Mercy, Grace, and A Fat Free Latte

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

Last week I pulled up to the familiar talking box at McDonald’s for my mid-afternoon pick-me-up, a medium latte with skim milk. It’s a dollar and a half cheaper than Starbucks and it’s light enough that my taste buds don’t question the decision for coffee. “Welcome back”, the box said, startling me out of a daze.

I’ve always thought that was clever marketing, making you feel like you’re a familiar friend. It’s probably also why I justify stopping at any McDonald’s worldwide only to use the bathroom. They consider me a friend and the amount of money I’ve spent on Happy Meals would buy a BMW.

“What can I get for you today,” the lady in the box continued.

“I’d like a medium latte with skim milk, please.”

“I’m sorry, we don’t have skim milk”, she said firmly.

“Really?” I asked, thinking they should send someone up to Wal-Mart to pick up a couple cartons.

Before I could make that suggestion she said,” We only have fat-free milk.”

This is where some fast thinking had to take place. Was it worth it to explain that skim milk is fat free milk or simply say, “That will be fine”?

Evidently my thinking wasn’t fast enough.
“Hello? Are you there?”

I took a deep breath and exhaled, “Fat-free please.”

I’m reading a fabulous book by Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway. It’s the story of her journey finding mercy and grace along the way. She digs through why we’re so hard on people, demanding so much, so much crazy stuff that doesn’t matter at all. For those of us who struggle with correctness, this is challenge at it’s finest. The author even has the nerve to suggest the people we are hardest on might be ourselves. I’ve decided halfway through the book that, for me, getting a grip on mercy and grace is a marathon with a moving finish line.

As I pulled away from the McDonald’s pick-up window with my hot latte sporting half the calories, whether fat free or skim, I relaxed and smiled. It felt good to extend a tiny bit of grace and secretly hope someone might do the same for me. Now if I can just stay on this path or at least on the edges whispering hallelujah anyway!

Enjoy today.

You Sometimes Always Never Know

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

“Why did I think this was OK?” Some ideas that sound perfect in the beginning can turn into head scratchers asking you that question. One such incredible thought was breeding our Labrador puppyRetriever so the kids could experience birth and learn how to be caregivers. What that means in layman’s terms is Mom learns how to take care of one more, in this case 11 more, living things.

The vet bills were a tad more than expected so when the pups were 6 weeks old we put an ad in the local paper. What started out as a lesson in puppy care also exposed our kids to sales, finance, marketing, and negotiation strategies.

About 8:30 one night, a man who lived 30 minutes away called interested in seeing the puppies. An hour later he pulled into the driveway, the truck sputtered to a stop and he reached out the door to release the bungee cord holding it closed. I mentally rolled my eyes. What were we thinking?

He introduced his wife who was already holding two puppies. Within in three minutes he pulled out of his tattered jeans’ pocket a wad of money in a huge rubber band like the ones that hold broccoli together at the grocery store. I tried not to gasp. He grinned. “I guess were gonna have to take two of ‘em. Momma can’t decide on just one,” he said as he handed me large bills. Unbelievable!

The greatest lesson in this whole experience was not for the kids, but me. First appearances of the puppy customer shouted broke and unemployed. I will have to admit as he handed me the cash, I briefly wondered if I was doing business with one of the Arkansas drug lords.

You sometimes, always, never, know people’s stories, their backgrounds, the paths they walk, or where they are headed.

I read an article recently about Sophia Amoruso. Twelve years ago she was dumpster diving for food. Today with her online vintage clothing store she is worth $280 million. I wonder how many people marked her off as someone who would never amount to anything.

I want to make it a full time practice of seeing past the outer shell and looking straight into the heart. I’m strong like that for a few hours, and then I leave the house. Mother Teresa once said, “If you are busy judging people, you have no time to love them.” Oh if we could just think the best and always see a positive future for everyone … because you sometimes, always, never know.

Just One Thing

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

Not long ago I saw my friend who manages about one hundred employees. We ended up in a discussion about the frustrations of being in charge and the challenges of getting everyone on the number-one-1504449same page when it comes to customer service. He said something that made me smile, then instantly frown.

“Beyond the “Give it all you’ve got!” and “Wow them!” pep talks, the one I find myself repeating lately is this: “Please focus on only one thing today. Just one. Don’t be an idiot, the rest is details”.

“Really?” I asked. “Why?”

He answered my question with a question.

“It’s puzzling to me. Are we becoming so dependent on technology we don’t think? Are problem solving and critical thinking skills fading because we Google everything or depend on someone else to come up with a solution?”

“Maybe,” I sighed.

He went on. “Most of those I work with have advanced degrees. I asked a guy something yesterday that only required a yes or no answer and he looked at me like it was a trick question. How can simple be so complicated? He had obviously forgotten the focus on one thing talk. What are we doing wrong?”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” A lot of common sense is learned from starts and fails and, sometimes, hard work and mistakes. Are we afraid of trying or have we just gotten lazy? Or are we so busy we just don’t want to slow down for a minute to think?

I remember yelling, “Turn around! Turn around!” watching the Three Stooges when I was a kid. The answers to most of their crazy problems were usually right behind them, but they would never turn around. When they finally did, everyone laughed because Mo, Larry, and Curley were ignoring the obvious. They desperately needed the “one thing” talk.

I wish I could say I haven’t done any Stooges type things in my life; being oblivious, making dumb choices or running into doors. But I can’t. Honestly none of us can. However, for me, mistakes are usually the best teachers.

So here’s what I’ve learned from my friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and The Three Stooges: behind the smile of every hard working person is a pile of common sense, always look behind you because the obvious is probably standing right there, and remember that One Thing … The rest is just details.


Suzette BrawnerGeneral

There is something so humbling about learning a valuable lesson from your kids. When mine say simple yet profound things, I tend to nod knowingly while happy dancing in my mind.

celebrate-j-trav-and-jillJason took Alison on an hour drive to a fun restaurant recently. I asked what the occasion was. And his answer made me smile … big. He explained they had had a very full, sometimes challenging, week with a truckload of moving parts, but they had managed to live it well. They deserved to celebrate.

Jason has never really needed an excuse to party, but that simple statement has caused me to think, a lot. We should celebrate more often; even the days well lived.

When he was eight years old, Travis named all the holidays we celebrate: Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s day and Pay Day. Why not rank Pay Day as a national holiday?

We all celebrate the big ones, but shouldn’t we celebrate, even if in some small way, every day? Life can easily get so overwhelming. I text Jill at the end of one of those days and asked how she was doing. She sent back a smiley face saying, “Taking it one moment at a time…”

When we pull it all apart, each individual challenge is just a blip on the radar. It’s the culmination of a string of blips that make us want to go sit at a bar somewhere and say “Keep ‘em coming” like in the movies. However that never seems to solve anything.

So here’s what I’ve learned from my kids. Celebrate the big days and make up some of your own, celebrate the small accomplishments like living well through a challenging week, and take life moment by moment. Enjoy today and celebrate!

The Obvious

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

I had been struggling for weeks over a yes or no decision and it had just about worn me out. It was one of those all-consuming things that takes up too much brain space. I finally broke down


and called a friend. For those of us who think we can handle life because we are strong and know the answers, this is very humbling.

Here was the simple answer to what I had worked into a very complicated question: “If you have a hard time figuring out if something is right or wrong, it’s most likely wrong. Maybe it’s just wrong for now but it might be right for later.” That should be on a coffee mug.

I felt a bit silly for even asking the question because the answer was so obvious. The “if in doubt, don’t” conclusion has saved me big headaches countless times since.

A few years ago I read a little book by Andy Andrews, The Noticer. The story surrounds a mysterious man named Jones who showed up just at the perfect time to encourage and hand out common sense wisdom to the main character. It reminded me, once again, I miss so much that is literally staring me in the face.

But why is the obvious so challenging to see? Are we so on task making sure we balance work, family, little league, carpool and taking out the trash that we forget to take a deep breath and actually think?

As challenging as it is to slow down, I am trying to be more aware and look for the obvious actions and answers that are in the quiet.

A Beautiful View

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

a beautifl view

A couple of weeks ago my friend Kathy sent me a funny and sad at the same time picture. Two women were having lunch at a nice restaurant totally captivated by their phone screens instead of each other’s company and conversation. Her text read, “Let’s meet for lunch so we can sit and stare at our phones.”

I was having lunch with Jim Brawner last week and watched a looked-to-be-grandmother absorbed in texting. Meanwhile the baby in the high chair next to her ate a whole paper straw cover. Mentally rehearsing the Heimlich maneuver, I was trying to decide whether I should alert her when she looked up and watched the kiddo take the last bite. Then she fussed at the baby. I wanted so badly to fuss at her. I didn’t.

Just think about everything we miss when we aren’t paying attention … some good things, some not so good, and some potentially dangerous. And as wonderful as it is, technology has blocked our view.

Texting is convenient when you need “yes” and “no” or “what time?” answers especially when you’re asking someone who doesn’t fully understand the meaning of brief. After a debated text discussion on whether Shakespeare or Cicero or Jesus said, “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” I realized so much can be lost in translation via keyboard. Whoever said it first was explaining why face-to-face conversations, especially about relationships, are best.
It’s so easy to get sucked into the cyberspace vortex and lose consciousness of the world around us. There is a beautiful view to miss if we aren’t careful. I want to become more and more aware of my surroundings and take the time to look into my friends’ and family’s hearts and souls more and more often.


Don’t Hit The Curb

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

stock-car-brasil-1-1442289Of the top most challenging tasks learning to perform, I put driving second only to parenting. Both are scary and unpredictable and force you to deal with unreasonable people. It really gets complicated when you ride with one of those you parent as they practice driving.

There weren’t many Brawner school requirements when our kids were teenagers, but study hall and Drivers Ed were non-negotiables; study hall so the “I didn’t have time for my homework” excuse wouldn’t fly and Drivers Ed because Coach Wilson was calmer than me.

The first time Travis drove across the Taneycomo Bridge after leaving the license bureau as a certified driver, he tightened his steering wheel grip and said, “This is way more narrow than I remember.” I smiled, grateful for his new perspective on bridge widths.

When Jill drove across the Taneycomo Bridge the first time, this was the conversation:

Me “You’re going to hit the curb!!”

Jill: “No, I’m not!”

Me: “You’re going to hit the curb!!”

Jill: “No, I’m not! I’m fine!”

Me: “Jill! You are going to hit the curb!”

Jill: “No I’m” … WHAM! … into the curb.

This is why Coach Wilson instead of me.

I read once that NASCAR drivers learn to never look at the wall they are inches from while traveling at ridiculous speeds. Evidently you go in the direction you are looking. So to avoid the wall they keep their eyes only on the path they want to follow. Jill obviously was looking at the curb I kept bringing to her attention.

If I could only follow that never-look-at-the-wall rule with my life, I’m sure I would avoid unnecessary crashes and messes. I get distracted by what others are doing, saying, wearing, or buying and lose focus of what I want and where I want to go. I’m certain learning to stay in my lane, looking straight ahead, and avoiding the curb will be a life long process.


Little Things

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

200px-Canadian_Engineer_Iron_Ring 2There are two reasons I asked my friend, Jack, about the ring on his pinky finger. It’s not made of a material rings are usually made from and, quite honestly, Jack isn’t really a pinky finger ring kind of guy. In my mind, pinky finger ring guys probably play croquet and have a brandy by the fire in their ascots. And they most likely lift their fingers as they sip. Jack would rather be blazing trails through the woods on a four-wheeler and I’m quite sure he doesn’t own a single ascot.

As he explained the ring, I understood how important it is to him. There’s a long-standing tradition in Canadian engineering schools, the Iron Ring Ceremony. Each graduate is presented with a very significant ring. First, the ring indicates completion of the extremely challenging engineering degree. Second, it’s to be worn on the little finger of the writing hand and as the engineer works the clicking sound from the ring hitting the worktable is a reminder of this responsibility.

The ring is also a cue to maintain high moral, ethical, and professional standards with attention to detail. The majority of structures, he went on to say, collapse not because of defects in the large expanses of metal, but because of a bolt or a screw … the little things. The ring is a constant call to awareness.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a pinky finger ring reminder of some kind? Not just buildings and bridges crumble because of small mistakes and lack of consideration. How much better would all of our relationships be if we were kinder, more patient, and less testy? …the little things. If we paid attention to the little things then, just maybe, the big things wouldn’t break so easily.


Oh Well

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

airplane-1480118A couple of years ago in California a woman shook my hand and said, “Thanks for flying all the way out here to speak for our annual banquet. It all sounds so romantic … flying around, meeting people, seeing new places.” I smiled, laughing in my head. The meeting people and seeing new places is amazing. The flying part, not so sexy.

I flew to Kentucky last week. The landscape was breath taking, the people were some of the nicest ever, and the event was run like a well-oiled machine. Then, I had to travel home.

On the first flight, with the door closed ready to go, the captain came on to announce. “Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like there’s going to be a slight delay because of weather in Atlanta.” Silent pause. “Actually the airport has stopped all arrivals and departures, so we will be here for a while. I will keep you posted.”

After two more “I’ll keep you posted” announcements they opened the door and let frustrated passengers get off to get something to eat and walk around. Just about the time everyone got off, they were hustled back on again. Take off finally happened!

Being the busiest airport in the country, Atlanta services over 250,000 travelers a day. So when we landed there were enough testy people to fill a mid-size city. I made it to my delayed connecting flight in a different terminal only to discover the gate had been changed to yet another terminal. An hour later we boarded.

I smiled at the man next to me as I sat down and said, “Well, finally!”

He nestled his head onto his rolled up his jacket closed his eyes and said, “ Oh well. Low expectations. I just keep low expectations.” He was asleep in 45 seconds.

The door was closed when the captain came on to announce, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a passenger whose companion didn’t board so we are going to let him off. Thanks for your patience.” The entire plane groaned in unison as the companionless passenger ducked his head and made his way to the door. I though one angry guy was going to punch him in the face.

After the door was closed again, the captain came back on to say, “Thanks again for your patience. Honestly, these days if someone doesn’t want to be on the plane we don’t want him on the plane. Now let’s take off.” The man sitting next to me was now snoring.

As I opened my fifth bag of peanuts for the day, I thought about what my seatmate had said about low expectations. That mindset was serving him well. Actually the gap between expectations and reality is where stress lurks. The narrower the gap, the lower the stress. Maybe it would be good for all of us to say “Oh well” more often. And we might try to keep lower expectations of people, circumstances, and especially romantic travel. Then take a nap.

It’s All Good

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

happy-man-1058777Do you know people who are so abnormally happy all the time you wonder about their mental stability? Everything is wonderful and constantly getting better for them. I read once that a positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. That’s probably why always positive people make me want to put my fingers in my ears and hum loudly. It’s tempting to tell them to please calm down and be quiet. OK, I really want to say shut up. But I’ve decided if I could be the one to just calm down and be quiet I might learn something.

Keith is a longtime friend who’s known for the phrase, “It’s all good!” I thought the further he traveled into grown-up years his attitude would change, but it’s still all good. He’s just one of those enthusiastic, excited-about-life guys who is gifted with an extra dose of energy. When he was younger he decided if he said it was all good, it was all good. He’s tramped through some major challenges through his life, but his attitude stays the same.

Several years ago with saved hotel points and frequent flyer miles we took the kids to an upscale ski resort for spring break. All five of us stayed in one room with so much ski paraphernalia it looked like a sporting goods store clearance department. Most of it was always wet and strung across the furniture. It seemed all I did was look for dry clothes, hand out snacks, and hold stuff for everyone. And every muscle in my body ached from trying to keep up with the kids on the slopes.

The second night I thought about running away or at least disappearing to one of the local bars for tequila shots. I’ve never done either of those before, but it seems to solve things in the movies. Instead I ate two chocolate bars and went to bed to pray and regroup hoping the rest of the needy people in the room would forget I was there … at least for a few minutes. After a while, when it was finally quiet and everyone was asleep, I realized it really was all good.

So here’s what I’ve learned from watching the always happy people. It’s as easy to set yourself up to have an exciting day as it is to talk yourself in to a bad mood. Whining doesn’t change anything. And, if you stay positive you have the power to make people want to put their fingers in their ears and hum loudly.