Friday, December 30, 2011

I wish I was in New York City.

Who doesn’t, right?  It’s a popular bucket list item to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square.  Heaven knows, my bucket list is probably as long as anybody’s.  If my sister is going to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro next summer (which she is), the least I should get to do is freeze my backside under the twinkling billboards, in the City that Never Sleeps.

Ironically, I have never had any desire to pass through the threshold of a new year beneath the dropping ball.  I would actually have been willing to fly home on New Year’s Eve to save on airfare.  If you’ll indulge my bragging, I have already ice skated at Rockefeller center and even witnessed the flight of the giant balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.  I’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building, and backstage at Late Night with David Letterman; I just missed the cut to sing a little ditty for “Stump the Band.”  I’ve stood at Ground Zero and pondered the empty sky, and rode the Staten Island Ferry to get a glimpse of Lady Liberty on Ellis Isle.  I cannot complain that I in any way need or deserve a more fantastic New York City experience than I’ve already had.

The reason my husband and I both woke up from NYC dreams this morning, is this: our beloved Cyclones, that Blue Collar team that keeps making all the inspirational montage segments on ESPN, will be playing in the Pinstripe Bowl today.  Who wouldn’t want to be in Yankee stadium this afternoon, when that vibrant leader, Paul Rhoads, leads his irrepressible team of over-achievers onto the field, in hopes of pulling off yet another fantastic upset?  It may be a near home-field advantage for Rutgers, but my hopes, if not my money, are on Iowa State.  It may be one of those tens of bowls that no one has heard of.  It may be a battle between teams that don’t amount to much in the national picture.  The BCS is in no way implicated.  But when the Iowa State Cyclones take the field, they bring all the excitement college football can generate.  Watch for first quarter on-side kicks.  Don’t be surprised if they run a gadget play on a long fourth down in their own territory and make the first down.  Even if you had no other reason to cheer for the Clones, surely you are wondering whether Paul Rhoads can actually muster a more inspiring locker room speech than, “I am so proud…to be your coach” or “I don’t care whether your black or white, or rich or poor, or where you came from…I do care that we are ONE team.”  What about the way he jumpsaround on the sidelines when they botch a call?

There are at least a dozen reasons why we couldn’t make a bowl trip this year, but this morning I woke up regretful of all of them.  If I had it my way, I’d be at the end of a 24 hour RV drive through sleet-crusted freeways, dragging my kids through the subways, and saddled with an enormous load of blankets, mittens, and baby paraphernalia, to freeze my backside and lose my voice cheering for our team.  We’re going to have a blast cheering them on from Central Iowa today – I’ll probably lose my voice anyway – But I wish I was doing it in New York City.

Help us defeat our enemies! No one else can rescue us. You will give us victory and crush our enemies. Psalm 60:11-12

Friday, December 23, 2011

I choose us.

My oldest daughter gave me the compliment of a lifetime.  “You know, Mom; you’re really great at being a mom.”  The baby was off her schedule, up too late, and still needed her dinner when we got home from the church Christmas program.  She was fussing and cranky, too worked up to focus on the spoonful of puréed chicken and noodles I was offering her.  My biggest girl was having her own late dinner across the table, observing the whole operation as I combined soothing tones of encouragement and gentle offerings of her favorite snacks to finally get the baby to settle down and realize that eating food could actually be the solution to her hunger.  To a ten-year-old’s perception, I accomplished the impossible; no one could ever get a baby that mad to stop crying and eat, and who ever would want to talk sweetly to a baby that’s screaming at the top of her lungs?  Well, don’t worry, it hasn’t gone completely to my head, but unsolicited feedback on my job performance is exceptionally rare and, in this particular case, well timed.

Many times I’ve heard from both working and stay-at-home moms that I have an ideal situation.  I get the best of both, being able to take my kids to work with me.  I’m not cooped up in the house all day with only children for company, but I’m not tied to a cubicle, staring longingly at my baby’s picture.  Oftentimes, that has been true.  But there are also many times when I’ve had the worst of both; where my professional to-do list had to compete with a teething infant or a curious toddler.  Unlike my stay at home friends, I couldn’t drop everything to attend to my child.  Unlike my working friends, I couldn’t drop her off at daycare and focus on my work.  As long as I’ve been working and mothering, there have always been days when my baby had to cry it out, when my kids had to play solitaire in the youth room, or when I had to pay someone else take them to the park on a summer day.  There have also been meetings that had to be carried on with a giddy toddler squealing during the video, youth group campouts that included school-aged tagalongs, and potlucks to which we just didn’t make it.  And I haven’t yet mentioned the cooking or laundry.

Working and mothering has always been a tricky balance, but I felt called to both, so I found ways to make it work.  There were seasons where I felt like everything was just right, and seasons where I could have quit my job at any moment.  Combining my twelve years on staff with the years of volunteering I did before I was staff, this year’s high school graduates and I have been together since they were in preschool.  I feel confident that God has used me in the lives of young people to shape their childhood for the better.  They have experienced the love of Christ through my church’s ministries in ways that God put me there to facilitate.  I do not question that, up to now, I was called to be both a minister and a mom.

But everything is different now.  Not just for me.  I see it with my husband and my in-laws, too.  When you put our littlest girl next to our oldest, it’s like a flash forward.  In a blink, they go from itty-bitty, to all grown up.  We really felt like we were trying to savor the days with each of our kids, but it is undeniable that our sense of urgency is amplified this time around.  We’ve experienced the speed of life first hand, and we just don’t want to let even the smallest moment get away from us.  There’s no “we’ll do that tomorrow,” or “maybe next time.”  I feel like Nicolas Cage’s character, Jack Campbell, in The Family Man.   I’m seeing how all those compromises add up.  I’ve come to the conclusion that even if you have the best job in the world, which I do, and Jack thought he did, God can still call you away.

Maybe I’m a wonderful youth and children’s pastor, but it’s my first and highest calling to be a wonderful mom.  I hope I’ve done both, but I’ve made compromises that I don’t want to make any more: compromises that God has laid it on my heart to back away from.  Perhaps it may demand I make a whole new set of compromises, as leaving my job means giving up a calling that has become part of my identity.  I fear that it may be a surrender to sexism in that it suggests that I can’t be the best mom and the best minister concurrently.  It will be sad, and it will be hard; it will turn my life upside down.  But we’ve made arrangements with the church for me to resign this spring.  When my kids get out of school this summer, for the first time, we will wake up each morning to see together what the day brings.  When my baby weans this spring, for the first time, it won’t mean that she crosses a threshold, whereby I must spend the majority of my income paying someone else to nurture her during the day.

I’m nervous about the financial impact; I’m anxious about my professional future; but I know I’m leaving ministry to pursue a proud profession that I’m gifted for.  And despite my uncertainties about what the future holds, “I choose us.”  Not over God, but over professional ministry, during this season of my life.

Good people live right, and God blesses the children who follow their example.  Proverbs 20:7

Friday, December 16, 2011

I’m a closet introvert.

Hell for me is a phone with a headset, hooked up to an automatic dialer.  It’s torture, having to muster a pleasant tone of voice, and confront the unknown demands of a conversation.  I did a miserable customer service job for a year and a half out of college and I still cringe when I hear a phone ring.  I program my loved ones’ phone numbers with special rings so that when they call, I can actually respond with joy, instead of trepidation, when I answer the phone.  Sometimes I don’t even answer their calls.

No one had to wonder whether I was an introvert, as a kid.  My silence should have made it clear, but it also ensured that no one wondered whether I was an introvert.  They were more likely to wonder whether I was a snob, or a nerd, or possibly a deaf person – or not to notice me at all.  I was shocked, when my siblings alerted me (in less than diplomatic terms) to the fact that my silence was communicating a disregard for everyone around me that I did not feel.  In fact, I have a very passionate concern for people.  It is part of what makes interacting so exhausting.  I feel such a drive to make every interaction one of care, help, and nourishment that I feel like I should have a script and a rehearsal before I open my mouth.  The pressure eventually wears me out.

Those who have known me as an adult may or may not realize this about me, though.  They may be in my inner circle, where I shamelessly, and probably overbearingly, turn my full personality loose and trust they will graciously interpret my missteps in the context of who they know me to be.  Or they may be the recipient of a gift they didn’t know was a gift.  They are one of the many people, with whom I interact with openness and possibly even verbal excess, despite the extreme anxiety and fear I’m hiding.  They’ve managed to overlook it that I keep my arms down to hide my pit stains during meetings.  They’ve correctly understood that they matter, but they’ve never tuned in to the moment of hesitation before I looked them in the eyes and smiled, or the extended time I spent in the restroom during a break.

It is hard work to make small talk, to decide how much to disclose, to know when to ask questions and when to let the awkward silence bring an interaction to a close.  I could stumble into a landmine of impropriety or offense at any point.  But it is apparent to me that, even when I don’t do it as perfectly as I hope, interacting is more valuable, and a better representation of myself to the people around me, than keeping silent.  So, I interact.  Against my strongest inclinations, I approach strangers after worship.  Despite my shoulder devil’s insistence that no one will get them, I crack jokes and tell stories.

Often, my worst fears are realized and I play back a conversation in my head with embarrassment or regret.  Many times, as well, I feel so drained afterward that I need a few hours or days of cloister to build up my energy and courage to return to the public.  I read a great article about introverts that a couple of my fellow Women in Ministry posted this week.  It was very affirming to realize that I’m not alone in my social struggles, and also that it’s not a character flaw I need to cure.  It just is who I am.

So I’m coming out: My name is Emily, and I’m an introvert.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.  Colossians 4:6

Friday, December 9, 2011

We’re going to disappoint our kids this Christmas.

I’ve been hearing about it for over a year.  iPods, iPods, iPods.  They vowed to save up for them.  They wanted them for their birthdays.  They wanted us to search Craigslist for cheap ones with cracked screens.  Their devotion to getting iPod touches has been almost single-minded, even usurping the role of cell phone at the top of their longings and desires.  When we got my husband an iPad, and everyone found out firsthand how flawlessly Apple technology operates, and how truly addictive Angrybirds is, it amplified their desires to a new level of intensity.

In planning our Christmas giving, we got sucked in.  We debated the merits of iPods vs. ghetto-pads; we considered Nooks and Kindles.  We weighed the potential reading minutes against the potential gaming minutes.  We considered getting them one to share, but I wasn’t interested in officiating time of possession.  We were at the cusp of making a major outlay for technology, granting our kids’ biggest wish.

Then they started bickering.  First it was over socks.  Despite the fact that each girl has a drawer that is overflowing with socks, I was charmed by the goofy Christmas socks at Dollar Tree and bought them each two pair that they could mix and match.  The next morning, they were going at each other hatefully over the stupid socks, because they couldn’t come to an agreement on who got which of the FOUR PAIRS.  Later, they raised the same ruckus over who got to wear the pink mittens, despite the bin full of available options.  Shortly into the afternoon, they were fighting over space in the minivan.  We were FOUR people, riding in a vehicle designed to seat SEVEN.

My kids already have DS’s.  They already have a portable DVD player for road trips.  They already have a room all their own.  They already have a closet full of clothes.  They have a huge collection of Barbies, of Our Generation dolls, of Galactic Heroes, of dress up gowns, etc, etc.  But over the last few weeks, every adult who cares about them, myself included, has opened at least one conversation with, “what are you going to ask for this Christmas?”  It has led my children to believe that their self-centered, materialistic desires actually matter to the overall functioning of the social order and that, somehow, Jesus came to earth, purely to occasion their own wish-fulfillment.

I am back at square one.  I want my kids to have a fun, memorable Christmas.  Like everyone else, I don’t want their gift opening to be a disappointment.  I wonder what kind of role model I’ve been for them, that they would display such repulsive behavior.  Let’s face it, I’m disappointed, too.  I want to make them happy, but I also want to be a good mom, and I’m afraid that this Christmas, I’m not going to be able to do both.  Character and gratitude last longer than electronics anyway, right?  Wish me luck.

As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks. Luke 11:13

Friday, December 2, 2011

Holiday sweets make me giddy.

I couldn’t help it.  The gal at Sonic was passing me the most beautiful incarnation of Pumpkin Pie Milkshake ever.  The cup was shiny metallic, like an old soda shop, the whip cream was fluffy and crusted with crumbs of graham cracker and brown sugar.  Before I could stifle it, a high pitched giggle of delight escaped, and I felt embarrassed by the cold on my teeth as I gave the girl a billboard grin and a childishly joyful “Thank you!”  I felt like a complete weird-o, as her even stare and cautious body language signaled her distrust.

Who needs mom’s apple pie?  There’s I-HOP’s Eggnog Pancakes, McDonald’s Holiday Pies, and pumpkin, in all its various forms.  I don’t need to be invited to a slew of holiday parties, I bring the party to the drive thru, every time I get a chance to consume these delightful concoctions!  How, tell me, how can you beat getting 2 custard pies, with sugar sprinkles baked in to the crust, for a mere $1?  I can pass on the dessert for the whole rest of the year, because these enchanting specimens are only on the menu for four short weeks!
So whether you are serving me up a Gingerbread hot chocolate or a caramel apple parfait, don’t look at me like I’m putting you on.  I’m for real.  And for the 700 calories, that shake better be worth getting excited about, don’t you think?

It is a joyful holiday that they celebrate by feasting and sending gifts of food to each other. Esther 9:19b

Friday, November 25, 2011

I wished the movers would go “smoke.”

They started the day chipper, almost gleeful.  They had the abundant energy and lousy skin that are a signpost of meth use.  For the first four hours of the day, they were like the 7 Dwarfs, with their joyful “Hi-ho, hi-ho.”  They hauled everything we pointed out to them with a spring in their step that was almost manic, and cooed friendly baby talk at my daughter on my hip as they wheeled heavy dressers full of heavy clothes up and down the stairs.

Sometime in the early afternoon, however, their moods took a sudden dip.  Almost instantly, they had freakish dark circles under their eyes and every question or comment was greeted with growls and scorn.  I can’t disparage their labor; they eventually accomplished everything we had outlined for them to do.  They did not, however, seem nearly as pleased or motivated to do it as they had before their buzz wore off.  Over the course of a 10 hour move, they only took two fifteen minute breaks and never even ate, only smoked cigarettes.  After all the barking and groaning, however, I mentioned to my husband that I wished they would take a little longer and track down what they were really craving, because I didn’t think the second half of our move was the right time for them to start de-tox.

Toward the end of the incredibly long day, I made a sandwich run and brought them back some subs and soda pops.  They seemed really thankful, but still didn’t stop to eat them until after the move was complete.  They had worked unbelievably hard all day, so we couldn’t imagine sending them away without a tip, but we had mixed feelings about it as we handed them each their wad of cash.  I can’t imagine working that kind of job every day.  I can imagine how tempting it would be to enhance my energy with illicit substances before showing up to haul people’s stuff for them.  I wonder about my complicity in their demise; because I own more stuff than I can carry from house to house on my own; because I have the affluence to hire people to carry my stuff when I can’t or would rather not; because I saw the situation and still preferred them high; because I handed them enough cash to go do the same thing tomorrow.

A lot of people I know say they can’t tell if someone uses.  I wonder if they can’t or just choose not to, because I’d rather choose not to, too.

Drug yourselves so you feel nothing. Blind yourselves so you see nothing. Get drunk, but not on wine. Black out, but not from whiskey. For God has rocked you into a deep, deep sleep, put the discerning prophets to sleep, put the farsighted seers to sleep. Isaiah 29:9-10 (MSG)

Friday, November 18, 2011

I'm passing on Twilight.

I know I’m going to tread on some toes here, and there is not much I can say about the series that hasn’t already been said, but it seems to me that anyone over 25 who is fawning over these movies needs an express ticket to Cougartown.

When the mania began, and the facebook posting about glittery suitors became overwhelming, my husband and I figured we should check it out and rented the first movie.  We didn’t hate the movie, but we also weren’t overwhelmed by the drama, the characters, or the acting.  Mostly we thought it was weird that a 100 year old guy would find a teenage girl remotely captivating.  As for Bella – you have some serious father-figure issues if you are trapped in a love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf.  Anyone with any sense would pass on both.  As a parent, I find myself rooting for her to find a guy who’s too old for her, rides a motorcycle, has gages, tattoos and a chain wallet, and chews tobacco.  It would be safer and show better judgment.

I get more annoyed with the series every time another fang-inspired romance crops up and panders to my youthgroup and kids.  Girls, you should never consider a relationship with someone who assaults you, demeans you, or might eat you.  Even if you see the characters on the Disney Channel doing it.

But, who knows?  I did only watch the first movie.  Star Wars didn’t hit their stride until Empire Strikes Back.  Now there’s a series worth a midnight premier!

I think I know where this whole vampire thing got started, though.  There is someone whose blood holds the hope of eternal life.  Maybe it is all just a misunderstanding…

But if you do eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life, and I will raise you to life on the last day. John 6:54

Friday, November 11, 2011

I believe in fighting back.

She was pointing her finger at me and laughing at my socks.  Somehow she had noticed that I was wearing the same pair two days in a row and decided that everyone in the room should be alerted to my lack of hygiene.  My face flushed and I struggled to answer her claim.  You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just claim clearly and confidently that I had two pairs of the same socks; after all, most people do, and often they wear them on subsequent days, right?  But I completely lacked the confidence to speak up on my own behalf.  Plus she was right, and I was tongue tied by that knowledge.  I pray my own kids find lying as difficult as I did back then.

This occasion is memorable to me because a girl named Caryn swooped in to my rescue.  She had noticed that my accuser was wearing the same pair of BLUE JEANS she had worn the day before.  It was obvious, because she had acted so cool when she’d written her name on the leg in pen, in front of us all, the day before.  Needless to say, as soon as Caryn mentioned the jeans, she dropped her suit against me for my socks.
I was so grateful to Caryn.  I wondered why people were scouring my wardrobe for mistakes, but she never seemed to draw any fire.  Of course, there’s the obvious – the coolness I so notably lack and she so effortlessly emanated.  Possibly, she never wore similar looking socks on subsequent days?  No.  It was more than her fashion choices.  There have been long articles and mini-specials offered on how to avoid or deal with bullies, but the answer I eventually noticed and practiced is so obvious it’s ridiculous.  Bullies backed off and left me alone, just about for good, when I started doing what Caryn did.  I started standing up, not just for myself, but for others.

It’s one thing to put together some good one-liners, to change your route or routine to avoid problems, or to carry extra lunch money.  Those are all actions that will help with self-preservation.  But nothing seems to intimidate an intimidator more than speaking up on behalf of others.  All it takes is doing so once or twice to discover that you have all the confidence and courage you need to make a difference for yourself and others.
There are so many broken people in this broken world who exploit the vulnerable to fill their own needs, from sixth grade bullies, to bosses on a power trip, to harassers and abusers.  If you don’t want yourself or your loved ones to be a victim, then don’t let someone else be a victim.  When you know something is wrong, say so.  You aren’t just rescuing that victim, you are protecting yourself.

And if that fails, a solid punch to the stomach should buy you enough time to get away.  Jesus may have suffered in silence, but God’s going to have to call my kids with that message directly, because I’m not going to teach them to let themselves be victims.  As Michael Landon’s angel on Highway to Heaven said after taking a second punch, “Now don’t say I didn’t turn the other cheek.”  Then he kicked tail.
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Isaiah 1:17

Friday, November 4, 2011

I could never be as tough as Chuck or Betty.

I love the Chuck Norris jokes, but I realized the other night that I really think Betty White is tougher.  I was contemplating what it is about her that makes her so exceptional and made a list of reasons.  Eat your heart out, Chuck.

10 Things you should know about Betty White:

1.       She has shark teeth for dentures.

2.       Her Aquanet helmet scrambles Satellites.

3.       She drives slow to thwart her CIA surveillance.

4.       She smells like Bengay because she uses it to lubricate her power tools.

5.       She eats oak trees for her fiber supplement.

6.       Her support hose will hold up buildings.

7.       She carries big purses, because they fit her machete.

8.       Her hearing aids play Korn and Slipknot.

9.       She can’t play shuffleboard, because she doesn’t shuffle.

10.   She wears Granny-panties, because she doesn’t need UnderArmor.
There are certain things that seems to go with the territory of aging, but I will always admire the people, like my grandparents, Clint Eastwood, Betty White, and many others, especially the ladies, who defy those stereotypes and remind me that the road ahead of me can be exciting and vibrant through retirement and beyond.
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. Psalm 71:18

Friday, October 28, 2011

I hate my hair!

My hair has been falling out by the handfuls for months.  It did the same thing after the births of my older daughters too, resulting in giant bare spots on each temple.  When my oldest was about 6 months old, I had to part my painfully thin hair in the middle and pull it around to a low ponytail, just to sparsely cover my skull.  I’ve been fortunate, this time around that, while my hair is still falling out at the same high rate, the regrowth started much sooner.  Instead of completely bald spots, the lean places have a carpet of wacky fringe that goes whichever way my cowlicks dictate.  I’m torn each morning between spending hours at the mirror attempting to stylishly mask my hairlessness, or just surrendering, putting in a headband and ponytail, and wearing my shirt inside out to distract people from looking at my hair.

I wish this battle were something new, but it’s really not.  I have hated my hair for as long as I’ve been aware of fashion.  I spent my fourth grade year figuring out the pattern of a girl named Beth’s French braids; I hoped I could duplicate her look, but it took four years of attending school with bizarre, tangled messes on my head before I finally got it down.  When big hair came into fashion, I couldn’t afford the volume of hairspray it required to make bangs as thin and fine as mine stand up and be teased.  I had to skip the late eighties and go straight to grunge.

So here I am, all grown up, and still hating everything about my hair.  It’s a blah color.  It has no real body or texture.  Frankly, I resent every moment of my life that I’ve spent in the chair at a salon, or at the mirror with a curling iron and hairdryer.  I was born to “wash and go,” and that fantasy remains out of reach for me.  But now you know why I dress the way I do…probably explains a lot.

Don't depend on things like fancy hairdos or gold jewelry or expensive clothes to make you look beautiful. 1 Peter 3:3

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why is simplicity so complicated?

Over a year and a half ago, my husband and I were trying to catch our breath.  He felt the financial pressure of being the primary breadwinner.  I felt the frantic race of keeping up with church activities, dance, and housekeeping.  Those feelings were all compounded by our ambitious volunteering with the Parks and Rec.  Not wanting to play favorites, when Dad volunteered to coach our older girl’s basketball team, Mom volunteered to coach the younger’s.  Have your chuckle at the idea I could potentially coach a sports team and let’s move on…

I picked up a devotional book on simplicity and we decided to complete the six-week course during Lent.  It turned out that it wasn’t so simple.  It took six months to finish the book and the process of assessing our lifestyle, our gifts, the things from which we take the greatest joy and satisfaction, and our hopes for contributing to, rather than exploiting, the world in which we live.  It might have been safer to cruise right through the book in six weeks.  Our pursuit of simplicity found us having a third child and putting our house on the market.

You’ve probably heard that it’s a buyer’s market out there.  It is.  We had hoped that we could pursue simplicity without actually catching it, I guess, because our decision to downsize was supposed to be dependent on God sending us a buyer for our current house.  Maybe it was the sleep deprivation from the new baby, maybe it was confidence in the marketability of our current home, but I honestly believe it was more along the lines of Providence.  We are closing this morning on that little brick house my husband’s been eyeing for the last five years; it’s set on a beautiful, wooded pasture just 2 miles from our current house.  It met all our criteria and then some.  The kids won’t even change schools, and we can raise chickens, have up to 3 livestock, and have all the room in the world for a giant garden.
It's already cuter than this - with a brand new, black roof.
I believe we’re following the calling of the Holy Spirit.  I believe we went through this process thoughtfully.  Still, it has been surprising to both of us how complicated this whole simplicity thing is.   Somehow while it seems like it should be the easiest thing ever to simplify, it is actually fraught with risk.  It’s taken a lot of courage and we’re just going to continue to rely on one another and listen for the still, small voice of God to show us the way.

I don’t know when we’ll be moved.  I don’t know how much stuff we’re going to have to unburden ourselves from.  I don’t know who is going to buy our old house.  But I know we’re headed where we’re supposed to be.  And I’m excited for the journey.  And I wouldn’t change a thing.  OK, I’d take a buyer…anyone?

Are any of you wise or sensible? Then show it by living right and by being humble and wise in everything you do. James 3:13

Friday, October 14, 2011

I just go go go

My high school friends hated to ride with me, because I charged every stop sign.  Not to the point of throwing anyone into the dash, but I wouldn’t let off the gas until I had just enough time to make the stop.  Why waste precious seconds coasting?  I avert my eyes when an elderly person cuts me off in a doorway or grocery store aisle to avoid signaling animosity where there is only impatience.  I’m not mad they’re slow, or resentful that I have to wait for them; I just wasn’t prepared to break my stride so abruptly and am ready to resume my mission as soon as they clear the path.

My husband calls me antsy.  It drives me nuts to wait behind someone in the self checkout who can’t figure out the scale.  I could lose my mind watching someone run an internet search using inefficient search terms.  Don’t get me started on sitting through church meetings.

I don’t tailgate or nag, but it’s only because I know how impatient I am.  I know that it isn’t fair to the others around me, who need a little more time to get through the doorway, decide what they want to order, or realize it’s their turn at the four way stop.  I have a certain practiced calm that is often a required antidote to my natural impatience; I stand back, breathe deeply, and say a prayer of thanksgiving that God has given so many delightful things to do each day that I literally want to race from one to the next; that God’s blessed me with the physical health and quick thinking that make it possible to get my half dozen items and get back out of Walmart in less than ten minutes; that someone stepped in front of me this very instant to remind me to slow down and savor where I am and what I’m doing.

I hear people marvel sometimes that I’m able to keep up with so many demands.  My driven nature does allow me to keep up a full plate and I’m grateful for that.  But sometimes I know that comes at the cost of making other people feel they’re just a speedbump on my race.  It takes deliberate, intentional action for me to reorient my attitude from action and accomplishment toward relationship and connection.  Sometimes I need to sacrifice efficiency to leave enough space for humanity, to hear someone’s story, to show someone love; to leave room for Christ to shine.

Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. Ephesians 4:2

Friday, October 7, 2011

I'm a pizza addict

It has pickles, mustard, onion, and bacon on it, and I can never stop after just two pieces.  As likely as it is to add inches to my middle, Bacon Cheeseburger pizza, I would argue, is still a healthy choice.  It satisfies my pizza cravings, and my fast food cravings, with a single meal.  When have you ever found such an efficient junk food?

If only Bacon Cheeseburger pizza actually were enough to satisfy my pizza cravings, though.  I love pizza.  You’re right, we all love pizza.  Let me clarify, I love pizza.  I would gladly eat pizza once a day, every day, for the duration of my life.  If such an occasion arose, I could certainly add an extra lunch or dinner to that when necessary.  My husband hordes pizza coupons to shelter our family from the financial burden of my addiction. 

I often find myself doing pizza math when we start discussing dinner options.  While he’s thinking: steak, chicken, or fish?  I’m trying to make sure we didn’t eat pizza in the last 24 hours, before I mention that I’d like to have pizza again.

In addition to my newest favorite, the Bacon Cheeseburger pizza, I’ve long been a fan of the Supreme.  Hawaiian is also delicious.  Barbeque – yum.  Steak or green olive – yes please.  Originally not on my list, I’ve even come around to find myself enjoying Taco pizza.  It is, however, the one pizza I do not enjoy cold the next day.

Oh, yes.  Cold pizza.  If you don’t order a big enough pizza to dine on cold leftovers the next day, you didn’t order a big enough pizza.

Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD. 2 Kings 4:44

Friday, September 30, 2011

I serve two masters


Mom you make my life special.  Your life is crowded with 2 kids and 1 baby and 1 pet and 1 Dad.  You might have no time to play but you love me every day.  I love you how you cook dinner and coach our church.  But you love me below and above.  I need you brush my hair.  Your husband loves you too!
Thank you for all you do!
I love you Mom.”
I got three things I really needed this morning: a cup of coffee, a nice chat with my husband, and this note from my 7 year old.  It fell out of the desk drawer, just when I needed it.  As you can see, my kids don’t sugarcoat things for me.  They know my life is “crowded.”  They probably know better than anyone that I’m pulled in more than one direction and have to constantly make compromises between what I want to be doing and what I need to be doing.  Let’s face it, everything else aside, I’d pull them out of school every single day to follow some flight of fancy and adventure.  They might never learn to read and we might have to subsist on grass and berries, but it would sure be great to spend carefree hours together, discovering every beauty the world has to offer.
Scripture says we can’t serve two masters, because we will love the one and hate the other.  Of course, this is referring to God and money.  Sometimes I struggle with the ways that truth applies to my life, though.  I’m called, at a minimum, to serve at least three: my family, the church, and the Lord.  Making it even more complicated, I’m actually getting paid to serve the church, so perhaps the church should count as two – God and money?  But I already made a distinction between serving God and serving the church.  I guess because they sometimes seem like two different masters, as well, when the challenges and expectations of church life come into tension with my ability to devote myself singly to God.
Most of the time, I find ways to keep my masters happy.  Even if I don’t have time to play, I still manage to cook some meals, brush some hair, and “coach the church.”  Other times, I find one master or another to be exceptionally demanding, and I end up having to make things up to the others later.  I had a demanding master this week, she hardly napped during the day; she insisted on eating twice every night; she refused to enjoy her Jump-a-roo when I needed to prep lessons and make meals.  A string of sleep longer than 3 hours would be an incredibly welcome luxury right now.
But my husband got the kids ready for school every morning this week and kept the baby happy so I could teach the kids and youth on Wednesday.  The big girls pitched in when I needed someone to grab me a diaper or empty the dishwasher; they were well-mannered at the doctor’s office, and didn’t complain when I made zucchini.  And neither God nor the church stuck me down for being sleep deprived and scatterbrained at work this week.  Even the teenagers, as usual, were good natured and accommodating.  Who doesn’t love masters like mine?
My daughter’s note this morning brought all those moments together for me.  It was a welcome reminder that, even though I’m struggling to keep up with my many masters, my most important calling is still being accomplished: my kids know I love them “below and above.”  And hopefully my other masters are getting that message now and again, too?
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13

Friday, September 23, 2011

I have a love/hate relationship with my minivan

We’ve all seen her at the mall, I’m sure.  She’s wearing 5 inch heels and fake fingernail tips, balanced on the running board of a Sequoia, trying to wrestle a baby seat up into the base without snapping a nail or getting her hair in her lipstick.  Not realizing how much she looks like the butt of a reality show joke, she wears her biggest fear on her Armani sleeve.  She’s a slave to anything the design editors have told her is “in.”  If you savor this sort of entertainment, and you can walk slowly enough to your car, you can catch the sequel, where she tries to fold up the stroller and lift it in under the hatch without crushing her shopping bags or spraining her ankle.

It’s not really fair for me to pick on Designer-Mom.  It’s probably not smart either.  If she gets ticked, she could run over my whole house with that SUV.  Seeing her struggles, however, I shake my head and pity her a little.  It’s not that I don’t like cool stuff; I do.  It’s just that I try to incorporate fashion in ways my lifestyle can actually accommodate.  I feel a different sort of coolness wash over me when I load up my three kids, and the stroller, and all the scenery and puppets for Sunday’s outreach, and am on my way while Designer-Mom is still stretching over seats to fiddle with car seat buckles she can barely reach without climbing into the third row of her fabulous vehicle.

The practicality of a minivan completely reigns for me.  Driving a third-row SUV would be, to me, like wearing thong underwear.  It may impress that one person who actually catches a glimpse of it, but you’re the one who has to live with the chafing wedgie all day long.  It’s just not worth it.

My minivan does, however, have a downside.  While it has changed our lives for the better with its sliding doors, seating capacity, and cargo space, it has indulged our worst hording tendencies.  The back seat is constantly piled high with leftover fastfood cartons, markers, personal electronics, dirty socks, and, usually, whatever item the girls needed for school and couldn’t find.  Every time I clean it out, I vow that I’m going to enforce better habits.  My husband and I have our own stash between the front seats, usually the leftovers from our last road trip: the GPS tangled around a mess of half-eaten combos, museum fliers, and, if you’re lucky, enough loose change to park downtown for a quick lunch.

A fashion crisis on wheels, our minivan also sports a cracked windshield, bubbling paint spots, a wide array of door dings, manual-close doors, and the interior has cords strung around like Christmas lights to run the portable DVD system.  I fantasize about trading it in for an upscale minivan, with power doors, built in A/V, leather seats, and a moonroof.

Basically, I’m sitting back in my granny-panties, wishing for some nice, cotton bikinis.

Your country will be covered with caravans…  Isaiah 60:6

Friday, September 16, 2011

I ruthlessly remember birthdays...

…well, I used to, at least.  As my family started to splinter and spread out geographically, it became a bigger and bigger challenge to stay connected to each other.  One way I tried to bridge the gap was in remembering my parents and siblings on their birthdays.  What I didn’t realize at the time was how, in a family that didn’t put a priority on celebrating these holidays, my attention to them left my family with mixed feelings.  At one point I was accused of “ruthlessly remembering birthdays.”

When my husband and I got married, it wrought havoc on my birthday discipline.  As in many marriages, I am generally the keeper of birthdays, so my list doubled at the altar.  In the last decade, it has multiplied by marriages, births, and expanding friendships.  If I once ruthlessly remembered birthdays, there are probably some people who would now complain that I ruthlessly forget – and I even do that inconsistently.  Sometimes I purchase the gift early, only to have it sit on my counter until it’s late.  Sometimes I remember a birthday one year, and then don’t the next.  Sometimes I find something grand to send, other times my honoree has to settle for nail clippers and a comb.  For the first time ever last year, I was so late with a gift that I put it away and sent it for the next year.  It was very humbling.  Anymore, I feel successful if I get a birthday gift sent within 3 months before or after the day – that’s a six month window and I don’t always hit it!

Despite my failed ruthlessness, my loved ones can continue to expect erratic birthday acknowledgement from me.  I may not be good at it anymore, but I’ll never give it up, because there’s only one of you – and you are remarkable and cherished.  So, to my beloved aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, parents, siblings, friends, and in-laws, in case this is the year I forget – Happy Birthday.  I’m so glad you’re here.  I really do love you and miss you – I just can’t seem to make it to the post office.

God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others.  2 Corinthians 9:8

Friday, September 9, 2011

I hate being afraid.

I interviewed a Catholic monsignor for an assignment once.  He was elderly, very pastoral, and won me over right away with thoughtful responses to my questions that surprised me, being far from the typical theology I expected from a Catholic priest.  Our conversation ended up off-topic, as my conversations often do, and he shared with me about an experience he had as a young man, exorcising demons.  He looked me in the eye and assured me that evil is real, that it is terrifying, and that a person should never open themself up to evil.  Some people might say he was a quack, but I believed him.  The fear he expressed, and the sincerity of his warning made a strong and lasting impression on me.

That was early in my seminary career, right around the time that we had a collective experienced of evil, September 11th, 2001.  My oldest girl was two months old and I was getting us ready to go to work at the church, when I flipped on the TV to check the weather and instead found out that there was a new world unfolding.  The towers were still up, wounded and smoking.  I began to pray the people inside would know peace.  It felt so weird to look at those towers and know that people, who were otherwise just fine, were in a death trap from which they would not escape.  I pictured them, possibly huddled under their desks and in stairwells, and couldn’t think of anything else that would help, so I prayed they wouldn’t feel panic, but would be overwhelmed by the peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit.  It seemed wrong that their last moments should be overwhelmed by wasted panic and worry, I hoped they could experience peace.
If my prayers were answered, and there was any peace, I haven’t seen much of it since.  Hate and fear dwell in such close company.  One leads to the other in an endless cycle of human brokenness.  There have been moments where it peaks for every generation: WW II, the assassinations of JFK & MLK.  There are many others, but for my generation, it will always be 9/11.  In the ten years since, we’ve normalized a level of hatred and fear that I still struggle to accept.

Ten years later, we are still at war.  I tied up a yellow ribbon when it started, and it weathered for so long, as one war faded into another, I couldn’t decide what was appropriate – take it down? Replace it?  Eventually it wore out and fell off the tree.  I wonder what kind of fear and hatred our extended presence abroad might be stirring up.  Ten years later, being X-rayed and frisked is the price of travel.  As much as it frustrates us, it also reminds us of that day.  It reminds us to look around and be afraid of our fellow travelers.  Ten years later, we pay European prices for gas, and the economy has yet to stabilize.  My generation, and the one after me, is defining ourselves by our relationships, because we’ve come of age in an economy where our wealth and careers are never secure.

I know we can’t unsqueeze the toothpaste tube.  Many of the changes evoked by September 11th, like those of the Cuban Missile Crisis or Pearl Harbor, are changes we are right to normalize, because they aren’t going away.  But I’m tired of hate and fear.  If we assimilate them into our culture, we invite the evil they breed.  The scripture claims that through Christ, we have power over demons.  We can order evil to pack up and leave us.  Instead of using religion to fuel the flames of hatred and fear, I want my faith to be a tool for peace, that the love and power of Christ could prevail.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

Friday, September 2, 2011

I sound corny when I talk about my husband.

Nothing felt odd or out of routine to me until the women I was standing with dropped their jaws, and one asked what I had done to train my husband so well.  We were at an event where the big girls were running around with friends, and my husband and I were keeping up with them and one another, in a sort of tag-team way.  I was holding the baby, standing in a small circle of women, visiting, when my husband came into the room, and without a word, took her out of my arms and disappeared.

The other women were shocked that he would take the baby off my hands, without my requesting it, or making a show about it.  I didn’t know what to say, because being a great dad is so normal for my husband, that until their comments, I took it for granted.  All I could say was, “I didn’t do anything.  She’s his daughter; he’s allowed to hold her when he wants.”  I have to admit, I felt really proud to be his wife.

Another humbling moment, recently, was when my daughter was, without a doubt, acting like me.  I felt an urge to curb her, because it was a trait I have never liked about myself.  Much to my chagrin, my husband began to engage her, and even to enjoy her and egg her on.  Suddenly it hit me.  He even likes things about me that I dislike about myself.  Seeing him with our daughter changed my whole attitude.  Love multiplied in that moment – his love for her reflected love right back on me.

When we first got married, thirteen years ago this weekend, I felt a full heart of love for my husband.  The biggest surprise in these years, to me, has been how much deeper my love has grown, as I’ve seen his commitment to our children.  We’re this unit, in which love just seems to multiply extravagantly.  The more the kids see us love each other, the more they love us.  The more we love the kids, the more we love each other.  I probably sound pretty corny, and maybe a little naïve, but that’s not the kind of family I grew up in, so sometimes it overwhelms me that I get to be a part of something so amazing.  It’s a blessing I don’t deserve and I wish I could share with everyone I know.

I don’t know who I’d be, if it weren’t for the incredible man who showed me true love.  And it doesn’t matter whether we are at year 13 or 30 or 300, it only gets better from here.

As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother to get married, and he becomes like one person with his wife." This is a great mystery, but I understand it to mean Christ and his church. So each husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself, and each wife should respect her husband. Ephesians 5:31-33

Friday, August 26, 2011

I’m gonna be a ballerina?

I don’t always understand God’s ways.  If you’ve read many of my posts, you know that one of the many instances where the logic of God’s wisdom escapes me is when I see that I have a height and build many athletes would enjoy, but none of their coordination, fitness, or finesse, to put those gifts to use.  The middle school cross-country coach was thrilled to see me go out for the team, commenting on how my long legs would be an asset – until he saw me run.  Running hard makes me look like a three-legged giraffe in high heels on gravel.

In the five months since my littlest daughters’ arrival, I’ve been flattered by many observers who’ve noted how quickly I lost the weight.  And dressing strategically, I’ve mostly been able to hide the extra stomach bulge.  It feeds my vanity, but still leaves me missing my regular clothes and saying a little prayer every time I cough or sneeze.  (I’ve always said my figure would look great, if only my chest would stick out further than my stomach, and nursing has given me the dream.)  There are plenty of areas for improvement, but I think I am most limited by my lack of core strength.  When I get stuck in bed, like a cockroach on its back, hopelessly kicking my legs to free them from the covers, and trying to find a way out, I feel sure of this assessment.

When the girls’ ballet school opened up an adult class this fall, the answer to my problems was clear.  I thought back to when my oldest started ballet.  She was a pretty klutzy, head-too-big-for-her-body, toddler.  I noticed within weeks that she had better balance and coordination, and in their years of dance, both my older girls have developed a kind of poise and grace that has always eluded me.  They seem to have an athletic edge, no matter what sport they try, and they never need a hand to get out of bed in the morning.  I think it’s their strong core, and I want one for myself.

So I went to ballet class for the first time in my life last night.  I plie’d and tondu’ed and eschappe’d…it was horrible.  I’m a giant three year old, made of Jello.  No skills, no coordination, and when she had us do the little jumps, there was not a single part of my body that didn’t jiggle.  It’s a very small class, but I still managed to repeatedly bonk into other dancers, and, a short 12 hours later, I’m one giant muscle cramp from head to toe.  If they did a Married with Children episode where Peg Bundy went to ballet class, it couldn’t have been funnier than what I saw in front of me in the mirror last night.

But it was a blast.  I never had so much fun looking like an idiot and getting exercise (funny enough, those two things usually go together for me).  I was relieved when the instructor confirmed for us that we are not expected to participate in the recital next Spring, and, thank you, Lord, there is only a small window in the door for observers.  But I am not going to let my pride get in the way.  I’m going to learn to dance.  I’m going to get my body to actually be fit and not just look fit.  And I’m going to do those little, jiggly jumps until I no longer have to worry about bladder control.

It’s never too late, right?

Shapely and graceful your sandaled feet, and queenly your movement—Your limbs are lithe and elegant, the work of a master artist. Song of Solomon 7:1

Friday, August 19, 2011

I used bad words on my kids.

Hopefully not in our near future!
It’s always embarrassing when I spout off at the mouth.  No one would ever mistake me for a sailor, but there are certainly moments when my word choice is, to say the least, unbecoming.  Who hasn’t endured a moment where a heavy object fell on their toe, or a splash of boiling water seared their finger, and one of those words – the ones we usually refer to by only their first letter – involuntarily erupted?  Not wanting a young child to “out” me by repeating such choice vocabulary, I used to follow up with a series of decoy words.  For example, a carton of milk slips through my fingers and floods across the kitchen floor, and I blurt “Sh#(!” as it goes down, right in front of a very verbal 2 year old; if I think quickly enough, I followed it closely with, “Sugar!  Speedboat! Sassafras! Banana Split!”  If the practice didn’t completely confuse my daughter, it left only a 1-in-5 chance that she would drop a crayon in the church nursery and entertain her caregiver with a PG-13 expletive.  And what’s cuter than a little one who blurts out “Speedboat!” when they drop things!

10 years into this mom-thing, I’ve done pretty well at eschewing those words from even my non-voluntary speech patterns [sorry for making you look up eschew, but at least it’s a fun word you can repeat in mixed company].  In fact, my daughters have a nearly puritanical attitude toward word use.  It cracks me up every time I have to apologize for calling a malfunctioning appliance or misbehaving pet, “stupid.”  I’m not sure if their horror stems from a true belief that “stupid” is a really bad word, or if it’s the tone of disgust I’m using when I drop the S-Bomb.  I’ve tried several times to explain to them that it’s only a bad word when it’s directed at someone.  That strategy my someday backfire, however, when they decide to apply the same criteria to other words.

This week, we had an insanely frustrating afternoon, during which I hauled 20-some pounds of carseat and baby in and out of every store in town that carried children’s shoes.  As we were boarding the minivan at the end of the day, still empty-handed, my oldest began to snap at me for not buying her the ill-fitting and over-budget tennis shoes she had found at our last stop.  While I was in the midst of both reprimanding her for her tone and explaining to her that money is finite, so we do not waste it on items that do not suit our purposes, my middle daughter wanted something my oldest daughter had, and began demanding it, loudly and repeatedly.  Rather than honoring her with a response, I tried to finish the conversation with my older girl, before dealing with the younger, but she got louder and more insistent, the longer we ignored her.  In short order, the van was ringing with angry voices and the baby started to cry.  My older daughter added to the cacophony by starting her counter-argument before I finished my statement, leading to all four of us, baby included, raising our voices in ugly tones, at the same time, inside a closed up vehicle.  Completely frustrated, with my head and ears ringing, I went up another decibel to shout, “SHUT UP!"

The silence was instant – even the baby seemed to drop off in shock.  The big girls’ eyes got huge and welled up with tears.  I might as well have called them the B-word.  Or said I didn’t love them.  My heart was heavy; I was so frustrated, I took the cheap way out.  I knew using those words would have exactly that effect.  And I sold out my values to obtain silence.  I finished, calmly, explaining why we didn’t buy the shoes, then apologized for using those words, and told my middle daughter that I was sorry for how I said it, but I wasn’t sorry for making her stop interrupting, because she knew better than that.

We haven’t yet had an outbreak of “shut up” around the house, so hopefully they know that, even if Mommy says it, that doesn’t make it right.  And I realize that there are plenty of quality parents out there who use far harsher phrases on their kids than “shut up,” but I still get a little heavy hearted when I think of how hurt they were, because for our family, it was a verbal grenade.

A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up. Proverbs 15:1

Friday, August 12, 2011

I got a cavity

Back when my pearly whites
 were pearly white.
It has been about twenty two years since my last cavity.  I remember my brother, who came through his appointment with a clean slate, laughing at the irony.  By his own admission, I brushed my teeth ten times as much as he did, but I still was the one to get the cavity.  Now, here I am, with my luck run out again.

Maybe it was the pregnancy cravings – too much sweet tea and cheddar chex-mix?  Maybe it was the bleary-eyed days when I couldn’t remember if I’d brushed or not?  Maybe it was hormones that weakened my enamel?  Or maybe I was just due.  Whatever it was, I’m scheduled to go back for a drill-n-fill in a couple weeks and I’m not thrilled about it.

The long decades without a cavity had me thinking I might make it into old age with my teeth intact.  I’ve heard that a healthy smile can make you look as much as ten years younger, and that dentures make it hard to enjoy kiwi.  Both are good motivators toward attentive brushing.  But maybe it’s the vanity that’s my problem.  Did I focus too much on keeping my front teeth polished and neglected my molars?

Now I have these paranoid images in my mind of premature tooth loss.  If one tooth could fall prey, maybe there are others that might go down like dominoes.  What do dental implants cost, because I can just see myself, seducing my husband with a coy smile, only to slip my teeth into a jar by the bed before climbing in.  Even if I stay on my current rate of tooth decay, I’m ruining one tooth every other decade…when you multiply that by the inevitable depreciation of basic use, my lifelong nighttime grinding, and the occasional loose filling or accidental chip, I could be completely toothless by the time I’m 80!  What then?  I don’t want to be scaring the grandkids away with my rotten, toothless smile!

Maybe I should start flossing.  Maybe I should brush more.  Maybe I should give up sugar.  Why can’t we be like sharks and have another tooth standing at the ready?

Your teeth are whiter than sheep freshly washed; they match perfectly, not one is missing. Song of Solomon 6:6