Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Intentional...the Way I Like to Live

My good friend, Robin McFarren, has asked me several times to share about my "lifeplanner"/journal way of getting and keeping my life and goals on track. I am certainly no expert, but I know it is so easy to get derailed and find yourself a long, long way from where you want to be, unless you live life intentionally. I have found the best way for me is to write my intentions, to document them to keep myself motivated and encouraged. I will share a couple things that help me---I am sure if you experiment a bit, you can design a process that will keep you focused and forward moving. As Andy Stanley says, "Direction, not intention, determines destination." Simply stated, my best intentions won't get me anywhere unless I am actively moving in the direction of those intentions. Several methods help me. I am no where near perfect on this, but I am much closer to who I want to be than I would be without them.

First is what I call my "LIFE PLANNER." I call it my brains. Truth is, I carry it everywhere, and have traveled more than an hour back to get it on an occasion when I forgot it.  For many years I used a Daytimer Brand, and kept my calendar and other pertinent lists in the same place. However, my Daytimer was very large, and was formatted in a way that I was continually trying to refine and personalize. After many changes, about 5 years ago I settled on a very homemade system that fits me fine. It works like this. 
  • My iphone calendar syncs with my computer, so I always have it with me (I use the Google calendar system), and all my personal dates and business dates are in the same place so I am very unlikely to overlook anything. It has space to record places and details, and I can set an alarm that reminds me of important dates and times. Because of that, I do not have a paper calendar as part of my life planner.
  • My life planner is a spiral notebook with a hardback cover with several hundred lined pages. I get the ones I use at Staples, Markings brand. They are brown or blue and have either "thoughts" or "organize" embossed on the front cover. There are pockets in the inside back where I carry pictures of my family, stamps, and miscellaneous papers that are critical at the moment. One of the pockets carries the WHO I AM IN CHRIST card that I read regularly to keep my focus. The book also has an elastic band around it to keep a grip on other papers I keep temporarily in there, like motivational thoughts I might be using for awhile, ideas I pick up,  or a few notecards or postcards for writing quick notes in spare moments. I also have post-a-notes in there to keep temporary lists.
  • At the end of each year (November-December) I set goals for my next year in pertinent areas (work, personal achievement, health, spiritual life, relationships, family, the house...whatever is important to me) and these become my master lists for prioritizing actually moving forward instead of just doing the things that simply have to be done each week. I record these goals under subjects in the back pages of the book and review them weekly when I plan my week to see if there's is something I can or should add to my tasks for the week. It's exciting and motivating to cross them off with a date when they get accomplished. I also keep a list here of where things are stored and how much I have--for instance, when I put away Christmas things, I will tell myself that I have enough Christmas napkins for next year and they are gold, and that I already have enough wrapping paper and ribbon.
  • The inside front cover has all my contact info and a few addresses/passwords I use frequently but forget. It has my personal mission statement, our church vision and mission statement.
  • Weekly schedules command the most space in the life planner. A week's planning covers both sides of the pages of the opened book.  The pages look like this:
  • I know. Unbelievably simple. But it's all I need to keep me on track. The Contacts section lists all the people I need to touch base with in any way this week--Thank you notes, sympathy cards,  etc. I have the life planner with me on Sundays, and jot names during/between services so I don't forget. The Calls section is just for phone calls with numbers, unless they are in my phone. Go/Get/See is for errands, things I need I need to pick up, places I need to go, or a specific visit I need to make. There's always a place for "Dad 1-2-3", and I x out the number every time I see him. :-) Things like groceries, gas, the bank are regular items, but stamps, a hospital visit---those are the kinds of things that need to get added or I actually will forget them. The Stuff list is for those things that HAVE to happen, but don't fit naturally and easily in another place. For instance, I write this blog, but I can procrastinate and not get it done so when I need to do one, so it gets listed here. I also do some other writing and when a project needs some work, it's the kind of thing that will show up here. Or, community/denominational irregular things. Because I am director of Clearblue Global Water Project, a non-profit raising money for clean, safe water around the world, I have regular weekly contacts and work to do for that. Those items go in the Clear Blue section. You might have an avocation or hobby of your own here. Or, you could put a project like Kitchen Redo here, and list the steps you hope to take that week. Or, if you are a very full-time volunteer at a school or church, it could be the place you put those tasks. On the opposite side, the whole page is devoted to the two main time consumers in my week---the Church, the things I need to do as lead pastor, and Home, the things I need to do as wife, mother, grandmother, and homemaker, and personal tasks.
  • I create these lists every Sunday afternoon or evening with what I know I need to do, and have space to keep adding new items as they arise. I mark off each task as I accomplish it. It's very motivational to see what I have done. I rarely get everything done I have hoped for each week, and the leftovers give me the starting place for the next week.
  • I keep all the pages in the book for the whole year. It keeps a very helpful record of who I have contacted and what I have done through the year. I simply paper clip the top of the current page so my week is easy to find. I skim over these pages at night so I go to bed aware of what my first tasks will be in the morning.
  • I have a section near the back also clipped with a blue paper clip. It is the section where I keep the most updated information about ClearBlue finances, needs, and current projects so I will have information on the spot if I am questioned.
  • I also keep a list of needs we have at the church so if anyone asks me what they might help us with I am not caught without an answer to get maximum benefit from the opportunity.
  • At the end of the year I go back over my goals for evaluation, to celebrate what has been done, to plan for a new year, and to pray. 
Very simple. Perhaps not the way you would do it. But I can guarantee this--if you figure out a system and stick with it for 28 days, the time research tells us it takes to start a new habit, I promise you will find yourself happier, more fulfilled, more motivated, and accomplishing much more pretty quickly.

While we are at it, let me tell you a couple of other things that help me.
Next, there is Journaling. In the past, I have kept separate journals for my own devotional, personal thoughts. My son Jacob does it differently, and having watched him, I love his system, and am beginning it. I am using one journal starting January 1 to record personal thoughts and devotional insights and events in my life--not every day, but as I have the insight and urge to write something. My blog and Facebook page document much day to day things, but if I want to keep them for posterity, I need to also store them on my computer. Many people use computer, ipad, or some kind of portable electronic device for all journaling. That is good, too. I like the old-fashioned feel of paper in my hands. :-) This is a small journal that travels with me so I can also take sermon, book, and seminar notes in it, ending up with a spiritual journal of my year. It usually requires several journals per year.

Another book that has become indispensable to us is the budget book. Every year we get a $2.50 budget book from the family dollar store. It has a lined page per month, with a pocket for each month to store the bills as they come in. In the back I post any debts we have that it will take us awhile to pay off, such as medical bills. I also keep a running account of what we have saved specifically for vacation, etc. We learned through Dave Ramsey to tell our money  where to go, rather than to wonder where it went. :-) So, on the last couple days of a month, we go through the month's upcoming pays and list out where out money needs to go. We pay ourselves each an allowance so we don't dip into our money for paying bills, saving, and giving for personal stuff. Today I am doing it pay by pay for January. After a few months, you know exactly what needs to happen, and you discover you actually have more money than you thought when it was disappearing a dollar or two at a time. As we pay off any bill or achieve a goal, it is celebrated with big RED letters--PAID IN FULL! or DONE!

The last thing I will share is the LOSE IT app for phone and computer. I use mine on my phone, and the built in accountability and ease of following a calorie limitation that is automatically added for me as soon as I enter the food has helped me lose 49 pounds this year--just 1 pound off of my year's goal. Who knows? I might make it yet before 2014 is over! Following the discipline has become such a part of my daily routine, I have confidence I will not get out of a healthy place again. It also tracks all the other elements of health I allow, including exercise and numbers. Just google LOSE IT--it's free.

Well, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it. ;-) Truly, the only way to get where you want to go is by intentional decisions and actions. I am looking forward to 2015. I am getting where I believe God is calling and preparing me to go.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Real Christmas Story...As Told By Dad

When I was a little girl, my father took me "calling" with him on a regular basis, seeing the sick and elderly. He would always have me sing for the people we visited, and he would share scriptures and then pray with them. At first I loved to go because he would tell me, "There might be a little something in it for you!" (I knew it would be an ice cream cone--yummy!) As I got a little older, I really enjoyed it because one on one time with Dad was always so memorable. I loved his humor, stories, the one of a kind experiences with people,  and the lessons I learned. Then, eventually I looked forward to these times because Dad had helped foster in me a desire and love to serve people, and to water thirsty hearts.

These days, I am getting to accompany Dad again. He had a young friend named Mark, paralyzed and speechless from a high school car accident, he wanted to visit for Christmas. We drove to his home, and Mark signed "I love you" with his one hand that still semi-works, and Dad kissed his face several times. He chatted a couple of moments, and then he was the pastor in charge. He asked me to sing "Away in a Manger", and "Silent Night". When the last notes evaporated, he said, "Now, please sing about the Cross---how about 'Jesus Paid it All'?"

As I finished that, he was ready with a final request, "Now please sing about heaven...'When They Ring Those Golden Bells' and 'When We All Get to Heaven'. "

The moment I was finished, Dad squeezed Mark's hand tightly and said, "Mark---Brenda just sang the Christmas story to you. Now, most people think the only songs that were the Christmas story are the first ones, 'Away in a Manger' and 'Silent Night'. But that's not true. If that was all there was to the Christmas story, it would just be a sweet tale about a baby that was born. But this baby was Jesus, born for a reason. If it wasn't for the cross and the sacrificial death of Jesus, there would be no Christmas to celebrate. The cross of Jesus and his willingness to pay the debt of our sin and set us right makes God's gift of heaven possible. The story of Christmas starts in a manger, but it doesn't end there, Mark. Because it doesn't, we know your Father is in heaven, my wife is with Jesus in heaven, and one day we will be there, too. That's the REAL Christmas story, Mark. Now let's pray and thank Jesus for what he did for us."

True story. If the only part of Christmas you get is the baby in the manger, you don't know squat about Christmas. Jesus left a place of kingship and authority in a place more awesome than we can imagine and came as a helpless baby into a dirty, hostile, and broken world to pay a debt he did not owe and we could not pay. When our huge debt of sin was paid by his death on the cross, it opened the doors to heaven, a future beyond our wildest dreams. THAT'S the Christmas story. It sure makes a holiday worth celebrating. More than that, it makes a happy new year and fulfilling life possible.

I helped Dad out to the car, and as I held the door for him, I said, "Daddy, you are still so good at what you do---serving God and people."

With a twinkle in his eyes, he looked up from the careful attention he was paying to the placement of his feet and said, "Well, Brendy, who dreamed all those years ago we'd end up like this?"

Merry Christmas to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


This re-post has been graciously requested by numerous friends. It is even more true today than the day I wrote it. I hope it helps you on your journey.

Ronald Reagan famously described his descent into Alzheimer's disease as "the long goodbye." So sadly appropriate, but one doesn't need to have a loved one lose mental capacity to see and sense the footprints down the path to life's earthly farewell. Simple aging will do it.

This morning my heart feels the agony of knowing that good bye has begun. Oh, it could be some time, even years, I suppose, but my awesome father, the greatest Daddy a girl could ever have, has been very aware he is on the path home. His 93rd birthday is May 1, so we are all aware and profoundly grateful we have already been blessed to have him share the journey with us far past the biblical standard of threescore and ten.

The winter has been hard on Dad, and two falls in the last month have given him new struggles to face, and new decisions to consider, decisions none of us want to make. Not driving, and letting his car go,  was a tough one, though he did it with grace. Considering permanently leaving his home, the place he shared with his sweetheart Marie (our precious Mother), longer than any other place they had shared--well, it's a shot to the heart. Some people say, "Make him do it. You have to choose for him now." They don't understand the reverence I have for my Father. Control and power have never been in the cards in our relationship in any way, shape, or form, and I can not picture introducing them now, as long as he can think and choose. I know his Father will lead him. He will get to the right decision in the right time.

In these last years since Mom said her own earthly "goodbyes", Dad has been teaching me so much. He doesn't want to leave the town of Sugarcreek for several magnificent reasons. He told me, "My ministry is here, Brenda. I rock those babies at church. They count on me. There's a couple of people on my street I pray with every day. No one else is doing it. What will they do? My small group---we love each other so much. Here is where I am making a difference. When the day comes you can't serve and you just need to be served--well, that's time for heaven." Wow. I know so many of us who are so healthy and so young yet who could use a dose of Dad.

My sister-in-love Patty told me after his second fall, "Dad said to tell you he is doing better, and is encouraged. I can see he is not really, but he's trying to be." No surprise. One of Dad's mantras and choices in life has always been David's: "And David was greatly distressed...but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God." I Samuel 30:6

He doesn't want to be a burden to anyone, let alone the ones he loves so much. I'm 32 years younger than him, and I can already get that. Just being with him has caused me to take a look at what it will be like for me if I get the incredible privilege of a long goodbye. So, I wanted to write my children a letter and tell them what I have learned, what I know I won't be able to say at that point in the journey.

My beautiful children:

It's no secret that Dad and I are no longer the people who live in your earlier memories...strong, capable of balancing many things, handling life on our own, and even rescuing you from time to time. I am so grateful for your patience and love, but I am asking you to try to go even a little further. Can you try to understand what we're going through?

When we talk, I will probably say the same thing over and over. I may tell the same story again and again. Please don't interrupt me and tell me I already said that. Do you remember how many times we read "Three Billy Goats Gruff" over and over when you were little? The thousands of times you said, "Mommy! Mommy...Mommy...Look!" in one day? It's your turn now. :-)

When my clothes are put together a little strange, a stray hair is sprouting somewhere, my bed head needs serious help, or I smell a little funny, just help me.  Don't be ashamed of me, Please cheerfully help me match my clothes, pluck the hair, help me get my "do" done, and work with me on hygiene. I will STILL know who I am inside, and how I want the world to see and remember me--what I can't do worries me more than it does you. I'll need to know you still are proud to introduce me as your Mom.

When you watch me struggle with grasping how the TV works, or getting the door unlocked, or how the computer works (all right--I admit it. On the computer stuff, I am already there :-) --or anything requiring technical skill--don't laugh at me, roll your eyes, or get annoyed. The most basic tasks in life were patiently taught to you by Dad and I. We have been very competent, capable people in our lives, and it is bewildering to us to not have our fingers and mind work with the dexterity we once had. Hang with us, please. Try to see it from our eyes.

Give me time to remember. I will be your loving, praying Mother every moment I breathe, and I will carry you right to Jesus when I leave you. So, though it may take me longer than it once did to get it out, I bet if you'll wait for it, I'll have something worth saying.

When my tired and shrinking body can't move like it used to, smile at me, and give me your hand to hold or your shoulder to lean on, just like I did for you when you learned to walk, or experienced your hurts. 

Most of all...don't let sadness overwhelm you and keep you from me. Inside the wrinkled old face, I will still be there. Look at my eyes. You will see me there, laughing and dancing, and being me. And remind yourself, we have to say "goodbye" in order to have a great reunion.

As I am writing this, our earthly goodbye seems as though it may be a long time away, and I truly hope so. Your incredible Dad is still cracking us up with his booming stereo speakers and his love of music that makes the floor move. His personal favorite right now is an Eagles' song that says, "There's a hole in the world tonight, there's a cloud of fear and sorrow. There's a hole in the world tonight. Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow." Any time that one of us leaves this earth, there will be an unfathomable hole in our world. But, when we know Jesus, we have heaven. Together. Forever. Make sure the highest priority in your life today and tomorrow is knowing Jesus and passing him on to your children and your own grandchildren. We don't want any holes in that world tomorrow.

Love you so much. I cherish and thank God for the privilege of sharing life and eternity with you.


And to my Father, James L. Mason--what a man. I can't wait to kiss you today, and to remind myself of the truth that, because of Jesus, when we say "goodbye", we will soon say "hello."

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Story of the Picture

This is a picture of 501 Company C, 101st Airborne, Screaming Eagles US Army, taken in England in early 1944. Let me tell you how I obtained it, and why it matters.

December 7, 1941 my father (James Leonard Mason) was stationed with the US Army in Hawaii. He
was off duty when he saw the planes with the rising sun symbol on the sides swoop low and drop bombs on the Harbor. He said one flew so low overhead he could see the goggles on the pilot's face. This attack plunged the US into the middle of the raging war on all fronts. Dad went to Officer's Candidate School, and on completion was sent to England, serving in 501 Company C, 101st Airborne, Screaming Eagles. He is the 7th from the left in the first full row of soldiers.

In  May 1944 the troops knew they were getting ready for the big moment, and the greatest military leaders of the day came to inspire the men--Generals Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Bradley were all there. The most memorable moment of all to young paratrooper Mason was hearing Winston Churchill. Dad said, "I was standing so close I could have untied his shoelaces. I knew this was a moment for the ages. He reminded us that the free world was depending on us to defeat 'Jerry'. He spoke of Hitler as the enemy of the free world --he spoke of his tyranny and the evil he had rained upon the world. Mr. Churchill shared with passion and urgent emotion, as tears flowed freely down his cheeks. When he finished his brief exhortation, we were ready to give all we had to a cause so significant."

After some strategic delays and attempts to confuse the enemy, on June 6, 1944 more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline. Dad was one of those. He and the other members of the 101st Airborne blackened their faces and climbed into C47 airplanes, taking off in silence for France. Dad says no one spoke a word. They sat with heads in hands, everyone lost in their own thoughts of family and freedom and the very real likelihood they would not return. Dad said there were just a few clouds, and he was stunned at the number of ships he could see in the shadows of the water. When they reached their destination, they leaped out into darkness, landing behind the German gun placements. They were there to provide cover and take out enemy troops as Allied soldiers came in waves to storm the beaches. "It was a terrible night, " he says, "planes and gliders, and planes on fire everywhere, the sky red with tracer bullets, and it was raining. As we jumped our weapons were on our backs. As we landed, we only had our bayonets out. The password was American cigarette brands. We were not to fire in the jump area lest we kill our own men. When we heard a sound we would click a little child's cricket. If there was a return click, we would exchange passwords. Because of my position, I was collecting men to fall in behind me. 17 men jumped from my plane with me. I only saw 10 of them again."

The 101st Airborne took the village of Carentan, liberating the good people of the community, and then moved into a holding pattern out of the city with hedgerows as their shield. They were shelled regularly by the Germans as they provided protection for the city. There are many precious and sacred memories too long to tell in this story. This part of the story ended, however, with Dad getting wounded in 11 different places, a piece of shrapnel stopping less than an inch from his liver.

The Allies won the war, Dad survived the injuries, and came home a humble but dedicated hero to live a life of passion and purpose, in the USA. He kept a battlefield commitment that he made to surrender his life to fully following Jesus Christ. He became a pastor, leading people to the joy of relationship with Christ, raised a family, and never forgot the men with whom he served, the people they tried to help, the surviving family members of the many who made the ultimate sacrifice. Over the years he has spoken countless times as a loyal patriot, and been honored in a variety of ways. His favorite place to speak over the last decade was at a middle school where he spoke every Veterans Day week. He never has sought the spotlight or gratitude, but the young people always responded to his urgings in that way. He says repeatedly, "I am not a hero; I simply did what soldiers do."

In February 2014, Dad was very ill and not expected to live more than 5-7 days. He grabbed hold of the goal to share the "one more good patriotic talk in me", and, despite another time in July when we was not expected to survive,  come November he was still here, attending church services, ministering in his nursing home, and raring to go. He spoke again to a standing ovation from the young people and their teachers,  the oldest Vet at the celebration, the only one to have enlisted in the 30's, and wounded in WWII. He continually gives praise to God for his goodness to him. He anticipates heaven and reunion with so many he loves, especially his lifelong love, our mother. But he says as long as God has something for him here, he loves being an earthling.

The day after Thanksgiving, Dad got another amazing gift from the Father and an amazing Frenchman. He is literally flying high with gratitude. It's the picture you saw and this letter. Thank you, God, and thank you, new friend Thierry. I am sure there will be another chapter in this story. I will keep you posted.

Normandy, France
November 18, 2014

Dear Mr. Mason,

I'm permit writing to you as I am making some researches about an outfit, "C" Company, 701st Para.Inf. at Normandy.

But permit me, in first, to introduce myself, as you can see I live at Normandy, at 5 kms West of Carentan, I'm a farmer and I'm 50 years old.

In my living room, I have a copy of the "big picture" of your "C" company, a company of heroes who jumped and who fought here in June 1944. You are one of these so bravous and so courageous soldiers of this company, and, first of all, I would like to THANK YOU for all the precious contributions that you brought for the success of this big operation that were made by your so nice country (I visited it 6 times) in 1944.

Sometimes, I'm thinking about the big courage that you had when you jumped here, behind and in the middle of the German lines, so hard was the battle and the fight, I can "only" imagine what it was.....

On June 6, 1944, my family lived there, South of Carentan, they were in the middle of "no man's land" when the American troops were dropped here, some of them were from "C" Co. 501st, several of them escaped, several of them not......

As I am a religious man, I think that the Good Lord was with you as he "guided" and "drived" you to the success. Then, by this way, you brought to our people a new life, a new hope, a new wind blew, then, at Normandy, a Liberty's wind......

I am very lucky to never saw the War, my parents who were some children, saw it, they told to me what it was. It was horrible, but they were so happy to be liberated after four years of slavery with the terrible Nazis.....

Then, today, I've the Big Honor to write to you and to tell you how precious was your big contribution and to tell you THANK YOU for the big sacrifice that you made in 1944. I would like to speak with you, by phone, but I don't have your phone number.

May that the Good Lord protect you, I'm sure that you're close to him.
                                                                                                                From a French Friend,
                                                                                                                    Thierry Ferey
PS: I'm sorry about the bad English translation.

Dad says, "I always wanted to return to Normandy; instead, Normandy came to me!"