Jeremiah 29:11-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:16
“The question is not ‘if’ I will go to college,” I told my peers as we chatted in the school cafeteria, “the question is ‘where?’” My lunch mates might not have known how to spend their next four years, but my decision about college had been made well before my senior year of high school; in fact, the plan for me to continue my education had been put in place long before I was even born.
Granddaddy, my mother’s father, always wanted to be a doctor. He had the brains for it too; all his teachers said so. I remember my sister and me playing this game with him: one of us would get a calculator; the other would call out numbers and operations. “Nineteen plus 382, minus 44, times three . . .” The one with the calculator would compute the equation while Granddaddy did it mentally, scratching an occasional detail on his notepad. Granddaddy always got it right. Sometimes he even beat the calculator.
But Granddaddy never finished college because life took some unfortunate turns for his family. Granddaddy made the only choice he felt he could at that time: he went to work, earning money to pay tuition for his sisters so that they could complete their teaching degrees. “You girls got to get your education,” he must have said to them as he said a generation later to my mother and even later to my sister and to me. “These days, men can always get work, but you girls will need a college degree to get a good paying job.”
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Though I found it sad that Granddaddy missed going to college, I loved hearing him tell the story. I loved watching his face glow as he told of his sisters getting their degrees and my mother getting hers. At those times, I glimpsed true joy: the joy that comes from giving freely, loving completely. And I knew too, that I was an heir to Granddaddy’s sacrificial promise. He had created a legacy of hope.
Perhaps the Jews of the exile were not hanging out at Nebuchadnezzar High discussing future co-eds with their Babylonian buddies. Still, I bet those who listened to this promise from God, felt somewhat as I did every time I heard the plans my Granddaddy had made for me. I bet their hearts quickened at the thought of God preparing for their “welfare and not for [their] harm,” of their “future of hope.” Can’t you just picture their faces as they listened to the story? Look into their eyes. Watch as awareness dawns, “This promise is for me. Me!” One by one, they sense the real message , “God. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God. Loves. Me.”
The promise holds. The future is secure. Let us rejoice always.
Original publication: December 16, 2009
Gardner-Webb University Advent Devotional
In the monthly newsletter that I send out to subscribers . . . Wait, what? You're not subscribed? Well, you better get on that right away! There's a subscribe form at the bottom of the mobile screen or on the side of the laptop screen. Go ahead. I'll wait.
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Anyway in my monthly newsletter (it's short, about a two minute read), I offer short info-bites, cute beagle pics, and something I call an "Aileenism." (A friend--shout out to Destiny--labeled my oft-repeated sayings Aileenisms years ago. It stuck.) In celebration of a full year of Aileen Goes On, the Newsletter, I give you all 12 Aileenisms.
Oh also, if you already subscribe, would you comment below and tell me which newsletter feature you like best? Thanks! You're the best. No really: you are literally the absolute best!
- October 2016: Maybe there's something I don't know.
I use this daily and I find it quite helpful in stressful situations. For example, it helps minimize my annoyance with such things as slow moving traffic (maybe there's a wreck ahead) gum-smacking cashiers (maybe he's trying to quit smoking), or obnoxious fans at football games who scream at the players even though their team is already 50 points ahead and continue their disruptive behavior through the marching band show (maybe they should stay themselves right on home until they learn how to act right . . . ) Okay so maybe I need to work on this a bit more, but you get the drift.
- November 2016: You Can't Say Can't
Saying "I can't" shuts out the possibility of success. Instead, choose one of these options.
- "I haven't yet." This says, "I can. I just need more time to practice/study/prepare."
- "I need some help to do this." That is, "I can do this with assistance."
- "I don't want to do it." Make the choice and be okay with that. That's not failure--that's empowerment.
- December 2016: What's the Magic Question?
It calms the haggard parent, soothes the anxious spouse, and encourages the overworked employee (or employer). What is this wonder word, you ask?
"What can I do to help?"
Or its identical siblings:
“How can I help you?”
“What else can I do?”
“What can I do for you?”
Try it. It's magic!
And once your children, spouse, or co-workers learn the question, all you have to do is remind them. Such subtleties as these are sure to bring about instant results.
- Have you forgotten the magic question? or
- Would you like to ask me the magic question? or
- If somebody doesn't come on in here and ask me the magic question, I'm fixing to snatch a knot on somebody's head. (Often repeated at an increased volume and preceded by "I SAID . . . .")
- January 2017: I could be wrong.
I have never thought that I had all the answers. Frequently, when I state my opinion, I add, "I could be wrong." I've been wrong many times in my life--including times when I felt absolutely certain I was right. Realizing that I could be wrong frees me to consider other opinions. In these days, when our opinions polarize us into static affiliations, how lovely it is to enter into balanced dialog. Maybe I'm wrong, but it surely works for me.
- February 2017: Stop before you're finished.
As a mom--and okay as a spouse, sister, daughter, you name it--I have, on the (not so) rare occasion, said too much. You?
When we are in the midst of any conflict, what most of us want is to hear some version of, "You are so right. I am completely at fault. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. I am blessed to know someone so brilliant and generous." Unfortunately, the fact that this pretty much NEVER happens does not dissuade us from pursuing that end.
At some point, I learned that if I stop before I'm finished, I have much better results. By not backing my loved one into an ideological corner, I create the opportunity for continued dialogue. Additionally, I give us both a chance to think about what has been said already. Of course, it is not easy for me to quit talking before I've said absolutely every single solitary thing I could say on the matter. But I try to remember that a few well-chosen words are always more effective than a monotonous lecture. When I do, I bite my tongue, and stop talking. Even if I'm not finished.
- March 2017: With which part of this can I agree?
In this time of extreme opinions and divisive conversations, I find it helpful to ask myself the question, "With which part of this can I agree?" Like this:
Comment: Majoring in History is stupid. You'll never get a job in that!
Response: Yes, some people do say that. That's not my opinion, but I can see why you think that.
Comment: University of Academics is the best school in the country! You'd be crazy to go anywhere else when you can go there!
Response: Yes, University of Academics is considered an excellent school and I am pleased I was accepted there.
Comment: Low fat diets are better than low carb ones.
Response: Yes, I know a lot of people have succeeded using that strategy.
In time, you can begin to disclose more details of your opinion, but start by naming something you can affirm; then move into the more contentious aspects of the conversation. Return to this method frequently throughout the discussion.
- April 2017: Don't teach me something you don't want me to learn.
Admittedly, it was Dr. Phil's idea; his life law #8 is "We teach people how to treat us. Maya Angelou is quoted as saying something something similar: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."
In any case, when my kids were young, I used the statement above to stop unwanted behavior. As in, "You are acting so ugly right now. Did you meant to teach me that you shouldn't be allowed to stay up late?" Or "I'm learning that I should not let you go on sleepovers, because when you come home you are grumpy."
Over time, the statement morphed into a sort of shorthand that stopped the kids before their actions got the better of them.
"You sure you want to teach me that?"
"You're teaching me something."
"Oooh! I'm really learning right now!"
In no time, they got pretty good at hitting reverse just as soon as they heard those words. A beautiful thing for a parent, that's for sure.
- May/June 2017: If they say it 1000 times, will it make it true?
I can't remember if someone else taught me this saying or if I read it in a children's book or something. There's even a slight chance I came up with it myself--doubtful, but possible. In any case, it's a great question to help kids (or adults) deal with bullies. It works like this.
Bully: "You are a poo-poo head!"
Person to self: If this bully says this 1000 times, will it make it true?
Person realizes that there's no such thing as a poo-poo head & that the bully can't change that no matter how many times the statement is made.
Person dismisses insult.
For me, this kind of exaggeration shows just how impotent the bully really is. In fact, it strips all their power away and turns bullies into nice, regular people. Well. Maybe not exactly nice, but better anyway.
- July 2017: The fair only comes once a year.
Children go through a phase when they are absurdly preoccupied with what is and is not fair. Parents, it's a battle you cannot win once your frontal lobe is fully developed. Just don't try. Here's what I came up with to combat the inevitable.
Question: "How come he gets to do it and I don't? That's not fair!"
Response: "True. But then the fair only comes once a year. It's not September, so you are out of luck."
Sarcastic? Totally. Flippant? Absolutely. But the response doesn't leave much room for discussion.
Otherwise I'd get caught in a loop like this.
Child: "How come he gets to do it and I don't? That's not fair!"
Me: "Well his friend invited him, and yours didn't."
Child: "Well I could invite my friend."
Me: "Then I would have to drive."
Child: "You always drive Favorite Child of the Day! That's not fair!"
Me: "That is inaccurate."
Child: "It is not."
(And on and on until I finally give in and let the child do what I don't want them to do while setting a precedent that whining is okay.)
So when your beloved says, "That's not fair," be sympathetic and be genuine when you respond, "Yep. You're right, it's not. But then the fair only comes once a year." At the very least the kids will be stymied by your reply and have to take a minute to figure it out.
- August 2017: Tell the truth.
In keeping with the message of this Aileenism, I confess, this is not an original idea. I mean, Moses had it engraved in stone, so there's that. Also, it's one of those "DUH" things that everyone knows, right? But the thing is, we so often fail to comply. We tell little white lies or half-truths (which, contrary to popular opinion, are not truth). We say things like . . .
I emailed you! You didn't get it?
You should have gotten that by now--stupid USPS.
I never speed.
Traffic! Sorry I'm late.
And the ultimate lie we've all told: "I don't have time!" What we usually mean is, "This is not my priority." But then that's next month's Aileenism: "We only have time for our priorities." True statement.
- September 2017: I only have time for my priorities.
"I don't have time!"
"I wish I could, but I'm too busy!"
"You're [fill in the blank]? I don't have time for stuff like that!"
Have you ever said something like that? I know I have. But the thing is, we make time for the things that matter most to us.
People argue this point with me saying things like, "I have to work overtime or I would lose my job!" And I say, "Maybe. But not going to your kids' orchestra concert or school play could cause you to lose your relationship with them." In this case, the fear of unemployment is greater than the fear of being estranged from your children.
Another argument I've heard is, "You do not understand! I am slammed from 5 am until 10 pm 7 days a week. I cannot add anything into my schedule!" To that, I answer, "No you cannot. Your schedule is already full of your priorities." This person would need to downgrade something, remove it from the daily schedule, and then add the new obligation.
Me? I read a lot. That's because reading is a priority for me. I don't clean my house as often as I should. Not a priority--not when there are books yet to be read.
See what I mean? We only have time for our priorities! So, if you're spending time on things you don't consider valuable, then think about making some changes. Priorities--they're what come first.
- October 2017: You learn more from failure than you do from success.
Back in the 90's, I worked for a small regional college: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma--Oklahoma's ONLY public liberal arts university! (I was a recruiter.) At my suggestion, we held the college's very first visitation day for potential students. The event was well attended and was considered a success by the university. Me? I was still reeling from the mistake I had made six weeks previously.
We had designed these way cool invitations and though we had a shoestring budget, we got permission to have them printed professionally. They arrived and looked perfect! Well, mostly. One problem: when I okayed the proof, I had failed to notice the incorrect date emblazoned in the middle of every invitation.
My mistake cost the university money we didn't have; we had to trash the originals and reprint them with the correct information. Today, I literally cannot remember much of anything about that event other than those flubbed-up invitations. I could describe those down to the font size! I was absolutely mortified by my error.
Here's the thing, though: I have NEVER done that again. Whether I am ordering t-shirts or announcements, for work or for personal use, I check the proof carefully and have another person or four check it as well. I learned from my mistake. The successes I experienced that day are forgotten. But my failure? That lesson has stayed with me forever.
Messed up lately? Consider it a life lesson. Value your mistake as a step on the journey to a better you. Mainly, be sure that you don't waste it! Cause that? That'd be a huge mistake!
Recently I saw a youtube video of an artist illustrating depression. The depressed person would describe how depression felt to them, and the artist would conceptualize their stories in a drawing. Their stories, thus the pictures, varied greatly. I don't have an artist, but I thought I'd try to describe what it is like for me anyway. Here you go.
For me, it’s not so much a color as a sensation. I guess the sensation is a dark one, sort of a muddy black, but mainly it’s heavy. And oozy. It usually creeps up slowly. I feel it pulling on my feet, slowing me down, and I don’t recognize it at first. I kick at it, trying to loosen the hold, thinking it’s something outside myself, rather than the all too familiar internal struggle. (After all these years, you’d think I would recognize all its disguises.) So, I think I can flick it off with a little justification. It’s patient, depression, so it backs off into the shadows, waiting.
I’m fooled into thinking I’ve resolved it, until it starts from another angle—messing with my sleep, my appetite, my mind. By now it has lured me into emotional quicksand. I get pulled under by depression’s Sirens: “What is wrong with you?” “Why can’t you get over it?” “What real problems do you have?” I try to answer and they pull me closer and their voices get louder. The more I search for the answers to their squealing demands, the more pressure I feel, the deeper I fall, the weight of the world pressing me down, down, down.
It feels like I’m wearing pain. Seeking responses to the non-answerables, I envision all those who face life’s most hopeless battles. Cancer, war, divorce, oppression, loss, racism, poverty, inequities. Tragedies loop through my mind mocking me with the reminder that I have no reason to be sad. I agree. And the pain grows heavier.
When depression opts for a more direct attack, I go from feeling like me, to feeling as if I’m caught in a vortex of despair. I sink fast. There’s no slowing it down, no getting away.
And I’m not sure what lifts the weight and allows me to move again. It helps to remember that Sirens aim to destroy me, not to expand my self-awareness. It helps to plug my ears to their false refrains and to answer with dismissal rather than with access to my soul.
And it helps to do what my mama says (as it does no matter what the problem is): “Do one thing.”
I might send a single email, do one chore, write one sentence. I tell myself that after I do that one thing, I can resume lethargy. Then I do just one more thing. And then another. And in time, I’m back on solid ground, back to me.
That’s what it’s like for me.