Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Our family has them. I'm sure yours does, too. Maybe it's sentence or a phrase. It might be just a word, but the meaning conveyed has a history and a purpose, and is grasped in an instant.
In our family, "I like grapes" is not just Grandma's line in the Willy Wonka movie. It's my son Geoffrey's subtle way of telling me I'm missing the point of the whole conversation and I should refocus before making another comment.
"I never burn" are my niece Brandi's famous last words before heading out of the condo and returning from the beach with deep red skin. We don't just reserve that warning for summertime use, but whenever one of us is tempted to rush off without making adequate preparations.
Another quote was birthed during the aforementioned infamous beach trip. After stopping to refuel, my sister Kay gave one of her children money to buy gas. I sat in my car and watched the procession of our precious children emerge from the convenience store with chips, candy, drinks, and even those sandwiches which are usually sitting by the register. I used to wonder who actually bought those sandwiches, never guessing it was my own family. I laughed as Kay repeatedly asked, "Did anyone pay for the gas?" then watched my sister dish out more money. That question is still used when I feel as though we have missed the main point.
Although it didn't originate in my family, there's a phrase which has been in my thoughts lately. It has to do with the story of Jim and Margaret Brown. The poor young couple lived a modest life until Jim's engineering efforts in the production of ore were rewarded with shares of stock and a seat on the board of the company for which he worked. The grateful couple quickly became philanthropists.
In 1912, Margaret boarded the ill-fated Titanic. When the ship struck an iceberg, she worked to get people on life boats before being encouraged to board one herself. As Lifeboat No. 6 rowed away from the sinking ship, Margaret convinced the crewman to turn around in an attempt to rescue more people. She spent the remainder of her life as an activist for workers, women, and children. When she died she became known as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."
Now, seventy years after her death, those four words which are used to describe her life instantly remind me of a woman who shared her wealth, ideas, and energy to improve the lives of others. Even when threatened with her own death, she continued to seek and save as many as she could.
In addition to remembering the story of her life, when hearing a reference to "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," we should be motivated to action. Despite our bank accounts, social status, or even our inability to influence public policy, there is always, always something we can do to help someone. There are daily opportunities to reach out and help to rescue those drowning in pain, fear, or hopelessness. After you've made it into the lifeboat, it's not enough to just stay afloat. Turn around and rescue somebody.
Ronny may be reached at

Matt and the Falling Ceiling

Pieces of sheetrock do not just fall from the ceiling. Granted, they were tiny pieces. At first I thought the little white specks around my sewing machine were just lint or dust. After a few days, I decided to look up, saw a slight bulge in the ceiling, and informed my husband. Michael and I then ignored the problem. It's no wonder our marriage has lasted thirty years. We're quite a team.
Eventually I moved the sewing machine that's even older than my wedding vows. It still works so I have no desire to replace it. (The marriage and the machine.) When water started dripping onto the floor, it was time to pay more than attention to the problem. It was time to call Matt.
My brother Matt is the expert in our family. Not only is he capable of building or repairing anything, he remains calm throughout the process. Well, except for the time Michael decided to help him install laminate flooring. It was back in the day when the planks still had to be glued. Michael was told to leave the bracing in place until the glue dried so the planks wouldn't separate. Not thinking Matt would notice, he ignored the instruction. Matt noticed.
"Now I can't finish the job," he said.
"What!" I didn't even try to remain calm.
"Michael ruined the floor. I can't finish now."
"It's not a big deal," Michael said. "It's a floor. We walk on it. Who cares if there's a gap?"
We all know who cares. Michael promised to do better and we're still walking on the floor with one gap. Because he takes such pride in his work, Matt is the person we call when there's a job to do.
Emotions are a lot like my shedding ceiling. They are an alert to an underlying situation. Feeling of anger, fear, envy, or frustration are indicators of issues that must be addressed. Our choice is how we will respond to them.
Ignoring the problem never makes it go away; it only delays a resolution. Neil Anderson writes, "You never bury dead feelings; you bury them alive and they will surface in some way that is not healthy."
Neither is lashing out an effective method. You may initially feel better, but the cost of wounding those around you only creates more problems. Getting to the root of the problem and fixing it at the source offers a lasting solution. On occasions far too numerous to count, I have sought the counsel and comfort from a friend.
Having people in my life with whom I can be emotionally honest is one of the many gifts God has graciously bestowed. My close friends have three things in common. First of all, they love God and the wisdom of His Word. Secondly, I trust in their ability to keep what I say confidential. Finally, although never something I consciously sought after, I realize all of my close friends really love my children. Of this my children should be grateful, for my friends honestly respond in the best interest of both my child and myself, never failing to defend a child who needs it.
As of this writing, Matt has resealed the area around the tub spout, the source of the problem. The water stopped leaking, the area has dried, and Matt assures me he will repair the sheetrock soon. Well, he didn’t actually say 'soon.' I added that because it's time for another brother/sister lunch. Not only can he take care of our home, he's a great listener and has no idea how many times I have taken his advice in other matters.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Living Life

It's not that we're bored at home, restless, or even that we have an enormous amount of energy. Aunt Judy and I like to make the most out of every day because we both know what it's like to be uncertain about tomorrow.
Although tomorrow is not promised to anyone, it's a little different when a doctor enters the room and only confirms what you weary body has been telling you: without medical and Divine intervention, you will soon die. The fight to survive begins immediately and ordinary daily events take on extraordinary significance.
Although it's been almost twenty years since God mercifully delivered me from leukemia, and five years since Aunt Judy received a healthy liver, our appreciation for life
has not dimmed.
When I was in the hospital all those years ago, a therapist came to visit.
"Are you worried about money? Are you afraid to buy things?" she asked.
"Oh, no," I said. There wasn't much I could do about the growing hospital bill, so worrying about it was pointless. "On the rare day I'm able to shop with my children, if they ask for something I say, 'Sure. Buy two.'" (Let's just say fiscal responsibility has never been my strong point.)
"What about the dust on the top shelves? Does that bother you now?"
"Let me assure you. It never bothered me before, and it certainly doesn’t bother me now." (Is it too late to add housekeeping to the list of my weaknesses? Was my husband the one who sent this therapist to me?)
It was during those days in the hospital when priorities became the clearest. Those already in their proper place were solidified and others realigned. I'm sure it's the reason why Aunt Judy and Uncle Pie are at so many of their grandchildren's events, or why Aunt Judy and I rarely say no to invitations to lunch, shop, visit someone in the hospital, or watch a ball game. It's why we not only enjoy and plan, but prioritize time with family and friends. We want to really live every day of our lives.
As Christians, we both believe and encourage others to embrace John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." However, sometimes I think we forget that eternal life begins immediately. It's okay to enjoy our lives before we enter Heaven. The Word of God is rich with promises of an abundant, overcoming life now, even in the midst of our day to day challenges and responsibilities.
Although my list of goals and objectives continues to grow and is altered to keep pace with life's changes, I can summarize my aim with one sentence. Love God unreservedly; love people unconditionally. I'm sure Aunt Judy would agree.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Our Isaac

I had barely opened my eyes when I grabbed my phone, expecting to find a picture of my newest great-nephew. A quick text reported no change in Brittany's condition since the night before.
I glanced at the headlines, surprised only by news that the sun had fired off two solar flares. This activity could possibly impact weather, shake the Earth's magnetic field, force planes to reroute, knock out power grids, or even affect high-accuracy GPS systems. I turned away thinking, All problems today will be blamed on the sun.
Regardless of what the day had in store for me, I was confident in my ability to get to Women's Hospital to check not only on Brittany, but on my sister, Ann, who I knew would be exhausted from watching her daughter in labor for so long. There was only other thing of which I was sure. If I did need any help finding the hospital, I would not call Monique. I had phoned my precious first born the day before to ask for directions to North Oaks so that I could visit a friend.
"Mother," she began, "you have a smart phone with a GPS…"
"Yes," I interrupted, "and I also have a daughter working in Hammond. Just tell me how to get to the hospital."
Solar flares have nothing on me.
The quiet drive to Baton Rouge gave me time to reflect upon the past six days, a period which began with my Mom's hospitalization for dehydration, a trip to emergency room with another family member, the visit to Hammond, and now a new birth.
I entered the waiting room and wondered why Brittany's in-laws were so excited to see me. Then I heard my brother-in-law say, "That's not Ann. It's just her sister." I wish I had a day of house-cleaning services for every time I've heard that.
Although it had been 24 hours since Brittany began labor, it was okay. We were used to waiting. Five years ago, Brittany and her husband Justin were told they would never have a child. It was the day they decided to trust God anyway, and began to pray for a baby.
Finally, after 28 hours of labor, Isaac Hilton took his first breath, cried his first cry, and melted the heart of every person who crammed into the birthing room to snap a picture. The solar flares seem so dim in comparison to the 8# 15.6 ounce bright spot added to our family on the eighth day of March.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

All Aboard

I once heard a preacher say we should travel through life as though we're on a bus headed to Disney World. His point was that we should be always excited, anticipating our destination.
Sound nice, right?
Well, I'll bet you a hot fudge sundae that man never took a bus ride to Disney World. Or if he did, it wasn't with my family.
Nine years ago, at 5:00 a.m. one fall morning, we met in Reserve to board a bus bound for the happiest place on earth. All 26 of us. My parents, siblings, their families, and my sister-in-law's mom.
If my family lacks anything, it's not words. Conversations began immediately.
"You know you're a redneck when your whole family takes a bus to spend Thanksgiving in Disney World," quipped my brother-in-law, Tony.
"I only agreed because I didn't think it would happen," added Mike, another brother-in-law. "I was shocked when I was asked for a check."
As we passed LaPlace's Walmart, my son Geoff said, "I feel like I've been on this bus forever!" Happy trails to us!
A little while later, I decided to walk up the aisle. My brother Matt was talking on the phone while trying to remove a splinter he somehow got on the bus. My niece Brandi was also on the phone, tempting my daughter Monique to use hers. These were the days before we had a nationwide long distance plan, so I told her the phone could not be used. "Please," she begged, "just one call."
"If I agree, who will you call?" I asked.
"Delta Airlines," she said. I just kept walking.
My niece Brittany thanked me for organizing the trip, while her sister Amanda added, "I feel like it's a dream."
Two other sisters were arguing over headphones, one person was snoring, and many questions were already being posed to the driver. "Are we making good time?" "When will we stop to eat?" "What time will we get to Florida?" It would have been understandable, and even expected, had these questions been posed by the children. But, no. My Dad was at the front of the bus grilling the driver.
When we finally stopped for breakfast, we all headed into McDonald's while my Dad began speed walking around the parking lot. We purchased bags of food, pointed my Dad back to the bus, and almost drove away without my niece, Mattie.
At one point, Monique began to complain again. "We won't have a traditional Thanksgiving."
"How many traditional Thanksgivings have you had?" I asked.
"How many have you enjoyed?"
"None… ahhh, now I feel better!" she said, smiling.
At least I didn't have to answer my Dad's continual questions. "How long has it been since our last stop?" "When will we stop again?" Poor bus driver.
Now that I've had some time to think about it, maybe life really is like a bus ride to Disney World. Both journeys can be crowded, cramped, and somewhat noisy. It's not always easy to find your place and get in a good position. Difficulties often arise when so many personalities are trying to co-exist. And with some people a little nervous, or bored, or too excited to rest, it's important to strike a balance between appreciation for the present and anticipation of the future.
Like our Disney adventure, maybe life is all about helping someone to get back on the bus when they've been sidetracked, and looking for someone else who is missing. And in between all of the adventures, it helps to have lots and lots of laughter.
Before we know it, the journey will end. We'll arrive, not at the happiest place on earth, but Heaven, a place that will be out of this world.
Ronny may be reached at