Be My Neighbor

Growing up in a small, rural community of just over 800 people meant that everyone knew everyone else. In this small environment, I witnessed what it meant to be a neighbor to someone. My parents were friends with those people who lived around us. They would spend nights playing cards at each other’s homes. There would be times when they would get together for coffee and conversation. Whenever there was a need, either for a missing baking item or because of something having gone wrong, my parents and those who lived around us were the first to respond and supply whatever was needed. Together they parented each other’s children and had no issues tattling on us kids when they felt warranted. My image of what it means to be a neighbor is one of being similar to an extended family.

Having grown up and moved away from the community of my youth, I began to live in larger and larger cities. Some of these locations still had an understanding of being a neighbor similar to my own, but others had a much different concept. The city in which I now reside is a part of a metropolis of over seven million people. I would have to say that being a neighbor in this city is very different from the understanding which I have had most of my life. Being a neighbor to most whom I have encountered means having adjoining property lines or being across the street and that is the extent of the definition. While this is not completely shocking, I am not convinced that this is how it has to be. In fact, I would go so far as saying that I do not think it needs to be this way.

I have decided that I want to show those who live around us, a much different possibility of being a neighbor. Realizing that I am new to the neighborhood in which I now live, I know that I need to take small steps. The key to making this change is small steps which create trust. The first step which I have deliberately made is to be visible. We are fortunate to have with our house not only an awesome patio in our fenced off backyard, but a terrific front porch. My husband gave me wooden Adirondack chairs for a Christmas gift. Per my request, he painted them white. After taking down the outdoor Christmas decorations from our front porch, we moved the new chairs to the front porch. We added a half, wooden barrel (which he also painted white) in between the chairs to provide a stand for our drinks or other items. With this set up, it is possible for me to spend sunny mornings or afternoons sitting on the front porch, reading, and sipping a drink. By doing this, I am visible to my neighbors and gives me an opportunity to at least say hello whenever I see them out.

Another small step which I have taken is to be deliberate about introducing myself to neighbors whom I have not met yet. I share a little bit about myself and my husband, then I ask about their families if they do not offer information on their own. I work hard at remembering their names and a little bit about them so when I see them outside I can call them by name and even ask a question regarding something which they have already told me.

My hope is that by taking these small steps, I can build trust. By building trust, it will be much easier to interact more frequently and to do more in looking out for one another. The days of going over to one another’s house to play cards in the evenings may be gone. However, I think we all could use a little more feeling of being a neighbor in a world which can be so impersonal.

Like Mr Rogers would sing….. “Won’t you be…my neighbor?”

Made That Way

Alright, this may appear to be more of a rant rather than any useful information. My rant today is in regard to denim jeans. Growing up, I was always very conscientious regarding my jeans. My parents did not have a lot of money so jeans were usually purchased once a year, at the start of school. Three pairs of jeans was usually the quota for the year, and they had to last me until summer. In summer, these jeans would be cut off and I would have shorts to wear for the summer. Mom always got the same brand of jeans from Sears, and they were the darkest blue when purchased but a very faded blue by the time of transition into shorts. I took very good care of my jeans because replacements were not an option unless I had grown out of the current size. So I am partial to dark blue jeans even today.

However, I have discovered over the last thirty years that dark blue jeans are not the only style available and for many individuals younger than me, they are seldom worn. Instead, today’s jeans are faded at various levels. I walk into a store, and they are actually sold in that condition. I am amazed that people wish to buy jeans that appear to have already faded. I painstakingly try my best to slow the fading of my jeans as much as I possibly can. I have purchased some of these “already faded” jeans but I feel like I am throwing away my money every time I do so. I purchase them more out of style pressure and try to appear cooler than I am. (Truth is that I have never been considered cool, so I am not sure why I am still trying when I am in my 50’s.)

I could probably grudgingly manage through a world where faded jeans were in style instead of my trusted dark blue jeans, but adding insult to injury, they have now also decided that jeans should have rips and tears in various locations throughout them. I have seen some where the whole knee was exposed and it appeared that they were ready to be transitioned into denim shorts rather than be worn as jeans. Whenever I would have rips and tears in my jeans, Mom would apply one of those denim patches. I was always embarrassed by those patches because it seemed to advertise that I had not taken good care of my jeans. Today, the rips and tears are not patched but instead worn that way as badges of high style. Stores actually sell jeans with rips and tears. I have never purchased this style of denim jeans because I would truly feel like I was throwing my money away buying a substandard product.

Am I the only one who cannot understand these styles of jeans? Surely there are others out there who ask the same question over and over, “Are they really made that way?” Or maybe the other question, “Did he/she actually spend their money on something like that?”

My final observation that I will share with you during this rant is cost. As I look at the cost of jeans, which seems to be phenomenally high, I notice that the plain dark denim jeans cost less than those torn and faded in most cases. So my confusion climbs regarding the financial choices some might make. Why would you pay more for a worn out pair of jeans than you do for what appears to be a brand-new pair of jeans? I am totally confused. Help me understand this if you can.

Fighting For Change

One of my favorite musicals is Hairspray. I came upon this musical rather late. I never seemed to have much interest in seeing the musical until a couple of years ago when I saw it in movie form with John Travolta playing the role which originally was played by Harvey Fierstein, Edna Turnblad. Once I saw this, I fell in love with it. I believe the message is what really resonated with me even though the acting and singing is phenomenal.

If you have not seen the musical or may be a late comer to it like myself, the musical is set in 1962 among the start of the civil rights movement in our nation. With a setting of Baltimore, Maryland, we are taken to the place where a white overweight female with a love to dance fights for her opportunity to share her passion while at the same time the black community is fighting for an opportunity to live without segregation and discrimination. This battle plays out on a local television stage which is the home to the Corney Collins Show, an after-school music and dance show targeting the teenage population in Baltimore.

This musical is about fighting for change. A change in how people are perceived whether due to the color of their skin or the size of their body. The message is clear that a person’s physical appearance should never define their abilities or their right to live out their life based on the passions, skills, and dreams which they carry.

It takes a lot of courage to fight for change. There are sacrifices which often must be made. Risks must be taken. Yet without any of this, change will not occur. The system likes status quo. Almost every person likes status quo when they are in a comfortable place. Only through the committed efforts of individuals can change really happen. History is filled with stories which support this.

We currently are living in a time when our nation is divided. Loud extremes are the ones being heard. Those who are in the middle sit by and watch these extremes fight at levels beyond normal rationale. Each side lies and misrepresents the other side. Civil dialogue is drowned out by shouts of hatred. Many wish for a change which will tone down the rhetoric and encourage compromise. Yet, this is not going to happen unless individuals have the courage to fight for change.

What change do you want to happen? Are you willing to fight for that change? How are you going to fight for change?

Legitimacy

What would it be like if every person in the world was honest? If everyone only spoke the truth? If you could trust that what a person says is actually accurate? This is an ideal which I am confident will not become a reality any time soon. Unfortunately, there are always going to be lies told. Some of those lies are more serious in nature than others. Some lies may be legitimized out of a concern for another person or the liar’s well-being. The challenge that all of us face is determining who is lying and who is telling the truth in situations. We have a judicial system which is intended to help sort this out on more serious matters. However, as much effort as individuals or a society may make in finding the truth, there are times when the truth is elusive.

Recent events have brought this to the forefront of my thoughts lately. Accusations and denials seem to be rampant as you watch the evening news or read the daily edition of the newspaper. Everybody is innocent and everybody is guilty at the same time. What really concerns me is the impact which it has on true victims of crime and abuse. I am concerned that society is or will become jaded. When someone who has experienced a hateful and harmful act against them steps forward, will the person be believed?

In the childhood story, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, attributed to Aesop, the boy sought to get reaction and attention. Each time the boy yelled out that a wolf was coming to attack the sheep, the village would respond by rushing out to protect the sheep and the boy. Time and again, the villagers would arrive only to find out there was no wolf. Then one day there actually was a wolf but when the boy yelled for help no one came because they thought he was not telling the truth. My fear is that this may be playing out in our society today. The legitimate victims are not being listened to because so many claims which have little to no merit are flooding our ears and our corporate thoughts. People are becoming deaf to the legitimate cries for help.

Another fear which I have is that there is an automatic rush to judgment. An accusation is gaining the full weight of a verified truth before any amount of true investigation is being conducted. In history, this happens when a group of individuals have been ignored too long. Like a swinging pendulum, when the group is finally listened to, the response goes to the opposite extreme. Unfortunately, in the midst of this remains true victims and true innocent individuals. Our judicial system in the United States is based on an understanding that a person is innocent until proven guilty. This requires faithful investigation and faithful determination of the facts.

The truth is that there are victims of crimes and abuse who legitimately need to be heard. There are also dishonest people. We do not have a perfect system which can always determine who is telling the truth and who is misrepresenting the situations. We have the best system available to us. Instead of using public forums or social media to determine guilt and innocence, we need to use the legal system which we have in place. A system that investigates before making public accusations. A system which strives to balance the well-being of the victim and the accused. This system establishes legitimacy.

My hope is that we can work on continuing to perfect this system before the legitimate gets lost in the illegitimate, or even worse, the ones seeking the spotlight.

At Any Cost

What is success?

Webster defines success in this way…

1a: degree or measure of succeeding

b: favorable or desired outcome

also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence

How success looks is truly in the eyes of the one striving to achieve it. What may appear as a success to one person does not necessarily equate with another individual’s understanding. So how do you define success? What does success look like to you in your life?

No matter what definition a person has of success, it requires effort. Success does not just happen in a person’s life. At least, I do not know of any case where this has occurred. A challenge which I see in regard to achieving success is that in addition to effort, it can also require some sacrifice. An example would be of an athlete who is striving to be successful in her or his sport. In order to achieve this goal, the athlete may need to forego social activities during the season, or give up some foods in their diet.

I am led to another question.

How much sacrifice is appropriate in the journey to success?

I have noticed that there appears to be individuals who wish to achieve success no matter what the cost may be in the process. The athlete who will destroy his or her body. The businessperson who will destroy relationships. I am sure that you can think of similar situations. Often, these costs create an impact which will never be overcome even if a level of success is achieved.

I think that it is important for us to teach the generations who follow us that while success is a noble goal to work for, the sacrifices which a person makes to achieve the goal must be measured in a lifelong view. The best way for us to teach this lesson is by modeling the behavior. From there we can have honest discussions with younger individuals regarding choices and outcomes.  

Stuck

Life is a very interesting experience to say the least. We make plans, we establish relationships, and we pursue careers. Each one of us at some time constructs in our minds a future which we desire. Initially we base our future on ideals and dreams. We watch others in the world around us and determine the pieces which we desire for ourselves. Then it comes to the point where we launch ourselves toward the life we have determined is the best for us. Time is spent taking steps to shape and mold that future. Everything is in motion but suddenly life happens, a piece of our ideal future falls apart or something outside of our control happens unexpectedly. Our path is altered.

The challenge which is then set before us is how are we going to respond to this unforeseen reality? Most often, a person adjusts and redetermines the desired future. Depending on what life has brought to the individual, there may be a major shift in the path or there may only need to be small adjustments. The most important point is to continue to move toward a re-imagined future.

Unfortunately, some people are unable to make adjustments. They choose to hold on to what was their plan. With great determination, they remain where they are in life and do not continue to go forward. This type of reaction produces an individual who is stuck in the past. The world around them steps each day into the future while they remain steadfast. When the person realizes that they are being left behind, there is often resentment and anger. This can lead to them lashing out at others. They have a sense that they have lost control. There is a strong possibility of becoming fearful.

I imagine an old film which is on continuous loop. The person strives to hold on to people and situations which were a part of their envisioned future. They refuse to move on with life. The scenes play over and over in their minds but each loop becomes less and less. Over time, like old film, the edges begin to fray and the film begins to melt. Life becomes something to hate instead of something in which to find joy.

Life moves forward, whether we give it permission to or not. Our future becomes reality either with our participation or our absence. Being unable to move forward equates to a slow and unpleasant deterioration of life.

If you know someone who is unable to adjust to life’s altercations, be that nudge who gets them unstuck. If you are someone who is struggling to move past an unexpected change in your life plan, find a friend who can assist you in becoming unstuck.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

In 1967, the late Aretha Franklin released a song which would become synonymous with her name, Respect. Since that time, the song has been used to communicate a message of respecting another person. When I listen to her sing that song, I cannot help but feel her own feelings in the lyrics which she was singing. For her, she was asking to be respected for being an extremely talented black female artist in a time when being black and being female seldom received any of the respect that either social group deserved. This is the song which came to my mind the other day while I was sitting in the coffee shop.

I had gone to my regular coffee shop to enjoy a latte while I did some reading and some planning for my writing. One of the frequent events which occur during my trips to the coffee shop is my observation of the surrounding people. This happens either as I am brainstorming ideas which leads me to look around myself or if there is a sound which draws my attention. On this particular day as I was observing, I became aware public respectfulness appears to have lessened.

What I mean by public respectfulness is the manner in which a person conducts him or herself around others. With the introduction of the mobile phone, more people carry on conversations in public areas than used to be the case. This convenience has not been accompanied by an agreed upon set of behavior standards. I have no problem with people talking on their phones in public areas, in fact, I am guilty of doing so. What I have a problem with is when those conversations become loud enough to interfere with the normal actions of others. Or when those conversations lead to holding up lines because the person is distracted with the phone in their hand and is unable to take care of what is required of them at the time.

Another disrespect which I often witness is in regard to attending events. I remember my parents always making sure that if we were attending a concert, a play, or some other culture event which required sitting for a period, I was instructed to use the restroom before we entered. The reason for my parent’s instructions was in case I needed to use the restroom in the middle of the event which would cause me to get up from my seat, walk in front of others, and interrupt their enjoyment of the event. Most events which were lengthy would place an intermission in the middle so that a person could take care of this and other needs without being a distraction. These days not only do children get up and exit at any point during an event but adults do it and the adults are usually much louder and more disruptive in the process.

The lack of public respect surfaces also in regard to parents providing oversight for their children. Having been a father of two boys, I understand that there are times when a child acts out in public. This is normal. However, my parents provided an example which I followed with my children, if acting out was the plan, then I was escorted out of the public area where a conversation would occur. Unfortunately, I witness too many parents who are either more concerned about continuing a conversation they are having with a friend or focused on something on their phone than they are being aware of what their child is doing and providing appropriate redirection if a child is causing a concern. I watched a mother sitting with one of her daughters while her other daughter was dancing around breakable items, picking them up, and playing with them. The mother looked at the child but did nothing to redirect the child except to say that her daughter probably should not do that. In a short amount of time, the young girl dropped a ceramic mug which shattered on the floor. An employee came to clean it up and reached the child faster than the mother who was seated only a couple feet away. I view this as being disrespectful of the business and the patrons who were in the business.

The respect of which Aretha Franklin sang is something which is taught at home. Parents, grandparents, adult relatives, and adults as a whole need to model respect for our children. We need to take a serious look at how we display public respect. I learned respect at home from my parents, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, and the friends of my parents. I also had the fortune of adults in my church, my teachers, and community members to teach me respect. I think we need more of this.

The Unexpected

I hope that some of you have noticed an absence in my posts over the last two weeks. Let me explain why you have not seen any posts from me lately.

When we moved to Fort Worth almost a year ago, we made the decision that we would rent a house for the first year. This would give us the opportunity to learn our new community and decide which areas would be a good fit for us. It was a fantastic idea. We quickly came to realize that we enjoyed the area of Fort Worth in which our rental home was located. We also came to understand that the neighborhood in which we were living was nice but not the one where we wanted to settle permanently. Our original time frame was to start seriously looking for the right house in November and if we did not locate the one, we could always extend our lease month by month if necessary. However, our plans changed and events occurred very quickly.

The first catalyst for our change of plans was receiving contact from the rental company on behalf of the owners of our property in September. The woman who spoke with my husband indicated that the owners wanted us to consider purchasing the home from them. This offer took us by surprise which led us into a discussion about our permanent home sooner than we had anticipated. The conditions which the current owners were placing on their offer seemed unreasonable to us even if the price sounded very good. My husband contacted the realtor who we worked with during our hunt for a rental home, and the one who we had decided would be our choice during our search for a house to buy. She agreed that the price was right but the terms were not. She also informed us after hearing our original plans that if we were to go to a month-by-month rental agreement, the owners would likely raise our rent approximately $300 a month. We were not willing to pay the additional amount so our timeline was moved up. Our lease was over on December 31, so we would need to vacate by that time.

Along comes the next catalyst for change. Since we were going to have to find a home quicker than planned, we moved up the search process start to be October and hopefully locate a house by November. If this time frame worked, we would not have a mortgage payment until January, so no month would have a rent and mortgage payment at the same time. The last weekend in September we decided to begin attending some open houses. The first home we visited was nice. It had great curb appeal along with some amenities which were inviting. The asking price was well below our top target price so that was a plus as well. The major drawback was that it was a two-story home, and we were hoping to find a single story home. The location was also outside of our preferred area. We went to two more open houses that weekend. One home was definitely not viable for us. The third was a possibility but once again was outside of our target area and the price was at the top of our budget. Since we had agreed that it would be unwise to buy the first house we viewed, we planned to move on in our search. My husband did contact our realtor on Sunday night to update her on what we had seen and set up a time to view some houses with her.

Then came the early Monday morning call. Our realtor had contacted the seller’s realtor to get more information on the first home which we liked. She called my husband as he was leaving for work to inform us that the sellers had received an offer over the weekend and were planning on determining if they would accept that offer or not by noon on Monday. Now what do we do? After a conversation, we agreed to make an offer a bit higher than the asking price. By early afternoon, we had received word that our offer had been verbally accepted by the seller. Now it was time to scramble to lock in financing and begin the endless amount of paperwork. We were on the road to becoming homeowners once again and October had not even begun.

I am not going to go through the nightmare of all the paperwork related to securing financing for a home in this post. I will save that for a future post. However, the next two weeks amounted to telling the lending company everything about us in minute detail and providing documents to prove what we said. Then it was wait time to see if we were approved for the loan. In the meantime, I had to set up an inspector for the home, secure a moving company, and begin getting utilities turned off at the rental while turning them on at the new house. The closing date of November 15 was our agreed upon target. At least we had decided to let the moving company pack us so that was one item off our list of to-do’s.

Everything was approved and our timeline was going to work out. Our official move date would be November 26 (which I had mistakenly thought was the week after Thanksgiving). Because of my mistake in planning around Thanksgiving, we were packed on Monday, moved on Tuesday, and celebrated Thanksgiving with friends on Thursday. Now you understand why my posts were less frequent for a few weeks and non-existent for a couple of weeks.

Throughout this whole process, I again discovered God at work in our lives. Through the Lord, we maneuvered the unexpected and found more than what we had originally hoped to find. We are now settled into our new home and as of this weekend, decorated for Christmas. The anticipation that accompanies Advent became a real experience for us as we officially began establishing roots in our Texas home. Thanks be to God!

I am back on track and will resume my writing. Please look for future posts on a more regular schedule.

Passion

Recently I have read some articles stating that finding one’s passion in life and then determining how to identify employment which allows you to work within your passion is not a good idea. The general argument is that if you have a passion for something and use that as your basis for employment, you will come to hate your passion and be miserable. There may be some truth in that argument, but I am not convinced. I think there is value in using your passion(s) to determine what you find for employment.

Over my years of employment, I have come to realize that there is a difference between a job and meaningful employment. I have done a number of “jobs” that provided little to no satisfaction for me in life. They were a way to earn a paycheck which allowed me to pay bills and to provide food for my household. Each of these types of jobs left me feeling like it truly was work and I would dread every time I had to go to my place of employment.

I took some time to get to a place where I could name my passion(s). A significant passion which I have is engaging in relationships with people. I enjoy finding connecting points and learning about the other individual. Assisting others in growing in their own lives adds to this passion. When I was in college, I think this is what led me to consider a teaching career. As I prepared to graduate with my degree, I had taken courses which allowed me to teach in the area of high school social studies and work with the teams in the area of athletic training. This appeared to me to be a way I could engage in relationships while assisting the teenagers who I would be working with grow in their own lives. In college, I had not been able to name my passions but looking back it now seems clear to me. However, instead of following this path, I was presented with an opportunity to accept a job in management with the Target stores and I took the opportunity. Notice that I stated I accepted a job because it quickly became only that.

Other examples from my life could be listed when I accepted a job and not a position which would allow me to use my passions. I would eventually find employment in an area where I could live out my passion at work. While no position is without its trials and challenges, if you are in one in which your passions are being addressed, it is much easier to weather through those difficult situations and times. When you work just a job, there is less of a drive to remain in the situation.

I would also point out that I think passions change in life. The things which you are passionate about when you are in your early 20s are not the same as those when you are in your 50’s. Be open to realizing that these changes occur. At different points in your life, you should pause and reassess your passion. You may discover that a change has happened or you may reaffirm the passions which you have had previously.

Contrary to recent articles which I have been reading regarding the error of following your passion into employment, my advice is to do exactly that. My experience has been that when I wake up in the morning and know I get to spend a day putting my passion to use, I am more eager to head off to the office. Here are my tips for those who may be in the employment hunting aspect of life:

  1. Identify and name those things in which you are passionate.
  2. Determine what energizes you and motivates you to go through the day.
  3. Seek input from others regarding what they see in you and where you display happiness.
  4. Explore how your passion(s) and happiness can be identified in employment opportunities.
  5. Search for work which will utilize your passion(s) as much as possible.

Making Friends

When a person starts kindergarten, one of the pieces of advice that a parent usually gives is to try to make a friend the first day. For some children this is an easy task, especially if they are social and outgoing by nature. Others tend to struggle with living out this piece of advice because they are shy and more introverted. Whichever the case might be, most children seem to be able to make at least one friend by the end of their first week. Aiding this task is the reality that there is a captive group of children in one room with the same piece of advice and dealing with the same challenges. They have some automatic commonalities.

Moving to a new community usually places a person into a similar situation as the first day of school. The person is in a new environment and is encountering people who are not familiar. Making new friends is easier if certain conditions create natural connections. An example would include having children who attend the same school and are part of a school group together. Parents who go to support their children in an extracurricular activity often engage in conversations at the various events so a bond begins to form and friendships develop.

Another example would be if the person joins a community group or faith community. Attending meetings, fundraisers, and activities provide a natural opportunity for relationships to form. In this case there is some shared interest which brings people together. Already having an interest in common with another person makes conversation easier. Sharing of personal information and stories becomes natural. Friends are found.

However, if you are an adult, do not have school-aged children or an opportunity to join a local group, making friends becomes much more difficult. This is something which my husband and I have experienced since our move at the beginning of the year. We have begun forming relationships with a few of our neighbors but schedules and commitments do not always allow for time to interact in more than just friendly greetings. Previously we were part of an awesome faith community which allowed us to establish many friendships. My husband also had been actively involved in a YMCA swim program as a coach, so he had some pre-established friendships before I moved to join him. To date, we have not been able to find a faith community which connects with our spiritual needs. Nor have we found a community group in which we have shared interests.

I share all this because I have come to realize that even for a more extroverted person, making friends is not always the easiest. As we prepare to move from our rental home to own our home, my hope is that we will be able to find connections in our new neighborhood that will assist us in developing meaningful and lasting friendships like the ones we still have back in Iowa.