New YEARnings…

As this season of hope, peace, JOY, love, gratefulness, thanks, and giving rounds out and we set our sights on new beginnings in a few short hours, reflecting on our potentials and possibilities becomes the next focus.  What can we do each day, each hour, or just each moment to make it better for someone else, to bring us closer together?  What can we do to help ourselves in the process?  Finding personal ways to focus on keeping the spirit of this powerful season with a constant sense of hope and love with you as companions each day, each hour, and each moment throughout the next year becomes a tall order…or does it?

A new year offers each of us a jump start and I’m grateful and thankful for this opportunity.  In taking time to reflect on the past year, remembering the triumphs and missteps, the greatest JOYs coupled with deepest sorrows, the times I opened myself up to grand spontaneous adventure or closed myself down from fear and sadness, this new year allows a fresh beginning to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, and most importantly, to love more.  There are just too many things in this life we cannot control (natural disasters, profound loss); it’s critical to focus our attention on what we can control (attitude, effort, forgiveness, second chances, fresh starts, embracing the what-will-be).

JOY in life cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn, or consumed (although I honestly tried my best on all fronts this past year, y’all!).  Being kind, compassionate, and loving are the real goals each day.  The spiritual experience of living these goals with great love, grace, and gratitude fill my soul with profound hope…and hope, my friends, prevails in our daily humanness.  I offer this hopeful challenge to us all in 2019 to:  BE, breathe deep breaths, forgive with grace, seek out an old friend, trust more, write letters, give soft answers, walk more, encourage one another, keep promises, forgo grudges, forgive with grace, apologize, work to understanding, smile at strangers, examine personal demands (this is me preaching to me), think first of others, be kind and gentle, laugh more, learn a new skill, appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world, explore nature, express gratitude, welcome others, and always speak your love over and over and over and over again and again and again and again…

Traditions are the stories we write together as family and friends; gratefully, we all begin another year of building on those traditions while continuing to write our stories.  It’s said no gift is too small or simple to receive when wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied in love.  I can only imagine the profound impact that another year bestowed upon us will truly have!

So, yes, please take time to ponder and remember the past year with fondness, but look forward to 2019 with anticipated eagerness, and reverently choose to challenge yourself and others to live each moment given to your personal fulfilled best, my friends.  Just know I’m holding your hand and we’re crossing into the NEW YEAR together…


Week Three of the Advent Season:  JOY

In the depths of my hurting and troubled heart, I cling to the message of the angel’s rejoicing:  “I bring you tidings of great JOY that will be for all people…”  Yet, what if JOY, in all its revelry, is in short supply?  How do we find the JOY?

Keeping JOY is good, but sharing it with others is even better.  It may be as simple as greeting someone, sharing a smile across the crowded room, handing your drink coupon to a fellow plane passenger, or creating a full-blown “pay it forward” opportunity.  Make no mistake; the message of Christmas is never-ending, yet it does not deny sorrow, hurt, and sadness its place in this world.  Instead, Christmas powerfully illustrates how JOY is greater than despair or sadness, PEACE outlasts the turmoil and trauma, HOPE prevails in the darkest places, and LOVE will ultimately crush hate and evil.

Norman Vincent Peale issued the challenge:  “I truly believe if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can and will bring JOY and happiness and peace to this world…”  So, your Christmas Question for today:

How DO we keep telling the story, singing the songs, and living the spirit of Christmas JOY every day of our lives?

There’s truly a tumult of JOY and an overflowing of blessings as we light the third candle in Advent anticipation today.  A JOY shared is a JOY doubled, so let us accept the JOY with thanks and giving in our hearts.  May we always remain grateful for the JOY we spread and the JOY coming our way.  JOY, in all its glory, is really the simplest form of gratitude in daily living. #SpreadJOY

Leading and power sweeping…

Even in his final moments, he led with his strengths…and he did it in a profoundly calm and peaceful way… St. M’s oldest beloved brother, Tom, passed from this life to his eternal reward today.  While we’ve spent the remainder of this day preparing, pondering, and sharing remembrances, this one particular story keeps resurfacing as an illustration of a man with extraordinary strengths and gifts.  If you will, please indulge me in a moment of personal reflection…and Tom, this one’s for you, big guy…

The legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, once hosted a four-day football clinic for coaches and devoted two full days to just one play, the Power Sweep.  If you know football history, Coach Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers won five league championships, including the first two Super Bowl Games because of that one play (see, St. M; I DO listen to your football lessons).  Everyone, including Green Bay’s competitors, knew the Power Sweep was coming, and yet, they still couldn’t stop it.  Coach and his team developed a strength that became an unstoppable force of positive momentum, and they led with this strength every time.

As a part-time coach of YMCA football for 24 years, Tom often visited with me about teaching and learning.  He was fascinated how educators (and coaches) find ways to be masters of not only their own strengths, but of those in their care.  Tom understood how focusing energy and practice, mastering fundamentals, and developing individual strengths created a culture of personal excellence on the field, and off.  The more time spent developing and leading with strengths, the more each person became successful in them.

After one particularly lively conversation with Tom during a Van Am family meal, St. Michael shared this extraordinary moment from his young life, perfectly demonstrating Tom’s very truth:

“It wGreen Bay Packersas August 20, 1966. In May of the year, I was struck by a car sustaining severe, life-threatening injuries.  Living within a full-length body cast for several months, my father sought to provide encouragement and motivation for powering through during the long recovery process.  As a member of the Dallas Salesmanship Club, he secured sideline game passes for the Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.  My oldest brother, Tom, wheeled me in my stretcher chair onto the field at the 40-yard-line (what an experience of a lifetime!).  Late in the third quarter, the Packers were driving down the field using their infamous Power Sweep on almost every play.  When they reached the 35-yard-line, we had a perfect view to watch each play develop.  Bart Starr handed the football to Paul Hornung, who followed a parade of blockers around the right end.  The Cowboys defended the play well, pushing the onrushing team of blockers and runners to the sidelines exactly where we were located.  Sensing an imminent collision, my brother Tom sacrificed his quarterback body (because he was the star quarterback on the high school team) to block the blow by diving in front of the onrushing Packers and Cowboys.  Thankfully, eighteen players ran around my location without injury or incident.  After the game, Bart Starr walked over and presented Tom with an autographed chin strap from his helmet, saying, “Bud, you had the best block of the entire game.” 

Now THAT is knowing your strength…mentally, physically, emotionally…and leading with it, even in the midst of possible defeat and bodily injury!

Tom often said, “We don’t need an average team or an average “you;” we need the best you…and when you lead with your strength, you share your best always.”  He never forgot the power of one simple, clear truth:  lead with your strength.

Thanks, Michael, for sharing this most personal of stories and heeding the advice of your big brother all these years; he’s a part of the reason you’re called Saint.  Tom, thanks for sharing the true spirit of brotherhood and love with the world by actively demonstrating how to lead with your strengths as a part of your profound legacy.  May we all take a moment in this season of hope, peace, joy, and love to pause and powerfully reflect on our strengths and how best to lead with them.  Just imagine the possibilities when we genuinely find more ways to create positive Power Sweeps of our own in the coming year…


Week Two of the Advent Season:  PEACE

“When peace shall over all the Earth, its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.”  ~Edward H. Sears, 1849

In the profound stillness of an early snowy morn, the words to the familiar carol, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” vividly flow through my thoughts.  Coffee in hand and seated on the back screened porch wrapped in a blanket, the mesmerizing flakes softly fall in mass abundance as dawn begins to break.  Trees, heavy-laden with piles of white fluff, gently sway as birds scamper to the four feeders filled to capacity.  Addie (grandma cat) lumbers to my side mewing her thoughts while keenly watching her morning “Bird TV.”  This is a blessed quiet time to meditate, ponder, pray, and prepare…a peaceful, peace-filled gift of grateful abundance in the midst of a blustery winter blast on this second Sunday in Advent.

More often than not, our lives and actions are anything but peaceful or PEACE-filled.  It becomes a solitary mission on some days to capture a precious snippet of the PEACE we crave as humans and spiritual beings.  Finding some small way to slow down, to quieten the mind, the mouth, and the body, to just be still and invite peace inside, is an act of personal grace.  Whether celebrating the coming of the Prince of Peace or simply hoping for the promise of Peace on Earth, we continue to wait and prepare as we light the second candle of Advent.  Please give yourself a moment to ponder this Christmas Question today:

In what ways do you seek PEACE in your daily life and how will you nurture this need in the coming year? 

May our continued search and fervent wish for PEACE bring extraordinary blessings of promise, grace, and forgiveness into our lives, dear friends and PEACEmakers…

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…”  John 14:27

A date that continues to live in infamy…

At 6:00 am on December 7, 1941, the cook aboard the USS West Virginia, Third Class Messman Doris (Dorie) Miller, was making his rounds collecting laundry. When the general alarm sounded, he ran to his station only to find it decimated by a torpedo, so he ran up on deck. It was there his physical strength and character served him well as he hustled and carried other sailors to safety. Seeing the continuing attack, he stepped into the harness of a 50-caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun and fired rounds for 15 minutes until the weapon ran out of ammunition. He was subsequently awarded The Navy Cross, the first African American to receive the honor in our nation’s history.

His story is still famous in the small Texas town where his sister-in-law, LaRue Miller, a well loved retired educator still lives. Many currently in the community had Mrs. Miller as their 4th grade teacher; they know this story by heart. My mom taught with her for many years, and I had the distinct honor of opening and serving as the first principal of the building and learning community bearing her name, LaRue Miller Elementary School. Mrs. Miller, and her famous brother-in-law, both remain “rock stars” on her campus even today.

After a week filled in loving tribute to a heroic American President, let us also be mindful, grateful, and thankful on this day of remembrance for the men and women like Dorie Miller, who selflessly served our beloved country in extreme measures.  Like President Bush, Mr. Miller was a critical part of the Greatest Generation.  Mr. Miller exemplified the true measure of character during the attack on Pearl Harbor; he faithfully reacted in earnest and resiliency when uncertainty and definite destruction rained chaos that Sunday morning.  Sadly, almost two years later, he was killed in action, making the ultimate sacrifice while defending the country he loved and served.

So this begs a different kind of question during this advent of hope, peace, JOY, and love:

How will you choose to keep strong in your own faith as we work to create better tomorrows for all humankind,  both here and everywhere? 

Thank you, Dorie Miller, for doing your part on a day that lives in infamy; thank you, Mrs. LaRue Miller, for continuing to share this important story throughout your life’s work.  Let us all keep the message of the season in the forefront of our daily work and lives as we move into the new year.  And as always, be a blessing and be blessed, my friends!

Presidential pondering…

A pastor friend of mine once remarked:  “There are really only two marks of a Christian in this world: giving and forgiving.”  These words were stuck in my head today during the live TV coverage of President George Herbert Walker Bush’s funeral in Washington, D.C.  Politics aside (please); as an American, the pomp and circumstance of honoring those who humbly choose to serve our Nation’s highest elected office is something to behold.  Furthermore, it is not lost on this a native Texan, who, surrounded by the Bush dynasty throughout my lifetime, has observed their powerfully consistent message through the generations: serve and help others; give and forgive.  It is especially telling how President Bush never hesitated to cross party lines to find common ground with ALL Americans, regardless of differences; he walked his talk. He was a leader who made it easier for other people to believe in hope through the way he lived out his life, cultivating an attitude of gratitude while giving and forgiving with grace, mercy, and integrity as powerful tools of his deep, abiding faith and love for his family and his country.

Now, I know you’re wondering what this has to do with a Christmas Question today, huh?!  Giving and forgiving are quite literally wrapped into the message of Christmas. Giving your time, talents, and service to others, being kind and compassionate of others and yourself, and forgiving one another are ways to live the message of Christmas every day of the year.  So, take time to ponder this one:

How will you choose to give and forgive yourself and others during this season of hope, peace, joy, and love now, and well into the new year?

St. Augustine declared:  “Two works of mercy set a person free:  Forgive and you will be forgiven; Give and you will receive.”

May we all take time to reflect on these challenges in our own hearts as we wait, anticipate, and hope in the coming days, my friends.

PS:  I gratefully give thanks for the life, leadership lessons, and legacy of President George H. W. Bush; well done, faithful servant…


Week One of the Advent Season:  HOPE

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here; until the Son of God appear.  Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel…

These words are softly sung as the lighting of the first candle is completed; Advent has begun.

The Advent wreath or “crown” is the traditional centerpiece of the liturgical Christian calendar in the Western Church.  The circular nature, representing infinite love and the promise of eternal life, visually symbolizes the powerful reminders of the Advent season.  Advent, from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” and “arrival,” is a four-week period prior to Christmas.  It is a time to ponder, reflect, and prepare.  As the days shorten and darkness prevails during the winter months, this first Advent candle symbolizes HOPE.  Typically called the “Prophecy Candle” (in remembrance of the prophets who foretold the birth of Christ), this light represents the expectation of HOPE in the coming Messiah… Emmanuel…God with us…

But how can we HOPE as we begin to celebrate and prepare if we are truly paying attention to the world around us these days?  How do we share HOPEfilled seasonal greetings when our hearts are breaking, our relationships are splintering, our words are carelessly flung like stones, and so much more?

I humbly argue:  We must celebrate and prepare in HOPE because we ARE paying attention. Life isn’t fair.  Fair is not equal.  We don’t get to have the good without the grief.  Not everything is as it should be. My list goes on and on, but there is reason to HOPE and believe, my friends!  Advent matters.  HOPE and Advent are critically needed; they keep our eyes, ears, arms, minds, hearts, and souls wide open to everything and everyone around us.  HOPE and Advent hold the truth of what is up against the truth of what was and what will be in profound ways within all our lives.

So here’s your Christmas Question to ponder:  How will you challenge yourself to share the light of HOPE with others in the coming week? 

For my friends celebrating the first night in the Festival of Lights known as Hanukkah, “Chag Sameach!”  Regardless of your faith (or none at all), may we all find ways to share HOPE in the coming days.  As Desmond Tutu noted,  “HOPE is being able to see there is light despite all of the darkness…”

Greetings of the season…

We’re traveling this weekend for another beautiful family wedding.  Everywhere we go, carols are playing and we’re noticing how folks are smiling a bit more, wishing us a “happy holiday,” and finding ways to spread a little cheer in the midst of the hustle/bustle all around us.  In spite of the outrageous Dallas traffic, I notice folks allowing others to merge and change lanes without adding offensive hand gestures or slurs.  I even found a little greeting card of thanks stuffed into a package I purchased at a local boutique.  The hotel where we’re staying is baking holiday cookies and serving cocoa or cider at the snack bar each afternoon while the cleaning staff is leaving cute notes of cheer on our towels.  Is it me or are others intentionally finding ways to greet and capture all the sights, sounds, scents, and sentiments of the Christmas season?  Expressing and actively living the reason for the season is a powerful tool; the challenging part for most of us is finding ways to continue sharing the story in our daily lives.

One of the ways I’ve found to live and share the story is the annual preparation and sending of Christmas cards with family and friends.  Call me old-school (and I’ve blogged on this topic before), but even in the age of social media, nothing compares to sending (and receiving) cards, notes, and informative letters each year.   In my classroom years, we handmade cards from mounds of scrap art materials, filling them with heartfelt, handwritten notes and sentiments of the season.  One of my more creative learners (who successfully endured three years with me in three different grade levels) LOVED this tradition.  His choice of colors and textures along with his written words were personally filled with love for the recipient of each card.  During our third year together, he sadly made a comment I’ll never forget, “You know, I hope someday someone sends me a personal card; I’ll keep it forever.”  It stunned me to realize he was always the giver and never the receiver… I’m pleased to share we continue to exchange personal cards each Christmas (over 30 years now) and I fondly ponder our conversations about why Christmas cards mean so much to us both.

So here’s a sentimental Christmas Question to ponder today:

“What was the greatest Christmas Card you remember receiving from a friend or family member and what made it so special?” 

Here’s hoping you send someone special in your life a unique greeting card this holiday…the sentimental impact may be more than the simple greetings of the season!  Be a blessing and be blessed, my friends!