in my head when other things – like “why did I come into this room?” – are harder to track.

Sometimes I tie an emotional memory to the outfits I wore. For example, during the phone call when I found out my father died, I was in my office at One Court Square, and I was wearing a red shirt dress with black and gold buttons. Try as I might, I was never comfortable in that dress again.

When my mother got sick, I realized that she didn’t usually see me when I was dressed for work; she only saw me in my off time. I thought she would like it if I presented a sense of well-being as I came for visits. Instead of changing clothes before I left town after work, I would wear my office clothes home to Alex City. My mother could say, “You look nice today,” and I could say, “Thank you,” then go change my clothes.

Yet after her last summer, I had a feeling that when summer rolled around again, I would not want to wear many of the clothes in which I had felt so much distress. By then, I was working at Huntingdon College part-time and working at home part-time – my transition in self-employment. It was like when you don’t pour new wine into old wineskins; things had changed, and the clothes didn’t feel right.

My president at Huntingdon, Wanda Bigham, had heard a phrase she liked, and it was something she wanted for students – that they be able to “manage their own well-being.” We talked about that phrase for a speech she was giving, and I saw it as an appealing goal.

Sometimes clothing and other things are part of a presentation of well-being, though the inside tells the real story. The externals might give you a lift, but they don’t change what is within.

To me, well-being is an attitude, a sense of perspective. It’s not about reaching a place of problem-free days, but facing problems with a general belief that things will be OK. If it’s a valley, you’ll get through it. If it’s darkness, light is coming. If it’s a downhill ride, you can hang on. If you’re out of gas, you can coast to a stop and rest. Or if the day seems to be clicking along quite well, you can step out and enjoy.

This attitude is more than self-talk, though. It has to be founded on something real, a belief that holds up, or else it can falter at any time. For most people I know, the love of family and friends, a sense of belonging and purpose, and a faith that undergirds the journey are all elements of this reality. But not everybody has those resources.

A couple of years ago, I heard a speaker, Liz Huntley, a successful attorney, Auburn trustee and author of More than a Bird. Years earlier, as an African-American child growing up in desperate circumstances in Clanton, Ala., she had dressed in new clothes and rode a school bus across town to her first day of first grade. With a racing heart accompanying her into an unknown that she traveled alone, she was able to figure out the room where she belonged by the words she had learned to read in a pre-K class and by listening to what the other adults told their children.

It was on Liz to manage her own well-being through childhood, and you can imagine how ill-equipped she was to do so. Over time, she would find places of refuge in the intervening kindness of teachers and church members. And at age 8, she heard the verses in Matthew about how God takes care of the birds of the air, and Jesus asks, “Are you not better than they?”

This was a thought that intruded time, space and circumstance to shed a light beyond what she was experiencing. The idea that she was more than a bird was a fact she could understand and internalize. And that truth led to her belief that, whatever happened from here, God would take care of her.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:25-26 (NIV)

The human heart has amazing levels of resilience, especially when nuggets of eternal truth find their way within. As you go out today, I hope you will embrace a sense of well-being and enjoy your magnificent journey.

— Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 7

How Do You Adjust the Volume?

Are you old enough to remember a time when you could walk into someone else’s home and know instinctively how to turn on the television?

In the really old days, there was a fairly universal process that included an on-off button and a dial to turn channels. As the march of progress continued, there was a single remote to operate the equipment. And then, over time, things started to evolve into more complicated scenarios that vary among homes.

I bought a new TV not long ago. I kept it in the box a couple of days just to get myself ready for the next step. I’d already done the part about “buy the TV, bring it home.” So I gave myself kudos for that forward-moving action. Then I waited it out till the weekend as I built the courage to open the box. Because what happens after the box is open will take time, and I felt some anxiety about whether I would know what to do from there.

Good news: I got it done. Or mostly done. These things come with a map that shows you what goes where. Then, it can figure things out for you – telling you, “enter this code in a browser,” and suddenly it does just what you need it to do.

So I was done. Except for the one thing I could not figure out: how to adjust the volume.

Maybe there were studies done on the best method of volume adjustment, and the results determined that the front of the remote was no longer optimum. Or, more likely, that button got displaced by the Neflix and Hulu buttons, and designers had to find someplace else. If I’d known I was going to write on this topic, I would have recorded the steps I took to figure this out. I don’t remember, but I eventually did find my way. The volume button is not on the front of the remote, but on the side.

“Oh,” I said to myself upon making this discovery, “there it is.” I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure this out. It just did.

Volume is a word with multiple applications – for example, you can use it in the sense of “how much” or in the sense of “how loud.” You can also use it if you’re naming a series of publications. Volume 1, Volume 2 and so forth.

I suppose the word “adjust” could fit that latter use – you can adjust Volume 1, theoretically, if you redo how it is placed in your bookcase. Or if you’ve got a jug of water, you could adjust how much is in the container. But “adjust” best fits that “how loud” use. Some things are too quiet or too loud, and the volume needs adjustment.

Like with your words. If you’re talking in a noisy room or giving a presentation, you’ll have to raise the volume. But they say – or, this is something I’ve always heard – that your actions will speak louder than your words. In this theory, if your words give voice to your thoughts, your actions are the microphone.

Maybe so. But I think we all know that there are areas where this saying, shall we say, doesn’t hold water.

Actions speak louder than words – yes. But words linger longer, seeping into your spirit for good or ill. Words get replayed, restated, relived – happily on good days, but the negative ones probably get more inner air time.

Actions speak louder than words, but why assume louder has more impact and who ever said a word isn’t an action? I’ve been in a noisy room before, and I’ve left unchanged by the experience. But I’ve also been in a place where quieter words were spoken to me – for good or ill – and I’ve left altered in some way. Haven’t you?

I think the idea behind this idea of “actions speak louder than words” is: “do what you say you’ll do.” Or “don’t lie.” So, yes, don’t lie. Good idea. But also speak life into the world and into the people you care about. Including yourself.

Seems to me, an awful lot of criticism that goes out into the world starts within. There’s a verse I’ve read often:

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:9-10 (NIV)

About that “pointing finger and malicious talk,” I used to assume that means what we say about others. Then I realized that it can also be applicable to how we talk to ourselves.

So, if you find yourself fussing today about the things you need to do, haven’t done, or areas where you are falling short, how about quietening that down a bit. Remember that the volume button is in your hand. Speak gently to yourself and enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 6

Who Were Your Encouragers?

Around 1990-91, I stepped on an escalator on the first floor of One Court Square, where my new workplace was located. I was wearing a red skirt with a loose thread in the hem. I had become aware earlier that day that the thread was loose but had felt no real concern. What harm could come from a thing like that?

Well. As I mentioned, I stepped on an escalator with this thread by now dangling toward my feet. Somehow that thread got caught in the workings of the escalator and began to unravel my hem as I rode toward the second floor.

I took note of this interesting predicament. If life comes at your fast, response time does not always keep up. A moment later I realized: If I don’t yank this thread free, I might lose my skirt.

Then I became concerned.

It’s not easy to yank a thread free while riding up an escalator. But I did it. I yanked myself free in time to step off at my office floor. None the worse for wear. Well, actually my skirt was worse for wear, as it no longer had a hem. I was fine.

I went to my desk, where I maintained one of the bounties of work life: office supplies. I had a tape dispenser. I applied the strips needed to re-affix my hem. With a new awareness of what loose threads can mean.

This was my job in state government, a position that was often an awkward fit, but one that I was hopefully able to discharge with some degree of competence and appropriate wardrobe choices.

My desk had a phone. The agency of some hundred-plus people had a switchboard. Calls to me were sent to that phone on my desk. If you wanted to put someone on hold, there was a code to park them there and another code to get them back again.

My mother called me at my office one day, and I got a call from someone else at the same time. I thought, I’ll put my mother on hold, and take the work call. That’s how it’s done, and I knew the code to do so. I finished the task, exhaled, about to move to the next thing. Then I gasped: my mother was still on hold. I further realized, I didn’t know how to get her off hold. I couldn’t remember the code to undo.

And – my heart sank – she had called long distance. A rarity, except for that now that she had circle dialing (and I was in her circle), she could call an extended geographical area during the day if needed. I told myself, “Be calm, be calm, be calm. I think it’s…” And I came up with the right code to return my mother to the line.

There was a lot of benefit to my being in that position, but on a personal level I wasn’t sure how well I wore my responsibilities. The issue, I think, was that I did not feel that I could be who I truly am. Doing what I was called to do was the journey I wanted to pursue. Yet here I was going the wrong way.

During my tenure, however, I made a friend named Brenda. Around her, I could always be who I am. When we ate lunch, she always let me pick the place. Whatever I said, she was always on my side.

An African-American lady 14 years my senior, Brenda had grown up in West Palm Beach and in the mid-1960s took a train to DC to attend Howard University. At the Atlanta stop, she met people from Montgomery headed to the same destination. That’s how she eventually ended up here.

The state agency had a primitive email system then – an Intranet that allowed brief interoffice messages. Sometimes I would send Brenda a random thought. One time I sent a musing then walked toward her office as she was removing a sheet of paper from a printer that contained my message. “I’m saving these in a folder,” she said, “so that one day people will know what an interesting friend I had.”

In June 1996, I was in Mobile for a meeting when, back in my hotel room, I called home to find out how my mother’s biopsy had gone. At 5:30 that afternoon, I got terrible news that the biopsy revealed cancer. And in just a short time, I had to attend a work-related dinner. Brenda was the first person I told of this news. I called her room. Then I packaged up those thoughts, got through the evening and headed back to Montgomery the next day.

I lost touch with Brenda years before she passed away in 2016. She had early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. I think of her often.

In any environment, whether you belong there or you don’t, you can find someone who will help you find your way – someone who will help you be who you are. I didn’t always feel good when I worked in state government, but I always felt better when I talked to Brenda. She was the embodiment of the Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

During Brenda’s service, I discovered that I was no exception. Fine people stood up and said glowing things about her, including her brother. I knew he had achieved success of an uncommon kind, reaching a rarified level, but wasn’t sure of his current status. I found out later that Brenda’s brother became chairman of Microsoft when Bill Gates stepped down from that role. As her brother introduced himself to the congregation, he said, “I was the underachiever in the family.” And he choked up as he spoke about a sweet lady who could make anyone feel special.

Take notice of the people around you today – the encouragers and the ones who need encouragement – and enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 5

P.S. Taking and eventually leaving that job in state government to pursue my creative callings is the kind of thing I wrote about in Min at Work. If you missed it, details are here: minnielamberth.com/books

 

Is There Good Still to Be Done?

On Jan. 28, 1986, I was a young copywriter in a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce office for an agenda that centered around state tourism. Maybe it was a committee or board of some kind, I’m not sure. What I remember is that the meeting was interrupted: someone stepped in with the news that the Challenger Space Shuttle had exploded. Attendees gasped. Someone mentioned the teacher, Christa McAuliffe. We turned on a television.

After we had seen the news, the person leading the meeting was unsure how to begin again. He made a comment to the effect that it felt odd to be discussing the next item in light of what had happened. I assume the topic reflected Alabama’s role in the space race.

If you were around then, you’ll have your own memories of the haunting images. I don’t have to tell you about those. I remember a couple of things that sadden me even to this day. Yet I’ll make a different point.

After the meeting was over, I remember thinking about the one who decided to interrupt the meeting to deliver the news. How did he know to make that call?

I was brand new to adulthood, and I wondered if I would have known to interrupt a meeting and make the announcement. At the time I was in this continuing search of figuring out how to sit at a conference table, how to be in a meeting, how to be grown – and I realized then that when faced with an issue, I might not know how or when to say, “Stop what you are doing. Something serious has happened.” I almost surely would have thought, “Shouldn’t someone else tell them? Who am I to interrupt a meeting?”

When you’re young, it’s possible to think that all these protocols were set in place before you got there, and you’re trying to learn the systems and codes to proceed. As you grow older, you realize that people and organizations don’t know nearly as much as you think they do. Everybody’s basically trying to figure it out as they go, and you’ve got a lot of assistance that you can offer.

This concept was reinforced for me about 10 years ago during a season when I was delivering birthday cookies for the homebound ministry at my church. I had made a stop at the home of a lady in her 90s. During our visit, Doris told me that she had taught in preschool Sunday school for almost 25 years, but she had to quit when her husband became ill. The result, she said, is that she missed out on her 25-year pin — because she didn’t go the whole way.

When I returned home, I sent an email to the current head of Sunday school and asked if there were something the church could do. A few weeks later, in the box for my Sunday school class, there was an envelope with my name on it containing a 25-year Sunday school pin. I was glad to see it for Doris’s sake, but what did I do now? Was I supposed to deliver it? Did I even have the authority to make the presentation? It was my hope that somebody from the church could do it, then I remembered: I am from the church.

I went back to see Doris and when I stood at her bed and told her why I had come, I was stunned by the emotion of her reaction. She gasped. She put her hand to her mouth. She began trembling, and she almost broke into tears.
“I was so disappointed that I didn’t get my pin,” she told me. “You don’t know what this means to me. It means the world to me.”

We both finished some unfinished business that day. She got her pin, and I learned another lesson about the authority of adulthood and of ministry. If you need direction, you can get your marching orders in this simple verse: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3:27)

If I have one word that stands out like a billboard on my long journey, it’s this one: reconciliation.

In my novel, Life with Strings Attached, I reconciled with my childhood. In my work memoir, Min at Work, I reconciled with my adulthood. In this platform, I am reconciling with how to embrace and share the wisdom that comes from aging.

There are people who still remember at a personal level the loss of the Challenger and also know that something was left undone – the teaching that was to be delivered to classrooms from space. We never heard the lessons Christa McAuliffe had prepared. In January, the Challenger Center announced that several of the lessons she planned to perform will be delivered aboard the International Space Station this year, 32 years later.

It’s sort of like that quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice.” The arc of grief is long and bends toward reconciliation.

Sometimes it takes a while to finish what was begun. Is there an area left unfinished that you would like to move toward?

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 4

P.S. I tell the story of Doris’s delivery in Min at Work, a work memoir I published in 2012. Some of you asked about my novel, Life with Strings Attached (Paraclete Press, 2005), from last week’s post. To get either book, the details are here: minnielamberth.com/books

How Young Is Your Heart?

A few years ago, my great niece asked me one of the most delightful questions I have ever heard: “Aren’t you a little young to be 30?”

Yes, I clearly am.

Age is a funny thing. You see the pages of the calendar flip from year to year, yet you carry within you all the ages you ever were. You know you’re older but can still feel that you are in some way that person who roamed freely on your childhood streets. Or is still figuring out adulthood.

When I published my novel Life with Strings Attached, an elderly lady told me, “It reminded me of my childhood.” I had written it as a reinvention of my own childhood, but mine was several decades after hers. Yet perhaps we were both remembering that sense of optimism and openness in a life unconfined by choices – the choices that take you in one direction or another (closing other doors along the way).

As a matter of fact, that’s why I made my narrator Hannah 7 years old. I wanted to capture her at a time when everything was still possible, before she was aware of any limits. Of course, you learn as you grow older that some things aren’t possible anymore. For example, I used to hang upside down on monkey bars. I assure you, that’s not possible anymore.

Is it any wonder that Jesus said you have to come to faith like a little child? Maybe you’ve got to have a heart young enough to believe in possibility, especially if you’re going to believe a statement as big as this one: “With God all things are possible.”

Let’s just say – when you look around and see things you like or things you don’t like, your eyes will inform your thinking: this is bad, this is good. Your mind will tell you what must be done: this is right, this is wrong. Your hands and feet will give you a way to enter into a situation. And your heart will hold the hope of possibility that good things come from good things done.

That’s the benefit of age – not just having seen sweet things turn sour but having seen things that turned sour turn sweet again. Whether it takes a month or thirty years.

Have you said something like this recently: “I would have never believed that one day I would…” The trials of adulthood probably created the first part of that statement, even as a feeling of childlike wonder is restored at its ending.

I one day believed that I would write a novel, and I spent years – years! – in that effort. But now I don’t believe that I will write one again. Yet I still hold in my heart that hope and desire to move words around in hope and wonder. Just in a different format.

I am reminded of a passage where 7-year-old Hannah is standing on a stool in the bathroom, studying her reflection:

Nothing has ever been so fascinating to me as my own image in the mirror. As I looked straight into my eyes, my eyes looked straight back at me. I couldn’t get a full view of myself, only the front of my face. When I turned my face to the left, I could see part of one side. When I turned my face to the right, I could see part of another side. I could not see my whole self from any angle. I studied this reflection until my attention was diverted by motion.

“Daddy?” I called. He poked his head into the bathroom.

“What is it, Hannah?”

“Which is really me? The one in the mirror or the one looking at the one in the mirror?”

Daddy came up beside me and placed his reflection next to mine. We were a contrast in color. His dark brown hair, tanned skin, green eyes, sharp angles were not at all like the fair skin and roundness of my own reflection. My features were like my mother’s — blue eyes, full cheeks, three freckles on the nose, all surrounded by light brown hair.

“That’s the funny thing about mirrors,” Daddy said. “We think of mirrors as something that tells us how we look. They are in fact exactly how we do not look. They are actually the opposite of us.”

“You mean I don’t look like the girl in the mirror?”

“You look similar to the girl in the mirror; others might mistake you for the girl in the mirror. But if you study the whole thing carefully, you’ll see that your hair, in real life, is not parted on what you see as the left side, but is parted on what everybody else sees as the right side. That’s the strange thing about life. We see ourselves the opposite of how others see us.”

I looked at Daddy’s part in his hair in the mirror, then I turned back to look at his part in real life. It was the opposite.

“Then which one is me?” I asked again.

“You’re the one that’s always you on the inside,” he said. “That sweet little face on the outside will change. But what happens on the inside, as you grow in your mind and in your heart, will help you be who you truly are, and eventually that’s what everyone else will see.”

“Then what are mirrors for?” I asked.

“To make sure we don’t have spinach between our teeth.”

“But I don’t like spinach,” I protested.

“Then I recommend that you not keep it between your teeth.”

You’re the one that’s always you on the inside. Whatever age or stage you find yourself, enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 3

Who Are Your Influencers?

Thirty years ago on Wednesday, January 6, a little after 5 p.m., I was heading out of downtown Montgomery, driving to my apartment on Thorn Place by way of Hull Street. When I reached the intersection at Grove Street, a Camaro-type car plowed through the stop sign and hit me on the driver’s side front door of my 1982 Honda Accord.

I was wearing a large blue overcoat. I remember that much, but not the rest of the outfit. You know how your mind searches for things to tell yourself, and I think I decided wearing the coat was probably good padding. I was not injured. When you have a wreck, you form a story and tell it over and over. I probably said the thing about wearing a coat and it being good padding quite a few times, and that’s why I remember.

This was supposed to be my first night to visit the choir at First Baptist Church in Montgomery. I was a copywriter at an ad agency; our office was on the twelfth floor of the Union Bank Building on Commerce Street. I had made arrangements with the man who sold us a fax machine to visit the choir. But I was driving home first, to freshen up for my visit. I was nervous. Why wouldn’t I be?

I was also really interested in how this unexpected door had opened. Before that December performance of the church’s Living Christmas Tree, I had never given any thought to visiting First Baptist. As a matter of fact, I had been upset when I heard the church had purchased the property of the Francis Cafeteria and had planned to tear it down. That was my favorite lunch spot, an affordable option for home cooking. A helpful thing, as my home did not do any cooking. Nor was much very affordable on my entry-level copywriter’s salary.

But here I was headed to the church that tore down my favorite restaurant to meet the man who sold us our fax machine so he could show me where to visit the choir.

I wonder what that would have been like – had I gone to my apartment, maybe changed clothes, combed my hair, checked my makeup – then headed back to visit that church for the first time. I wonder how my story of the last 30 years would have differed if I had made it to those steps on Perry Street.

But that’s not how it went.

I suppose I must have used the police officer’s communication device, whatever it was, but I did somehow contact a co-worker at the office, and she came to the scene. Once there, I told her, “Our fax machine salesman is standing on the steps of the church on Perry Street. Would you go there and tell him I am not coming to choir?”

He was a good Baptist, a good church member, and the next day he called me at the office to check on me. And he said the thing that opened a different door. “Well, hey, would you like to visit our Sunday school?”

That’s how I ended up in the other part of the church. On January 10, 1988, that first Sunday, a lady came up to me and introduced herself, “I’m Donna McConnico. I’m the single adult minister.”

I did not even know there was such a thing as women ministers, nor did I realize the different demographic groups had their own ministers. But I digress. Donna turned out to be a huge influence on my life and is the reason I joined that church. She later took a career turn, then moved back to Chattanooga where her family lived. It’s been more than 20 years since she’s served on the church staff. The fax machine salesman left even before that. Yet I’m still a member.

It’s not a one-and-done story. Over the years, sometimes I’ve been comfortable there, sometimes I haven’t been comfortable there. Thirty years is a long time and a lot of life cycles to go through various states of comfort and discomfort, belonging and disconnection.

And it all began by accident, so to speak.

The lady who drove into my car had insurance, and my pitiful broken car was repaired just in time for my last payment or two. Yet that lady dropped out of sight in the middle of the process. Her agent called to tell me that she had changed phone numbers. Pre-Facebook or Google, he didn’t know how to reach her, but he fulfilled the insurance responsibility.

I don’t know who she was, and I don’t remember her name. She must have been frightened by the idea that I would come after her, but that doesn’t sound much like me. Besides I was off on a new journey — one that would define my adult life.

In any case, she’s how I entered that church with a story: I had a wreck as I was trying to get here. I was wearing a large blue overcoat that probably provided padding. I told a co-worker to go tell the fax machine salesman I wasn’t coming that night. That Sunday and the next Wednesday when I did visit the choir, I told that story, and I’ve been telling it ever since.

The other driver was an influencer too. It would be sad, wouldn’t it, if 30 years later she still felt fear or guilt about that accident?

We’ve all had the opportunity to be a negative influence and a positive influence. The latter feels better in the moment and in memory, yet God works through the former too. Are there regrets that hinder your step that you can let go? Is there gratitude you can reclaim for the doors that were opened?

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 2

How Do You Get There from Here?

I can be easily overwhelmed, and usually just by a few thoughts entering my head. How about you?

Works like this – I’ll have a moment of confidence that I am on track with my duties and opportunities, then get sidelined by the thought that basically says “I can’t get there from here.” Next thing you know, that second thought becomes more real than the first. And they’re basically both just this: thoughts.

For me, the best antidote to a flailing thought process is an action step.

That’s how I completed a publishing project, for example. Five years ago, I self-published a book from start to finish, which I had no idea how to do and during which I frequently felt overwhelmed. Yet when the project seemed too far-reaching to complete, I could bring it down to a few decision items. What size should the book be? What should the page margins be? How much room should there be for the gutter between the pages?

Each little question became something I could figure out. I could start my own reconnaissance mission where I would, say, drive to a book store to see what kind of gutters usually separate pages these days. That action step would give me a jolt of energy to get through the next action step.

So this is what works for me: get to the big picture by answering the little-picture questions.

Here’s another thing that is very helpful that I often (almost always) forget. See how much of your big picture is already here.

I’m always chasing an idea, a concept, a dream, a vision. There’s always something out there in the distance that I am trying to get to. Problem is, I forget to enjoy the journey and to delight in the unfolding mysteries therein. As a result, I get overwhelmed and think “I can’t get there from here.”

I’m a member of a creativity group led by Jill Badonsky, author of The Nine Day Modern Muses (and a Bodyguard), in which she offers guides to creative inspiration. One point in her book that especially stood out to me is where she writes about how it’s important to be aware of what is happening right now in your creative life and not look as if a dream or vision is faraway – somewhere in an unattainable distance.

Jill writes, “I had a dream that my vision was always in the future – like a mirage. I sure hoped it would come true. I did not realize that so many elements of my dream already exist in the present.”

In other words, the big picture may be closer than you realize. If, for example, you describe the kind of person you want to become, you may be describing the kind of person you are becoming.

An analogy – When I buy clothes, I sometimes buy something I already have. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, but I’ll see something in a store and think “yes, that’s what I want.” Then I bring it home and notice that the thing I was looking for is quite similar to what I already have.

So I’m suggesting that we recognize how much of what we seek is something that is already here and available. Maybe things like love, joy, peace, hope… all the good things of life.

I like these verses from Deuteronomy 30:11-14: “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.’”

Take notice of the life you’re living, the gifts you have received, the blessings in your midst, and the opportunities that are before you. Many good things are already here. And in case you need this reminder as I often do: Don’t be so future-focused that you overlook the wonders of the “right now.”

Enjoy your magnificent journey!

— Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 1

How Do You Learn New Tricks?

My adult life has been going on for decades now. My cat ownership, however, is only a few months old. Be assured, Trixie is teaching this old dog new tricks. She quite often presents issues that require answers, research and experiments, and I am learning as I go.

For example, what does Trixie like to do?

There is one particular type of toy that Trixie enjoys – a soft, ball-shaped thingy with frilly tinsels sticking out. She throws it in the air, catches it with a paw and a claw, holds it close for attack and pummels it with her hind feet. Really fun times.

Trixie has nearly destroyed the first one she had (in a good way, as she loves it so much). It had been given to her as a homecoming gift, and I thought it would be nice find another. Problem was, I saw the one ball she likes in a bag of eight to ten things she doesn’t like – a bag costing $4.99 at Target or Walmart or Big Lots.

I’ve grown weary of spending $4.99 to $19.99 for my version of Trixie lottery tickets – maybe she’ll like it and it’ll be worth it; or maybe she won’t and I just wasted those dollars. Then I remembered that there are pet stores. They sell all kinds of pet-related items – a la carte. On a stop at a pet store, I found Trixie’s favorite kind of ball for just $1.65. I bought it. She loved it.

Point is – as I go along, I am figuring out how to invest in the things that work for her and how to avoid the things that don’t work for her. My decision-making is evolving.

Further, as I adjust to my life as a cat person, I am learning some new tricks. For example, call me crazy, but I didn’t want Trixie to stand on the printer in my office and put her head through my mini-blinds. Although she enjoys doing so very much. So, I placed Contact paper sticky side up on the printer, and she doesn’t stand there anymore. Apparently, cats don’t like to stand on sticky substances. Me either, so maybe that’s something we’ve got in common.

A friend said to me recently, “I can’t believe you’ve never had a cat. You seem like such a cat person.”

Yeah, I know. When the day comes that they describe me as someone who was largely known for cat observations, I can be like one of those anecdotes of the people who found their purpose late in life. You probably know what I’m talking about…

Col. Harlan Sanders didn’t franchise his first KFC until he was 65. Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame didn’t publish her first novel until age 65. Grandma Moses, one of the biggest names in folk art, didn’t start painting until she was in her 70s. And Minnie Lamberth, known primarily for her cat observations, didn’t get a cat till she was… oh, do I really have to say? Many of you were my classmates, so you already know how old we are. But that doesn’t mean a new thing isn’t just around the corner.

In any case, lots of people have found a new purpose later in life. Or made a big change. You can see all around you people adopting children in their 40s, or going back to school in their 50s, or moving to another state or even country to take a job as they near this 50 mark.

Some of the changes are big and bold, yet it’s just as relevant if you do the more subtle type of change – perhaps becoming more restful, trusting, hopeful and grateful. Odd but true – you can see the world change around you if you change how you view it within you.

I hope you’ll like what you see in 2018.

I look forward to continuing this magnificent journey with you.

Merry Christmas!

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 1, Issue 15

What Is an A?

An A is a grade. Everyone wants to get an A. An A+ is even better. An A- is good too.

A grade is sometimes subjective, especially if an essay question is involved. True and false tests are usually easy to assign right and wrong, unless someone makes a case for why either answer could be correct. Checking the preferred multiple choice is also usually straightforward – unless, again, someone presents a compelling argument otherwise. Fill-in-the-blank tests are designed for certain answers, but presumably a clever person could throw in a creative wildcard that could be considered acceptable.

So, an A is an A in terms of the grading scale. However, the route to get there could be subjective.

An A is also a letter of the alphabet, employed a lot of times in this newsletter and once in my last name. It’s one of the 26 that turns consonants and vowels into language. Add an a to the word, or take it out – you’ve got a different word. Eduction (the act of bringing out or developing something) vs. education, for example.

An A is also a word in itself – the kind that specifies, as in a this or a that. Unless you want to be more specific, then you use “the.”

Words have their own histories, and word meaning changes over time. For example, the word awful originally meant “inspiring wonder or fear,” as in something for which you would be full of awe. Now it is associated more with a negative meaning, as in something you would consider “very bad or unpleasant.”

But let me add this. An A is also a musical note, one that is not subjective and never changes. The A on the scale today is the same A on the scale 400 years ago.

The A note, they say, is the standard for tuning an orchestra. I wouldn’t know, as I am not responsible for or a participant in keeping instruments in tune. My use of the letter A is more invested in correct spelling, subjective answers and word meaning that evolves over time. But I believe this to be true: in music, an A is an A is an A.

That brings me to how to connect this discussion of the letter A to life itself. In some cases, standards and stories evolve. In some cases, they never change. But which is which?

Your appearance may change. The years may add up. Who you become and how you see yourself can evolve over time, but some things about you never change. The puzzle is in figuring out which is which, and how to adjust that which can be changed.

I have wondered if we all get a set of issues early on. Probably. Many of our perceptions about life derive from our early days. I can say this much – I can read a journal entry I wrote 20 years ago and be struck by how similar my concerns in that day are to my concerns in this day. Do I never change? Apparently not. But more to the point: how I began still applies to this moment.

The psalmist wrote, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).” And that’s still true for all of us. There’s no verse that comes later saying, “you are no longer fearfully and wonderfully made.”

So that’s still who you are – someone lovingly created, and fearfully and wonderfully made. However, the meaning you give to your experience – or draw from it – can change at any time.

Think of it this way. If a simple twist in meaning turns a good thing bad (awful = inspiring to awful = unpleasant), couldn’t the opposite also take place? Couldn’t you can give the stories of your life different meaning if you see them from a different perspective.

Not long ago, I was telling a story of struggle, and I got tired of that story. I wanted instead to start talking about my magnificent journey – and remind you about yours too.

So, what story will you tell today? Can you view an irritant or difficulty from a different perspective? If you see something awful, is there a way you can view it instead from the original meaning? If you’ve got a story to share, email me at [email protected]

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

— Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 1, Issue #14

How Many Balls Can You Keep in the Air?

Earlier this year, I completed a copywriting project where I interviewed and wrote profiles of 50 successful individuals for a fiftieth anniversary publication for Auburn University at Montgomery.

“What stood out to you?” several people asked me. “What was it about these people that made them successful?”

Professionally, they ran the gamut – military generals, business leaders, investment advisors, building contractors, government officials, physicians, accountants, attorneys and so forth. Clearly, career path was not the common thread.

Still, the questions made sense.

If we could figure out, let’s say, the three common qualities of these successful people – and do more of those things – we’d probably end up with a good result. Or, who knows, maybe I could interview the 50 least successful people over the last 50 years, and find out what they did wrong, then we’d also know what not to do.

Actually, I could come up with a number of the latter tips on my own. I have a PR colleague who often reminds me that, in the 1990s, I called the World Wide Web boring and annoying, and I didn’t see why our public relations conferences should talk about it. I was never much of a prognosticator but was instead the kind of person who would have gotten a premonition about Pearl Harbor on December 8. Don’t listen to me if you want to know where things are going. I’m a non-prophet organization.

But I can tell you about the themes I hear. In those interviews, one thing stood out to me conversation after conversation. The people I talked to were jugglers. Almost in all cases, they had to juggle school, work, finances, family, other responsibilities – and in some cases second chances after setbacks. Those in the undergraduate programs who worked their way through school had one kind of juggling; those in master’s programs already beginning their adult lives had another kind of juggling.

That’s not unlike what the rest of us have had to do.

I’m not a professional juggler, but I did watch an online video (the Web is amazing, FYI). Interestingly, jugglers don’t stare at their hands. They look up. Presumably that’s because they know where their hands are. What they need to see is where the balls are. If it’s an errant ball, they don’t have to stare or become overcome. They just need a little peripheral vision to move their hand to catch the ball.

Also, if a ball drops, the idea is to pick it up and keep throwing. It would be weird to see a juggler walk off stage or put his head in his hands over a ball that was dropped. Maybe an amateur or a novice would badger himself about the mistake, but a professional juggler keeps going – and makes the dropped ball a part of the experience.

So here’s the turn I would like to take. The thing about juggling is that you might hear in your head, “I should be doing more of this, less of that.” There could be a voice inside saying, “I am not doing enough.” Or your eyes linger on all the balls that have been dropped, and you spend your energies stoking regret.

Let this be a reminder. Your story is not the one about the balls you dropped. The real story of you is about the balls you threw in faith, hope and love and watched to see where they would go.

So don’t stop, keep going.

The secret to juggling is this: Pick the main things you want to do, make a plan, follow through. Look up to see what’s happening in front of your eyes. And don’t be hard on yourself if some of the balls fall to the ground.

What are you juggling today? If you’ve got a story to share, hit reply and let me know.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol 1., Issue 13