Where Does the Trail Lead?

If you drive toward Alex City from Lake Martin, Lamberth Road is somewhere on the left. I don’t know of a time when any Lamberths actually lived there. It may have been the late 1800s or early 1900s. There’s no homestead to speak of. I didn’t travel that road growing up. I clearly recognize the name, however.

A few years back, I was visiting my friend Jan at her mother’s lake house. We’d planned to head toward town and also take a look at that road on our way. So we did. I drove down Lamberth Road and, having done so, arrived at the intersection of Lamberth and Elkahatchee.

Like I said, it was a few years back, and my phone may not have had GPS then, or – just as likely – I might not have known how to use it. I didn’t know where we were. My instinct was to turn around and go back the other way if we wanted to get to town. That seemed logical to me: if you don’t know where you are, retrace your steps until you do.

But Jan said, “If we go right, won’t we get to town that way?” Jan has a good sense of direction. I don’t, and I didn’t know what to do about her suggestion.

“Hold on a minute,” I said, and I called my sister Anne at her house in Montgomery. I explained, “I am at the corner of Elkahatchee Road and Lamberth Road. Where am I?”

Anne probably hadn’t been near that intersection in 30 or more years. Yet she said, “If you go left, you will end up at Willow Point Country Club. If you go right, you will end up at Russell Retail Center.” Jan and I went right, and it was just as Anne said. We found our way to town.

Recently, I’ve been taking walks on color-coded trails not far from my home in Montgomery. There is a red one, a blue one and a yellow one. I may not be a natural at knowing where I am. However, I do know how to follow markers, and the color code helps me find my way along the red, blue and yellow trails.

The red one is the longest. I think in terms of minutes instead of distance – I can follow the red along for a little over 35 minutes until I return to the spot where I began. The blue trail takes a little over 20 minutes from that starting point until the return. But about that yellow? I wondered how it fit into the whole scheme of things, and this is what I realized.

Yellow will not get you back to the beginning. Yellow is 15-minute detour in the middle of the wooded area. You can take yellow while you are walking, but it will never get you back to where you need to be. I felt that this was an important recognition.

Some trails take you back to the beginning. Some get you where you want to go. But some trails lead you in circles. You can walk on them for a little while, but you’ll need to find a different way to get where you’re going. It’s like that caution: you can’t do the same thing in the same way and expect a different result. But oh, how I have tried.

Early on, I was concerned about getting lost on these walking trails, but my experience has shown me that the color codes work. Also, I walk in the middle of the trail in order to avoid whatever poisonous growth or sticker bushes might cross my path. Or snakes. I figure I can see danger, or better avoid it, if I clearly see the path.

I wondered if there were critters that I would not want to encounter. I do hear noises along the trail, but I have determined that it is usually a squirrel. Interestingly, squirrels sound ten times their normal size when they scamper unseen through wooded areas. I had also worried that the trails might be isolated, but there is a lot of activity.

Over time, you can get more comfortable along the paths. You can assess fears and risks even as the environment becomes more familiar. You start to recognize certain landmarks and how they connect. I was so excited when I figured out how red connected to yellow, then how blue connected to yellow. It was almost as if, at long last, I had developed a sense of direction. And when that giant squirrel in the foliage ended up being a little thing scampering across my path, I could say, “Oh, it’s you.”

I’ve been down lots of trails in my life. I’ve taken lots of detours and often felt lost or afraid. I’ve known many days where I felt confused and uncertain, as if I did not know where to go from here. How about you?

It’s true what they say: wherever you go, there you are. When I took those trails in faith, with a sense of purpose, and a little bit of courage, that’s what I found… because it was on the trails where faith was built, purpose was discovered, and courage was developed.

There are lots of reasons to be grateful, and I hope that’s what you see as you go out today. Though our lives are confined to time, space, knowledge and skills and the inner workings of our hearts and minds … even within all of that … each life holds much in common with all people. Yet it’s uniquely our own. That’s an amazing thing and a good reminder to head out with confidence that something good is ahead.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 19

What Team Are You On?

In recent weeks, I’ve been receiving lots of emails from a copywriting client down in Abbeville. The Jimmy Rane Foundation is having its 18th annual charity golf tournament and banquet this week, during which the foundation will award 36 college scholarships to deserving students while raising funds for another round of recipients next year. A lot of sports celebrities – well-known coaches and players, especially from the SEC – will be in attendance.

My work is here, and it’s focused on these areas: I’ve been proofreading the series of promotional emails, the sign for the podium, the posters for the silent auction and things like that, plus I edited the speaker bios for the program. There will be some projects after the event too.

Last year, for example, I transcribed the guest speaker’s banquet speech. This is not a common request, but it turned out to be an interesting assignment.

Dabo Swinney was a few months past leading the Clemson Tigers to a National Championship for the first time in many years. His life story is inspiring, and his remarks were as well. As he was getting into his speech, he mentioned that a lot of people ask him, “Why’d you start coaching?”

It seems that when he enrolled at the University of Alabama, his original plan was to be a pediatrician, but he had second thoughts about going to school for ten more years. So he switched to the business school with plans to become a hospital administrator. He had also walked on as a football player, and his playing experiences culminated with a National Championship season in his senior year.

Soon enough, he noticed something was missing. He’d been playing football since fifth grade, and when spring ball kicked up again, he was no longer part of a team. He wasn’t good enough to continue at a professional level, and his playing days were over.

“I just wanted to stay a part of the team,” Swinney said. “I had played three sports my whole life. I’d always been on a team. And now all of a sudden I was like a man without a country. I wasn’t on a team, and it bothered me.”

Doesn’t everybody, in some way, long to be part of a team? This need may have been felt even deeper for a man who grew up with some of the circumstances that Swinney knew.

“I come from a kind of dysfunctional home growing up,” he said. “My father was an alcoholic, parents divorced. Tough times with my family. But my coaches were the ones who shaped me. Shaped me and encouraged me and lifted me up. Disciplined me, loved me, challenged me. Believed in me. And I wanted to be the same thing for my players. And so I got into coaching.”

At first, Swinney wasn’t sure how he would do or how this would go, but he said, “When I started coaching, I immediately had a clarity of life, if you will. In that everything that I had experienced in my life for the first 22 years of my life – all of the sudden it was crystal clear to me why. God was preparing me to do what He had called me to do. And that was to be a football coach.”

Doesn’t everyone, in some way, long for clarity of life and purpose? Swinney is the kind of speaker where you could listen to him 30 years past college, having never been in a football uniform, and feel that exhale of breath as you say, “I want that too.”

He also said, “The reason that I coach more than anything is that I really wanted to teach. I felt like I had some knowledge. I felt that I had the ability to teach. And I wanted to impact my players’ lives like I had been impacted. That’s why I coach.”

And he did teach that room. There was a lot of meat in his remarks, and as he concluded, he made one more point that reflected his personal faith: “So know this, know this. We never lose our value to God, so keep on keeping on. Forgive yourself, forgive others. We’re all first team. We’re all five stars.”

Doesn’t everybody, in some way, long for that kind of assurance? To not just be on a team – but to be someone who is recognized for the value you bring?

Good words from a coach who teaches and inspires. So how can we apply these ideas? How about this for reassurance:  By the authority vested in me, I hereby hand out participation awards to everyone reading this today.

Even if you don’t hear the roar of a cheering crowd celebrating your success, listen instead to that whisper from Above and that nudge from within that says you are dearly loved, you have great worth and value, and there’s a spot just for you as a star player on a winning team.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 18

How Do You Find Shelter?

Sunday will be the first Mother’s Day I spend with my cat Trixie, so she offered to write my newsletter for me this week. I hope you’ll find her “purr-spective” of interest:

Hello, my name is Trixie, but I didn’t know that when this story began.

The details of my birth and early months are sketchy. I have memories of being in something called “a shelter.” They tell me I had been there several months, but who knows? I cannot verify the timeframe as no one thought to give us calendars.

Then one day this particular human walked in.

I remember the moment well. I was stretched out comfortably in a cabinet above a desk. This was my preferred location as I liked to keep an eye on things. From there I could see that this particular human seemed scared.

Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps unnerved is the better descriptor.

Basically, she had that hint of “Internet search” on her face where she was trying to match what she was seeing in the room with what she had seen online. But this world was looking different in what you might call “the real space.”

The weekend before, we’d had a big downsizing, and many of my cat colleagues had been reassigned to positions outside the shelter. At the time, I felt fortunate to have missed the exodus for an uncertain future with additional responsibilities. By weekend’s end, I was pleased to remain in the cabinet above the desk — my true north.

Yet here we were on a Tuesday, and I watched this particular human walk around the room in her uneasy, uncertain state — so clearly lost and confused. When she turned toward my cabinet location, we locked eyes. My initial instinct was to stare at her as hard as I could and, in doing so, force her to look the other way.

My plan was flawed.

The human whispered some words to our staff worker, then nodded helplessly in my direction. As the worker reached toward me, my body went entirely limp as I feigned cooperation without actually cooperating. Then the worker did the lift — the mysterious lift. She swirled me toward that particular human who took a seat in a chair, and I was placed in her lap.

I couldn’t help but notice the fit was a good one, and after a brief interview, I purrfully accepted the new position. Soon, I signed off on the paperwork, packed a bag of complimentary vittles, and left the shelter in a secure carrier on a journey to parts unknown.

When I arrived at my new location, the carrier gate opened, and I stepped cautiously into the domicile. I kept my posture low and crouched so as to remain unobserved as I evaluated these surroundings. From time to time, however, I would look up at the particular human and take note that she was observing my evaluation. She seemed especially eager for me to see … let’s call it the lavatory … where I could take care of my private business. I noted its sufficiency.

After I completed my inspection of the space, I returned to the human, looked to her with great curiosity, and simply asked, “Meow? Meow?”

“I do hope you’ll find this relocation satisfactory,” the human said as she delivered an intriguing summary to this new-resident orientation. “I must tell you, though, you’ll see better houses and bigger ones anywhere you look. There’s nothing special about these walls or these floors or these furnishings. But what is special is you — because I picked you when you were sitting in a cabinet, and I brought you here.”

With that, the human knelt down and put her cute little hand on my neck and stroked in a pleasing way. “My name is Minnie,” she said. “And you are Trixie. You are my cat.”

So there it was. I looked into her lost face, her confused eyes, then I took her in and gave her shelter.

THE HUMAN TAKEAWAY:

Trixie’s story reminds me that finding shelter is not always about roofs or walls. It’s also about discovering welcoming hearts and relaxing in the sense of trust that develops.

For some people, this has been a natural, expected and lifelong experience. For others, not so much. It’s hard to erase the memory of an untrustworthy framework and the default settings that get put in place.

Yet scripture reminds us, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1) Wherever you are, you can trust that this is your shelter too.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 17

What Do You Do with Your Knowledge?

There are two areas where I don’t do a very good job: 1) giving directions and 2) receiving directions.

On that first area of inadequate skill, let’s say someone stops to ask me, “Do you know where such and such is?” My secret inside response is, “Can’t you find somebody better to ask?” My outside response is to stammer through a few suggestions that hopefully will be useful or at least not lead anyone astray.

On the other hand, let’s say someone were to give me forewarning: “I will meet you at this corner in two days and ask you how to get to such and such.” I could have my answer ready. I think I could do quite well with two days’ warning. Just don’t ask me this question on the spot.

Therefore, I offer these two recommendations for your magnificent journey. First, it’s easier to travel through life when you’re prepared. This would include having skills and knowledge, a bit of cash, and perhaps a destination in mind. In addition, having a spiritual foundation will help undergird your journey whether you are moving forward, going backward or standing still.

Second, trust yourself. You probably know a lot more than you realize.

There is a concept called “the curse of knowledge.” This is when people have gained a LOT of information over the course of their lives and careers – and they think this kind of information is instinctive and widely known. As in: “This is easy for me, so it should be easy for you.” Or “This is so easy for me I have no awareness that it is not easy for you.”

Whether you actually have a curse of knowledge, I suppose that depends on what you know. For example, if you are an expert at tying your shoes, there really are a lot of people who know how to tie shoes, so maybe that’s not so much of a curse.

However, if you’re Albert Einstein, and you see a guy drop his keys as he is walking away from a park bench, it wouldn’t necessarily be helpful to explain to him the relation of gravity to the theory of relativity. Instead, you’d speak to him at this level: “You might not be aware of this, but you just dropped your keys.” Because that’s actually what he needs to know. And just think how grateful he would be to get this input. Very helpful indeed.

You have many areas too – or definitely one or two – where your insights and abilities could be quite useful to others. The point is, trust that you have something valuable to share with someone else. And don’t discount what you know just because it’s easy for you.

Now, on to my other area of shortcoming – receiving directions. The reason I might go wayward here could be because I place confidence in my “hearing” better than my “remembering” warrants. Take two rights and a left, right? Got it. But then I walk away, and go … “Wait, did he say take the second right, then a left? Or was that two lefts and a right?”

You know how it goes. Our minds are filled with all sorts of details – and the more years we add to those minds, the more details we accumulate. But also, there are a great many distractions afoot. Or in your hand – AKA a digital device. It’s hard to pay attention.

So the thing to do there is: 1) listen carefully. Give your undivided attention to what you are being told. And 2) write it down.

Maybe you don’t need to ask for navigational directions anymore, now that your smartphone can tell you where to go. But we all still have plenty of instructions to receive. And our confidence in our hearing may not be as good as our remembering warrants.

I was with family members one time, and someone needed to make a note – to record an instruction or direction of some kind. So I pulled a notebook and pen out of my purse and said, “Here.” My niece Natalie said, “I like how you always have a notebook and pen in your purse, Min Min [which is what she calls me].” It hadn’t occurred to me that this would be a distinction of mine, but it’s nice to be recognized for a unique attribute.

If I have a random thought, I feel the need to write it down. I hate to lose these thoughts that occur at odd times. Thus, I end up with lots of stray pieces of paper – backs of envelopes, deposit slips or grocery store receipts that have notes I didn’t want to forget. My little note treasures.

Which reminds me – when Natalie was little, she used to play with something she called, “My important papers.” This was near a desk where her mother kept something she called, guess what, “my important papers.” In that phrase, you can hear the rest of the story, “No, no, Natalie, don’t play with that. These are my important papers.”

So, “my important papers” became a big thing in her little mind, and she created her own to play with. And that is what I am saying. We all have important thoughts – things other people need to know. Shaping that message into a newsletter might not be as easy for you as it is for me. Yet you still share these insights in your words and deeds – which is a good thing indeed.

Isn’t it nice to know that you are making a difference in the world? Because you are. I just wanted to remind you in case you forgot.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 16

How Accurate Are Your Stories?

I was thinking the other day about a time when I was a young kid playing on my street with a neighborhood friend. I recalled that we were standing in the middle of Meadowbrook Road when we were stopped in our tracks by a strange sight – the beginning and end of rain. That is to say, as best I recall, we saw a wall of rain a few houses down – one part of the road was getting wet, the other part was not.

We instinctively looked to each other and said, “Let’s run!” So we took off to meet the rain where it was. But something happened. In my initial memory, I thought I was carrying a glass bug jar and must have dropped it and cut my hand. But then I realized, wait, I wasn’t carrying the jar. My friend was carrying the jar, and in this haste he dropped it to the street, where it broke and cut his foot.

Basically I don’t know what happened. The bug jar dropped and broke – I think that’s true – but no one may have been cut. All I know is, we did not get to run to the rain. By then, it had come to us.

It really is hard to get the stories straight – the ones from decades ago, sure, but even the ones from today.

In fiction, there is something called “an unreliable narrator.” This is the character that is telling the story, but as you read, you begin to realize you can’t trust his or her point of view. The author will lead you through the story in such a way that you can eventually figure out what’s going on. Just don’t take this character at his word.

Any of us, in a sense, can be an unreliable narrator as we tell the stories of our lives. There are times, in fact, when you shouldn’t take me at my word – especially when I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m sorry to tell you, however: I might not know when those times are.

You can imagine the movie hero George Bailey saying to himself, “I’m such a loser. I should have invested in plastics with Sam Wainwright. I should have left Bedford Falls years ago. But noooo…. I had to stay here and end up with nothing to show for my life but that piddling building and loan business.”

You may know of this character from It’s a Wonderful Life and be familiar with the frustrations he felt for sacrificing his dreams to attend to his neighborly duty. Yet in the heartwarming scene toward the end of the movie, a previously despondent and despairing George Bailey returns to his family overjoyed.

At that moment, however, not a single external factor has changed. He’s still facing the consequences of $8,000 in missing funds. The sheriff is still there to arrest him. He still faces scandal and ruin. But none of these things are enough to dampen his enthusiasm, for he has seen how he has made a big difference in his community during the small acts of everyday life. His perspective has changed.

The rest of us living in the real world don’t get a visit from a wings-seeking angel named Clarence to show us what life would have been like if we hadn’t been here. But most of us, in any case, could benefit from a changed perspective.

So, what I’m saying is: if you don’t like what you’re hearing in the stories you tell yourself, take heart. Because you might be an unreliable narrator. If you tell yourself “it’s no use” or “nothing will ever change” or “it’s too late,” the truth is: you might not know what you’re talking about.

Think of it this way: God, the author of life, is weaving His larger story through our individual lives, and we can’t always trust our own point of view about what’s happening. We just see a little bit of the picture. And how we describe that picture can change.

Some years ago, at First Baptist, I sat in on a series of “story listening” sessions led by my minister Donna McConnico. She had read a book or heard a speaker on this topic, and that led to her discussion of how people are always telling their themes, regardless of the story they are telling. And if you listen to the themes, you can get a picture of what’s really on their mind. She gave us some assignments so that we could practice our skills. It was fortuitous that I joined that study because I continue to be influenced by the concept.

Back to that snippet of memory of my unreliable narration. In those few frames from childhood in my old neighborhood, I actually see something quite nice: joy, freedom, friendship, mystery and risk. I was having fun with a friend. We were unrestrained by difficult duty or boundary. We saw something amazing, and we went after it.

What themes are you telling in your stories? If you don’t like what you hearing in your head, can you pull back for a better point of view?

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 15

P.S. I’ve got some pressing deadlines in my copywriting work, so I’m going to take next week off for this newsletter. See you in May.

Did You Hang Up the Phone?

The early journeys of my life were between Alexander City and Montgomery, Ala. Fifty miles. About one hour’s drive time. I was either going to college or visiting my sister’s family. Or coming home. So, there was a system. I would call someone when I left or call when I arrived. That way the relevant people would know I’d safely made it to my destination.

When my niece Abby drives eight hours from Auburn, Ala., to Chapel Hill, N.C., I ask, “Will you text me when you get there?” I still want to know that she has arrived safely. But the questions are different now.

A while back, my sister had an old phone on a guest bedroom dresser – by “old” I mean an antique desk phone, not an outdated version of a smartphone. Her granddaughter walked past and asked, “How does that thing work?”

It’s hard to imagine that this young girl won’t know the experience of busy signals. Or what it feels like when your finger dials a number with a 9 or zero.

Or how heavy the receiver was. It was like lifting a three-pound weight and holding it up to your ear. If you were on the calling end, there was a pause after you hear someone lift the receiver off the cradle. Imagine counting one, two, three. Then you hear “Hello?” This came as a question, because no one knew who was calling.

This would be a surprise as well: nobody ever asked, “Where are you?” Because if you answered the phone, you answered that question.

Also, nobody ever asked, “Where is my phone?” That would be silly, and or concerning – they might take you to the doctor if you asked questions like that because the phone was where it had been for thirty years. Families would hold meetings, “He just asked, ‘Where is my phone?’” Word would spread through town: “Bless his heart. I heard he was walking around the house looking under papers, checking pockets and saying things like, ‘Where is my phone?’”

There were times you’d get crank calls. If you hung up without speaking, a family member would ask, “Who was that?” You’d say, “I don’t know. It was a crank call.”

There was no Caller ID, so you really didn’t know who it was. Only police shows on TV knew about things like tracing calls, but the officer always had to keep them on the phone for a long enough time. Oh, the drama, because you never knew if that was going to happen. Or if the hostage-taker would slam the phone down when the tracers had pinpointed the vicinity but not the actual location.

Also, no one slams the phone down anymore. Too expensive.

The thing you didn’t want was a call in the middle of the night. Very disconcerting – a ring breaking through the darkness. It’s bad news or a wrong number, either one. Because no one calls at 2 a.m. to say, “I’m perfectly sober” or “I lost three pounds” or “I have a new job.”

So there was a different way of connecting with family and friends. Yet a lot of the questions still revolve around these areas: How are you? Are things going well for you? Are you safe? Will I see you soon? Are you on your way here?

Not long ago, I was listening to a podcast about something called Silver Lines. Senior citizens in the UK have a number they can call just to connect with someone. It seemed like a good service. Who wouldn’t want to hear a friendly voice through a phone line. Just someone asking, “How are you? Are things going well for you?”

“Reach out and touch someone,” the advertising slogan for AT&T, really was one of the best. On par with “Can you hear me now?” in effect but more tender in expression. Wouldn’t it be nice to connect with someone who’d enjoy hearing from you? Doesn’t everyone know that answer is yes?

When you lose someone, this becomes a big missing piece. I used to call my mother. When she passed away, I carried around that sensation of needing to call her but not being able to do so. A reach that is interrupted. I explained back then, “When I get home in the afternoon, not calling my mother is the first thing I don’t do.”

I heard a great quote the other day. Kim Hendrix, the former WSFA anchor, was participating in a conference I was attending when she said, “Be the hand reaching out to others or see the hand that is reaching out to you.”

Life is short. Make the call or take the call, and enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 14

Minnie Lamberth is a copywriter, author and storyteller. Learn about her work at http://minnielamberth.com or read more of her stories at http://storyshaping.co

How Do You See a Different Perspective?

Years ago, my now-twentysomething nieces were in their car seats in the back seat of my sister’s Ford Explorer. Abby, then younger than 2, was looking at her hand and making a fussy sound. I turned from the passenger seat to see what was the trouble. I had no idea. But Natalie, around 3, looked over to her sister, pointed a little finger in that direction, and explained with a casual certitude, “Abby has baby’s hair on her hand.”

So she did. Abby’s blond-haired doll had produced a stray strand of blond hair that was imperceptible to anyone but Abby and Natalie. And it was stuck on Abby’s hand.

Abby was panicked, like, “I can’t get it off!”

Natalie was more like, “Yeah, I’ve seen that happen before. You’re going to need to get one of the adults to help with that. I’m stuck in this car seat and can’t get over there right now.”

The adults were like, “I don’t see the problem. Can someone tell me what the problem is?”

In that way, Natalie and Abby could see what the grown-ups couldn’t see.

An African proverb says, “No one shows a child the sky.” There are some things children can sense with their eyes, ears or nose that they don’t need to be taught. And sometimes these are things adults forget to notice.

Children can see a heart that needs to be cut from a piece of green construction paper. Or the castle or car wash in the building blocks. Or the beauty of a muddy puddle. Or the mystery of the caterpillar. Or hear the sound of footsteps crunching through the leaves. Or smell the steam rising from the pavement after a summer rain.

On Palm Sunday, in the preschool class I’m in, one of the children saw in the building blocks what Jesus would look like riding on a donkey colt in a procession. The teachers were unaware that this could be done.

Some kids can even see the future. One of the little girls in the class rocks some awesome fashion statements, and as she dressed herself for church one Sunday, she told her mom, “My teachers are going to love my outfit.” After making her clever choices with confidence, she was right. We did love her outfit.

Sometimes, however, kids make the wrong initial prediction: “I’m not going to like it in that room.” Yet they’ll change their mind as the morning progresses. That’s usually how it works. But I remember one experience when it didn’t go quite that way.

Early in my preschool class tenure, we had an out-of-town visitor who was fairly offended about being dropped off in this unfamiliar room in this unfamiliar church. Nothing anyone said or did persuaded him otherwise. The problem was compounded by the fact that our director was out, and she is the professional at this. I am not. I don’t know any secrets about how to get along with kids who are in the midst of a fit of pique. And he was a person of commitment; he didn’t relent. But I do remember I had a moment of insight.

I had found his behavior irritating, and I had felt some sense of offense in response. Yet if I looked just beyond my offense, I was sad that he wasn’t having any fun. And if I looked just beyond that sadness, I actually did like that kid. I could even appreciate his protest at the injustice of being DROPPED OFF, of all things, in this unfamiliar place.

In any case, at the end of class, I felt I had one choice remaining to salvage the experience in the least little way. When his relative returned to pick him up, I wanted to say positive words to him in front of her. So as I looked down to his little face, I said, “I am so glad that you visited us this morning.”

That was the only smart move I made all day, and great was my reward. For as the little boy heard those words, he smiled a big smile and reached out to grab me in a hug. What an amazing thing that was to see, and that’s the image I kept. For 90 minutes I got it wrong but in those final 30 seconds came through with a good instinct.

It’s a good idea to step back sometimes to see things differently than you usually see them – to see beyond the problem or frustration toward a better way to frame the experience. Those 30 seconds wouldn’t have been nearly as sweet if I hadn’t had to make it through my error-prone 90 minutes. Fortunately, that last moment was when I snapped the picture for the memories I carried away.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 13

What Do You Know?

Back when, I thought I would like to be a speechwriter. I thought I could be a good one. When I made a career stop at Huntingdon College, I had a chance to help Wanda Bigham prepare her remarks. That was fun for me. I had a leader whose thought processes I understood and could appreciate, and I enjoyed helping her shape her messages.

One day – this was 20 years ago – she told me about an article she’d read in The Washington Post – something she wanted to reference in a speech. This memory came to mind last weekend. As I recalled the story, a poor man found a wallet filled with cash and turned it back over to its rightful owner. He’d said, “I am an honest man.” This was his identity, how he pictured himself even in difficult times, and this thought guided his actions.

That part I remembered and that was enough to search Google, find the link right away, and reread a column by Courtland Milloy, “Counting on an Honest Man.”

It seems an 80-year-old business woman, Cecelia P. Scott, had left her Louis Vitton purse on the hood of a truck in front of a building she owned in a crime-prone area of Northwest Washington. The wallet inside was stuffed with cash and credit cards. Arthur “Stumpy” Whitehurst discovered the purse as he was leaving a makeshift employment center for day laborers. He was 45 and broke. He’d had no luck getting work that day, and he could have used the money. However, the article quotes him saying:

“I saw it, and my heart said, ‘Give it back,’ Whitehurst recalled. “In my heart, I know stealing is wrong, and I know that I am an honest man.”

Whitehurst waited at the corner for two and a half hours for Scott to return. Yet what was equally significant in this story is that Scott wasn’t even surprised to get the wallet back. Over many years of business ventures and charitable acts, she had become an endearing figure in this neighborhood.

“I know that there are honest people at Seventh and T,” she said in the interview. And she added: “I just believe that if we look out for one another, God will fix it so that one good deed begets another.”

You can put these two quotes side by side: “I know I am an honest man.” “I know that there are honest people at Seventh and T.” A reminder of how we are connected in this world, it took Whitehurst’s belief about himself to confirm Scott’s belief about others and a greater power at work over both lives for their journeys to intersect.

But now, reading the 20-year-old article, words that guided the fearless trust by which Scott lived her life popped out to me. She invoked her father’s favorite saying: “Cast your bread upon the waters, and it comes back tenfold.”

Whenever I hear or see the “cast your bread upon the waters” phrase it is as if a little nudge and smile from heaven has floated into the path of my long, uncertain and often difficult journey. Those were the words my mother said to me on a significant day.

After college graduation, I inquired at advertising agencies, one after another, and waited for eight months to secure my first job as a copywriter. When I was offered a position, I called home with the news, and my mother said, “Cast your bread upon the waters, and it comes back buttered.”

That phrase stuck out to me both because it was an important day, and I’d never heard my mother say any such thing as she didn’t tend to rely on platitudes. I learned later that the saying has its roots in Ecclesiastes 11:1: “Cast your bread upon the waters for you will find it after many days.” I always hear as a nudge that says, “Keep trying.”

And I know that I am someone who keeps trying.

When I was working part-time at Huntingdon, I began the manuscript that would become Life with Strings Attached, my novel. Then I set out on my own as a full-time copywriter with the still unfinished, unpublished work in my life-goals to-do list. For two and a half years, I worked a list. I’d tried this agent, that agent, another agent. I tried a regional publisher, more agents, a local publisher. I kept a list going so that if one thing didn’t work out, I knew the next thing I would try.

As I began to wonder how long I could keep this up, I added one last thing to my list, the very last thing I knew to try. I had seen a notice for a contest being conducted by Paraclete Press seeking a literary novel with Christian themes. I added the contest to the end of my list. I had no further plan.

I submitted my manuscript in February 2004 and a couple of months later, I received word that I had won. And there it was. My book would be published after all.

Throughout that long process, I often thought of the phrase “cast your bread upon the waters,” and it continues to speak to me whenever I hear it or see it. Because I know I am someone who keeps trying.

As you go out today, is there something that you know about yourself that would be useful to remember?

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey,
Vol. 2, Issue 12

P.S. I tell the stories about copywriting and writing Life with Strings Attached in Min at Work. Details about those books are here: minnielamberth.com/books

What Do You Hear in Someone Else’s Story?

I heard a speaker one time I never forgot – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and Dying. It was sometime around 1992, which is the year my father passed away, and I was grieving his death but also his life. He had never been quite right, at least when I knew him.

Tickets for the talk were hard to get, but I was given the opportunity to travel with three friends to Birmingham to hear Dr. Kubler-Ross speak. This was a Monday night, and I had to be at work at 8 a.m. the next morning. The trip was inconvenient. Even so, she spoke for two hours, maybe three, in a large auditorium, and I was captivated by every word she said. I’ve never been sorry that I took that trip to Birmingham on that Monday night.

I recall that, among her many stories, she dropped in a line: “Life is too short to do work that you do not enjoy.” Just a few simple words that hit me hard; that was a takeaway.

Around 1998, I drove over to Atlanta to hear Fannie Flagg and a couple of other writers during a luncheon sponsored by The New York Times. Flagg said that she had been born Patricia Neal but couldn’t use that name in her career because it was already registered with Actors Equity. Growing up, she was called Patsy. Problem was, she had dyslexia. She would write her name as Pasty.

One of the big moments of her life was when she won a short story contest, and the award was presented to her by her hero, Eudora Welty. She spoke with reverence about the opportunity for a girl who wrote her name as Pasty Neal to be presented an award by Eudora Welty for winning a writing contest. She tied it to an “anything is possible” kind of encouragement. She was funny – and inspiring.

Taking a break to listen to someone else’s story is often a good way to refine something important about your own.

Earlier this month, I attended the Women’s Leadership Summit held by the Montgomery Junior League. The timing was inconvenient, but I was not disappointed by the inspirational speakers. One of these was Stacy Brown, founder of Chicken Salad Chick.

Brown said this was a thought that led her into her business: “What did you come across that was a problem? If it was a problem for you, it was a problem for someone else.” When you hear her story, however, you realize none of this was a foregone conclusion. The restaurants that now exist under the Chicken Salad Chick brand developed through an incremental process that could have just as easily collapsed as it did succeed.

Thinking of problems she could solve, she identified chicken salad. She said that she was obsessed with chicken salad – not making it, eating it. So, as a single mom who wanted to work at home, she decided to make chicken salad. As she searched for the best recipe, she went to work in her own kitchen as if conducting a science experiment. With each batch, she sought feedback from her family and friends. When she got a good reaction, she tested that recipe on a lot of people. Once she had her recipe, she recognized that some of her friends liked nuts in their chicken salad, some liked spicy, some like fruit, etc., and she began adapting the recipe into a variety of flavors.

The idea was to be a deliverer of chicken salad. For her marketing, she wanted to get a car magnet. That was her big plan. Therefore, she needed a name for her company. Since she was a chick delivering chicken salad, she decided to call it Chicken Salad Chick. Now she had a name to put on her car magnet.

In the meantime, her future husband suggested that she give the different flavors girlie names. Perfect suggestion – and she named them for women who had been an influence on her life. Nutty Nana, for example, is her mom. Chicken Salad Chick was developing its brand.

She also connected with influencers. Or as Brown said, “Teachers and hair stylists are the gateway in your community.”

Then there’s the part of her story where the health department shut her down, explaining that her activities were illegal. She couldn’t make chicken salad at home after all. So she pressed on and expanded into restaurants. An investor who believed in her and her product helped make that happen.

They were celebrating 84 restaurants at an owners’ conference. Then heartbreak. Her husband was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. “His passion and purpose became helping others fight this disease,” she said. He passed away in 2015. The Chicken Salad Chick Foundation was born out of his diagnosis.

“Life can just come at you. It’s all about how you persevere and react and press forward,” Brown said. “It’s good for us to have a plan, and then there’s God’s plan.”

The best business advice she received came from her mother: “Do not fear change. Depend on it. Know that it is coming.”

That was a lot to pack into a talk, and the lessons of entrepreneurship were clear: identify a problem you can solve, get feedback from your market, create a strong brand identity, adjust as you face opposition, get support for things you can’t do on your own, and give back as you succeed. Also understand that life is hard, and times of adversity are real. But keep going.

And I would add: when you have an opportunity, listen and learn from the stories of others.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 11

How Do You Enter A Different Room?

My cat Trixie is teaching me a lot about boundaries. Namely, that she doesn’t have any. At night she wants to sleep right next to my leg or on my shoulder. In the daytime she likes to visit me on top of my desk. In between night and workday, she pushes open the door beyond which I am in the shower and pops her head in to say hey.

She enjoys changing the sheets on the bed and jumps up to assist even as she lengthens the task at hand. She is fascinated by the use of the sticky roller I use to remove pet hair, and she is on the scene to interfere with progress whenever the roller is in action.

Trixie is teaching me a lot about what it means to ignore any hint of a sign that says, “You don’t belong here,” and instead ask, “What’s this?”

You may have been on the outside of a room before and wondered what the inside was like. I have. You might have thought the sign outside said, “This room is only for certain people.”

Maybe it does say that; some rooms do only allow authorized access. But many don’t. So all I’m saying is, if you’re reading a sign that says, “You don’t belong here,” be careful that it’s not a sign you wrote for yourself.

A long, long time ago, I was on the outside of a church. I must have wondered what it would be like inside, but I did not know how to enter. In that instance, which happens to be my current church, I found a way to enter through the choir room. Becoming part of a choir gave me a place to sit and a process to participate.

More recently, I’ve entered that same church through the kitchen by volunteering on Wednesday evenings or through the preschool department by setting out juice, crackers and puzzles on Sundays. These activities have helped give me a sense of belonging; something of a purpose for being there.

Over the last six months, I’ve had a chance to enter some other rooms in some other places.

Back when I was a student at Huntingdon College, I sometimes visited First United Methodist Church on special occasions – for baccalaureate or a sorority church day or some such. Over the last decade or two, I’ve gone to other services at the church that friends were involved in. Still, my attendance there has always been a special occasion thing. I wouldn’t have known how to enter that particular church from a sense of belonging.

Last August, however, I joined the Montgomery Chorale. Though I’m ill-equipped for this higher musical plane, I’m getting by. Rehearsals are at First Methodist, and I go there on Tuesdays to learn this music that is above my head.

The Chorale’s first concert last fall was actually at First Baptist – in that first sanctuary I entered through the choir loft many years ago. At Christmas, we were part of a Hallelujah Chorus singalong at the Church of the Ascension. I always liked that church – so pretty – though I can’t say that I’d ever entered from a place of belonging.

Sunday before last, our concert was at First Methodist. During dress rehearsal, I squeezed tightly into the crowded choir loft – on the end of the back row next to the organ. When I took my seat, I had a moment of claustrophobic panic. The space seemed very tight with no perceptible entrance or exit. As my panic rose, I started to wonder if I would have to leave the loft, if I weren’t going to be able to follow through on the concert.

Then in this state of claustrophobic panic, for some reason, I thought about Trixie and her complete lack of boundaries. Where I saw no perceptible entrance or exit, I knew that Trixie would have seen there were many ways in and out of that choir loft. Whether up and over, or down and under, she could have made her way from that spot to wherever she needed to go. I smiled as I pictured Trixie’s fortitude, and I began to relax and appreciate my location next to the organ and underneath the wood carving of Bartholomew. And how nice it was that I had a card with my name on it that said this is my place.

Trixie would probably offer you similar counsel about rooms you might want to enter. Unless there truly is a sign that says “Authorized Personnel Only,” the doorways and pathways may be a lot more accessible than you realize. And once you starting going in, you’ll find out soon enough that you actually belong where you have arrived.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, an interesting thing happened. It was the Tuesday rehearsal before the March 4 Chorale concert, and I arrived late to the First Methodist fellowship hall. I’m not usually late, and many seats were taken. Four altos were in chairs toward the end of the first row where I usually sit, so it looked as if I would be headed to the open spot in the middle of the row. I could do that.

But then this was the notable part. When they saw me, the four altos stood up and moved down one chair so I could have the chair on the end. Because they seemed pretty sure that I wouldn’t want to sit in the middle – that that would not be the spot where I would be comfortable. So when I entered the room, they got up and moved down one chair.

And that’s what it’s like to start going into a room and begin to settle in where you have arrived. That’s what a sense of belonging feels like.

As you go out today, take notice when things like that happen for you. It may be that the other side of the door is more welcoming than you realized.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 10