Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thankful for the Ordinary - Even Ice Cubes

I'm reminded today, to be thankful for the normal. Even for ice cubes.

Following the hurricane, there was no electric and no clean water. Ice became a hot commodity in our community. We arrived at the grocery store and someone said they had just delivered 10 pallets of bagged ice. People were joyful - carrying two or three bags in their shopping carts. Milt and I rushed to the aisle only to find it was gone all of it...not one cube to be found.

Ordinary ice.

Ice cubes that I take for granted. I throw them out if they fall on our kitchen floor or if I accidentally put too much into my cup at the soda fountain.

I've received a huge reminder that we are to take nothing for granted. Normal is so good. And everything that we love or hate or even whine about can change in the blink of an eye.

The hot mug of coffee I am drinking is a gift. That bed that I slept in is a gift. That person who we hug or argue with is also a gift...a tremendous gift. Even the long commute to work - which I used to complain about daily - is a gift

We have been given so much - and yet we spend our days arguing over the small things that divide us. We fail to notice the beauty and love around us because we are too busy picking at imperfections.

Maybe it takes a hurricane or losing someone we love to make us wake up and see life around us for what it is. I've been through both in the past month or so.

And I have been reminded that in the most important ways, I am incredibly blessed. I am so thankful.

For my friends.
For my family.
For my home.
For the sunshine.
For electricity.
For clean water.
For a warm bed.
For a roof over my head.
For sunshine.
For the air I breathe.
For ice cubes!

Thank you God for the ordinary.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Breathe in. Breathe Out: What It's Really Like to Send Your Child Off To College

Breathe in. Breathe out.

The last time I was told to focus on the end product rather than my present, all-consuming pain, I was giving birth. Somehow sending my first and only child off to college 18 short years later feels a lot like that. And, no epidural this time either.

This college-sending-stuff is hard, and it isn't pretty. We're on the other side now. We survived. And pretty soon I'll lose the memories of the pain we endured. So, before my brain turns mushy and remembers only the good stuff, I want to share a bit about surviving the transition. Because if I did it, you can too.

At the beginning we were all excited. We went on a beautiful tour of the University of Chicago and found a restaurant that served amazing guacamole with homemade chips. The next year we had fun looking through glossy brochures, laughing about the endless emails that spelled her name "Sabrna" - and going on college tours with their tiny Target-decorated display dorm rooms.

After a few months, the decision became clear. For our girl, all roads pointed to University of Central Florida just an hour and a half away from us. It was perfect. It had her major. It wasn't too far, but she could live in the dorm. And, bonus, they offered an amazing scholarship. Sold. We felt that God was in this - we could sense His direction. That helped.

And, we weren't too nervous then because we had the whole summer as a buffer. Glorious days. No set schedule. We binged on Netflix and Haagen Dazs (Dulce de Leche, to be exact) with no bowls, just spoons. And we even enjoyed shopping for her new life. I bought sheets and notepads, extension cords and k-cups. We resisted the Death Star night light. There was just a tinge of dread as the mound on our dining room table grew. We knew, she knew, that soon she would leave the nest.

I felt prepared. She felt (kind of) prepared, and increasingly anxious.

But when the big day came, it hit us both like a ton of bricks. The night before was rough. We weren't ready to be done with our "lasts" - last walk on the beach, last dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant, last trip to the grocery store where we nabbed as many free samples as possible. How could this possibly be the last night? We both felt strangled, fearful, anxious, crazy... My Lamaze memories started to feel relevant again.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I remember praying with her, and hugging her tight. And then we went to bed. It's amazing that we slept at all. The next morning we were on autopilot, especially me. I woke up early. Ignoring the big knot in my stomach, I focused my mind on fitting the mountain of supplies into the back of our Kia Soul. It was a Tetris-style challenge - and it gave me something to do and think about.

When we arrived, we were all about the unloading. Thank the Lord for those college student volunteers with their giant wheeled plastic bins. What would we have done without them? Only two trips in the sweaty Florida sun, up 7 floors, and we were in her new home-for-now.

This is where my mom-genetic kicked in once again. Just like I went to my mental "happy place" during childbirth, I now chose to focus on what I could do about this very emotional situation. I unpacked her new sheet set. I put the Kylo Ren fleece blanket at the end of her bed. I hung up her clothes. I put away bathroom supplies. I wrestled with those annoying shower curtain rings - little silver beads flying everywhere. And then we were done.

We were tired and triumphant. We were so brave. We tried to celebrate our success over dinner. But dinner was hard. Even though there were delicious lettuce wraps, we weren't hungry. We were tired. She was anxious. I was weepy, holding back the damn. And then the leaving. Even harder. How do you walk away when you know your kid is trembling inside? How do you just leave? But I did. I put one foot in front of the other. Down the hall. Out to the car.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Thank goodness for my husband. He was a little bit annoyed . "This is a good thing," he kept insisting, while I blew my nose and glared at him. "She's got this," he said. "It will be great."

Honestly? Just then I wanted to smack him. Never have I felt less understood. I knew he was right, but it was like the waters were rushing over the barricade. I made it to the car, then cried. And cried some more.

I fell into bed that night, tired, sweaty, a big ugly bruise on my leg (not sure where that came from), but a bigger bruise on my heart. I didn't walk to her bedroom. I couldn't think about it. I just left a piece of me down the road.

That was the tough stuff, friend. But, you know what?

The next morning I got a sweet encouraging FB message from a junior-high friend who understood my pain and voiced his concern. And then, I got a text from my daughter (yay! she's still alive, still breathing), and then (be still my heart) a phone call.

My breathing became ever-so-slightly more normal. 

We chatted while I drank an enormous mug of coffee. She wasn't crying. I was crying just a little bit. She told me about meeting her fourth roommate. She said she ventured out to the student dining room and enjoyed a bowl of Cocoa Puffs (my favorite). A new friend had fixed her wonky internet connection.

You don't know how triumphant we felt. I felt. She felt. This was not easy. But I am convinced it was worth the pain. It is a big change. A HUGE change. But, we are on the other side now, and we lived to tell about it.

This is a new normal for us. The jury is still out on whether or not we love it, but we are doing okay. And I am thankful. I moved my office desk into her room. Her giant stuffed Alpaca, Edgar, is looking at me as I type. He didn't fit in the back of the Kia Soul. And, Sabrina and I text everyday and sometimes talk. And we laugh a lot, and sometimes we really miss each other - and Dulce de Leche ice cream. But, we're good.

So if you're there, if you're getting ready for the big send-off, know that you can do this. You will feel - at moments - like you can't. But you can and will survive it by focusing on the end. And by remembering to breathe. This is what you have been preparing your child for - this is why you've studied hard and raised them right. And don't want a 40-year-old hermit living in your basement, right?

So, go. Breathe. Sigh. Cry. And then rejoice.

You've done it. You've given birth to an adult. Congratulations.

And, by the way, mine is amazing.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Part Bill Clinton Didn't Say

Bill Clinton still has his charm, doesn't he?

With his white hair and blue eyes, he has a bit of a drawl, a bit of a wink, and an impish, aw-shucks grin. And while I am not a card-carrying member of the Democratic party, I couldn't help but be drawn in by his nostalgic and romantic story of meeting Hillary - the long-haired girl with the huge glasses.

But as he told the story of how they met, how he pursued her, how she mothered Chelsea, and what she accomplished, I noticed that he skimmed right over the crux of their story . . . his infidelity and their reconciliation.

That was the part I wanted to know about. Didn't you?

It's not because I am a scandal seeker. I just want to know how it worked. How did she go on after the Monica affair? How did she forgive his infidelity? Was he remorseful? Was she angry? How long did she hold it against him that their marriage had imploded on a national platform? What did it take for her to stay when she probably wanted nothing more than to run screaming from the White House.

It was a marital fight gone rogue. And we all had front row seats.

It felt like I was reading a book with a few chapters ripped out. Or, in the old days, when I missed a few weeks of my favorite television show and couldn't Netflix it to find out what happened.

I'm sure that they wanted to avoid the topic altogether. But, I think the Clintons missed an opportunity in Bill's speech. If I was his speechwriter, I would have pushed them to deal with it, to put it all on the table. After all, we can learn from mistakes. They are horrible, certainly. They are embarrassing, without a doubt. But in acknowledging failure, we learn and grow. And, by owning them, we earn respect.

I think that Bill could have talked about how, while he succeeded in politics, he failed in his marriage commitment. He could talk about how he hurt his wife and his daughter. He could explain how, as a couple, they walked through dark and conflicted times, but that Hillary chose to stay, to remain in his life.

He could talk about what grace and courage it took to make that type of choice and why he respects her today. He could say thank you, publicly, to this woman who he harmed in such a grand way.

But he didn't. We heard everything but that...

Of course, I didn't really expect anything different. That's what politicians do; actually, that's what we all do. We smooth over the tough stuff. We delete the ugly photos from our phone. We cover up our under eye bags with a very high quality concealer. We want to put our best foot forward and never let them see us cry.

But maybe he should have. And maybe we should, too.

It's in revealing our weakness, in our vulnerability, that we find we are all just human after all.

Even Bill. Just a guy who met a girl...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Walking on Water: When We Feel Like We're Up Against Something Impossible

What are you up against right now? Does it seem impossible?

For me, right now, it is fretting about my daughter leaving for college in just a few weeks. I know that she is perfectly capable of college - she is brilliant and funny and friendly and sensible. And I know that saying goodbye on drop-off day will not mean that we will never see one another again. But I also know that we are both stressed out about it.

We did a mall trip - one of our favorite things to do together - and then in the midst of clothes shopping we were sad. Everything we bought reminded us of the upcoming event. Everything. So we ate a jalapeno pretzel with cheese sauce and then got really brutal back massages from the mall kiosk people (remind me not to do that again).

But, for both of us, this whole daunting upcoming thing seems impossible. How will we do it? How will we survive?

So I went for a walk. I do my best thinking while I'm walking on the beach. It was hot out this morning at 7 a.m., but the cool waves were running over my feet, and no matter how stressed or angry or sad I am, the sight and sounds of the ocean make me calm inside.

So I walked, and I muttered. No fancy, articulate prayers here. And I worried out loud about how life was changing with our daughter leaving for college. And, I sighed about politics, and how much I hate those discussions on Facebook, and how my husband is watching way too much political television. And I just let it all out like a trail of worries left in my soggy footsteps.

But in the middle of my prayer-venting, I looked out over the ocean and remembered that time that Jesus asked Peter to walk on water.Well, actually, Peter invited himself. But, Jesus said, "Come along!"

You know, and I know, that walking on water is physically impossible. You might see an illusion like that in Vegas, but not in real life. It's like the time on The Office where Pam decided to walk over coals.

I don't like to attempt the impossible. I like the easy to plan, to schedule, to fulfill. I like my world in order. I like things to be under control. I like to know that I am perfectly capable, and that I will not, can not fail.

But in this story, Peter was being asked to do something impossible. Jesus said, Come to me. Walk on water.

So, Peter did it. He took a step, one big, crazy, impossible step. And, for a moment, it worked.

He was walking . . . on water. He was doing the impossible.

I imagine he kind of freaked out for a moment, and then like a super hero. Wow, am I cool! Look at me - Water Man. I am amazing. I have power over nature. I can do anything!

And then he sank. He walked on water, and then he sank.

If you read the story closely, you'll see that the problem wasn't in Peter's technique. He was walking just fine. It was in his focus.

When he looked at Jesus, when he placed all of his trust in Him, he walked.

But, when he looked at the water, at the high waves, at his feet which were not finned and did not resemble a paddleboard or other flotation device, he immediately began to sink.

It's an easy lesson. I'm sure I don't have to spell it out for you. But, how does that apply to me, to doing things I don't think I can do?

When I was in 7th grade, I was required to walk on a balance beam in gym class. I know. If you know me at all, you are laughing right now. The wooden beam was maybe 2 inches wide . . . maybe. And, it was at least 3 feet in the air. So with fear and trembling, and with a spotter, I walked on it, slowly, my toes curled around it like a terrified reptile.

But then the teacher wanted me to jump . . . jump on the beam . . . like a ballerina. Right!? Are you kidding me? And, it's better, they said, if you don't look at the floor or your feet. Look ahead. Otherwise, you lose your balance.

I never did learn how to walk on the beam, or do that weird backwards somersault thing they made me try. But I did learn a lesson a whole lot like Peter's. You can't do the impossible when you are focused on your limitations. Instead, we need to deliberately place our focus on Jesus, and on what we can do through Him.

If you think that you will fail, you are probably right. You, alone, can't do the impossible. You will sink.

Look to God, and you will walk . . . even on water.

- - -

And, in case you've never read it:  MATTHEW 14:22-33 (TLB)

28 Then Peter called to him: “Sir, if it is really you, tell me to come over to you, walking on the water.”
29 “All right,” the Lord said, “come along!”
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
31 Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and rescued him. “O man of little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” 32 And when they had climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.
33 The others sat there, awestruck. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Old Timey Religion

Nowadays the word "religion" gets a bad rap. 

But add "old-timey" to it, and, well, it just doesn't feel so bad. It's a bit odd that, as a city/suburban girl, I'm often drawn to backwoods expressions of faith.

This morning, I was listening to a rendition of "Build Me a Cabin in Gloryland" by Hank Williams. Its twangy, foot-tapping beat resonate with my soul. I think of the old classics like "I'll Fly Away," "Power in the Blood," and "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder"...

These gospel tunes make me want to attend a little church in the holler where they have wood floors, hard pews, and a preacher that yells a bit too much. I want a choir that is out of tune and a piano player that can hammer on those keys. I want to see the sunlight streaming in a window with just a little bit of dust floating in the air.

I used to watch Little House on the Prairie on television, and I loved when Pa and Ma would load Mary, Laura and little Carrie into the wagon and head to church in Walnut Grove - the church that also served as the schoolhouse. I think one time even grumpy old Mr. Edwards attended.

What is it about those plain, unvarnished days that seems so appealing?

Certainly, the church in those days was filled with characters. Have you seen the movie The Apostle with Robert Duvall? If not, you should. He is rough, messed up, a bit crazy, and totally sold out for God.

He's like a character right out of a Flannery O'Connor's southern short stories. And then, there's the true story a real-life character, Ed Stilley.

Ed lives in Hogscald Hollow, Arkansas (you can't even make a name like that up). He is 90-something years old and has pastored and homesteaded in the hollow all of his life.

But one day, after falling asleep with a gun across his lap, Ed heard the voice of God telling him to make instruments to give to little children. Ed had never made a guitar (pronounced gee-tar) in his life. But he couldn't ignore God, so he went out and cut some lumber and soaked it.

He bent it and began to form crudely shaped guitars. He used whatever he could find - a pork chop bone for a bridge - and carved words of faith on the front. He gave the guitars away for nothing, to children. And they made beautiful music - who says you can't make an instrument from rough wood.

Ed isn't pretty. He isn't polished. His Bible is as ruffled as a wet chicken's feathers after a rain storm. But that's because he's read it . . . a lot.

And maybe that's why Ed represents true religion to me. It is the best kind.

Pure and simple. Listening to God. Doing what He asks (no matter how crazy it may seem). Reading His Word. Being kind and generous . . . even musical.

I think we get it awfully messed up these days. We have made it fancier, more polished and appealing. We've tried hard to be less offensive. But we've also lost the charm and power of the gospel message. So when I hear a story like Ed's, it sticks with me and cuts to my soul.

Take me back to the holler. Give me that old time religion. As the song says, "it's good enough for me."

To read more of Ed's story, go here.