Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Boiled Egg, Anyone?

It’s official. I can no longer be left unsupervised.

Normally, I blame my husband for everything. But he wasn’t around when this awful thing happened, which means it takes longer for me to figure out how it’s his fault.

I could blame it on the clothesline. It was laundry day, and I was carrying each load outside to dry while I did other things inside. Except I wasn’t actually outside when this awful thing happened.

I could blame it on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They came to my door with an invitation to their latest event while this awful thing was happening. Except I didn’t actually answer the door.

While we're on religious groups, maybe I should blame it on Warren Jeffs, convicted felon and leader of the FLDS (Fundamental Church of Latter Day Saints). Because while this awful thing was happening, I sat at my desk, mesmerized by a documentary featuring some of the wives and children who escaped his polygamist cult telling their unbelievably heart-breaking stories.

I could blame the things that go bump all day long. If it weren’t for the air conditioner or the washing machine or the fridge or any one of several things in my house that frequently make strange noises, I’d have noticed the racket coming from my kitchen sooner.

I could blame my busy life. I’d had a lot going on that week. Much to distract my mind.

Or the smoke detector. Why didn’t it go off?

Or my blond hair. Except that comes from a bottle.

Or the stove.

Or the science of evaporation.

Or the bossa nova.

But whatever I do, I will not blame it on my age.

It’s true I completely forgot about the pot of eggs I’d put on to boil. It’s true I forgot to set a timer. When the cracking and popping grew loud enough to command my attention, I finally remembered the eggs. I paused the video about the FLDS and ran to my kitchen, expecting flames at worst and black smoke at least. The photo shows what I found.

Be glad I can’t share the smell.

I shut off the burner, carried the pot out to the deck, opened windows, and turned on fans. An hour later, everything was back to normal, except perhaps my pride. I’d scrubbed the pot, thrown out the burned eggs, and put on some fresh ones—remembering the timer.

I sincerely hope I’ve learned a valuable lesson. All for the low, low price of six eggs.

Ever since Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake, it’s been part of our human nature to assign fault elsewhere for our mistakes and misdeeds. I expect to remember this incident every time I boil an egg. If only I could remember to quit looking for someone or something else to point a finger at.

We hear the phrase “No shame, no blame” a lot these days—in counselors’ offices, on TV, and in self-help books. What would happen if, instead of blaming others or shaming myself, I chose to be grateful? For minimum damage. For stainless-steel cookware. For catching on before it got much worse. For the ease with which we can produce heat for cooking. For the means to purchase more eggs. For timers. And for lessons learned, even at my advanced age.

Woops. I said it.

(And if  you're too young to catch the Bossa Nova reference, here's a link to the original song for your enjoyment.)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Truth is Stranger

I’m quite capable of making stuff up, but I have a tale to tell that I wouldn’t and couldn’t have invented. But it’s true, and it gives me goosebumps. And it shows me that God cares for my heart. And that he also has a sharp sense of humor.

Before I delve into it, you need to know that for at least a decade now, my church (Prairie Alliance) has used as its motto, “UPSIDEDOWN.” If you check its website, you’ll see that the phrase is based on a story from Acts 17, where the followers of Jesus were accused of “turning the world upside down.” In the first century, the church was a disruptive force in society. Paul and his companions, (including Luke, who recorded the events) ushered in a new normal: the presence of the Kingdom of God on earth. In it, positions of power were flipped, extravagant generosity met the needs of the neglected, gender roles were being rewritten. That’s exactly what Christians today are called to, and it is the desire of my church to be that same force in our community: turning it UPSIDEDOWN with the good news of Jesus Christ.

This “upside down” accusation happened while Paul and his colleagues were in Macedonia, which was then a province in Greece. (You need to remember that bit: Macedonia.) For reasons the Bible doesn’t clearly explain, Paul’s attempts to enter various other places were thwarted. Then, Luke writes, That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’ The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.” (from Acts 16)

The story has become known as Paul’s “Macedonian Call,” and is referred to in an old hymn I grew up with called Send the Light.

That’s the back story. Now for mine.

For a long time, I’ve asked God how the things I’m doing with my life could possibly fit into my church’s UPSIDEDOWN dream. I see others doing “real” ministry, like going on mission trips, teaching, working with kids, serving the poor. Really making a difference. Sending the light. Meanwhile, I mostly stay home, hammering away on my laptop. Although I strive to write books and columns that will draw readers closer to their Creator, my stories seem disconnected from my church’s mission. I feel isolated, the words at times superficial. “Lord, I’d love it if you could grant me some small picture of what my part of this puzzle looks like,” I prayed. “How and where do I fit?”

Then I received an email from my publisher informing me that my first novel is going to be translated into a foreign language. I’d always wondered if this might happen one day. Which language would it be? What would they title it? What might the cover look like? Would it be French or Spanish? Possibly Dutch or German?

No. It’s none of those. It’s being translated into a language I didn’t even know existed, in a country I didn’t know still existed.

It’s called the Republic of Macedonia. Macedonians will be reading a story in their own language (Macedonian), set in Manitoba, dreamed up by a somewhat bewildered woman in little ol’ Portage la Prairie, who identifies with a motley group of Jesus-followers longing to turn the world upside down like Paul did. In Macedonia.

And I kind of lost it. Because you can’t make this stuff up.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Networking 101

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend a Women in Business event sponsored by our Chamber of Commerce and led by the Women’s Enterprise Centre. They promised to feed us lunch and teach us how to network, all in ninety minutes. 

Like many of us, “working a room” will never be my favorite thing. It’s hard to initiate a connection with a stranger, even when you share commonalities. I know I’m not alone in this, because when my six co-workers and I arrived, we all sat at the same table.

To break the ice, the leaders had us form two lines, facing each other. Like “speed-dating,” we had thirty seconds to shake the hand of the person across from us and tell them about ourselves. Then the other person took thirty seconds to do the same before moving down one spot and starting all over with a new partner. I introduced myself to nine or ten women, learned their names and what they do.

Then, while we ate a scrumptious lunch, we received some excellent pointers in networking. I’d like to share two that were most significant to me.

First, the most important skill you can learn is listening. You know that thing where you’re asked to go around the circle and say something about yourself? Have you ever been so absorbed in what you would say when your turn came that you missed what everyone else said? The trick is to prepare your standard introduction and memorize it so you can rattle it off without thinking. Then, you are free to really listen to what others say.

Secondly, if you don’t want to become stuck in a dead-end conversation, don’t ask yes or no questions. Like a good news reporter, use the five W’s and the bonus H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) to engage the other person. 

A scene from the 2018 Word Awards Gala
Determined to put my new skills to work at the recent Word Awards gala in Toronto, I approached a woman in the lobby. We shook hands and exchanged names. Ten minutes later when the same woman sat next to me, I turned to her, put out my hand, and said, “Have we met? You look familiar.”

Good grief. 

I spent the rest of the evening observing my daughter, a people-person since birth, brilliantly demonstrate the art of networking. I think I’ll always need to draw on my acting skills to be friendly and engaging for short bursts. Like rubber bands, we can all be stretched, but only for a while and only so far.

If you’re looking for a master networker, you’ll find no better role model than Jesus. Study his life. You never see him blathering on about himself, but always engaging others and asking good questions about their lives. He talked to lots of people and never pre-judged them. He saw “prospects” everywhere, told stories, and painted word pictures. He was brief and didn’t plead with people. And when they weren’t interested, he moved on. Most of all, he genuinely cared about others and they felt it.

When it comes to networking, maybe “What would Jesus do?” is the best question you can ask.