January 2006 Newsletter

Happy New Year!  Can you believe it's 2006?  I can't.  I'm still trying to adjust to saying "twenty-oh-six" as I'm hearing it now.  I don't know what happened to "two-thousand-six", but it's apparently totally out of vogue to say "two-thousand."  So, in case you haven't heard, you heard it here.  I'm just trying to help you keep up with the times.

This month I want to share something with you that I have just experienced.  I've pretty much developed a prevailing attitude where I expect a stream of miracles routinely in my life.  But it's only the second day of the new year, and it's already started anew.

Since I began working out of my home office, I've become pretty lazy.  I was sleeping in...later and later everyday it seemed.  With this lack of discipline, my production had dwindled to virtually a trickle.  I knew I couldn't allow the trend to continue.  As a result, my New Year’s resolution, which I started today, was to get back on my 4:30 AM schedule. 

When I was writing Teaching Common Sense and working every day, that discipline was the only way I could possibly finish the book.  The most productive time of the day for me is prior to 8:00 AM.  After that, life takes over and it's difficult to keep the nose to the grindstone.  I knew I had to retrain myself in 2006.

I was dreading it so bad.  I’m not a morning person at all, and I just knew I’d never get up early this morning.  Even if I did manage to hear the 4:30 AM alarm and wake up, I was afraid I’d be so dead-headed I wouldn’t be able to do any work.  So before I went to sleep I prayed that God would pleeeeeease wake me up at 4:30 and make me rested, refreshed and alert, ready to go to work and be productive.

Well…..this is a classic case of “be careful what you ask for, because you might get it!”  I woke up at 2:30 AM, WIDE AWAKE, totally rested, and my head bursting with ideas.  I had to jump up and start writing them down.  Before 9:00 AM, I’d written a speech, a new chapter for my book containing new material that I’d never even thought of before (I had thought I had the whole book outlined and knew everything that was going into it), and I’d updated and sent out an “initial project agreement” document for review and approval.  I couldn’t even believe it myself. 

But it was funny.  As I was jumping out of bed, it suddenly hit me what had happened, and I just started laughing.  I said, “You know, God, I really appreciate what you did for me, answering my prayer and all, so please don’t take this the wrong way……but you were two hours early!   I’ve always heard that God’s concept of time is different than ours, and now I know it’s true!

Expect answered prayers and miracles in this new year! 

They happen everyday!!

 

 

I'm including in this month's newsletter a piece I wrote a couple years ago, when I was contemplating new year's resolutions.  Ironically, it involves a company that's under some pretty intense scrutiny and criticism these days for discrimination and other not-so-nice accusations.  Nevertheless, it played a big role in an important moment in my life.  It was a profound experience for me, and I hope it compels you to think long and hard about your own approach to life in 2006.

                                       Signs

By: Rhonda Jones

NO TRESPASSING.  Washington Ridge Apartments property line ends here.  Beyond this line is private property and trespassers will be prosecuted.

What an ominous warning, I thought, as I stepped across the imaginary line.  Pausing briefly, I peeked warily over both shoulders checking for the authorities who no doubt were chomping at the bits to haul away a violent criminal like me.  Surprised to see none in pursuit, I continued on my morning walk.

This was the first of what I hoped would become regular walks in 2004.  Well, actually it wasn’t 2004 yet.  The calendar read December 28, 2003.  But for me, once Christmas had passed, official or not the New Year had begun.  I had already decided what my resolutions for 2004 would be…prioritize…economize…exercise.  I know they aren’t the kind of specific resolutions people typically make.  Yet, they seemed to sum it all up for me.  I’m so proud of this—my new mantra—that I wish I could take full credit for its’ genius.  Alas, I must admit, being the hardened, trespassing criminal that I am, I stole it from yet another sign.  I found my New Year’s Resolution on a sign in Wal-Mart.  It seems an odd place to find such a message, doesn’t it?  A message to prioritize, economize and exercise in that den of commercialism?  Maybe that’s what gave it even more impact.

Alone on Christmas Eve, I’d felt compelled to return some under-bed storage boxes, which must have been designed to fit under someone else’s bed, since they certainly wouldn’t fit under any of mine.  They had laid in the floor of the guest bedroom for over a month when suddenly I felt compelled to take them back to Wal-Mart.  The return lines will be long after Christmas, I told myself.  There would be no better time than now to return, because everyone else will be busy doing their last minute shopping.

Well, I was half right.  The store was packed with people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and flavors wandering aimlessly, as if driven by some unseen force to buy some useless and unwanted trinket before the store’s early 6:00 PM Christmas Eve closing.  But the return line, oh my goodness, the return line was backed up out the front door.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  Still, what did it matter?  My family had our Christmas gathering early this year, and now I was alone on Christmas Eve.  I might as well spend it in the return line at Wal-Mart, I thought.

So, I settled into the end of the line, took a deep breath, and waited.  I soon became aware of the frustration of many of my fellow returners.  Obviously anxious to get on with their holiday festivities, this was the last place in the world they wanted to be.  Their disgust was showered on everyone around them, the Wal-Mart clerks and managers, their family members, and all the rest of us fellow line-standers.

Resolved not to let myself sink to that level, I closed my eyes and sighed, “Okay, God, what is it that you want me to learn from this?”  And, when I opened my eyes and looked up, there it was.  A sign, in fact several signs one after the other down the main aisle, all with the same message, but tucked up so close to the ceiling they were not even noticeable… prioritizeeconomizeexercise.  That’s all they said.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I’d been in this and many other Wal-Mart stores countless times.  I’d never seen any signs like these.  Looking around in disbelief, it was obvious to me that no one else was noticing this proverbial message.  It was as if it had been there just for me…revealed to me only because I’d asked for it.  In that moment, I had known this would become the yardstick against which I would measure my actions and my choices, not just in 2004 but from this moment forward for the rest of my life.

Now today, five days later, with this morning walk I’d begun at least a third of the journey…the exercise.  But, it struck me how at odds that Wal-Mart sign was with this No Trespassing sign.  Where are we placing our priorities when we try to carve out a piece of earth, call it our own, and deny others access to it?  Could we ever really possess it, anymore than we could possess and restrict access to the air we breathe or the rays of the sun that warm our face on a cold winter’s day like today?  It occurred to me that I had spent the better part of my forty-one years under this same illusionment.  My priorities had been on owning as much as I could, regardless of whether getting it involved the most economical choices.  The farm that was never actually farmed, the ten-room house in which I only really used four rooms, the new condo on the lake where I’d still felt compelled to remodel and expand, and finally – the ultimate – the three story, four bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath house on the finest lake lot in three counties, that’s what my life had been devoted to.  That’s where my money had been spent.  Those were my priorities…economy be damned.

A trespasser no more, now safely back on the apartment grounds, I pondered this as I walked past the half-frozen pond.  Slushy ice floated and glistened in the December sun.  Sometimes there were Canadian geese visiting the pond, but not today.  My mind drifted back then to that first little farm where I’d lived, and back further still to the ponds on the farm where I’d grown up.  It required an unusual Tennessee cold spell to freeze the ponds like we saw in the movies.  But, it did happen occasionally.  And, I remembered how the ducks always worked during those times to keep a hole open in the ice.  Swimming around and around in the cold water, they kept a small semi-circle along the pond’s edge unfrozen, which depending on the length and severity of the cold spell could grow increasingly smaller and smaller until it seemed as if they might just stay there until they were frozen solid right into the ice.

It was a defense mechanism that triggered this behavior in the ducks.  Long domesticated and weighted down by their corn-fed, overgrown bodies, they couldn’t fly for long distances, and they definitely couldn’t outrun any predators.  Instinctively, they strove to survive in the only way they knew how.  I was always struck by the irony of it.  They were never really safe.  Their small hole in the ice was just on the pond’s edge and with ice all around it led to nowhere.  It was not unusual during these times to find, when doing the morning chores, the few feather remains of a hapless duck who’d been the previous evening’s meal for some other animal driven to survive the cold winter. 

Nevertheless, sitting there in that little space they’d worked to carve out for themselves, they felt safe.  Somehow just spending the energy to create the space created the illusion of security.  Just as drawing imaginary lines around pieces of earth, building structures, and putting up No Trespassing signs creates the illusion of security for us humans…the same way living in those big houses had created that false sense of security in me.  And yet it had all been gone in an instant.  Just like the unsuspecting duck plucked from the pond, my bubble had burst, too.  The marriage I'd put my faith in had crumbled.  The fašade had unraveled.  All the property around which the borders and signs had carefully been placed had been liquidated in a few short months.  It was then that I realized I never really possessed any of it.  Not the house, or the earth it sat upon, or the happiness and prosperity it symbolized.  That sense of security I was seeking, that same sense of security being sought through the use of those No Trespassing signs, had eluded me all those years, and now I finally knew why.  I’d been looking for it in all the wrong places.  My priorities had been all wrong.

So, I finished that symbolic walk around my new neighborhood, whispering like a prayer my New Year’s resolution…prioritizeeconomizeexercise.  I write and play the dulcimer now instead of burying my nose in television, because expressing my thoughts and feelings through the written word and the poetry of music is of much higher priority to me.  And while my modest apartment pales in comparison to the grand homes I’ve inhabited, it’s an economical choice that enables me to budget a large amount of my income toward helping those less fortunate than me…another new priority.

More importantly, I’m not trying to own it anymore.  I’m just borrowing it for a while, because I’m on a journey now.  A journey I was always meant to take.  A journey where my priorities are in order.  And there are no keep-out signs required to protect that.