Monday, July 21, 2008

Judge a Book By Its Cover

Sure...go ahead...judge a book by it's cover! Just make sure you read the book to confirm or dispute your original assumptions. And then once you have decided if your original impressions were wrong or right, learn from your mistakes or give yourself a pat on the back for being so intuitive. But realize you may often be more wrong than right in your premature assessments. And then ask yourself, "Is this pondering productive or even prudent - or merely prejudicial?

This phrase according to Wikipedia means, "The very common English idiom "don't judge a book by its cover" is a metaphorical phrase which means "don't determine the worth of something based on its appearance".[1] It is probably the most common expression used in English to convey this idea..[2]

Wikipedia also gives the origin of this idiom "The phrase first appeared in 1929 in the American journal American Speech as "you can't judge a book by its binding."[3] In 1946 the phrase appeared in the murder mystery novel Murder in the Glass Room (by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller) as "you can never tell a book by its cover."[4]

While the phrase itself may be born of the 20th century, the idea has existed much longer. In the introduction to François Rabelais's La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel (written in the 16th century), he writes: You, my good disciples—and other fools with too much time on their hands—reading the cheerful titles of some of my books, like Gargantua, Pantagruel, Guzzlepot, The High Importance of Codpieces, Peas in Lard (With Commentary), etc., can more easily perceive that they're not just about mocking and scoffing, full of silliness and pleasant lies—having seen, without having to look any harder, that their outer image (that is, their titles) is usually received with mocking laughter and jokes. But it's wrong to be so superficial when you're weighing men's work in the balance. Wouldn't you yourself say that the monk's robes hardly determine who the monk is? Or that there are some wearing monks' robes who, on the inside, couldn't be less monkish? Or that there are people wearing Spanish capes who, when it comes to courage, couldn't have less of the fearless Spanish in them? And that's why you have to actually open a book and carefully weigh what's written there.[5]

In the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the Roman author Juvenal wrote in Satires, "Fronti nulla fides," which translates as, "Never have faith in the front."[6]

And so, why would I encourage someone to go against this English proverb? I do so for one reason. We live in a society which makes determinations about a person often within the first five seconds of face time. Or within a second after hearing a particular voice. An email or other vehicle of communication most likely will take a bit longer for the casual observer to make a determination. It is much easier in certain ways to take a deceptive tack and hide behind a facade(i.e email, facebook intros, dating forums, resumes). But judgments are made nonetheless - often prematurely and many times prejudicially and very incorrectly.

Don't misunderstand - just because the societal norm dictates this to be true does not make judging a book by its cover right. In fact "judging a book by its cover" is very wrong. And so, the first step in any journey to betterment is admitting we have a problem. "Houston, I have a problem!" Yes, Yes and yes I have already faced the fact that I have been guilty of "judging the proverbial book by reading solely its cover." Whew!

Let me share. I was convicted of my unconscious decistion to avoid those women not "like me."

My home Church is Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale . This is a mega church with over 20K attending Sunday services every weekend. The first women's Bible study I attended was overwhelming. Humbling, too. Overwhelming in that I entered the conference room not expecting 50 circle tables with ten chairs at every table. Mostly every chair was taken though I arrived on time. Add to that I did not know a single soul. I felt very alone. It was the first time I ever felt alone though surrounded by many. Add to that, all the women seemed to know one another (and probably did :) and I felt like I was in first grade again. And no one picked me for dodgeball. I felt like a Loser! I stood just in front of the entrance for a minute as I toyed with the idea of leaving. After all, there were no vacant chairs. No one would miss me after all. Truly. Or so I thought.

But no, God humbled me in my pity party moment. I was not in first grade and this was not a dodgeball game! The still, small voice which often calms my soul spoke to me and me alone amidst the chattering women, "Find a group of women not like you. A table where you will learn to love those very much unlike you. They will love you unconditionally no matter your skin color, your age or your background. Then, and only then, will you learn to love as I love you." Deep sigh. Wiped away a tear. Walked into the sea of women and found my group. No, it was not like the parting of the Red Sea. Not by any means. I had to go grab a chair in the hallway and the table of 10 soon became twelve as we all scooched in.

Just before the study began, I glanced to the table next to mine and smiled at the 30-somethings in their blue jeans and layered ts. They contentedly chatted away, deep in 30- something style. Conversation I knew well. I moved my chair closer to my table as I realized deep down inside I was where I was supposed to be. It was worth it, though as I later learned. For, I had found the table where I would soon bond with women with which I would glean much wisdom. I realized I was unlike the women at my table in every way and it was wonderful.

This fact was confirmed as the weeks unfolded. Women came and went, each leaving an indelible impression on my heart. I thrived and grew in God's Word. I was so blessed by those women's stories and their pure love for God. I still keep in touch with Beverley, the leader of that group who has since moved back to her native South Africa.

As a result of this experience, I have learned to look at the heart first. I now shed my tendency for superficiality first. I am so blessed. I am glad I listened to that still small voice of God in that room full of women that day. Because of it, I found a table of women that taught me how to read the book before judging it by its cover.

Yes, we all fall short of what we know to be right. But we can learn how not to "judge a book by its cover" if we are open to change. I now endeavor to read the entire book first. Then report my findings. And even then, I may be wrong. After all, it is right to admit when we are wrong. And sometimes, reading the book is prudent and anything but prejudicial. It is a good starting point - to get to know someone. To hear their heart, to spend time with them and be open to change.

I can tell you from my own experience, that there is nothing as wonderful as hearing someone's heart. And as a result, realizing they are not just a book at all - but a novella with many exciting adventures to be jointly shared. Their "book" may contain tales of the past, present and future. And we learn that never ever would the cover have been sufficient enough to read - for everything in between their cover is wonderfully and perfectly what we needed to hear. The cover was merely the facade that contained the rest. We miss the entire story when we merely read the cover. So read the book and save the judgments for later!

Thanks for listening.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thorny Areas

Half the day is over. That is, half of my business day. It is Friday. I am facing the temptation to grab the car keys and go. Or forget the car - the park's a stone's throw away and calling my name. My jogging shoes are read to be jumped into.

I am blessed as well as challenged by the many choices of my 8 hour workday. See, my husband and I run a manufacturing business . The factory that makes our fishing harnesses is an hour north. So I don't actually have to be here in my office to get work done. A laptop travels. A phone or email gets the job done. So really, I could climb Mt. Everest and not be missed!

However delightful my situation seems, it really does cause slight angst at times. I don't know why, but I always enter Fridays with a sense of entitlement followed by procrastination. This is the broken record I allow entrance on Fridays, "You can just wind down and ease into the weekend. You deserve it! Look at how much you got done all week. Carp Diem!" (and all that - ugh)

The ever present "put off today what you can do tomorrow" rages its ugly head and comes back to bite me (on Mondays). Daily I purpose to avoid the tug of war which exists between my personal and business life but Fridays always challenge me more. Unlike the yin and yang symbol - there are many gray areas or overlapping areas that challenge business owners. Today, I hope to share my Friday struggles in order to help those of you out there with the same "thorns" in the proverbial "side". My goal is also to share some solutions I have found valuable in helping to address my Friday struggles. I said helping. I want you to know I am still a work in progress re Fridays. And know this, it is Friday and this blog is a great excuse for not getting my work done. Really. Blogging is a great reason to not get my work done and then go have lunch!

From here on out I will refer to overlapping business and personal time as "thorny areas". Thorny areas take us away from uninterrupted, productive business. Thorny area number one for me is email. Because I have one Outlook Express but many email addresses, I added many folders to my In Box. Just like filing papers away, I immediately "file" emails into the proper folder. So, boom, boom, boom! I only had 10 emails to read from the entire week. Friday is my email reading day. Feels so good to see white space in my In box. However in James 5:16 fashion - I have a confession to make! I entered a thorny area when I read my pet newsletters and submitted just a few pet products reviews. I also emailed my Mom and searched an archive for a really really good sermon message from many months ago. Unproductive. Yes! Resoundingly yes - I am guilty as charged.

Thorny area two today? I surfed the net - for news even though no news is good news. My business is unaffected directly by who is accompanying who to Iraq. And I did not really need to read the article on Fox News about how we appear to Aliens. But the article entitled Drowning Man Reeled In by Fisherman was worthwhile. I am a sucker for human interest stories and it was about a fisherman! I hope that man is going to be okay.....

As soon as I turn my computer on for the first time every day, I allow myself 10 mniutes of "web hopping". Sometimes I already have a website written down that I wanted to check out. Sometimes I want to see a website for a personal reason and it's okay during the first 10 minutes of my business day. I have allowed myself this freedom so I don't interrupt the productive time I will spend at my computer. This system works pretty well for me everyday!

I am not a phone person so score one for me! But the last thorny area I would like to share with you is lunch. I believe in Siesta! Can I hear an Amen?! Whether a siesta takes place under a tree or in a car, on the beach or the chair - I like my siesta anywhere!! My Friday mind has run off to Dr. Seuss land and I am wondering if this is because I am thinking of food - the thought of Green Eggs and Ham Sam I Am is causing me to sign off sooner than planned. After all - - it's lunchtime and I am meeting friends to talk about what else? Weekend plans - after all it is Friday! Gotta go....

Thursday, July 17, 2008

James at LA

I am Bible Study Instructor for Crossroad Bible Institute . This organization provides many levels of study for those in prison. It is solely a correspondence ministry and very safe as everything goes through the Institute. Thankfully, lots of rules. This organization loves God and His people!

This morning I reviewed a new student's lesson. This student is newly enrolled in what is called Tier 1. I receive two Tier 1 lessons every week. This is a student who is most likely new to God in his/her life and new to the Bible Study. So, I always get excited to receive a Lesson 2! I have the blessing of welcoming the student to CBI and encouraging them in their decision to study the Bible. I will never "hear" from the Tier 1 student again, meaning this is the only lesson I will get from them. I am always challenged to do my best to mentor and encourage Tier 1 students because it is my one and only contact with them.

James from a detention center in LA's lesson appeared before me. His handwriting made me smile as it resembled a child's scrawl. However, the content was anything but childish. Yes, the tone was pure and resembled an obedient child, a dependent child looking to do things right this time. But the depth and understanding of a personal God did not escape me as I read through his essays. And very soon into his lesson the realization that he wanted to live solely for God jumped off each page. I enjoyed my sweet time of fellowship with James.

The prayer request page is always the last page the Instructor reviews. This time, I was surprised by the instantaneous waterworks effect John's prayer request had on me. Yes, I am often moved by a student's prayer request. Often moved to tears and often, joyously celebrating their committments to wanting to live for God. But James's prayer request caught me off guard because my emotions hit the deck like a lead sinker! I was balling like a kid. My heart broke for him as I grieved with sadness and joy because his faith in prayer was so evident.

Here it is and I quote, "Pray for my family and frinds and there enemy's. And pray that God makes me an up right man. An man of GOD I relly want to be a man of GOD. I wount to know the Bible I do. Thank YOU ;) I love you And pray that my grandmother stay in good health. And my mother Sugar stay down. And her husband too. And one day I can see my kids. I have not seen my little girl in 5 years and I have not seen my sun in about 12 or 13 year's They have not seen each other befor I won't to dring them together to see one another when I get out that is why I have to get right for them and for me."

Oh bless his heart!!! James scored 100% on his lesson. He nailed the "roadmap" which is a daily devotion in which he looks up and reads three theme verses and then practices personal application, which is explaining how that day's teaching can make a difference in his life. I am sure I don't need to tell you I did some damage to the Kleenex box this morning.

James is special. However, he is not alone. Every week, every month and every year for over five years, I have had the priviledge of spending time with people I would never get to meet face to face. I am often amazed that they trust a stranger with their daily struggles. I am so grateful. For I so relate as often their struggles are not much different than my own. They miss loved ones, they reach out to others and get no response, they made mistakes and were punished, they ask for forgiveness from a big God and receive it, they cry salty tears and bleed red blood. They realize the need for fellowship in the Body of Christ. I am so not much different than they and I get so much more from them than I feel I give. The blessing is all mine and I love this ministry! The tears are all good and I am so grateful....

Thank you James at Riverbend for your prayer request and willingness to truly change. Thank you for trusting me with your prayer request. For encouraging me to knock on the throne room door on your behalf. Thank you for the knowledge that I touched the very heart of God. I prayed for your little girl and "sun" to meet for the very first time - for your kids to get the chance to stand with their daddy. A godly daddy who has a big heart for God and for forgiveness. A daddy who believes in second chances and prayer.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Potato Vine

My friend Debbie was recovering from a hysterectomy. I went to her house to visit. Of course I brought her cut flowers from my garden. See, Debbie is the original flower child. She loves all living, breathing things. She truly enjoys gifts others have enjoyed ie. books read with missing covers, blankets with holes from many warm winter nights, thrift store finds such as sweaters with mismatched buttons sewn on by an unknown wearer, threadbare curtains that still sway. You get the point. My friend Debbie is a rare find and I treasure her joi de vivre and "down to earth" style.

After giving Debbie the cut flowers, I assumed in her weak physical state she would merely ask me to put the flowers in a vase. However, she clutched them in one fist and proceeded out the back door into her garden. Debbie's garden is fun! She tells stories of who gave her which seedling and which plant she found curbside and nursed back to health. Literally, every plant has a story. After taking a quick breath as a short pain made its way through her midsection, she asked me to go back inside and get the scissors. I came back and she was on her knees in the dirt, smelling a flower's face that had peeked out to catch a ray of sun. Debbie made me smile. Seeing her on her knees reminded me that even in her weakened physical state she loved to be in the garden!

Debbie cut a long vine and handed it to me. She had cut the only vine with a fuschia lavendar mix of flowers at the very end. She had given me the best cutting. I remember her calling this particular clipping a "potato vine". I put it in water when I got home but did not hold much hope because my thumb was anything but green. But the flowers sure were pretty. That is, until they turned brown and died.

Needless to say, that glass sat on my kitchen counter for many days doing absolutely nothing but forming a slimy green layer around the mouth of the glass. I kept adding water to it when I remembered to do so and the rings formed many times around the glass as the days passed and the water level went up and down as I added water and as the water evaporated. I never did think of cleaning the glass.

I got sick of looking at that ugly lifeless vine. It was not beautifully flowering and was no longer even green. It became a sad shade of greenish black. I decided to plant it in a clay pot. I set it in the dirt outside the patio. Out of sight and out of mind. Two hurricane seasons passed and our yard was pummeled by high winds and heavy rains. However, that potato vine was unaffected. It was not giving up but it was not really growing at all. I did not have the heart to give up on it. Somehow it seemed an affront to Debbie to lose hope on ever seeing it bloom again. So I just left it there.

A year ago, I looked out the same kitchen window where the vine had sat in a glass on the counter. I was quite surprised to see a tendril of the vine reaching heavenward. The vine was making it's way up the patio screen up into the eaves! It was so pretty with the northern sun lighting up the green leaf from behind. I appreciated how fast it was growing. I smiled every day as I did dishes. One day fuschia lavendar flowers bloomed. The flowers dangled just above the window. Just a whisper of wind would cause them to move slightly back and forth. I had fun pretending they were dancing! Debbie came over one day. She looked out the kitchen window and saw the flowering vine. She said, "I love your garden! You have such pretty wildflowers and so many different colors." When I pointed up at the potato vine she exclaimed, "It's so pretty!" but did not remember giving it to me. We laughed. Debbie is such a blessing. She gives so much all the time it is no wonder she forgets giving. She remembers who gave what to her but not who she gave what to.

Just recently, after the flowers bloomed, the vine got a bit messy. Dead leaves began to form. I toyed with the idea of getting up on a ladder and trimming the dead leaves. I had good intentions to do so, but never did get around to it.

This morning, with cup of coffee in hand, I walked to the center of the patio and for no real reason, looked up at my vine. When I looked up I immediately spotted a bird's nest in the highest part of the vine - in the dead leaves where the vines twisted and became messy. I had seen a cardinal playing in the vine for a few days up til today, but not a nest. I was so glad I did not clean up the vine, because I most likely would have ruined this creatures plans! The nest was perfectly formed. It securely sat amidst dead leaves and vines.

I stood in awe as I realized what that vine represented. What I had seen as bothersome and ugly many times over, was truly an amazing work of art that only the Master Artist God could have created! Debbie had known the possibility that I would not take the vine if it did not have a flower. So from her garden she gave me the only vine with a flower. I had forgotten the potential of that vine to flower as it sat on my counter in a glass of water and became ugly and sadly, annoying to me. Then as it sat in a clay pot in the dirt out of sight for two years doing seemingly nothing. It endured two major storms and still refused to give up.

The vine had the potential to do many things even though it was not evident to me visually. Then today, as the three vines grafted into one leafy mass, it allowed for a safe haven for a family of birds. It did not matter that my cats sun themselves on the patio every day just mere yards from the nest or that I clatter pots and pans and make noise in the kitchen below. That vine always had potential and so many more reasons to thrive and exist in my yard. Its purpose is evident for now. I am glad I did not give up on it. I can't wait to see the cardinals there and watch their baby birds be born. I can't wait to hear them sing their birdsongs and chirp for worms. I can't wait to witness life and all the wonderful things in store....

My friend Debbie knew the potential of her gift. She is a wise wonderful woman. Even though she forgot she gave it to me that day, she gave it willingly. I am wondering what the vine will do next. If the birds decide to leave the nest, I just may decide to take a clipping to a friend. But I want to make sure it is a clipping with a flower. For I know it will get ugly. But the memory of that blooming flower will help to get it through the next seasons of it's viney life. The purple flower will help it make its way to the glass on the counter and the legacy of the potato vine will hopefully live on to house birds for many seasons to come.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Out of the big blue sea

Out of the big blue sea today I was given two gifts and was reminded about not having to travel alone....

We live a stone's throw from the beach. For ten years, my husband has been walking the beach in the early morning. He walks up in the fine, sugary sand with weights in hand. He prays as he goes and meditates on the day ahead. He always has looked so peaceful when he gets back home. For ten years he has wanted me to go too. However, I am not a morning person and for ten years I have heard him lock the door as he leaves the house and come back in. I am still in bed.

His prayers for me to become a morning person have finally worked! I am now working out with trusty Gilad on FitTv every morning at 6:30 and then off to the beach with Vinnie. Unlike my husband, though, I walk in the water with light weights. So refreshing! No sweating and I get my heart pumping quickly!

Today, the big blue sea gave me two special gifts. I was walking, wading, walking, fighting water up to my waist. I got a bit bored and so I began to look down to see what shells I could see just ahead of me as I strutted along. Out of nowhere, a little fish appeared. His coloring was equivalent to a tabby cat but of course he was a fish. He was swimming just inches ahead of my legs. As I walked and made a bit of a wake, he kept up with me. Whether I went fast or slow, he kept up. I smiled as my new friend spurred me on. However, I was quite surprised when another tiger striped fish showed up and began weaving across the path of my first fishy friend. Together, they kept bobbing and weaving, just ahead of my legs. They were swimming just ahead of me. I decided to challenge them to find out if they even knew I was there. I stopped and went the other way. In the blink of an eye they were there and in short order back in sync with me. I turned around again and again and every time my fishy friends kept up with me!

I wondered if they would jump onto me remora style if I stopped. No! They disappeared and I panicked because they were gone. After walking a few steps they were back and off we were once more in perfect harmony. Needless to say, I did not want to get out of the water this morning. I was having too much fun with two of God's littlest creatures from the big blue sea.

Just before stepping out of the surf, I realized my two fishy friends were symbolic of people I have been walking with for a short time. People that traveled a short distance with me. They kept up for awhile then when I stood still they swam off. Or possibly a friend whom I stopped calling or emailing or never went back to where I found them and as a result lost touch with them forever. I am sad those travels ended , but I now accept that that part of the journey is over. I need to be glad to have travelled it at all. In the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes reminds me there is a season for everything. I rejoice in not having to travel certain roads alone in many seasons of life. I am so blessed to have company. And this morning I was unexpectedly blessed by company in the form of two fish from the big blue sea.