A Complete Idiot's Guide Written by an Actual Idiot

The thing about renovations is that nobody ever tells you the thing about renovations until it is too late. Someone should write a book entitled The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Renovations for people like me who have no business renovating anything in the first place. I could put everything my husband and I know about renovations inside a pecan shell and still have room left over.

That being said, I’d like to pitch my latest idea for the book (see above) that is going to make me a gazillionaire. Please bear with me as I’m still learning about the subject while laboring through the tedious process of trying to re-create a Better Homes and Garden magazine page right here in my own home. Actually it is a Lowe’s Creative Ideas magazine page, but it doesn’t really matter whose magazine page I am using as my guide. I am still a complete idiot when it comes to renovations. I’ve just decided to write a book about it and get rich so I don’t ever, ever, ever have to do this again.

Chapter 1: Getting Ready

Counting the cost before beginning a project is imperative. You will continue counting the cost throughout the entire project. But counting before beginning is what the experts advise. It is simply one of those things that should be done just because they said so. In reality, the figure you arrive at is merely an idea, which is what got you in this mess to start with. Somebody had an idea. Am I confusing you? Embrace that feeling because it will be with you for a long time. Here is the bottom line for complete idiots: To estimate the cost means you are coming up with an approximate cost which is nearly correct which is to say it is almost correct but not quite. It’s the not quite part that’s going to get you. But wait—there’s more!

Chapter 2: Getting Set

Any idiot knows that the job will be easier if all the necessary tools and supplies are readily at hand. So write out a list, check it twice and make sure the gas tank is full. The most important part of this step is topping off the gas tank. This is because you will not in a million years get everything you need in the first trip or by visiting one store. Make up your mind right now: this is going to require the equivalent of a road trip around the entire world to secure every last item on the list. A lot of gas will be required for this step, so maybe I should have called it “Fill ‘er Up”. Oh, and don’t forget to add the cost of gas to the estimate you created in Chapter 1.

Chapter 3: Getting Started

“Any task is hard when you do it by the yard, but it becomes a cinch when you do it by the inch”. This quote is a lie from the pits of hell. It should read “This is hard”. You will, in fact, get started about 623 times. This is because the first 622 times you are just learning how not to do it. It is true that by the time you are finished you will be an expert, but only on this particular step. Trust me when I tell you that there are many, many steps which must be started, learned and accomplished. This becomes a time issue and should also be figured into the estimate equation. By now, you should have thrown away a minimum of two estimates, if you even still care what it’s going to cost.

Chapter 4 Getting Mad

This is the most important chapter in the book. I say this because everyone has anger lurking just beneath the surface. Forget going to a counselor. All you really need to bring the anger issues out into the open is a good home renovations project. One day the final straw will be laid on the camel’s back, the other shoe will drop, or the red will fall right off your candy. And just like that, you will find out what you are mad about and so will the rest of the world. The money you saved by not going to the counselor will come in handy as you will now have to replace what you have broken during your ranting rave. This does not need to be included in the estimate (chapter 1) because you didn’t see this one coming. Also, you used money that you had never spent in the first place by not going to the counselor. If you work it just right, you might be able to count this in the plus column. But what do I know. I am an angry idiot.

Chapter 5 Getting Help

When you reach this point in the book you are almost finished with your renovations project. I know this is true because as soon as the professionals arrive, you can stop working and let them do the job the way it was supposed to have been done in the first place. They are professionals because they have done this before which means they have already completed the 622 step learning process and that is why they are called professionals. It is also why they charge three times the amount of the estimate you created in Chapters 1, 2 and 3. However you will not begrudge paying them three times the amount of your original estimate because you now realize the complete value of their services.

Chapter 6 Getting Over It

The project is complete and now it is time to kick back and enjoy the fruit of your efforts. Yes, it’s time for a much needed vacation. So pack up your paper plates and head to the back yard for a picnic because that is all you can afford for the next five years. Be sure and take a magazine along for entertainment. You never know when a good idea will make itself known, and who am I to stand in the way of a complete idiot and her dream?

If you enjoyed this book idea you will be happy to know I have other Idiot Guide ideas in process. Which means I'm trying things I've never tried before. You know...as in "honey, I have an idea". See Chapter 1 for more information.


Ya'll Come...

It was yet another funeral in the tiny white church that has watched over many Stephenson comings and goings. I am always amazed at the size of our family. Even though the church is small, most families would fill a row or two, or at the most 4 or 5 and all the aunts, uncles and cousins would be included in the procession. Not so with the Stephensons. For us they mark off at least half the church and then make sure that only the closest of the closest kin is seated. Even with all that effort there will not be room if everyone shows up.

After the service, we filed out into the graveyard where the rest of the family lies waiting for us to come to them. I’ve never been one much for graveyards and tombstones. The whole idea terrifies me. But this day was a little different. Due to a pressing personal issue for which I had no answers, I really wanted to talk to my mother in law. Don’t get excited. I do not have conversations with dead people and I’m well aware of how God feels about that. I was simply feeling the need to talk to Shirley. We buried her way too early and I didn’t get the chance to mine from her all the information I needed about taking care of the boys (a story for another day).

While the graveside service continued, I kept looking around trying to find her. Just about the time I had convinced myself that I must be standing on top of my beloved mother-in-law, my husband came to the rescue by pointing out her stone. After breathing a sigh of relief, it then took every ounce of self control I could muster not to leave the group of mourners and fling myself on Shirley’s grave. I know, I know. I sound like a lunatic. But raising children will do that to you.

You will be relieved to know I kept my senses and stayed with the normal people. I suppose I realized that I already knew what Shirley would tell me and somehow in that moment it seemed to be enough. In a way I turned a page right then and there in my little situation. I knew what I knew and it would have to see me through. Suddenly I became desperate for a breath of fresh air and humor. Funerals have a way of taking the fun out of living if you know what I mean.

As we turned from the grave and walked towards the Fellowship Hall, we ran into the funeral director. A long-time friend of our family, he reached out to greet us with a hand-shake. Without warning, humor bobbed to the surface like a pond turtle gasping for air. As the director reached out to take my hand he exclaimed how good it was to see us all again. He then issued the one-liner for the day: “Ya’ll come see us real soon”. Before I could think twice I responded “I’m sure we all will”. In a split second his comment opened my eyes to the obvious- this group was thinning out and my generation was next in line for the trip. Indeed, we’ll see ya’ real soon!

I’m still chuckling over the invitation from my funeral director friend and also hoping he didn’t hear my reply. I’m ready to “go” but I’m not really feeling the love for actually going.

Between now and the time I “go”, I’m not going to invest a great amount time worrying about how to avoid the funeral home or my friend the director. The visit is inevitable. The challenge is to be as alive as I know how in every second of my time-sensitive story. I don’t know how many trips around the sun remain for me, but I intend to squeeze everything I can into and out of this gift of earthly time travel.

The ideal trip will be filled with changes and challenges, victories and defeats, questions and answers or questions without answers, and of course laughter and tears. My mind is set on seizing every day and living fully into the gift that it offers.

When the end comes, and it will you know, I pray that someone who has read this article will call my family and have them bring in the Grand Ole’ Opry singers to perform what I now believe is the perfect funeral song: “Ya’ll come”. Yep, it’s a real song. And a fitting end for one like me who relishes finding humor in very strange places. It kind of breaks up the day you know.

Ya’ll come now. Can’t wait to see ya’!

(Carolyn’s Dare: Follow this link to hear my new favorite funeral song and try to imagine the reaction-or perhaps revival-that might happen if my family is brave enough to follow through on my dare) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXBK7sTvsTI


Shake It Up Baby

It’s back again…the feeling that I need something more than my usual routine. I’ve grown accustomed to this feeling of slight discontent that has lived inside me for as long as I remember. But once in a while it shows up with such vengeance that I have no choice but to give in to the urgent call to do something different and get started today.

Well meaning people have told me for years that my discontentment is surely a sin. They haven’t used those exact words, but they always work into the conversation Paul’s message about having learned to be content. The problem is that I believe Paul also carried in his soul this same whisper to get life moving. He was content with God’s calling on his life and yet it was the ever present Whisper in his soul that moved him along to the next possibility.

Part of my problem is that I live for the thrill of taking on the thing that everyone else labels impossible simply for the jazz of proving them wrong. When there is little challenge in my everyday life, I have been known to create the impossible just so I will have somewhere to park the energy that needs to be drained.

This tendency to keep moving and shaking makes my husband a little more than nervous. He knows that my adventure will soon overtake him even if his bags aren’t packed. What he never quite knows for sure is where this is going to end up. Will he be moving the furniture around or getting rid of it altogether? How much is this little escapade going to cost? He asks these questions because he was an accountant before he answered the call to ministry. It only makes sense to him to find out if this is going to require a major loan from the Credit Union or if he will be able to pacify me with a trip to Barnes & Noble to research my latest idea.

Oh well, I’ll leave all that up to him. I have other things to think about. Like what’s next and how can I make it happen?

I have no idea where the Whisper will take me this time—I only know that I must follow. I have learned not to despise small beginnings. More often than not, this stirring in my soul leads me to take action that I would otherwise never consider as a possibility. True-- I have a list of failures to show for all the shaking. But I also have a treasure box full of experiences that most people only dream about. And I wouldn’t trade those treasures for the whole world if it was offered.

So here I go, off on another adventure with the People Whisperer. He knows my heart and He created me to be this way. It might make you uncomfortable-but I’m good with it.

Shake it up baby. What’s next for you?

The Challenge

· How does God’s Whisper show up most often in your own life?
· What one thing could you do that would “shake it up” and bring freshness to your day?
· What is your reaction to the idea that Paul was content with God’s call yet open to the Whisper?
· If given a choice to shake it up or stay the same…which would you choose?


Amazing or Adequate?

It was a clear case of house hunting fever. Interest rates were at an all time low and many homes were selling at give away prices. I sincerely believed that we could and should buy a house NOW. Not that we needed a new home necessarily. After all, we have shelter. However our current residence tends to feel more like a vacation rental than a permanent home. In fact I have lovingly dubbed this place my cardboard house.

Truth be told, I am quite envious of those who have pretty homes which are beautifully and perfectly decorated. In comparison, my home looks more like a collection of yard sale and Goodwill pieces thrown together in haphazard manner. Not one room pulls together in a Better Homes and Gardens sort of way, and I can’t seem to get my husband to understand my need and desire for such an effect.

And so it was that the fever drove me into real estate frenzy. “We’re just exploring” I told my realtor friend. But then, true love happened. Two of the homes stood up and called me by name. One was in a well established old town neighborhood exactly where we’ve always wanted to live. It was an older home that had been completely redone on the inside. The other love of my life was a newer home in a nice neighborhood. Everything about it was wonderful. In fact, both of them were wonderful but realistically out of our price range and just beyond our reach.

When I asked Father about it, I felt like he gave me the option to choose. I could choose to be still and quiet myself over the matter and allow Him to bring to me something “amazing”, or I could go ahead and search for and buy the house of my choosing. Either way He promised that I would live a happy, God filled life. Regardless of my choice, He would walk and talk with me and guide me through it all. It was my choice… and it would not be sin for me. However, choosing on my own would mean that I would miss out on and never know the amazing thing God had in store for me.

Now what? Should I wait (who knows how long) for God’s amazing thing or should I choose for myself knowing that I will still retain God’s presence and favor? Do I have what it takes to wait for the amazing thing?

This sounded a lot like Sarah being told that as an old woman she would have a son. She laughed…quite sarcastically I imagine. “Yeah, right….that makes sense at my age”. But apparently she did believe it for a while…then messed everything up when she tried to fix it herself.

The debate was on. If I chose to wait for the amazing thing, would I be like Sarah and mess things up because of the weariness of waiting? My life is a clear testimony that I have that gift of messing things up.

What a choice. What a responsibility. What a decision!

In the end I chose to wait and I am still waiting today. Deep within my soul, just once, I want to see the amazing unfold in my life. It occurred to me that I was choosing between amazing and adequate, and there is a vast difference between the two. According to Webster’s, amazing is defined as a great wonder or surprise. Adequate is defined as being sufficient or satisfactory. Weighing the difference made the choosing easier.

It will be a great test of strength and faith for me to wait for the wonder. In these situations I’m no better than a child on Christmas Eve. Dare I even dream about what might be coming my way?

So what is perfect for me now? Who knows? I have my own ideas but choosing to wait on God means that I must be still while He does the work. My friend Becky wrote a song that describes her heart as standing on tiptoe to see what God is doing. It provides a near perfect description of how I feel right now. Only I’m not standing - I’m jumping… unable to contain myself for one more minute! However, I’m really too old to be jumping around on my tiptoes and my feet and legs are starting to hurt. Maybe I’ll just head to the front porch and swing away my jumpies. No, that’s not going to work either. Pardon me while I talk to Daddy…..

Father, I’m feeling kind of jumpy about my choice to wait. So if it’s allright with You, I need to snuggle up close and trust that you have indeed spoken to me. I’d like to point out to You that interest rates are going up again, but with everything in me I will wait. But please, please….can it not be too far off? The anticipation is killing me!

Okay, I’m back. Still waiting and still a little on the jumpy side. But I truly believe that this is one time in my life where the anticipation will equal the gift. Amazing indeed.

The Challenge

* What do you think about the possibility that God allows us to make choices and that sometimes, He is perfectly fine with whatever we choose?

* What would you be willing to risk to see the amazing thing unfold in your life?

* Pretend for a moment that you are now 80 years old. What story do you want your 80 year old self to be telling about this season of your life?


Running in Church

I run in church nearly every Sunday. Not out of joy or because the Spirit moves me. No, I run from and not towards a very dear saint who worships with us on a regular basis. Why do I run? Her favorite fragrance overwhelms me, nauseates me and triggers an excruciating headache. I am unable to embrace her fully because I know this fragrance will stick to me for hours and have a toxic effect on the remainder of my day. My running routine has gone on now for months. I began running the very day the perfume made its debut and I’ve been running ever since.

I realize that I have been running from other people as well with very good reason. It seems I am allergic to the stake in the ground opinions that people wear like an overbearing perfume. Oh, we all have them and you know it’s true. I am wondering this very moment about who is running from me and why. We own our pet opinions about what is right, what is wrong, what is fair and what is approved by God. Christians are able to cite chapter and verse to prove our point and we do so with great passion. We seize every conversational moment as an opportunity to pull out the soap box and begin preaching to the captive audience. We will not surrender our opinions to the possibility that we might not know it all quite yet. Instead, we wear them like we wear our favorite fragrance…too much and too often. As one of my coaching friends puts it, “Our opinions smell good to us, and we think everyone should smell just like us”.

The problem with soap-boxing our one size fits all opinions is that the only audience we effectively reach is the one that already agrees with us. Everyone else dashes to freedom at the earliest opportunity.

The Truth is what sets captives free. My opinion is simply the way I have come to think about a thing. It has been formed and molded by experience, people, situations and preferences. It may even have come from my interpretation of God's Word on the matter. Even so, I dare not preach my opinion with the same fervor as I preach the gospel of Christ.

I find a great reminder of what and how I am called to preach in 1 Corinthians 1:17. Paul writes that he was sent “to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”. Human words and opinions are empty wisdom at best – they sound good but have no real power to effect change. The cross of Christ is living Truth and brings with it the power for transformation.

I wonder what difference it would make if we all went private for a season with our opinions. Instead of public forums we could relegate them to journals or offer them up only to trusted friends who would lovingly and truthfully challenge our thinking. If we opened our mouths at all it would be to speak only of the cross of Christ and how it is transforming us with its power. Of course, it occurs to me that if we are being transformed by the cross of Christ, we probably need not announce it. It is clearly visible to those around us that we are both changed and changing.

This line of thought brings me back to my current habit of running in church. If perfume can make me run, how much more so an opinion that is different from my own? Is it possible to overcome my distaste for the thing so I can get to the person? If I am truly a Christ follower then I have no choice but to follow His example and just do it. Here was a man who spent a lifetime reaching for and embracing smelly fishermen, leprous outcasts and perfumed prostitutes. Come to think of it, He did a lot of running in church Himself. The difference is that He chose to run towards and not from.

And now I must face the real issue at hand. What will I do about this problem of running in church? Is it possible for me to embrace the person without having her perfume rub me in the wrong way? It is doubtful. But a little bit of understanding goes a long way. I recently discovered that right before her husband’s death, he presented her with a gift. You guessed it-her new favorite fragrance. It is most likely the thing that connects her to the one she loved the most. She might even hate this fragrance herself…yet she is compelled to wear it faithfully.

And here is the grace of God-the embrace of One who loves us enough to suffer the consequences of loving fragrant (or stinky) people.

Whether it is opinions or lifestyles or perfume that makes us run, I think it is time to change directions. I am not saying that in turning to embrace the person we must embrace the thing that makes us run and take it for our own. After all, the smell of the embrace will fade with time and a few hot showers. What I am saying is that running doesn’t do anything but create more distance.

No more excuses. Today I will choose to embrace with grace. It will cost me to do so. But it can’t cost any more than what I’ve had to pay for running shoes.

Pass the Advil. I’m headed for a headache. But my heart feels better already.

The Hard Questions
· Who makes you run in church (or anywhere else)?
· What causes you to run?
· What risk(s) are you willing to take in changing direction?
· If this person never changes, how committed are you to loving them anyway?
· How does it help to know you that you do not have to become like them to love them?
· What price are you willing to pay to allow the grace of God to flow through your life and embrace the un-embraceable?


Finding a Place Called Happy

As usual my passion for reading has sent me down yet another thinking trail. This morning I am intrigued and haunted once again by something that I've heard a thousand times or more in various ways. An article in Lake Norman Magazine by Jen Aronoff details the story of how Shawna Robinson, NASCAR driver turned designer, has found her happy place. Speaking of this change in Shawna's life direction, a friend quotes "I think she's started to listen to herself inside". And off I go......

I have been trying to listen to my inside self for an entire lifetime. Just about the time I think I have myself figured out something comes along that derails the whole process. I suppose that in reality, like many women, I feel drawn towards something I cannot quite name or frame. Something deep inside is longing for expression...and oh yes, can I make a living this way?

I am nearly supernaturally attracted to books and articles that explain how to discover and live out the passion that resides deep within. My bookshelf groans under the weight of these books, torn magazine pages and journals that testify to my seemingly never ending journey. Among these archives there must surely be a clue as to who I really am at my core and how that core self can live out the purpose for which I was created.

What fascinates me the most about Shawna and people like her is that they have discovered how to do what they are and it's expression is bringing a depth of life satisfaction that is both tangible and visible. Pilgrims, that is exactly the place to which I am drawn.

The revealing thing about all this is that I may have stumbled upon the who of me while reading about the how of others. Turns out I might be closer than I ever imagined to my own happy place. As a Life Coach I invest a lot of time in helping clients listen to the differences between what they are saying and how they are living. My insatiable desire for listening and learning has proven to be a great gift as I weed through unabridged stories in search of what matters most.

One of my favorite pictures of younger me displays this calling even then. I am stretched out on a favorite chair and ottoman, backwards and stomach down with legs crossed and feet in the air. My elbows prop up the skinny arms that hold the book into which my nose is pressed. What am I reading? Who knows or cares. The point is that in this picture I am doing what I am. I am an information gatherer with a passionate love for learning. I do not care about passing a test to prove that I have learned anything. I will have passed the test on the day I use this information to help someone find the happy place, myself included.

Now...if I can only figure out how to market this gift in a way that brings life to others and livelihood to me. Gotta' go now. Barnes and Noble is calling my name. I'll be in the marketing section if you need me! My happy place indeed.


Not the Cinderella

It occurred to me recently that I've spent much of my life not being Cinderella. In spite of many really great opportunities for such moments to occur, the pumpkin did not turn into a carriage, there has been no fairy godmother, no ball to attend with the proper gown and no glass slippers made just for me. But then, I've also not had to deal with a wicked step-mother and her evil daughters or wear rags while sweeping cinders from the fireplace.

Somewhere in life it dawned on me that being Cinderella was not all it was cracked up to be when I heard the story as a little girl. I loved seeing Cindy become a Princess who married the Prince of her dreams. However, I never found the book that described how the rest of her life turned out. Someone should really write that story...because I suspect that it would look much more like the reality that most of us face every day. The car breaks down, children rebel, dinner burns and it rains on my frizzy head. And that's only Monday. Who in the world has time to think about gowns and slippers and princes when trying to tread through the waters of daily crisis?

I suppose within each of us there beats the heart of a Cinderella dreamer. We live for that one shining moment when we are the most beautiful one at the ball, the glass slipper fits, and the prince only has eyes for us. Perfect hair, perfect dress, perfect shoes and perfect man. Does it really ever get any better than a moment like that?

As it turns out the answer is a resounding yes! I've come to realize that my practical wardrobe is exactly what I need to tread water. A gown would only weigh me down - and who needs added weight? Glass slippers would simply not work at all when trying to push a broken down vehicle out of the way. A good hair life would be nice but honestly, who cares about hair when your child is screaming for the first time I hate you.

Come to think of it, not being Cinderella has its benefits. The man I married is not a prince but he treats me like a queen. Our current home is not a castle but we have lovingly christened it "Sanctuary". My wardrobe is not suited for extravagant balls, but it works quite well for chasing grandchildren and wayward pets. I'm really a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl anyway.

Cinderella, I'm not. Happy, I am. Because I've traded in my pumpkin-carriage-rags-to-riches fairy tale for reality. My life is real, it's simple and it works for me. Cinderella had one shining moment. Me? I've got it all....and then some.