Act Yourself. Millard Fuller Love. 

“It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting” -Millard Fuller

Not only is this sassy little statement pithy…it actually WORKS. This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my faith heroes and recipient of The Presidential Medal of  Freedom: Millard Fuller. He was not only a witness to but change agent for those in abject poverty. 

Fuller was a millionaire lawyer who climbed the pinnacle of business success, then at 29, turned his faith-fueled business acumen into Habitat for Humanity. After building 200,000 homes world-wide, Fuller was heartbreakingly asked to step down from an organization he birthed and served for 46 years until his 70’s. Despite this crushing blow, Millard persevered, championing a new organization: Fuller Center for Housing until his death in 2009. 

Millard Fuller just kept moving forward. After years of sacrifice, service to others and devotion to “The Theology if The Hammer,” he was asked to resign. After giving his life away was told, “We’ll take it from here.” I do not know all the details, only the ones which I have read from his perspective but I do know this: Millard kept moving forward in faith when heartbroken. 

My family met Mr. Fuller in 2007 at a marriage conference Florida. John and I proved utter failures at wide-eyed staring each other in the face for ten minutes without laughing. Sorry, people, we are just not that couple. I opened one night’s event with a few minutes of comedy and Mr. Fuller brought the house down with signature Southern story telling style. His obsession to eradicate homelessness, improve the lives of the poor and provide a meaningful vehicle for others to serve provided a new way of thinking for over a million people. 

After his speech, he graciously signed our Building Materials for Life books and said he’d catch up with us in Allendale, the location of his Shreveport Fuller Center for Housing Build that Fall. To my shock, Mr. Fuller invited me to lead the work crew devotional one morning in Allendale. As if I had anything at all to say. He was incredibly sweet and kind. Just as one would imagine a soul intimately acquainted with Jesus might be.

My faith life has been profoundly impacted by the unflappability of Millard Fuller. I am challenged to try and improve the situation of those caught in Pay Day Lending Schemes and even those who just need a simple winter hat at the bus stop. I want to help everyone but know that to go the distance, organizations must take on root causes of systemic poverty and involve people in their own solutions. Fuller required HFH families to go through a rigorous interview process, invest sweat equity in their homes and pay for the homes (without being charged interest.)

Meeting this man briefly and knowing him better through his books informs what it means to me to follow Christ. To care for other people when it seems scary or totally awkward (me at all times.) His example calls me to at least try to partner with those waist-deep overwhelming struggles of life when I would rather just drink my coffee, paint my pictures and eat Beth Watkins Cheese Wafers la-la-la style. 

There is evidence that acting ourselves into motion (caring for others, deciding to be happy, stepping away from the crack-like pull of the cheese wafer) actually is the behavioral tail which wags the dog.

From a February 2017 Huff Post Article: This notion is prevalent among behaviorists and much of the today’s therapeutic community. Indeed, in the treatment of depression and addiction, clients are often urged to to practice “opposite action” – that is to say, to behave in ways that run counter to what they “feel like” or to what their present state or mood urges them to do or not do.* Full Huff Post Article here

Every human who has every walked upon Mother Earth has faced disappointment. Your smiling Rabbi, your spunky cousin, your wise counselor, your perfect room mate. 

-If you feel stuck in jello take a brisk walk around your cubicle and keep the co-workers guessing. 

-Feeling cynical about religion? Read Jesus’ words (any & all) and serve the first person you see who needs a boost (even if that person is in your family.)

-Feel bitter about how behind you feel compared with others? Go to a cancer center and volunteer or at least do a hard reset on your life. 

Forward, forward, always forward. 


Why is Podnas BBQ Dealing in The Soy Game?

We’re going low-carb for the season. I decided that a Podnas BBQ Podtato was a viable strategy as long as I avoided consuming the actual potato. I figured if I stayed in topping territory i’d golden, Ponyboy.

I ordered my lunch at the drive thru and asked the young man to omit the green onions. I am breathing near people with noses after all.  I put in a solid 10 minutes waiting when the drive-thru window cracked open and the gentleman requested payment. I paid, thanked the chopper and spun off.

Back at work, I unloaded the podtato, opened the styrofoam treasure chest and was instantly confronted by a sickening sight: neon red faux bacon bits intermarried with shreds of cheddar cheese. Throngs of Bacos shamelessly masquerading up in amongst my other honest ingredients. Real beef,  actual cheese and sour cream with “made with milk” warnings for idiots who eat green bananas. 

These little posers at pork fat bring to mind the square of lunch tray lettuce doused in watery ranch dressing.  Once you consumed a single Baco it greedily begged for gastric freedom manifesting in nasty belches. They remain abhorrent. Really, how have bacon-flavored soy bits not experienced an improved incarnation? We drank Tab only until Diet Coke helped us see the light. Sadly, despite  the fantastical progress made in the food industry in the past 40 years, Baco’s remain precisely the same. 

The greater offense than just how nasty those faux bacon bits taste is the fact that a BAR-B-QUE joint tried to get away with sprinkling a meat substitute on my potato like it’s a salad shop in South Beach rather than a Shreveport Bar-B-Que restaurant. I mean, know your audience. 

Sprinkling Bacos on my podtato was like getting a Tiffany’s necklace for Christmas wrapped in a used Merle Haggard CD Case. Which Jack may have done for a girlfriend along the way. Man was it hysterical…to him. Who knew it was the beginning of the end? This lunch was the moral equivalent of smothering a bowl of Blue Bell ice cream with sugar free chocolate sauce. 

So, Podnas- I am imploring you in the name of ethical Podtato production to drop the Bacos. No one is fooled. No one is amused. We are far too busy belching. 






Really? Google Arts and Culture? Really?

What handsome three boys you have.”
Said far too many strangers to my brothers and me when I was a little girl. Which was flattering, especially since I had pierced ears.  In my defense I also had a tragic mushroom-cut and an outgoing nature to boot. I was the loud Richardson boy. 

Eventually my passion for collecting frogs in the Summer was replaced with a collection of tiny metal Lip Smacker tins and tickle deodorant in the iconic domed polka-dot silo of a container.  I did not know who shot  J.R. but I used weekly Dallas T.V. Shows as a tutorial in proper hair feathering. 

The pack of girls with whom I grew up were not super girly either with the exception of Christie the ballerina. The rest of us played with Breyer Horses instead of Barbies. We would literally invent plot lines with toy horses to rival the twists and turns of any General Hospital episode. I took pictures of my horses with my pink Kodak camera and always ran out of flash bulbs before I ran out of film. 

 It was an amazing treat to have my own camera and a painful exercise for my Mother to pay for the off-center, overexposed 3 x 5 inch clustershots. A tiny kiosk to the West of Foodarama Grocery  was the collection point of film and once that film was developed, days later,  a rat hole to toss hard-earned money down into. Unfortunately there was no prior knowledge that your photograph would be crap. 

2018? Well, that’s a different story. With my endless storage of photographs which I see instantly and do not have to pay for, I may over-document a tiny amount, perhaps. I am most happy behind the lens taking pictures of others. When not taking wide-mouthed selfies.  So when Jack told me about Google’s Arts and Culture App which, among thousands of other useful aspects has the “Is Your Portrait in a Museum?” Activity, I was curious. He said he’d take my picture and instantly see which historical painting subject my face resembled. I was down. 

Jack snapped my face.  Then waited a beat. Then began laughing from his gut’s gut. This app brought me right back to 1978’s King Super Drug in Maplewood Square with my two brothers. The historical figures my face most closely resembled were all DUDES. Every single one. Albeit, handsome men but seriously that brought my room down a notch. 

Sensing my shock, Jack decided to try again. I made a completely different face and to my relief neither George Washington nor George Washington Carver was my match this time but completely different men. 

Hair up? Guys. Hair down? Male. Silly face? Testosterone. Straight face? Mister. I encourage everyone to give it a try. Show me what you find! 








Proof That There is Absolutely Zero Hope for America

I am a naturally positive person. I look for the best in people and affirm the good I discover. I try to cut those around me slack, believing that “there is always one fact more about someone that you do not know” which may explain their behavior.  We all have a tough road to hoe at times. 

I am very, very hard to discourage. While others see the sky falling, I see a horizon which is cloudy with a chance of meatballs. When tragedy strikes, I try to stay focused on The Lord and count my blessings. When Junior was late to a final his Senior Year because he was pulled over by a state trooper and couldn’t find his driver’s license, I rolled with it. I have always clung to the mantra “Things can always be worse.”

However, what I saw tonight challenges all the hope I have EVER held for our country and her people within. I scarcely could believe my eyes. My normal effervescence deflated when I beheld a grocery store produce bin teeming with bananas and a sign above the fruit which read as follows:

“Banana color guid (GUID) 

Worried about when your bananas will be ready to eat? Here’s a little help. 

Ready in 3.5 days- half green half yellow

Ready in a couple of days- more yellow than green

Ready to eat now- yellow with green tips and green necks 
This little display has left me with so very many questions. 

First off: how is the general population in need of a slick ad campaign to avoid eating green bananas?

Secondly, just who is confused by the lowly banana? It is hardly the mood ring of the fruit kingdom one needs an illustrated guide to interpret, she’s pretty straightforward. Now the cantaloupe? Heck’s yea, I’ll take a melon hack all day long, those guys can be tricky. Watermelon: a dice roll every time. But a banana? 

Thirdly, who devised this brilliant display and why do they not have spell check on their computers? Why is the first picture’s ripeness approximated with numeric accuracy when the second is stated in lazy generalities?  A few? Why was the passion for precision so quickly abandoned by, oh, I don’t know, the second example? 

Were the female banana models compensated equally to their male counterparts in this photo shoot? And if not would the males consider making up the difference out of their own pockets? Sadly,  we are only privy to is the masterful end result not the making of.

Lastly, I am dumbfounded by the fact that we in a single generation have become so unfamiliar with fruit that we need a tutorial to prevent such “worry.”

Signs like these make me believe the worst about us as a nation. We used to be smart enough not to eat green bananas. I remember growing up with the benefit of two parents mentoring me in the nuance of such weighty consumption decisions. I know, I was one of the lucky ones.

In summation: God save the Queen if we are this pathetic. And, if anyone in our country has the luxury of banana anxiety amid the current natural and man-made disasters, I am more than half green with envy. Far more than just my tips and stems. And I do not need any silly guid to tell me that.


Cousin Judy

When your Mothers are cheesy twins and you’re a child of the groovy 1970’s just assume that you will be dressed alike. At. All. Times. My Mom, Judy and her twin, Jinny, dressed alike until they graduated from L.S.U. In 1962. So despite my cousin Judy being two years older and a foot taller than me, where there’s a Butterick Pattern, there’s a way. 

Because one set of Judy and Jinny’s was not enough for the world, our Moms kept the fun rolling into the next generation. Having the unique spelling of Jinny in a sea of Jennifer/ Jenny/ Jens lead to a severe case of NFKASF Syndrome (Never Finding Keychains at Six Flags) within me as a child.  Every personalized ordered anything for me would arrive Jimmy Richardson. But now the quirky spelling fits and pencils be damned, I love my name. 

Our childhood Summers included a solid 2-4 week cousinfest; either our visit to Chicago’s Northern Suburb of Skokie or Jinny, Bill and Judy’s visit to Houston. Did I mention my Dad was named Bill?                  I can still taste the melted pimento cheese sandwiches from our day trip to NASA. Even the little plastic top shelf of an Igloo cooler had its thermodynamic limits. This is decades before The Yeti and the lower, iciest region was reserved for cans of Tab and Fresca. 

Cousin Bill had my two older brothers and I had Judy. We watched Grease in the movie theater together and choreographed dance sequences to John Denver that we felt were perfection. Later we sung the complete soundtrack to Best Little Whorehouse in Texas into my hand-held cassette recorder. Because cable t.v.  

When we grew older and less kidnappable, the five of us rode the Skokie Swift to the “L” eventually arriving at Water Tower Place and Marshall Fields; all while speaking Spanish. We were just so clever loudly rolling our R’s and discussing what Madre had sent us to purchase en la ciudad as if we were getting daily necessities from the Mercado. An afternoon Cubs game then a return to the Northern ‘burbs was Summer perfection. 

More than a running buddy Judy would go absolutely anywhere I wanted to go. In 1998 she got tickets to The Oprah Show and when the producers asked if anyone had an impression from the Seinfeld Show for Oprah’s farewell to Seinfeld show, Judy raised my hand. Frozen in the moment she said, “Do The Elaine Dance!” So 6 months pregnant with Baby Jack, I let it rip. Judy went out with me for the micro audition, refused to do the dance with me then cheered me on for my 9 seconds of Oprah fame. 

 From Judy I learned from the art of kindness and support. I have often said that she is hands-down the nicest one in our family. When I dressed up like a maintenance man and surprised her on her birthday a few years ago, she kindly redirected me when I approached her acting psycho. Many times I have seen her preciousness but never in cognito like that. 

She was my Maid of Honor in 1994 and proudly I will be her Matron of Honor this July when she gets married to Jesse, her person. I am thrilled beyond measure that God has blessed Mi Primita with the love of a lifetime. No one deserves a life of love more than my Juju. 


Squirrel Massage, Car Pets and Korean War Veterans: Studies in Misunderstanding

The first time I came to Shreveport rather than through Shreveport, I exited I-20 onto 49 and saw a sign which read

“Korean War Veteran Memorial” 

 This perplexed me because I truly had no idea that Shreveport had so many patriotic Korean Americans who had fought for our country during war time. 

We moved here and to my surprise I found that there was hardly a Korean population at all. I continued to pass that green sign and one day the veil was lifted:  this is a memorial to those who served in the Korean War rather than a memorial to Korean Americans who served in the military. What escaped me at first blush eventually came to light. 

I would blame my slothful cognition on a childhood with too many diving board accidents. But as any comic with nuanced material (not that I claim such) will attest, some people just don’t get it. Some immediately see where things are headed and because of familiarity with a topic or merely a predictive wit, they are the first to bust out laughing. Yet, there are others who take a while for things to sink in. We can all be mentally shrouded, just about different things. 

For children just learning to read, signs can be just as vexing. My friend Stacy used to think that a store’s sign advertising “Carpets” sold animals specifically for motor vehicles. Imagine her disappointment when her parents took her shopping for new living room shag. 

Misunderstanding impacts our relationships as well. Texting: the short, less personal  cousin to actual conversation has forever changed human communication. Ideas once requiring physical presence to be conveyed, ideas such as BRB and TBT  can now be sent via text message ASAP. Misunderstanding is now easier than ever thanks to these message-sending hand sandwiches. 

Case in point; I was conveying vital spiritual encouragement to a friend. It was in video form and involved squirrel massage. Literally this fully relaxed squirrel on its back was getting what appeared to be a professional massage. You could see the relaxation overtake this little bugger when the massage therapist dig into his face, moving cheeks in circular motion. My favorite part was the end when both of the squirrels forepaws were clenched around forefingers and the masseuse let them go to snap out of it just like on a human being. 

An hour later, I thought of my friend and since it was Tuesday,  I wondered if she was going to watch NBC’s hit television series, This is Us. Even though she had not replied to my amazing video, I faux-pasedly  (fo-passedly) double texted with the message:

“This is us tonight?”

A while later, I glanced at my phone and was horrified. It looked as though I was  suggesting massaging her face that evening.  

I IMMEDIATELY clarified;

I was asking about The SHOW This is Us THE SHOW. Are you watching it tonight? Nothing related to squirrel massage. I promise! 

Luckily she understood but that moment reminded me of the truth that we see things  not as they are but rather as we are.  My Father always reminded me that if people perceived that you offended them then it doesn’t matter if you did anything worthy of their offense. They were still offended. As an classic study in the ENFJ personality type, he sought consensus, had incredible people skills and worked passionately to avoid and correct misunderstanding. 

May the beautifully rare virtue of humility season our conversation with others and ourselves as we move in this time and space today. And if you see a veteran of any nationality from any conflict, be sure to memorialize them. 






I Am No Stranger to Yoga. I Have Worn The Pants for Decades

My husband and son have a term for when I trip and topple down a hiking path / stair (singular. Yes, I know) or random blade of grass. It is moniker I received while hiking  at the farm and I tripped: Blueberry. As in “Mom! You totally looked like a blueberry rolling down that hill.”

Blueberry also serves aptly as a verb: “Remember that time you blueberried at Science Fair and almost landed on me?” Apparently despite not wearing a large blue sweatshirt I still managed to resemble a bouncing blueberry as I toppled down the woody decline. I trip so frequently that I now tuck and roll reflexively. 

I could blame my tripping on enthusiastic perambulation or lack of self-awareness and surroundings, but truly it has to do more with balance. My balance is woefully poor. So to improve my flexibility, strengthen my core and blueberry less often I began practicing yoga. 

I’m no stranger to yoga, I have believed in the pants for decades. I quickly came to adore this form of exercise and here’s why:

1) Darkness: There are no Broadway floodlights here to intimidate. You cannot even really see yourself in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Especially if you commandeer the coveted back row. The group privacy encourages one to attempt an extremely awkward pose without fear. 

 2) Lack of competition: Because it is “my practice” comparison has no place. I cannot stick my hoof behind my head and that’s just fine. Beginners are welcomed and not expected to have a flawless “table,” “plank,” “downward dog”, or “resting gator.” Hey, it’s Shreveport, LA, we’re gonna make it our own. 

3) Moderation is encouraged: I have waited my whole life to hear the words, “If it hurts, stop.” What? The last time I listened to my body it whispered “do the whip” in The Starbuck’s line. In this relaxing, restorative environment there was no way to overdo. Yoga, you had me at “if it hurts, stop.”

It is so great to stretch, people. My right clavicle is not throbbing and I trip less taking the dogs out in the morning. It’s nice to no longer be met with the “she put Jim Beam in her Cheerios again” look from the neighbors. It just IS. More stretching, less blueberrying. 

Even if I am routinely singled-out for pose enhancement (read: your left hand makes an L when you stick both hands out) it just doesn’t matter. I am tickling 50 and have earned the right to take up mat space, try something new and get incrementally better at not falling down hills. 







Squid Goals in Spiritual Transformation

I saw this insane Dodo video of an octopus squeezing its’ gelatinous body through a small opening on a boat deck to return to sea. You probably did, too. This voluminous pink guy / girl (couldn’t tell with the suckers flying akimbo) was on a ship. Once the squid found a tiny opening and sent out a shooter of a limb, a transformation like nothing I have ever seen transpired. 

With elongated tentacle feeling the water, the creature miraculously pushed through an inches-wide opening like only Invertebrates can. They have all the best party tricks, don’t they? Watching this determined oozing looked like a gallon zip-lock bag of Slime willing itself through a keyhole. Which of course reminded me of Jesus. Obviously. 

My soul has been stirred lately by not only Dodo Animal Instagram Posts but the awe-inspiring thought of God involving us in His work in this World. I will never get over the thrill of that still, small voice in my gut prompting me to act. God could efficiently accomplish everything without us but all I can figure is that He must get inordinate joy  when we do things together. 

Honestly, saying yes to the whisper can feel both silly and invasive at times. Like when I stopped to offer my blanket scarf and pink stretch gloves to a man at the bus stop across from Church for The Highlands. I saw him in his short-sleeved shirt and the temperature was in the 30’s. He had a military hat on and I’m done. I love a veteran. So I grabbed my scarf and approached him. 

I greeted the gentleman and asked if I could put my scarf on him. He paused and finally nodded yes. I tucked the plaid scarf around his shoulders and then tried to secure it into his wheelchair between his leg and the chair’s right side. 

“Ouch!” He squealed and I instantly stopped. 

“I am SO SORRY!” I exclaimed. 

He replied with what I thought was the phrase, “I’ve got macerated flesh”

Feeling like I just successfully executed the worst good deed EVER, I quickly moved onto gloves. I asked him if it was ok to put the pink gloves on him. He had no reply. Beat. Beat. Crickets. Barely audible, he finally mumbled, “Do you have…..anything…….manly?” 

I said that I would sure go back to the car and look. I ran back and thankfully found a new pair of black stretchy gloves I was donating to Maggie Lee’s Closet. I returned, presented the manlier gloves to him and finally got the nod. With his permission I began pulling the gloves onto his wind-chapped hands. 

Like that stellar example, collaboration with an invisible entity can be tricky at times. Leave it to me to make things weird.  Yet it was holy ground where God urged me to do what I could with what I had to notice another person. Who knows if my blanket scarf warmed him or his red cheeks were merely a soldier’s humiliation but his face stayed with me.  I still think about him constantly and how difficult his life must be. 

In the end analysis, as God uses encounters to change us we won’t always feel like Ellen donating libraries to grateful schools amid dropping balloons. Transformation can pinch. Sometimes we just feel like a clumsy boob. But the fact that God cares enough about my soul to invite me to join Him, knowing full well my clumsy, indelicate nature to try and warm this one person both moved and changed me. 

In my enthusiastically awkward attempts at being the hands and feet of Christ, I have not only God’s word as my guide and inspiration and Jesus’ life for imitation but God’s Spirit for collaboration. In my experience, faith is that tiny opening to another world which requires struggle and adaptation to get through. As Jesus called it “the narrow way; the path of Spanx when others obliviously eat dip in their fat pants on deck. 

So, what if proximity to God actually trumps performance for God?  I try to leave my soul open to eternity and give The Spirit free reign to squish me however is needed for any given day. I am not making resolutions. They depend far too heavily on my emotional resolve. I am praying for change which only God can bring and will get in a position to be changed. That’s all we can do: to humbly throw out a tentacle and reach for home. 







Kindness Outlives Us

ML in 1998

***obviously a repost from this day in 2009***

3months ago today, Maggie Lee died. 10 months ago, she gave some of her Christmas money to our World Vision Friend in India, Rinky, to use for something extra. Today, I got the most radiant picture of Rinky in her school uniform and backpack: proof that our good deeds DO matter and DO live on beyond our years on earth. I love you, Maggie Lee! 





Find Someone Who Will Give You The Socks Off Their Feet

See this guy in the middle? Holding the red chicken-flapper doohickey of me & my Mom? Yea- that one. He did something extraordinary a decade ago that still touches me to this day; he loaned me his socks. 

The venue: First Baptist Church School Carnival. Per my style I just asked the coordinator to put me anywhere I was needed. I rushed to the school straight from work on Louisiana “Fall” Day of 80 degrees. I checked in and got my assignment: the 40 climbing wall inside a jumpy thing. Wrapped in bacon. Stuffed in a taco shell.

I was in charge of crowd control and could not wear my loafers inside the bounce house. I flung them off and dove into my position. Literally. The crowd subsided and to my shock, I glanced down to notice that only half of my toenails were painted while the balance did some creepy vintage horror nail show in the shade of ruby red neglect. 

I searched the crowd of beautiful moms who planned stuff and didn’t have janky feet and finally landed on the visage of my knight in shining khakis. My demure voice boomed like a can opener and my John tracked it to my post. I motioned a “cone here” and my eyes the exclamation mark.

When just close outside of the net to hear me I asked a biggie.  “Can I have your socks?”

“My socks? What?  Right now?”

“Shhh! Yes. My toes are crazy and I need to cover them up right now.”

He took off and moments later slipped me the navy shame-shields which saved my dignity. It is indeed the little things. The small sacrifices and shouldering the big burdens. He is an unselfish person and I am still amazed that he gave me his socks that day. 

John and I just celebrated our 9th Maggie Lee for Good Day. A day of kindness in our daughter’s memory. I am so crazy blessed to share all of life’s joys and sorrow with this person who has bettered me. I was told in my first counseling session after losing ML that most couples don’t make it after a child is lost. I totally understand why but am grateful to God for sustaining us and giving us grace to give to each other. 

And sometimes grace comes in the form of socks.