Saturday, February 11, 2017

Romancin' (It's not what you think...)

My wanna-be romantic husband decided one evening that he'd like to read some poetry to me. You know, like guys occasionally do in the movies when they're trying to impress a lady. Problem is...we didn't seem to have any romantically inclined poetry books in the house.

I did find a dusty old copy of James Whitcomb Riley's "Farm Rhymes." You guessed it. Not a romantic, wooing poem to be found within its pages...but we enjoyed it anyway.

The one promising poem, entitled "Romancin'", turned out to be my favorite, although it had nothing to do with a boy romancing a girl.

A sixty year old man, apparently raised in the backwoods or the hills judging by his vernacular, reflects on his life:
"You git my idy, do you? - LITTLE tads, you understand -
Jest a-wishin' thue and thue you that you on'y wuz a MAN. -
Yit here I am, this minit, even sixty, to a day,
And fergittin' all that's in it, wishm' jest the other way!"

As we struggled to read through all thirteen stanzas (yes, I am from Missouri, but I jest neva use words akin to musin' and medder.)

The lines that grabbed me were these:
"Tho' I still kin see the trouble o' the PRESUNT, I kin see -
Kindo' like my sight wuz double-all the things that UST to be;"

Such a wonderful way to explain this unique view of life I've now obtained in middle-age. Forget the typical mid-life troubles of near or far sightedness. What's truly going on is this: I'm double-sighted.

Yes, I'm seeing today. 2017 is here, clear and sharply focused. I'm in my fifties and the parent of adult children. I'm even a grandmother! Yet my past is there, in plain sight almost daily. Rooms empty, yet I still see them full of giggles and youthful energy. A creek gurgles, void of visible life, but my mind's eye sees little feet splashing in delight. Wildflowers adorn the forest floor, undisturbed. Yet I see small hands gathering bouquets, enough to fill a dozen vases. Books on shelves, closed and dusty - yet I picture eager fingers turning pages as wondering eyes soak up the adventures found within.

No, I'm not living in the past; wishing for days gone by. I'm enjoying the present and attempting to live each day to the fullest, enjoying who, what, and where God has brought me to at this stage, and age. 

Yet the past is always beckoning, right there in plain sight. Romancin' me and making me realize that this life is a mixed up, lovely jumble of so many events, places, and people that have entangled together to make my life what it is today. 

So pardon me on occasion if my gaze wanders. Know that I'm simply pondering this amazing view.
"...I climb the fence, and set
Jest a-thinkin' here, i gravy' tel my eyes is wringin'-wet!"

Friday, June 10, 2016

These Shoes Were Made for Reassurance

God moves in mysterious ways. A bit of a cliche, but a fact that I recognize more and more as I advance along through this thing called life.

Those throat-tightening moments when someone you love walks away, receives a dreaded diagnosis or is involved in a life-altering accident. You pray. Beg God to move, to restore, to heal. PLEAD. Cry tears of desperation. Pray more and more...and yet God doesn’t seem to budge. At least, not in the way you want Him to.

Then there are other times; times when a teeny-tiny detail thing happens. Something so minute and unimportant that you don’t even think to pray about it. Like a pair of shoes.

She wanted a pair of sneakers. Yet their use for traipsing around the inner city of San Francisco, loving on homeless people, didn’t seem to justify the extravagance of spending money on a new pair. When a sibling invited her to come along to some neighborhood garage sales one morning, she went, on the slim chance that she might find a pair of sneakers she liked.

Not only did she find them. They were at the very first garage sale. Just her size. In one of her favorite colors. The previous owner had already christened them, who knows how many years before, with these words from a worship song written on the side of the sole:

“I wanna be your hands, I wanna be your feet. I’ll go where you send me!”

And all of that for the bargain price of one buck.

Wow. When God moves - He really does it up right. Yet I can’t help wondering why. Why remain quiet and unmoving at times - times when we’re desperately looking for Him to move? Other times when we least expect it, BOOM, He shows up. I’ll never figure it out.

That’s what makes God...God. His ways higher than our ways and all that stuff. I just have to keep trusting that in those lowest moments, when it FEELS like He’s not budging an inch to help out...He has a different plan that I don’t understand. 

Therefore, what is there to do but press on? Expecting that eventually He'll show up with showers of blessings...or shoes, as the case may be.

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Hosea 6:1-3

Monday, January 11, 2016

2016 - Living and Learning

Wasn't this just yesterday?
As always, a new year causes reflection. If truth be told, this mid-life thing brings about reflection almost weekly. Sometimes daily. The older I get, I find myself finally "getting" it. Grasping realities that at a younger age, I chose not to think about or didn't understand. Realities incomprehensible until experienced. Realities so universal that some have become cliches, mantras or even forms of religion. For instance:

  • Time flies when you're having fun. Actually - it just flies. Perhaps a bit faster when fun is involved. I've now passed the 50 year mark. That means, in a best case scenario, my life is half over. Worst case, as Miracle Max put it, I might be "mostly dead." Yet this is where people sometimes forget the obvious. I. am. not. dead. yet! A blunt reality that I remind myself of when I'm feeling troubled by new wrinkles and sags, children growing up and leaving home, and life passing by too quickly. All of it is simply a reminder that I am still here, so why not make the most of it? 
  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Yes it is - and that's okay, because grass is an "on the surface" commodity. Just under that green surface is soil - dirty, grimy, decaying filth. The longer I live, the more I'm reminded that NO one's life is perfect, no matter how manicured and green it may look. Scratch the surface and most people have struggles and problems that would cause us to plant our feet firmly on our own side of the fence. That reality slapped me in the face several weeks ago, while attending a holiday party. This family's home was a life-size dollhouse! Lovely, historical and tastefully furnished with beautiful antiques. Their children were well-mannered, adorable and very social. The kitchen was incredible - spacious and perfectly set up for entertaining. On and on I could go...I found myself comparing and feeling woefully parched on my side of the fence. And then someone asked about a framed print of a young girl - not one of the happy children present in the home. The father matter-of-factly stated that she was his little girl from his first marriage...who died in an accident when she was seven years old...a week before her mother died of cancer. And then a few years later, his second wife died of cancer. OUCH. Can I just stay right over here on my side of the fence and hang my head in shame for those brief feelings of green envy?
  • Life is this incredible blending of good and bad. No, this isn't a cliche, but definitely a theme that people have turned into a belief system. It's the old black and white "yin yang" symbol; or the theme of a new TV series like "Shades of Blue," where cops aren't BAD, but they're not really GOOD, either. Apparently a mixture of good and bad creates balance and makes everything whole and complete. No - I don't buy into that religion, but life keeps teaching me that good things and bad things do work together to make us who we are. I can shake my fists at God or others when "bad" occurs, allowing anger and bitterness to control my life...or I can mourn the loss, learn and move on. Never forgetting, but perhaps forgiving and relishing a bit more freely as I move forward. Let that "badness" create a wiser person. I absolutely love the Disney Pixar movie that came out in June of 2015, Inside Out. Such a profound illustration of how sadness is bound to happen...but through it some of life's deepest joys can be found. Ironically, the same month that Inside Out hit theaters, our family experienced a birth and a death within two weeks time. The sadness was heart-breaking; saying the final good-bye and giving that last hug tore me to pieces. Yet two weeks later...I found myself meeting my very first grandchild! Words aren't adequate to describe the mixture and swell of emotions. Suffice it to say, there was a richness to it that would not have been there without past sorrows and loss. I know I cherished the moment more fully, feeling deep within my being that life is indeed precious and fragile. A gift to be treasured.  
  • It's not about me. Wise words, extremely true...yet after all these years I STILL have to remind myself of it almost daily. "Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves." --Philippians 2:3  
That's my pep talk to myself for another year. Sadness, envy, selfishness and fears can just loosen their grip as I try to stroll my way into 2016 with a bit more radiance.
"I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed." --Psalm 34:4-5 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Celebrating a Life - Jennifer Cox

When my husband, Nate, was asked to do a portion of our sister-in-law's funeral service, his biggest concern was that he wouldn't be able to sufficiently honor her. How, with mere words, can you pay tribute to such a life? He wanted to get it right - very right - and thus he actually typed out the majority of the message beforehand. (If you know him - you know that's rare.) I wanted to keep it for future reference, as many agreed that he did indeed get it right:

June 20, 2015
Psalm 23 - A shepherd who gave us a place of rest.

We are here to celebrate the memory of Jennifer Lea Riley Cox. How do we honor a life so well lived? How do we remember her in a way that will make us better and not bitter? 

People have often reflected in these days how Jennifer did not let cancer beat her. She beat cancer...she won. Now that may or may not be your perspective. It all depends on how you score the match. How do you define a winner? In a world of fallen heroes - a perfect champion meets what objectives in your mind? What does it take to make a real star in the ring?

A happy letter I like to read again and again has these rules for scoring, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life - in order that on the day of Christ (and I now paraphrase) Jennifer did not run or labor for nothing. But even if her life was poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, she is glad and rejoices with all of you. So, you too should be glad and rejoice with her." Philippians 2:14-17 Nate's International Version

If we keep score by looking at who fell to arguing, "Why me?!" then Jennifer obviously won. Cancer lost.

Cancer is a disease that takes more and more; it is a selfish monster that pushes its way in to grab anything valuable it can and it will not let go. Jennifer fought back to keep life and she did not ask, "Why me?" She did not complain. She WON.

But will you share in her victory? Did she pour out her life for nothing? Was it in vain? How will you honor her memory?

If you become selfish - arguing and complaining - questioning why you would lose something so precious - someone you feel you cannot go on without...and if you complain, if you insist on arguing and asking, "Why?"...if you hold onto bitterness and are not able to let go - cancer wins. Death wins.

That, in my mind, does not honor or represent what the LIFE of Jennifer has taught us.

What did Jennifer teach you? Reflect with me, as Lori and I did with her only two weeks ago as we sat with her on her living room couch. We were reminiscing and telling our precious sister-in-law, sister-in-love, what she meant to us and taught us. What she had modeled for us in the way that she lived and the philosophy of life she embraced. For me, all of that is best summed up by the word CELEBRATE.

So, in preparation to share this day, I did some searching to see what the Word of God had to say about celebration. I found a nice passage in the back of the Book of Esther (Esther 9:22) that helps shape my memories of what Jennifer taught. You may know that Esther was a queen in her time, but not in her own land. She won a beauty contest - must have been an extremely attractive young lady, perhaps with a "1,000 watt smile" like Jennifer's. The memory of Esther, how she poured out her life on behalf of her people, is still celebrated by the Jews on a holiday called Purim. So, here is what that celebration includes:

Giving gifts to the poor.

Observing the days as days of feasting, by giving presents of food.

Sorrows being turned to joy.

A reviewing of the record of victory over a ruthless enemy.

I hope in my brief memories of Jennifer, you will identify your own memories that convince you of the things she taught us by the way she lived her life.

Giving gifts to the poor
When Jennifer married into the Cox family, she immediately became Aunt to my four daughters, and in Jennifer's family, aunts and uncles gave gifts. This was a value modeled by the Riley/Clark families, and thus, within only months of becoming their aunt, she wanted to bless my little girls with a dream vacation. Jennifer had always wished upon a star - and that lovable little mouse had a place in her dreams. When Jennifer's aunt found out that Walt Disney World's job interviews are only five minutes long, as they know most of their employees will only have that much time or less to interact with guests, she knew Jennifer and her smile could get the job. She did, and landing that job at Disney Resorts gave her a way to pass on dreams to other little girls. Didn't she help you dream?

A family Florida vacation would have been way out of the question for this part-time preacher living on a tight budget - but they said just get here, and we'll put you up and get you in the park. And they did. TWICE! Saving up those employee passes and doing all she could to pass off my youngest ones as even younger ones...she got us ALL into Disney World for free. Wow! My mother-in-law remembers such an overwhelming feeling as we were all on the boat back after a long day at the park - just having her entire family there in that place. Jennifer excelled at always giving gifts - wonderful gifts. What can we learn from her?

Observing the days as days of feasting, giving presents of food
Part of being a guest in David and Jennifer's home was always enjoying presents of food - often new foods for us. I'll never forget our first trip to their apartment in Orlando. They wanted to feed us a shrimp feast, but, as a young Baptist preacher I was a bit apprehensive when I saw the case of beer on the kitchen cabinet. David explained to me that all of the alcohol would cook out, so serving beer boiled shrimp to my girls would not get them intoxicated. That meal is now one of our family's favorite celebration meals. Things like pico de gallo (the real deal, like they make it in Texas) smoked salmon with hot pepper jelly, and so many others. Giving gifts of delicious food and feasts just came naturally for her. Did Jennifer teach you anything along those lines?

Sorrows turned to JOY
It has been helpful for me to replace the word "enemy" with the word "cancer" as I've studied the scriptures these past few weeks. Cancer has long done battle with us, trying to take us down into sorrow. M.D. Anderson - Houston's battleground - was familiar to us long before Jennifer's diagnosis in 2011. My daughter's best friend, the daughter of my dear friend and cousin, was battling this enemy at far too young of an age, and Houston had become quite familiar to them. David and Jennifer's home, with the swimming pool out back, served as a lovely haven when we all converged there to visit and support our cousin's family. Celebrating their twins 16th birthday poolside, with an ice cream cake and balloons, provided a place of joy for a family who's memories of Houston are very sorrowful. Jennifer helped provide celebration in the midst of sorrow. And long before - probably right after we had just enjoyed our first beer boiled shrimp feast at David and Jennifer's - we got the phone call about our friend Cathy McDaniel's death following her own battle with cancer. The enemy was present long ago, trying to overwhelm with sorrow. We didn't realize then how Jennifer was already doing battle against it, with her celebrations and joy. Did Jennifer help YOU turn some sorrow and struggle into joy?

Reviewing the record of victory over a ruthless enemy
photo by Erin Carlyle

We study battles for centuries later, long after the final shots and victory cry. That is, if we want to be good soldiers and good generals, we do. That's how we learn. This room is full of the records of battle that Jennifer fought. The pictures tell it all. Fight with a smile. Never loose hope. Go somewhere that you've only dreamed of. Always have family around you. Enjoy God's creation - ride a dolphin and feel the rush of life. Embrace EVERYONE you meet and leave no strangers. Jennifer taught us that if you have just five minutes, it's enough time to make a friend. Immerse yourself in those friendships. Embrace life and the people in your life - that would be the lesson Jennifer taught me, and so many others, so very well. Did you learn anything by observing her battle?

Finally, those of us who watched her battle the enemy to the end knew that strength that Jennifer fought with so very well did not only come from within her. Jennifer had known God before, but the enemy caused her to know God better. His strength became her strength in the battle. I saw Jennifer's faith grow over these past years.

As we followed Jennifer's updates on Facebook and CaringBridge, we often heard her issue a call to prayer. Just like Esther asked her people to pray before laying her life on the line before her enemy, Jennifer asked us to pray. And we sensed that her requests for prayer were genuine and we saw that through those prayers, Jennifer's strength increased. That's the essence of how faith grows. 

I want to close with a passage from Ephesians that I first saw as our prayers for Jennifer, but later came to see this as her prayer for us. "For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come." Ephesians 1:15-21

Monday, May 18, 2015

Evident Within Them

"because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."  Romans 1:19-20
Grand Tetons, Wyoming, August 2005
I'm a nature lover, through and through. Have been ever since I can remember. Those flowers at grandma's house, the willow tree with branches low enough for the most timid of preschoolers to ascend, the babbling creek with such hidden treasures as crawdads and snails, and that first glimpse of the Rockies as a third grader. Each and every minuscule or majestic detail of nature called out to me. I didn't become well-acquainted with the Bible or Christianity until my mid-teens. Yet I had always known a Creator must exist. I never disagreed when the grade school texts gave credit to evolution, but I never bought it.

I didn't realize until years later that my heart-felt, childlike faith in a Creator was God Himself, tugging at my inmost being and calling out to me. When I first stumbled upon the above verses in Romans many years ago, the proverbial light bulb went off. YES - that was it! God had ever-so-gently been making Himself evident to me through His magnificent creation from the early days of my existence.

While my child-like faith developed into a deeply personal relationship with my Savior and Creator, countless others' throughout history have waned. Those early inklings of belief in the invisible attributes of God are often replaced with a respect and awe of "Mother Earth." Isn't that like feeling a deep respect and appreciation of the Canon in D, without acknowledging Pachelbel? 

Yesterday, I stood upon an overlook that gives a wonderful view of the Missouri River and bridge at Glasgow. My father drew and designed the plans for that small shelter and overlook many years ago. Is his name engraved upon it? No. Did the two bikers sharing a beer under the shelter yesterday feel the same connection with the designer that I did? Of course not - they had no idea who he was. Yet I suspect they appreciated the view, the shade from the sun, and a relaxing place to enjoy the cool breeze. Their lack of knowledge of the designer in no way lessened the fact that a designer existed. I stood there, enjoying the same view and fresh breeze...yet feeling more deeply connected and blessed for having known the one who dreamed up the idea of such a place. I got it - the entire, fully connected much richer than their fleeting, superficial moment.

When an outdoor enthusiast/author like Jeff Johnson says, "I’m drawn to the open country. It's where everything is clear, where the world makes the most sense. When I put myself out there I always return with something new. A friend once told me the best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn't even think to ask,” I can't help thinking he's ALMOST got it, he's almost found The Best Answer ever, without even knowing a question existed.

So many people have a deep love and respect for all that nature entails. I loved the new "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" movie, because of the way it clearly depicts that deep yearning within us for something more than just an 8 to 5 job; something more than this concrete, predictable life of sidewalks and office buildings. We yearn for relationships with other people and time to explore and appreciate fluid moments in nature, like the snow leopard's rare and momentary appearance. "Beautiful things don't ask for attention."

No, they don't; nor does He. One wise woman put it this way, many years ago, "God is a perfect gentleman." He doesn't force Himself into our lives. You will find no brass plaque at the base of the Himalayas, declaring, "The God of creation formed this!" Yet God's love and beauty surround us each and every day if we take the time to notice and search - to see Him standing there, like the Gentleman that He is, quietly holding the door open for us.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Fairness, Forgiveness...and Pineapples

Sisters...being sisters.
If we forgive a terrible wrong done to us, does that mean we have to like that person and continue our relationship as if nothing ever happened? Is it fair that they receive the benefits of eternity in heaven, if they've been downright nasty most of their life and then late in life accept a Savior who's willing to forgive them and give them eternal life? You mean they'll actually get a mansion - or a room - or whatever it might be - that's just as good as Billy Graham's or Jim Elliot's?

Those are just a sampling of various questions I've heard over the past month, and it's made me ponder. I've come away from it even more convinced in a truth I've held to for a long time now... 

I FIRMLY believe that how we live each and every day is being rewarded NOW. Sure - I get to go to heaven someday, all because of Jesus dying for our sins. None of us are good enough. Perhaps some people will end up getting a mansion and others an eco-friendly tiny house - or, perhaps we'll all get the exact same kind of apartment - it really doesn't matter that much. It shouldn't bother me that a former Gestapo gas chamber guard turned Christian ends up getting the rewards of heaven just like I will.

The rewards of living a faithful, Christian life - including forgiving those who've wronged us - come back to bless us right here and right now. Those people you know - who claim to be Christian but hypocritically treat others badly; lying and slandering and doing things we don't think Christians should do - THEY are the ones missing out. They are missing the blessing of having great relationships with others, because of the way they mistreat people. They are missing the blessing of the joy that's found in doing the best they can - a clear conscience that comes from knowing they've been truthful and treated others with respect. 

I really, really feel like God blesses us with an inner joy, peace and happiness right here and now that can truly and only be found when we're doing the best we can at living the way He wants us to live. Those "Christians" (and only God knows if they truly are Christians) who don't - I'm 99% sure they are not filled with joy, contentment and peace; and deep down they aren't very happy.

I may never be rich with money or possessions - I may not get a gold mansion in heaven - but I am extremely blessed and "rich" right now, knowing that God's ways are always best; knowing that there are blessings each and every day waiting for me if I choose to live in a way that pleases Him. For the most part, those blessings involve relationships with people. They are the "treasures in heaven" (Matt. 6:19-21) that I'm laying up. I can't take a nice car with me - I can't take my big house with me - but I can take people with me. They are ALWAYS worth investing in.

My daughter shared with me an awesome story about a missionary who was continually wronged by the people he was trying to minister to, and how he eventually came to genuinely love and forgive them anyway. It's called "The Pineapple Story":
It's almost an hour long - but sooo worth the time it takes. It's full of truth...the basic truth that people are more important than things... yet it's also very honest and funny. ("I could be a real good missionary if it weren't for you people!!!" :-)

If you've watched "The God's Not Dead" movie, you might have looked at that atheist professor who is so mean and hateful towards God and towards Christians - watched him come to know Jesus right before he dies and thought, "That's not fair - he gets to go to heaven even though he lived so wrongly!"  

But who really got cheated there?  He did. 

He got cheated out of peace; out of wonderful, trusting and loving relationships; out of true happiness; out of so many blessings that result from living life here and now in a way that pleases God. Yup - he'll go to heaven just like you or I will; after all, it's only because of Jesus' sacrifice that ANY of us get to go. But will he have the joy of hearing God say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant" ? (Matt. 25:21)  Did he ever experience true joy and peace while on this earth?  That is worth SO very much - and it's something that most people don't experience unless they're sold out to God - like the young college guy in the movie. Yes - he suffered ridicule and lost his girlfriend because he did what he thought God wanted him to...but he also enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing a classmate turn his life over to Christ, made a new friend; and probably saved himself a lifetime of being married to a self-centered woman that wasn't very good for him anyway. We get so many blessings like that when we make the effort to live the way God wants us to - blessings that can't be measured in values of a gold house; but blessings just the same.

AND...we really and truly don't know what heaven will be like...the Bible doesn't tell us a lot. I've heard people say that God purposely didn't give us many details about heaven, because it's so incredible that if we knew more about it, we'd probably all be committing suicide so we could get there sooner! 

Who knows what God might have planned for us? The end of that Matthew 25:21 verse says, "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'"   Who knows what God might entrust us with in heaven, because we've chosen to be faithful to Him in big and little things while we were here on earth???!  I'm pretty sure it's going to be awesome, and full of joy - and we won't even notice if forgiven sinners who lived terribly most of their lives share it alongside us. 

Regardless - I know I've got a "rich" life right here and now, by following God's ways. Does it suck that someone who's treated me terribly seems to get by with it and suffer no visible consequences? Sure...but it's their loss, not mine. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Microscope or Mirror?

Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. ~Prov. 16:24 

We are watching an eye-opening video series at church entitled "Resolving Everyday Conflict," by PeaceMaker Ministries. It's been very good so far, but last night's session was one of the best.

I've heard and read the Matt. 7:3-5 "get the log out of your eye before trying to take the speck out of your brother's eye" parable preached and taught many times. Yet it's always in the context of examining ourselves before we start judging other's sin. Hearing someone directly apply that teaching to a one on one argument was new for me. 

This approach makes so much sense for derailing a conflict! Jesus' teaching promotes the need to examine ME - my own shortcomings and faults, even in the midst of an argument where I might feel as if I am not the least bit at fault. That's exactly the time when I want to lash out and blame the other person...but we all know how that ends. If instead I could look at my own "log" - my share of the problem that I've brought into this argument - then the inevitable train wreck that's bound to happen once the blame game begins could often be prevented.

"But it IS her fault...she (insert her speck that has totally frustrated you)!" I want to defend myself. I want to be right. I want to point the finger and examine their "speck" with a microscope. Yet, Jesus says I should pull out a mirror instead, and deal with my own part in the disagreement.

Even if I am only 2% to blame, and they're 98% to blame, I still need to start with my mirror and forget about pulling out the microscope. Well...I might feel like those are the percentages, especially in the midst of my anger, but more often than not I'm a lot more to blame than I want to think. Whatever the percentages - no matter how little or much I am at fault, if I could simply say, "You know what? I shouldn't have done (said) that and I'm sorry." Wouldn't that go a LONG way towards defusing the upcoming explosion? Good-bye, log! 

And guess what? That humble, self-examing response almost always results in the other person pulling out their own mirror and saying, "Oh...well, I guess I shouldn't have (insert their speck.)" You've just doused a fire by admitting your own fault, your own "log," in the matter. Even if they don't fess up and apologize for their part in it, their "speck" - at least you've done your part and probably halted the escalating tension, pain and anger that was about to ensue.

Good-bye, log. Good-bye, heated argument. And perhaps, good-bye speck. That's what you were going for, anyway - except now you've done it in a much less damaging way.

Now if I could just remember all of that the next time Nate steps into my kitchen and tries to do things his way...I mean, errr...tries to help. "I'm sorry dear that I like to have one realm in my life where I am totally and unquestionably in charge." Yup...that's a big log for me. ;-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dads and Daughters

I can't TELL you how much this article made me want to shout, "YES!"

Every ounce of it has been our philosophy, our strategy, our life. Did we develop that strategy intentionally? I'm not sure. In some ways - it just kind of happened.

It happens over time, in small decisions and choices you make along the way. Like, years ago, when we heard another dad say, "There's this boy showing an interest in my girl - so I've been pumping iron so I can intimidate him," and you stop to ponder, "Wait - is that the approach we want to take with our girls?"

Sadly, that particular father left his family a few short years after he made that statement. I guess pumping iron didn't make him strong enough to hold his family together, and so I'm glad it hasn't been my husband's parenting approach.

A Dad who encourages and cheers them on

Instead, Nate leans much more towards the wisdom that Jen Wilkin shares in the above article:
Instead of intimidating all your daughter’s potential suitors, raise a daughter who intimidates them just fine on her own. Because, you know what’s intimidating? Strength and dignity. Deep faith. Self-assuredness. Wisdom. Kindness. Humility. Industriousness...
The unsuitable suitor finds nothing more terrifying than a woman who knows her worth to God and to her family.

Can I say it again?...YES!

If we do nothing else in life than raise our children to feel valuable and worthy - to their family, to their Creator and to their Savior - I'll be content. They should never "need" a spouse to complete them - or lead them - or follow them. Leadership is not about the strong looking for weaker people to lead. It’s about the humble looking for those whose strengths offset their weaknesses and complement their strengths. Strong leaders surround themselves with strong people, not with weak ones. Rather than finding the strengths of others threatening, they celebrate them and leverage them.

Male or female, don't we all prefer celebrating and leveraging to intimidation? At the risk of sounding redundant...YES!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

29 Years and Holding, or Counting?

People refusing to age jokingly announce that they are "29 and holding." When our 29th wedding anniversary rolled around this month, I momentarily wondered if that 29 and holding thing was supposed to apply to marriages as well? Nah.

So young and naive...
Unlike aging physically, when your body gets a little more worn out each year - a marriage that lasts for the long haul should be getting better and better. Kind of like aging in reverse, right? Most newlyweds would probably argue that they are SO happy right now, in their newly-married bliss, that it couldn't possibly get any better. (Ignorance is also bliss.) I probably would have argued that 29 years ago. But now?

I never dreamed "happily ever after" would just keep getting more happily with each passing year!

Sure, doing life with someone day after day, year after year, can get dull and commonplace...if you let it. But it can also get richer, fresher and more rewarding, if you work at it.

As time goes on, you can figure out what REALLY works. And what really doesn't. (But no...I do not have marriage, or him, all figured out yet...give me another 50 years.) You've shared the best of times, and the worst of times. Sometimes those stressful-at-the-moment, terrible times turn out to be the memories you love to laugh about in years to come. You've shared so many memories together, you can reminisce for hours when time allows. That fact alone makes a long-lasting marriage extremely rich.

After 29 years, it's become obvious that a great marriage is much more than just "being in love." Anyone can fall in love. Yet many just as easily fall out of love when things aren't going well.

Not that anyone asked...but if I could give one bit of advice to couples planning to get married, it would be this: get it through your head, right now, that this is a commitment - not a storybook romance - and you're going to do your part to be fully committed. It'll be the toughest commitment you'll ever make; but it's worth it. Know that the other person IS going to fail you. She will make you furious. He will frustrate you to no end. She will have bad hair days and extremely unpredictable mood swings. He will reek after a hard day's work and be too tired for conversation. Whatever the disappointment or frustration - big or small - it will happen. You are marrying a human being, after all, and no matter how perfect you might think they are right now...they aren't.

I should finish with some nice, churchy advice and say, "Make God your focus...put Him first," etc. etc. If you're both Christians that's just an obvious, Sunday School kind of answer. And if you're not - it's a moot point. I know for us, it works extremely well. When you and your spouse are both concerned about being the best that God wants you to be - it's beneficial for all of those around you. Anything that takes the focus off of yourself and encourages you to focus on others is rewarding and gratifying for all involved. If BOTH of you are living like that, you'll BOTH feel extremely satisfied and cared for. As Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" book so pointedly's not about YOU.

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."  ~~Philippians 2:3-4

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Uh, UFO? Ah, AFO!

Our boy, the youngest of our seven kids, is probably the worst speller of our bunch. I'm not complaining or belittling him - just stating facts. We all know he's brilliant...he just probably doesn't know how to spell it.

Those spelling errors often make us all laugh - himself included, once he figures out what he did wrong. One of the latest incidents happened when his dad was telling him that it was time, once again, to go pick a sister up at the airport.

"Just think," Nate said, "It takes us longer to drive halfway across the state to pick her up than it takes her to fly here from two states away. If only we had a way to fly there in our own, personal flying machine... I'm sure they're going to have those sometime soon. What do you think they will call them?"

(side note: We do digress and chase rabbits quite often around here.)

Without hesitating, Josiah piped in, "It can't be a UFO - so they'll probably call them AFO's."

We all stared at him blankly for a moment, trying to figure out what the "A" might stand for. Finally we asked him, because no one was getting it.

A bit surprised at our lack of understanding, he rolled his eyes and said, "Well, it wouldn't be an UNidentified flying object because of course we know what it is - so it would have to be an 'Ah-dentified' flying that makes it an "AFO."

Ah, phonetics, you are such a tough adversary for a young boy to conquer, but you do provide entertaining diversions along the way.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Our Tweenagers' View of Dating

One advantage of having children of various ages is the rapport and comradeship that develops between older and younger. Younger siblings often will freely discuss things with an older sister that they don't even think about mentioning to us, their parents.

"Should I tell her I want to be a vet???"  *
Such was the case when our daughter from Texas was home during her grad school's spring break. She stayed up late one evening with our 11 and 12 year old, and reaped the benefit of a very enlightening conversation...

"So - how does dating work?" one of them randomly asked her.

"Well, when someone likes you, they ask if you can go do something together, and get to know each other better. Going out for a meal, doing fun things together, that kind of stuff."

"But isn't the boy supposed to ask daddy's permission first, before you do all that?" asked the youngest sister.

"Oh, ummm...well yes, of course!" fumbled the 24-year-old, not bothering to explain that she has kind of out-grown that phase of life.

"Wow - some guy is really going to have to like you a LOT to come all the way from Texas to talk to daddy."

"Well yes, I guess he will." she mumbled, then tried to change directions. "So, when you're old enough to date, will you ask the girl's dad for permission to date her, Josiah?" 

"Oh...I guess so," he replied unenthusiastically, but then he perked up,  "If I'm really lucky - she will be an orphan!"

(Insert lots of big sister laughter at her little brother's skills of reasoning.)

"So - what do you think you will do on your very first date?" she couldn't resist asking him.

"We'll probably just go out for ice cream. But I think I should tell her, before we go, that I want to be a vet when I grow up."

"Why do you have to tell her that right away?"

"Well, it takes lots of years of going to school to be a vet - she probably won't like that," was his thoughtful reply.

"But you don't have to talk about all of that right away - you can just have fun getting ice cream with her."

"No - I should tell her. Because if I wait and tell her that after we're at the ice cream place, she might get mad at me and not want to ride in the car with me anymore. How would she get home? I always wonder about that in the movies, when the girl gets mad at the guy and walks out - how does she get home?"

You have to give the boy credit for his thoughtfulness, even if he doesn't know much about dating...or taxis.
*photo credit: Denise McDaniel, 2007

Friday, March 07, 2014

We Don't Get Out Much

One of our young and naive daughters uttered those words several years ago. Even though our guests thought it was hilarious, the rest of us grinned and inwardly thought, "But it's true - we don't."

Yesterday reminded me, again, of why I choose not to get out much.

It was my weekly grocery outing to Columbia. Non-eventful...until I finished at the first store and came out to the parking lot. There was a guy leaving a note for me on my car.

"Wow," I thought. "That's a little creepy, but hey, maybe I'll be able to make Nate jealous enough with this story that he won't be in a hurry to leave the country again for awhile." You know us wives...always scheming.

No such luck, however, unless Nate will be jealous of our Forester. Yup - the guy wanted my car. Talked to me the entire time I was loading my groceries, telling me what awesome vehicles Subarus are, and how he especially was looking to buy a used Forester, because he'd owned two different Volvos and they just didn't compare.

Talk about getting your bubble burst in a moment - now I was feeling even older and rustier than my car.

So, I got my rusty self into my desirable car and headed onto the next store.

Due to the fact that I don't get out much, I had never yet approached Columbia's one diverging diamond interchange from a side road. (I normally like going through it - for a short moment in time I can pretend I'm driving in the UK.) For some silly reason I assumed that I could get from point A(ldi) to point H(yVee) simply by driving west to Stadium and then south to Broadway. Perfectly logical. Imagine my surprise when I approached the diverging diamond to get onto Stadium, and next thing I knew - BAM - I was driving east on I-70. The opposite direction of HyVee...and at 70 MPH to boot. Still don't know how that happened.

No - I don't get out much.

A random thought consoled me as I exited off I-70 in order to get back to where I'd started so I could try again. "Well - if that creeper guy who wants my car is stalking me - I probably just lost him without even trying."

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I'm Going on an Adventure!

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly 
find out how far one can go. --T.S. Eliot

Most in my family are world travelers, enjoying that "risk of going too far"... but I rarely do. I'm usually the one willing and able to stay home; playing chauffeur to and from the airport, happily staying behind while they go off on their adventures.

However, when our oldest daughter and her husband committed to work in North Africa for two years, with no opportunity to come home - I was once again ready to take my family to the other side of the world. After all, it had been thirteen years since we'd last taken our entire clan abroad, and so our younger three children either didn't remember it or weren't born yet.

(HOW many hours in the air did you say? And we're smiling?!)
An adventure was apparently long overdue.

What an adventure it turned out to be! Getting our entire family together meant eight of us getting on planes and negotiating airports. Once we reached our destination, there were ten of us traveling/living together for two weeks. We were like our own tour group - but without the tour guide taking charge of it all. Never fear. Have you heard that old saying, "Too many chiefs and not enough Indians?" Well, in our family we've probably got too many tour guides and not enough tourists. But it all worked out - we saw some amazing sights, met some even more amazing people, and enjoyed - you guessed it - some amazing family time together.

Someone may be confused about their location.
I can't show you pictures of the places we visited. More regrettably, I can't show you pictures of the people we met. (It's terribly scandalous for a woman in that culture to allow her picture to be taken.) But it was easy to see why my daughter Rachel speaks so lovingly of the ladies she lives amongst. They were so hospitable, accepting, friendly, and so happy to meet us. One was laughingly ready to sign a marriage contract between her son and my 12-year-old daughter. Some were insistent on seeing my girls try to dance - so they could laugh hysterically with us. Another was quick to tell me that she prays for one certain thing even more than I do, since she loves Rachel so much. Another invited all TEN of us to her home for a meal (men in one room, ladies in another,) even though it meant a tremendous amount of work for her and her daughter-in-law, and those two ladies wouldn't even sit down with us to enjoy the meal. We were honored and humbled by all of these ladies who have so little materialistically - yet shared of themselves so freely.

Tea on a Mediterranean beach
The men? Well - men and women don't socialize together, so I have no first-hand experience. I do know that Nate and our son-in-law, Kyle, were often invited to sit and drink tea, and were told, "we are not friends - we are brothers." Tea seems to be the common thread that accompanies all social interactions. Women invite ladies into their home for tea - while the men (who are the shopkeepers, and men do most of the shopping) invite guys frequenting their shop to sit and have a cup of tea with them.

Rachel is there - but behind the camera.
We did get some comical, first-hand experience with the men and boys of the larger cities. Around every corner, another group of males were ready to try out their limited English skills on my daughters... "Hello! Welcome! What nationality are you? I LOVE YOU!" One man was quite creative. As we walked by him, he shouted, "You dropped something!" When one of my girls naively turned to look, he said, "It is only my heart." Thus, our method of walking in public looked like this: Kyle in the front - shooing men away in Arabic - and Nate walking behind, as the rear guard. The rest of us simply kept our eyes down and tried not to laugh.

Josiah managed to hide behind the females.
Yes, it was exotic and exciting to be in such an unnamed, far-off place. Yet the best part of it all was simply having the ten of us together for two whole weeks. We could have been in a random, backwoods place and it would have been just as enjoyable. With four of our seven children now into their adult years - time together is our most precious commodity, a priceless gift.

One challenge of our togetherness was trying to get family photos will all of us in the picture. At one point, we handed the camera to an English-speaking stranger...but he unknowingly chopped one of us out of the photo.

Faster, Nate - faster!
One time, we tried the selfie thing...only Kyle has an arm long enough for that. We sometimes attempted the timer and remote set-up...but there always seemed to be some glitch.  (Nate not being able to run fast enough being the funniest of glitches.)

No worries. Whether or not the family picture attempts were successful, the memories made were exceptional, and not soon to be forgotten.

Of course, the 2,000+ photos I now have on file will insure that we remember as many details of our adventure as possible. And the countless stories we'll be repeating to each other in our old-age? They may someday bore our grandkids, but we'll treasure them for a lifetime.

Here's to venturing out the door countless more times, out of our comfort zones, and being swept away...

"It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” --Frodo Baggins, about Bilbo

LOOK - we're all in the pic! Now if someone could dim that sunlight a bit...

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Weekend Stroll Down Memory Lane

When a few of my "old" classmates and facebook friends began discussing the possibility of a 30th year class reunion a few months ago, I had mixed feelings. I wanted to see old friends, yet I knew it can be awkward and a bit depressing to get together with people who haven't spent much time together in over 30 years.

So I decided I'd build the anticipation and fun by making a slideshow for the reunion. All of my daughters' high school graduations have included a slideshow presentation, and it's one of the funnest parts of what can be a very long, drawn out event. We, however, graduated several years before power point presentations and thus - no slideshow for us. So I dug out some old school photos, year books and yellowed newspaper clippings. Some classmates sent me photos - old and new alike. I even spent an afternoon stalking class members' photos on facebook. Most sobering of all, I found myself googling obituaries of the four class members we'd lost since our last reunion.

Many of these classmates were ones that I'd known since I was 5 years old...ones that I'd spent 8 hours a day with, 5 days a week...for 13 years (we were one of the first classes to experience that amazing grade called "kindergarten!") You don't spend THAT much time with people, especially during such formative years, without getting influenced by and attached to them.

Then, something almost prophetic happened a couple of weeks before the reunion. While I was visiting with a friend of mine, she simply mentioned high school reunions. You have to understand - this friend had no idea my 30th reunion was coming up soon. She just started talking about how she gladly chose not to attend her 20th class reunion this summer, even though her mom tried to encourage her to consider it. Here's what she told me her mother said:
My ten year reunion wasn't so great...we were still pretty immature, click-ish and too concerned with "Who's popular and who's not."
My twenty year reunion was pretty good...but many people were too focused on bragging about their successful careers.
But my thirty year reunion? It was GREAT! By that point in life, we'd faced the reality of loosing some class members and we were mature enough to just celebrate the fact that "We're still alive!"

And you know what? She NAILED it. My 30th reunion turned out to be one of the funnest weekends I've had in a long time. Moments of tears, moments of reflection, but mostly just moments of laughter. Laughter over old memories and stories...and laughter at ourselves and our modern problems. ("I've got a smart phone, but I'm too #@%! dumb to use it!") Lots of mingling...amongst everyone. So what if she was the popular cheerleader and he was the nerd? Who cares if one of them was a high school drop out and another got all A's? Life's too short and we were having too much fun to concern ourselves with such minuscule, ancient details. We've been around long enough now to realize that youthful good looks and popularity are fleeting...all of us made our share of mistakes...and dog gone it, life is short and we better just enjoy the people that have been a part of it while we still can.

Real friends are those who, when you've made a fool of yourself, don't feel that you've done a permanent job. ~~Erwin T. Randall