Three Beautiful Words

“I love you.” These three words are considered by many to be the three most beautiful words in the world. They are wonderful, magical words when spoken sincerely. I remember the first time my husband spoke those words to me, words we continue to say daily to one another. I heard these words often as a growing child, and they were some of my mother’s last words to me before she passed. They are beautiful words that I have spoken to my sons since before they were born and they are words I often speak to family and dear friends as well. They are beautiful words.

Slide1But there are another three beautiful words that are the foundation for all other meaningful words: Jesus is Alive! Today Christians everywhere celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and if we stop and think about it, this fact alone gives purpose, hope and promise like no other words in any language. Because Jesus is alive, death has lost its power. Yes, it can separate us from those we love for a while but we know that those who die in Christ will live in eternity with Jesus forever, and we will see them again because Jesus is alive! Those three beautiful words give hope for the present and confidence for the future. We trust Jesus, even in the midst of great trials, loss and heartbreak. He promises to turn our mourning into joy, just as he did at the empty tomb that first Easter morning. Because of Christ’s victory over death we are confident that our tombs will one day be vacated, our souls clothed in resurrection bodies. He lives forever, and so will we.

Furthermore, in life we have hope in Christ, empowered to live as he has called us to live, do the things he has told us to do, fulfill the roles he has given us as individuals and as the body of believers. Jesus is alive and our lives are filled with purpose. We are called to do everything for his glory. He gives beauty and meaning to the mundane so that each task before us becomes an opportunity to express thanksgiving and celebrate his resurrection power. We can live lives ho-hum, or we can recognize each moment for what it truly is, a gift from God, and an opportunity to serve and worship him as we stir the soup and sweep the floors, teach our students or manage our business. Regardless of how simple or how grand the activities that occupy our days, they are opportunities to celebrate the Easter truth: Jesus is alive!

Jesus is alive! He stretched out his arms on a cruel wooden cross and said to the world: I love you. Then he rose from the grave to prove it. Jesus loves you. He loves me. Resurrection hope and promise wrapped in his love. Jesus is alive! Three powerful words! Three death-defying words. Three words of hope and life, purpose and promise. Happy Easter!

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First World Journey

This weekend, I returned from a long journey. Physically, I have not travelled beyond my usual haunts within a few miles of home. I slept in my own bed at night, cooked meals in my kitchen and went about the day in a semi-normal way. Only life wasn’t normal. The first week in January, the in-law suite we had added several years ago was flooded by a burst water pipe. All flooring and some portions of walls and ceilings had to be reconstructed in the suite now used for family room-craft-office area, as well as bathroom and closets. A restoration company moved furnishings and belongings into our living room, dining room and a spare bedroom, rendering those spaces dysfunctional as well. Additional belongings were stacked floor to ceiling in the shower stall. The toilet from that bathroom sat for months on subflooring in the living space, while we waited for new bathroom flooring. Most of my arts and crafts and sewing supplies were packed away or barricaded by furniture and boxes. My business files were accessed by climbing over other furniture to the file cabinet stored against a wall, drawers facing wall, of course.

I spent lots of time walking in circles in my altered space, looking for one thing after another. Even sewing on a button was a challenge – I first had to hunt for needle and thread among the boxes of belongs stacked three and four boxes high. That was a dilemma over and over as what should have been a simple task first required a hunting expedition. Sometimes it was easier to shop for a new item rather than try to find the one packed away.

Shopping for replacement flooring was somewhat of a challenge as well. The original products, which matched furniture and fabrics in the space, was no longer produced. Colors in the industry had shifted away from the warm reds and greens and golds to cooler grays, blues, and beiges. Shopping for replacements was an exercise in frustration because I did not want to change my color scheme.  I whined a lot about my lost flooring.

“First world problem, Mom,” my oldest son said to me more than once. “You sound like a diva talking about your color schemes.” He hasn’t had to furnish a house yet, or fund the cost of rugs and draperies, upholstery or new furniture.  He didn’t invest weeks of his time sewing curtains and cushions and pillows when the space was redecorated some years ago. But he gets married this summer – he’ll learn!

Of course it’s a first world problem. No one is starving to death in my family and we don’t live in tents or under trees. It’s a first world problem, but it’s my world. I live in a first world country with the attendant first world challenges. I discovered that when my physical world is turned topsy-turvy, my organizational skills get discombobulated as well. Sometimes my ability to focus is compromised. The simple tasks of daily routines become complicated by necessary searches for lost and misplaced possessions. The disorder in my living space was distracting and disquieting. I could not think well because I could not find the rhythm or tools of my normal daily activities. I felt lost in my own home. Finally, the last Friday in March, the workmen completed their reconstruction tasks, packed up and left. Over the weekend, my husband and I finished moving our things back into place. How sweet to have my house back to normal.

I suppose there are many lessons to be learned from this adventure. No doubt over time, some of them will find their way into my writings and speaking engagements. There will be time to philosophize about over-consumption in my culture, the magnitude of world problems, the shallowness of a west end housewife (me), or some other weighty issues.

View out my window

View out my window — Bird Feeder in Center

For today, I’m incredibly grateful to be sitting in my favorite chair, in my now restored space, laptop open to welcome words. As I stare out my window, an absent-minded smile of contentment softens my face. A beautiful yellow finch lands on my birdfeeder, the first one I’ve seen this season. I haven’t been able to sit like this and watch the wild birds feed since the great water pipes flood of January 8th. I’m exceedingly happy to once again see garden guests living the lives of first world birds in my backyard sanctuary. Welcome feathered friends! I’ve missed you while I was away from this window. Sometimes the journey of a dozen steps can make all the difference.





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Enough Already of Bad Sportsmanship!

I don’t know when rudeness became an acceptable part of our culture, especially in the name of team spirit. My husband and I recently attended a basketball game at one of the universities in our city. As the opposing team members were introduced, fans of our hometown team stood and turned their backs to the basketball court. I could have marginally understood the behavior had the fans been only young students. But this disrespectful behavior was not limited to kids who might be excused for exhibiting youthful exuberance, immaturity or perhaps lack of proper training at home. No, the people near us who stood and turned their backs were adults, probably at least in their late thirties or early forties – and some had school-aged children with them. I was disappointed at the behavior from adults who should know better.


Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (Photo by John Weast / Getty Images North America)

This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed bad behavior at a sporting event. In the heat of competition, when emotions run high, lots of rude, even crude behavior passes for team spirit today. The incident with Marcus Smart just highlighted for me how broken our sports behavior has become. Certainly the young Mr. Smart lost his cool, but it wouldn’t have happened if the mouthy Mr. Orr had kept his mouth shut. People, we need to be adults. This is a game, not a war. That is someone’s son or daughter out there, playing their heart out for their school. I know. I had a son who competed at the high school and college level. I remember our high school basketball team walking to the bus one night after a hotly contested game that our team lost in the last seconds. Opposing team parents followed our team to the bus, calling out our star players by name, jeering at them and making rude comments. Where’s the sport in that? And I wouldn’t even be willing to dignify in print some of the rude, hateful, racist comments I’ve heard at AAU games, sometimes directed at my son’s team. And for the record, rude, racist comments cut across all cultures, ethnicities and skin colors.

When I was in high school, we took pride in treating visiting teams and fans with respect. They got the best seats in our old stadium, the stable cement structure, while our home team fans climbed open wooden bleachers to our seats. That doesn’t mean we always succeeded in behaving well, but I remember our cheerleaders urging the crowd toward good behavior at football and basketball games. When the opposing team took foul shots, the gym was silent, and still, just as it was for our team. We took pride in winning the good sportsmanship trophy for our district each year. Do such trophies even exist today? And our basketball team enjoyed great success when I was a senior. We weren’t good sports because we were bad players; I suspect that at least in part, we were good players because we were good sports.

When did respect for the opposing team cease? When did it become honorable to deride and ridicule competitors? In most cases, these are young kids, or by college, they are young adults. They train for years to reach the level of a college player, and they train for hours every day to stay in the game. They deserve the decency of respect because they are willing to come to the competition’s arena. They deserve to be honored for the hours and years they’ve dedicated to the sport so that fans have the fun of watching the competition. Sure, many compete for the hope of playing at the next level, but they provide entertainment for spectators along the way. They should at least be acknowledged with a modicum of decency when they are introduced at the beginning of the game.  I’m all for team spirit, but I’d like to see enthusiasm for the game expressed in encouraging ways that honor, rather than deride, the players on both sides. After all, we wouldn’t have a game without them.

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Exercise — And My Love-Hate Relationship with It!

I’m not a big fan of exercise. I hate to sweat and I’m not athletic. I don’t consider myself particularly coordinated and I definitely lack rhythm. I tried ZUMBA classes a couple of times, but of the hundred or so women reflected in the mirrored wall in front of me, I was the one out of step, stiff looking and lost. That’s always been the story of my life in things athletic. Maybe that’s why I’m so good at crafts!

After breast cancer, my medical team urged me to exercise. I’ve learned to enjoy walking, although I’d still rather be quilting! Still, I’ve  found ways to entertain myself on the treadmill at my house. I read, I watch TV, I browse computer sites, and sometimes, if I can find a friend on the other end of the line, I chat on the phone. Often, I do several of these things at one time. It takes a lot of distraction to keep me on the human hamster wheel called treadmills!

Before I had breast cancer, I exercised in bits and spurts, usually not consistent for a few weeks here and there. After chemo, at my husband’s insistence, we joined a gym. He’d read the statistics about exercise and breast cancer survival rates and urged me to take heed. I worked out six to seven hours a week for more than a year and grew to enjoy it. But after I took a job, exercise dragged to a crawl and I gained back a portion of the fifty pounds I’d lost before the big “C” entered my life. Even after I quit work, I couldn’t get back in the exercise routine.

Until now. This summer, I will be the Mother of the Groom (MOG) twice, four weeks apart, when my two sons add sweet daughters-in-law to our family. That adds up to two MOG dresses for the ceremony, two rehearsal dinner dresses, who knows how many showers, parties, dinner dresses … and pictures! Hundreds and hundreds of pictures that will be passed down for generations to come. I don’t want to be the Mama Cass of the Mustian clan. So, I’m working with a nutritionist and have discovered that a low carb diet is well suited to my tastes and lifestyle. More importantly, my nutritionist has been an amazing source of information and ideas about exercise and how to make it work in my life.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned or knew but wasn’t doing:

Wear a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day. That’s not news to me, but for right now it is a good motivator.

Get exercise throughout the day, in little bits. Ten or fifteen minutes of walking three or four times a day is healthier than a one hour walk surrounded by 23 hours of sitting. The pedometer helps me break up exercise into little chunks and still keep track of my daily goals.

This is my custom desktop for my treadmill, high enough that I don't walk with my head hanging down. That's a little TV perched on the right top corner of the treadmill.

This is my custom desktop for my treadmill, high enough that I don’t walk with my head hanging down. That’s a little TV perched on the right top corner of the treadmill.

Make exercise part of normally sedentary activities. Stand to write, do craft work, or talk on the phone. My nutritionist told me about exercise in the workplace on treadmill-desks. I tried it, first with just a board across the arms of my treadmill to hold writing materials – and I found I like it. So I’ve built a desk custom height for me. It’s not a fast walk, just a 2-mile-per-hour stroll. It’s fun. And I rack up steps while getting work done. I even wrote answers to my Bible study lesson while I walked last week, and I was able to read my answers this week — it gets easier with practice!

Make exercise part of TV watching. My husband and I often sit down after dinner in the long dark winter hours and watch TV. Some nights, that can lead to several sedentary hours. Again, long stretches of sitting are not good for a body or circulation. Often, the only exercise American get during commercials is a sprint to the kitchen for snacks and the weight creeps up. I’ve discovered by wearing the pedometer that I can collect anywhere from 150 to 400 steps taking short walks around the house during a TV time-out break in a televised basketball game. Those steps quickly accumulate. All together, I collected over 3000 steps after supper a couple of nights ago just by applying this technique.

Current research suggests that a fifteen-minute walk after meals, especially important after a large dinner meal, helps regulate blood sugar. This is doubly important for diabetics, people at risk for diabetes and older people because the body often doesn’t handle sugar/insulin as well as it does in younger folks. My nutritionist taught me to break exercise into little chunks after meals and I’ve found it’s easy to incorporate into my day.

Life comes at us in stages, and I’m in the stage of doing what I can to preserve quality for my golden years. Building healthy habits may buy me a few extra years to enjoy the expanding Mustian family. And if grandchildren become part of my future, I want to be here to enjoy them. Isn’t that a reasonable dream for an upcoming two-time MOG?

Happy Exercising!

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Happy New Year!!!

Welcome 2014!!!

Welcome 2014!!!

Another New Year rolled around and my world doesn’t look any different the day after New Years than it did the day before. I’m actually mildly amused that we celebrate the turning of a calendar page, an artificial counting of time that has no significant impact on life on this planet. We make resolutions we mostly know we won’t keep. Often resolutions are rather shallow and self-serving: I’ll lose weight, I’ll stop biting my nails, I’ll start exercising, or some other bad-habit breaker. We don’t need New Years to resolve to live healthier or wiser. We can, and must, make those choices every day. Perhaps we dream that we’d do something significant in the new calendar year, something that will have a big impact on the world or on our own lives and fortunes. Yet few of us actually take steps to make the sort of changes we daydream about, and many of us are not in a position to significantly change this big ole world.

I thought about what I’d like to accomplish in 2014, and realize that the things that matter most to me are things that don’t require a resolution. I love people; and time spent with family and friends is a treasure. This year, my husband and I will celebrate important milestones in our sons’ lives. They will both be married and we look forward to adding daughters to our family. I’ll be there to support these new families in every way I can. I’ll take part in the wedding festivities with all the joy of a proud, happy mom who looks forward to these new chapters. I’ll pray for my sons to be good husbands, and hope that they and their wives will grow closer to one another and to the Lord. I’ll do all I can to encourage these new families, but I don’t need to make a New Year’s resolution for that; its been in my mother-heart since they were little tikes. I prayed for their future wives while they were still elementary school kids.

I’ll continue to enjoy this stage of my marriage as my husband and I move into new roles as parents of married children. We’ll look forward to opportunities to grow in our own marriage, having completed the child raising and education years. I think the empty nest years really start now, an emotional stage in which sons have truly left home. And I’ll get to move the rest of their belongings into their homes! There’s a celebration in the making! Empty nests aren’t all bad. Even though they’ve been in separate housing these past few years, I’ve still been the storehouse of possessions collected over their lifetimes. Now, when their housemates move out and the brides move in, I’ll clean out their bedrooms at my house and find new uses for those spaces. Boys won’t be coming home to sleep at my house again so their old bedrooms need new uses. And I don’t need to make a resolution to redecorate – that’s been an ongoing hobby for me all my life!

I’ll continue doing the things I love: writing, reading, quilting, crafting, Bible study, motivational speaking — and shopping!. I’ll teach when I can, speak when the opportunities present, encourage women facing hard life challenges whether it’s breast cancer, or raising kids, or dealing with disappointments and heartbreaks on a broken planet. I’ll apply prayer and shopping therapy liberally! I’ll celebrate with those who celebrate and weep with those who mourn. I’ll continue to learn how to listen to God’s voice, watch for His gentle leading, expect His gracious presence in the good times and the bad. I didn’t need a resolution for that. And I’ll celebrate the days He has given me, and those still left to live, blessing upon blessing. That doesn’t require a resolution either.

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year!!!

So I wish everyone a Very Happy New Year and hope we all spend more time counting blessings than lamenting broken New Years resolutions which were probably not that significant in the first place. And in the midst of life’s routines, God will continue to do extraordinary things in a broken world, on New Years Day and every other day of the year, in simple lives like mine — no resolutions needed! Happy 2014!

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Christmas Forks and Yellow Nail Polish

My husband wrote this story recently to share with our church family. I’m proud to share it with my readers with the hope it will bring a special Christmas blessing to you and yours!

Christmas Forks and Yellow Nail Polish
A True Christmas Story
by Ward Mustian

Christmas time around 1980 I was working at the Boys Club of Richmond as their aquatics director.  I worked at the club during my Summer and Winter breaks while I was in college and dental school.  What made that Christmas special was my interaction with one of the boys.  Jerry was about 9 years old, tall for his age and very lean.  He had a head full of blonde hair.  He lived with his mother in a rooming house in the Fan where  I am not sure they had heat or much to eat.  Like many of the boys in the club back then, there was no dad in Jerry’s life. Jerry’s mother was also tall, lean, and probably would have been considered pretty had she had the resources to take care of herself.  Jerry was at the club every chance he got.  He came because he felt safe, special, and because he loved the swimming pool.  There were many times Jerry’s mother would come down to the indoor pool and sit in the bleachers to “watch.”  Actually, she was there because it was very warm and she would always soon fall asleep.

As Christmas was approaching, I asked Jerry if he was going to get anything for his mother for Christmas.  Jerry looked up to me and said “Mr. Ward, I don’t got no money.”  “Jerry, would you like to work with me here in the pool to earn a little money…you can help me clean the pool tiles.”  Jerry excitedly responded  yes! Over a couple of days, Jerry spent a few hours helping me.  I didn’t tell him how much he was earning.   I asked Jerry what he wanted to get his mom for Christmas.  Beaming he said he wanted to buy her some forks because they did not have any.  “And I want to buy her some yellow fingernail polish…that’s her favorite color!”

They didn't make yellow nail polish back then! Photo by Phil Lawson

They didn’t make yellow nail polish back then!
Photo by Phil Lawson

Jerry and I were able to slip away from the club for a couple of hours to do a little shopping.  We went to Regency Square and found a good price on a complete set of eating utensils.  He was almost speechless when I told him he had earned enough money to buy that.  We went to the cosmetic counter at Thalhimers where the saleslady asked if she could help us.  I informed her that Jerry wanted to buy his mom some fingernail polish.  “What is your mom’s favorite color?” she asked.  “Yellow “was his reply.  “What is your mom’s other favorite color?”  The saleslady was very patient as Jerry tried to figure out what color to get as there was no such thing as yellow fingernail polish back then.  He finally picked one and we returned to the club.  I had gift wrap in my office and he very carefully wrapped his mother’s gifts.  The next day was the big Christmas party at the club before the club closed for the holiday.  I told Jerry I would keep the gifts until he was ready to leave after the party the following day.

When you have 150 inner city boys in one big room for a Christmas party it is very exciting and very loud.  The boys had a great time and then it was over.  To my dismay,  in the excitement,  Jerry had left without his mother’s gifts.  I went to their building but was told that they were going somewhere in Southside for the holidays.  Several of the staff tried for hours to find where Jerry was and where he was going.  By God’s grace, we found a lady who knew where they were spending Christmas.   She promised that she would put the gifts in Jerry’s hands before Christmas morning.

While I was spending time with my family on Christmas day, I kept wondering if Jerry got the gifts.  If he did, I wondered how his mom might have reacted.  I imagined Jerry’s joy at being able to give a gift.

A few days after Christmas, I was back at the club.  It was a Saturday and the club was filled with boys and constant motion.  I was on the opposite side of the large games room when I saw Jerry’s mother come through the door.  She stopped, looked around , and then saw me on the other side of the room.   She smiled and mouthed the words “thank you” and then returned to the cold outside.

I will never forget this experience.  We should all be aware that small gestures on our part can be a major event in other’s lives.   Merry Christmas.

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I Couldn’t Make This Stuff Up!

We were heading to Greensboro NC for the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas performance. My husband drove our car and our friend Michael rode with us. For a variety of reasons, his wife and children followed later, maybe 30 – 45 minutes behind. A mutual friend, a Greensboro native, had promised us some of the world’s best barbecue at Stamey’s Restaurant, right across from the coliseum. Our mouths watered, thinking of a delicious meal at the end of our 3 ½ hour ride. We arrived about two hours before showtime, but the crowd leaving the matinee performance slowed us a bit. Nevertheless, we still had plenty of time for food; unfortunately, Stamey’s parking lot was empty, the restaurant windows dark.

Disappointed, I remembered passing a couple of Mexican restaurants about a mile away, so we backtracked, figuring Mexican can usually be served quickly. We still had a good hour for eating. As we passed a Taco Bell on the left, the guys teased me “Is that your Mexican restaurant, Carolyn?”

“No, but it’s not bad, I like Taco Bell” I said, as my husband drove passed. My mouth was still dreaming of barbecue. The traffic was brutally slow. Police cars at every block had lights flashing as police directed matinee traffic away from the complex. Then, on the right, I spotted one of the restaurants I’d seen on the way in. A car with flashing lights sat on the sidewalk in front of the establishment. We parked and walked toward the door, chatting about the upcoming show. I heard words from the car’s speaker, but paid no attention, thinking he was directing traffic. But the second time, I caught part of the sentence, “…don’t go in …. ro…..” His words were muffled in my brain. “Did he say ‘roaches’?” I asked the guys, but they had paid no attention at all.

The bright reds and blues of the TSO show remind me of the emergency vehicle lights of our pre-show adventure!

The bright reds and blues of the TSO show remind me of the emergency vehicle lights of our pre-show adventure!

“I think he said something about roaches, I’m going over to talk to him,” and I walked to the vehicle with it’s multiple lights flashing red and blue on top, in front and in back. As I got closer, I saw that the car was bright red with the word “EMERGENCY” in bold gold lettering. I thought maybe it was a fire or rescue vehicle. The passenger rolled down her window, and I looked across the seat to a young man behind the wheel with a mic in his hand. “Did you say something about roaches?” I asked.

“Yeah, they got roaches in there. Don’t go in there! I ate here Wednesday night and they had roaches. The manager was a jerk, wouldn’t comp my meal or nothing! I’ve vowed to sit here and warn people as long as I don’t have a call.” At that moment, a group of potential diners got out of their car and headed for the door. He brought the mic up to his mouth “Don’t eat in there. They got roaches. Don’t go in there. They got roaches!” By now, my husband and Michael were beside me. “There’s a real good restaurant down the street about a mile” and he told us the name. But our time was getting short. We looked across the parking lot at an Italian restaurant.

“What about that place? Have you eaten there?”
“It’s okay,” he said.
“Clean? Decent?”
“It’s okay.”
So we thanked him and turned toward that establishment.

Last night was a cold night on the east coast, maybe 35 degrees in Greensboro. Unfortunately, it was probably only about 40 degrees in the Italian restaurant. We looked around and noticed that besides the two ladies behind the counter, we were the only three people in the place. A waitress welcomed us and handed us a menu, but the cold cut through my coat. “I’m sorry, it’s too cold in here. I can’t eat here,” I told her. She smiled and agreed with me.

As we returned to our car, I couldn’t resist, “So, how do you guys feel about Taco Bell now?”

“Well, it beats LaRoach or the Italian Ice Palace,” my husband quipped. We headed for the fast food alternative to local Mexican. We had a decent meal and made it to the concert in plenty of time. It wasn’t North Carolina barbecue, but we saw no roaches, and enjoyed warm dining – win, win.

And regarding the self-appointed town crier, Michael had noticed as we approached the car that he was actually a roadside assistant type, probably a private business. I was relieved that the police, fire and rescue departments were still intact. And I’m grateful that he gave us an entertaining pre-show adventure! This is a true story, honestly, I couldn’t make this stuff up!

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