Friday, February 26

Nothing more than a dollar sign?

I want to tell you about something that happened to me over the past couple of weeks, and I'd really like your opinion about it.

Like many people, I truly appreciate all the learning activities given to me via online resources. I'm amazed, frankly, at how much one can learn online.

Recently I registered to watch some online videos, and I learned a lot from them. I was grateful for them. So at the end of the videos, when I was offered the opportunity to enroll in an online course offered by the same teacher, I decided to go for it. I pulled out my credit card and enrolled in the class. To be honest, it was a little expensive, but I judged that it would be worthwhile expenditure.

As it turned out, what I had really done was to enter a "sales funnel." Have you ever heard of a sales funnel?

The course for which I registered offered very little more than what had been offered in the free videos. But since I was now a member of the class, I had the exclusive opportunity to enroll in a much more expensive class. Lucky me! I received email after email urging me to enroll in the more expensive class. In fact, the "class" website showed that most of the advantages I had hoped for when I enrolled were off-limits to me: they'd be "unlocked" only if I upgraded to a premium course.

Fortunately, I'd made sure that the course came with a money-back guarantee, and the owner refunded my purchase price. So I don't have a gripe with the company that sold me the course. I certainly don't have a gripe with the free-enterprise system that encourages entrepreneurship and allows folks with expertise or a great idea to make money online.

But I do have a gripe with being treated like nothing more than a potential sale, which is exactly how I felt in this case.

Internet commerce, including blogging, has changed an awful lot since I started blogging regularly way back in 2009. Don't get me wrong: I'm tickled that some people are able to make good livings for themselves online. Some of the people who make a good living online are friends of mine, and they conduct themselves (and their businesses) admirably. I've bought countless products that I've seen advertised online, as well as several online courses with which I've been delighted. I'm also happy for blogs to include ads. I don't make much money from my blog, but I'm grateful for the small ad revenues that defray the cost of blogging for me.

To be honest, if I ever have something like a book to sell, I'm quite sure I'll let people know about it via all available means. I have no complaint about marketing; of course creators of goods and services need to market their products. That's all good!

But I'm not sure what I think about being sold one product or service just so that the seller will then have free rein to sell me more products or services. I know there's nothing dishonest about it, but something about it feels a bit underhanded to me.

I don't know. Maybe I'm making way too much of this. Perhaps I should just use my "Delete" and "Unsubscribe" buttons freely and not fret about it. As for me, though, I pray that any quest I make for gold will adhere to the Golden Rule.

What do you think? Have you ever found yourself in a sales funnel? How did the experience make you feel?

Wednesday, February 24

Heeding the warning


My phone blared at me with the warning from the National Weather Service. A tornado warning.

I looked outside the window; things didn't look too bad to me. So I turned on the TV and sat watching, until finally the weather announcer said, "If you're in Durham County, you need to take shelter immediately."

Then came the familiar spiel about getting to the lowest level of my home or into an interior room with no windows. "Put as much distance as possible between yourself and the outside," the announcer urged.

I heard him say that, but I didn't move. I liked being right there by the TV, listening to the news and able to see out the window.  Then


My cell phone blared at me again.  Another Tornado Warning, this one coming before the last one was lifted.

I finally got myself and my dogs into the basement.

As I sat in the basement,  I wondered why it took me so long to heed the warning. After all, I have a perfectly good basement. Getting down here was no trouble. Why would I sit idly when I was being urged to take heed?

Am I so inured to potential danger that I'm unconcerned that it could be coming my way?

My thoughts turned to an episode last summer, when my family and I were in the Denver airport. As we sat on the concourse and awaited our flight, a funnel cloud was spotted very close by. Warning klaxons began sounding and didn't let up. Passengers and staff looked at one another and wondered what to do. Finally, airport management announced that we had no choice: we had to take shelter. We all moved into the stairwells and proceeded down, down, down to the basement of the airport, a shadowy world of reinforced concrete.  Inevitably, some of the passengers began griping about the inconvenience.

Finally the all-clear sounded and we were allowed out of the basement and back onto the concourses. By this time our flights were considerably delayed, so a great deal of griping and complaining ensued. People were irritated that they had missed connections. We were all safe and sound and fairly comfortable, but people were mad at the inconvenience caused by the cautionary move to safety.

As I sat and listened to griping, I found myself thinking how people would have been singing a much different tune if we'd come out of the basement to a disaster site. If the tornado had touched down while we'd all been hunkered down safely in the basement, would we have emerged with irritation at a little delay in our plans?

I don't think so.

I contrast that scene in my memory with what I saw as I watched the news after my afternoon in our basement. The news crews showed houses damaged and absolutely destroyed by tornadoes. Over and over came such comments as "A mother and two children were in the basement," or "The elderly lady of the house was in the bathtub, covered in a blanket." In each case, there was rejoicing that lives were saved, even when material possessions were destroyed. In no case was there griping and complaining reported; just gratitude.

I wonder how often my actions and reactions in the course of a day come because I feel safe and sound in my little corner, unconcerned about the perils of the world. Would my attitude be different if one of those dangers came close to home every day? Would I pray more? Would I complain less? Would I care less about my small comforts and more for my neighbors and their well-being? Would I dare to share the light God has given me?

God help me. I pray that I don't need a disaster to force me to be the person God is calling me to be in a dark and perilous world.

Sunday, February 14

Sunday soul care

On this Valentine's Day, like every day, I am so grateful that I don't have to depend upon my own strength.

Friday, February 12

Knowing love

It's Valentine's Day weekend! Oh, boy, a day to celebrate love. What could be nicer?

I'll tell you what could be nicer than celebrating love: actually feeling love. Knowing, down in the very core of your being, that you are loved. That's what could be nicer.

There's a catch to that. To feel loved, you need to feel lovable. You need to know that you--the real you, the person in your body who lives and breathes and moves and does life, you--are loveable. If you're like me, that's not so easy.

I'm a lucky woman. I've been married to my college sweetheart for over 30 years now. I have three wonderful children. But for most of my life, I've struggled with difficulty in feeling loved, in being secure in love.

I've written a few times about my struggle to accept myself just as I am. I was born with an extremely rare disease called Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome. It's so rare, in fact, that my parents could never find out exactly what was wrong with me. Only after I was an adult and had two children of my own did I learn the name of my disorder. All I knew was that I was deformed.

I had the largest birthmark in the world, or so it seemed to me. My right foot, leg, hip, and trunk were covered in a massive port-wine stain. And to make it worse, that same part of my body was also enlarged and misshapen. My right thigh was 2 1/2 inches larger in circumference than my left thigh.

 a photo I took of my lower leg
Oh, how I hated going swimming. Not because I didn't like to swim, but because I had wear a swimsuit. When I wore long pants, no one could see my birthmark. But in shorts or a swimsuit, I felt like a freak.

People can be cruel, even if they don't mean to be. I particularly remember one summer day when I was about 30 years old. I was at the store, pushing my little ones in a cart, when a woman stopped me, pointed to my birthmark, and shrieked, "What is wrong with your leg?" You could have heard her voice two aisles over. Outwardly I kept my cool and politely answered her question. Inwardly I shrank into a tiny ball, humiliated.

Years went by, and I never realized just how much I had internalized my insecurity about my appearance. After all, I had a husband and three children; life was good. I was able to have my birthmark treated with laser therapy, which lessened its intensity a bit, and I felt fairly comfortable in my own skin.

And then I went through a difficult period in my life, a time when everything seemed to crash around me. Desperate, I sought help from a therapist. Patiently, kindly, she peeled back layer after layer of insecurity, finally landing on the fact that I just couldn't quite believe that anyone--not God, not my husband, not my family or friends--could really love me. Not really. Not when I was so imperfect. I knew that I loved them; I was certain of that. But that they loved me? No. I hoped they did, but I could never quite believe it.

I had to learn that, even though I thought of myself as deformed and ultimately unlovable, that wasn't the truth about me. The truth of the matter was that the only person who didn't love me was me. And in that state of not loving myself, I was unable to fully enjoy the love of others. I didn't trust anyone's love for me, because I simply didn't believe it could be true.

But it is true.

Here's what I've learned, what I am still learning: I am lovable. Not because I'm perfect, because I know I'm not. All it takes is a quick look in the mirror to remind me of my physical imperfection, and a quick look into my heart to remind me of my spiritual imperfection. Nevertheless, I can know that I am lovable because I am loved.

God loves me. He's loved me since I was in my mother's womb, already deformed but not yet exposed to the world. He's never held my shortcomings against me, never withheld his love because of my imperfection.

"We love because He first loved us," the Bible tells us (I John 4:19). Do you see? Not "we love because we're so full of goodness," or "we love because we're so overwhelmed with emotion," but "we love because He first loved us." While I doubted others' love for me, I was certain that I loved them. But I missed the fact that my ability to love came directly from God's love for me.

I always believed in God. I trusted Jesus for my salvation. But I didn't fully believe His words; I didn't quite trust what He said about loving me. I felt unlovable, and I transferred my insecurity into disbelief. Still, He persisted. He kept loving me, kept blessing me, kept wanting me to understand that He, the Lord of all Creation, the King of Kings, declares me--me! the deformed one!--lovable. He sees every bit of me, every piece that I try to hide--and He finds me loveable.

So I celebrate this Valentine's Day with joy because of this precious bit of knowledge: I really am loved. As I grow in this knowledge, I can let go of my insecurities, drop away my self-protection, stop berating myself. It's a hard lesson; it's taking me such a long time to learn. But disbelief never yet altered any facts, and the fact is that I am loved.

And I'm here to tell you that you are loved, too. You are. Do you know?


Wednesday, February 10

Why ashes on Wednesday?

For me to say "I grew up in the Bible belt" is akin to saying that the Super Bowl is a pretty big ballgame.

I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, where you could scarcely walk down any street without passing a church building. My family moved out to the country when I was about nine years old. The nearest town had only one traffic light, but it had several big churches. If you were getting to know someone, your first question was "Where do you go to church?" not "Do you go to church?" Everybody went to church. Most everybody went to church at least twice a week, and many of us went three or four times or more.

But for all my church-going, I'd never heard of Ash Wednesday. My family was part of a denomination that didn't observe any part of the liturgical calendar.

Then we moved to Mississippi. Now, I know that Mississippi is no less a part of the Bible belt than Tennessee. But we lived in the part of Mississippi that's close to Louisiana, and because of that proximity I was suddenly exposed to such ideas as Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday and King Cakes and more.

Then one day my one Episcopal friend (I also had two Catholic friends, but most of my people were either Baptist or church of Christ folk) mentioned that she'd given up something for Lent. "What's Lent?" I replied. I honestly didn't know.

To be honest, I still don't know a lot, but I'm learning. My brothers and sisters from liturgical traditions have kindly and patiently explained the traditions of the church to me. And over the years I've learned that many church traditions became traditions for very good reasons. Observation of the season of Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday, is one of those.

While the observance of Ash Wednesday is not obligatory in any way, for hundreds of years now many Christians have marked the beginning of the Lenten season (the 40 days before Easter, not counting Sundays) with a particular time of reflection and repentance.  The imposition of ashes upon one's head is symbolic, of course, but what a powerful symbol!  With the placing of ashes on one's head may come the entreaty: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return," echoing God's words to Adam in Genesis 3:19. 

Our souls are in need of nourishment, and nourishment doesn't always come in exactly the same way for each person. But traditions rich in symbolism are deeply nourishing to me. When I first wrote about Ash Wednesday a few years ago, a reader of mine commented: "I have always celebrated the liturgical year and could not imagine it any other way. It adds a richness and spirituality to church that I could not do without. I've often found it funny when "non-liturgical" friends assumed that in my church we weren't really experiencing God or worshipping when we said rote prayers; they felt it just didn't mean much. After many years of Bible study, I see that practically our entire service is straight out of scripture. . . the ashes are just a symbol, or as I learned as a child, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. I need the signs, and the grace too!"

I'm with her. I need the signs, and the grace too. 

So I'm grateful for this tradition, and for the gracious people who have taught me about it.

Do you observe Ash Wednesday? Do you find such traditions nourishing to your soul?

Monday, February 8

Master bathroom update

It's been quite a while since I've written about what I've been doing in our home, but today I'm glad to share with you the updates that we've made to one of the rooms we use the most: our master bathroom.

Isn't it funny how long it can take us to get around to working on spaces that aren't in the public eye? Yet room like this play a major role in our daily lives.

Here's what our bathroom looked like before. Not horrible, but a little dated and a little too much on the brown side.

The tumbled marble tile work was fine with me, which was a good thing since our budget wouldn't accommodate such a big change.  But I wanted to de-emphasize the brownish tones, so I painted the walls with Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter.  This "greige" color still works fine with the tumbled marble; in fact, it's a close match to the groutwork in the tile. 

Once the room was lightened up with new paint, we could move on to other changes. The one element of the old bathroom I really disliked was the shower door, so changing it was the biggest priority.  I really like the new glass door.

Unfortunately, replacing that door ate up most of our budget, so we had to prioritize other changes. I would have loved to have a beautiful claw-foot tub, but decided that the existing jetted tub was fine for now. I still love the Lichtenstein-style portrait of me that my husband had made (you can read the story behind this portrait here).

I also considered replacing the countertops, but ultimately decided that the Corian was fine. It's in excellent shape and is very neutral. But the sink faucets were in pretty bad shape, so we replaced those with these lovelies:

The new faucets are from the Cassidy line by Delta, and we're very happy with them.  The faucets for our shower and tub were fine, so we just replaced the sink faucets. We stuck with brushed nickel so that the new faucets would play nicely with the old ones.

The other big change was the mirrors.  As you can see above, we had huge expanses of plate-glass mirror. They were in fine shape, but I was ready for a change. I considered framing the old mirrors, but ultimately decided against that. I was especially tired of the L-shaped mirror over my sink and vanity area. After measuring three times to be absolutely sure of the dimensions, I chose a fairly inexpensive but substantial-looking molding and had the mirrors custom-made at my local frame shop.  I think the new mirrors make a big difference in the look of the room.

The other changes I made were all very inexpensive or even free.

I simplified and updated the accessories around the tub.  I filled one of my apothecary jars with gorgeous lavender bath salts that a friend made for me; aren't they pretty? They smell heavenly. The white soap dish I found at the dollar store.

I re-used some of my old houndstooth fabric to cover an inexpensive X-leg ottoman from Target's Threshold line.

My vanity chair got recovered with some fabric left over from another project, and  I re-used my old lamp after spray-painting it with Valspar's Secluded Garden.

I'm so happy with our lighter, brighter space! The only big-ticket item in our mini-remodel was the shower door, but I think we succeeded in updating our space significantly with several small changes.

What do you think?

I'm joining these fun parties:
Wow Us Wednesday at Savvy Southern Style
Brag-Worth Thursday at Bless Er House

Sunday, February 7

Sunday soul care

Just one week now until Valentine's Day. Everywhere you turn, people will be talking about love.

They'll say "love," but often they'll mean something different.  Of all words that get bandied about, perhaps love is the most often discussed--and most often misused.

Against that backdrop, it helps me to reflect upon God's love.  My heart is helped as I consider the words of John the apostle:

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (I John 4:7-8).

And I sing to myself an old hymn, penned by John Bowring in 1825:

Father and Friend! Thy light, Thy love,
Beaming through all Thy works we see;
Thy glory gilds the heavens above,
And all the earth is full of Thee.

Thy voice we hear, Thy presence feel,
While Thou, too pure for mortal sight,
Involved in clouds, invisible,
Reignest the Lord of life and light.

We know not in what hallowed part
Of the wide heavens Thy throne may be,
But this we know, that where Thou art,
Strength, wisdom, goodness dwell with Thee.

Thy children shall not faint nor fear,
Sustained by this exalted thought;
Since Thou, their God, art everywhere,
They cannot be where Thou art not!

Since God is everywhere, there is no place where His love does not reach.

This is how I need to start my week.  How about you?

Saturday, February 6

A super Super Bowl

Of all the NFL fans in the country, I think we're the luckiest as we look forward to tomorrow's Super Bowl 50. (By the way, am I the only one who finds it weird that this Super Bowl is not denoted with Roman numerals?)

Why? Because we can't lose.

We're big Broncos fans in this house. Last summer we vacationed in Colorado, and a highlight of our time there was the day that my husband and youngest son got to attend Broncos training camp and tour Sports Authority Field.

I have a friend who worked for the Broncos in the 1990's, and last fall, I got to hold a real Broncos Super Bowl ring from the 1997 season (the year my youngest son was born).  Here's the photo I texted my son, with whom my street cred went up considerably:

And here's a close-up of the beautiful ring:

Even more precious, here's a photo of my son taken on the day of Super Bowl XLVIII, two years ago. Pictured with Lee is Clyde Christensen, who at that time was Quarterbacks Coach for the Indianapolis Colts. Christensen, a wonderful Christian man, is the father of a dear friend of mine. He was part of the Colts' coaching staff from 2002 through 2015, so he worked closely with my son's all-time favorite player, Peyton Manning.

Super Bowl XLVIII didn't turn out well for Broncos fans. We're hoping for a different outcome tomorrow.

But since we live in North Carolina, we're also excited that the Carolina Panthers are headed to their second Super Bowl appearance.

So no matter how the game turns out tomorrow, one of our favorite teams will win! How exciting is that?

Do you watch the Super Bowl? Are you excited about the Super Bowl 50 match-up?

Friday, February 5

Not quite happily ever after

Today is a special day at our house: it's my husband's birthday.

Jack and I have been married 30 years. Can you believe it? Here we are on the day we got married:

Obviously, we were only 12 years old.

Seriously, I never would have thought that 30 years could pass so quickly. So many milestones celebrated together. For 30 years now we've been together for every birthday, every holiday, every celebration. So much to celebrate together!

And for 30 years now we've been together for every bad day, every argument, every illness, every death. So much to suffer together!

Because both the good and the bad are part of life together: the happy and the sad, the peaceful and the angry, the elated and the devastated.

Little girls like fairy tales, most of which begin with "Once upon a time" and end with "they lived happily ever after." Unfortunately, many of us grow up without realizing that real life can't be a fairy tale--not even if we have a handsome prince.  "Happily ever after" isn't reality.

But today, on my dear husband's birthday, I'm thinking that "happily ever after" is close to the truth of a good marriage. Change one little letter and you've got the secret.

How about this?  "They lived happily even after."

In marriage we pledge to love and to cherish one another "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health."

Perhaps you've heard the old joke that goes, "I took her for better or for worse, but she's worse than I ever took her for." Yes. Well, aren't we all?

But by God's grace, we can live happily even after. After sickness, after poverty, after worse difficulties than we ever imagined.

Even after whatever comes our way, whatever we stumble into, and whatever we bring upon ourselves, we can live happily. It's not just another fairy tale.  For we "can do all things through Christ who strengthens us" (Philippians 4:13).

Are you living happily even after?

I'm joining:

Wednesday, February 3

A simple tip to save your eyes when reading small print

A few weeks ago I had to call my internet service provider for help with my modem. I was able to answer all the technician's questions until he asked for my modem's serial number.

The technician was so helpful. "You can find the serial number on a sticker on the back of the modem," he explained.

Wonderful. Except that sticker was about 1"x1".

Even with my strongest reading glasses, I was unable to make out the number.  Then it occurred to me that I could use my phone to take a picture of the sticker.

I was able to easily zoom in on the sticker and read the serial number from the photo.

I applied the same trick to the label on my refrigerator. It wasn't hard to read; it was just in an awkward spot. Instead of craning my neck to read the sticker, I simply stuck my phone in the fridge and snapped a photo.

All the information I need, right in the palm of my hand!

You could use the same zoom-in trick to help you decipher the tiny print on medicine labels, credit cards, insurance cards, etc.

Got something that's hard to read? Take a photo and zoom in!

Use this simple trick to be able to read even the tiniest print without straining your eyes

Have you discovered any simple tricks lately?

Tuesday, February 2

Old goal, new goal

When I started blogging, many years ago, I set a goal for myself.  I'd been a writer and speaker for many years, and I was convicted to think of how many times over the years I'd used my words for in selfish ways. So as I entered the community of bloggers, I determined that I would take to heart the words of Ephesians 4:29:

"Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, 
that it may impart grace to the hearers."

That's why my blog, ever since that first post in 2007, has always been called Imparting Grace.

I saw my blog as a bit of online property, a place to extend hospitality to all who might visit me. I wanted to bless each person who stopped by.

Over the years, though, I've found that at times I've become distracted from that goal. Instead of wanting to bless people, it's been easy to fall into the trap of wanting to impress them.

If I don't have something big or beautiful to share, I've pretty much stopped sharing. I've neglected my space here. I've practically stopped writing, unless I've felt that I had something impressive to share.

In the process, though, I've stopped doing much of anything to bless.

By God's grace, this is still my bit of online property, and lately He has shown me that if I'm willing, I can still extend hospitality here. 

But I'll have to change my habits.

I've grown rusty at extending hospitality in this space. I need practice in sharing things just to bless rather than to impress.

Today, I remember the words of Thomas à Kempis: "Habit overcomes habit."

Yesterday was the first day of February. Yesterday I wrote a little post, sharing a fun and simple recipe. More than that, though, I started what I hope will be an entire month of a post for each day. Some will be simple; some will be short. Others will be more involved. Probably very few of them will be impressive. My hope, though, is that each one will be a blessing to someone.

To bless, not to impress. And so, in some small way, to impart grace. That's my aim and my prayer.

Do you ever struggle to keep your actions aligned with your goals? Will you join me for this journey?

Monday, February 1

The easiest and best appetizer recipe

It's February, and the Super Bowl is nearly here!  Hard to believe it's nearly time for the big game, isn't it?

Today I'm sharing with you one of my entertaining secrets--an appetizer that tastes out of this world, always garners compliments, and takes only minutes to prepare.

Here's the secret ingredient:

It's a specialty product called Dr. Pete's Praline Mustard Glaze.  It's a delicious sweet and savory glaze that can be used in looks of cooking applications.  Don't let the "mustard" fool you--one of my guests who hates mustard loved this.  It costs less than $10 a bottle, and it's so delicious you won't believe it.  You can order it directly from the Dr. Pete website, or check the website for a retailer near you that carries the product.  (I have no affiliation with this company; I just think the product is wonderful.)

Now for the way I use it.  I simply soften a brick of cream cheese, generously spoon Dr. Pete's glaze on the cream cheese, and sprinkle with roasted pecans.  The result isn't particularly beautiful to look at, but it's beautiful to eat!  I serve it with plenty of crackers, and it always gets devoured.

Incredible appetizer made from Dr. Pete's Praline Mustard Glaze

Every time I serve this, people clamor for the recipe.  I once took it to an event at The Nester's house, and she called me a "dip savant." True story!

This would be a perfect addition to a Super Bowl party--super easy to make, absolutely delicious to eat, and no leftovers!

What's your favorite party food recipe?  Please share it!