"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Diving into Fear or Faith?

Maddie’s feet, frozen to the diving board, would not budge. Shoulders hunched and arms tense, fear fixed her body in one place, immovable. Teammates yelled encouragement, “You can do it, Maddie. You got this!” Their words couldn’t penetrate through the fear gripping her like a vise. She attempted to move her feet, walking two steps forward and then reversed, changing her mind. What if...?
Minutes earlier Maddie attempted her first reverse dive without the belt and cables attached. She ran off the board, kicked her feet into the air, hurling herself backward into the reverse position only to slam her back on top of the water. The sound reverberated through the building as I spontaneously groaned. The lifeguard looked up at me, the groaner from the bleachers. Body jutting forward in anticipation, I held my breath waiting for Maddie to climb out of the water. Holding back tears, she stood before her coach while he asked if she was okay. Maddie grimly nodded without speaking, tears threatening to break loose. She determined to be brave even though her back throbbed in pain. Coach Will directed her back to the diving board to reattempt the dive. Slowly, glumly, she padded her feet forward, letting the other divers cut in front of her several times before the coach caught on.
“Ok, Maddie. You have to go. You can do this.”
We waited. And waited. And waited. One teammate pulled her aside and gave her a pep talk. The coach hooked her up to the cable again for a quick security dive. After removing the cable, she mounted the board, stared at the water and then at the sky where her feet were supposed to kick. Instead of performing the dive, she straight jumped into the water from the board. Another distraction. Minutes passed of standing on the diving board, staring at the water and sky again, willing her legs kicking high into the air, hands and face into the water and not her back on top of it! Minutes ticked into an hour.  Practice was an hour over, yet Maddie’s teammates hung around to offer words of encouragement. Still, no dive. Fear wrapped around her mind like a boa constrictor, and it wouldn’t let go. Finally, the coach released Maddie from repeating the dive until the next practice when she’d face that board, that dive and that fear again.
The coach desperately desired that Maddie nail that dive successfully before she left practice. He didn’t want her to wait so she could stew and fret and worry. He knew that if Maddie went home having performed her reverse dive, her confidence would build instead of her fear. Instead, her fears still loom like monsters in the dark until the next practice.
Fear is defined as a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined. Maddie told me later that her mind told her to take that dive, but her body wouldn’t move. The threat of her 60 pound body smacking the water chained her to the board like a prisoner.  What will break that chain of fear holding her fast?
Fear can be healthy when it cautions to be careful around a dangerous situation. We teach our children to fear walking in front of cars on a busy street. Be careful and always look both ways, we tell them. When we encounter an animal, we maintain distance until we know it’s safe. Many of us won’t venture into a dangerous part of a big city by ourselves after dark. Fear causes us to take extra precautions when we travel to a foreign country. Fear can keep us alive!
On the other hand, fear has the power to keep us from experiencing all that God has for us. We don’t fly in airplanes because they might crash. We don’t let our children out of our control because something bad might happen. We shy away from deepening friendships because we might get hurt. Our fears range from the seemingly reasonable to the extremely irrational.  We are each uniquely created. Both our environments and our personalities play roles in our fears. Some of us were born with a predisposition for certain fears and others developed fears at a young age due to circumstances. Some fears grew out of painful situations, and others seem silly. No matter what our fears may be, we need to determine whether they are keeping us stuck in a holding pattern like an airplane that must keep circling the sky before it can land. What might we experience if we replace that fear with faith? What are we missing because we are too scared, like Maddie glued to the diving board?
God may or may not magically take away our fears. He desires us to work through them, replacing fear with faith. Every “what if” that deters us from experiencing all that God has planned for us, we ought to take captive. We need to keep taking steps of faith down the diving board, flinging our feet up into the air, relying on Him to catch us as we soar through the air. Then, we can enjoy the splash of hands and face, not back, diving deep into the life-giving water that fuels our faith instead of our fear.
What fear do you need to entrust to God? 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Gift of Gratitude

“Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted—a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” Rabbi Harold Kushner
Tangible things I so easily take for granted:
1.       Love of husband
2.       Time with my three precious children
3.       Loving parents who are still married (50 years)
4.       Warm home
5.       “Clean” water
6.       Three cars
7.       Shelves of books to read
8.       Electricity
9.       Three meals a day
10.   Close friendships
Far more importantly are those items that God has blessed me with which have affected my life for eternity. Ephesians lists many of these:
 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-14)
Spiritual blessings:
1.       Adoption
2.       Forgiveness
3.       Lavish grace
4.       Holy
5.       Blameless
6.       Wisdom
7.       Understanding
8.       Mystery of His will
9.       Chosen
10.   Hope in Christ
11.   Inheritance
12.   Word of truth (gospel)
13.   Holy Spirit
14.   God’s possession
Ann Voscamp, in her book 1000 Gifts, states “A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ.” When I meditate on all the God has done for me through his son, Jesus, how can I not be grateful? Shouldn’t that attitude of gratitude spill out everywhere I go—in the car, at the grocery store, in my conversation, in my family?
But, what about the hard things? How can we see God’s blessings in the heart-breaking events of our lives? In divorce and betrayal? In cancer? In death? In physical suffering? How do we give God thanks in the midst of trials and troubles?
1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” No matter what I am facing, I can give thanks right smack dab “in” the middle of it. I thank Him for His faithfulness to walk me through the pain. I thank Him for comforting me in my sorrow. I thank Him for leading me through the darkness. I thank Him for healing my broken heart. I focus and fix my eyes on the One who endured the pain of nails piercing His body for me and suffered shame on my behalf. I realize He too has experienced betrayal, physical suffering and death. In this imperfect life, how can I accept pleasure and not expect pain; love and not betrayal; life and not death? And yet, God promises to be with me, present beside me, walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks right before he was nailed to a cross for my sin. How can I be ungrateful at any point in my life?
“Father, help me to see everything in my life through the lens of gratitude. I want to remember that you have blessed me with every spiritual blessing in Christ so that I can be the love of Christ to those around me. When trials come, allow me to see your faithfulness. You promise to never leave me no matter what I am going through. When life is sweet, recall to my mind the good gifts you have given me that I so easily take for granted.  May a heart of gratitude spill out of me to everyone I meet.”

“The unthankful heart…discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!” – Henry Ward Beecher

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How Blonde Are You?

I’m beginning to believe that everyone may have a tiny bit of blonde underneath their red, black or brunette strands. Family and friends teased me for years about my blondeness even when my hair color resembled that of dirty dishwater. When I was a teen, boys stood on either side of my head to talk claiming the wind blew right through my ears. The number of jokes I didn’t understand were as numerous as the sand on the beach. And sometimes, I clearly don’t think before I speak. A few days ago, I asked my 17-year old about the 30-hour famine youth event she would be attending.
“So, will you be fasting for 24 hours?” I asked.
Smirking, she said, “Mom, it’s a 30-hour famine!
I’m grateful for the opportunity to give my family and friends stress relief at my expense. Even today, friends laugh when I tilt my head slightly to the left saying, “Huh?!” Yes, I have this disease, but it’s not simply because I shell out big bucks to be blond.
Many claim this dumb blonde myth circled the globe since ancient times, but it culminated with Marilyn Monroe who paid to dye her brunette locks to blonde when she played in the movie, “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” Hair color commercials seized the opportunity to promote the idea that blondes have more fun.  Brunettes were seen as serious and intelligent, while blondes were depicted as fun-loving and superficial. The movie industry continues to sell this dumb blonde myth in movies such as “Legally Blonde 1 and 2.” A story about a dumb brunette would bomb at the box office.
While I have endured abuses all my life because of my mental incapacity to “get things” (it must be the bleach seeping into my scalp), I have managed to overcome these trials by taking advantage of the opportunities to laugh at others’ blonde mishaps. Even though my hubby is a natural brunette with about three gray hairs sprinkled in, I howled when he unwittingly taped the movie “Braveheart” in Spanish. A few months before that, he taped a “must see” movie for all of us to watch because of its apparent good ratings. In his confusion over the title, he recorded the wrong movie. As we viewed this movie with our two daughters, our jaws dropped when a man’s pants dropped. We stopped the show and ribbed Tony for scarring us for life! “The Piano” and “The Pianist,” are apparently two very different movies.  
It’s nice to know that no matter the hair color, everyone has their blonde moments.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lessons From the Wilderness

Please check out my latest post on Sanctified Together. Read how God can use the wilderness experiences in our lives to be more like Him!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A London Encounter

Crowded with people scurrying to catch a train, tube or trek into the city, London’s Victoria Station is a hub bub of activity. Suits speeding to their offices, confused travelers with eyes glued to maps (that’s us), shoppers browsing the stores, they are like ants on a mission. When we arrived via London Heathrow Airport, disoriented Americans dragging heavy pieces of luggage through the mob, we couldn’t conceive the God encounter that would transform us the final night of our journey.
Irish sheep-Ring of Kerry

To celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, the four of us spent a week in Ireland with its 40 shades of green, rolling hills dotted with sheep and cows and lovely people with harmonious accents I could listen to for the rest of my days. We traded the calm and serene for crowds and chaos when we transported to London, circling four days in a whirlwind across the city. Hitting the must see sights, we toured St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. A bit consumed with British history and obsessed with kings, queens and castles, I’m slightly disappointed I wasn’t born a royal. Still, the defining moment of this trip brought home to me what is truly valuable. It’s not palaces and princesses, crown jewels or coronations, royalty or robes.

Wall to wall people in London

The night before we were scheduled to fly back home again to Indiana, my dad and mom, Tony and I dined at a restaurant on the third floor of Victoria Station. In honor of our last night in London, Mom ordered the traditional English fish and chips with mashed peas. Mashed peas paired with fish and chips makes as much sense to me as tennis shoes with a black cocktail dress. For me, peas of any sort belong with the tea thrown overboard in Boston Harbor. The rest of us chose to eat more appetizing fare—pizza!  As we were finishing our meal, a British man interrupted our conversation through the booth’s window cutout open to the mall. His clothes were worn and all he carried was a small bag containing a few items. “Excuse me. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but could you spare any change?” he said.
Mom, an extrovert on steroids, responded, “What do you need money for?”
“Ma’am, I’d like to get something sweet.”
Mom asked, “Are you hungry?”
Stunned by a question the stranger has likely never been asked, he paused and then answered. “Why, yes, I am.”
Blasting the bewildered man with questions about what he’d like to order, mom took charge of the situation while the rest of us remained silent watching this interchange.  He settled on the pizza and a coke. Smart to skip the mashed peas, like us. Mom then asked the man if he’d rather eat his food in the restaurant or take it to go.
 “I’ll take it with me, ma’am.”
“Well, why don’t you come in and sit in one of the booths, and we’ll talk to the waitress about your food.”
The homeless man plodded into the restaurant and plopped down into one of the booths. He wore weariness. No sigh escaped his lips, but I could sense it. Tired, hungry and all he asked for was a few pence for something sweet, as if that would satisfy the hunger pains. His head hung low as if some invisible weight were holding it down. Awkward silence reigned at our table. It seemed sacrilegious to continue casual conversation. A man hungered while we feasted—while I spurned mashed peas.  My eyes blurred as I blinked back tears threatening as I watched this worn out creature. And yet, here we sat, part of a divine interaction, our resources covering this man’s need.
After the waitress brought his to-go food, the man slowly rose and plodded back to the window cutout. “I don’t mean to bother you again, but thank you.”
Mom said, “God bless you.” The man replied the same and disappeared into the mall to fill his stomach. 
I confess that had my parents been absent, my response would’ve been different. This homeless man would’ve been an inconvenience on my vacation. Perhaps I might’ve thrown a few pence his way in hopes of hurrying him along.  I doubt I would’ve have offered him food or drink.  And yet, Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…” (Matthew 25:35)  
Too often, I am quick to judge, criticize, and wonder whether my gift to someone in need will be misused. I ignore the prompting to offer what I have because I am too busy sizing up the situation. Is this person worth it? How many opportunities to be God’s hands and feet have I missed because of the huge log in my eye?  I’m like the Pharisees, focusing on the outside of the cup instead of the inside of my heart.  When I am compelled to give, I should act quickly without censure, condemnation or calculation of a person’s need or value. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) What happens to my gift offered with love and grace is not my concern. Ignoring the call to give, however, is not only disobedience but also a missed opportunity to be part of someone’s transformation.
I don’t know the far-reaching effects of this London encounter. Perhaps the meal offered this homeless London man gave him renewed hope that someone cared. Maybe this event witnessed by the waitress sparked an attitude of love and giving. If each told their friends, how might they be changed because of one meal given in Jesus’ name? I only know that I don’t want to remain complacent, stay blinded or become calloused to those in need around me. I ask not only for God to open my eyes but also to instill in me a willingness to give without strings. A meal, a $20 bill, a shirt, a cup of coffee has the power to change a life. After all, a meal in London changed mine!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Horrible Habit

Recently, my husband and I were enjoying lunch at Chili’s with our daughter Maddie. I was wearing my “Gripes Be Gone” bracelet which I created in my “Married to Me” study. These highly sophisticated pieces of elastic string containing three beads symbolize my husband and me with God in the center. Each time I complained, whined or griped, I snapped the bracelet against my wrist, a stinging reminder of my lack of self-control. Our waitress’ chatter was a little over the top. After making a cutting remark to Tony about it, I looked down at my bracelet and snapped it.
Tony asked, “What’s that?” Reluctantly, I explained my lovely new jewelry piece. He laughed knowing the impossibility of this device to take captive my complaints. He asked to borrow my bracelet. Wrapping it around 3 fingers, he stated, “This booth has a really bad odor,” and snapped it. I laughed. Whether Tony was attempting to identify with my dilemma or poke fun, the reality is that a bracelet isn’t capable of delivering me from caustic complaining.
Many of us have developed bad habits that have been deemed acceptable among Christian women. We gripe about our husbands, our children, our jobs and our busyness. We complain about slow service, critique sermons and criticize a person’s clothes or imperfect parenting. Philippians 2:14-15 states, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure…” 
That little word, “everything,” is tripping me up, how about you?! God wants me to use my words to bless, to encourage, to lift up others. James 3:10-11 says, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My (sisters), this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” If we are to be a blessing to others in our homes and our community, we must use our words wisely. We have a choice: we can shut our mouths when we don’t have anything good to say or snap bracelets leaving marks on our wrists and in other’s hearts. Let’s be different than the culture in which we live!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Remembering Summer

During elementary school, teachers frequently assigned a writing topic similar to the title of this post as a first-day-welcome-back-to-school initiation to the class. Apparently, they missed hearing the groaning of their students for no one enjoys writing the first day back in class. My summers as a child weren’t terribly exciting that I recall. Aside from the occasional road trip to California to see relatives, playing outside with my brother and sister and reading 10,000 library books to earn the movie prize at the end-of-the-summer, our lives were fairly uneventful. Still, I wish those ancient papers still existed somewhere in the depths of mom’s storage boxes. My kids might actually get a glimpse of a summer without texting, video games or computer! Perhaps teachers rarely give students this assignment today because they don’t wish to read 30 papers filled with video game escapades, Barbie computer games and the TV tales of Phineas and Ferb.
While my summer papers are long lost in la-la land, I could relate their contents with some accuracy. Road trips with my family consisted of playing the “ABC” game in which we silently collected letters on road signs until we found the letter “z”. The object was to be the first person to yell the final letter. When we grew tired of playing (or were traveling the long stretch of flat freeway between Stockton and Bakersfield with no signs anywhere), mom started “Categories.” I think she created this game when she was fed up with the three of us asking, “Are we there yet” every five minutes. Someone would pick a category, such as “pies,” “outside games,” or “boys’ names that begin with ‘Q’,” and we’d take turns coming up with a word that fit. One was disqualified when a word was repeated or someone was stumped. When bored with a category, we would “accidentally” repeat a word to get thrown out of the game.
Next on the list of things to occupy us was auto bingo or tracking license plates from different states. With no dvd players, dsi’s or cell phones to keep our eyes glued, we stared for hours at farmland with acres of vegetables or fruit trees, pastures with grazing cows and horses and giant snow-capped mountains. Sometimes we asked our parents questions about the scenery because we had nothing else to do, nowhere to escape. GPS and MapQuest were nonexistent, so we used the old-fashioned paper map to follow the towns until we arrived at our destination. I loved to trace my finger along the map as we passed each city and then call out the next town and number of miles. Aside from an atlas we own, I’m not sure my children have ever seen a real live map. I chant, “Whatever happened to the days of map-reading, auto bingo and being bored for hours on end?” I sound just like my grandma, lamenting the good old days of horse and buggy.
When we weren’t road tripping concocting our own entertainment, we’d play “Red Rover, Red Rover,” “Red Light, Green Light” or “Mother, May I” with the neighborhood kids. Wii was you and me playing together making our own fun. We rode our bikes and played on the swing set. And if we tired of that, the library reading program was an option in which we loved to participate. Reading 20 books over the summer entitled us to watch the latest movie at the Venetian Theater. Who didn’t want to watch a free movie with the price of movies at the exorbitant cost of $2.50 per ticket?! With my Flicks candy in hand, I was a happy camper.
While my children are growing up in an entertain me world, fortunately some things are still the same. We plow our way through books in the library reading program and win a free book after we accumulate enough reading points. Bike riding, pool and play dates continue. Still, I lament that video games, texting and online games threaten a family takeover if I don’t regulate its usage. Taking road trips is vastly different as we’ve traded looking-out-the-window scenes for viewing the movie screen although we still enjoy a couple of rounds of the “ABC” game. Wearing ipod earbuds, our children don’t even hear us when we ask them to notice mountains, cows or road kill.
Hope is on the horizon, however. A day will come when these same children will be driving inside yellow and white lines, passing road signs, and noticing cantering horses in wide grassy fields, dvd watching a distant memory. They will combat with the latest technical gadget, begging their little ones to look up and see the beauty around them.  Some new fangled gizmo will menace their family togetherness. I can hear the cry for the good old days.  “Ah, whatever happened to ipads, ipods and iphones?”

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Nearly Perfect Man

I can’t recall when he first coined me “Blondie,” but it’s stuck for the past forty something years—only now, I pay for the blonde to hide the gray lurking beneath. This man who oozes love, gentleness and acceptance is nearly perfect in my estimation. The faded shirt on the fence for incalculable years unfortunately hinders his ability to win Perfect Father of the Century--and maybe the doorless kitchen cupboards.
Always humble, honest, hardworking, Dad centered his life on family from day one, a miracle as great as God parting the Red Sea. Losing both of his parents by the age of 10, Dad shuffled to various relatives until his teens when he finally landed with his oldest newly married brother. In spite of so much tragedy and transition, he graduated high school, married his high school sweetheart and successfully raised three children in three states. Perhaps his days of bouncing to aunts and cousins sealed his nomadic tendency to wander. Although we resided fourteen years in one city, we transferred homes five times.  At least his transient itch never extended into marriage for he recently celebrated fifty years to the same woman. Many men, raised in more ideal situations complete with two Godly parents, possessions and a pet, don’t fare as well as my dad. How does an orphaned boy parent three kids with no role model to speak of? What’s the secret to my dad’s success as a father?
Most men learn to parent from their fathers whether positive or negative. However, my dad has little memory of his father, yet he doesn’t appear to have suffered from his lack of parental influence. From my perspective, a poor father can be more detrimental to a son’s future parenting than a father absent through death. Then again, my dad may be one of those extraordinary fathers who rose from adverse circumstances to become a stellar example.
Dad invested in his kids. I’m not just referring to handing us a few bucks now and then although he did that too. He was not only present, he was involved. A participating parent, he cuddled with us, changed our diapers and corrected us. While he never spanked us, he occasionally would admonish us if we disrespected mom.
“If you do that again, you will find out what will happen,” he’d warn.
We never wanted to find out exactly what he meant, so we stopped.
He coached our teams, cheered our games and came to our band and choir concerts. He knew our friends and our dates. We attended church together on Sundays and every other time the doors were open. He volunteered as a youth worker to keep track of us. During tough times, he encouraged us and was our biggest fan (alongside mom).  For a few years, my dad traveled quite a bit with his job. One Mother’s Day dad had just returned from travel, and we dined at a Chinese Restaurant. When the waiter seated us, the three of us yelled in unison, “I want to sit by dad!” To this day, we occasionally joke about who gets to sit by dad, much to mom’s chagrin.
The experts say the best thing a dad can do is love his kids’ mom. It’s true. Not only did we see dad’s love through his actions, he voiced his love out loud—in front of us, causing us to grimace. Some dads are stoic and barely show affection to their wives in the presence of their children. For their kids’ sake, they need to demonstrate love for their wives in behavior and words. Kids feel more secure. We did. Even though my parents bickered, because of their outward show of affection, we knew their love was strong. My dad defended my mom and was devoted to her. Many times, we attempted to pit one parent against the other until they figured out our game. We’d ask dad first because he most always said yes to whatever we asked. Somewhere along the way, they conversed and clamped down. From then on, dad backed whatever mom said. Bummer.
Unconditional love, especially for his family, characterizes my dad. Many of us tend to treat others with more kindness than our own families. My dad is an exception to this. He always had less tolerance for others outside the family.  While the three of us are as imperfect as hot chocolate without marshmallows, I’m certain he believes we are nearly perfect. He overlooks our faults as the Good Book advocates. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
Many men are duty-driven, churchgoers; not my dad. His most important success as a father, by a mile, is his Godly example. When I was about two, Jesus transformed his life. He’s never been much of a Bible-thumping, preachy person; he just lived it. Kids can spot a fake a mile away. When dads act all spiritual on Sunday, but the rest of the week cut people off on the road, use the tall finger and treat people they work with rudely, their kids desire to follow Christ as much as toddlers like to nap.  Fathers don’t have to follow Christ perfectly; they just need to follow Him truthfully.
My dad stumbled, slipped, staggered. But, he also scaled, surmounted and soared. Just like all of us. He’s transparent and truthful. He doesn’t excuse; he owns up. He’s someone people can talk to and be real with. Never Pecksniffian, he exemplifies the attitude of the woman that pours her expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet at the pious Pharisee’s home.  When Simon rebukes her actions, Jesus tells him a story about two men who owe different amounts of money to a lender, one more and one less. The moneylender forgives the amounts they owe and Jesus asks who loves the lender more. Simon replies that the one whose debt is greater loves him more. After some explanation, Jesus finally says, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:36-50) My dad loves much because he realizes how much grace he’s been given. During any given Sunday sermon, tears slip quietly down his face as his fingers gently brush them away. He’s not afraid to show his emotion as he recalls all that God has done in his life.
Recently, I was conversing with my sister-in-law who shared with me a poem that her daughter, Taylor, wrote about her daddy. I listened to her read a beautiful metaphorical tribute to this man, my brother, as my eyes dripped like a leaky faucet thinking about my father. My brother, fathering his own three children, resembles his father in all the ways that count. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My orphan father raised a son just like him.  
My Daddy
 by Taylor Weston

He is like a tree,
standing tall and strong.
He has been there,
as long as I’ve known,
and I know he always will be.
With his roots in the ground,
and his branches held high,
he shows me what is right.
Always patient, always calm,
he teaches me respect.
With the wind, the rain, the sun,
he continues to stand firm.
I learn from him what it is to be free,
to stay true to my beliefs,
yet still respectful and kind.
His arms spread wide,
like branches are,
for warm embraces
whenever there is the need.
And I know he loves me.
While I can’t claim authorship of this appropriately penned poem, I can adopt its words as a tribute to my own father, who at almost 70, has been an immovable tree in my own life. Over the years, I have watched my dad grow as a leader, a teacher and a mentor. His life is an exemplary act to follow. Recently, I heard a man approximately my father’s age say about him, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.” Me too!

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Completely Fluffy Tail (Tale)

“A dog owns nothing yet is seldom dissatisfied.” Irish Proverb

I’d like to tag onto the above referenced proverb with one of my own: A dog does nothing and is completely content. Almost every morning when I let Bella, the Wheaten Terrier, out of her crate, she stretches her front legs then back legs, yawns and scurries to me, tail wagging. A couple of strokes later, she jumps over the back of the couch, circles three times and positions herself near soft pillows. A full night of sleep and she’s all ready for her early morning nap. Gazing at her curled up, I wish I could join her in her sweet repose. Must be nice to not feel a sense of urgency to do anything all day.
In stark contrast, my morning is brimming with all manner of doing--awaking contrary kids for school, getting Crunch Berries and chocolate milk, bagging lunches, prodding said kids again. Rushing, hurrying, always doing. Miss Daydreamer finally sleepwalks into the kitchen.
“Maddie, you have 8 minutes to eat your cereal. When the timer goes off, get your teeth brushed and hair combed so you can practice your piano for 30 minutes.”
Yes, I set a timer for the girl that tends to dilly dally and daydream, the girl who hasn’t perfected the art of time management, like me. In the meantime, Bella snoozes contentedly, on her back with her form fully extended and legs stretched. Jealous, I check on laundry then head to the powder room for a little freshening up. The timer beeps, but I’m convinced Maddie doesn’t zoom off her stool just yet. Ten minutes pass, and I don’t hear the pounding of the piano. Another typical day. Sigh. Time for nagging and nudging.
“Maddie, you need to be playing the piano now!” I yell from my bathroom.
“I know,” she responds. Alas, she always knows. Why doesn’t she do? Bella’s the only one that can get away with sprawling and doing nothing. Ten to one Maddie is still in the bathroom primping. As I venture toward her bathroom, she emerges, hair pony-tailed, lips glossed and hands lotioned.
Setting the timer for piano practice, I say, “You only have 20 minutes now since you took so long in the bathroom.”
Maddie bangs piano keys, stumbling through scales and a song. While wasting several minutes making up melodies, the bell beeps and we bee-line for the bus. I breathe relief as I reenter the house noticing Bella lying on the couch, serene except for exuberant wagging. She jumps down, following me into the kitchen while I grab water bottles in preparation for the merciless cardio machine. A girl of routine, Bella recalls my schedule, soars over the back of the sofa, snuggling once again on top of fluffiness. When I return from doing, she will be napping in the same place, body elongated, tail wagging wildly.

Ahhh, the sweet bliss of simply being, content to do nothing but twitching tail.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mr. Fix-It Man

The shirt draped over the fence for months, its color fading in the sunlight. As summer turned to fall, rain saturated the nondescript hue. Seasons changed, and the garment stuck like glue to the wood. After a year passed, the jokes began. “Hey dad, how long is your shirt going to stay on the fence?” Dad smirked along with us but didn’t remove the shirt. Through our kitchen window, we watched the fence begin to bend backwards like a person doing the limbo. It leaned until it broke, the shirt falling with it.
We reminisce about those days when my siblings and I reunite, remembering kitchen cupboards with no doors because dad was repainting them—for months! When we put our house on the market, it sold with doorless cabinets displaying pots and pans, Tupperware, and canned goods. We had nothing to hide. When Dad showed the house, he liked to pontificate his future plans for renovation. “Yeah, if we lived here much longer, I was gonna knock out this wall and extend this room.” The first time we had heard of such plans, we looked at each other with raised eyebrows and question marks, stifling giggles.
It’s not that Dad wasn’t a Mr. Fix-It Man; he was just too busy to complete the projects he began. Holding down a full-time job and being a full-time parent to three children kept him too pooped to even pick his shirt off the leaning fence. Taking kitchen doors off the cabinets took a fraction of the time it required to paint and put them back on. Consequently, projects remained unfinished.
I guess he was just too busy being a dad, coaching our basketball teams, attending our band and choir concerts, watching t-ball, volleyball and softball games, participating in daddy-daughter events and making pinewood derby cars with his son.  Dad was the resident math homework expert and specialized in story problems which were my weak subject. He quickly became impatient with my confusion and almost shouted the problem. He seemed to think that the louder he read it, the more likely my brain would compute it.  This rarely, if ever, worked.
Thirty years later, some things don’t change. My mom tells me that for almost a year, a cabinet door has been awaiting proper placement.  Eventually, Dad will attach it, but it’ll be in his own timing. I married a guy just like that.  He’s a fix-it-guy just like my dad, but he’s primarily a provider and a participating parent. 
Several months ago, the canned lights in our bookshelf burn out. Hubby drives immediately to Lowe’s to purchase the products he needs to fix them. However, he soon determines that he needs something different to repair the lights which requires another trip to Lowe’s. The box of lights sit on the shelves for a month, then two, then three. I ask about the lights. “Hey, when do you think you’re going to fix those?” He doesn’t have time right then. I move the eye sore behind closed doors. Every so often, I ask about the lights—nicely, of course. He moves them back in his line of sight to remind him of a project still unfinished.
Other things seem to claim his attention: choir concerts, gymnastics meets, school carnivals, National Honor Society inductions, piano recitals, game nights with family. Meanwhile, the package sits, longing for the attention he’s giving to everyone else.
After months of no progress with the lights, I jokingly ask, “How long do you think those are going to sit there? I’m kind of tired of them sitting on that shelf.” I don’t understand why he doesn’t appreciate my comment. More days go by until one weekday evening, at 9:30 pm to be exact, hubby heads to the garage returning with the ladder. He sets it up and fiddles with some cords on top of the bookshelf, casually commenting on the exorbitant amount of dust accruing there.
 “Hey, maybe while this ladder’s up, you could dust up here.” Ahhh, hubby enjoys adding to my list as I do his!
I ask, “Why are you working on this project NOW? It’s 9:30!”  He climbs down and states he’s going to bed. I follow. The next morning, I notice the ladder is still set up in the middle of the living room.
When hubby awakes that morning and enters the bathroom, I smile mischievously. “So, how long do you think the ladder is going to stay in the living room? Until the lights are fixed?!” Two long work days later, he folds the ladder up and sets it against the wall. Judging by past history, I believe it’s going to be there for awhile…  
If the worst fault these men in my life have is failing to finish projects around the house, we’ll cite them for a few counts of procrastination and let them off for spending time with their active children.  After all, relationships are built over days, months and years and can last forever. And the fence, the cabinets and the lights? Well, those can be repaired any old time. “Lord, just give me a little more patience in the meantime…”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Just a Little Bit of Magic, Please?

When my sister and I were in elementary school, we believed we had magical powers. One day while plodding down our street during a drizzly Oregon rain, we chanted the words, “Rain, rain, go away; come again some other day. We want to play.” Magically, the rain stopped, and we knew we had power. Desiring to use our newfound magic to good use, we ran upstairs to our shared bedroom and began pillaging through Barbie dresses. We each chose a beautiful dress, placed them on our bed and cast a spell to enlarge them to our sizes. Nothing happened, so we determined we must have to leave the room and reappear at a later time. Sadly, when we reentered the room, those Barbie-size dresses had not grown one inch. Our hopes were dashed.
Haven’t we all wished for wonder working power at some point? Hoping for life size Barbie dresses pales in comparison to being rescued from a crisis or a stinky season in my life. Wouldn’t it be nice if stores carried a magic potion that transported us to life without heartache and trouble? Life rarely happens exactly as we’ve planned it. Even our days are often replete with unplanned events. Just this morning lunch with a friend was moved back an hour and another appointment was cancelled. While this isn’t a catastrophe, many times life’s occurrences are. Tragedies can sideswipe us in the blink of an eye, a moment’s notice.
                These Plan B’s as Pete Wilson calls them in his book titled Plan B, can either happen to us because of someone else’s choices or occur because of our own poor choices. Regardless of the reason, we must decide how we are going to react. Are we going to allow this situation to make us bitter or better? Most likely, these crises have the potential to bring us closer to Jesus, if we allow Him to transform us. The question is, will we let Him have access to our hearts?
                Thinking we’ll travel through life with smooth sailing, following our to-do lists, is as likely as a year without rain in Seattle. I graduated with an English degree, planning to teach secondary students for the rest of my life. I taught for a few years and have been swabbing kitchen floors and doing laundry ever since. I never imagined I’d live anywhere else but the northwest side of the country. What am I doing in Indiana, where Hoosier Hysteria reigns, in a town I never even knew existed before 10 years ago? My plan also didn’t include getting divorced and being a single parent to two small children.
                Many of us dream about a life of ease, with financial comforts, happy marriages and well-behaved kids.  We work hard to fulfill our dreams, our plans, our desires, yet oftentimes neglect to commit those plans to God. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” I like to plan my course; I just occasionally forget about God in doing so. I assume that God wants what I want for me. Yet, over the years, I’ve learned that He cares more about my character than my comfort.
                It seems like God has allowed me to experience a lot of those character-building field trips. Going through a heart-wrenching divorce was the biggest by a mile. My plan was to stay married forever; divorce was never an option. But, unexpected circumstances caused such calamity that what I thought I’d never consider became a topic of conversation and then a reality. My dream shattered, my heart broken, tears flowing, I clung with dear life to my Savior, my Rescuer, my Protector. Psalm 126:5-6 says, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” I sowed a lot of seed during that period of time that reaped a harvest of joy years later.
                Satan sought to destroy, derail and distract me with this tragedy, but God planned beauty, blessing and a bright future. I chose to believe in His goodness for me. There isn’t anything that happens to me that He doesn’t know about. A friend of mine once said, “It’s comforting to know that God knows my story. And, whether He allows something to happen or causes it, He will be with me. He must know I can handle it.”
                 Eventually, God restored my dreams of marriage to a godly man who had also been broken by divorce.  How grateful I am that my God can take our plan B’s and bring beauty from the ashes, healing from the heartache, deliverance from destruction.
                “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23           

Monday, May 2, 2011

Welcome Summer!

My latest article on Sanctified Together is posted! I hope you enjoy reading my article as well as all the other fabulous writing about summer...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Wedding

For years the petite brown-eyed girl lit up as soon as her daddy walked in the door from the long day at the office. “Are you ready to get married, daddy?” she asked. She’d been waiting all day for this exact moment…Cinderella awaiting her handsome prince to arrive in his white carriage to rescue her. Donned in Cinderella dress-up and daddy in his fine suit, they proceeded with the ceremony with daddy holding two roles, minister and groom. As soon as daddy pronounced them man and wife, Cinderella ran to me announcing that she was now married to my husband.
I recall one particular day in which the princess Maddie announced, “Mommy, I’m afraid I’m in love with your husband.” Of course, I knew that. After all, she had been marrying my husband every single day for weeks! At some point, I don’t recall when, the wedding song, dress-up and man and wife pronouncement stopped. Life is like that, isn’t it? It hums along in the same routine until one day, a person is jarred with the stunning reality that life has changed in some form or fashion. Whether Maddie realizes she can’t marry her daddy because he is already spoken for, or she becomes gripped with how old that man actually is doesn’t really matter. The little princess has grown up and is currently looking for a younger more hip handsome prince.
While Maddie has set her sights on a different goal, she remains a princess at heart. At the risk of being stereotypical, I would imagine that every girl has longed to be a princess. As a young girl, I was fascinated with the royal family in England. I wondered what it would be like to live in the palace, have ladies-in-waiting, wear beautiful dresses and be married to the king. Well, maybe not Henry VIII who threw a few too many of his wives into the Tower of London. As an adult, I’ve read a plethora of historical fiction about the royal family. I can’t quite explain my obsession except that deep in my heart, I’m a princess wannabe. Offer me a book about Brazilian, Greek or Swedish history, and I will cast it aside as easily as a plateful of green peas. But, great reads about Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon or Elizabeth I—I’ll soak up like a day in the sun by the pool.
I don’t believe I’m the only woman on the planet entranced by English royalty. Just look at the magazines at the local grocery. Even the media is encapsulated by the upcoming royal wedding. Newscasters are holding interviews with notables regarding an event with which the entire world is enraptured. Prince William has chosen his princess, Kate. My curious mind wonders if she ever dreamed that she’d be in THE royal family. Probably not in a million years. I ponder if she ever pinches herself thinking she’ll wake up from this reverie to discover herself transported back to regular life without palaces and paparazzi, crown jewels and coronations. Her world has forever changed. Maybe she’ll regret being elevated from an average commoner to a royal princess. After all, she’s trading in a life of anonymity for a life of publicity. Her life is no longer her own. She’ll always be watched and followed. Media will criticize her conversations, clothes and companions. The responsibilities and obligations of royal life have the capability of dampening the thrill of playing the part of the princess. Still, I might trade in regular life for no more vacuuming, toilet cleaning, laundry or cooking.  Surely a princess can’t be seen participating in household duties!
In just a few hours, Kate Middleton will be Princess Kate, and the entire world will be watching the big event. Someday, I might even get to see her as a reigning royal with her hubby—IF I outlive Elizabeth and her son! Yet, as fascinating as English royalty is to me, their reign on this earth is temporary.  In contrast, God’s reign knows no end; no one can oust Him from His throne nor will He ever die. In addition, because God’s word tells me that I am His child, I am as much a princess as anyone on an earthly throne.  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1a) Because I am royalty, I am his heir. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:16-17)
I don’t reside in a luxurious palace containing hallways lined with magnificent paintings, ballrooms brimming with beauty and grandeur, or pristine gardens manicured to perfection. The only people at my beck and call are my hubby and kids; no butler in service here. Come to think of it, my kitchen crew is pretty puny as well. It’s quite all right, though, because I have a palatial abode being prepared for me, and it’s not temporary—it’s permanent! So, Princess Kate can move into Buckingham or Kensington, and I will be ecstatic. It’s a real-life fairy tale come true. Every little girl’s dream—or at least mine!
And guess what? My King, God, through His son Jesus, paid the price for my own rags to riches, commoner to co-heir, pauper to princess story…for all eternity!