Monday, August 31, 2015

Raising Girls to be Brave Women

When I was little, I wanted to be exactly like Nancy Drew. If I were brave like her, I would walk fearlessly into any unknown situation and not lose my cool. I would be smart and clever. I would drive my own car, face off bad guys, and solve mysteries. I'd wear a plaid skirt and penny loafers, and I'd be brave.

In reality, I was anything but brave. I was afraid of going to gymn class at 1 p.m. I was afraid of being kicked by a soccer ball or climbing the rope. I was terribly shy and didn't like talking to anyone. I was afraid of getting hurt. I was afraid of the dark, of boys, of shadows, of pretty much everything.

Sometimes I still feel like that same scared girl on the inside - a girl who worries and frets - a girl who is fearful and timid. I have to be reminded to be a brave women and to inspire a brave daughter.

What does it mean to be brave?

Fierce. Strong. Independent.

I want to be like that. I want my daughter to be like that.

In the book (and movie) The Help, the African American maid, Abileen, tells the little girl in her charge the same thing over and over. She whispers,"You is kind. You is smart. You is important." How sweet those words are to hear at any age, words that speak truth and challenge to our hearts.

But I would add one more: "You are brave." Turn to the younger woman in your charge and tell her these three thing...these three, very important, courage-inspiring, life-changing things. Tell her:

1) God has a plan for your life. It is not always easy to see the future. We tend to worry about what is around the corner. I know that I do. My mind is filled with "what ifs"... What if I'm too shy? What if I can't find my way? What if I fail? But we can be brave - despite our fears - if we know that God holds our future. Psalm 32: 7,8 has long been a favorite Bible passage of mine. It tells me that God has His eye upon me. It tells me that He is leading the way. It assures me that my braveness is enabled because He holds the results.

2) You have incredible role models. I had Nancy Drew. But I had other real-life role models too. I had grown up hearing about Florence Nightingale, Jane Addams, and Amelia Earhart. I had journeyed by covered wagon with Laura Ingalls and read braille with Helen Keller. I learned by hearing stories of other girls, other women, who had faced bigger obstacles than mine and survived. One of the best things about writing a book about brave women is that I've received notes from young girls - as young as 8 years old. They not only enjoyed the stories of these eight historical women, they were inspired by their lives. We can be brave just as they were brave.

3) You don't have to do it alone. Girls can be competitive. We give each other the once over and decide who is prettier. But life isn't a Miss America contest. I recently saw a video where 1,000 women dressed like Rosie the Riveter to celebrate the anniversary of the end of World War II. But they were also celebrating the bravery and camaraderie of women. These women, left behind during the war, rolled up their sleeves, tied up their hair and worked. They made ships. They were brave - together! And the women who celebrated came together too - young and old - to celebrate the courage of women. We are in this thing together. We can help one another. Together, we can be brave.

Are you brave? I think you are. Look into the mirror. Tell these three things to yourself. Then tell them to your daughter, your granddaughter, your nieces, your younger coworker, the child in your Sunday School class. We must speak into the lives of others.

Remember, God has an incredible plan for your life. He can make you brave. And you have incredible role models - women of faith who will inspire and motivate you. You aren't in this alone.

We are women together. Brave, smart, beautiful, kind, and important.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

My Aching Back and Why White-Out Doesn't Always Work

On a recent trip to our local home improvement store, I was helping my husband pick out boards. We are remodeling our 1960s-era kitchen, and he is cutting and staining cabinet doors. So, I was being a little picky.

The first board had strap marks across it. The second board had a big knot hole in the center. And the third board wrenched my back.

Ouch. I could feel my muscle twinge when I twisted just the wrong way. The board wasn't that heavy - just awkward. But I felt it. I knew I was in trouble.

Two days later, I'm taking a prescription tablet of cyclobenzaprine and Advil, and wishing I wasn't so old. I'm also wishing I could take back that one moment. Why didn't I settle for board #2?

Then yesterday, we went to pick up a piece of vintage treasure from a seller on Craigslist. $25. A bargain. I'm still a bit leary of meeting unknown sellers - and we were meeting at the storage facility which was fairly deserted. Just in case, I took my wallet out of my purse and hid it under my car seat. But it turned out just fine. The deal was made. $25 was a steal. And then we backed up our car to leave. I heard a whoosh of air.

We had backed up over a bolt. My husband was not happy. Luckily, the car made it safely home, and today Milt was able to repair the hole. But I wished that I could reverse time for just a moment. I wanted to rewind and have a do-over.

Have you ever felt like that?

What if you hadn't done that one last thing that wrecked havoc with your life?

When I was in college, they had these fancy new typewriters that let you back up and "automatically" erase with built in white-out tape. So cool. They let me undo my typing errors so almost no one could see.

But life isn't like that, is it? We have no back up ability. We can't rewind. We can't white it out. What's done is done. No crying over spilled milk, so they say.

So as I sit here - my back aching and looking at my Kia Soul with the bolt hole now patched, I realize that life goes on. We are a bit beat up, a little scarred, but we're still chugging. Moving forward - sometimes with a limp.

The only do-over that really works is God. How thankful I am that I believe in a God who forgives, who wipes my slate clean, who lets me heal and be purified even when I mess up -big time. Scripture tells us that even though are sins are scarlet, we will be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18) And having tried to get stains out of carpet, I love that metaphor.

We will be made clean. Good as new. Better than a rewind because it can't be undone or merely covered up. Now, in this life, we will have slips and falls and missteps. Then, with God's help, we will  be purified, complete, perfected, healed.

I like the sound of that. Especially today.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What is it really like to live in Florida?

Moving from the Midwest to Florida, I had certain expectations. Some good. Others bad.

I looked forward to throwing away my down coat and my plastic ice scraper. I worried about humidity and hurricanes. Well, I've been here for six months now - January through July - and I have a much better idea of what there is to love (and maybe not love as much) about my new home.

What you give up...

1) Grass Lawns. The grass in our Florida front yard is crab grass. They have all sorts of fancy names for it here, but it is definitely the stuff we tried hard to kill in the Midwest. This is weedy, finnicky grass. The ground is sandy. Even after what seemed like a drenching downpour, the sand appears untouched and parched. Yes, we do have green lawns - but if you look closely you can see the difference.

2) Seasons. Perhaps my biggest shock was to give up any semblance of seasons. I remember stopping at a restaurant in December and hearing a Christmas carol. Why are they playing Christmas music now? I wondered. Then I was Christmastime. Every month feels like June or July. There are seasons but they they are much more subtle. Leaves fall off trees, flowers bloom, but they seem completely random. My internal clock is messed up. I miss family birthdays and holidays surprise me. What month is this anyway?

3) Boots and Wool Jackets. Being from Chicago, I have a huge assortment of winter clothing. I love my tall leather boots and my fuzzy sweaters. I adore scarves and hats. But now, I have very limited time to wear them. They are still in my closet, but shoved to the very back. I sorted through a giant tub of socks and tights and threw most of them out. I had ten pairs of black knee highs. I had a fleece lined pair of tights - fleece lined!!! That's how cold it got during my Chicago commute. Now I wear shorts. Shorts. All the time.

4) Pizza. They will tell you they have pizza here. There are neon "pizza" signs that beckon you as you drive up and down the coast. But they lie. This is not pizza. This is soggy, floppy cheese pie. My husband is in serious Chicago pizza withdrawal - not for the deep dish kind (which I do love on occasion), but for the crisp, thin crust, cut in squares with Italian sausage type. Sigh.

What you gain . . .

1) Sunshine. I always experienced a bit of seasonal depression from January until March. It was not just the freezing snow and ice, but the gloom. I'd look at the grey cloudy sky and long for just one peek of sun. Now I've gotten my wish. Every day. It is sunny in Florida. Really sunny. It is also lush and green. For some reason I thought too much sunshine would result in parched lawns. In Chicago, my August lawn looked dead and brown. Here, everything grows like wild - all the time. It is like we live in a tropical forest. We chop things down, and they resurrect.

2) Beach. Perhaps I should say nature, but the beach is one of the main reasons that this is a very outdoorsy place. People are active. They kayak. They bike. They fish. They surf. They walk up and down the beach. They run. They have racks and racks of sporty clothing in the stores. Maybe it's the overabundance of serotonin from so much sunlight, or maybe it's the natural beauty that surrounds. I can walk to the Halifax River (one block to the west of my house) or the Atlantic Ocean (one and half blocks to the East). There is a huge state park just one mile north. Nature beckons me. The beach calms me. If I'm ever feeling stressed, just sitting on the great expanse of the beach and staring at the ocean waves calms me. I did not have this in my Chicago suburb.

3) Calm. I am used to a frantic pace of life. I had 49 years in Chicago where we "go, go, go." I commuted to my job - one and a half hours each way - by car, then train, then walking. And suddenly I reached Florida, and life slowed to a halt. It is quieter here. People don't hurry. That has its upside and its downside. Contractors are not in a hurry to get their jobs done. But people also stop to talk and smile and relax. I am gradually adjusting to this pace of life. It is small towny and quaint. There are two traffic lights and one train crossing. There is not much crime. Maybe everyone is sedated by the lapping sound of waves.

There are pros and cons of living in Florida. I was warned about cost of living and unemployment. I was warned about living in a land of retirees. But overall my worst fears were misplaced. This is a town like any other. It has its downside. It has its perks.

I'm quite happy with our move - six months in. And I'm all in. I've thrown out my gigantic, floor-length, grey, poofy down coat. I've purchased six pairs of shorts and am now sporting a persistent tan.

Do I miss Chicago? Yes. I always will.

But I am enjoying our new coastal Florida home.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Legacy of Swedish Pancakes

On one of my last visits to my grandparent’s home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, they decided to lead my husband, daughter, and I out of town, so we followed their rambling Buick toward the expressway on-ramp. 

When we stopped to buy gas, my grandma – “Honey” as I always called her – pressed a 3 X 5 inch piece of paper into my hand. On it, in her large looped cursive writing, was the recipe for her Swedish pancakes.

The thin, crepe-like pancakes were my favorite, and I had helped her make them many times. If I close my eyes right now, I can remember how she’d lift my hand to show how the batter should be just right, coating the spoon.

The oil, she’d explain, should be spitting a bit. Then the batter was poured and the pan tilted – this way and that – to make a thin pancake with sprawling crisped edges.

Honey’s Swedish Pancakes.

That day, I tucked the paper safely into my purse, and later set it on the kitchen shelf right underneath my spices. That recipe is my legacy, my inheritance, a tangible reminder of our relationship.

I wonder what it is I’ll leave behind to my daughter and my daughter’s daughter. Will it be a recipe, my wedding ring, my Bible with the cracked leather binding? Maybe it’s not a “thing” at all.

Psalm 37:18 says our inheritance from God endures “forever.”

As a child of our Heavenly Father, you might think I would be most excited about inheriting my mansion in the sky. But my God-given legacy is more like Honey’s recipe. It is the knowledge that His hand is directing mine, giving me hope and comfort, leading me through good days and bad. It is love poured out in ordinary moments. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In Praise of Facebook Friendships

My husband looks at the number of "friends" listed on my Facebook page and laughs. "Those aren't all your friends," he quips. "How come I've never met most of them?"

And, he's right. He hasn't.

I have 955 friends on my Facebook feed, many who I have not seen face-to-face in years, even decades. Some were friends who I grew up with in the little south suburban, quarry town of Thornton, Illinois, where I was born. We were classmates together at Parkside Elementary and Wolcott Junior High. I rode my bike to school with Amy and went to birthday parties with Jill.

Still others are friends who I sat in Sunday School next to and ran the Awana circle with back at First Baptist Church in South Holland. We played four square in the church basement and had lock-in nights playing capture the flag in the church lot. We sat in the back row, left side of the church sanctuary, and went out after the service for pizza.

I have friends who went to college with me in Chicago and Normal, Illinois. They sat in class with me, took long walks along the Chicago River, and ate at Bagel Nosh. Amanda, my only lasting Columbia College friend, remembers evenings spent avoiding creepy men lurking in the south Loop while waiting for our ride home. My "Normal" friends remember our blinding fear of Dr. Tarr and his Intro to Research class intended to make us resign from grad school. Together, we survived late nights and final exams.

My work friends are sprinkled across the list as well. Carolyn was one of my first bosses - and I remember getting both of us our afternoon coffee as we rented out actual "films" - in the days before VCR technology. My other Caroline boss is now an installation artist - and I stand amazed at her creativity. My crazy friends from our creative team at Moody. My professor friends.

Many of my friends have moved cross country. My friend Beth is on the other coast in California. Her work on behalf of women and charities continues to inspire me. I have international friends like Amy and Michael who live in Ireland, and Adelina in Romania.

Many of my former students are on that list... Because of Facebook, I get to see them marry, become parents. I have watched some walk away from the faith. I have seen their careers flourish. I have spoken into their lives during times of crisis. I have sent recommendations and advice.

I have new friends on my list. Some of them are in the fledgling stage where we have said hello in person or interacted only on social media. They are people who have common interests. They are people I would like to know better.

And there are so many others. I am friends with relatives - near and distant. I've gotten to see my cousin's daughter's children. I am friends with my parent's friends - people I knew as a child. I am friends with my childhood pastor's wife - Mrs. Shirley Rice - a woman who prayed with me to commit my life to God and continues to inspire me.

The variety of people connected to me on my Facebook page keep me honest and real. It is also challenging. One of my friends says that some days reading her fb feed makes her blood pressure spike. I can relate. When reactions to the legalization of gay marriage erupted on social media, I had friends speaking passionately to both sides of the issue. There are times I'm tempted to block or unfriend someone whose ideas I don't like. Most of the time I think better of it.

My Facebook friends challenge me. I am glad they aren't all like me. I have friends who are vegans. I have friends who love guns. I have friends who fight injustice. I have friends who post hilarious videos. I have rockabilly friends, feminist friends, literary friends, parenting friends...

They all matter.

Facebook friends are not fake friends to me. While I may not see all of them face-to-face, Facebook allows this parade of people I have known and loved to continue to speak into my life. It allows me to stay current with who they are and where they are going. It lets me hear them in a way I hadn't previously been able to do. I can know what they are thinking. I can watch how they change. I can weep with those who weep. I can rejoice with those who rejoice.

As I scan my Facebook list of faces and names, I see people who have meant something to me. And we are connected still.

I am grateful for my Facebook friends.