Sunday, April 18, 2010

Changing of the Guard

There’s a classic parent/child scenario that was captured in one of The Cosby Show episodes. It’s the scene where Theo and his father, Cliff (Bill Cosby), are playing one-on-one basketball. Cliff, a former basketball coach, is winded and tired. It’s obvious he senses change on the horizon. He does everything possible to prevent Theo from winning, including illegal blocks and loud distractions. But to Theo’s surprise, he wins, beating his dad for the first time. A new era has begun, to which later Cliff announces to his wife, “Claire, we’re old…”

My first born, Russell, turned 27 recently. And while the big 3 0 is a few years off, it was still a birthday that caused me pause. I’m amazed at how much the 7 month old, 7 year old and 17 year old I knew, is essentially the same guy at 27. But he’s also morphed into his own person in ways I could not have predicted. So there’s the continuing joy of getting to know the maturing man who shares my DNA.

Actually, there are a number of things we share besides DNA. Right now, for example, we’re both enthusiasts of the television program Lost. We talk every Thursday to share insights and theories. But an even greater passion we share is our love for writing.

I must admit, I take a little credit for Russell becoming the writer he is today. Writing has been in my blood since I was in grade school. And at just as young an age, Russell exhibited the same bug, which I happily nurtured.

In fact, my career as an educator began with me teaching creative writing to Russell’s fourth grade class. That was also the year he was first published in a book of poetry written by elementary school kids from around the country.

We went on to share three more years of creative writing bliss, with me as his teacher through his eighth grade year. He also held his own in a high school poetry group I led, even though he was four years their junior.

So it was no surprise when as a high school senior, Russell wrestled with the idea of pursuing a degree in English, Creative Writing or Journalism. He chose journalism, and has had a terrific writing career so far, including winning awards for articles he’s written. In recent years, he’s added screenwriting to his passion. And being a masterful storyteller, I have no doubt I'll be attending an opening night in Hollywood some day.

So by now you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this trip down a mother’s memory lane; and what any of this has to do with Theo and Cliff Huxtable? Well, I’ll tell you.

I don’t remember the exact day or time, or even which work of Russell’s I was reading, but I do remember the instant I was struck with the realization that my son had passed me as writer.

Like Cliff, the wind was knocked out of me with a flood of emotions including pride, wonder and awe, and truth be told, even a momentary flash of regret. I too had earned money as a writer, selling articles, devotionals, and curriculum. But I saw in my son a single-minded dedication to the craft of writing that I admired and had abandoned long ago.

Of all the feelings that flooded me that day, pride and joy was the greatest. But there was another feeling, too: Inspiration.

“I want to write like you when I grow up,” I told him. To which he smiled faintly, and then deflected the compliment by saying something about the writer he still wanted to become.

Then it hit me. The apprentice had become the teacher.

For over 10 years I had fanned Russell’s writing gifts (and still give my 2 cents), but more so nowadays he's fanning mine. As I’ve returned to writing in the second half of my life, he’s one of my biggest advocates. He even has the nerve to challenge me with writing goals! But that’s okay.

Together we aspire and inspire.

I’ve accepted the changing of the guard. But unlike Cliff from The Cosby Show, I don’t feel old. In fact, reawakening one of my passions, and rolling up my sleeves to get back to a craft I love has been invigorating.

So, let me ask you. Is there a dream or passion that you need to shake from slumber?

Look around. There may be a teacher (be they your senior, peer, junior or even your offspring) standing by with just the right inspiration and support to get you on track.

Or perhaps the flip side is true. Is there someone needing your inspiration, expertise and support to pursue their dream?

Think about it. Now just may be the time for you to aspire and inspire!

Do not neglect your gift. . . (1 Timothy 4:14)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mining for Gold

In my last post, Golden Silence, I shared about feeling nearly submerged in water, and how my prayers seemed to be met with silence. I was reminded of times I had responded with silence as a parent, which led me to recognize that perhaps God was speaking, after all. And with that, I expressed a desire to go for the gold in God’s “silence” and glean all he wanted to share with me.

So, I’ve been on a mining expedition the last few weeks. Reflecting, learning, and listening for God’s guidance in my situation. Perhaps my expedition will be helpful for yours.

First, let me say that my overall circumstances have not changed much, but my outlook has.

Specifically, my struggle is the downturned economy and the sudden impact it has had on my construction business this past November until now.

The truth is I’m not as anxious as I have been, although to look around, the water is just as menacing and chilly. Solid footing seems very, very far off. But God’s presence is near and dear. I’ve moved from head knowledge to my heart, fully accepting in peace that God has a purpose and plan.

Recently, I heard a pastor say that when we experience difficulty, we can be in such a hurry for it to be over that we fail to learn the lessons of patience, perseverance and character God wants to teach us.

This resonated with my desire to go for the gold in God’s “silence”. So, with pen and journal in hand, I returned to the points enumerated in Golden Silence to begin looking for the lessons. I discovered that these points actually formed a scope and sequence lesson plan for my prayerful reflection.

I began from the top with Slippery Slope silence, those times when God appears silent because we need to come clean with something before God. After seeking a pure heart and God’s cleansing, we moved on to Think About it Silence. This study entailed considering what God had already told me through his Word, experiences and the wisdom of others.

Since my trial relates to money, business decisions and survival in this economy, I started with Bible verses and made a list of what I knew about God’s care. I was reminded of God’s promise to supply my needs (Phil. 4:19), to give wisdom (James 1:5), and that he’ll never fail me (Hebrews 13:5) to name just a few.

The Think About It study also led me to reflect on God’s use of common sense. Specifically, there had been so many times God had come through just in the nick of time, I was looking for him to do the same this time.

In short, I was waiting for a miracle, and my eyes were steadily on the horizon. But when I shifted my eyes back to our financials and project calendar, and asked God if I was missing something, common sense became strikingly clear. If cutting expenses, adjusting labor costs, and looking for new projects were not making the grade, common sense would suggest the need for another income source for survival. After all, isn’t the fact we have common sense God can use to guide us equally a miracle? (Forgive me, God for taking such a wonderful gift for granted….)

There have been other Think About It insights from this lesson, too, including things to do differently in the future. This is a study I will continue to put before the Lord to listen and learn.

The gold I’ve discovered so far directly led to the lesson for Missing the Message silence. This point involves not hearing God’s voice because we are focused on our own agenda.

In my case, as I’ve continued to put the business before the Lord, I’ve learned to release preconceived notions of how financial health will come. In fact, I’ve even asked God if it is his plan that we continue with the company, period! (Or at least in the way the company is configured right now.)

I’m open to whatever God says, but I don’t feel he’s leading us to close our doors just yet. To the contrary, I believe we will look back on this point in the future, and see how the lessons God is teaching us now were turning points for business and spiritual growth.

Which brings me to the last lesson, Go For It silence, where God’s apparent silence is actually saying, “Try it, I’m with you, you’ll be fine.” For me, that has meant being open-minded and creative.

I’ve brushed off my resume, revisited my skill set, gifts and interests, and have prayerfully put myself out there to see where God may lead in terms of additional income potential.

I’m also looking at the company with fresh eyes and creative vision, studying business strategies and finding support resources to look for ways God may be leading the company to Go for It, as well.

Do you hear a little excitement in my voice? It’s there!

As I said above, my circumstances have not changed much and, at face value, things are still scary. But I no longer feel God is silent. His golden direction is plentiful and the lessons rich. I’m a mining student, on a mission to learn, as I wait on the Lord.

Join in the dialogue of encouragement! Share a comment about what lessons you are learning or have learned about hearing God in difficult times?


Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. . . (Ephesians 3:20)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Golden Silence

Recently I was at one of those low points. Lowest of the lows, actually…

I had been praying for wisdom and direction with a fervency that only comes in times of desperation. I honestly had no doubt that God would prevail, but from my vantage point, the waters were steadily rising. Drowning seemed imminent.

I remember one specific day when more bad news raised the water to my earlobes. In fear and in tears, I bellowed to God, “What I am supposed to do?!”

I would have scared anyone within 50 yards of me, I’m sure, but I was alone. And the reverberation of my outburst was a deafening quiet.

Then, in my mind’s ear, I heard a phrase from a joke my sons used to say when their question would fall on deaf ears. In a shrill and frantic voice they would demand,”ANSWER ME!!”

I actually laughed aloud at the recollection because it captured exactly what I was feeling. After weeks of praying, I still didn’t know what God wanted me to do and things were going from bad to worse.

Feeling like a frustrated child, I started thinking about God as my Father. I remembered the frustration my children expressed when I didn’t respond to them, and how usually there was a reason for my silence. While God is God, of course, and his ways very far above my own, I nevertheless saw parallels that made me wonder if God was indeed speaking to me through his “silence”.

1. Slippery Slope Silence
“You’re on a slippery slope,” was the warning I’d give my sons when they were headed down a verbal path that would not end well. And from time to time, they would actually hit bottom! On those occasions, love and care was still there, but the fellowship and friendship was momentarily disrupted. There could be no further discussion until the offense was addressed.

Similarly, I know there are attitudes, behaviors and choices that can disrupt my communication and communion with God. I wonder if in this silence God is saying, “I’d love to share, but there are some areas we need to address first. Remember, I’m faithful to forgive when you confess and apologize...”

2. Think About It Silence
There were times when I did not answer my sons directly because I had already told them what to do. (Often times more than once!) It would get to the point where instead of a direct answer I would simply say, “Think about it.”

I wonder if there are times when God’s silence is similar. Given that the Bible has all the life principles I need to know, as well as what he’s revealed through my experiences and the insights of others, I wonder if in this silence God is saying, “Think about it! You already know the answer to this one.” Perhaps instead of crying aloud, what I really need to be doing is giving more time to study and reflection, and applying what God has already showed to me.

3. Missing the Message Silence
You’re not listening,” was my response on those occasions when my sons were so focused on their point that they missed what I was trying to say. I often had to back up and start from the beginning to align their focus and understanding with mine.

Likewise, I know there are times when God is saying one thing, but my ears are tuned to a different channel of expectation. Might God be saying, “Yoo Whoo, over here, Tammy… Focus now. I know you have an agenda in mind, but I have a better one. Listen…”

4. Go For It! Silence
Probably my favorite no answer from Mom scenario was when I wanted my sons to experience the joy and growth of discovery on their own. “Try it and see,” would be my non-committal nudging. But, I already knew the outcome would be a positive or stretching experience that would ultimately be good for their development or understanding.

In the same way, I know that God is in the faith-building business, and that he wants me to trust him completely. While I may feel paralyzed by the fear of not knowing details, I wonder if his quiet is also saying, “Trust me! Wait till you see what’s going to happen! You’ll be just fine; stronger and wiser, too!”

5. Mute Silence
There is one other setting when I would be silent that I’d be remiss not to mention. And that would be the times I did not answer my sons because I simply wasn’t paying attention. You know, every mother has that mute switch she can turn on for all but kid emergencies.

But the beauty of this parallel is that it doesn’t parallel at all and never will. Even though I may feel like God is not listening or answering, I also know that he knows every detail, every issue and every pain I am struggling with. While I may not be hearing him, he is no less present.

So I guess the bottom line is, even though I feel like I’m in a pit, filling with water that’s up to my neck. I must not be in any real danger. My Father is loving and watching out for me more closely than I ever could for my own sons. Which means in this time of golden silence, I must have some growing, reflecting, better listening, discovering, trusting; and yes, even confessing, to do.

Here’s to going for the gold!


The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him… (Psalms 145:17-20a)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Storms & Rainbows

For the last 12 years, my family has taken a trip during the holidays. We’ve traveled to Vegas, Hawaii, both Disney Parks, and Mexico. And, one particularly lean December we celebrated “Christmas by the Bay”, which turned out to be one of my favorite years.

In the beginning, our group consisted of my parents, my siblings and spouses, and my sons. But in recent years, the group has varied depending on who is around and able.

This year it was the two older generations. We decided to stay closer to home and drive to Vegas.

One thing I’ve noticed about these trips is that while we always have a great time, there is also at least one “incident”. That is, a moment of tension, frustration, or hurt feelings resulting from a misunderstanding, comment, or action.

These incidents always blow over like passing thunder storms and don’t last long, but they happen just the same. This year, there was a storm with my name on it.

It happened about three hours into the trip when I took my turn as Driver 2 of the Toyota Sequoia we had rented. Shortly after taking the wheel, I noticed the SUV didn’t feel right: like it was in the wrong gear.

The console was fancier than my ’97 Nissan Altima’s, so as I peered down to view it more closely, the SUV veered onto the shoulder, giving that off-road experience of spewing gravel and bumpy terrain.

Before I could apologize, a cacophony of, “What are you doing, Tammy? What’s the problem?!” type comments torpedoed my way.

“Something’s not right!” I defended. “I’m trying to figure out what gear I’m in. There’s an S and D in the same slot, but the engine is working too hard.”

“It was working fine before,” Driver 1 said, while the front seat passenger yanked the car manual from the glove box.

Testiness was definitely in the air.

I moved the gear from the existing slot to the adjacent one, and instantly the SUV revved down to normal.

“The manual says you can drive in S or D,” I was told.

“Well before, the RPM gauge was up to 3 and 4, and now it’s back down to 2,” I snapped. “This feels right.”

No response. In fact, the entire vehicle was deathly silent, like no one was even breathing.

Then came, “I hope you’re not going keep this attitude for the rest of the trip,” the front seat passenger retorted.

“I didn’t have an attitude,” I said, “but I do now. I haven’t had an accident in more than 20 years.”

“That doesn’t mean you couldn’t have one today,” was the comeback.

More silence – the cricket chirping variety.

My throat was tight, my eyes were burning, and even the crickets retreated.

After what felt like many minutes, a small quiet voice next to me said, “Well, I’m sorry…

Another, “I’m sorry, too,” came from the back.

“Accepted,” I mumbled. The storm was over. But at least for me, there was the aftermath of emotional clean-up.

Conversation resumed and the sun came out, so to speak. But my part in the conversation was water-logged, at best.

I remember thinking I could either handle my feelings and get on with the vacation, or keep picking at the storm debris. Picking a little longer, it occurred to me that everyone’s reaction, including my own, was really a reaction to something deeper.

This brought to mind a sermon my dad had preached once on anger. He had explained that anger is typically triggered by one of three things – hurt, frustration or fear/insecurity. Understanding which of the three has been triggered -- in us and in the other person -- can go a long way toward restoring strained relationships.

In an instant I saw it all clearly, like the clouds had suddenly moved aside to reveal a rainbow.

The truth was, I had scared the whatnots out of my family, and what they had really sent my way was fear.

And my heels-dug-in response was really embarrassment that I had driven off the road and, humiliation at being yelled out in chorus, both of which relate to insecurity. And, then further injury by that “attitude” comment.

The apologies helped me to let go of my defensiveness and reconnect in love, but it was in understanding their responses and my own, that allowed me to truly put this incident behind me and readily embrace the warmth of our family time. In fact, the rest of the drive turned out to be a bright, bright sunshiny day!


He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. (Proverbs 17:27)