Monday, October 20, 2014

Honors - Give Credit Where It is Due

It's nice to be recognized when one realizes with humility that it's a true honor. Such was my situation recently when I attended the Kansas Authors Club annual convention held this year in Hutchinson. Receiving the KAC Service Award plaque was such a surprise that I only heard half of what was said about me. Later, I jokingly stated to colleagues that I think I received this just so I'd continue forever as the club's financial secretary!

Some time ago, I realized that my name wasn't that important - it's what I do that counts. And what I do, I credit to divine intervention. Because inspiration is my forte, that's really the only reason to know my name. Name recognition is how others can find my work, and perhaps be encouraged to do something positive. (Hebrews 10:24, "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.")

Years ago, when someone would give credit to God for his/her accomplishments, I took it with a grain of salt. Now I get it. But, still, when someone or a group recognizes your service, it's appreciated. In my case, so much so, that I chose to include the award plaque in a photo which will accompany an article I wrote for my local paper, the Lawrence Journal World. It should appear this month and it may contain information that will surprise some of those who know me.

The article centers on my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.) 18 years ago. Many who know me are unaware that I have this neurological malady because I've learned to live with it so well. They sometimes assume I've had knee surgery since my left leg doesn't function as well as it should. But it's simply a matter of respecting the disease, and not letting it keep me from living a fruitful and accomplished life. I, like most people with M.S., make adjustments for fatigue and other symptoms which are kept mostly to myself. Seeing me type, no one would guess the partial and permanent numbness in my right hand, the result of the exacerbation that initially sent me to a neurologist for the diagnosis.

But enough about challenges - we all have them, seen or unseen. What is important is how we respond to them, and I feel very blessed. My faith helps me to live each day with the understanding that there is something much greater than I, and a whole lot greater than my name.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Words, Words, Words!“



“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” The individual who coined this phrase only got it partly right. While words only have power over us if we let them, connotations and the origin make a big difference.

Take for instance the word died. I never use that word when referring to my late husband. I believe that he passed on, as in transitioned to the next life. Died seems like such finality and passed away seems fleeting. My faith tells me that he still is, just on a different realm.

On the other hand, one of my sisters who lost her husband in March, won’t use the word widow. I’ve become very sensitive out of respect for her not to use this word in reference to her situation.

But these are truly minor when we think of words that destroy – words meant to inflict pain and abuse as well as idle gossip. The latter is something I choose not to pass on, if by some chance someone makes me hear it.  It just follows my conviction not to subject myself to shows and media that portray people in their worst behavior.

The origin is also important. I’ve known people who can say anything about anyone, but what they say really says more about them than the person they intend to defame. And then there are those whose words can cut to our very core. We respect or love them so much that whatever they say, we believe. And sometimes, we may not know that we, too, hold that power over others.

Matthew 12:37 states: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” If that doesn’t caution someone to be careful, I’m not sure what will. I always thought that Hell might include having to listen to all the bad things others said about you, and even worse, things you said about others that weren’t very nice and even discovering they weren’t even true.

But then we also note Proverbs 16:24: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” So it’s my job and everyone else’s to encourage others and reinforce good behavior.

You can bet that I’ll always try my best not to let idle and hurtful words slip from my tongue, but I’m not perfect. In fact, the ire that makes me most inclined to opine is when people are mean or don’t do what they should in regard to their fellowman. Then forgive me for what I say!

I take the responsibility to make this world a better place very seriously whether that means using words of encouragement or dismissing words that serve no beneficial purpose or are inadvertently insensitive. That is my expectation and my goal. I may not always achieve it, but like anything, if you don’t try, you won’t even have a chance of getting it right.  But ultimately, it’s good to remember “actions do speak louder than words.”


Monday, September 29, 2014

Doing the Right Thing Shouldn't be Unexpected

If you know me or anything about me, you probably know that I have what some would consider an over-developed sense of right and wrong. That doesn't mean I don't see gray areas, too; it's just that I think some things are no-brainers.

Today, I visited Kohl's Department Store and had a nice conversation with the young man  checking out my purchase. Afterwards, I scooted on over to another store in the same complex. After I left that store, I looked at my receipt from Kohl's and noticed that there wasn't a charge for the hand towel, only the bath towel. I'm glad I noticed before going home so it didn't necessitate another trip.

I returned to Kohl's customer service and explained that an item was missed. The sweet young lady at the counter seemed a bit surprised and thanked me saying, "that's awful of nice of you" [to come back]. I simply told her that it was "only fair." I'd say something if I were over-charged, so it's a no-brainer to say something when I'm under-charged.

So why do people not expect others to do the right thing? (Just look at how it's news worthy when people find a large sum of money and turn it in - like it's an anomaly). And why don't some people see doing the right thing as important? Maybe some of that is human nature, but we don't make the world a better place by applying a double standard.

I think of Luke 16:10  "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

At first I thought that passage should be reversed. If you can be trusted a lot, you can probably be trusted with little, but it is true that if you can't be trusted with the little things (like bringing it to someone's attention if you're under-charged), then you probably can't be trusted with something bigger.

Personally, I'd love for God to trust me with a little more wealth so that I could help my fellowman more, but most of us would like that, too. So maybe God knows that it’s best to just let me keep doing my own thing and make sure that it includes doing it right.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Social Media and Friends




I recently celebrated by birthday (no need to elaborate on what number it was), and several thoughts occurred to me: It’s great to have friends and social media really does connect people.

Although I don’t use social media that often, it was a pleasant surprise to receive “Happy Birthday” wishes from so many people, many of whom pleasantly surprised me with their contact. It’s so nice that others think you are important enough to want to share in your day in some manner.  

I’ve also learned the value of social media to announce posting of my make-a-difference Examiner Articles, website and even this blog. I also appreciate when others share my postings or website and comment. I’m still hoping for more referrals via this media for my next book (see www.vickijulian.com to learn more or see the video of me talking about it).

On my actual birthday, my sons visited of course, but because of the weather, we postponed my requested picnic until after the extended-family party the next day.  That made my evening free to accept the invitation of my friends Darwin and Susan, who are actually more like family. They treated me to dinner and a movie, and ended my birthday in the best possible way.

Most people who know me are also aware that my birthday is always a little bittersweet for me. Eight years ago, my birthday occurred just two days after learning that my husband’s kidneys were failing, and I would lose him a full month and a half sooner than expected. Even with the terminal cancer diagnosis, he managed, while in the hospital, to rally family and friends to host a surprise birthday party for me. (I celebrate my birthday only because he wanted me to do so, just like the last time he could celebrate with me).

I believe that God gives us friends for a reason. Some become closer than others and some become family. I think of Matthew 6:20 (NIV): 20” But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” It’s our relationships that really count. Friends are just a little glimpse of Heaven where we can understand the enjoyment, caring, compassion and love that awaits us.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Importance of Knowing Your Religion



A Muslim Friend once told me that it is very rare for a Muslim to convert to another religion. That did surprise me, but after reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi, I understood why.

Like a majority of professed Christians who have never read the Bible in its entirety, I learned the same is true for followers of Islam. But unlike Jesus, who indisputedly lived a very just existence and life of love, the author cites some interesting things about Muhammad’s life that weren’t compatible with what he and his fellow Muslims were taught by Imams and other teachers of Islam. There were also some surprising statements that the author found in the Quran and hadith (a revered reference for Islamic law and history) which was compiled by Sahih Bukhari who is considered a reliable and scholarly source by most Muslims.  

It is not for me to judge the choice of others’ religions, but the book provided an insight that I had never before known. It also made me appreciate the sacrifices that some must still make to follow Jesus.  And it brought home the importance of knowing all that one can about the path one chooses to find God.

The Bible can be difficult to interpret and I’ve discovered many times from my pastor, who is a Biblical scholar, that translations can play a big part in changing what I once thought. Even without the same background to interpret correctly, I understand the importance to still read it because I discover something new each time I read it in its entirety.

So how did I manage to read the entire Bible several times? I bought one of those “read the Bible in a year” Bibles. It was the New International Version (NIV), which I also have on my Kindle. Additionally, I have a hardcopy of the New Revised Standard Version (NSRV) which some of us ELCA Lutherans tend to utilize most.

Now, back to: What did I learn after reading the aforementioned book? Lots! Not only did I learn about Islam from a formerly devout Muslim, but the importance of knowing about one’s own religion. I’m confident that I have chosen for myself the correct path to God via Christianity, and I will never stop learning. But, the journey is one which each of us must determine and independently travel.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thoughts on Getting Older

Since my birthday is approaching, I've begun to contemplate getting older. My late husband used to joke that "any day above ground is a good day," but that was sorely tested when his cancer turned terminal. It's difficult to watch someone you love suffer so that pretty much negates what he once said.

As we age, I think we are all a bit concerned about our longevity and the quality of life. We all agree that the second aspect is as important or even more so than the first. I've learned to live my life more as a one-day-at-a-time journey and not procrastinate as much as I did when I was younger. (I've already bought several Christmas presents!) We don't know what tomorrow holds and what quality of life we will have.

I've also learned such life altering lessons as a bad hair day doesn't ruin your existence. I'm not as focused on possessions as I once was, but that could also be due to my deepening faith. I don't sweat "keeping up with the Kardashians," spend time preening, or waste time on movies or other past times that aren't entertaining or fulfilling. I'm now more concerned with following what Jesus taught.

Happiness doesn't come from things; it comes from focusing on what's really important - and that is pertinent to any age. I still find the Bible to be the best guide for living our lives. So no matter how I age, I'm going to concentrate on the quality of life I have today, and be thankful every step of the way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Knowing When to Say and What



I read a lot, and as a writer, I am often asked to give reviews. Because I understand how important those can be, I won’t write one unless it’s worthy of 4 or 5 stars.  Often (not surprisingly) my choice of books to read are faith-based, but I’m open to most genres.

When I wrote Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place, the Biblical annotations were unobtrusive and it was written not to be preachy. This wasn’t done to hide my faith, but to reach audiences beyond those who are Christian because I think we all have a part in making this world a better place. So why “preach” just to the choir? The addendum containing the referenced Biblical verses can be viewed by broader audiences, and that just might encourage others to explore a little more.

I’ve often said I’m not a zealot, but I have a deep faith so it’s a bit disconcerting to me when I read a well-intentioned, but too over-the-top, in-your-face, contrived “religious” novel. If I found it to be too preachy and sanctimonious, what must others think? I also believe that such methods do more harm than good in trying to gain others to your way of believing. Besides, actions really do speak louder than words.

So here is the dilemma – do I write a review as a possible warning to others? From an author’s standpoint, I can appreciate what it takes to write a book, but when the work is simply too “out there,” should that just be a discovery for someone else? Then again, not everybody likes the same thing, so maybe there are some who will respond positively to what they read in this book. After all, not everyone likes what I write, but my words do occasionally touch something in others.

After finishing the book in question, I checked to see if this was the author’s first book and it is not. I’m not inclined to read the others because of my negative response to the one I’ve read. Part of me would like to encourage and offer a few suggestions, but it’s uncertain how that would be received - a lot like other dilemmas we have in life.

So maybe I shouldn’t be so critical or judgmental, although I think my dislike of the book is really because it is geared toward the latter of those two.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, and therefore, it bothers me when others presume to know what God wants or is thinking. Personally, my belief is the best way to know that is to seek answers through prayer, and try to do the one thing we know God wants us to do – love one another.

Taking my own advice, I guess I’ll pray for the author and hope God sends him a little more wisdom on how to “tone it down a notch” for his next book. After all, if you can’t say something good…you know the rest.