nancy williams

Real Women, Real Answers, Real Joy Real Women, Real Answers, Real Joy Real Women, Real Answers, Real Joy Real Women, Real Answers, Real Joy

Archive for January, 2011

Time to Love Extravagantly

“Will you be my Valentine?”

The question will soon ring out in numerous ways as we approach February 14th – Valentine’s Day. It’s the day greeting card distributors anxiously await. A day when 1 billion cards will be exchanged. That’s right: 1 billion cards, according to the Greeting Card Association. Second only to Christmas (when 2.6 billion cards are sold annually), Valentine’s Day is THE day for sending expressions of love. Cards, candy, flowers, special meals, balloons, gifts, hugs, hands gently clasped, tender words spoken – gestures conveying the stirrings of our hearts.

Everywhere we turn, red hearts in all shapes and sizes bombard us as the air fills with the sweet fragrance of floral bouquets. We hear the giggles of little children exchanging valentines. We catch a glimpse of two young lovers, savoring a romantic meal as they share the hopes and dreams of their future; then we turn to notice the twinkle in the eyes of a couple who has shared many valentines together. We join last minute shoppers in search of the proper expression of our sentiments, hoping to find that ‘perfect moment’ to express our love to our special valentine.

This day of celebration acquired its name from the patron saint, Valentine, although the truth around the legends about this priest seems somewhat murky. The stories, though varied, describe him as sympathetic, heroic and romantic. He became known to some for the love he expressed to a young woman who befriended him while he was in prison. Perhaps you’ve heard stories of his concerns for young soldiers who were banned by the Roman emperor from marrying. Supposedly, this priest named Valentine secretly performed marriage ceremonies for some of those soldiers and the young women they loved. Other reports suggest that he was killed for helping Christians escape the harsh punishment and cruel torture of Roman prisons. According to these legends, Valentine understood the power of love – between lovers, among friends, and through acts of compassion that overflowed from his love of God. He spent his life sharing that love with others.

February 14th has become a day set aside to focus on love – what it means to have it and how we can share it with others. Although we tend to think of the day’s celebration primarily in romantic terms, it can also provide an occasion to reach out to family and friends, people who hold a special place in our lives. Love can come in a card, a gift, a kiss or a hug. It shows up when we smile, when we offer a helping hand or a word of encouragement, and when we give our time and attention. It’s even expressed when we take care of ourselves and become a healthier partner, parent and friend.

When we think of the love that is ours to share, our minds and hearts also turn to the one who instills his love in us and then encourages us to pass it on – our Heavenly Father. Look up and look within to experience his gift of love. Spend time reading God’s word, his love letter to his children, to understand what true love is all about. You’ll find a glimpse of what God wants our love for others to look like in I Corinthians 13 of the Bible’s New Testament.

“Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others. Isn’t always “me first.” Doesn’t fly off the handle. Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. Doesn’t revel when others grovel. Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth. Puts up with anything. Trusts God always. Always looks for the best. Never looks back, but keeps going to the end.” (taken from The Message, © 1993, NavPress).

The best part of the story? We don’t have to wait until February 14th to pass that love along. This day, and every day, we can do as the last verse in that passage of I Corinthians advises: we can “love extravagantly.”

Successful Relationships Keep in Tune

The stage is set. The instrumentalists have taken their places and are warming up with random melodies that seem to have little or no connection. Now, the time has come. The lights dim and a hush flows through the room as the principal violinist moves to center stage calling the orchestra to order. Silence. The pitch is given: one clear tone that resonates across the stage. One by one, section by section, each musician tunes to that single pitch, knowing that for the orchestra to successfully blend and create the music it desires, the instrumentalists must be in tune.

Certainly, each musician needs to keep his own instrument in proper condition and ready to perform. Each one also brings his own creative talent to the setting with the goal of taking the audience on a magical, musical adventure. However, the key to harmony for the group and a pleasurable experience for listeners is to have all instruments tuned together, building their collective sound from the same foundation. The result? Music, as the composer intended for it to be experienced.

This need to be in tune reaches beyond the stage of the music hall. It’s a vital part of each relationship in our lives – family ties, friendships, connection with coworkers and neighbors, even within organizations, teams and churches. Just as each instrument in the orchestra has its unique part to play in creating the music we enjoy, we, too, offer our own unique talents to our relationships. In a healthy, successful connection, there is a place for each member to contribute those talents and to be part of the process of creating and strengthening the relationship. When we begin by tuning to the same pitch, we’ll all connect to a common foundation and our individual sounds will blend in a way that creates true harmony. We’ll experience it ourselves and we’ll influence those around us in a positive way.

A musical thread runs through our family, and our two sons chose to be in the school band while growing up. They were part of a large, military style marching band that won numerous state recognitions for their precision as well as their sound. Watching and listening to them in the stands and on the field at halftime was a treat for this “band mom.” They impressed and entertained us with some of the most complicated-looking drills and musical arrangements.

As I watched this well-oiled machine at work, I noticed right away that each practice and each performance began with two important steps. First, before a note was played or a step taken, their undivided attention was on the director as he communicated his goals for them. Whether in the band hall or on the sidelines before the game, they had to tune out all the distractions, set aside their differences, and draw together as one. His message was strong and clear as he told them what they were to accomplish and just how they could make that happen. They tuned their minds to the same focus and their instruments to the same pitch. With a common goal, the fundamentals in place, a unified sound and a well-trained drum major in the lead, they were ready to step out and give an outstanding performance.

The band paraded up and down the football field, in what seemed like such intricate patterns and vibrant waves of color. I watched as each member filled his own unique position, having learned when, where and how to move in a way that fit precisely with everyone else in the band. The cheers from the stands, activities on the sidelines, even bright sunshine or chilling rain didn’t distract them. They kept their eyes on the drum major and worked as one to offer an impressive performance every time.

If we are to experience success in our relationships within musical groups, sports teams, businesses, community organizations, churches, and families, we must take steps to gather our members together and tune to a common pitch. Then we must also take time along the way to remove distractions, reaffirm intentions, retune as needed, and then continue together toward our goals.

Consider your own relationships, if you will. Are they in tune?

Harmony Found in the Looking Glass

Okay, for those out there who have heard me talk about the hats we wear, and for those of you who see me wearing one around town, you may not be surprised to hear: I have a new hat. Made some of you shake your head with a “There she goes again” chuckle, didn’t I? The rest of you may be muttering, “So what?!” Well, before you dismiss my story, let me share a little about the newest edition to my collection.

I was minding my own business on a recent Saturday afternoon, out and about with my best friend (also known as my husband). We were meandering around some antique shops, enjoying a perfect spring day, when we stepped across the threshold of a quaint little shop into what felt like someone’s closet. I quickly found myself surrounded by a wonderful assortment of hats reflective of the finest millinery of years past.

Before I knew it, my curiosity overruled my practicality: I had to check them out. Not that I wanted or needed to buy one, of course. I just wanted to look. “I’ll just be a minute,” I explained. Well, part of the reason my husband and I will celebrate 31 years of marriage next month is because he has learned a valuable truth: there’s a time to speak and a time to keep silent. He decided this was a time to keep silent, so he smiled and stepped aside while I examined the treasures I’d found. My imagination soared as questions began to flood my mind. I wonder who originally owned this fine collection. How did she acquire such a wonderful variety? Where did she wear them? Why would she want to get rid of them? And the important question of the moment: how would they look on me?!

Then it caught my eye. Oh, my! There, carefully positioned atop a mannequin was a feathered creation, with an attitude all its own. Black and grey pheasant feathers wrapped themselves tightly around a finely crafted headpiece. Soft. Subtle. Quiet. Gentle. Then, in a celebration of creativity, a cluster of black and white feathers exploded from one side. A juxtaposition of character: exuberant, yet balanced. It made me smile. It made me laugh. It made me think of the roaring 20’s. The shop owners were hopeful and my husband…well, he just shook his head in amusement as I announced, “I’ll just try it on for fun.”

One look in the mirror and the doors of imagination flung open wide. I liked the hat. I really liked it. Not so much because it was a nice hat – which it was – and not because it was something I could use (although I did find myself wondering about that). I didn’t know in that moment what I would do with it, but I saw something more than a festive hat as I stood before the looking glass. Upon first glance, I saw something to bring laughter to an often-serious world. I began to plan when and where I would wear it, to bring some levity to my life and those around me. Yet, as I continued to look at the image in the mirror, I found a vivid example of design elements for our lives. We need a place for creativity, to reach out with a spirit of excitement and originality, to break out of the mold of tradition and experience life to the fullest. Life can too easily become so structured, there’s little opportunity for that freedom of expression and enjoyment. Yet, there’s also a time and a need to establish a sense of direction with form and reason, and to create a spirit of order. When these perspectives weave together in a balanced manner, our lives become the creation our designer intended. True harmony – style at its best.

I left the store that afternoon with wonderful treasures: a new hat, an experience to savor, and a reminder of the importance of creating balance in life. Oh, and I found one more thing – a word of encouragement to pass along. Keep your eyes open: there may be a hat out there just waiting for you!

Breast Cancer Survivors Teach Life Lessons

October welcomes cooler temperatures, fall leaves with their vibrant golds, reds and oranges along with community harvest celebrations. It also brings an important focus – one that touches the lives of friends, families, perhaps even ourselves. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout the year, cancer survivors courageously battle this disease as people across the country commit their time, talents and energy to research and to supporting survivors and their families. These efforts all come sharply into view during this month.

The American Cancer Society’s Facts & Figures for 2005-2006 identifies the impact breast cancer has on the lives of women (and men) in the United States as it reports the following:

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, except for nonmelanoma skin cancers. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman’s life is about 1 in 8 (13% of women). It is estimated that in 2006 about 212,920 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the United States. At this time, there are slightly over 2 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

“In addition to invasive breast cancer, carcinoma in situ (CIS) will account for about 61,980 new cases in 2006. CIS is noninvasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer. Breast cancer also occurs in men. An estimated 1,720 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2006. Breast cancer incidence rates showed a rapid increase in the 1980s, although the rate of increase slowed in the 1990s, compared to the 1980s. In the years from 2001 to 2003, incidence rates decreased.

“Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. The chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman’s death is about 1 in 33 (3%). In 2006, about 40,970 women and 460 men will die from breast cancer in the United States. Death rates from breast cancer continue to decline, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment.”

The report also identifies the relative survival rates for women diagnosed with breast cancer: 88% @ 5 yrs after diagnosis, 80% after 10 yrs, 71% after 15 yrs and 63% after 20 yrs.

Spend time with friends, co-workers and family members who are breast cancer survivors and you’ll find powerful examples of courage in the face of fear, strength overcoming weakness, determination that perseveres, trust that endures. The path they travel is well worn. While medical research works diligently to find better treatments, preventative measures and a cure, unfortunately many travelers find themselves on the same journey. Yet the story of each survivor is unique. The battles they fight physically and emotionally, the experiences they encounter and lessons they learn all weave together, creating a powerful story – of loss, of love, of hope.

Cancer has made its presence known to me through friends and family members – most recently, my new daughter-in-law, Andrea. While she battled a different form of this disease, her story is similar to those I’ve heard from many survivors, including those who confront breast cancer:

“I am training to participate in an endurance event next month in Austin, Texas as a member of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. I’m excited to run the race in my new hometown and have my husband Aaron there to cheer me on! Cancer has touched everyone’s lives in one way or another and the research that organizations like Team in Training do is so important.

I was diagnosed with cancer in November 2005, two weeks before Aaron and I were married. It was beyond shocking. Anyone who has been through or seen his or her family go through this experience knows how life altering it can be. I had no symptoms, no clues that anything could be wrong with my health, but that just serves as a reminder that cancer doesn’t discriminate against age, race, health, education or finances. I was blessed to be surrounded by a great doctor, supportive friends and family, and my amazing husband to stand by me during that time. I underwent surgery to remove the cancerous cells and went to my first follow up to find that the bad cells are gone and I am CANCER-FREE! I realize every day how lucky I am to have had the care my doctor gave me. Her perseverance in chasing down those cancerous cells is why I am still able to have a family someday.

Two days after I found out I was okay, I signed up for Team in Training, so I could give back and play a role in finding a cure for cancer. It’s my goal to help others dealing with the effects of cancer and to aid research to help prevent cancer from taking more lives.

“While working at Texas Oncology, a major facility in Austin that treats patients with all types of cancers, I’ve seen the amazing strength these patients possess as they go through chemo, radiation, and diagnostic testing to monitor their health. Their courage is an inspiration to me. I’m hoping to bring some hope and a smile into their lives.”

Perhaps you can relate to Andrea’s story – as a cancer survivor yourself or as one who stands on the sidelines offering support. I treasure the precious gift of time spent with cancer survivors who have touched my life. While their battles with this disease have been unique in their onset, treatment and outcome, they’ve shared some common experiences along their journeys. Together, we’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve complained. We’ve celebrated. We’ve dreamed. We continue to hope. We continue to pray. They have been the teachers while I have humbly been their student. They have poured out generously from the well of their experiences as I’ve sat at their feet, soaking up priceless life lessons. Listen with your mind and your heart to wisdom they’ve shared – insights that perhaps you’ve heard before, yet worthy of considering again.

* Life is not always fair.

* Fighting cancer is hard work.

* You don’t always have a choice about what comes into your life but you do have a choice about how you will respond and the attitude you will choose to have as you move through the experience.

* Planning for the future is important, but the reality is this: you have the certainty of only this present moment. How will you make it count?

* Don’t take anything for granted.

* It’s important to take charge of your life and your health. Understand how your body functions and then make healthy lifestyle choices. When in doubt, ask, and keep on asking until you understand.

* Some of the most beautiful women you will meet are bald.

* Don’t save the good china just for company.

* The journey of life takes unexpected twists and turns. While each of us is responsible for how we travel along that path, we don’t have to make the trip alone. Friends and family are waiting to come along side, offering encouragement, assistance and companionship.

* Laughter is great medicine.

* Encouragement is a priceless gift.

* The commitment to take “one day at a time” isn’t just for twelve-step groups.

* We all have much to teach each other, and much to learn. Take time to share your life lessons with those around you, and listen to their stories – with your mind and with your heart.

* Prayer is powerful, not just for the one with the need being voiced, but also for the one offering the prayer.

* When you think you can’t take another step, stop and rest. Then take a deep breath and dig into the center of your soul to find strength and courage from the Lord for the next step. His grace is truly amazing and His mercies, never failing.

The focus this month is on awareness. So, let’s be aware. Aware of ourselves – our health and our needs. Let’s also be aware of those around us who courageously fight a battle with cancer. Some survivors need our support as they wage war on this disease. We must be there to listen, pray, help with daily needs and be present for families and caregivers who face their own unique challenges. We can also be there to celebrate with survivors who claim victory in their battle and remember those whose lives on earth have come to a close.

.The opportunities are ours to foster hope, fuel inspiration and help turn possibilities into successful realities. We have made great strides, yet there is still far to go. Let’s keep walking. Let’s keep running. Let’s keep giving. Let’s keep working. Let’s keep praying. Let’s keep hope alive … this month, and every month.

Created For Our Pleasure

“Wish you were here!”

A well-worn phrase perhaps, but a thought that came to mind as I gathered ideas for this column while visiting family recently. It began as I gazed out the window of a log cabin perched on a hillside overlooking the Sol Duc River, near the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. All firmly setting on the Northwest Peninsula of Washington State. Truly a “Kodak moment.”

Stately cedars, firs, hemlocks and alders surrounded the cabin and mountainsides, while ferns and budding wildflowers graced the clearings, all ushering in the rich color palette of Spring. A glorious compliment to the gentle sounds of the river carrying the melting mountain snow to join with other rivers, all winding their way to the ocean’s edge.

The scenery there certainly provides a study in contrasts. Majestic: simple. Forceful: peaceful. Firm: flowing. Old: new. Rugged: soft. Rain: more rain! (Actually, contrary to the expected, we did have a few beautiful, unusually warm, blue-sky days of sunshine and clear starry nights.)

We took advantage of one of those sunshine-filled days to spend a little time at one of the beaches along the northwest coastline. On the way there, I quietly reminisced about childhood summer times at the beaches on the Mid-Atlantic coastline. Boardwalks. Summer cottages. Carnival rides. Candy shops filled with salt-water taffy. Entertainment abounding. Then my thoughts traveled to Texas, which I did when a teenager; and I began to picture the sandy beaches of Galveston Bay. More open space and access to the gulf waters. Beach houses on stilts. Casual. Calm (except, of course, for hurricane season!).

This new beach experience, however, was a different picture entirely. Tall trees stood firm near the water’s edge, allowing only limited space for the sand and smooth rocks to create a walking path. Timbers, washed ashore by the tides, stacked themselves in random patterns, providing a playground for the young at heart who like to test their skills on a balance beam. Just off shore, tall, rugged rock formations stood firm as the ocean’s waves crashed at their base. Colorful starfish were scattered among smooth stones that covered the rocky shoreline as a young puppy chased the waves.

My niece joined me with her newborn daughter and I soon found myself in the center of yet another amazing study in contrasts: the forceful crescendos of nature ebbing and flowing before me, with the gentle, stillness of a tiny, baby girl at my side. Time seemed to stand still in that moment as I came face to face with the vastness of God’s amazing creativity. The ocean that seemed to stretch to the horizon, the birds of the air and fish of the sea, the plants and trees, the rocks that emerged from the water, the stone and sand beneath our feet, the sun that warmed us, even the tide that rolled out to provide space for us to sit and enjoy His handiwork. And, his most amazing creation: mankind. As my mind absorbed the awesomeness of it all, I began to recall verses from Psalm 8 in the Bible.

“When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers,

The moon and the stars, which you have ordained,

What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?

For you have made him a little lower than the angels,

And you have crowned him with glory and honor.

You have made him to have dominion over the works of your hands.

You have put all things under his feet,

All sheep and oxen – even the beasts of the field,

The birds of the air and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!” (taken from the King James Version).

Here it is, a few days later, and I’m back in Texas, a little more aware of God’s creative presence in our own back yard. Whether we travel about the country, or stay right here at home, may we always be mindful and respectful as we take time to enjoy the gifts He has created for our pleasure. And, may we never forget to thank Him for His goodness.