Suzette BrawnerGeneral

New in town and learning to navigate the public transit system, a young man stepped on the bus. He was trying to be as “green” as possible and taking the bus three days a week would not only save gas money and parking charges, it would help the environment. He handed the driver the fare, asked a couple of route questions, took the change and looked for a seat. As he was putting the coins in his pocket before he sat down he discovered the driver had accidentally given him back a quarter too much.

Trying to concentrate on the directions he’d been given, his conscience shoved him as he sat down, “You’d better give the quarter back. It would be wrong to keep it.”

“Oh, it’s only a quarter and the bus company charges too much anyway,” he argued with himself.

“God will trust us with the big things when he sees he can trust us with the little things,” he could hear his Sunday school teacher saying.

“What if the quarter is a gift from God?” he debated.

“Are you kidding me? A quarter won’t even get you a larger coffee. Isn’t your integrity worth more than a quarter?” reason asked.

As he was getting off the bus he handed the quarter to the driver and said, “You gave me a quarter too much change. Here you go.”

The driver smiled as he took the quarter and said, “I gave you too much change to see what you would do. I know you’re the new pastor in my neighborhood and I’ve been looking for a church. Thanks for the quarter and I’ll see you Sunday.”

Don’t you know that young pastor broke out in a cold sweat when he got off the bus! What a clear reminder that someone is always watching … a coworker, the neighbor, people we don’t even know or most importantly our kids. What a challenge to make sure our say and our do are the same.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

I have a l list of things I really don’t like. I’ve never really written them down on paper, just in my mind. Loosing Jim in Walmart, which now is a non-issue with cell phones, roaches, colored plastic Easter grass that reproduces and shows up under the couch in October, traffic and coming in at #1, mice. How can something so small be at the top of the list of things I really don’t like? I guess it’s because they’re so quick and sneaky and they leave poop trails. The worst part is if you spot one mouse you know their friends and relatives are not far behind.

My dislike started in college when we fed one for three months before he finally was trapped. If there are smart mice, this was one. We never figured out how he got the bait without setting off the trap. Every morning I had a creepy feeling he was watching from under the stove smiling because he had outsmarted us again.

When the kids were very young we lived in a subdivision surrounded by woods. A house in the cul-de-sac burned down and mice stormed the neighborhood looking for a free meal in the rubble. All the neighbors ended up with a mouse or twelve. Everyone was desperate to be rid of them except Jason, who was devastated over what he considered mouse executions. They were reproducing faster than we could trap them and I’m positive distant relatives of the original mouse invasion still lived in the attic when we moved two years later. You can see why they’re #1 on my list.

I was so frustrated with someone the other day. The more I thought, the more irritated I got. Then I realized something. Just like mice occupy a house, negative thoughts quickly sneak into our minds and if we aren’t careful they camp out there. Why are we so fast to criticize and judge people, most of the time without knowing their back story? Then we share our conjured up theories with others, the gossip begins, and just like mice, it leaves poop trails. The collateral damage gossip leaves is not as easy to clean up either. Consider the mice when your thoughts head in the wrong direction. I really should let negative, critical thinking share the #1 slot with the mice.

“If we are so busy judging people we don’t have time to love them.”
-Mother Teresa

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

I found a gray eyelash this morning. What’s that about? I didn’t even know there could be such a thing. I looked a little closer and noticed my eye was twitching. Maybe I’ve been at the computer way too much and must be seeing things. Nope. When I checked again, it was still there. It’s really disturbing to realize such odd things age I’m not even aware of.

Standing in a long, slow line at the grocery store yesterday didn’t help. It was impossible to miss the group of airbrushed lovelies watching me from the magazine covers. That’s enough to make anyone automatically grab some consoling chocolate, even women without a gray eyelash.

I reached for the tweezers then all at once came to my senses. It makes my eyes water just thinking how that would have felt. Why do we do that? We’re always fault finding with our appearance. I’ve watched interviews with those who the world would consider gorgeous women and even they confess worry about their “glaring imperfections”. So it has to be a universal affliction on the female chromosome. None of us are ever satisfied with how we look.

Thinking about all that, I suddenly remembered the scripture explaining how much more important our hearts and attitudes are than our exteriors and felt relief. So I smiled and we faced the day, me and my gray eyelash. Besides, that’s why God gave someone the fabulous idea to invent mascara.

“ … Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
-1 Samuel 16:7

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

When he was about twelve, my son Travis told me picking a Texas woman out of a crowd was easy. After guessing what I thought were obvious reasons; she talks with a drawl, she drives an oversized SUV, and she has big hair, he grinned, shaking his head, because he knew he had me stumped. “Then what?”, I said.

“I know because when asked how she’s doing, every Texas woman says, ‘Great! Everything’s just great!’ You know her life can’t be great all the time, but she always says she’s great,” he answered.

Interesting observation. It’s probably because most Texas and southern women tend to be so proper. Truthfully, to a certain degree, all of us are programmed that way. My mother would say, ”No one truly wants to listen to all of your stuff when they ask how you’re doing, they’re just being polite”. Mom’s also the one who taught me to say, “Bless her heart” to keep from saying something ugly about someone.

Wouldn’t it be fun, just once, to say what you really want to say, but don’t dare in polite circles? “How are you doing? Haven’t seen you in so long! What’s going on?”, some unsuspecting person might ask.

“I know how I’m supposed to answer by all Texas, southern and/or Christian standards, but if you really want to know, it honestly seems like I’m living in a three ring circus. Sometimes I feel like I’m riding an elephant. Often I feel like clown. Then some days I feel like I’m being shot out of a cannon. I hop from ring to ring, but lately it’s more of the cannon shooting thing I’m experiencing. Other than that, I’m doing great!”, you might answer with a smile. “How are you?”

“Great! Great! Good to see you,” she would politely reply, most likely murmuring “Bless her heart” as she walks away.

It would be so freeing, but probably not advisable. More than just being polite, the fear of rumors starting probably keeps us smiling and saying, ”I’m great!”

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

For two reasons I asked my friend, Jack, about the ring on his pinky finger. It’s not made of material rings are usually made of and, quite honestly, Jack, in my mind, isn’t really a pinky finger ring kind of guy. Maybe it’s a mental image I’ve come up with from some book I’ve read, but to me pinky finger ring guys play croquet and have a brandy by the fire in their ascots. They probably lift their fingers as they sip. Jack would rather be blazing trails through the woods on a four wheeler than anywhere else and I’m quite sure he doesn’t own a single ascot. All that to say, you can understand my question about Jack’s pinky ring.

Here’s what he told me and as he explained, I could understand how important the ring was to him.

There’s a tradition in the Canadian engineering schools dating back to the 1800s, the Iron Ring Ceremony. Each graduate is presented with a very significant ring that carries a huge responsibility. First, the ring indicates completion of engineering school. Second, it’s to be worn on the little finger of the writing hand. As the engineer works, the clicking sound from the ring hitting the work table is a reminder of the responsibility to details. And lastly, the ring is made of iron salvaged from engineering disasters. The majority of structures, he went on to say, collapse not because of defects in the large expanses of metal, but because of a bolt or a screw … the little things.

That ring is a constant call to awareness. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we all had a pinky finger ring reminder of some kind. Not just buildings and bridges crumble because of small mistakes and lack of consideration. How much better would all of our relationships be if we were kinder, more patient, and less testy? The little things. If we pay attention to the little things then, just maybe, the big things won’t break.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

January 13

I call it the Blue Dress Theory. I think psychologists probably call it oblivious bullheadedness or something like that. Here’s the theory. If the first time I wore what I thought was a really great blue dress and someone said, “That’s an interesting dress, but I really don’t think it’s my favorite for you,” I would think that’s one person’s opinion. If the next time I wore the dress a different person made a similar comment, I would think two people have the same opinion and my goodness aren’t people rude. But, when person number three, four and five say the same thing, I should start to wonder. If I was smart and discerning I might consider the common denominator in everyone’s comments … the blue dress. (Disclaimer: I never really owned the blue tie-dyed dress.)

How many times have you watched someone continue down a treacherous path regardless of numerous warnings? Nothing you or anyone else says or does seems to penetrate overconfidence headed in the wrong direction. It’s heartbreaking. Over several years I watched a couple defend every mistake their child made enabling him so much he could barely think for himself. Every disaster in his life was “someone else’s fault”. He was never allowed to suffer natural consequences therefore he had no sense of personal responsibility for his actions. Mom and Dad always had a bail out plan. Time after time friends and family tried to intervene and explain to the parents they were literally handicapping their child, but were waived off. The parents ignored the Blue Dress and his life unfolded like a tragic movie script.

Usually we don’t make major decisions on one person’s opinion. However, when the same comment is repeated over and over, even if it’s something we don’t want to hear, it’s going to be in our best interest to listen. Don’t be a Blue Dress victim.

“Fools think they need no advice, but the wise listen to others.”
-Proverbs 12:15

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

I Hate Cancer. The simple tee shirt with stark white letters keeps coming to my mind. It’s like hearing a song in the drive thru at Sonic I really don’t like, but keeps running over and over in my head. It just won’t leave me alone. I’ve thought a lot about that tee shirt and how it reflects the feelings of so many. Cancer is mean and it picks on such nice people like the bully on the 6th grade playground. Granted it hits those who are asking for it by living a reckless lifestyle, but it also gets in the face of innocent people who in no way are looking for trouble.

Esophageal and stomach cancer smacked my brother-in-law, Joe. My friends Gaye, Mary Anne, and Marti, have been blindsided by breast cancer. Shelley has been through nine surgeries since this time last year. Another dear friend is having her second surgery today. Battling cancer is a grueling fistfight that wears its victims slick and leaves their families drained. Even though my mother’s voice whispers in my ear “We don’t hate”, if she were here I just know she would say hating cancer is an OK thing to do.

I’ve not had to go toe-to-toe with cancer in my body. But I considered another kind of bully that sneers at me and if you’re honest, you’ll probably admit it does you too. It’s kind of a mental malignancy that becomes such a part of our thinking it seems normal. It’s deadly and, over time, chips away at who we are. When we peel back the layers of this affliction at the very core, doubt, worry and fear sit taunting us. They whisper to our hearts: “What if I’m not smart enough?” “What if I try and fail? “Things just aren’t going to get better.” Just like the song at Sonic, it sings over and over and over in our heads.

It’s disturbing when I realize what I’m listening to on the Ipod in my mind. Just like eating too many chips at a Mexican restaurant, I know better, but I do it anyway. Second Timothy 1:7 jolts me back to reality every time I start mentally slinking lower and lower. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” It makes me want to slap my forehead and yell, “What was I thinking?” I am a strong, loving, powerful, smart women and God loves me and thinks I’m fabulous. So there!”

How do we get so off track and let our thoughts boss us around like the grade school intimidator? Stand up and remember who you are when they back you in to a corner like the mean kid on the jungle gym. Don’t let yourself be pushed around by mental heckling.

I Hate Cancer! Progress is made every year in the prevention, detection and treatment of this ruthless disease. For that, I’m so grateful. Wouldn’t it be interesting, though, if there were a machine that detected tumors in our thoughts? What would your test results look like?

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

Flowerbeds ran across the entire front of the house we used to live in. Every spring I made an investment of time and money choosing, planting, and grooming red, white, and purple petunias. They must have loved living with me because they bloomed nonstop from late April until mid-October. The HGTV folks would have been proud.

Not long after the 4th of July, the wear of hot sun and hungry bugs would show up on the petunias. Their color started to dim and as my mom would say, they would get leggy. The midsummer ritual was to trim them back, put fertilizer in the beds and spray their tops and undersides with bug killer. Within a few days they would perk back up and show off like little girls until the first frost.

One summer, tune-up time for the flowerbeds landed two weeks after Jill’s wedding. The petunias looked like a group of awkward, scrawny, junior highers standing out front. I had been so saturated in mother-of-the-bride busyness I barely took time to water. To make up for my neglect, I spent most of one morning trimming, fertilizing, bug spraying and apologizing, promising I would take better care of them for the rest of the summer.

Two days later I went out early with a hot cup of coffee to check on the girls. About half of the flowers were drooped over as if they had barely survived the stomach flu. It was hot, but I was watering every day. This was a complete mystery. I went to the garage to check labels to see if I had over fertilized or over sprayed for bugs. I was mortified when I discovered I hadn’t sprayed for bugs, but for weeds! I had attacked my beautiful petunias with weed killer! Unbelievable!

The petunia massacre, as my kids called it, was nothing but carelessness. Like spraying weed killer, we can carelessly sprinkle or spatter unkind words on friends and family because we are distracted or too busy. The amazing power of words is scary. We can praise and encourage or criticize and destroy. Consider the potential damage before you speak. Be careful with petunias and cautious with your words.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

A farmer discovered his donkey had fallen into an old abandoned well. He tried everything he could think of to get the donkey out, but nothing worked. He called several of his farmer friends to come over hoping they had some rescue ideas. All they could do was stare blankly at the situation. “That donkey is old and probably doesn’t have much time left even if it hadn’t fallen in the well,” the farmer reasoned. “I really need to get a young, new donkey anyway.”

With that decided, he handed each of his friends a shovel. He was just going to bury the old donkey. It’s a good thing PETA didn’t hear about this. As the men started throwing in dirt the donkey cried and cried until suddenly it was quiet. Thinking the donkey was dead, the farmer was shocked when he looked down in the well. Each time a shovel full of dirt hit the donkey he shook it off and stepped up on top of it and shook it off and stepped up on top of it and shook it off and stepped up on top of it. Finally the pile of dirt was so high the donkey was able to walk out of the well.

True story? Well… maybe. However, we can all relate to the donkey. Shovels full of dirt hit us every day. Some days it feels like a dump truck backs up and unloads not just dirt, but barnyard litter. It’s not fun, but we have a choice in what we decide to do with it. Do we let it bury us or do we shake it off and step up on top of it? Is it a trial or an opportunity? Is it manure or is it fertilizer? You choose.

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

This is a picture of my favorite vacation place. I travel there in my imagination every two hours because it has been so cold here. It seems to help. I used to make fun of people with those Snuggie things, but at two this morning I secretly wished I had gotten one for Christmas. I could justify keeping it because I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

What’s best about my warm beach of choice is having the opportunity to simply sit and listen. The waves, the wind, people laughing, the music, even the sound of those prehistoric looking birds are all a part of why I relax. I suppose it’s mostly because I take the time to consciously listen.

Listening is honestly a learned art. It’s easy concentrating on the sounds of the beach, but it’s much more of a challenge to stay focused when someone else is talking. That’s probably because most of the time we are more interested in having our say than listening to what is being said.

What a gift you extend listening to a friend without analyzing, judging, or trying to fix anything. Being quiet, making eye contact, lifting an eyebrow occasionally, and saying things like, “Oh, wow!” or “Then what happened?” is like a dose of medicine for a flustered heart.

There’s more to listening than just being quiet. It’s not passive, but active. It requires silencing all the noise and conversations in your head and not thinking about what you’re going to say next. It’s pure attention and concentration on the other person. Listening is the greatest way to show someone you care.