Suzette BrawnerGeneral

One of the unanswered mysteries of the universe is this; why do kids play the same videos and CDs over and over and over just short of wearing them slick? When Jill was six Santa brought her a Cricket doll. Cricket came with a cassette tape that plugged into her back and she talked and she talked and she talked. Jill adored Cricket and took her everywhere.

Late Christmas Day we left on our very first family ski trip we had saved and planned for all year. About two hours down the road, we realized we had made a bad decision letting Cricket come along on the 17 hour drive to Colorado. The constant jabbering drove Travis so crazy about 13 hours in to the trip he held Cricket hostage, rolled down the window, and threatened to throw her off into a deep ravine if Jill didn’t promise to give the doll a rest. I came across Cricket digging through some boxes not long ago. She still scares me.

The video the kids almost wore out was Disney’s Pop and Rock; a tape of cartoon clips set to popular music. One of my favorites was a segment of Goofy set to a Stevie Wonder song. Easy going Goofy danced out of his house in a suit headed to work. Smiling and waving he got in to his car and the minute he shut the door a strange transformation began. A wicked smile crept on his face and his eyes became evil slants. He gunned the engine and took off down the driveway hitting garbage cans. Then he raced down the street cutting people off in traffic and snarled all the way to the office. When he got out of the car, the evil Goofy faded and lovable Goofy instantly returned. He could turn his game face on and off with the click of the door lock.

We laughed every time we saw it because honestly there’s a little bit of Goofy in all of us. Some just hold it in check better than others. What is it about driving that brings the absolute worst out in people? Recently I sat amazed watching the driver of the car in front of me flash an unkind hand sign at another driver he obviously felt was moving too slowly. He must have had a temporary memory loss about the Jesus is My Co-pilot bumper sticker on the back of his car. It made me sad and I wondered; if he’s mean with Jesus in the car with him, what he’s like all by himself?

As your mom probably told you every time you left the house, be nice. When you get in your car today try to remember to keep your inner Goofy under control. If you just can’t help yourself, at least cover up your bumper sticker.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another …” Ephesians 4:32

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

Yesterday afternoon I stretched out on the floor in front of the French doors by my desk to take advantage of the sun. It was 36 degrees outside, but I felt like I was on a Caribbean cruise ship deck. It was fabulous! I think I have an extra chromosome that operates on a photosynthesis type system. Just like plants begin to die without sunlight, I start to wither about this time of year.

My doctor son would probably insist I needed sunscreen for my fictional cruise. He gripes if I walk to the mail box without it. I do understand his concern since he sees people in his office who sizzled in the 60’s and are paying for it now. I’m not sure SPF was even invented then.

When tanning beds first came out in the early 80’s my friend Toni would tease me because I was paying to try to get brown skin like hers. Actually I was just sunshine starved.

I get cold the end of September and don’t really warm up until the 4th of July. Days like yesterday remind me spring and summer are on the way. It gives me hope and wills me to get up and keep going. It assures me gloomy, cold days in the dead of winter aren’t forever.

I listened to a man tell about a time he was moving out of an apartment. He had packed everything he owned in his car and was about to get in when a woman stopped him.

“Are you moving in?” she asked.

“Nope, out,” I answered fighting back tears. She could tell I had been walking though the pits. She reached over, gently squeezed my arm and pointed as if she knew exactly where and said, “Brother, God is waiting for you on down the street just around the corner.” And He was.

Simple hope. We all need the hope something better is on the way. Cold, gloomy days are not forever. Just like God is waiting on down the street around the corner, so is summer.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

I’m sure you have one occasionally … a heavy day. Yesterday was a heavy day for me. Lots to sort through and think about. Sad things, complicated situations, problems that solutions for don’t even seem to be on the radar. That’s the kind of inevitable life stuff that makes for a heavy day.

At noon I said, “Are, you kidding me,” and by 1:30 I was afraid to answer the phone. Around two I made the comment, “What else can happen today,” then quickly recanted remembering my mom said never say that because something else can happen and usually does. Mom’s been gone for almost 10 years and she’s still right.

I decided to stop at the Super Center and almost chalked that experience up to part of the heavy day then remembered that it’s just frustrating, not a real qualifier. See, what happens on a heavy day is after about three things punch you in the stomach, everything starts to look suspect.

So, I vacuumed. Vacuuming is like therapy for me because it’s mindless, but something is getting accomplished and I can talk to myself. And yesterday, I needed a real good talking to. I typically start out naming everything that’s wrong and how unfair it is, but by the time I’m working my way back up the stairs with the Rug Rat attachment I’m remembering life’s not always fair and God didn’t bring me this far to drop me off.

Travis’ senior year of high school the football team had an undefeated regular season. They lost in the first round of playoffs. I’ll never forget over hearing a friend console Travis as he walked off the field toward the dressing room. Eric, who had graduated two years earlier said, “Good game Trav! I’m sorry you guys lost but sometimes life just hauls off and kicks you in the rear. But, I guarantee this; tomorrow the sun will come up and the world will go on. Travis grinned.

So, I made it through the heavy day and Eric’s right, the sun did come up this morning. I’m not quite to the “consider it all joy” part of James 1:2 but I’m hanging on to the “in all things God works for the good” part of Romans 8:28. Today is going to be a lighter day and if it gets heavy again, I’ll just have really clean floors.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

If you decide to get a dog, you definitely should consider obedience training. Either find a good school or read a book and tackle it yourself. Dogs, especially the large guys, are so much more fun if they mind.

Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer of National Geographic TV fame and author of several best selling books, is an expert on dog behavior. He’s like SuperNanny for dogs. He says the disobedient dog is not the problem. The dog owner is the problem. It seems we humans tend to let the dogs rule us. We invite dogs into our homes so they join an already existing system. Over time, though, to avoid conflict we tend to let the dog set the rules and it becomes a privilege to live in our own home.

Now that I think about it, that’s the same thing SuperNanny tells parents on her program. Maybe Cesar and SuperNanny have coffee and talk about their shows.

Cesar advocates calm assertiveness with a dog. Yelling, screaming, and stomping aren’t necessary if the owner calmly asserts authority. It’s fascinating to watch dogs make an about face when owners implement his advice.

When I was watching this transformation during one of the training sessions it suddenly occurred to me; if this calm assertiveness thing is good with dogs and kids why wouldn’t it be for life?

Some days drag me around like a big dog I’m trying to take on a walk. I get distracted and jerked here, agree to extra commitments and trip over there, procrastinate and turn around to go in the opposite direction and by six p.m. end up stewing in frustration.

I think I’m going to try a little calm assertiveness, take charge, and not let the day boss me around. If SuperNanny makes it work with someone else’s three year old and Cesar helps a dog understand it, surely I can do this with my day. Yelling, screaming and stomping aren’t necessary and don’t do any good anyway.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

When it comes to thinking, I’m pretty much a black and white linear processor … cut through the stuff, give me the truth and the bottom line. I’ve been told I lean toward pessimism, but I consider myself more of a realist. I see things as they are. At least I think I do.

Frito Pie reminds me of Sunday night Jr. high youth group so it’s sort of a comfort food. One week, several years ago, had been unusually long and disappointing. Jim was out of town so Jason met me at the Quick Trip snack bar for Frito Pie.

Jason’s more of an all-over-the-place thinker just like his dad. When I am with the two of them I need a GPS to follow the conversation. The scary thing is they never get lost. They communicate in some other realm.

Jason sat down after refilling his Coke and said, “Mom, what’s wrong?” I must have had a stunned, blank look on my face.

“Jason you won’t believe it! This is so cool. Look at the Fed Ex truck,” I said pointing out the window.

“Uh huh,” he said needing help to follow me this time.

“There’s an arrow between the E and the x. FedEx. Like they are moving out! Can you see it? That’s an accidental bonus on their logo!”

“Umm, Mom,” he grinned. “I’m quite certain that was no accident. It’s part of the design.”

“Really?” I asked, knowing he was likely right. I realized what was so evident to him, I was oblivious to. For me it was just like looking at those blobs of ink you’re supposed to see the old woman, the young woman and Jesus. I really have a tough time seeing past the obvious.

When disappointing things happen my first reaction used to be; analyze, evaluate and consider what it would have taken for a different outcome. To me that’s realistic thinking. Jason thinks abstractly and, over time, has pushed me to look through different lenses and outside the black lines I mentally draw boxes with. When I do, I can see circumstances differently. Perspective changes. It’s amazing what your kids can teach you.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

If asked what would be absolutely necessary if I was stranded on an island like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, I would say Chapstick and stacks of books. Oh, I would add several pairs of glasses in case of loss or breakage. When I was a kid I saw a Twilight Zone episode where the world blew up and just one guy was left. He loved books too and wore those Coke bottle lens glasses. When the explosion happened, he was in the library. After realizing he was the only one left, he smiled and sat down to read. As he bent over to pick up his first book his glasses fell off and broke. I cried. I always carry an extra pair of reading glasses.

If I could have a person with me on the island it would definitely be Jim because he’s so much fun to hang out with and if I could have only one beverage it would be sweet tea. That wouldn’t be too bad. It actually sounds more like the two of us sipping tea, reading on the beach in Cancun.

Sometimes when I read I go back and reread to clearly understand. I was reading first Corinthians 13 again recently. It’s such a fluffy passage. It makes me think of white satin and tulle probably because it’s read at so many weddings while the bride and groom stare at each other. I am positive they aren’t concentrating on what is being read, they’re thinking about the honeymoon.

But, the other day when I was reading I tried not to think about all the white fluff, but all relationships. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

It’s intimidating to take apart that little word, because it’s as if it comes with it’s own set of rules. We toss it around so carelessly. Today when you say love in any circumstance think about everything it really is and isn’t. I love to read, but I love who I sit by, reading on the beach, more.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

I went to lunch with Roxie yesterday. She’s one of those Southerners I told you about last week who’s so polite and says everything is GREAT when asked how she’s doing. But, Roxie is a friend who’s real. She does, though, belong to that group of women who can make it through a whole meal never disturbing their lipstick. How does that work? It fascinates me because no matter how hard I try, I can’t do it. It’s troubling to think about how much lipstick I have eaten over the years.

After we were seated, I opened the menu and proceeded to totally confuse myself. “Oh, maybe I’ll get the soup and a salad. No wait, soup and a sandwich. Oh, but I could have a sandwich and a salad.”

I settled on the soup and salad and was relieved to find out the salad came with a special dressing. Otherwise I would have had to choose from the list of 12 dressings servers recite in their sleep. Why are there so many choices?

I used to get heart palpations as I walked toward the Starbucks counter because I wanted to say my order correctly. For the longest time I just got black coffee because I was afraid I’d sound like I didn’t know what I was talking about. I have my favorite drink figured out now and won’t dare change because I’d have to face the pressure of making choices again. There are choices in everything down to toilet paper; soft or strong, regular roll or giant roll, single ply or double ply? Seriously, we’re talking about something that ends up in a sewer plant. I suppose we should count ourselves blessed because we have so many choices.

Even though we don’t have control over so many things that happen, we do have control of the choices we make. Not just toilet paper, coffee or lunch, but life choices. How we talk, how we treat people, what we give back. Living with the results of those choices, the good and the not so good, is just part of the package. How easily we turn to blame someone else for a decision we made that didn’t turn out well. We have the privilege of choice and with that privilege comes responsibility. As my once kindergarden teacher daughter-in-law says, “Let’s see if we can all make good choices today.”

“ … preserve sound judgement and discernment, do not let them out of your sight … ” -Proverbs 3:21

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

I was scrolling through Facebook eating a bowl of cereal while I was on the phone. One comment that caught my eye was so convicting I put everything down. The post read, “I wish I could be conscious when I sleep so I could enjoy just doing nothing”. I was busted.

There I sat doing three things at once trying to figure out how I could do more. I’m sure that condition is listed in the psychology archives as a mental disorder, but it has become acceptable by today’s standards. Most of us go from zero to 60 the minute we hit the floor in the morning. We could say it all started when Starbucks became one of the primary food groups, but I think it’s much deeper than our coffee.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought that sleeping is probably a waste of time. I knew I wasn’t the only one. I wake up in the night analyzing things and problem solving. I keep a notepad and pen by the bed so if I think of something I don’t want to forget, I jot it down in the dark. Sometimes in the morning it looks like a drunk left me notes.

I felt better when a friend explained why I can suddenly go blank over the simplest thing at 11 in the morning only to remember it at 11 that night. She said our brain circuits look like the freeway system with all the on ramps and exits. When there is so much going on in our lives the brain gets clogged like a traffic jam. That explains why something I’ve been trying to remember all day hits me twelve hours later. The traffic cleared out.

We blame so many things for the chaos in our lives, but what’s weird is we almost enjoy wearing it as a merit badge. Do we somehow think the more we do the more badges we earn? The saddest part is we shortchange relationships along the way because we are too busy to be kind, patient, gentle or good. I double-checked the fruits of the spirit list in Galatians 5:22 and busyness was not listed. I think I’ll give my Los Angeles 5 o’clock traffic brain a break today.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

How many times have I said, “There’s no need to downsize until you are at least 80 years old?” Eating my words never tasted sweeter. We listed our house five years ago toying with the idea of moving and the third person who looked at it bought it. In a time crunch, with some creative thinking, we bought an empty town home on the lake that wasn’t for sale. I still insist we’re much too young to have made such a drastic move, but there’s always exception to every rule.

We traded for a smaller space, much less to clean and a to-die-for view. I can live with that no matter what my preconceived age limit for downsizing is. Walking onto the back porch when it’s anywhere above 55 degrees with a glass of tea and a book is as good as opening the door to an exclusive spa … pure therapy.

Last summer Jim hung a red hummingbird feeder on the porch that David had given him for his birthday. I was stunned to see how many hummingbirds it drew. I usually watch them from my desk, but one afternoon thought it would be fun to watch outside.

Hummingbirds are feisty guys and selfishly guard the feeder when it gets crowded. I had been watching the rocket speed dashing and darting for about fifteen minutes when all of a sudden one dove straight for my nose. You would have thought a turkey buzzard was coming in for the kill when I jumped up and screamed swatting the air in front of my face. Poor bird, I know I shocked him more than he did me.

“Why on earth did it dive bomb me?” I thought as I picked up my glasses. I felt ridiculous when I realized I had knocked them across the porch in attempt to save my face from something that weighs less than an ounce. Then it hit me; my glasses are the same color as the red syrup in the feeder. He was only going for what looked good from a distance.

I can’t blame the bird because I have done the same thing so many times. I think I know what I’m doing, but not necessarily. Something looks so good from far away, but up close it gets ugly. Decisions are made from a distance with information I have, but occasionally things turn out differently than I thought they would.

Here’s what I’ve discovered. If it’s something that can be changed, maybe a job or where you live, like the hummingbird it’s OK to make a U turn and head in a different direction. If it’s something permanent like marriage, shift perspective, work it out, don’t give up and try not to dive bomb each other.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

Have you ever tripped but regained your footing just before hitting the ground? Was your first reaction one of relief you were actually agile enough to stay on your feet followed by a quick scan of to see if anyone was watching? Yep, we all do the same thing. Some of the best clips on America’s Funniest Home Videos are people falling. Why do we find so much humor in someone else’s unfortunate bumble? I really think we’re just glad it’s not us. Falling feels so stupid.

I know because the standing joke in our family is, “Where will she fall next?” Jim, Jill and I were crossing the street in New York City. When Jill turned around to say something to me, I was gone. Not really, I was on the pavement in the middle of Broadway. A mounted police officer got off his horse to help me as the hundreds of pedestrians were stepping over and around me. I realized I could either laugh or cry. I laughed so hard I could barely get up.

Last year in London I fell down an old rock stairway headfirst in to a men’s restroom. I blamed it on the 200 year old steps, but in reality it was my lack of paying attention. After she realized the only thing injured was my pride, Jill went into one of one of those so-intense-there’s-no-sound laughing fits. Jim stood at the top of the stairs and said, “Well, it’s official: She has fallen in London.” Clearly my family doesn’t cut me much slack.

Over Christmas we were recounting how many times and places I have fallen and it suddenly occurred to me every time I fall, Jill is with me. She assured me she would never push so it must be me all by myself.

Not only am I an admitted klutz, I also trip over myself so many times trying to do life right. I fail in relationships, I forget things, I offer my opinion too freely, and my attitude gets stinky. I look around to see if anyone is watching and sure enough they usually are. I pout for a little while then remember we’re all going to trip and falling is sometimes unavoidable. Here’s what I’ve learned; the most important thing is to not stay down, get up, dust off, and try again. And … it doesn’t sting so much if you can laugh at yourself.