Sunday, October 9, 2011

Singin’ in the Brain

Having grown up in the Baptist church, I know a lot of hymns. Most of the time I’m grateful to have the classic words rumbling around in my subconscious, to have the old melodies humming just below the surface. But sometimes having all those lyrics in my brain works against me.

Not long ago I was in a meeting with one of the men from my company’s upper management. It was a very small gathering, just four of us around a table. I sat directly across from the man making the presentation. The company I work for is a Christian ministry and the man was talking about the kind of “culture” our organization should have.

He said, “Love and grace should be the anchor of our organization.”

That did it. Next thing I know my mind is off on its own little rabbit trail trying to remember the words to “We Have an Anchor.”

“Will your anchor hold, dum, de-dum, dum, dum.” What is it? “ . . . in the” something “of life.” Is it “storms of life”? I think so. “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life.” That fits.

Before long I remembered I was still in a meeting. Focus, Becky, focus. But after a minute the man speaking said “anchor” again, so it really isn’t my fault that I launched back into my silent word search.

“We have an anchor that”—um, is it “keeps”? I think so. “. . . keeps the soul. Steadfast and sure while the ages”—no, not ages—“billows roll. Fastened to the rock which cannot move.” Is that right, cannot move? I “cannot” think of anything else. That makes sense—oh, wait, I should get back to the meeting.

So I struggled to focus on the man across the table. It’s not that he wasn’t interesting—he’s one of the most dynamic people in our organization. But my mind can’t help making associations with certain words. It just does it all by itself. I can’t stop it.

Problem is, just about any word can launch my brain into song. And in the right situations, I’ll actually start singing. I embarrass my children at times. Other times they join in. And when I’m with my sisters—forget about it. Every other line in our conversations seems to be lyrics of a song.

And sometimes the word only sounds like the word in a song. It might rhyme with the real word, like, if you were to tell me you were going to get your hair cut in a “bob” I’d probably start singing the old Silhouettes hit, “Get a Job” replacing the word “job” with “bob” making it, “Get a bob. Na na-na na, na na-na na-na.” And the “na-na”s in this case are the actual lyrics, not my brain’s attempt to remember the words.

I do prefer when my brain brings hymns to mind. It’s much more enriching than “Na-na-na” or “do-be-do-be-do.” But sometimes these things are beyond my control. I can’t help myself.

“I love you and nobody else.”


Friday, June 24, 2011


In the last few years, my job in organizational communications has allowed me to learn a little bit about “branding.” Simply put, a company’s brand is its identity. The idea comes from the branding done on cattle ranches. As you’re probably aware, each ranch has a unique symbol that they burn into the hide of every cow on the farm with an iron “stamp,” or brand. The “Double D Ranch,” for example, might have a brand of two “Ds.” If a Double D cow wanders off, other ranchers know where that cow rightfully belongs because of the two Ds burned into its hide.

The idea is similar in corporate branding. There are certain things that identify a company—a logo, colors, slogans. These help create an identity for an organization. But my boss is quick to point out that branding is not just about logos and color palettes. It’s about experience. People should have a uniform experience whenever they encounter a particular organization. Whether you patronize a company in Boise or Boston, you should have the same experience.

One of the most successful brands in existence is Coca-Cola. With some slight modifications, Coke tastes the same across the country. The classic red and white swish is identifiable from Argentina to Austria.

I read recently that after the Coca-Cola company had been bottling their product for a while, they decided they wanted a unique bottle, something that would be identified as a Coke bottle even if it were shattered against a wall. And they succeeded. The shape, the color, the texture—everything about that bottle says “Coke.”

Now imagine having all this branding business in mind and reading this verse:

“ . . . I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

While commentators offer different interpretations of what the apostle Paul might have meant here, the most obvious meaning is that Paul was referring to the many scars he carried from being repeatedly beaten and scourged. His body was literally scarred because of his association with Jesus.

But the word “brand-mark” is also the word used when slaves of that century were branded—like we brand cows today—with a mark burned into their skin that identified that slave as belonging to a particular person.

The word “brand-mark” is powerful enough when it’s taken to mean Paul’s physical scars. It’s even more profound when you consider that Paul may have had a double meaning in mind—that he was a slave of Jesus Christ and bore His brand. But I can’t help but expand the application still more as I consider some of the present-day meaning associated with the word “brand.” I ask myself--

--Do I clearly identify myself with Jesus?

--Do people have the same experience whenever they encounter me? Am I consistently Christ-like?

--If I were to be thrown against a wall and broken into a million pieces, would people look at those pieces and see Jesus?

Oh! to be like Thee, blessed Redeemer,

This is my constant longing and prayer;

Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,

Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Oh! to be like Thee, oh! to be like Thee,

Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;

Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;

Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

Oh! to Be Like Thee, Thomas O. Chisholm, pub. 1897

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy Tears

I shed a few tears on my bike ride this morning. It wasn’t because of the wind in my face, though there was some of that. It wasn’t the pain building up in my knees, though there was some of that. It wasn’t even the Cujo dog that tried to take me down, though there was some of that. (Note to leash owners: The leash device works best when one end is fastened to the dog’s collar. Waving the leash menacingly at the dog is not the preferred use of the device.) No, I shed a few tears because I was thinking about my daughter Kate.

Kate graduated from high school a few days ago. This morning, as I pedaled along, I remembered how cute she looked in her white cap and gown, her blue eyes shining, her curly brown hair cascading down from beneath the universally awkward graduation cap.

I remembered her poise as she crossed the stage, pausing briefly to shake hands with her principal and other school dignitaries. She didn’t even trip in her snazzy red heels, purchased especially for the occasion.

Then my mind went back to when Kate was about four years old. We were at one of our favorite parks (the one with the merry-go-round) and I was sitting on a blanket downhill from the playground. Suddenly she left the sandy swing and started down the hill to me. She spread her arms wide, broke into a huge smile, and aimed herself toward me. Her legs could hardly keep up with the momentum pulling her down the hill. But she stayed upright, and fell into my waiting arms.

“Lord,” I prayed, “help me never to forget this moment.”

Kate has brought us many hugs and smiles during her 17 years. And it made me tear up a bit thinking about it this morning.

She’s headed to college in the fall to study chemistry, 700 miles away, and I’ll miss her terribly. But I’m excited for her. She’s so ready for the next phase of life. She’s still running full steam ahead, arms wide open. But this time she’s headed into the arms of her future, bright, hopeful, smiling.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How do you spell “success”?
I wrote the following article for a website targeted toward young adults, especially those who might be in transition from college to career. I’d been percolating on the topic for a while and I enjoyed the opportunity to blend my thoughts together and create a fully brewed idea. That analogy would mean a lot more to me if I liked coffee.

“I feel like such a failure,” my friend Lucy told me over the phone. “I got my degree in music ed and now I’m a bank teller. My college education was a complete waste of time and money.” “You are not a failure,” I assured her. But beyond that, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. In the days that followed I thought about what I’d like to say to my friend, and to others struggling with the fact that things haven’t gone as they’d hoped after college.

1. College is about more than career training. Yes, most of us attend college to prepare for a specific vocation. But it doesn’t take long to realize there are a host of other life lessons we pick up along the way. How to get along with difficult people. How to organize your time. How to depend more fully on God. I even learned how to crack an egg with one hand while working the breakfast shift in the college cafeteria. Think about the friends you made, the challenges you overcame. The benefits of college go beyond preparing us for a job. So don’t measure the “worth” of those years solely by your rung on the corporate ladder.

2. You probably won’t be in this job forever. My father worked for the same company for 40 years. That was fairly common in his era. But it’s not so common today. The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that people change occupations about every five years. My husband, for instance, studied broadcasting in college and worked in a radio station after graduation. Then, after discovering how much he enjoyed teaching a class of junior high boys at church, he went back to college to become a math teacher. After a few years teaching he decided he’d be better suited to a business environment and spent the next 20 years in information technology. So if you’re unhappy with the job you have now, remind yourself that you likely won’t be in that job for 40 years.

3. Find another way to put your education to work. Lucy—a trained music educator—could fulfill her passion for teaching by volunteering. I suspect her disappointment about not being a high school choir director would be softened if she volunteered to lead a children’s choir at her church or if she helped out at an after school music program at an inner-city school. Instead of bemoaning the job you don’t have, ask yourself what you could be doing with your non-work hours that might put your hard-earned college education to work.

4. God is more concerned about who you are than what you do. This is the most important thing I’d say to Lucy. As I read the Bible, I find scores of verses about good character and much less about career choice. God values honesty, compassion, kindness, . . .

  • Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you (Psalm 86:11).

  • For God saved us and called us to live a holy life (2 Timothy 1:9).

Even when Scripture does talk about our jobs, it emphasizes how we work, not what we do:

  • Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3:23, 24).

I sincerely doubt our loving heavenly Father shakes His head at Lucy and says, “Too bad she’s not a music teacher.” No—He’s looking for things like how she treats her clientele, how she relates to her co-workers, how her words reflect His character.

This reminds me of a trip my husband and I took to Africa several years ago to visit my husband’s sister and her family who were missionaries. They lived on a remote, mountain compound with a hospital, a Bible school, and a church. One day we toured a row of cement block rooms that housed the Bible school students. The rooms were bare—no beds, no desks, no electricity. But my sister-in-law told me that these rooms were a huge step up from the mud shacks these students usually called home.

Throughout that trip, as I observed the contrast between my affluent American lifestyle and the simple ways of these African believers, I realized pleasing God had nothing to do with laptop computers or clever word combinations—the tools of my trade as a writer. Whatever God “required” of us as His children had to be something that could be accomplished in this simple village, in a busy urban center, or a quiet farming community. When I returned home I read the Bible with new curiosity—what does God require of me?

  • Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).

  • But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).

  • Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

  • . . . live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10).

Over and over again God talks to us about the way we treat people, doing good, getting to know Him, bearing fruit—things that have nothing to do with occupation.

It’s easy to say those things, even believe them mentally. It’s harder to embrace them when you spend 40 hours a week doing something that doesn’t fulfill or satisfy. But don’t give in to the temptation to measure success by your job. Success is living your life—the whole of your life—in a way that pleases God.

Whether you’re a music teacher or bank teller.

And that’s what I’d tell Lucy.

This article originally appeared on the NavConnect website, a ministry of The Navigators. Used with permission.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Scattered thoughts from a busy week

  • I can’t imagine living through an earthquake and a tsunami, and then spending several hours wondering if my family was alive.
  • How in the world are the Japanese people going to clean up all the garbage created by the tsunami?
  • It’s wonderful to have friends that understand without me having to explain everything.
  • Skype is fun. We just got it set up at home and talked to Doug’s sister and her husband as our test drive.
  • I’m not a huge cake fan, but I shared an enormous piece of chocolate cake from a restaurant with Kate and Eric that was served with fresh fruit and raspberry sauce. Of that, I am a fan.
  • A friend of mine just gave birth to a beautiful ten pound baby boy. Fifteen years ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy who was 9 lbs 13 1/2 oz. I’m a little upset that she beat me.
  • Everybody has troubles. Everybody.
  • The other night I was making gumbo while my husband and our three teenagers played Monopoly on the dining room table. In that moment, all was right with the world.
  • In the grocery store, I thanked a soldier for serving our country. I’m going to do that more often.
  • I’m getting very gray.
  • I don’t know what the future holds but I know who holds the future. That’s a little trite but I like it.
  • Birds. I’m delighted to hear them singing now, but I know I will come to curse them some summer morning. I shouldn’t do that.
  • I miss my parents.
  • Barber’s Adagio for Strings. It makes me cry every time.
  • I’d love to have a typewriter. (But not in place of a computer.)
  • You don’t have to be old to be grown up.
  • You can be old and not very grown up.
  • I love citrus “flavored” lotion.
  • “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Oh, That's Okay"

Squeak, squeak, scrape.

That’s the sound of me pushing my soap box across the floor. I’m about to step up and give you an ear full. Be warned.

“I’m sorry.”

These two words cause me a lot of anguish. But it’s not what you might think.

It’s not that I find it difficult to apologize (or that I find it easy). It’s not that I think anybody owes me an apology. It’s that our society doesn’t really know what to do with those two little words.

First of all, we quite often use “I’m sorry” when we really mean “I apologize.” The phrase “I’m sorry” means “to be filled with sorrow.” For example, it’s a common practice to say “I’m sorry” to someone who has just experienced the loss of a loved one. You’re letting that person know that you are filled with sorrow over his or her loss. You’re not apologizing for anything.

I doubt that I’ll be able to get the entire English speaking world to say “I apologize” when that is what they mean rather than “I’m sorry.” And I can’t say it’s wrong to use “I’m sorry” in this way. I’m sure I do it myself. But it would be more accurate and more clear to use “I apologize” when that is what we’re really trying to say.

What bothers me even more is that our society doesn’t know how to respond to an apology. Let me give you a for instance.

After a recent shopping trip, a friend of mine discovered her four-year-old daughter came home with a candy bar that was not paid for, if you know what I mean. After confirming the suspicion that the candy was hijacked from the store, and after a conversation about the fact that stealing is wrong, my friend returned to the store with her daughter so little darlin' could confess to the manager what she’d done and ask for forgiveness.

With a little help from Mom, the sweetie told the store manager she’d stolen a candy bar.

“I’m sorry,” the child humbly confessed.

“Oh, that’s okay,” the manager responded.

My friend wanted to strangle the shopkeeper (though that would have required more apologizing so she refrained). “Don’t tell her it’s okay,” my friend wanted to say. “It’s not okay!”

I was equally appalled. We the people need to learn how to say “I forgive you.” That’s the proper response to an apology (provided you’re willing to extend forgiveness). Or perhaps "I accept your apology." Or at the very least, “Thank you for the apology.” And sometimes it’s appropriate to say, “That’s so nice of you, but I don’t feel like an apology is necessary.” Anything but “that’s okay.” If it were okay, there would be no need to apologize!

Please, people. Formulate a good response of your own, practice it privately if you must, but don’t tell me “it’s okay.” It’s not okay.

Squeak, squeak, scrape.