Posted by: pamrichardswatts | September 4, 2015

ABCs of Volunteer Networking

networkIt’s a sad but common cry in the volunteer world: “I put my name down to help—but no one ever called me.”

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? All you want to do is serve at your child’s school—and the next thing you know you’re back in junior high, parked against the wall, waiting in the hope someone will ask you to dance. Meanwhile everyone else is having a great time as they whirl around the room.

Volunteer organizations would seem to be the last great clique for grownups. The same people are tapped for responsibility over and over again, while newcomers are passed over for service.

The reality is community volunteerism relies on social networking—and networking is crucial for volunteers.  It is always easier to ask for help from people we knowand the best-known people are those who help. And so the cycle continues:

I know you—I invite you to help—you show up to help—more people get to know you—you are asked to help again.

While this works beautifully for some, such efficiency looks like exclusivity to those outside the system.

Jeff Goins, viral blogger and author of The Unfair Truth About How Creative People Really Succeed, voices his frustration with this “closed loop” network:

For years, I heard people talk about their influential friendships and subsequent success. And I silently seethed with envy. It just seemed unfair. Of course those people were successful. They knew the right people. They were in the right place at the right time. They got lucky.

Goins then offers this encouragement: every newcomer can find a seat at the table and network their way to success, provided they are willing to work for it. After all, you can’t be a wallflower if you refuse to hug the wall.

If you can answer these questions, it won’t be long before your volunteer dance card is full:

WHO? First, you need to identify your gatekeepers, those whom Goins describes as holding “the keys to the kingdom.”  In volunteer organizations, these are usually officers (e.g., the PTA President), committee chairs or paid staff such as the school secretary. They can tell you what—and who—you need to know to get connected. Goins advises being “strategic in reaching out and tenacious in staying in touch.”

WHAT do you want to do? It’s been said “our call lies at the intersection of our passion and the world’s need.” What are you passionate about? There is nothing more rewarding than serving a cause we believe in. I’ve discovered I will work far above my pay grade and outside my comfort zone (which also increases my networking opportunities) for issues that really matter to me.

WHERE can you make a difference? Your best bet is to join the efforts of programs already in progress. Your gatekeeper can help you find that crossroad of your interest and organization needs.

No doubt, you have some wonderful ideas about things you’d like to see improved. However, to create opportunity you must earn credibility—something you achieve by first helping others in their work.

WHEN? Familiarize yourself with the organization’s calendar of meetings and events. The accountability of most nonprofits (such as school boards and PTAs) requires that at least some meetings are open to the public. You don’t need an engraved invitation to attend—you just need to know where and when to be there.

Finally, HOW do you build a successful network? Help as many people in the network as possible.

Goins advocates, “Serve your way into relationships. This is crucial. It’s not just who you know, it’s who you help. People remember what you do for them more than [anything else].”

In order to serve effectively, you must be willing to:

  1. SHOW UP. It may easier than ever to network through the ‘net—but real connection happens in the real world. Sooner or later, we need to get out from behind our computers and go where the people are.
  2. STEP UP. Make yourself useful. If there’s no other task at hand, grab a broom. (Sometimes the most humble services are also the most memorable.) And at least once, be brave enough to tackle that tough job nobody wants. (Without a doubt, the most significant connections I ever made came about because I was willing to do something no one else would.)
  3. SPEAK UP. Make an effort to let others get to know you. Share your interests, passions and strengths. When others find you willing and able, they will ask you to participate more often.

Goins concludes with this challenge:

Will you embrace the power of networks and put yourself in the right place with the right people? Or will you keep thinking those people are just lucky? The fact is luck comes to us all. But those who prepare to leverage it are the ones who succeed.

I believe every story of success is a story of community. And the way you’re going to find your path is by walking alongside others on theirs. So what are you waiting for?

Are you ready? Let’s get our dancing shoes on!

Related resource: What to Do When You Feel Left Out, Unlucky, or Just Plain Ignored

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | August 19, 2015

A Little Social Media on the Prairie


Long before Laura Ingalls Wilder’s words made her famous, they almost got her in a lot of trouble.

As a schoolgirl, Laura wrote a limerick so she and her besties could enjoy a laugh at the teacher’s expense. It was meant to stay just between friends—until a classmate snatched up her chalkboard and passed it around a crowd of loud-mouthed boys.

Laura could wipe the slate clean—literally—but she couldn’t stop her catchy phrases from spreading all over town. What began as a harmless prank backfired and blew up in her face. Laura was called into account both at school and at home—which tends to happen when one’s father is also on the school board.

As for the schoolteacher, so much bad press sent her packing in defeat, and that is the last we hear of her . . . until Laura marries her younger brother. (That must have made for some interesting family reunions, don’t you think?)

Meanwhile, Laura learned a powerful lesson about the power of the written word. It made such an impression she posted the entire story in one of her Little House books. As one who experienced “words gone viral,” I wonder what Laura would make of social media today. I suspect she would share the same advice her mother gave her:

If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek, five things observe with care: To whom you speak, of whom you speak, And how and when and where.”

Personally, I love social media. Facebook is my version of the general store—the place to hear the news and hang out with friends.

Social media also allows me to speak whenever and wherever I please. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, my soapbox is as close as my phone. I can free my mind as fast as I can type. And a ready audience is just a click away.

So much accessibility does nothing to curb my impulsivity, though. When it comes to tweeting, posting and texting, I am not as careful as I should be. Sure, I try to avoid the big blunders—like choosing the wrong contact name or hitting “reply all” when I meant “reply.” But am I “observing with care” the things that lead to wisdom?

That’s why I’ve decided to take a closer look at biblical principles for good communication.  In upcoming posts, we will seek God’s wisdom as it applies to who, what, when, where and how we speak.  Let’s take care that all our words—on and offline—“communicate grace to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29).

Guard my mouth, O Eternal One; control what I say. Keep a careful watch on every word I speak. Psalm 141:3 (The Voice)

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | August 7, 2015


Just as I am

Are you familiar with the A.C.T.S. prayer?

“A.C.T.S.” is an easy way to remember key elements of prayer. It is simply prayer in four parts:

  • Adoration: praise and glorify God for his nature and character.
  • Confession: admit to God where we have fallen short.
  • Thanksgiving: express gratitude for what God is going in our lives.
  • Supplication: make our requests known to God.

I love the A.C.T.S. prayer. In it I find a beautiful call and response that celebrates all that God is and all that God does, in contrast with all that we are and all that we need.

I’m a big believer in the power of prayer—but I admit I’ve struggled with confession. For years I used my “time of confession” to tick off the fault-of-the-day:

I’m sorry I snapped at my kids.

I’m sorry I envied my friend her luxury vacation when we had to stay home.

I’m sorry I forgot to call my parents. Again.

But I have to “confess”—this habit really didn’t do much for me.

Meanwhile, I’ve spent the past six years involved in a weekly prayer ministry that follows the A.C.T.S. model. This practice has not only grown my prayer life, but deepened my understanding of confession. Over time I have come to recognize that confession in not just a recitation of daily blunders, but an acknowledgement of chronic brokenness:

When I am quick-tempered, often it’s because I am worried about something and don’t know how to handle it.

I confess my fears and anxieties. I confess the pride that stubbornly insists on fixing it my way.

If I’m jealous because someone else has something I want, I need to address my doubt and discontent. Envy is a sure sign that I am disregarding what God has done in the past—and what He promises to do in the future.

I confess my ingratitude and mistrust.

If I forget to call my parents, it’s (usually) because I’m distracted by my own priorities and have neglected to “look to the interests of others as well as my own.”

I confess my self-centeredness and insensitivity.

In other words, it is during confession that I bring to God not just all that I do—but all that I am.

It is through confession I find not just forgiveness, but understanding and acceptance.

It is from confession that I move ahead with complete assurance that my God loves me, warts and all.

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. I John 1:8-9 (The Message)

I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent. Luke 5:32 (NLT)

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me. I will never turn away anyone who comes to me. John 6:37 (GW)

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | August 3, 2015

The Cost of Credit Card Confession


“You can pay now or you can pay later—but later is more expensive.”

I am an expert at putting off things I hate to do. Topping that list these days? Trips to the county tax assessor’s office. Every new-to-us car means the same thing: a long drive to wait in long lines only to learn I’ve messed up my paperwork—and have to come back and do it all over again.

Earlier this year we made an unexpected car purchase—and ran into an unanticipated paperwork snafu. We kept finding new errors. Embarrassed and fearful, I tried to postpone the inevitable. Meanwhile, my dread only increased as the weeks went by.

Finally–only because I didn’t want to pay for a ticket for an unregistered vehicle—I resolved to take care of it. I presented myself before the county clerk and confessed, “I’m sorry this took me so long. It seemed that everything that could go wrong did. Now I’m here to make it right.”

And so I did—to the tune of $150 in additional fines and penalties.

Confession is just as easy to put off. After all, admitting we failed is scary and embarrassing. It’s tempting to make excuses like, “I’m waiting for the right time.” Meanwhile, the cost of unconfessed sin keeps accruing. Then the “day of reckoning” arrives—and sends us into sticker shock.

But we were not created for debt. Thankfully, God has a plan for credit recovery:

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Proverbs 28:13 (NIV)

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them. Romans 4:7-8 (The Voice)

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | July 31, 2015

We Shall Not Want

For almost 20 years, I’ve been putting food on my kids’ table. It’s been up to me to ensure balanced nutrition. Portion control is MY job.

Until it isn’t.

For the past year, my child has enjoyed a particular serving. Something they have taken tremendous delight in–and we have rejoiced in their delight. We’ve all come to count on it as daily bread.

Until it is taken away.

As “chief cook and bottle washer,” this is unacceptable to me. I want to get it back for them. I want justice served. At the very least, I want to take away my child’s bitter cup.

The empty plate is almost unbearable.

Then I recall Who is REALLY in charge of portion control. The One who cares even more about nutrition than I do. Could it be God is clearing the way for something my child needs even more? That I need more of, too?

What do you have on your plate today?

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the Rock and firm Strength of my heart and my Portion forever.” Psalm 73:26 (AMP)

“The Lord himself is my inheritance, my prize. He is my food and drink, my highest joy! He guards all that is mine.” Psalm 16:5 (TLB)

“The Lord alone gives and takes. Praise the name of the Lord!” Job 1:21 (CEV)

Lamentations 3-24

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | June 17, 2015

Are We There Yet?


Milestones are a fundamental part of life’s journey.

Only last month, I reached a pretty significant milestone. Try as I might, no matter how creatively I tried to camouflage it, that “half-century” sign was a mile marker just too big to be ignored.Pam Watts 006

Ah, well . . . the bigger the milestone . . . the bigger the celebration. We sure had a lot of fun marking that one!

Milestones are also essential to keep us on track and measure progress toward desirable goals such as child development, business success or athletic achievement.

The very word “milestone” originates from stones used in Roman times to mark roads at regular intervals. Milestones measured both the distance behind AND the distance ahead.

Today we know them as “mile markers.” In the primitive days before GPS, mile markers supplied the answer to that perpetual road trip question:

“How much FARTHER?” i64milemarker

But perhaps the most important aspect of milestones is this: they reassure us travelers that we are on the proper path.

Sometimes it’s hard to spot the milestones on our spiritual journey. However, our faith will serve as a marker too big to miss. While we can’t always tell “how much farther,” we are sure to get there if we keep our eyes on the One who waits for us at the finish line:

“We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (GW)

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | June 2, 2015

Stuck in Neutral

(Until I Shifted My Attitude)gear shift

One skill I possess with secret satisfaction is the ability to drive a standard shift. Since my general automotive knowledge is so painfully limited, there is some consolation in mastering this much of the transmission.

My favorite car of all time was a five-speed, fire-engine red Toyota Celica. Behind the wheel I was queen of the open road! It was a bittersweet day when I finally had to trade it in for a more conservative mom-mobile. Sigh.

Eventually I did go on to drive another five-speed. While shuttling kids to karate and dance lessons didn’t exactly give me the chance to “tach it up” or “red-line” it, it was reminiscent of those earlier, carefree days. I love driving a stick shift.

That is, when it works. After 93,000 miles of city driving, one of the interior parts of my gear shift began to wear out, making it harder and harder to handle. Then it started making suspicious noises. I knew I had a problem—I just didn’t know how big it was.

That gear shift decided to snap completely the very day my car was full of children, the very moment I was about to cross a busy intersection. We were stuck in neutral, unable to budge. The kids kept urging, “Just step on the gas!” I kept insisting, “But I can’t get it in gear!

We couldn’t move.

Imagine my relief when several good Samaritans came running to push my car into a nearby fast-food parking lot. Meanwhile, an emergency call was made to dear husband, who contacted a tow truck for me. Within the hour, my disabled vehicle was in the care of the car dealership, where we learned it only needed minor repairs.

There have been many times since when I have felt “stuck in neutral.” I’m stranded helplessly while others honk and keep going. Try as I might, I can’t make life respond the way I want. I’d be thrilled to get in gear and get going—but hitting the pedal does nothing but create a lot of useless noise. So there I sit, chafing at the delay and loss of momentum. After all, we’re supposed to keep moving forward, aren’t we?

However, as I learned during our car dilemma, even in the midst of setbacks we can still be thankful. In that instance, we were grateful for many things: strangers who rushed to our aid to move us to safety. The lightning-swift response of the tow truck. My husband, who left work to come help shuttle our extra passengers. Friends who detoured on their way home to offer additional assistance. The cooperative attitudes of five high-spirited children who, armed with sodas and French fries, helped me to see the whole experience as an adventure, rather than a disaster.

We were stranded, but not abandoned. While we felt stuck and powerless, God was working in mighty ways to move us forward.

As it turns out, “stuck” is not such a bad place to be. When I’m constantly moving ahead in pursuit of the next thing, I risk rushing past some of the best things. Sometimes being forced to idle is just what I need to shift my attitude from impatience and worry . . . to trust and gratitude.

After all, I’m riding with the One fully able to get life in gear.

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:8 (ESV)

Be still. Be patient. Expect the Eternal to arrive and set things right. Psalm 37:7 (The Voice)

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | May 16, 2015

Custom-Made Faith

Celebrating Uniqueness in a “One Size Fits All” World

People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. I Samuel 16:7

Years of team sports and activities have taught me to appreciate the importance of good uniforms. Uniforms are essential for participants—for starters, they identify players as members of the team.

However, such “uniformity” isn’t easy to come by. The more fitted the outfit, the more expertise required. It takes considerable knowledge and skill from those adept at measuring, fitting and altering to custom-tailor a single design for such an intricate variety of figures.

Custom fitting . . . is best left to the experts.

As Christians, perhaps one of the greatest miscalculations we make is when we try to outfit one another in “spiritual uniformity.” Even our best efforts will be ill-fitting and uncomfortable. As scripture points out, we are not qualified to take such measurements (Matthew 7: 1, Romans 2:1, Romans 14:4, 10). Too often we end up trying to alter each other to conform to the uniform of our design.

Having just lost a loved one, I’ve experienced this firsthand. Grief has the peculiar distinction of being both universal—and intensely personal. As a result, I keep meeting amateur tailors determined to outfit me in their particular brand of sackcloth. For all their loving concern to see me warm and covered, such attentions do not “suit” me.

To begin with, this is not my first season on the Mourner’s Team. I have put on this uniform before, and I know that grief, in order to be worn graciously, must be custom-fit to the wearer. It’s not my intention to reject the outfit—but I do insist on the prerogative to try it on after my own fashion.

Meanwhile, I’ve been just as prone to try my hand at religious re-styling.

When my dearly-departed dad was alive, our spiritual fashions often clashed. He did not accessorize and model his faith like I did. Since his uniform was not identical to mine, I sometimes questioned if he was a legitimate member of the same team.

However, all my concern and criticism turned to worthless rags the last time I saw him face-to-face. He was the very image of reconciliation—a man clearly at peace with life, with death, with the people he loved—and the God he trusted. At that moment, any spirit of heaviness I may have had was completely replaced with a garment of praise.

If I had any hidden doubts at all, they also fell away before this precious keepsake I received only days after my father’s death. 068For a man of great style and bearing, this humble token was one of his most prized possessions. He carried it with him at all times. I’m told that the very worst moment of his illness came when he had to leave it behind (along with any other metal objects) for a medical procedure.

Now I keep it close, a treasured and tangible reminder of Divine reassurance that my father’s faith was no mere accessory. He only refused to parade it around for the approval of others. He was clearly marked as God’s own, whether others acknowledged his uniform or not.

If experiences of late have taught me anything, it is that I am no tailor. My best efforts at evangelism will be shrugged off—and rightly so—whenever I care more about the uniform than the wearer. Maybe the best I can do is model faith with style and grace. I am not equipped to clothe others in the Gospel. That I leave to the One with the knowledge and skill to custom-fit each individual member of His team.

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness. Isaiah 61:10

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | May 7, 2015

In My Daddy’s Shoes

big shoes

Direct my footsteps according to your word. Psalm 119:133a (NIV)

Moses was instructed to remove his sandals before he could stand on holy ground (Exodus 3:5). I can’t help but wonder if that was God’s way of preparing Moses for some really big shoes.

At 6’2”, my dad was a big guy. And he didn’t just wear big shoes—he lived a really big life. For starters, he was the right-hand man of the governor of Texas—you know, the state where “everything’s bigger.” My dad also served in a huge leadership capacity to one of the largest university systems in the country. utc

I didn’t fully grasp what a big deal that was until I walked into class on the main college campus, and saw my daddy’s name on the side of the building. HUGE.

It’s no small task to sum up such a big life. My father’s obituary would eventually read,

1979boardmeeting “The legacy he leaves will also be enhanced by his extensive and impressive public service, as detailed below.” And then followed about 90 lines of print. It concluded with, “Howard was fortunate to spend life doing what he loved, serving the institution he loved and leaving a lasting legacy for the people he loved.”

For my part, I’ve always had really little feet—and modest ambitions. As a fulltime stay-at-home mom, I never aspired to a public career, let alone such a distinguished one. It never occurred to me to follow in my father’s footsteps— because I could never match his stride.

It’s amazing what can happen though, when we decide to follow a really big God. He can do some pretty impressive stuff if we’re willing to walk in His footsteps.

I took a decisive step forward when I agreed to serve on a school district committee. At first, it didn’t seem like that big a deal—after all, I had covered my share of ground as a school volunteer.

But I was thinking much too small. Ahead lay a multi-million dollar school bond issue, which would provide for, among other things, the addition of fine arts and athletic space. Right in front of me was the perfect opportunity to do what I loved (advocate for children’s extracurriculars), serve the institution I loved (Midway ISD), and make a difference for people I loved.

It wasn’t exactly a burning bush moment—but it was close. It was clear that God had big plans in store. I took my first big steps into public service, school politics—and a significant amount of controversy. (I’m certain that my dad—who fought in some landmark legal battles and went toe-to-toe with the Texas legislature—could relate.) I was seriously terrified that I would fall flat on my face.

It’s a good thing God was walking close beside me.

He will never let me stumble, slip, or fall. Psalm 121:3 (TLB)

Two years later, we celebrated the completion of one of the largest bond projects, and I had the privilege of attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony. My name may not have been on the building, but I had lent it to the cause—and then got to hear it called out publicly in the presence of my children.

Midway MAC Ribbon Cutting

I think maybe my shoes grew a couple of sizes that day.

The really big moment, though, was much more private. That same week, my dad’s health had been declining fast. The day after the ceremony, my husband and I traveled to his home to tell him goodbye. One of the last things I shared with my dad was the photo and story of the building dedication. Together we celebrated the life—and legacy—we shared. And I got to tell him what an honor it had always been to be his daughter.

Never have I walked so tall or stood so proud as the time I took just a few steps . . . in my daddy’s shoes.

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | April 11, 2015

Empty Wallets & Full Hearts


Two places I take the prize in parenting:

  • Spending lots of money on my kids;
  • Making lots of cracks about how much money I spend on my kids.

Stop me if you heard these before:

“It took Katherine a week to learn the moves for high school dance team. It only took me sixty seconds to master the dance momma move: write a check, write a check, write a check!”

“I’ve got one kid going into college, one kid getting behind the wheel, one kid going into braces . . . and one momma going out to sell plasma.” braces

And every newly orthodontured child is reintroduced to the world with an emphatic, “Smile—and show everybody momma’s trip to Europe!”

(I have a ridiculous confession to make. This momma actually has been to Europe—three times, no less. Shouldn’t I be the one smiling?)

Oh, I’ve got quite the little routine going . . . and I perform it every chance I get.

But like many funny people, I go for the laugh to cover up the pain. The kind that comes from head-on collisions with my own self-centeredness.

See, it’s not the financial sacrifice I mind as much as giving up my right to spend as I please. Then I turn the “high cost of child-rearing” into a scapegoat for my discontent:

IF we weren’t covering the gas, maintenance and insurance on four cars, THEN maybe Brent could finally drive something manufactured in this century.” (At the moment, he is making do with a secondhand beater he likes to call “The Pimp-Mobile.”)

IF we weren’t so ‘college poor,’ THEN maybe I could graduate my smart phone up to the Ivy League version most of my friends have.”

IF it weren’t for the financial acrobatics of competitive cheer, THEN maybe I could _______.” (At this point, I make several passes over all the stuff I’d like to do/have/see/wear, off a list as absurdly long as the competition season itself.)

What will bankrupt me is not my children . . . but my attitude.

Fortunately for me, God’s economy works much differently. He invites me to open my heart along with my wallet and empty it of those things I cannot afford, like greed, envy and selfishness.

He offers a loving exchange for items of true value, like gratitude, celebration and trust.

I am thankful for my children–I can be equally thankful for the gifts and talents God has given each of them. I can celebrate the many opportunities they enjoy to develop and express those talents. And I can trust God to provide us with the means to realize those opportunities.

And I can definitely give thanks for the joy-filled life of a booster mom. Let’s face it, most of my sacrifices come wrapped up in tutus and trophies, as opposed to say, weeks in a children’s hospital.

My empty wallet is simply a visible reminder of how full my life truly is.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

And that’s no joke.

If you want to follow Me, you must deny yourself the things you think you want. You must pick up your cross and follow Me. The person who wants to save his life must lose it, and she who loses her life for Me will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 (The Voice)

This is my last gift to you, this example of a way of life: a life of hard work, a life of helping the weak, a life that echoes every day those words of Jesus our King, who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35 (The Voice)

Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. Malachi 3:10 (The Message)


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