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True story, a frightening one. The event happened last summer and continues to haunt me. This afternoon, I came across what I wrote about it at the time. I had no answers then, and I don’t have any now—just a conviction that I (we?) need to consider social injustice of all kinds.

“Last week I dined with two old and dear friends, one of whom had been robbed at gunpoint the night before. She and her family were watching television when she heard the unmistakable click of the back door. Was it the wind? Curious but not alarmed, she turned to look, and four masked men bounded into the room.

“All had guns, and each intruder leveled a gun at the head of one of the four family members. Four people who’d been enjoying their time together at day’s end moments before were now held captive by the invaders. Pleasure turned to terror.

“As my friend said, ‘It was surreal. I felt like I was in a dream.’

“The young men wanted money, not silver or jewelry or electronic devices. Sadly for them, the family had less than $50 in cash between them. After dumping the contents of the two women’s purses, the armed robbers (is there a better term?) retrieved at least one debit card and asked for the PIN. No fool, my friend readily gave it to him, and two of men left for an ATM machine with this promise/threat: ‘If this doesn’t work, we’re coming back to shoot all of you in the head.’

“Held hostage in what had been presumed to be a safe haven, the family felt powerless. Cell phones had been confiscated and doused with water by this time, making contact with the outside world impossible. Although they were confident that the PIN would work, the family still felt frightened, especially as they thought of the innocent two-year-old sleeping in a nearby bedroom.

“Quick thinking on the part of the young adults, the couple’s daughter and her husband, prevailed as the two began distracting the men with questions. My friend’s husband gave an award-worthy performance of faking a heart attack that must have unsettled the two remaining intruders because they fled before their partners returned, taking house keys and the home owner’s car.

“At least one phone still worked, and someone called 911. Police officers arrived in a matter of minutes. Three of the four men, all under twenty-one, had been apprehended by the time of our luncheon the next day. By that afternoon, the fourth was also in custody.

“How could something like this happen in such a seemingly safe neighborhood with pretty lawns and tree-lined streets?

“Another friend, Maria, and I absorbed this story as we dined on salmon atop spinach lunches and a special sauce. Maria began talking about a recent anniversary trip and delighted us with stories about her adventures, including a ride in hot air balloon. We chatted briefly about two other friends, one in Alaska and one who just returned from a trip to England and Scotland.

“Life was good for them—and for us too. Didn’t we deserve things? Trips and opportunities and salmon atop spinach? Doesn’t everyone? The conversation reminded me of stories I’ve read about people in the most adverse of situations who somehow do more than merely soldier on. They laugh, joke, eat, make love, and sing even as bombs explode around them.

“My friends and I discussed local politics, the juicy sweetness of peaches, and travel adventures including hikes, sailboat rides, and plantation tours. Admitting she had been a tad nervous about riding in a hot air balloon, Maria said, “There was that one that bumped into a barn, you know. It can be dangerous.”

“No matter what exciting, trivial, or funny story came up in conversation, the previous night’s incident was there, hovering over and around and above us. Our dialogue always came back to it.

“When asked if the thieves were black, my friend hesitated a moment before nodding yes. There was sadness in that nod, and knowing. Knowing developed from decades of working with college students and from reading and observing life with a clear eye. A woman of deep faith, she was likely thinking, ‘All are precious in His sight’ even as she relived the terror of the night before.

“Horrific things have always gone on, just not this close to home. I saw The Independent State of Jones last week and was sickened by the work of the Klan. I can still feel my involuntarily uptake in breath when Mr. Moses realized that three white men were following him with taunts and name-calling. His murder was cruel and merciless.

“I recently reread Elie Wiesel’s Night and wondered how the world could stand by and watch. Roosevelt knew about the Holocaust, and I’ve often wondered about his silence. Not a political scientist by any stretch of the imagination, there are many things I don’t understand. We were less of a global community then. Now we send troops to places in the world I’d never heard of until now, but then, six and a half million Jews and other “undesirables” were killed while the world turned a blind eye.”

Nearly a year has passed since the summer night intrusion and the next day’s luncheon. I still have no answers, just a conviction that all lives matter.

 

Some people don’t like him at all. They say he’s too loud and that he asks too many personal questions. Others love him and vow to follow his guidelines to financial freedom. I’m referring to Dave Ramsey, financial guru whose creed is “Be debt free.”

Personally, I like him. At least I like listening to his podcasts. At the moment, I’m not gung-ho enough to take the course or buy the books. I’m happy listening and taking baby steps. For instance, I’m totally into the debt snowball, so I’m paying off my car and then using that $411 per month to add to a house payment.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to convince you to become debt-free. Its purpose is to share Ramsey’s ideas about goal setting. I’ve been reading and teaching about how to set goals for decades, and I’ve practicing a little of what I’ve been teaching too. But Ramsey’s ideas and the way he presented them on a recent podcast really spoke to me. Maybe it’s because I needed a reminder. Or maybe I just like his direct, “pull no punches” personality and style.

Without further ado, here are the seven areas for goal setting:

  1. Financial
  2. Physical
  3. Social
  4. Family
  5. Career
  6. Spiritual
  7. Intellectual

Easy so far, right? I thought so too. For the first one, I decided that I wanted to save more money and that for the physical goal I’d drink more water or something. All was well and good until Ramsey elaborated on the seven areas by telling his listeners about the criteria each goal must meet.

Because of the time element (working on spiritual goals at church soon), I’m merely going to list the criteria and will elaborate later. In the meantime, maybe you can start thinking of some things you want to accomplish.

Each goal must be:

Specific. It’s not enough for me to say that I want to save some money. How much?

Measurable. Saying, “I think I’ll add a few dollars to my car payment each month” is not measurable. How many dollars?

Yours. You own it. Not your mama. I especially like this one. I want to be a more prudent and provident person because I want to, not because others are pushing me to.

Time-based. Saying, “I’m gonna pay this car off as soon as I can,” is a pitiful goal. “I’m going to pay my car off by this summer” gives the goal more punch and certainty.

Written down. Love this one. If you don’t write it down, it’s an idea, a dream. I’ve always known this, but the way Ramsey elaborated on it drove the point home.

Throughout the podcast, Ramsey threw in little extras that are right up my psychological alley. For example, he talked about how some people give up too easily and act like victims. “Don’t be a wussified victim,” he exclaimed.

And then, there’s that part near the end when he told his listeners, “You don’t win by accident.” No one wins a Grammy by accident. No one wins an Olympic medal and wonders, “Gee, how’d that happen?” I know that’s common sense, but as Voltaire reportedly said, “Common sense is not so common.”

I often see people who are spinning their wheels and wondering, “Why can’t I have a decent job, a degree, peace of mind, well-behaved children, or good health?” As Ramsey reiterated a couple of times, those things aren’t accidental. You need a plan. I need a plan too.

What about you? Which one of the seven areas appeals most to you?

I have dads on my mind again this morning. Lest you think that I’m dismissing the importance of mothers, I’m not. It’s just been my experience that if a parent “bails out,” it’s more likely to be the father. Why is that? And what can be done to reverse this social trend? We need to. Any reputable human growth and development text will tell you that adolescents in single-parent households are at higher risk for poor academic performance, delinquency, violent behavior, drinking, and risky sexual behavior.

Even if the father is not in the home, he can be a force for good. It is the quality of his involvement that counts, not his mere presence. We all know fathers who  are hateful, ineffective, and abusive and whose families might be better off if they were to hit the road. I’m not talking about them. I’m referring to the ones who genuinely care about their children but for various reasons don’t actually live with them. If the dad provides financial assistance, fosters a close relationship, and practices authoritative parenting, his children are usually better adjusted than if he were absent.

I recall the moment when I first realized that single parenting was becoming more the norm. A dozen years ago, I had a pretty, petite, pregnant redhead in one of my classes. I was a bit surprised that she was beginning the semester because it’s been my experience that having a newborn usually takes more time and energy than the expectant mom realizes, and more often than not, she ends up withdrawing for that term. Sorry ladies, although there are many exceptions, that’s been my observation, especially if the mother is single.

And that was the case with this young mom. The moment she told me about her “boyfriend,” I thought, “Uh oh,” and  had that sinking feeling that her college career would be cut short. Indeed, I somehow knew that the course of her life was about to be altered in a big way and that unless her circumstances changed, she and her baby would struggle in a myriad of ways.

Little Junior was born, and after a week, there she was back in class. I was delighted and surprised. We talked after class, and she showed me some pictures of the baby. There was a young man smiling and holding the newborn in a couple of the photos, and she proudly told me that he was the baby’s father and her boyfriend.

“He’s really there for us,” she said.

“That’s good to hear, “I replied.

“Yeah, he doesn’t come every single day because he’s busy, you know. But at least every other day he comes over and gives the baby a bottle.”

Again I said, “That’s good.”

Did she finish the semester? No. Her son would be approaching his teens now, and I often wonder about their fate. Does the child’s father offer financial assistance? Does he still “feed” his son? Is the child angry or rebellious? Do they live in poverty? Did she go back to college?

 There have always been single mothers and absentee fathers. I just don’t recall it being so openly flaunted as it is now. I’m amazed at how easily a person can become adjusted to change, even if it’s not good. These days I’m often surprised and thrilled to learn that the couple is married, something that I used to take for granted.

It started with Courageous. Then later that week, I saw a huge billboard with Simba and Mufasa, the words “Be a dad,” written across it. For several moments, I reminisced about The Lion King and its many great themes, one of which is the importance of “remember(ing) who you are.” The movie also said a lot about effective leadership and the power of example. I could go on and on about the attributes of the movie, but I couldn’t do it justice. It’s something you need to see for yourself.

The two movies made me think of other fathers, young and old, living and deceased, and their tremendous potential for influencing their children. Of my young favorites, there’s Rich whom I’ve already mentioned in an earlier post; my son Paul; and Ryan and Charlie, my husband’s son and son-in-law respectively. What all four of these young men have in common is the love and caring that they extend to their children every single day. All work hard and are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to care for their growing families. Their children look up to them and enjoy spending time with them.

Don’t believe me? Here are a couple of recent examples. My daughter-in-law Amanda says that she and Olivia Jayne will often go out on the balcony to wait for Paul when it’s time for him to come home. As soon as the tiny tot sees her father, she gets excited and starts stomping her feet. Recently, little Allie spent a couple of hours with us one morning before school started, and one of her favorite topics of conversation was Daddy, Daddy, Daddy (a.k.a. Ryan). And then there’s Hannah, Charlie’s oldest child. A sweet and precious child, she has often shown me a pearl necklace that her father gave her one evening when they went to daddy/daughter event.

Fathers of adult children are important too. Regardless of age, children need fathering, especially when it involves showing an interest in their lives and expressing a desire to spend time with them. As a quick example, my daughter Elizabeth enjoys monthly outings with her father. Whether shopping, enjoying a movie, or sharing a meal, his presence in her life clearly says, “I love you.” Then there’s my husband who talks with and sees his children on a regular basis. Last week, he spent one day hog hunting with Ryan and another day visiting with Lauren and her children.

Speaking of older fathers, last week I attended the funeral of an 84-year-old father, step-father, and grandfather. After the demise of his first wife, he married a friend of mine who had four young children, and for over twenty years, he’s been “there” for them. At the funeral, these four young adults sang a beautiful hymn in a tribute to Will.

Is there any greater legacy for a man to leave than that of being a responsible, dedicated, and caring father? At the end of life’s journey, I don’t think money or fame can top it in importance. For a child, there are empty places that only a father can fill. Even someone of presidential stature, Barack Obama, speaks of feeling a “father hunger” for much of his life.

Lest you think that I’m dismissing the importance of mothers, I’m not. It’s just been my experience that if a parent “bails out,” it’s more likely to be the father. Why is that? And what can be done to reverse this social trend?

On a scorching day this past July, I walked out of the library in Rincon, GA and heard a sweet little voice saying, “Hey Grandmama!” There she was, my blond, curly haired granddaughter Emma running towards me. She and her father had a daddy/daughter date that day, and they were dining on hamburgers and fries in the park. I looked up and saw Rich, my son-in-law, sitting at a picnic table in the park, and hand-in-hand, Emma and I sauntered over.  I sauntered; Emma skipped.

“Why did you guys decide to come here?” I asked. “Couldn’t you eat your lunch in air conditioned comfort?”

“Well, it was Emma’s time to choose, and she wanted to come here,” Rich replied. Emma climbed back up on the bench next to her dad and took a sip of her drink. I took a long look at my son-in-law, drenched in perspiration, obviously uncomfortable and thought, “That’s love.”

We chatted a few minutes and then I drove off. When I looked back, there they sat, Rich listening to Emma’s prattling, and Emma swinging her legs and happily telling her dad something important (to her).

I remembered this scene and others like it as my husband and I watched Courageous last week, a movie about men with the courage to step up to the plate and fulfill their responsibilities as fathers. Moved by the stories portrayed in the movie, we talked for the umpteenth time about how fortunate we are that our eleven grandchildren are being raised in homes with both mom and dad present, present in more ways than one. When I compare their young lives to that of millions of our nation’s children, my heart hurts.

Seeing the movie and thinking of its title reminded me that I too need to have courage to speak up, to do and say what I perceive to be appropriate in encouraging fathers to take their childrearing responsibility seriously. The children of America need a masculine influence in their homes, a person who can and will love, guide, protect, and provide for them. Yes, I know that mothers are perfectly capable of loving and guiding, but the children fare better with two adults, united in purpose, to raise them.

In the movie, one of the young men who’s part of a gang has been arrested. As he sits in the back seat of the police car waiting to be taken to jail, one of the officers leans into the car and asks, with concern, something like, “What are you doing?” Sad and vulnerable (at least in appearance), the young man simply replies, “Man, I don’t have anybody.” (paraphrase)  That one sentence contains so much truth and so much hurt.

Children without fathers are more likely to drop out of school, join gangs, and get involved with drugs. I know some people reading this want more specific data. They want percentages and statistics. I can find them easily enough, and maybe by the time I write another post about being courageous, I’ll have looked them up.  Or better yet, maybe you can do it.  The stats and facts are easy enough to find. It’s no secret that over 40 percent of children born in South Carolina are born to single mothers. Where are the dads? Where is their courage?

A incident that occurred yesterday afternoon later prompted so much insight that I’d have to call it a revelation.

In Columbia, I was at an exit near Fort Jackson and Forest Drive. I was about the fourth car in line, and as I sat waiting for the light to change I noticed a young man with a sign. Based on his attire, woebegone expression, and overall appearance, I didn’t have to read his sign to know that he was asking for money or food. The woman in the car in front of me rolled down her window and handed him some money.

Should I or shouldn’t I? Scrounging through my pocketbook, I found two whole dollars. What a huge amount! So I rolled my window down too, and he came over and got the money. He was very appreciative and said, “God bless you, Ma’am.”I wasn’t feeling particularly pious, but I did have a fleeting thought about the “when you have done it unto the least of these….” scripture. I gave him the money because he needed it and I had it. What he did with it is his business.

I went on to Hobby Lobby on a fruitless search for buttons and then to Sam’s for some goodies like grapes and bread. In Sam’s, I also browsed around taking in the selection of clothes and books while putting together some ideas for Christmas gifts. How could I not do so when I saw the Christmas décor? As always, I felt a bit whelmed at the huge selection of stuff lining the aisles. I was also struck by the juxtaposition of the haves and the have nots in our country and thought of the young man at the exit.

That’s when it hit me, the insight about the man at the exit. I’ve heard and read comments about how a person shouldn’t give money to the homeless or needy. Buying them a meal or giving them an article of clothing is a good idea, but giving them money is foolish (according to my reading and listening). After all, you never know what “these people” are going to do with it. They could buy alcohol or drugs! Do you really want to contribute to that???

Drum roll please. Here’s the revelation (at last) I got yesterday. Every single person walking the earth has got some talent, gift, or aptitude that is going to waste. People let their fear of failure, rejection, or ridicule keep them from developing and using their God-given gifts. In other words, they squander them. Question: What if God decided not to give any of us any gifts because He thought we might not use them the way He wants us to?

Whether it’s material wealth or a talent of some sort, it’s a gift from Him to you. You might say, “I have this wealth because I worked like the dickens. God didn’t give it to me.” But who gave you the energy and ability to work?? Do you see what I’m getting at? If you’ve been given an aptitude for singing, dancing, golfing, drawing, writing, telling jokes, nursing, constructing, leading, organizing, selling, or anything else and you aren’t using it, then to me you’re just like the person who takes monetary gifts and uses them to buy alcohol and drugs.

I’m just glad my Creator is more generous than we are. I’m glad He doesn’t withhold our gifts unless we promise not to squander them.

Mike and Lisa and I had some great conversations this past weekend. Mike is one of my brothers, and Lisa is his wonderful wife. Seriously, she’s like the woman described in Proverbs, you know the one who rises early and looks after the ways of her household. We were in Myrtle Beach so we did a lot more than natter away. We went to a movie, dined out, and did some shopping. The weather wasn’t conducive to beach activities, but we did manage to cruise down the boulevard for a glimpse of the mighty ocean.

But back to the conversations. One of the things that came up at lunch Sunday was happiness, and I said that I thought God wanted us, as his children, to be happy. I see our relationship to Him as similar to a parent’s relationship to a child. I love my children with a fierce love, and I sincerely want them to be happy. To do so, however, they have to make some good choices. They might falter and fall and take side paths, and when and if they do so, they’ll find some temporary pleasure. Not happiness, mind you, but temporary pleasure.

As a parent, I watch their progression through life with concern and love, and if one of them takes a “wrong” path or makes a poor decision, my heart hurts. Sometimes I might even wail and moan and ask, “Why???” However, my love for them is constant and not contingent on their behavior. They’re my children, and God sent them to me to love and guide, and regardless of what they might do, I’d cut them out of the will or snicker and say, “I told you so.”

All of the above is hypothetical, of course, since my three children are perfect!

At Sunday lunch, Lisa said she wasn’t sure whether God’s intention for us was to be happy or whether it was for us to find joy despite our suffering. Can you see why I love these family conversations? We challenge each other to think and seriously ponder some serious (and some not-so-serious) issues.  Being stubborn, I stated that YES, I think He wants for us to be happy just the way I want Carrie, Elizabeth, and Paul to be happy. Furthermore, I think we as mortals disappoint our Heavenly Father on a daily basis, but He never disowns us or wags his finger in derision.

I’m out of time (duty calls), so I’ll end with this: If a person wants to be happy, truly happy, and receive all of the multitudinous blessings that her Creator has in store, then she has to follow some basic commandments. Just like there are some very real “life laws” for success (just ask Dr. Phil), there are also some very real life laws for happiness (just ask God).

I hope someone out there disagrees with me. I’d love to get involved in a good discussion.


Thank you, Mrs. Norman Vincent Peale. Because of your faith in your husband’s message, you took his manuscript to a publisher who saw its merit. Because you didn’t give up when your husband was ready to throw in the towel, millions have read and benefitted from The Power of Positive Thinking.

Getting this manuscript to a publisher was no simple feat. After having it rejected several times, Dr. Peale tossed it in the trashcan and forbade his wife to remove it. She was in a dilemma. Not wanting to disrespect her husband’s wishes and yet knowing the power of his message, she decided to take the trashcan containing the discarded manuscript to another publisher. That one said YES, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Power of Positive Thinking was first published in 1952 and continues to be a best seller. I’m fortunate enough to have a 1st edition on my bookshelf, and I refer to it quite often. When discussing the merits of cognitive psychology in my introductory class, I often quote Peale’s famous quote to, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” That’s a lot easier said than done sometimes, but I’d rather try it than wallow in miserable thoughts.

While I have been encouraged and uplifted by Dr. Peale’s words many ties, I’m just as impressed with his wife Ruth’s strength and personality. Without her determination, tenacity, and faith, this magnificent book might have never come to fruition. So often we hear, “You can’t,” or, “It’s already been done.” When we push through despite the naysayers and stumble a bit, there are always those who say, “The handwriting’s on the wall. It’s not happening for you!”

Don’t these people realize that people need encouragement? Everyone needs someone in his corner who will give hope and confidence, someone who will infuse him with courage. In Dr. Peale’s case, I think his wife had more faith in his work than he did. In an interview towards the end of her 101-year-old life, she said that she didn’t have as much doubt as he did. I loved reading that. It told me that even one of the positive thinkers of the 20th century sometimes faltered but with the support of someone who believed in him, Dr. Peale ultimately succeeded.

Perseverance and persistence are important. So are encouragement and support. Is there someone in your life whom you can infuse with courage (encourage) to JUST DO IT?

As I was cleaning out one of my bookbags yesterday, I came across something I’d clipped from The State newspaper a few months ago. Although I don’t know the exact date of the publication, I know that it was somewhat recent and that the information was borrowed from The Aiken Standard. If anything, the stats mentioned are even worse now…not better. Nothing will get better until people open their hearts and minds and pocketbooks and get involved with this social issue.

According to the newspaper(s), the most recent Kids Count data places SC as as “45th in the nation in the living quality for children…In South Carolina, 31.3 percent of the children live in single parent families and 47.2 percent of children are born to single mothers. It is not shocking from those figures to find that 20.8 percent statewide test not ready for the first grade.”

Will things improve? “With cuts to education budgets as well as those of health and social services, it seems unlikely that South Carolina’s children will fare better in years to come.” Distressing, isn’t it?

What will you do? What will you say? What advice do you have to the state’s parents? To its young people? In the words of Solomon Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

As Connie was leaving my house after book club last week, she spotted a picture of Paul and Olivia and paused to look at it. “Love it,” she said.  “Me too,” I replied. I then went on to say that every picture I’ve seen of him and his precious daughter shows him smiling. Plus, he’s usually cradling her lovingly in his arms or kissing her. Connie went on to say, “Well, you know there’s a special bond between a dad and his daughter. I still miss mine every day.”

Connie loved her father. I loved mine too. My daughters love and admire their dad, and my husband’s daughters think he’s the cat’s meow. He is. Why am I going on and on about filial love? Because children need fathers. They need mothers AND fathers providing support, love, guidance, and the sense of security that all children need.

Today 42 percent of children born in SC are born to single mothers, and I just can’t “get it.” I’m not blaming the moms. It takes two to tango, and sometime between conception and birth, the father often decides the prom is over. Or it could be that the mother doesn’t want him around in a steady, committed way. Maybe she thinks she can be both a mother and father, especially if the “baby daddy” helps her financially. This is crazy thinking.

I’ve recently read of unmarried women who want to have children but don’t want a relationship with a man. In fact, it’s fine with them if they never see him. A sperm donor is all that’s required.  On the surface, this sounds “okay,” and I can well understand the desire for fulfillment. Motherhood is not overrated. In fact, it’s downright awesome!

At the same time, I can’t understand why a woman would deliberately bring a child into the world with the knowledge that this precious being will never (in all likelihood) know his father.  To me, it’s a selfish act, especially when one considers all of the unwanted children who are hungry for love. Why not adopt one of them? Does a woman like this sincerely believe that her personality, resources, strength, and love are all that a child needs? She’s wrong. People have a desire to know who they are where they came from.

I have tons of research to back me up on the above…all of it disheartening.  Rather than drag out the statistics this afternoon, however, I’ll just mention an incident that my friend Tilara wrote about. She told a story of three young men who are currently in prison because of armed robbery. None really had paternal influence in their homes, and yet the 19-year-old’s father showed up in court to beg for mercy for his son. The son hadn’t seen his dad since he was 2, and now this young man has a 2-year-old child of his own.

Tilara’s post really touched my heart and spurred me to action. It’s one thing not to say anything for fear of offending someone. It’s another to stand quietly by and watch the missteps of what Tilara has accurately dubbed “the lost generation.” In her words: Tonight when I turn out my light to go to sleep, I am going to pray for these three boys, but I am also going to pray for all of the other boys that find themselves in this lost generation.  Most of all I am going to pray that as a nation, we (everyone) look in the mirror tomorrow morning, and ask ourselves “What role can I play, in making our world a little better for this lost generation.”

What’s happening to our young people? What are you doing to make the world a little better for this lost generation?

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Love this picture taken by Allie Bowers and sent to me. It's so awesome that someone as young as Allie appreciates the beauty of our world.

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