How posting my graduation photo changed my life…

Yesterday I followed the example of many others on social media and shared my high school graduation picture. As it was uploading I thought to myself “Do you really want to share this horrible photo?” I even wrote in my post that I’ve gotten better with age. In my mind, I was ugly. My skin was too white, my nose was too big, there was a gap in my front teeth. In my mind, I didn’t become even remotely (and I do mean remotely) attractive until a few years ago when I learned how to better apply my makeup and got a really great haircut and color.  A few years ago was when I finally started to become comfortable in my own skin.  I owe a lot of that to Toastmasters where I gradually overcame issues with self-confidence.

So back to my post… I was SHOCKED when people started writing things like “Gorgeous!” and “Beautiful.”  At first I thought they were just being kind, but then it continued and I thought… “Maybe they are actually sincere! Are they blind? Do they not see what I see when I look at that picture? A wimpy, awkward, nerdy girl?” My parents had always told me I was beautiful, but you know how biased parents can be!  I shared my thoughts with my husband, A.J. who had dated and then married that girl (I was only 20 when we met).  His mouth dropped open.  “Oh my goodness,” he said. “Do you not see what we see in that picture?” He, too, however, confessed that he had not remembered my being “so gorgeous” (his word, not mine).  I stared at him and gave him one of my looks… you know… the one that says with my eyes “Are you freaking mad?”

I was truly baffled by the whole thing. I kept staring at my picture from 1979 wondering what I was missing.  I thought about my photo from 2019 when I graduated with my Masters degree and remembered how much I actually felt pretty in that picture. For the first time in my life, I really felt pretty (at least for my age).  I pulled that picture up on my computer screen and compared it to the one 40 years prior. Suddenly, I had a revelation! I was the same person in both photos… well, a little less worn for the wear in one versus the other… but truly the same person.  I could see in my young photo the same eagerness to tackle the world and the same heart for God that I have now.

What’s really the difference between that 18 year old then and the 58 year old who finished grad school in December? Perhaps it’s that I’ve had 40 years to overcome  the comments made by mean girls (and boys) in my school and sadly even in my church youth group, or maybe I’m finally self-confident enough that I no longer crave the approval of others. I spent years changing my clothing style and my hair color with no satisfaction and now I understand why (golly… it only took me 59 years to get there).  Don’t get me wrong! I still want everyone to love me, but it’s more important that they “love me for me, not for what I have done or what I will become,” just as God loves me.  (That’s a reference to a beautiful song by Christian artist, J.J. Heller.)

This whole thing makes me wonder if those mean girls (and boys) knew back then how much damage they were doing.  Nevertheless, I don’t know that I would change a thing.  Perhaps those meanspirited jabs are what has given me the empathy that I feel for so many other people who never seem to feel they are enough, and maybe my lack of self-confidence has kept me grounded enough that I was never tempted to feel like I was better than anyone else.  Whatever the case, this simple process has changed my life for the better and given me a new sense of self that I didn’t have previously. I hope my sharing this helps some of you realize this may be your story as well! Take comfort in knowing that God created you to be you and that’s just perfect.

How to Attract Others to Your Purpose with a Significance Story (by John C. Maxwell)

Most people want to live a success story, and that’s a good thing. Success can bring you money, accomplishment, power and invaluable experiences. But success still falls short. Success alone cannot bring lasting happiness or deep fulfillment. Success, by itself, does not inspire others to remember and share your story long after you are gone.

If you want success, and you want happiness, a legacy, and the certainty that you have made the world better for having lived, then what you want is more than a successful life; it is a life of significance.

What’s the secret to living a story of significance?

Living each day with intentionality.

When you live each day with intentionality, there’s almost no limit to what you can do. You can transform yourself, your family, your community, and your nation. When enough people do that, they can change the world.

When you intentionally use your everyday life to bring about positive change in the lives of others, you begin to live a life that matters.

Intentional living is about living your best story.

Your story still has many blank pages. Write them in with a life well lived.

4 Ways to Start Creating Your Significance Story

If you want to make a difference and have a significance story to tell by the end of your life, I believe I can help. But first, you need to be willing to take an important step forward. And that comes from a change in mindset, from a willingness to start living your story by approaching your life differently.

1.  Put Yourself in the Story

No one stumbles upon significance.

We have to be intentional about making our lives matter. That calls for action—not excuses. Most people don’t know this, but it’s easier to go from failure to success than from excuses to success.

In a famous study by Victor and Mildred Goertzel published in a book titled Cradles of Eminence, the home backgrounds of three hundred highly successful people were investigated. These three hundred people had made it to the top. They were men and women who would be recognized as brilliant in their fields. The list included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Clara Barton, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud. The intensive investigation into their early home lives yielded some surprising findings:

  • Three-fourths of them as children were troubled by poverty, a broken home, or difficult parents who were rejecting, over-possessive, or domineering.
  • Seventy-four of the eighty-five writers of fiction or drama and sixteen of the twenty poets came from homes where, as children, they saw tense psychological drama played out by their parents.
  • Over one-fourth of the sample suffered physical handicaps such as blindness, deafness, or crippled limbs.


Adversity tried to knock these people out of their stories, but they wouldn’t have any of it. Why? They were highly intentional. They had a strong why—a purpose—which drew them forward even if the road wasn’t wide and smooth.

2.  Put Significance in Your Story

A well-lived story of significance is built when we focus on adding value to others and making a difference in their lives. When we live for significance, we are telling people around us that it is important to us. Almost everyone wants to live a life of meaning and significance, whether or not they express the desire.

To put significance in our stories, we must do things out of our comfort zone. And we must make changes that we may find difficult. We often avoid trying to make those changes. But know this: though not everything that we face can be changed, nothing can be changed until we face it.

Your story won’t be perfect. Many things will change. But your heart will sing. It will sing the song of significance. It will sing, “I am making a difference!” And that will give you satisfaction down to the soul level.

Put Your Strengths in Your Story

Recently I had an enlightening lunch with Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. “Jim,” I asked, “What is required to bring about positive life-change to a community?” I knew he had done a lot of research on the subject of transformational movements, and I was very interested to hear his answer.

“There are three questions you need to ask,” Jim replied. “They are:

Can you be the best in the world at what you do?

Are you passionate about what you are doing?

Do you have the resources to change your world?”

Since our conversation that day, I have spent a lot of time thinking about those questions. Here is what I discovered. The first question is about talent. You have skills and abilities that can help others. Can you be the best in the world using them? Maybe, maybe not. Can you be the best you in the world using them? Absolutely! You are unique, and have a unique chance to make a difference only you can make—if you’re willing to get into your story.

The second question is about heart. Significance begins in the heart when we desire to make a difference. We see a need. We feel a hurt. We want to help. We act on it. Passion is the soul of significance. It’s the fuel. It’s the core.

The third question is about tools. No doubt you already have many resources at your disposal. My desire is that my book Intentional Living will be another one. It will show you the way so that you can become highly intentional and live a life that matters according to your heart and values.

4.  Stop Trying and Start Doing

There is enormous magic in the tiny word do. When we tell ourselves, “I’ll do it,” we unleash tremendous power. That act forges in us a chain of personal responsibility that ups our game: a desire to excel plus a sense of duty plus complete aliveness plus total dedication to getting done what has to be done. That equals commitment.

An attitude of doing also helps us to become who we were meant to be. It is this doing attitude that often leads to the things we were meant to do. While trying is filled with good intentions, doing is the result of intentional living.

As you read this article, you may be thinking, I’m not sure if I’m ready to make a commitment to creating such a significance story. It’s an understandable reservation. But what if it is the one thing holding you back from a remarkable life?

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, identifies this reluctance. He calls it resistance. He writes, “There is a force resisting the beautiful things in the world, and too many of us are giving in.”

Choosing to live each day with intentionality and purpose helps us break through that resisting force, and the world needs that.

It needs for us to live our stories and contribute to the greater story that’s happening around us.

What story will you create?

~ Adapted from John C. Maxwell’s new book Intentional Living

I am thrilled to be able to publish the above from my mentor, John C. Maxwell.  If you’d like to find out more about Intentional Living, click below to order the book and participate in a 30-Day Journey to Transformational Living.  

The Season of Seasons and Senses

Black and orange, ghosts and goblins, and brightly lit jack-o-lanterns… Candy corn, candied apples, candy, candy, and more candy everywhere you look.

Not only is it the season that wreaks havoc on our diets, Halloween is the start of the season of seasons! It is like the first chapter in a book of seasons that takes us from October to April (or from witches on brooms to little yellow, melt-in-your-mouth, marshmallow chickens).

I get so excited about Halloween… not because of anything it represents, but more so because of what it introduces. It introduces us to the seasons of senses… Beginning with Halloween, our senses are almost on overload with everything we see, smell, hear, touch, and (my personal favorite) taste!

Each season touches each of the senses in a different way. For Halloween we see black cats, yellow moons, and orange jack-o-lanterns, and we see beautiful costumes on adorable children.  We smell pumpkin spice and we hear the laughter of the young and tiny voices yelling “Trick or treat! Smell my feet!”  We touch the guts of a pumpkin and sticky little hands that have been tasting chewy, chocolate chunks.

For Thanksgiving we see a cornucopia of color in oranges, browns, and greens. We smell the traditional turkey baking.  We hear the laughter of our families enjoying the Macy’s parade and bowl games on TV.  We touch the warm bread fresh from the oven, and we taste it all.  We taste the turkey, we taste the bread, and we taste the sweet potatoes.  We taste the cookies, we taste the fudge, and we taste the pumpkin pie.  (I told you “taste” was my favorite sense!)

I must admit, Christmas is my favorite time of year. It’s appropriate for me that it falls almost in the middle of this season of seasons and senses.  It’s like the mountain peak of holidays!  As Christmas approaches we see lights, tinsel, beautiful ornaments on the tree.  We smell evergreen and spruce, holly berries, and cinnamon.  We hear church bells, jingle bells and beautiful holiday carols.  We feel the softness of winter gloves and the crispness of stiff foil wrapping paper, and we taste… oh, we taste so many wonderful things that it’s hard for one to imagine.  There’s a reason that Weight Watchers offers free enrollment on January 2nd.

Right on the heels of Christmas, only a week behind, is New Year ’s Day. Upon the arrival of the new year we see the ball drop in Time Square, we smell freshly popped firecrackers, and we hear voices asking “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?”  We touch our lips to the lips of others at stroke of midnight, and we eat black-eyed peas and cabbage to bring good fortune in the days ahead.

At Valentines we see hearts and cupids, we smell red roses, and we hear lots of love songs on the radio. We touch fuzzy stuffed animals, elegant jewelry, and other gifts from our loved ones, and we taste Russell Stover’s and Whitman’s chocolates.

At Mardi Gras we see purple, green and gold decorations and people masquerading in costumes of all types. We smell the beer on tap and the diesel fuel from truck floats.  We hear crowds of people roaring almost in unison “Throw me something mister!” We touch beads and trinkets and toys tossed from the floats, and we taste Randazzo’s king cakes with cream cheese filling.

At Easter we see bonnets and dresses in beautiful pastel colors. We smell lilies lining the altar at church.  We hear the sounds of children yelling “I’ve got one” as they pick up and touch construction-paper eggs that have been hidden in the gardens.  We taste solid chocolate rabbits and jelly beans of all flavors.

October to April… Halloween to Easter… It’s the season of seasons and senses. Throughout the season of seasons, we see striking smiles, we smell fragrant flowers and food, we hear lots of laughter filled with love, we touch hands and hearts, and we taste delicious dishes and decadent desserts.

Friends, this is only the beginning. Welcome to the season of seasons and senses!

With sincerest gratitude…

Our dear family members and friends (new and old), what a year this has been for the Guillot family!  As I was recovering from my October 2011 ankle surgery in early January, I remember saying to my physical therapist, “I can’t wait for life to get back to normal!”  I quickly learned that those days of swelling and pain were minor inconveniences compared to what was in store for us.  If you are reading this, I am sure you are aware of the circumstances that followed…  The fire that almost took P.J.’s life in January and the flooding of our family home by Hurricane Isaac in August.  Although we all often wish that we could turn back time and change the outcome of both those events, we can’t help but be thankful to God for His glory that has shone through in both tragedies. 

This letter is to thank you all for the love and support that you have shown us already and continue to pour on us each day.  During the first few weeks after P.J.’s accident, we were told to be prepared for the worst.  Your prayers and ours were heard and God woke him from his sleep and brought him back to us.  His days continue to include pain and suffering that most of us could never comprehend, but he is alive and fighting the battle courageously.  We thank you all for the prayers, calls, emails, Facebook posts, contributions to P.J.’s video, “Get Well” cards, and the hundreds of cards, letters, and gifts he received on his 20th birthday.  Your thoughtfulness has truly made a difference in our child’s life. 

After Isaac destroyed our home, we were reminded once again of the great support network that we have in all of you.  I do believe we have more clothes, sheets, and towels than we had before the storm!  Our rental home is filled with furniture and household items and appliances from countless sources.  I tell everyone that it has the value of Joseph’s coat of many colors.  As my mother always says, “We couldn’t have more or want less.” 

The friends and volunteers (from four different organizations so far) who have come to help with the emptying, cleaning, and gutting of our home, have shown us what selfless giving is all about.  We are inspired by their sacrifices and hope to “pay it forward” someday. 

Many of you have shared our story with your friends who have shared it with their friends and so on… (just like the hair commercial)!  We need your help now in sharing our thanks with these individuals, who in some cases remain anonymous to us.  We apologize that we were not able to send individual thank you cards to each one of you, but we ask your help in passing this message along to everyone.  Please feel free to email it, share it on Facebook, or photocopy and distribute it.  There is no way to adequately portray what we feel.

This is just a small attempt to let everyone know the enormous depth of our gratitude.  We are humbled, overwhelmed, and forever thankful for the generous gifts of all kinds that have been provided.  May God bless each of you twenty fold.  We love you.  We truly do.

Tina Guillot
(On behalf of A.J., Tina, P.J., Joshua, and Molly the Schnauzer)

Twenty Wishes: Wish #11

Crippled, handicapped, lame, mobility impaired… All of these labels, politically correct or not, describe me sufficiently over the past 4-1/2 weeks.  In fact, I might add:  stifled, restricted, imprisoned, exasperated, and frustrated beyond belief!  On October 5th, I had surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in my ankle.  Having had foot surgery in 1999 that turned out to be a piece of cake, I had great aspirations that this time would be just as easy.  NOT!  My recovery will be ten weeks plus and I’m not even halfway there.

The first few weeks were the worst since these were the days of the  “non-weight bearing” part of the process.  Think about that for just a few minutes.  Did you play hopscotch as a child?  Imagine 3 weeks of hopscotch where you’re allowed to sit and hold onto things, but not allowed to put your foot down on the ground the entire  time.  Blah!  Not to be overly graphic, but have you ever tried to go the bathroom with only one foot on the ground?  The hardest part is balancing long enough to unbutton, unzip, and pull your pants (and underwear) down!  And if you do hop around too much, the throbbing of the injured foot starts… like someone just took a hammer to your instep.  To add insult to injury, you get a bruised behind for sure when you try to sit (no PLOP is a better word) slowly and gingerly from a one-legged stance.

Two days before my surgery, I went to my pre-op appointment and part of that was meeting with a physical therapist to learn how to properly walk on crutches and a walker so that I could choose between the two which I thought would work best for me.  I chose crutches because I thought they would be easier to use in tight areas and would also give me the flexibility to go up and down steps if I needed to.  The therapist laughed at me when I commented as I demonstrated what I’d learned:  “I’m pretty good at this, huh?”  His response:  “Yeah, you’re pretty good at this when you’re not recovering from surgery, not in pain or heavily medicated, and not lugging the extra weight of a cast!”  Rude?  No… reality.   I’m so thankful for my good friend Nell Garrett who had a wheelchair and walker handy, because after two falls adding additional injuries to my already marred body, I couldn’t take it anymore.  And you know how they say “the bigger they are, the harder they fall?”  Something tells me this surgery would have been much easier if I’d lost 50 pounds before proceeding.  I’m sure my age doesn’t help, either.  I was twelve years younger for that first surgery in 1999.

So, after we got the new equipment from Nell, things got easier (at least for long distances).  If I was going to the doctor or to dinner or whatever, my husband, A.J., could help me get from the house to the car with the walker and then once we got where we were going, if (and only if) the place where we were going complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I could get wheeled around like the queen I’d like to think I am.

Interestingly enough, we found that most facilities do the bare minimum to squeak by the act’s standards.  For example, while visiting one office, we quickly learned that there were no handicapped parking spots, so we parked in a regular spot as close to the building as we could.  Once I was in the wheelchair, it took us a while to figure out where there was a wide enough opening between the cars that were parked facing the building so that we could get to the door.  Unfortunately, when we did find one, we realized it did not allow us access to the ramp (which was blocked by two cars parked very closely together).  So A.J. had to tilt the wheelchair back to get the front wheels up on the path and then lift from behind (at which time I’m sure he was wishing, too, that I’d have lost those 50 pounds prior to surgery).  Going in the building door… same problem.  There was a ledge.  It was only about an inch high, but it was enough that we couldn’t just wheel over it.  The elevator was another challenge.  Wheeling straight in didn’t allow room for the doors to close, but the opening was so narrow we couldn’t seem to turn on the right angle to fit sideways.  Lift and turn.  Poor A.J. working those biceps.

Since getting my hard cast removed and replaced with a fracture boot (which is removable at night and when I want to take a bath – hallelujah), I am a little more mobile, but I still have to limit the weight I put on my foot and use crutches to compensate.  Again, crutches allow for a little more freedom, but have you ever tried them?  Add to that… have you ever tried using crutches to walk while carrying a purse on your shoulder?  Or a purse on one shoulder and a laptop bag on the other?  I find myself relying on others for things I didn’t give a second thought to before.   For example, when I went back to work this week, I discovered that I could prepare my own coffee, but I couldn’t carry it back to my work area while on crutches, so I found myself asking  for help for the simplest things.

And I thank God for A.J., I really do.  He’s been amazing.  I have introduced him to everyone as my “personal assistant” for the past month.  If anyone gets it, A.J. does after observing firsthand the struggles I have had (and he has shared) for the past weeks.  But even he has difficulty sometimes understanding the depth of my frustrations.   For example, he forgets sometimes that I can’t just hop up and switch off the bedroom light that he left on when he came in to say goodnight.  It’s not intentional.  He is in the same situation as me… learning to live with a disability that wasn’t there originally.  I’m looking so forward to five weeks from now when (if all goes as planned) I can walk without a cast of any kind.  Tinkling will be so much easier!

But seriously!  How do people who are handicapped for life (sorry… can’t think of a better way to say that) deal with the limits imposed on them?  How many of them have a “personal assistant” to help them get through the day?  How does a person with a wheelchair open a door on their own?  Or get over that ledge at the entrance to a building?  Or turn their wheelchair in the elevator so that it fits right and the doors can close?

My 11th wish is for EVERYONE to be compassionate and accommodating to those who suffer from disabilities.  Having empathy is to share another person’s feelings.  I can tell you today that I truly have empathy for anyone who is stuck in a wheelchair, limping along for one reason or another, or is suffering from any type of physical impairment.  The challenges are great and human beings are not always kind.  You’d be surprised at how many people walked past us and kept going as A.J. tried to hold the door open and lift my wheelchair at the same time.  To the few who stopped to help, I pray a special blessing on them.  To my family, friends, and coworkers who have done everything they can to make my period of impairment more tolerable and manageable, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I encourage you all to help my wish come true.

If you would like to read about my other wishes, please select “20 Wishes” from the categories list at the right.  Happy reading!

Twenty Wishes: Wish #10

My 10th wish is to change the whole pattern of this “Twenty Wishes” series!  Crazy, right?  I am sick of wishing for things for myself.  I didn’t know it would be so challenging to come up with 20 stinking (I mean creative) wishes.  I also don’t like the way it sounds for me to say all the time what I want for myself.  I mean, although it’s been fun to fantasize about some of the things I would some day like to achieve, I like to think of myself as an UNSELFISH person who wants what is best for everyone, in general.

I am hereby granting myself the freedom to change the format of my “Twenty Wishes” series to something more outwardly focused.  My wishes will be for others… maybe some will be for specific people while others will be for the world in general.  This could get interesting.  Buckle your seat belts, folks.  No telling where this could take us!  LOL!

Wishes #11 through #20 will be about the needs of everyone else.  There, I’ve said it.  Wish #10 granted!  Woo hoo!  I feel better already!!

If you would like to read about my other wishes, please select “20 Wishes” from the categories list at the right.  Happy reading!

Twenty Wishes: Wish #9

My 9th wish is to be part of a flash mob!  I know the whole flash mob scene is getting kind of old, but let’s face it, books have been around for a long time and people haven’t stopped enjoying them!  The key is to be part of a “creative” flash mob that shows talents and also surprises the audience — not one that is advertised all over the country for weeks ahead of time and basically looks like someone’s choreographed a workout routine.

Any thoughts?  Please do let me know (you can email me at  I’d love to do a choral presentation kind of like the ones you see with the Hallelujah Chorus, or something similar.  Hmmm… Wouldn’t it be cool to do a Christmas flash mob?  I’m sure it’s been done, but it would be fun!  (Ha… I’m a poet!!)  I’m picturing tons of folks scurrying through the mall doing their Christmas shopping when suddenly an adorable kid with a great voice (probably one of my awesome nieces) starts singing “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!”  All of a sudden, four people come from four directions toward the child singing “Let earth receive her King!!”  Then 20 or so others join in “Let every heart, prepare Him room!”  It would be amazing!  And now is the perfect time to start planning such a splendiferous (no, it’s not a word, but it sounds good) event!!!  Email me if you’re in!  YES, I AM SERIOUS!!!

If you would like to read about my other wishes, please select “20 Wishes” from the categories list at the right.  Happy reading!

Chucky’s Legacy

Chucky Thurman was our young neighbor from across the street and one of the first people we met when we moved into our home in Braithwaite in 2007.  He had a friendly face with an extraordinarily bright and somewhat mischievous smile that often greeted us when we happened to cross paths.

Our son, P.J., had become instant friends with Chucky.  Although they didn’t spend a lot of time together at first, it seemed like whenever P.J. was bored, he could always count on Chucky to hang out for a spell and lift his spirits.  It wasn’t until several months ago that they became truly close friends.  In fact, P.J. had begun referring to Chucky as his “best” friend.  They hung out on our front porch, rode Chucky’s four-wheeler, watched movies together, and just enjoyed each other’s company while “chillin’.”  My last interaction with Chucky was when he and P.J. were trying to convince Josh, our eleven year old, that he should let P.J. take him for a ride on the four-wheeler.  I argued that there was no way I would allow it unless Josh had a helmet on.  Chucky promptly ran across the street and returned, producing a helmet.  We shared some laughs as we sat on the porch together and watched P.J. ride up and down showing Josh how “slow” he was going to go.  He and I both knew that as soon as Josh got on that contraption, P.J. was going to ride like the wind.  I was thankful when Josh finally thwarted the plan and ran inside, and I was so appreciative that Chucky graciously laughed and wasn’t upset at all that he’d wasted his time retrieving the helmet.  It was just a short segment in the life of Chucky Thurman, but I was thankful to be a part of it because it gave me a glimpse of who he truly was.

Early on the morning of June 4, 2011, a tragic accident brought an end to Chucky’s life.  P.J. was in the car with him at the time of the accident and was somehow spared, but his life will never be the same.  In fact, many, many lives changed that day.  Chucky’s parents, Chuck and Sandy, are now bearing the greatest cross ever bestowed on a parent – the loss of a child.  His sister, Destiny, is much too young to be dealing with the death of a sibling.  Many others, young and old, will ponder the question of “why” for years to come.  I have always believed that when any person (young or old) dies, it is because at the moment they are faced with a life and death situation, God believes that they are ready to come to Him.  Whether that is scripturally or theologically correct, I haven’t the foggiest idea, but I feel in my heart that God welcomed Chucky with open arms on the morning of June 4th.   God knew he was ready.

While our grief doesn’t begin to compare with that of the Thurman family, this has been a very difficult time for us as we’ve tried to help P.J. get through each day.  In spite of that, however, I will forever be thankful for the friendship that he and Chucky shared and the impact that Chucky made on P.J.’s life.  I was absolutely amazed at how many young people showed up for all of the services held.  It proved to me that what I had seen in Chucky, a goodness that was deep within him, was real.  His time on earth was a short span of seventeen years, but a measure of time has no bearing on the impact one life can have on another.  Chucky Thurman leaves behind a great legacy… one of compassion and camaraderie… one of friendship and fellowship… one of laughter and love.  He will be overwhelmingly missed.

Twenty Wishes: Wish #1

My first wish is to join Toastmasters InternationalThis is something I have wanted to do for years and years.  At some point, probably 20 years ago, I looked into membership, but for some reason I was under the misconception that it was a men’s organization and that women were not allowed to join.  Hogwash!  I am happy to report that I have already fulfilled this wish.  Okay… I was a bit antsy… you know, the way I have been every Christmas since I was two.  I couldn’t stand the waiting.  I should have written the wish down first and then gone for it, but I was too anxious.  I immediately looked for the website (isn’t the Internet awesome?) and located a meeting close to work!  There were lots to choose from, but I liked the idea of a weekly (rather than biweekly or monthly) meeting, so I chose to join the New Orleans Toastmasters group.  There’s no GRADUALLY getting involved with Toastmasters, so I am learning.  At my very first meeting (2 Mondays ago), I was picked to do a table topic (impromptu) speech (1 to 3 minutes) on the question “If you could go back and change things, what decision would you make differently?”  I didn’t learn until the meeting was almost over that you could “punt” to another member of the group.  Live and learn!  This past Monday, I was picked (after two other individuals punted) to respond to a question about reality TV shows.  I was told by several others after the meeting that they had no clue who the Kardashians were until I admitted (while blushing dramatically) that watching their reality TV show is one of my guilty pleasures.

At last week’s meeting, I also filled out the official paperwork to join the organization and wrote out a check.  Immediately, one of the officers said “Now that you’re a member, you can volunteer to give a speech at one of the meetings!”  And then she very casually turned to the person making out the next week’s agenda and said “Put Tina down for an icebreaker next week.”  I smiled and said “I’m so happy to volunteer!”  LOL!  I am, actually.  I am so excited and looking forward to Monday night.  I am sure I will not be perfect at all, but the whole point is to learn and that’s exactly what I am hoping to do.  I’ll give an update on my first speech next week.

In the meantime, be watching for more of my wish list to come!  I’ve set up a category list on the right side of the screen.  If you click the “20 Wishes” category, you can filter out only entries that have to do with my wish list.  I look forward to sharing more with all of you!  Have a great weekend, dahlins!

UPDATE, May 3, 2011:  WOW!!!  I couldn’t have asked for a better response to my speech last night!  Everyone was so gracious and I ended up winning a ribbon for “Best Speaker.”  I was so surprised because the competition was really tough.  I went up against an award winning speaker who I so admire.  She is amazing and just last week won first place at an important competition.  I am so honored.  I was most concerned about my nerves.  I can sing in front of a gazillion people and I am not that nervous, but to speak in front of so many who are themselves great speakers… now that was a challenge!  But I obviously hid it well.  🙂  At the next meeting, I will serve as the Table Topics Master, which means that I’ll be the one presenting the topics for the impromptu speeches.  I can’t wait!  I think I have found my creative passion!!  I’ll be sure to keep you posted on my progress.  In the meantime, thanks for all the encouragement dahlins!

Thanks, American Idol!

In this stressful time of war, continued Hurricane Katrina recovery, and a declining economy, we here in New Orleans have taken comfort in a number of things.  First and foremost, of course, is our religion; second in line are our family and friends, third is our awesome football team (Who Dat?!?!) and if not in fourth place, somewhere very close to the top is the American Idol television show.  We have become so enthralled with the excitement and wonder of it all that even our closest friends don’t dare call us when the show is on the tube!  Although the faces have changed to some extent and the contestants are new each year, we have grown to know and love them all so much that it’s amazing our children don’t now refer to them as Uncle Ryan, Uncle Randy, Aunt Jennifer, and Uncle Steven.

Every year it’s the same.  We spend each week waiting for air time, watching, and then mourning the loss of yet another of the kids we’d be happy to adopt.  For many of us, we love all of the contestants, and we don’t even vote because voting for all of them would be pointless.  We talk about and think of them regularly and we are so proud of them that we wish they could all win.  And when the last show of the season airs, we cry.

Over the past 10 years this show and its stars have been welcomed into our hearts and our homes.  Simon was always the aggravating brother or coworker we’ve all known.  You know the type – the one all the girls flirt with at the water cooler – the one all the guys envy because he’s not afraid to say how he feels – the one who, when we least expect it, actually makes us smile.  Paula was (and now this year J-Lo is) the sister or girlfriend we envy – the one who cares so much that she tells us what we need to hear, but in such a loving way that it actually makes us feel good.  She’s the one who is so beautiful inside and out that every little girl wants to be just like her some day.  Steven, another of this year’s new additions to the team is like the eccentric uncle with the vulgar mouth who you want to (and know you should be) mad at, but he’s too funny to chastise, and you know that deep down he’s really cool.  And Randy is that next-door neighbor who tells it to you straight.  He’s always there when you need him, but “Dawg… you know I love you, but man, don’t park on my grass.”  Ryan is Ryan.  He’s cute and funny and “metrosexual” (whatever that means) and he keeps it all together making the short time we have with them all that much more enjoyable.

American Idol… hmmm… idol is not exactly the word we would use to describe someone who has a great singing voice.  After all, it is “in God we trust,” not Kelly Clarkson.  Nonetheless, the show has swept us off our feet and brought to our lives a new sense of hope.  The opportunity we’ve had to watch the contestants, our dear, new friends, live out their dreams is just the motivation we need to reach for the top and accomplish great things on our own.  So move over Kelly, Rueben, Fantasia, Carrie, Taylor, Jordin, David, Kris, and Lee!  There’s always room for one more star in the sky!

Introducing Ms. Perfect…

Hello dahlins!  Tonight’s post is actually something I wrote many years ago when I was doing some consulting work out of town.  I was bored at night at the hotel and had emailed it to my husband.  We discovered it a few days ago when we were searching for something else.  We laughed so much at how silly the whole thing was that I thought you might get a kick out of it as well.  It is meant strictly for entertainment value, and I assure you, is not as malicious as it sounds.  Happy reading!

She’s the perky, super-mom type.  She has a great figure, an extensive wardrobe, and she’s probably never had a bad hair day in her life.  All of her children are perfect.  They get good grades, say “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and all of their clothes fit perfectly.  Her husband is God’s greatest gift to women.  He’s tall and handsome, has a six-figure income and he helps with the housework.  Sound familiar?  She’s “Ms. Perfect.”  If you don’t know where to find her, try checking the cubicle next to mine.  I promise you that’s where she sits every weekday of her life and it’s everything I can do to get through the day without wishing she’d trip on her high heels and break that pretty little neck of hers!

I’m sorry.  I really don’t mean to be like that.  It’s just that all that perfection gets old after a while.  Her phone rings and it’s one of the kids.  They’re calling to say they love her no doubt or to let her know that they’ll be happy to run to the market for her if she’d like.  Later her husband calls to say don’t even worry about dinner because he got a promotion and he’s taking the whole family out to celebrate!  Isn’t that wonderful?  I think I just threw up a little…

I can’t help but overhear her always pleasant conversations with her family members and friends.  She talks loudly because she WANTS me to hear.  Her voice drips with more sugar than a Krispy Kreme donut, but to me it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard… long fingernails on a very dry chalkboard.

So, why I am bothered by this perfect specimen of a working woman?  Because she doesn’t like me and in my world, EVERYONE has to like me!  In fact, they not only have to like me, they have to LOVE me!!  And in the rare event that they don’t love me or even like me, it makes me crazy to have to listen to them being nice to everyone else all day long.

If you’re wondering WHY she doesn’t like me, all I can tell you is that it’s one of those work things.  You know what I’m talking about.  The kind you can’t quite put your finger on.  You’ve done everything in your power to accommodate this person, help when they need it, offer them coffee when you’ve just made a fresh pot, etc., etc., and they just decide they’re not going to like you.  Most people tell me she’s jealous.  Jealous of what?  She’s Ms. Perfect.  I come in a sloppy second to her.

I’m beginning to understand it, I think.  It must be very hard work being her.  I think back to a time when I was almost as perfect as her (well, not really, but let’s just say that things were going pretty well for me).  If I remember correctly, those were the most miserable eight minutes of my life!  ; )   So much pressure!  So much stress!  It’s no wonder she’s jealous of me!  I am happy, and she is PERFECTLY miserable.  Awe… somebody find me one of those tiny violins so I can play a song for her.  Sniff sniff…

The secret to happiness…

If I told you I had discovered the secret to happiness, would you believe me?  Would you send me $18.95 plus shipping and handling to read my book and discover the truth?  It amazes me how many people are searching for the key to happiness and it is so abundantly available and at a really reduced rate!!  It’s FREE!

I’m sure many of you have heard the acronyms that are supposed to remind us of our dependence upon God.  You know the ones I am talking about:  FROG (Fully Rely On God), WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), and PUSH (Pray Until Something Happens).  I made up one of my own:  SWAP (Stop Whining And Pray)!  It is based on the ever popular scripture Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 

A very wise person (I don’t remember who, but I’m guessing it was my mom since she’s pretty much the wisest person I know) once told me:  If you know something is wrong, fix it.  If you can’t fix it, then forget about it!   And the best way to forget about something that is bothering you, is to turn it over to God.  Let Him take care of it for you.  He can carry the burden.  He can carry you when you are too weak to stand.  And he can make you happy when you’re at your lowest point.  SWAP!!

My husband and I have a home church group that meets at our house every Saturday.  Our group is made up of a variety of people, each of us with our own share of worries and problems, each of us with our own gifts and talents.  I believe it is truly a “God” thing that we are together.  Yesterday, our gospel lesson was from Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes.  Having come to know each other so well by this point, we were able to laugh together when we realized that if the “poor in spirit” are blessed, we are filthy rich with blessings!

All too often, people dwell in misery.  I can remember getting dumped (more than once) by my boyfriend when I was a teenager, and I would dwell in the misery of it.  I would look at his picture while listening to “our song” and I’d cry like anything.  Everyone in my family tried to comfort me to no avail.  They just didn’t know what I needed.  Looking back on it now, I know that what I truly needed was for someone to whack me upside my head with a bible and say “SWAP!”

So here’s the deal… If you want to know the true secret of happiness, just send me $18.95 plus shipping and handling… NOT!  Just SWAP!  Stop whining (or worrying, as the case may be) and pray.  Surrender yourself to Christ.  He is your Creator, your Lord, your Daddy.  Turn your problems over to Him and let them go.  While they may not disappear overnight, you will begin to look at them in an entirely different light.  Your outlook will change.  Wake up tomorrow and decide that you WILL be happy.  If that doesn’t work for you, give me a call and I’ll come over and whack you upside your head with a bible.  (Just kidding!)

Can you hear me now?

After many years of keeping my mouth shut when I didn’t agree with something someone said or did, several years ago I made a new year’s resolution that I would speak up when I felt I needed to do so, and I am proud to say that I have kept that resolution to the best of my ability.

Whenever I am asked to speak at a church service, meeting, funeral, or other event, I always plan ahead and take certain measures to ensure that my words are well received.  I think about the audience and what I know about them as a group.  I try to craft my speech so that it is interesting, valuable, and entertaining to them.   I consider their education and/or experience and shoot for a level of understanding that is comfortable to all of them.  I practice my speech in front of a mirror, and most importantly,  I pray about it.

Whenever I am faced with a difficult conversation, I try to follow these same rules.  I consider my audience and the value they will get from my message.  If absolutely no good can come from my comments, I try to keep them to myself, no matter how difficult that may be… and trust me, at times it has been nearly impossible.

After many years of keeping my mouth shut when I didn’t agree with something someone said or did, several years ago I made a new year’s resolution that I would speak up when I felt I needed to do so, and I am proud to say that I have kept that resolution to the best of my ability.  Unfortunately, knowing when to say something and when to not, is a delicate science.  There are the obvious answers, like a husband shouldn’t tell his wife when her dress makes her butt look big, but girlfriends should tell girlfriends when their husbands are cheating (no matter what the consequences).  But then there’s the not so obvious… like should or shouldn’t I tell my neighbor that I saw her teenage daughter buying an early pregnancy test at Walgreens?

Sometimes, however, there’s no time to prepare or think or decide what is best.  I find myself in a position where my gut instinct tells me I have to speak up without notice, to defend a friend, clarify a misunderstanding, stop an injustice, whatever the case.  And sometimes, even when there is time to prepare, all the planning in the world does not make my sermon in church or my talk with a close friend (or my blog entry for that matter) successful, especially if it’s a message the receiver doesn’t want to hear.  Sometimes, nerves on my part interfere, and on the flip side of that, sometimes emotion and resistance on the part of the listener get in the way.

In the meantime, I’m finding out that it takes almost as much effort and practice to be a good listener as it does to be the speaker.  I have to consider the person who is talking and what I know about him or her.   Is he or she a good person?  Do they appear to be well intentioned?  Is it even remotely possible that what they are sharing is true?

Twice recently I have been hurt by the responses I’ve received when I spoke up about things I believed needed to be addressed.  Once I spoke to a group, the other time to an individual.  The hardest thing to stomach in both cases was that my audiences were people who knew me well, and I would have thought (at least I have always hoped) that people who know me well, know what kind of person I am and that I do have the best intentions.  In the case of the group, it was difficult that people who had expressed privately the same opinions I shared publicly did not support me when I spoke them aloud.  In the case of the individual, it was disheartening that this person overlooked my sincerity, and shut me out without a moment’s hesitation.

Have no fear!  These two experiences will not stop me from speaking up in the future.  I will continue to stand up for what I believe in, defend the people who need defending, and right the wrongs I can right if at all possible.  I can only hope that no matter how the message is received in that instant, the listener will eventually find some value or lesson in what I am sharing.

Pseudo Parent Syndrome

I have a confession to make.  I am extremely sensitive about my parenting skills.  I attribute this to the fact that I tried for so many years to get pregnant that I promised myself and God that if He would just give me a baby, I’d be the best darned parent in the Crescent City.  My little plan would have been a cinch to carry out if I had adopted a goldfish, but God wanted to test my abilities and blessed me with not one, but two, real live human beings; and if that wasn’t challenging enough, He gave me BOYS!  “Boys?”  I wondered, “What’s up with that, God?”  I was certain I had specified girls in my request.  The only thing I could figure was the database must have been malfunctioning on the day I sent my prayers up.

Back then, I believed myself to be an authority on childrearing.  After all, I’d watched “Leave it to Beaver,” “My Three Sons,” “The Brady Bunch,” and all those other shows with perfectly functional families and I always knew the solution to every problem faced on every episode.  I was an expert!

So here I am, 18 years after the birth of our oldest son, wondering whatever possessed me to think that parenting would be so easy.  I realize now that I was suffering from Pseudo Parent Syndrome (PPS).  PPS is a condition that afflicts people of all ages, races, and sexes, and oddly enough occurs primarily in folks who have never raised children and have no educational background in childrearing, yet its effects cause these individuals to believe themselves to be authorities on everything there is to know about the subject matter.

Many, many people in the United States suffer from PPS.  You know them.  They are the ones who provide you with cold, hard stares in the grocery line while your 2-year old throws a tantrum over a pack of M&Ms.  They are the ones who shake their heads disapprovingly when you let your 5-year old have soda at a restaurant.  They are the ones who are ready to call 9-1-1 or the local Family Services Agency when you spank your child in public.   And they are the ones who act like it’s easy to dissuade a 14-year old from having sex or doing drugs – after all, it’s as easy as “just saying ‘no.’”

Parents who are forced to deal with these well meaning people who suffer from PPS should take heart in knowing that at least 50% of these folks will someday have children of their own and will be instantly cured of this dreaded affliction.  Just like me, they will see a young mother struggling with her 2-year old in the grocery line, and instead of thinking “Why doesn’t she control that brat?” they will say a silent prayer that God will give this woman strength and peace, and bless this energetic little child.  Just like me, they will empathize with the parent of the 14-year old boy who is facing issues with sex and drugs and they will offer prayers and simple advice (but only when it is solicited) on what agencies provide the most helpful information on these types of struggles.  And just like me, they’ll thank God that they didn’t elect to write a book about childrearing without first having experienced it.  Live and learn – that is the best piece of advice my parents shared.

May I take your order, please?

I’ve never worked in a fast food establishment before, unless you count my coffee shop that stayed open for about 13 months in 2001/2002; but after 40+ years of frequenting them, I am convinced that I could offer some valuable customer service training for the employees of these venues!  My husband went through the drive-thru at our local Wendy’s last night (there’s only one Wendy’s for miles, so YES, it’s “THE” local Wendy’s).  Anyway, I had been so pleased as of late with the service we’d been getting until yesterday.  When the Wendy’s first opened, they rarely got our order right, and when you’d question or complain, the workers would become indignant.  After the 5th or 6th straight time of going through this same routine, I was livid.  I pulled up, got out of my car, and went inside, asking for the manager.  I always begin any such complaint with something positive, but in this case, I couldn’t think of a thing, other than to say “I really like Wendy’s food, and I am a very loyal customer, but…”  After that complaint, I was pleasantly surprised that service seemed to improve, until yesterday that is.  A.J. ordered and when the girl quoted him a price that was clearly not correct, he said “Wait, I said I wanted a chicken value meal,” to which she replied, “That ain’t what you said!”  Rude!  I mean, whatever happened to “The customer’s always right!”  Give me a break!  I love Wendy’s food… I really do!  But lately, I have not had good experiences with the atmosphere or service at many of the chain’s establishments.  There’s a Wendy’s on St. Charles Avenue where my husband and I used to have lunch regularly, but the foul language that was used by some of the employees as they bantered back and forth behind the counter was beginning to spill over into the dining room.  That same Wendy’s never has an average room temperature of more than 30° Fahrenheit.  We asked one time if they could turn up the A/C and were rudely told “No!”  At one of the Metairie Wendy’s, our problem is that, without fail, as soon as they ask “Can I take your order?” they turn their backs and start getting other orders together or talking to the other folks behind the counter.  Then they turn around and say “What was that again?”  UGH!

I don’t mean to pick on Wendy’s.  I can tell you all the problems I have had with the 10,000 or so other restaraunts we’ve visited (okay, I’m exaggerating.. we really don’t eat out as often as it sounds).  Wendy’s just happens to be on the brain because of yesterday’s occurrence.  I think the problem with customer service these days is that the folks working the counter are there because they have no other options… NOT because they are particularly talented in that area!  But the way I see it is, you get hired to do a job and whether you like it or not, you should do that job, to the best of your ability.

On the flip side, our company Christmas Party was held at Zea’s on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.  It was AWESOME!  We had a private room, a buffet of food that was to die for, and our own personal server (David).  Special thanks to David, Mina (the party planner at Zea’s), and the rest of the crew there for making the night a great one for us.  It was super enjoyable.  We have frequented Zea’s since I started working in the area back in 2006.  We had lunch there at least one or two times per week.  The reason we kept going back was the amazing service.  Our regular waiter, Michael Short, was the best.  We’ve never had better service from anyone else.

I challenge you to DEMAND good service!  Comment to the management (in a calm and constructive way) when you’ve had bad service, but also let them know when you’ve had good service.  Most of the restaurants have call-in numbers on the backs of their receipts… they WANT your feedback.  Give it to them!

I’m Thankful

Many years ago, my family and I attended a concert at our church.  The singer was Paul Hill, an old friend of my pastor’s who was visiting from California.  Paul was responsible for collaborating on many wellknown songs, but I think his greatest gift was for entertaining children.  He knew exactly what to do to make them smile and laugh and take joy in the Lord.

Of Paul’s most memorable songs was one that he composed with the help of some of the students where he was teaching.  He had all of the kids list what they were thankful for and then he put all those things together in the song.  One of our favorite lines from the song was “For nice clean clothes and boogers in your nose, I’m thankful, I’m thankful.”  The kids at our church laughed hysterically when Paul got to that line.  Over the years, he updated the song to include current things to be thankful for, like “For the Easter Bunny, Santa, and Hannah Montana, I’m thankful, I’m thankful.”

Paul passed away in 2009 and will be greatly missed.  I can only imagine that he’s up in heaven entertaining the angels.  As for us, his music will remain in our hearts forever.  We can learn a lesson from Paul and the children who helped him write that “I’m Thankful” song, and that is that we should give thanks for everything.  We so take for granted everything that God gives us.

Verses 4 and 5 of 1 Timothy, chapter 4 are:  “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”

So what will you be thankful for tomorrow?  How about everything?  Yes, even the boogers in your nose.

Sunday Sunday

Today is Sunday.  For years, Sunday has been my favorite day of the week.  When I was a little girl, Sunday was the one day of the week we ate fast food!  I looked forward to my Burger King french fries so much that sometimes it was difficult to pay attention in Sunday School.  Sad, right?  Although food was a great source of enjoyment to me at the age of 10, and still is today at the age of… (well, you can read the other pages of my blog and do the math), those french fries were not my only pleasure on Sunday.

When I was real small, my mom’s side of the family always gathered at my grandmother’s house on Sunday afternoon.  I loved seeing and playing with my cousins.  We had enough in common that our time together was usually lots of fun.

The other highlight of my day was always church.  I loved church.  I loved listening to the choir, I loved singing along on the hymns, and I loved the feeling that I had when I walked out of the doors of Mt. Calvary Lutheran every Sunday.   I was spiritually restored and didn’t even understand that at the time.

Today, Sunday is still one of my favorite days of the week.  Some of the joy has spilled over onto Saturday (an additional favorite) now that we worship a day earlier than we used to, but on Sunday, I get to see my family.  Every week, we gather at my mom’s and go out to lunch together.  It’s wonderful to see my Mom and my brothers and my sister and her family.  Sometimes my nephew joins us with his family and we have a houseful of children and fun.

I hope that as time passes our Sunday traditions never change.  I look forward to spending special time with the Lord and time with my family every weekend for many years to come.