Did You See that Close Call?

I’ve been working on a project this summer. I was getting so close and it was almost done. Then I had a scare.

On Sunday morning, I was headed to the 8:30 church service. I exited at Union Street and stopped at the traffic signal. When the light turned green, I moved forward. Then I slammed on my breaks as hard as I could.

A car was speeding up Union, not even slowing at the red light. He or she barreled through just a short distance away from the front of my car.

I escaped contact. I did not have a wreck. I was not injured. I did not go to the hospital, or worse. I was not even sore. I was not out a deductible or the use of my car. I did not experience a big insurance headache (auto or health).

Nothing bad happened to me. Not a single thing.

I continued to move through the rest of my day. But I knew I’d faced an almost. A close call. A “could have been bad.”

I know that’s true because the man who was in the car behind me was also headed to the same church. He came up to me in the sanctuary and said, “I thought I was going to be presiding over your funeral.”  

He said, “God was on your side.”

That was such a sweet thing to hear because that thought is in the project I’m working on, the one I wanted to finish that is almost ready.

I get a chance to do that. Because I’ve been working on it this week, and it’s even more “almost ready” since Sunday.

Now it’s “really almost ready.”

I can’t wait to tell you about it.

In any case, on Monday, when I received the email with the church prayer list, I opened it up and reviewed the names with concerns. I was so thankful that my own name was not anywhere to be seen. How glorious to not be on that list.

I think many of us are aware that we have missed some close calls but don’t know when or what they might have been. I just happened to see mine. To have been a witness. And I was able to turn that experience into a great appreciation for being able to walk back into my house and say hey to Trixie.

Uninjured, unbroken, not even sore.

Hope you’re enjoying your magnificent journey this week. I sure am enjoying mine.

— Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 14

What Would Your PowerPoint Be About?

Do you ever think about how little bits of your heart and pieces of your knowledge and wisdom from your experiences are, let’s say, leaking out of you as you carry on through your day?

By leaking, I mean it’s not something you’re intentionally doing, where you announce:

“Here, take these little bits of my heart and pieces of my knowledge and wisdom from my experience and apply it to this situation.”

Because it seems that launching a lecture series isn’t always well received, though I’m sure we’ve all got a PowerPoint within us that we could take on the road.

My personal expertise, for example, ranges from “How to Get Gas at Costco with the Most Efficiency” to “Don’t Set Your Phone on the Floor at Planet Fitness.”

Probably someone out there has a series on “Why the Left Lane Is the Passing Lane.” Or “How to Avoid Letters from the Homeowners Association (It’s Not that Hard).”  

But anyway, this leaking is not like pushing out a lot of information in a PowerPoint. It’s more like someone in your office asks, “What should we do?” They turn to you because they figure you know an answer that can help.

Or maybe you taught your kids something important, a high value for you, and you see them applying it in their own lives.

Or just as humbling if you reach a certain age, a parent is sorting through an option and asks, “What do you think?”

You might be surprised how much of your heart, your knowledge and your experience has already gotten out there. Hopefully we’d all be surprised (because if our influence were easy to count or track, that number might be a bit low).  

So I’m just saying, keep going… keep helping, advising, serving.

Because it’s getting out there, day by day.

And what you’re doing has value.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 13

P.S. If you did a PowerPoint of your expertise, what topics would you cover?

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash  

How Do You Become Who You Are Meant to Be?

The other night I watched a movie called Shooting Star. Available through Amazon Prime, this is an independent, subtitled film from South Africa but easy enough to read your way through.  

Phillip Schuman, apparently a real person, was a piano prodigy whose mother was dying of cancer and whose father forbid him from playing the piano. Phillip pays a high price for the childhood pain his own father never resolved. Yet he senses and believes that the higher price would be to abandon his gifts. Indeed Phillip needs music as much as he needs air or water or food, and he cannot resist or bury this call inside. On brick steps, he draws the chalk outline of piano keys to help him with his compositions. He completes them in his bedroom, nowhere near the locked-away instrument.

You can imagine what this is like for him – the complex emotions he feels for the unbelieving father who is denying him the life he is called to live, and for the mother who believes in him and prays for him even as her own life is slipping away.  

There are religious elements in the story similar to the manner in which faith was treated in Chariots of Fire or Unbroken – as part of a real life dealing with real struggles.

You want to ask the father, “Don’t you see what you are doing here?” He does see, actually. He sees that he has become the father he promised himself he would never become. Yet he did. The price is terrible.  

There are two struggles often at work in our lives – the kind of questions that fill a night sky when someone looks to the heavens and wonders what is ahead. How do you become the person you are meant to become? How do you keep from becoming the person you have promised yourself you would never be?

Both of these questions are asked but not answered in this poignant film. That’s found in the living and choosing that become the answers.

“A shooting star doesn’t mind the dark; isn’t scared of falling, or of going its own way, isn’t afraid of standing out above the rest,” Phillip explains to a friend. A shooting star becomes what it was always intended to be – a light shining in the darkness. That is certainly something we all need to see.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 12

Photo by Hugo Kemmel on Unsplash

Have You Heard This Story Before?

I guess it was 1990 or thereabouts. I went to visit my sister Jane in Sausalito, California, where she was living at the time. She’d arranged for us to see a play in San Francisco, which is across the Bay.

The tickets, I recall, were a little pricey. Maybe they were $40. At that point, I doubt if I’d ever spent $40 to see anything. But Jane said this would be good. She was right. We took our places in the theater to see the musical Les Misérables.

Before that event, I did not know that plays could be this good. I’d never seen anything as well done.

Sometimes when an old story comes back to mind, you want to hear it again. In the 2000s, I’d purchased a set of DVD movies. One of these DVDs had a flip side, like records of old. The 1935 movie version of Les Misérables was on one side; the other side had a Les Mis movie from the 1950s. I watched both versions. I noticed that they weren’t exactly alike nor entirely dissimilar. It was as if the creators of the movies each read the whole story and picked out the parts they felt they could tell in a 2-hour timeframe.

In 2012, I watched the other movie version, a musical based on the play I’d seen years ago. Maybe you saw it too. This week I watched the conclusion of Masterpiece Theater’s version, a multi-part series. At first it seemed weird that there wasn’t any singing, but I did learn more of the story than I’d seen so far.  

It seems people keep telling this same story over and over and over, and I keep getting a slightly different version. It has to be this way. I’m never reading the book on my own. It’s something like 1900 pages long, one of the longest novels ever written. Also, the original is in French. Reading 1900-page French novels is just not my thing.  

Not only that, I keep seeing the story from a different place in my own life. Early on, I focused on the injustice of Valjean’s justice (19 years for bread!), tried to understand Javert (leave Valjean alone!) and felt wistful about the bishop’s kindness (what is it like to be treated with that kind of unmerited favor). In 2012, I thought about the children living in terrible conditions. In these movie extras I saw children over time who had lived lives like that, and how do you make sense of a world where that happens? In 2019, the callousness that led Fantine to her fate was too hard to watch. I flinched and skipped those parts.

Stories are fluid. Even in text or on film, stories are still fluid in that, over time, you are not the same person hearing or seeing or reading the story. And, over time, people pick out different parts to tell.

In every version, this part is consistent. Jean Valjean served 19 years after he stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family. When he is finally released, he has nowhere to turn. A bishop takes him in, gives him a meal, provides a bed, and offers a good night’s sleep.

Then Valjean steals from the bishop. He becomes the man he expects himself to be.

When police discover Valjean with a bag of silverware, he is returned to the bishop to hear the formal accusation. The bishop has another idea, however, and says the silverware was a gift, and, further, Valjean forgot to take the candlesticks.

Jean Valjean has never seen anything like this before. He did not know a person could be this good to him. He becomes the man the bishop asks him to be.  

I’d want this kind of mercy for myself. Who wouldn’t? But oh, to be in those bishop’s shoes. I’m not sure I’d step in. Maybe if I knew in advance what Valjean was going to do to make something of himself, sure, I’d let him have the silverware and candlesticks and send him on his way. If I could fast-forward to the end and see if my investment would pay off – sure, maybe I’d be in then.

When stories are being written, we don’t know how they’ll go. We might not have the power to change someone else’s story. But sometimes we can help people write a better story for themselves by extending a grace they don’t deserve.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying I’d do it. I’m just saying, this is a hard enough lesson that it’s worth hearing the same story over and over.   

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 11

Photo by Reuben Juarez on Unsplash

Are You the Only One Who Feels This Way?

I was making lunch plans last week with my best buddy Jan. I told her, “This’ll be great. I can go over everything that’s bothering me… then I can go over everything that’s not bothering me.”

We do often go over things that are bothering us. But it did seem like an interesting idea to recap all the things aren’t bothering us as well.  

Sometime back I ordered a book, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By by Timothy D. Wilson, and I picked it up again the other day.

Early in the book, Wilson uses an example of a student in his first days of college. After the student takes a calculus exam, he is shocked to find out that his grade is a D. As Wilson explains, this student is going to tell himself a story about how this happened. The question is: what story will it be?

Imagine if the student says: “This is a sign that I don’t belong in college. I am going to fail. I should quit now.” It’s not a stretch to predict that that level of discouragement will continue to affect his future results. Perhaps he’ll adopt a fatalistic approach – he starts skipping classes and studies even less.

Or what if he tells himself a story, “This is a real wake-up call. I need to do better next time. I did well in high school, so I know I can do this. Besides, a whole lot of other people survive college. There’s no reason I can’t figure this out.”

Can you imagine how the second story would help the student reorganize his study habits and show up for class?

If you help someone redirect their stories, you can help them a great deal indeed. And here’s something anyone can do: help people see that the struggle they’re experiencing is common.

To test this theory, Wilson conducted an experiment where he brought in students who’d been struggling in their first year of college. In 30 minutes (about the same length as lunch with a friend), he showed the struggling students statistics about how other students had struggled in their first year but did better in future years. He even had some videoed testimonials from upper classmen whose grades had improved.

This was not much more than a way to tell the students: “Other people did better after their first bad grade. You can too.” That’s all it was – not study-skills intervention, just a way of reframing their discouragement.

You could say, the beauty of the experiment was allowing them to see, “I am not the only one.” As a result, the control group got better grades the next year. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…”

So, if you see someone in a struggle today, why not try these research-proven words of encouragement:  “You’re not the only one who feels that way.”

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 10

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Are You Treating People Like a Child?

To give myself a break from my solopreneur experiences, I have participated in two church volunteer activities over the last few years.

When I work in the church kitchen on Wednesday evenings, I serve desserts. This is a task-oriented area of volunteerism. I don’t choose or prepare what desserts are served. My role is simple: I set out what has been designated as the desserts for that week, I ask people coming through the line which dessert they want, and I hand them what they requested.  

It’s basically one person, one dessert. No matter my mood (good or bad), no one gets two. And no one gets refused (unless we run out). Later, we wipe, remove and fold the tablecloths after the supper is over.

I suppose there are things I could do to become a better person while completing these tasks. But it won’t change the outcome very much. It’s still going to be one person, one dessert. And one tablecloth is removed from one table.

While there’s much to enjoy about task-oriented service (such as camaraderie, productive labor and a free meal), the framework for personal growth only goes so high or so low.  

Recently I contrasted this experience to my volunteering on Sundays in the church preschool department. While in the preschool department, I do what I can to become a better person. It’s like a 90-minute exercise in looking for your better angel – and making sure that’s the one you display.

No one wants to be grumpy while working a puzzle with a 4-year-old. No one wants to be a bad example of what it’s like to visit a church. And no one wants to say to a 4-year-old, “I’m sorry, I’m just not good with names. Tell me yours again.”

In preschool, you learn the names. Even the quarterly teachers who sometimes need to be reminded of names do it on the sly by asking the regulars.

The preschool department has been so instructive for me in seeing how life really works. We all start as these children do. We all want people to see us, to love us, to learn our names and to welcome us into a room.

We all need to learn (and sometimes be reminded of) the most basic principles: We were created and loved from the very beginning, and our time on this earth has a purpose. And we always keep something of this child within us.

One of the negative responses we might say to someone as we grow older is, “Are you treating me like a child?”

For some reason, children don’t want to be treated like a child. This I do not understand because you’d think this kind of treatment would be pleasing.

So maybe we can take another look at how this idea comes across. From what I can tell, to treat someone as a child of God is to see them, love them, learn their names and welcome them into a room.

So why not think of this question differently: “Are you treating me like a child?” Wouldn’t it be nice if more of us could answer yes?

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 9

How Do You Let the Silence Speak?

Sunday’s concert wrapped up the second season that I’ve stepped outside my ordinary skillset to participate in the Montgomery Chorale. There was one song in particular, When David Heard, where I tried very, very hard not to sing an unintended solo from the alto section.

The way this piece was written, there would be a lyric, silence, lyric, silence, lyric, silence. I feared interrupting the silence.

During the rehearsals our director, James Seay, had told us, “You are all responsible for your own notes.”

That was a big responsibility to carry. When even the sound of a small cough or cleared throat can disturb the experience, you pay attention to what you’re doing. And you watch out for those notes.

Maintaining the silence was not easy. The piece is a long one (17+ minutes), and as we sang in the choir loft, I began to feel hot. My throat tickled. A cough was rising up. Even my nose started running.

Right there in that cramped space, I faced the consequence of being human. I did not know I had it in me – and I suspect that I don’t actually have it in me to will myself not to cough. Yet I achieved that small victory nonetheless: I didn’t sputter into the silence.

It’s funny how important it is, sometimes, to watch what we don’t do. Though these could be missed opportunities, it is also a missed opportunity to speak or act when it’s better to not do so, wouldn’t you agree?

Who knows how many problems have been avoided by not saying what we were thinking – or by not intruding in areas that was not our call to make? The undone and unsaid have their own moments for expressing beauty and care.

David’s “manifest lament” is not a piece you’d want to disturb. When he heard that Absalom had died, he went up to his chamber over the gate and wept. He carried their complicated relationship, his own failures, his deep grief, and his unbroken love into that chamber. Heavy stuff.

And the thing about putting that lament into a choral piece is that people can share the feeling without having to explain it. You don’t have to articulate the losses you grieve in your own chambers. David’s words, the choir’s voices and the silence speak that for you.  

I was remembering something from years ago… a story about the great value in sitting with someone through their sad moments. I have an image stored in my head from Tinyburg Tales, a book by Robert Hastings that my former minister, Donna McConnico, used frequently in the Sunday school classes I attended.

I don’t remember details – just an image – but a preacher’s wife was falling short in her ability to get her dishes to the potluck suppers and so forth. She just was not rising to the standard expected of her. But the real story was that she had let her dish overcook in the oven as she sat at the kitchen table and listened to a church member’s lament. Her listening ear was the greater value.

Maintaining silence is not as easy as it sounds. You could get quite hot, so near sputtering. But listening to someone’s lament could be a small step that makes a big difference – for you and the one you hear.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 8

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

What Will You Do with the Compliments You Hear?

When I was in college, my roommate Lisa shared an encouragement technique with me. She said that she and her high-school best friend made a pact that if one of them ever heard someone say something nice about the other one, they’d tell the other one what they’d heard.

As I recall, they’d talked about how a lot of people say a lot of nice things about others that never get back to the person who would most benefit from this kind of encouragement. Thus, they created the pact.

I surely could have applied that technique a lot more often than I actually did – I’m guilty of “good intentions that I didn’t act on” and all that. But I do remember one time when the suggestion came to mind. 

Years ago, I was working in an office, and we were being trained on how to use a new high-tech copy machine. As you may recall, in the era before the digital revolution, data was distributed through reams of copy paper. So, we were getting trained on how to use the equipment.

One of my friends/colleagues did not particularly care for the sales rep who was our copy machine instructor. They’d had some interactions that my friend found frustrating, and she had expressed those frustrations to me.

This friend was not present during the particular training session I was in, which I had probably entered with a “they’re making me do this” sentiment. I was not highly engaged in the training. But I perked up when the trainer said something quite interesting. She was trying to refer to my friend but couldn’t remember her name. Instead, she described her as “the girl wearing the white blouse with the real pretty face.”

Well. I knew then, this description was going to get back to that girl with the real pretty face. Because I was taking it to her. It was as if, all of a sudden, I had a mission, and I couldn’t wait to see if she’d feel differently about the sales rep.

So, later that day, I found my friend and told her how she’d been described. She listened without comment.

“Do you like her now?” I asked.

“I like her a lot better,” she said, nodding. You can imagine how a guard was let down.  

We have adversarial relationships in our midst. There’s conflict among us. Fears. Resentments. Misunderstandings. Yet a shared compliment doesn’t cost a thing, and, who knows, it could be an easy-to-apply patch between people.

It won’t erase trouble or circumvent frustration. I mean, it’s not like traffic reports are ever going to say “The driver behind you really liked how you changed lanes.” That’s not in our control. But this is: share the compliments and help people see their stories a little bit differently.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 7

Will You Be an Ambassador of Hope?

I’d already heard Liz Huntley speak two times earlier, plus bought/consumed her book More than a Bird and bought copies for others.

So, I was quite familiar with her inspiring story when I decided to stick around for the last session at the Junior League of Montgomery Women’s Leadership Summit this past Friday. And I listened again to how Huntley overcame harrowing childhood experiences as God used one person after another to love her and save her.

Huntley credits many people, going back to the group of individuals who decided on their own to begin a free pre-K classroom so that, during these early days of integration, African-American children in her community would be ready to go to school across town.

She remembers the man who greeted her at the pre-K door that day – Mr. Willie – and the extraordinary words he said to her as she stepped into this terrifying new territory:

“Well, hello young lady. Welcome.”

That’s it.

That’s what she remembers for more than 40 years.

Mr. Willie said, “Well, hello young lady. Welcome.”

In the eyes of a vulnerable child, that’s what it takes to be “an ambassador of hope” – a friendly, warm and respectful greeting unlike any she had ever received.

Mr. Willie was nice, and it broke the ice. Which was very important, because that pre-K room was a game changer.

In that room, the ladies put their arms around Huntley and said, “Come on in here, baby.”

In that room, they hugged her, loved on her and praised her whenever she did something smart. She liked that kind of praise, so she kept doing smart things.

Just as importantly, without the pre-K room, Huntley wouldn’t have known how to look for the words “first grade” or find her name on the homeroom list when she went to her first day of school on her own. And when she found her way to that particular classroom, on that first day, it was there that she met her first-grade teacher – someone who has remained her friend ever since.

Thousands of people have heard Huntley tell of that extraordinary exchange between her and her first-grade teacher. If you’d like to hear more, here’s a 4-minute clip that sets up the words Ms. Pam Jones said to her that day: https://youtu.be/19EVXuI7ZFQ  (Or get the book.)

Their experience has been a game-changer for countless other lives (whose names we may never know) because Huntley has become a passionate advocate for school readiness. “I hope you learn from my story the impact of a child being school ready,” she said.

Yet she also wanted to remind us: “You can do a small thing that can be a game changer for someone else.” Huntley said, “We all have an opportunity to be ambassadors of hope. It’s something we have the opportunity every day to give to someone.”

Whether it takes 100 or 1000 small things to change a life, you don’t want to miss your chance to do one of those small things. Even if it’s saying “Well, hello young lady. Welcome” in the doorway of a room someone needs to enter.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 6

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and developer of the creative encouragement platform, Story Shaping.

What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?

I remember a scene from the movie What’s Up, Doc? where the Ryan O’Neal character says to the Barbra Streisand character, “I like you, Judy. You’re just different.” She says, “I know I’m different, Steve, but from now on I’ll try to be the same.” He asks, “The same as what?” She says, “The same as people who aren’t different.”

Well, there you have it … my life story summed up in movie dialogue.

There’s a general principle in marketing that you are your ideal client. Most of the people I know, however, aren’t really like I am. So, I’d been wondering, what type of person would benefit from the lessons I’ve learned over my long journey?

Probably someone younger. Probably someone like I was when I was younger.

Basically: my younger self. That’s who I’m writing to.

I had a chance to write to the “younger me” over the last few weeks.

I got an email from a friend who wanted to use the videos in Your Story Shaping Blueprint, if appropriate, for a youth group she leads. I checked the videos for appropriateness. There were a couple of things I needed to pull out – such as any reference to “When I look back over the last 20 years, I …”

My younger me doesn’t want to hear about something I learned “over the last 20 years.” People under 20 years old do not understand how to view a 20-year-old memory the same as someone much older does, and my younger me is going to find that phrase distracting.

You know how I know this? There was a time when I was 20 years old. I was at a dinner recognizing my sorority’s Founders’ Day. Our guest speaker was elderly; she had known the founders. After the sisters put on a skit that involved a roller coaster, I asked the speaker, “Have you ever ridden a roller coaster?”

The speaker said, “Yes, I have, and it wasn’t too long ago. About 10 years.” I was astonished that she could say “about 10 years,” half my age, was not too long ago. I was distracted. That’s the only part of the night I remember. I told that story at different times in my 20s. And now I’ve told it again as a cautionary tale.

So, as I looked at the videos, I cut out the parts that said “20 years ago” plus other things that I didn’t think would resonate with my younger me. Each week I sent a new link to my friend, who has returned the favor by providing valuable feedback after presenting each video. It’s been like our own little test kitchen. And something’s been stirring for how to go forward.   

If you had a chance, what would you want to say to your younger me?

Take a moment and think about it.

Did you come up with something?

Is this something you can tell yourself now?

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 5