Mar 242010


When I was 9 years old, I was visiting my grandma, who lived on a dirt road in the middle of no where.  For 4 miles each way, left and right, when you pulled out of her driveway, it was dirt road.  The only neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Turnipseed ( really! ) and the area was named Opossum Trot, near Slap Out, Alabama! Yes, it’s a real town, population 6,000.

I loved climbing trees and it scared my Granny half to death.  The higher I would climb, the more often the screen door would fly open and I would hear her say:  Steph-nee, do you know how far we live from the nearest hospital?  Of course I didn’t know, nor did I care.  I was an expert tree climber and no one could tell me otherwise.

Till I stepped on a dead limb at the top of the tree.  It broke off and I hung from an above limb for about 30 seconds until my little fingers could hold my 60 lb. body no longer.  I dropped 20 feet out of the tree and hit everything along the way.  And you know the first thing I did?  No, it wasn’t checking my scrapes to see if I was ok.  It was looking around to see if my Granny saw me fall.

I would rather say my battle wounds came from falling out of a tree than my granny spanking my be-hind!  I had scrapes and a bloody knee.  My fingers hurt and my foot felt sprained.  That day, I realized I wasn’t an expert tree climber, but I was definitely an expert tree faller and I felt pretty good about that.

A skinned knee is like a “bade of courage.”   Kids are just waiting for someone to notice, to ask them what happened.  If my kids hurt their foot, even a little, they want to use crutches for days, just so they can tell others about the fun tree they climbed or the tire swing they jumped from.  Let their boo boos, ripped up jeans, dirt on the knees and oppsie daisies be a sign of courage and adventure.  They took a chance and have a story to tell.

Summer is around the corner!  It’s time to start planning!  What will the kids be doing for the 60 plus days of summer?  It’s time to make a plan, whether a family road trip, joining a sports team, visiting grandparents or heading to summer camp, it’s time to turn the TV off, give the video games a rest and head outdoors.

Often times, we caudal our children.  I know I did.  We anticipate the 2 year old falling, with a “First Aid Kid” at arms length.   Since they were born, we’ve had fears:  child safety issues, injury or teasing.  We over-schedule their athletic events, music lessons  . . .  and the list goes on.  They need a black book to keep up with it all.

Of course, we want the best for our kids, and part of those ingredients are providing a safe and happy environment.  Life lessons come in many ways, but often times in an effort to keep the knees from getting skinned or their emotional psyche from getting hurt, we sit in front of them, like the Olympic Sport Curling (whisking the broom from left to right like crazy people, making sure little Henry gets to where he needs to go without getting hurt).  We can’t roll them in bubble wrap, though I’ve seen parents “virtually” do this very thing.

Like a bird that’s trying to hatch, if we do everything for Mary or Johnny, they won’t be strong enough to stand up to bullies at school, handle college peer pressure, enjoy the great outdoors of summer camp, or handle life’s unexpected situations, because mom and dad aren’t there to fix it.  We can’t always be their safety net, their first aid kit.  At some point, we have to let them become strong, confident individuals – on their own.  You’ve given then the foundation they need, so let them fly.

It’s time to unplug the electronics and send them to casual play, where they do what they want, when they want.  There are no fixed activities, time clocks and hurry ups . . . just trees, bikes, pine straw and great imaginations.  Let kids be kids, without worry or fears.  No black books, no gadgets, no calendar of events, just wake up in the morning and enjoy being outside. For in this free time, their imagination will grow and their exploration skills will kick in.

When kids learn about nature, they’ll want to take care of it.   When they play with others, compassion will rise; team spirit will be built and character will grow.  So unplug your kid’s life this summer and jump into the great outdoors with gumption, gusto and enjoy the value of what a skinned up knee will bring.

 Posted by at 10:53 pm
Mar 172010


I was raised in the SOUTH!  Life was pretty simple.  All you needed was a good bike, fishing pole and a trampoline.  Brushing my hair wasn’t a high priority, but tree climbing was.  We lived in a modest house, but nobody told me.  Life was full of adventure, dirt roads and all the ice cream you could eat.  I had parents who loved me with all their heart and told me daily.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Then I grew up and moved to the City . . . Atlanta to be exact.  We bought a house that seemed a little too big for the needs of 3 people, but now that there’s six, it sometimes feels as though we’re bustin’ at the seams.  I love my house.  We’ve done quiet a few home improvement projects and I’ve had fun decorating it. But then we made a mistake. We visited a house nicer than ours.

We went to a party a while back and let me just say, this house should have been in the “Parade of Homes.”  I’m surprised they let us in.  After a fun evening with friends, I came back to my house and all the sudden, my ceilings were too low, the TV was too small, the kitchen felt too tight and . . .I think the living room shrunk!  I wanted to kick the cat . . . but I didn’t have one.

We are all on an UPWARD spiral to obtain the Golden Handcuffs, the dangling carrot, the top of the corporate ladder.  When is the house big enough, the car styling enough, the corporate title impressive enough?

The problem with this “Pie in the Sky” mentality, is there’s no finish line.  There’s no race course with a flag at the end that says:  You made it!!!  Congratulations, you are Officially SUCCESSFUL!  You can rest now.

Contentment is the state of being satisfied.  It is A State, not An Estate!  Finding satisfaction and keeping it, is a balancing act, with someone constantly trying to knock us off the “balance beam of life.  The grass is always greener, the schools we AREN’T accepted to – are better, the tennis outfit she’s wearing is cooler.  It’s a crazy cycle that steals the joy of the moments we’ve worked so hard for. Life is never quiet good enough because we don’t have a finish line to know where “good enough” is.

Contentment comes from within.  If this button isn’t fixed, all the upgrades in the world can’t repair or fill the void.

What really matters is the legacy we leave on this earth.  I’ve never read an obituary that said:  His house was 10,000 sq. feet!  Can you believe it? or she was the top realtor in town with 1 million in quarterly sales.

Nope! Instead, you’ll read words that describe their character . . the impact this person had on their friends, family and community.  How they prayed big . . . helped big, loved big.

What is the most valuable item here on this earth, that if it were hurt, sick, bothered or taken, you would give your life to protect it?  This should be your focus.  A house can burn, a car can stall, a job can be lost . . .

Invest in things that matter.  Not in materialism, but in relationships;  your family, your spouse, your kids.  Value the time spent with them at the park, on a date, in the car, working on a school project; etch in your mind the hilarious stories and endless laughing you enjoy with your friends.  Enjoy those late night walks and meaningful talks.  For we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

Go back to the simpler days; have a picnic at the park, lay on a blanket with your spouse.  Bring back Thursday game night, write your friends a “hand written” note. Take your buddy fishing.  Life is short, but it can be so sweet.  Go back to the basics, for in it you will find contentment and great satisfaction . . . and maybe a good tree to climb.

Hebrews  13:5 – Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.  God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

I Timothy 6:6 – But Godliness with contentment is great gain.

 Posted by at 8:45 am
Mar 112010


When my oldest son Jack was 2, he would often fall asleep in hard to find places, the dog bed, a dresser drawer, in the closet, you name it – In an effort to find him, I was always saying with a LOUD Voice, Jack Pletka . . . COME HERE!

One day when we were out shopping, a lady knelt down and asked him his name, and with a resounding confidence he said:  “My name is Jack Pletka Come Here! ” I about died with laughter.  He thought that was his name.

While that’s a cute story, often times we think we may have the answer to something we feel strongly about.  An idea that needs no counsel, because it seems like a no brainer.  But you may be wrong.  Just like Jack, confidently telling the lady his name was “Come Here”  often times we may have a plan in our head – that seems to fit like a circle in a round hole;  just because it fits, doesn’t mean it’s the correct answer for you.

Step back, talk it out, pray it out!  Talk to friends who may have well thought-out advice on the subject.  Your kids may be dating a GOOD guy, but maybe not the RIGHT guy.  You may be placing your life savings into a GOOD idea, but not a GOD idea. This will make a huge impact on the story board of your life.  Pause, seek good counsel and like Phil. 4:6-7 says:   Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses ALL understanding, will guard your hearts and minds.

When I was 14, my parent’s started a business, in hopes of one day, providing a better future for the 4 of us. Times were tough and tight, but we stuck together; nothing was going to bring us down. With all the trucks, inventory, employees and building expenses, we went from eating bologna sandwiches to fried potatoes.  Which, to this day I am still fond of.

Life, by all accounts had little margin, money was tight and time was even tighter.  As the years went by, the business grew, but so did the bills.  It typically takes 5 years to get a business off the grown and soaring; In 3 years, we were hovering.  When it was time for me to go college, I know my dad was sweating.  There was no money for school.  We thought of all the ways we could make the money.  We thought of every thing known to man, seriously.  But each idea fell short . . . it felt hopeless.

That’s when my mom began to pray.  She prayed Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Isaiah 55:9  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts greater than yours.  I’m glad HIS ways and ideas are greater.  God has to really be on his game . . .  if he’s gonna think of something greater than my ideas, because my imagination is pretty “up there.”

So guess what happened?  You’re not gonna believe this.  5 years earlier, the Judge in our town, a friend of my dad’s, had asked him to handle the finances of a Vietnam Veteran who had medical problems and needed help paying his bills.  My dad went above those obligations and began taking him to buy groceries, helping him shop for clothes, took him to doctors appointments and just helped the guy out, as life became more of a struggle.

Three months before college enrollment, the Judge called my dad into his chambers and said:  “We have a problem.”  The estate had not paid my dad for the last 5 years, for taking the Veteran from here to there and there to here.  Dad had no idea he was suppose to be paid for mileage, which added up to over $18,000 dollars.  Bam, my first year of college was paid in full. See, you can think of all the different ideas and ways of how something is gonna play out, but if you just pray about everything, presenting your requests to God, you’ll find peace that passes all understanding; his ways will be greater than yours, and he may send you someone named:  Jack Pletka Come Here –  to tell you that everything is gonna be alright!

Here’s to giving God the chance to write the Story Board of Your Life!

 Posted by at 7:00 am
Mar 052010


Technology is fabulous, until it replaces the “Personal Side of Life.”

Webster’s dictionary defines “Fellowship” as:  a mutual sharing of an experience, activity or interest, companionship, a brotherhood / sisterhood.

I’m not talking about chit chat . . .  “How have you been, how are the kids?  blah blah blah? I mean good old fashion deep conversations, pee in your pants laughter . . . accountability, parents sharing with other parents, grandparents spending quality time with their grand kids. We all need human contact, eye ball to eye ball . . . to have those (I know what you mean, kind of conversations) where the longer you talk, the more you can relate, bond and get that A HA Moment.  We all need that sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves.

The other day my friend Shelly wrote me a handwritten letter, something I honestly had not received in years.  I’m used to seeing bills and junk mail, not a hand written letter penned personally to me.  She put stickers on it, recalling funny moments and conversations we’ve had.  It meant a lot. I sat on the couch reading and laughing as my kids kept asking . . . why are you laughing mom?  Who is it?  What is it?

I was on hold with our local bank,  a while back and couldn’t get to a real person to save my life.  Press 1 for this . .  press 2 for that . . press 15 for customer service . . . but 15 wouldn’t work, so I pressed 0 and it would only repeat the recording.  So I waited . . . and waited.  27 minutes into the annoying office music, I had to pee so bad I couldn’t wait.  So I ran to the bathroom, and as I flushed, the recording said:  I’m sorry – I do not understand this message.  Goodbye!

Let me tell you, I saw STARS.  Lord knows, at that point, if a human had answered, I would have burned their ears off.  All this would have been resolved if a real person had answered the phone in the first place.  We will always have the need for human contact, a real voice on the other line, telling us it’s gonna be ok, a pat on the back that we’re doing a good job, a hug, a smile, validation that all is well. My sister and I do this for each other all the time.  I need her, she needs me and after a good conversation, the one who was “off track” is back on board again, whistling a toon.

With Facebook, twitter, email and all the technology we have today, I see less of my friends.  And I take total responsibility.  Before Facebook, I had an Annual Fall Party to catch up and see everyone.  I have a core group of friends that met monthly for GRITS Night (Girl’s Raised in the South) that lasted hours.  Now that I sort of know what is going on in their lives, I somehow felt released from making the effort to get together.  And it has made me miss the girls in my life, the closeness, the laughter, the sharing, the . . .  “everybody talks at once and we still heard what everyone said” kind of fellowship.

My father-in-law (Grandpa Jeff) is a happy guy.  He’s loyal, friendly and laughs a lot.  Now this didn’t come by happenstance.  He’s surrounded himself with good friends that meet weekly.  He has hunting buddies, fishing buddies and because of this, for him – life is happier and fuller.

When we don’t connect, we feel as if we’re alone.  You’re not the only one with a teething baby who cries all day, but you may feel like it.  You’re not the only one with a rebellious teenager going thru a crazy streak, a business situation that looks bleak, a sibling who never reaches out or a child with a medical diagnosis that looks grim.  You’re not the only one dealing with job changes, divorce, piling bills, spouses going back to school or “Doing Life” on your own.  But without fellowship, we isolate ourselves, and often times we feel as though we’re the only one.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says There is nothing new under the sun.  What has been, will be again, what has been done will be done again.

So pick up the phone, write a letter, email your core group of friends and plan a “girl’s / guy’s Night Out.  Join a tennis team, a book club, a bible study, go fishing or golfing with a buddy.  And to technology that keeps us away from “Doing Life with others” just say: Sorry, I don’t understand this message:  Goodbye! Here’s to great relationships, life and laughter.

Proverbs 17:22 A merry heart is good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.

 Posted by at 11:52 am