Six Communication Tips (Help Me Remember!)

8-26-2019

Communication is so important. I am drawn to think about it this week since I have been twice (that I know of) in situations where my communication was less than sufficient or completely missing, forgotten. In my world of “communication rain”, it was pouring!

And if I could just read people’s minds, and they could read mine, miscommunication would not be an issue. But I guess, or assume, and things go awry.

I forgot to invite a family member to a family gathering. And when I did contact them late, I neglected to find out if they knew where the gathering was. I neglected to exchange cell phone numbers in case plans changed. I spent half of the family picnic feeling worried about why they weren’t there and wondering if they had gotten lost. I couldn’t call them to find out. I felt the guilt. It was the hardest thing ever to pick up the phone later that evening and find out what had happened.

The very next day(!) a series of late decisions and wrong assumptions led to disappointing some friends and leaving them waiting at a restaurant for us to meet them for dinner. Mom was in on this one and her observation was that her aversion to talking on the phone often kept her from necessary communication. We could have just made a call, earlier than we did.

Realizing that I have caused someone inconvenience or emotional pain/upset is stressful for me. I don’t need more stress! And I don’t want friends, family, or anyone for that matter, to feel confused, unloved or unimportant. That is stressful for them. So, thought and prayer brought some things to mind. From now on I will tell myself:

Shirley, listen now,

1. If you are in doubt, pick up the phone and find out! People don’t have to answer if they are busy. They will know you cared and will call back when they can.

2. Let people know that you don’t mind being called. They might have that phobia or aversion to calling. I always feel cared for, not bothered.

3. Text, if they use texting enough to be familiar with it. Be sure to SEND the text after writing it. (Yes, that one is for me.)

4. Call sometimes when there isn’t a pressing reason. This is how to make sure you have the correct contact information, home phones and cell phones.

5. Realize that it’s hard to over communicate. Talk plans through if you make them in person, and agree to confirm later if needed.

6. Probably the most important thing, pray about any plans, that they would be under God’s direction. Even if things seem to be going wrong, if he’s in charge, he is working something out and he isn’t expecting you to worry about it.

Lake Fest

Lake Fest

8-4-2019

Do you have a community? I mean a community where people know one another, speak regularly, wave to each other and know who is in your family? I haven’t often observed that type of neighborhood, even in a place I lived for over 20 years.

But then, along came Lake Fest. I had been hearing about it from day one of our time in North Carolina. “Are you staying for Lake Fest?” “They will be pretty busy getting ready for Lake Fest.” “Leave the slip n slide in the truck – it’s for Lake Fest.” I had originally planned to leave before this event, akin to a national holiday, occurred but my curiosity got the better of me. We stayed.

Lake Fest, as I understand it, is the natural outgrowth of a healthy community. It’s neighbors, friends and family who love where they live, love to celebrate summer, and really like being with each other. And who doesn’t love an outdoor, summer party?

Three neighbors with adjoining properties around a small, private lake took it upon themselves to start this event. It is now well on its way to becoming an annual tradition. A block party, with a lake instead of a block. A Saturday afternoon in August with games, water sports, food (food, lots of food), a pool, live music and so many beautiful spots to sit and watch it all that it was hard to decide where to go.

I didn’t kayak the lake – though I wanted to.

I didn’t do the slip ‘n slide – I really wanted to do that, really!

But I had lots of good conversations, enjoyed some good food, listened to great music and decided (unofficially) to photograph the event in order to share it.

Parking could have been a problem, but many people walked.
This neighbor hosted the children’s games and the slip ‘n slide.

Boat rides, tubing, and a jet ski on the lake.
Furry family members were welcome.
“Santa” (not his real name) putting flames to the hot dogs and hamburgers.
Live music!
Dad’s and kids
Keeping cool in the pool
Sharing a drink?
Lots of good “eats”
No one is too young for this party…
No one is too old for this party…
Wondering where his “mama” went…
Relaxing, just relaxing
At the bottom of the slip’n slide.

Have you had an event in your neighborhood to encourage real community? What good things might come from knowing those physically close to you better?

Dinner and a Show

7-3-2019

Dinner on the deck

We are still at Smith Meadow, and tonight we had our first dinner guests. The menu was my secret recipe Macaroni and Cheese with a salad, watermelon and raspberry cream cheese pie for desert. Brother Dennis and sis-in-law Mary Pat came out to join us (they brought the pie)(and it was good!). This was such a treat for Dennis because he misses out on family dinners now that he isn’t comfortable at the condos.

It’s mighty hot here, for Wisconsin anyway, and we ate outside on our deck which was cooler than in the trailer. It was early enough that the mosquitoes weren’t bad yet, the meadow was half sun and half shade, and the birds were having their final sing for the day. It was remarkably comfortable. We didn’t hurry it.

Family selfie

As we were finishing we heard a tractor approaching and, sure enough, it had a rake attached to prep the downed hay for baling. The surprise was that it was driven by a 15 year old young woman (in a dress), a Mennonite farm girl working to make hay with her dad. I didn’t get a picture of that huge rake and tractor as she ran it around the meadow – a missed opportunity for sure. We watched in awe, and clapped when she left. She acknowledged with a smile and a wave. She was one of eight children from the farm adjoining our land. My brother said he wouldn’t be surprised if she came back with the baler before it was dark.

Tractor and baler (shielded cab with AC of course…)

Sure enough, more tractor noises approached, preceded this time by an SUV driven by a mom with her four children in the back. The tractor and attached baler came next driven by the father with his one year old son on his lap. They start them young.

It didn’t take long for the family to leave the car and come sit on the deck with us. The children were such happy, farm savvy, healthy looking and enthusiastic young people that I kind of fell in love with them, quickly.

The eight year old boy saw the baler stop and immediately announced that his father had put too much hay in and had clogged the baler. He ran out and rescued the one year old while his dad crawled under the baler to fix things. He also gave his opinion on how many bales the meadow would yield and he was right. He had already been around enough hay fields to be knowledgeable.

The little guy would rather be riding the tractor with dad.

The girls sat next to me and conversed while we watched the field get processed. They were surprised when I told them many children don’t know what a farm is all about and think milk comes from a supermarket. We talked about cows, coyotes, their toy room, and how nice it was that their grandpa and grandma lived next door. Janessa, who is five, was the most talkative. She could have played Laura in Little House on the Prairie, if she had been an actress. But how much better to live the life and not have to pretend.

The baler got fixed, the field cleaned up right good with three big bales and a smaller one. The show was over. Our new friends got in their Suburban and went home. Night fell and the fireflies came out. Dinner and a show, but much more interesting and fun than the usual outing by that name… just sayin’.

The 15th of October

I have a friend (at least one, thank God!) who has a birthday today. What a joy it is to me to think about someone who is special and dear, and be able to share those thoughts publicly. Meet my friend Arlette.

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There is something about her that actually looks French, but I’m not sure what it is…

You will notice that she has a name which I think both looks and sounds French. She is of French origin and this comes through in so many of her ways. Of course, there is the accent which she has not been able to shed (nor should she) even though she is fluently English speaking. I hardly ever have to wonder what she is saying. I love the way she and her French-speaking husband call each other “chere”. Sometimes, she will be thinking of an exact word in French but not able to immediately find the English equivalent. She will question Dwight and together they will come up with it. Endearing.

I met Arlette because our husbands were thrust into work together. The men set up an office in Sarasota for their company, an American subsidiary of a French corporation. Although we women knew each other and the Shackelfords were very kind in helping us get settled in Florida, we did not automatically jump into friendship. That started when Arlette agreed to tutor my home-schooled daughters in their French lessons. Merci beacoup mon ami!

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Two people who speak French very well, and a daughter who still knows a little of it, I think.

As time progressed, we became better friends, mainly because Arlette is an accomplished hostess (which she has trouble admitting, but it is true). Her invitations were NEVER turned down. I don’t have any other friends who do a small, intimate dinner evening for two or three couples so excellently. She loves beautiful flowers in simple vases, interesting tableware, luxurious touches like cloth napkins, just the right music, and well-planned food choices. She believes in appetizers, which I have to admit were a new thing for me. My family experience – we sat down and ate. At Arlette’s house I learned to enjoy a warm up meal before the real thing.

We deepened our friendship in the last ten years because we learned of common things in our faith worldview. I felt Arlette would really enjoy Bible Study Fellowship, which I was attending. She finally agreed to check it out, hoping to put an end to my annoying requests. I was right, she liked it. We have had nearly ten years of enjoying spiritual growth together. It is hard to put into words what sharing our hearts, and mutually acknowledging what God is doing in our lives has done for me. I view her friendship as a gift from God, evidence that he kindly answers my need for companionship.

Arlette is my friend who says she is not brave but nonetheless allows herself to be talked into outings a bit past her comfort zone, like expeditions in the kayak. She has braved a weekend in a motel with me, let the husband and I have free overnight stays in her home, exercised me with many long walks, hauled my furniture and boxes around, advised me on home décor, helped me plan parties, listened to me for hours on end. There are some things I haven’t convinced her to do with me yet, but the potential is still there. I don’t intend to let this girl rest.

So, happy birthday, my friend. Don’t worry about getting older. You are still younger than me and, barring a miracle, will always be. God bless you today and always. I love and appreciate you.

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You are lovely!

Being in Poverty: An Amazing Night

By God’s design, I am pretty sure, three young homeless men have come to live in our house. I don’t know why, but I am learning. 

It was an amazing happening, there in the dining room around the table. I never would have imagined it.

One of the young men had come in after a day of work very depressed and anxious. He had driven Uber until 3:30 am that morning,  had fallen asleep and nearly missed his wake up alarm for his day job. He was mentally depleted and close to having an asthma attack. I tried to get him to calm down and eat something, go to bed. He kept talking and rehearsing his dilemma.

The two other guys arrived about that time and heard what was going on. They jumped in with their own brand of cheerleading/encouragement. Words, stories, lots of “bro this” and “bro that”, and finally A, who hadn’t really told me much about his feelings about God or faith, said to D, “Bro, do you want to pray about it?”

“Yes, I pray” D said. He wasn’t expecting it to happen right at that moment, but A walked over, sat down and took his hand. J took another side of the table. There was one side left so I sat down and joined them. J started praying, talking to God very sincerely for a good five minutes. Tears were coming down D’s cheeks when the prayer was done.

They talked some more, to the point where there was something to laugh about. I could tell D was feeling better. They were all having something to eat. J was pointing out that all three of them had hard things in their stories, but they were still there in spite of those things and that they were being given another chance. Why not take it? They all had children to live for and people who would be devastated if they gave up.

I felt so included in their story, and so a part of their camaraderie. I said to them, “We are all adults here, and even though I am much older than you, I don’t mind if you call me Shirley instead of Miss Shirley.” There were looks of disbelief on three faces.

“But that’s a sign of respect, and if my Mama knew I called you anything but Miss Shirley I’d be in trouble no matter what my age!” one of them said. The consensus was that they were going to call me what they were used to calling me and it was going to be Miss Shirley.

That got them talking about how they each had not wanted to stay with us in our home – just because it had seemed so uncomfortable at first. But the misery of living in their cars had been great enough to drive them to accept. I realized how uncommon it is to move into a stranger’s house, and especially a stranger from another racial background. This is not something that very many of us ever do.

What a gift I was given, to listen to their unguarded conversation about their life, their culture, and their feelings. I don’t get this kind of experience very often and I’m giving God the credit for it. It was pretty amazing, just sayin’…

Being in Poverty: Post 2

J had cautiously “moved in”. I don’t think he trusted that we were willing to let him have the room because it was just weird. His culture, his background was so different from ours. Why would we do that? That is exactly what he asked me one night when we invited him to share our meal. “How do  you love people so much?”

I hate being caught off guard by questions like that. I kind of know why I do what I do, but I’m never sure if that’s the most helpful answer. It’s not just because I can offer help, but because something stirs my heart and mind to do it. I know I’ve prayed to feel the right kind of love for people I encounter (because, frankly, I don’t have it, yet) so when I’m given an opportunity to act, I take it as an answer to that prayer. I’m being taught. I think what J wanted to hear was that I had a personal interest in him, not that I was in God’s classroom.

He’s been desperately short of cash ever since he came and there have been several instances where he has asked for $10, $15, etc… for food or to put gas in the car. He’s always waiting for the check from work to show up and for some reason it gets lost and has to be reissued. It’s never timely. When it does come, we don’t really know how much it is or where it goes. Because he’s been injured on the job and is on “light duty” with frequent time off for doctor and therapy appointments, it’s probably not much.

We three, me and my cousin and his wife, were in the car ready to back out of the garage. I was taking them to the airport for their flight north and had plans to drive on to North Carolina, alone, to visit my daughter. Goodbyes were said, and to my surprise J asked me to come back in the house for a moment. My cousin said “He’s going to ask you for money”. Very possible, I thought. But when I went in, J simply gave me a hug and said “I love you.” That was it. It was a very good send off and I’ve thought about it a lot since.

The tables have been turned and I’m questioning “How can he love people like me so much?” Class is in session. More to come…

I Call It Love

 

They were friends.  She didn’t know why it happened and she hadn’t really asked for it.  They had moved in to the house where her new friend apparently had lived sometime in the past.  Let’s call the new friend… call her Kitty.

She knew Kitty hung around, a lot.  Most of the others ignored her or actually shunned her.  But she hung around outside a lot too and that’s why she and Kitty got used to each other to the point of toleration.  She didn’t look for Kitty, ever, but Kitty evidently kept an eye out for her and came running  whenever she came out the door.  As she walked around the grounds she had a companion at her side.  When she sat on the deck at the top of the stair, Kitty sat with her.

Although they didn’t have a lot in common, except the time they spent together, that was enough.  They became a pair, a pair of friends.

It looked almost like love.

Yeah, love comes in crazy forms.

It was love. She didn’t mind at all.

The Birthday Problem

I have no one to blame but myself.  I think it all started for me with that first picture (I have no actual memories of the event),  the one where I’m in my high chair with a cake with one candle in front of me.  I have an unknowing look on my face but I’m about to start a lifelong habit of expectation.  People are lined up on both sides of the table and I’m obviously the center of attention.  And why not, it’s my birthday.

Ever since then birthdays have presented one kind of problem or another.  Sometimes it’s a problem for those who remember and must plan an event, a card on time, a meaningful greeting or those who forget and have to assuage their guilt.  Other times it’s a problem for the birthday boy or girl who can’t decide if they want people to know or if it would be better to pass the day in anonymity

There are some people, the husband for instance, who must not have had their birthday expectation pump primed in infancy. There is never a hint about the approaching holiday. There is never a post birthday let down.  It’s just another day and these people might even be surprised if you remind them that they are a year older on that day.  There are others who, like me, anticipate what might happen with a fair amount of excitement.  I have a list of these kindred souls.  Some years I even go out of my way to feed their birthday appetite.

And so it was several years ago with my friend J. Carroll Barnhill.  He talks about his memorable birthdays and always includes the one where I kidnapped him out to the beach with a picnic supper.  He hadn’t been there in years and it was quite a trick to get him out of his boots to wade in the surf.  A little sand on the fried chicken, a picture of the sun setting with a sailboat silhouetted against the sky, and you have a birthday memory.

There was also the year that he actually cleaned off the back porch and I got him a swing to hang from the rafters. Another time we had a breakfast party with a stack of whipped cream frosted pancakes for a cake.  And the year he turned 80, I managed to get the word out to most of his family and friends for a get together complete with presents and pot luck food.  Why do I do these things? Because I know he loves the fuss.  How do I know that?  Because, like a kid, he is reminding me that his birthday is coming.  Sometimes once, sometimes twice or more.  He clearly hopes to have fun because of what happened on seven, twenty-seven,thirty-three.

This year, knowing I would be out of town on the infamous day, I took him out to dinner at a restaurant.  It wasn’t his favorite restaurant but it was convenient and he had a good meal.  And we enjoyed ourselves.  It’s your day J. Carroll and I’m giving you a little notoriety on my blog to memorialize the event.  Happy birthday fella!.  Hope you’re having a great day.

Here you go, birthday boy!  Not bad for 80+.
Here you go, birthday boy! Not bad for 80+.