Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Into the Valley: Loving Your Spouse Through a Layoff

It took my husband and I a couple of years to fully recover from the near year he was out of work. We were wrecked emotionally and financially. When it happened we had two tiny kids at home and I was a work-at-home mom with my own small business, which wasn't nearly enough to keep us afloat.

My husband felt kicked in the teeth. A big, tough manly man, even he was reduced to tears on occasion as we groped through this new territory. The worst part for me was I didn't know how to support him.

No one I knew had been through this, especially with little kids to consider. And, as our checking account dwindled so did my husband's morale. He worked odd jobs, pulled weeds, handed out fliers throughout the neighborhood advertising handy man work, anything to keep even a little money coming in.

And in my lowest moments, when it didn't seem that God was hearing my prayers, it seemed life would sink even lower. A bill would come in we couldn't pay or a job that Dan had interviewed for would fall through. It was a maddening push and pull of hope and fear.

Eventually we were blessed with an opportunity for Dan to work with a nearby company. He wasn't just employed, but he was close enough to pick kids up from school or attend recitals. In the years since, we've had the chance to mentor people through this same difficulty, knowing how hard it is to find someone - anyone - to lean on in such times.

Here are five tips we usually give couples struggling through this daunting situation. I hope they help you or others you know.

1. Don't blame each other. 

Emotions are going to run high. There will be moments of desolation and weariness. That is no one's fault. Know that your husband or wife was a victim of circumstance, and they couldn't have changed the outcome. Instead of fueling a tense situation with blame, consider how you might serve your spouse. Take them out for a drive. Speak kind words into their soul. Make their favorite meal. Oftentimes, we fight with those we love as a way of combating our own feelings of inadequacy. A loving gesture is often the greatest salve for a wounded spirit.

2. Don't have the same bad day. 

This was actually my husband's idea. He being the more even-keeled of the two of us, knew this would be an emotional struggle for me. He looked across from the table at me in the beginning and said simply,"We are both going to have bad days. But we just can't have the same bad day." So, the decision was made: whoever got their first could claim the bad day. The other person's job was to build up, encourage and lighten the mood a little. I believe this strategy saved our marriage.

3. Distract yourself. 

Thankfully, my husband's layoff occurred in the spring and summer when there were plenty of free activities in the area. If we had been mired down in the job hunt for too long, one of us would pick a place to visit and go. Sometimes it was just to a park, sometimes to a Farmer's Market. We made it a little mini staycay, visiting places we didn't get to see that were nearby. Not only did this break up the monotony of our situation, but it also helped us enjoy the opportunity we had to be together as a family after years of Dan's commuting hours away. And on the cheap, too, I might add!

4. Avoid social media. 

Aside from anything related to job searching, you should avoid social media content. As awful as it may sound, it's just really hard to be happy for others when you are going through a tough financial situation. Seeing posts of vacation pictures or new car purchases will only feed your depression. And it could possibly feed feelings of frustration toward your spouse that he or she doesn't deserve. Instead, pick up the phone or visit someone in person. That way you are getting one-on-one interaction, which is important, but avoiding the onslaught of hundreds of people's triumphs.

5. Don't bail on church. 

It's tough to drag yourself into the pew when you are struggling. They pass the offering plate, and you wonder if you can afford to place that $20 bill in there. What will that do to your grocery budget for the week? But, as most pastors will attest, church is not about the offering plate. It's about connecting with your community of believers. It's about praising and praying to God, even in the midst of despair. True, He will meet you anywhere, but only in church can you feel the prayers of hundreds of others swirling around you.

Don't be afraid to be honest with your pastor about your situation. Not only can he be a source of counsel and comfort, but he may know someone in the congregation with a job opening or connection to one. Never underestimate the power of community or prayer.

When Dan finally was hired on at his current company, it was a welcome relief. But it took a long time for both of us to trust our new situation. However, we never doubted our commitment to one another. And, in the end, I know it made our relationship ever stronger. We now know that we will walk with each other through the valleys without quaking. In the end, that is what God's divine marriage plan is for. If just one of these tips helps you toward that end, I'm thankful we endured it so we could be a blessing to you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Day My Son Stopped Believing

I knew it was going to happen. Like most red-blooded American parents, we perpetuated the Santa Claus myth knowing full well that our bright boy would one day wise up to our plot. He'd figure out the "truth," and deep down I'd prepared for him to be bitterly disappointed; maybe even fight feelings of betrayal. But what he did instead sort of stunned me.

Just the other day we were talking about Santa when my 10-year-old looked at me with a smirk. "Mom," he said. "C'mon. I know how it works."

"Whatever do you mean?" I asked in mock innocence. "How does it work?"

He proceeded to whisper, so as not to give away our little secret to his 7-year-old brother, that he knew we bought the presents. At first I was not sure how to respond to this conversation between us. Should I fain shock? Should I stand by our contention that a man in a big red suit ho-ho-hoed his way down our chimney and sprinkled goodies around our tree? Do I deflect?

That's when he really stunned me. "Thank you," he said, wrapping his arms around my neck in a hug. 

This was not the result I was anticipating. He was fine. Pleased, even, it seemed, to be in on the secret. But inside I was shattered. Here it was, the first of many layers of innocence falling away from my once-little boy.

I'm not going to pretend that this didn't sting. In fact, I cried myself to sleep that night, praying to God that He could stretch these years just a little further. But I know the truth. Growing up is inevitable.

Today it's Santa Claus. Tomorrow it's the Easter Bunny (not that he still believes in the Easter Bunny, but oh, the day when he decides he's too old to hunt eggs!)

I often feel that I'm standing at the top of a snow cap, holding desperately to a sled threatening to plunge down the hill at full force. I know my grip is slipping and any minute the sled of childhood will be out of my grasp heading toward maturity. This is the part that hurts, that I can't stop it no matter how much I tighten my hold.

So, now we stand in the light of truth. I realize I can't have a stranglehold on my children. They will grow up. And Santa, unfortunately, is one of the first of childish things my son is leaving behind him. Still, I think with a smile at his reaction. Instead of bitterness, his was an attitude of thanksgiving. Instead of ruining his brother's illusions, he showed tremendous graciousness and joy in participating with us.

He's eager to talk up Santa to his brother, and even, if begrudgingly, smiled for a photo with the big jolly man this year. My son is participating in the fun, and that, it seems, is making Christmas even more special for him this year. 

When I think of it in this new light, I realize it's not so bad, this growing up business. Eventually, there will be no more serious Santa talk in our home, but it doesn't have to mean the magic is gone. It just means the magic is maturing.

With that in mind, I think I'll loosen my grip a little on that sled. Instead, I've decided to jump on and enjoy the ride with my kids as long as they will let me. And, who knows? Maybe the scenery gets even better from here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Seven Years of Birth and Bravery

Today marks a birthday. And an anniversary. My youngest son was born seven years ago today, which, on its own is very hard to believe. It seems just yesterday I was holding his tiny little hand for the first time. Now, I see him sprouting into this young man full of vigor and lifethirst that astounds (and exhausts) me.

The day he was born marked the first day of my first real faith test. You see, up until that day I had worked full time for the same company for nearly eight years. I loved my job, but the call to be with my children was greater than my corporate ambitions.

This, let me point out, was not an easy decision. My husband and I prayed and talked and prayed some more before I finally went to my boss with the idea of forming my own company so I could work from home. He tried to entice me with a part-time option, but I knew it had to be all or nothing. Thankfully, he believed in me enough to give it a shot.

My husband and I made the same amount of money in those days, so my not bringing in a full-time income was going to be a huge risk. But, feeling led by the Lord, we did what we felt we needed to do.

I often tell people it was like jumping off a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. The ship I was on was very comfortable, even fun. It had all the security I needed; I knew it would float in the midst of a storm. Still, how could I find out if I could swim if I didn't jump? So, that's what I did. 

Now, suddenly here I was with a newborn, a toddler and a new business. That's when the depression hit. I don't remember a lot about the first month after I brought Beau home. I was swimming through muddy waters at this point, dissolving into a puddle of tears for no reason several times a day. My mother finally drove me to the doctor where I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and given a mild anti-depressant.

Before too long, the waters cleared a bit and I could see a little better where I was going. The days, at first, were still challenging. I was suddenly wearing sweatpants instead of dress pants, carrying a diaper bag instead of a briefcase. I was growing human beings and a new business. It was, to say the least, daunting.

I can't even begin to count the number of times Beau accompanied me, diaper bag and all, to business meetings with new clients snuggled into his baby carrier.

We kept swimming.

Over time, I figured out how to balance diaper duty and conference calls, and still managed to work with my toddler on his ABCs.

Today, that toddler is 10 and his little brother is 7. They are amazing little people, full of fun and life, intelligence and imagination. And I can't imagine not being here to witness it.

I won't lie. There have been moments over these last seven years (particularly when wiping poop or barf off of something) when I have had nostalgic longings for the "working world." 

I've often wondered what would have happened to my career had I not left at its height. But, then I look at those two beautiful faces and remember the firsts I witnessed in person: first smiles, first walks, first days of school, first heartbreaks.

I realize that I might have abandoned the ability to buy an expensive home, new cars and fancy vacations for my family by making the choice I did. But, in the end, I realize how much more we have because we followed God's guidance.

I wish beyond words that every woman had the opportunity and ability to chart their own course. Because, as I celebrate my son's birthday, I also celebrate the seventh anniversary of a brave choice - one that has given me much more than I deserve. One that I am ever thankful for.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Take Your Hands Out Of Your Pants!" and Other Things I Never Thought I'd Say Until I Had Boys

I used to be an equal opportunity thinker. As a Southern quasi-feminist, I always thought the only real difference between boys and girls was strictly anatomy. I mean, we're all human, right? That was before I had to RAISE boys. They have a tribal instict that is not nearly as prevalent in girls, making them part human and part animal. I say this with love, of course. Because, while, keeping them clean and clothed presents a challenge, they are the greatest huggers ever, and those are well worth the effort.

Need evidence that boys are part animal? Here are seven things I never thought I'd say before I had these little lovable critters: 

1) Yes, you have to wear underwear. Always. 

I actually spoke these words to my 6-year-old when he insisted this was an option. I'm convinced he will grow up to be a nudist someday. You see, boys think that most clothing is not so much a necessity as it is a consideration. And, if you can actually wrestle them into something passable as clothing, they will find a way to shed it as soon as possible, as evidence by the trail of socks I have to pick up throughout the house every day. 

2) Stop killing your brother! 

Thankfully, this was during a pretend sword fight. But, when sticks are involved, sometimes you have to step in. Given how they play together sometimes, however, I do wonder if this is a comment I may have to utter in a real-life situation one day. Let's hope not. 

3) That's not where we pee! 

This was to my now 10-year-old when he was 6. I caught him peeing in the front yard as cars passed by. Boys seem to view the entire outside world as their own public toilet. The only place they seem to have difficulty urinating is actually IN the toilet. Go figure. 

4) Take your hands out of your pants when you talk to me. 

My 6-year-old seems to immediately assume this position whenever he's stationary. Reading a book. Talking to me. Watching TV. Why is this comforting? I have no idea. But, it's an on-going issue that my female brain is still trying to comprehend. 

5) Don't talk to your brother while he's on the pot. 

Really? Why must I even HAVE to say this? It seems my boys are constantly having deep and meaningful conversations with each other when the other one is going to the bathroom. This. Is. Beyond. Me. Not to mention, highly inappropriate. If I'm still saying this when they're teenagers, then I think therapy is a must - for them as well as me.

6) Stop sticking things up your nose. 

My 6-year-old followed in his father's footsteps when he was just 4 years old by lodging no less than six green beans up his nostrils. We couldn't believe it! Just when we were poised to rush him to the ER, he sneezed them out, much to our relief. But, since then, he's continued to experiment with other objects, like rocks, forks and straws. At one point he managed to lodge the tiniest Lego coin (literally two millimeters in diameter) into his ear canal. After I (breathlessly) eased it out with a pair of tweezers, I lectured him on sticking things into his ears. Still, there could be a whole cache of toys in there I know nothing about. Go figure!

7) Take the bucket off your head. We're going to church. 

When my oldest child was around 2 years old, he received a Wendy's meal in a bright orange Halloween bucket. After lunch, he commenced to wearing said bucket on his head. Everywhere. All the time. We would go to the store, he'd put on the bucket. We'd go for a walk around the neighborhood in his toy car, on came the bucket. He even slept with the darn thing. He did this for nearly two years. I was, officially, the mother of the bucket head. And, you know what? I didn't really mind. I mean, how many times can you actually get away with wearing a bucket on your head? Not when you're an adult, that's for sure (unless you want to be committed). So, he wore the bucket until his head got too big for it. Not all boys wear buckets, but costumes in different forms seem to come with the territory. So, if you are having boys, my advice is stock up on helmets, swords, cowboy vests and toy guns. You're going to need them.

Needless to say, much of my scolding has to do with bathroom matters. I'll never quite understand what in the world boys are thinking, but I do know there's never a dull moment. And, you know what? I wouldn't change a thing. Well, maybe I would wish they could aim better, but otherwise ...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

No More Darkness in the Attic: Claiming Victory Over Your Fears

"You can do it," he said, as he unfolded the ladder from the attic. "It's just an attic. And I'm right here." 

Immediately, my heart palpitated. My pulse quickened. Sweat began beading on my forehead, and I had yet to step foot on the wooden contraption.

As my kids watched on, I took one shaky step toward the gaping darkness. Now, I was breathing faster, wondering if there was an escape hatch somewhere close at hand. There wasn't.

For most of my life, I've been afraid of attics. And for good reason. As a young girl, my step brother had molested me over a span of about three years when I would visit my father for his court-ordered weekends. During one of these visits, my step brother, who was also a sadist, locked me in a dark attic, knowing the light didn't work. I was petrified. I'm still unclear as to how I escaped, as much of that part of my life is blocked out.

What I do know is that the fear stayed with me. My husband of nearly 13 years decided enough was enough. It was time to face the darkness.

So, there I was on shaky knees, creeping my way to the opening. "Now, turn on the light," he gently instructed.

I reached up, and quickly flicked on the light, propping myself on the edge of the attic. "Okay. I did it. I'm coming down," I said.

"Not yet. Look around," he urged. I scanned the room, eyeing the box of desired fall decorations that started this whole adventure. Of course, they were all the way in the far corner. "Do you see the boxes?"

"Yes," I said, shakily, tears starting to come to my eyes. By this time, Dan had also climbed the ladder and was instructing me. "Now, step here and hold on to the beam. You can do it."

And so it went. Little by little, I edged over to the boxes, sliding them toward the opening. Still shaking, but comforted that someone was here with me, I eventually accomplished the goal.

After we had closed up the attic, my husband hugged me. "I'm proud of you," he said. "I know that was hard. But you see? You have nothing to be afraid of any more. This is your home. Your stepbrother doesn't live here. This is the safest place in the world."

Taking a deep breath, I wiped my eyes, knowing he was right. I was safe, in more ways than one.

Today, the world is much like that dark gaping hole that was my attic. It's filled with scary things as long as we stay in the darkness. It's when we turn on the light that is Christ that we can finally overcome and claim victory over the things that persecute us.

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (

Even now, as Christians are being targeted worldwide, we have a light that can't be extinguished. I challenge you, my friend and reader, to claim victory through Christ over whatever fear is clutching you. Because He is the safest place in the world.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Raised to Be a Racist: A Southern White Girl's Thoughts on the Race Debate

It's an image that has haunted me from my childhood. Growing up in Bossier City, Louisiana, there were quite distinct "good" and "bad" parts of town - the places you just didn't wander into late at night. Just across the river, separated by only 20 miles and a bridge, was Shreveport. White people lived there, but the bulk of the population was - and still is - black and, for the most part, impoverished.

My mother worked in Downtown Shreveport and one evening, after picking me up from school, we headed toward the bridge that divided these two vastly different areas of this corner of North Louisiana. That's when I saw the men in white hoods standing on each side of the street, in the "black" part of town, waving their crosses, holding their signs that spewed hatred and intolerance. Even as a little white girl, my bones shivered. Something wasn't right about this.

Forty five minutes the other direction lived my grandparents, products of the same generation, but vastly different in their views of race. You see, both sets of my grandparents lived in tiny specks of towns just five minutes apart. One set (my father's parents), were farmers - salt-of-the-earth types, who worked the land and raised cattle. It wasn't uncommon for the "N" word to be thrown around like baseballs during general conversation relating to "those people." They were often blamed for most of the woes of the world, especially economic depression and job loss. Exactly how the race of one group of people impacted those two concerns, I couldn't quite grasp, but, you didn't argue with your grandparents, so I let it lie.

My other set of grandparents, however, were gas station owners - hard workers in their own right. My grandfather's best friend was a black man he had known since childhood. Everyone was invited in to eat dinner, regardless of station or color. If you worked hard, respected other people and showed integrity in your life, that's what mattered. Incidentally, when my grandfather passed away, his friend cried like a baby and continued to come around to check on my grandmother for years after.

So, my life as a child was filled with mixed messages about race and acceptance of others. I never heard my mother spew hatred toward any race, yet my father (from whom my mother was divorced) regularly spouted racial epitaphs. Still, I grew to see everyone as equal. Despite the invasion of racial slurs in my life, I adopted my maternal grandfather's perspective: hard work, integrity, respect - that's what mattered, not color.

Later in life I began attending Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, just an hour and a half East of Bossier.  I worked at a department store, where I befriended a pretty cool girl. I thought we would be fast friends.

That was, at least, until the day she called me to the middle of the store with a loud whisper. "Look at that," she hissed, eyes slid toward the shoe department. I noticed a nice-looking couple shopping with their very young children. "He should be shot!," she hissed again, conspiratorially.

Confused, I looked again at the couple. It was only then that I noticed he was white, she was black and their children, mixed. I looked back at her, astonished. I wish I could say I rebutted with a clever remark, but, frankly, I was too stunned to speak. It never occurred to me that this kind of racially motivated hatred would lurk in one my own age. Needless to say, the friendship died there.

In my years working as a journalist in small Texas towns, I can honestly say that my exposure to racial hatred has been surprisingly slim. There was the time a fellow journalist, who just happened to be black, and I went to lunch together at a restaurant in town. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the room went silent when we entered. At that point, I reached over and grabbed his hand, just to mess with the bigots a little. He thought that was pretty cool; but warned me that we might be shot in the parking lot. I shrugged it off and we both lived to tell the tale.

So, what does all this have to do with the racial context of the day? Simply this: racism is a learned behavior. It's like the song from South Pacific says, "You have to be carefully taught." I could have gone either way, but, thanks to the guidance of my mother and others in my life, it became evident that hatred was a wasted emotion, especially with regards to race.

Every time a politician comes on TV spouting racial inequality or race ethics, I have to wonder just how much their words are helping our country. At some point, we have to stop seeing each other for the color of each other's skin. There has to come a time when a person is just that - a person. Yes, there will always be hot pockets of racial discrimination based on a myriad of factors. But as a whole, our nation needs to hold every person accountable - not for our race - but for our individual actions.

I'm raising my children without labels. Eventually, they will learn the words for certain races - African American, American Indian, Hispanic - but for now my 6-year-old refers to others as "brown skinned people" or "dark skinned person." Person. People.

I still don't know if the shooting in Ferguson was warranted. Having two young children, I see little of the news, so I'm pretty ignorant of the facts of the case. But the bottom line is this: if someone is in the midst of committing a crime, they should be expected to face consequences for those actions - white, black, purple or green. That does not, however, give law enforcement carte blanche to shoot at random. We have yet to determine if that was what was taking place here, but I hope that we can all reserve judgement until all the facts are in and then take appropriate - and fair - action.

The best we can do as a country is to stop referring to each other by color, and start relating to each other as people. Because we are, after all, brothers and sisters sharing a planet. My deepest prayer is that we can see beyond the moment and reach past the fury of today into tomorrow. Maybe by doing that we can rebuild bridges that span well beyond skin color - if not for our own sake, then for the sake of our children.

Monday, August 18, 2014

I'm Not a Cool Mom. And I'm Totally Cool with That.

I'm not a "cool" mom. I don't know whose tops on the Pop charts. I don't have cable (by choice), so I don't really get the whole zombie phenomenon sweeping the nation. I'm not a fashion plate, and not really interested in my kids being one either.  I see no reason for my pre-teen to have a cell phone, so he's not facetiming, texting or tweeting anyone or anything. 

Nope. Not a cool mom. And I'm totally fine with that. Here's why: 

First, I'm more and more aware of the evils (and I use that word intentionally) of too much too soon. Our kids are being bombarded like never before with half-naked models peddling everything from perfume to pajamas. People are churning out smartphone apps that make it easy to commit crimes and get away with it (yes, I mean you, Snapchat). And, apparently, TV shows have gone the way of soft porn in many cases. 

I simply don't want my young sons growing up thinking that this is the moral standard, low though it may be, that they should set for themselves. So, instead of cable, we have streaming TV. Yes, we watch shows like Andy Griffith and Little House on the Prairie instead of The Walking Dead and Normal Show. And know what? My kids like it that way. 

They, too, are tired of the assault on their senses they get every time they turn a corner. The simpler, gentler shows are much more their speed. It's a relief to them not to have to be "on alert" for a curse word or a nip slip. Because, guess what? They're kids. And childhood is too fleeting for them to have to be concerned about such things right now. 

Next, there's the ever-present argument over cell phones. My 10-year-old's relentless pursuit of a smartphone is exhausting for me to fend off, but, for his own good, I stand firm. I once asked him what in the world he could possibly need a phone for, anyway, since we are together all the time. He had no ready answer. The simple truth is, he wants one because he sees most of his friends having one. And that's not a good enough reason. 

If I were to give in to this request, we'd have a few problems on our hands that none of us is ready to tackle:
  • Predators - I have spent my entire parenting career telling my children not to let anyone touch them without permission. By handing my son a cell phone, I'm basically giving any pervert within the Internet's reach access to my babies. They are too young to understand the dangers this presents, so, until they are old enough to get it, and until there is a true necessity for this device, we will be keeping up with each other the old-fashioned way - one-on-one and face-to-face. 
  • Finances - Personally, I don't think any adolescent should be given access to an accessory unless they can help foot the bill. When my kid can contribute financially to the cell phone bill, we might talk about it. 
  • Peer bullying - I've seen this first-hand with one of my own dear sweet relatives. Cell phones can be used for cyber bullying quicker than you can say "spit." And for some reason application designers continue to churn out apps that make it a cakewalk to victimize people and leave no trace evidence, (which, in my opinion, should be illegal but that's another topic for a different post). 
So, no. My son will not be receiving a cell phone any time soon. Which I know puts me in the minority among my parenting peers. And that's okay. 

Finally, I'm a huge advocate for censorship. I censor everything, from my kids' movie choices to the kinds of video games they play to what sites they can access on the Internet. We have one community computer in our house, and it's an old-fashioned, bolted-to-the desk model, placed where I can easily see what's on the screen. No laptops or TVs are allowed in their rooms, and while this can sometimes be a challenge, since we also only have one main TV in the house, it's a necessity. 

Know why? Because pornography is merely a click away. And studies show that pornographers are targeting boys as young as 6. It's the silent infection that is spreading through our young men's lives, and if we don't stand in the gap for them, who will? The same goes for movies, TV shows and video games, which, if you study them, continue to eek the door open inch-by-inch for immoral and lewd behavior. 

I know I sound a little like the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live here. And, don't get me wrong, I don't expect my children to listen to sermons and read nothing but their Bibles, for Heaven's sake. But I do expect them to sharpen their moral swords before entering into the Lion's den. 

One day, my children will be old enough to see PG-13 movies. They'll most likely have cell phones at some point in their teenage years. Heck, we might even get cable one day, if we are so moved. But, for now, while they're spiritual bones are still hardening, I want them to be guarded, wary, even, of what the world has to offer. Because one day they will have to decide for themselves what's right and what's wrong, and that's a decision I don't want them making through blurred lenses. 

If that makes me uncool, then, I'm cool with that. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Different Kind of Open Carry: 5 Reasons Kids Should Carry Bibles

I grew up living a double life. As the child of divorced parents, I often found myself splitting weekends with my mother who didn't attend church and my father, who regularly dropped me with my grandmother who practically had a church pew carved for her - she was that devoted.

So, I can't say that I had a particular religious fervor in my youth. I never attended church camps or vacation Bible schools. Bible drill? What's that? I knew a few of the hymns, learned how to pray the "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" prayer at a young age and heard lots about Hell fire, but that was about it.

My true relationship with Christ didn't begin until I was in college. That was also when a benevolent boyfriend, upon learning that I had didn't own my own Bible, bought one for me. It was a sacrifice for him financially, and I still have it stored among my treasures.

Today, with our touch-screen technology, it's easy to toss aside our leather-bound scripture for something with more, let's say, functionality. I see many youths and young children, including my own, walking around without  their Bible or, at best with it on their phone. And I can't say I blame them. I mean, it's easy reference, lightweight and, if your one who is concerned about such things, discreet. And that's exactly the problem. 

As a mom, I've become increasingly aware that my kids don't carry their Bibles to church, and it's disturbing to me. Here are five reasons I think carrying a Bible, at least to church, should be a requirement for our kids, if not for ourselves.

1) Heft. Let's face it, unless you're carrying around the pocket version with the too-tiny print, then your Bible is probably pretty heavy. It's bulky and sometimes cumbersome to carry, especially if you have the unabridged study Bible with Hebrew-to-English translations. And that's exactly the point.

The word of God is heavy. It's laden with guidance for our every day lives in great detail. It's not the Wiki-pedia version of God's Word. This IS God's Word. And by carrying it around in our hands, feeling the weight of it, we are reminded that our faith is not to be lightly held. It is a beautiful weighty gift that should not be left behind when we walk out the door.

2) Visibility. We should never carry a Bible just for the sake of doing so, and I don't advocate hypocritical behavior. On the contrary. If you are carrying your Bible - to church, the office, to class - you'd better watch your choices. Because someone will see what you have in your hand and they will judge you - and often Christ - by the way you conduct yourself.

It's much easier to slide our iPhones into our pockets, hiding our beliefs inside an App, than to openly carry your beliefs on top of your book pile. It's as if you are carrying Jesus right there under your arm, an ever-present reminder of the greater call of Christianity. And by doing so, you have the best accountability partner imaginable.

3) Connection. I don't know about you, but it's very hard for me to feel connected through technology. Texting, while convenient, is a very cold way to communicate. So is facebook and even facetime. These are fantastic new ways of touching base with someone, but they don't have the same effect as being face-to-face with a person, hearing their voice and touching their skin.

It's the same with the Bible. Reading it on a screen is not the same and flipping those flimsy pages and truly digging into God's Word. There's a connectivity there that can't be felt through the Holy Bible App on your phone. And sometimes we don't need the "quick reference" guide. Instead, we should be turning the pages, contemplating on where God wants us to go to next.

4) History. Before my college boyfriend gave me my new Bible, I'd been carrying around a beat up red leather one that belonged to my mother. It had her graceful cursive in the margins and dog eared from times in her life when the scripture spoke to her. It even had a family tree in the back outlining our heritage.

That Bible, which I still have to this day, was special to me because of what it represented: history. A child's Bible is their first tangible connection with the Lord; it's something to be cherished, scribbled in, and marked. It's the child's first spiritual journal, marking a time in their lives when God is beginning to shape their faith. And that's just not something you can do on your smartphone.

5) Reflection. The marks and scribbles I mentioned above remain in that book forever. As the child grows, hopefully maturing in their faith, they will most likely stumble over the notes in the margin made years before. If they are anything like me, they'll run their fingers over the script, remembering the moment that particular passage was needed. It may remind them of a renewal of their faith, or a shoring up in troubled times. At any rate, those dog ears will mark time, much like a map of their spiritual journey. And it's in the looking back over our conversations with God that we can be reminded, once again, of His unending faithfulness.

I guess you can say I'm an advocate for open carry - of Bibles, that is. 

I'm not a prude. I don't expect my kids to quote scripture on demand or convert every random person they meet on the street. But, I do expect them to take their faith seriously. Christ is not a medallion to be worn on our necks or to be stuck to our cars, just for us to turn around and act any way we choose.

He's not an App or a facebook post. He's real. He's tangible. He's present. And what better way to remember this than by holding in our hands a hefty compass by which to guide our lives?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Where Are All the Ministers? An Open Letter to Our Silent Christian Leaders

Dear Christian Ministers of all Denominations,

I cried myself to sleep last night. Again. I made the mistake of reading an account of the atrocities being heaped upon the Christians in the middle-east, namely 250 young Christian girls who had been kidnapped, forcibly gang raped and then shot ... all while jihadists video taped their abuse.

Beyond turning my stomach, this grieved my spirit. I sobbed for them, for their mothers, for their families, who are most likely displaced and starving in the desert, if they had survived the attacks at all. And all because they subscribe to a religion that preaches kindness, love, tolerance, peace and self-sacrifice.

Now, before I get comments citing the Crusades, etc., I'm speaking solely to the teachings of Christ, who we swear to try our hardest to emulate as His followers. He teaches us to "love one another." Even our enemies, which these days is hard.

As Christians are slaughtered on one side of the globe, right here in the United States, we are being squeezed out in other ways. No, our houses aren't being burned ... yet. But, our religious rights are being stripped on long piece at a time, all in the name of tolerance (for others). We can no longer pray to our Lord in schools. We can no longer deny services to those whose lifestyles we don't agree with. Saying the name "Jesus" in a public place evokes looks of sheer horror or, worse, repulsion, like the speaker has grown a third head.

Suddenly saying you are a Christian is a crime, if not legally, then socially. It seems the word tolerance is only reserved for those with "trendy" titles, like Muslim or Catholic, or Homosexual, or Trans-gendered. Not for us Christians. Instead, those who slap labels like "judgmental" or "old-fashioned" on us are considered the tolerant, open-minded ones. "Yes, let them burn your house," the world seems to be saying. "You're only a Christian. You're rights, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, don't count."

And among the silent majority are those who should be outraged at such treatment -- our ministers. Men and women of the cloth, I ask, where are your voices? Why aren't you holding press conferences, marching on Washington, raising banners? Where are our Christian heroes?

My step-father is Jewish, and I respect him a great deal. I've always been troubled at the silence that surrounded, for so many years, the Holocaust. If not for the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we might never have stood up for those being shackled, starved, beaten and abused, all for their faith. And, we might be under the Nazi regime right now if not for America and the United Kingdom's actions during that fight.

Now, as we stare down the barrel of another Holocaust, I ask where are the Christians? Why are we being silent to a war that is creeping its way to our own doorstep. Will our daughters be raped next? Our houses burned?

If they were, would anyone care? Afterall, we're JUST Christians, right?  I'm writing this letter as an appeal to all who call themselves "Minister." Your denomination doesn't matter. But your voice does. And so does mine. I ask you to pray, to gather, to plan. Find a way to speak up for a religion that does matter and for the children who choose to follow bravely in the face of such terrorism. They deserve it, and so does He.

Monday, July 7, 2014

God's Refinished Furniture

I tried my hand at refinishing a book case this weekend. It was my first time using Chalk Paint, the latest no-sanding, no-priming favorite pastime of do-it-yourselfers. Basically, it's the paint equivalent to the Bedazzler: it's a fool-proof method of making any old thing look new again, provided it's made of wood.

As I was painting, I made a few bobbles, dripping paint where it didn't belong. As I was sanding off the drips, I started looking at the finished product. There were places where the paint wasn't quite even, the old finish shown through in certain areas and the places where I sanded off the drips was rustic-looking. To some, it may have looked like I had really botched the job. But, to me, the imperfections made the piece, well, perfect.

Personally, I like the shabby chic look, probably because it's a lot like me: a lovely piece with plenty of visible dents and dings that give it ... er... personality. As I was admiring my handiwork, I realized just how much like refinished furniture we must be to God.

We all seem to strive for a polished exterior. In furniture terms, we all want to be like the mass-produced perfectly symmetrical pieces found at the large home furniture stores. We want people to see us and say, "That's beautiful. I want to display that in my well-appointed home." But, those pieces have no character, and very few stand the test of time.

To God we are a lot like the discarded pieces that are renewed with a little love, care and patient work. Life has dinged us up in places. Our finish is scratched, maybe even chipped here and there. But as God sands off the rough spots, he sometimes leaves the underneath exposed. Sometimes he patches the dents. Other times, he lets those places be a reminder of times gone past.

Where others might say, "What a piece of junk!" God smiles and says, "What a masterpiece!" He sees our potential and lovingly restores us to an even greater version of ourselves.

Sometimes I compare myself to moms who seem to have it all together, and I allow my thoughts to slip into places of despair. I start thinking, "What a piece of junk I am." Then God, paintbrush still dripping, taps me on the shoulder and shakes his head. "No," He reminds me. "What a masterpiece."

"For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:13-14

Monday, June 30, 2014

Confessions of a Horrible Summertime Mother

Most people wouldn't classify me as a terrible summertime mom. I mean, I've already shared with my readers the color-coded calendar I hold in such high esteem. I'm very good at finding activities for my children to participate in during the hot summer months. It's the downtime I have trouble with. 

That, my friends, is what makes me a terrible summertime mom. 

I work. Which means that my time with my kids is relegated to anytime during the week after 1 and before 8 or 9 p.m. (preferably 8). That's usually when my kids want to go to wet places like the pool or the splash pad or the lake. 

Now, I do love summer. Really. I grew up frolicking lakeside with my cousins, skiing, wake boarding and living in my swimsuit. It never bothered me that my diet consisted mainly of Rainbow white bread and bologna. In fact, at 10 years old, I liked it that way. I don't remember a lot of adults hovering around. Heck, I don't think I ever wore floaties or a life jacket. My family members just threw us in and hoped we'd float, I guess. 

Deep down, I want that kind of abandon for my kids. I really do. But, the truth is, and I hate to admit it, I'd rather lay around the pool getting sun on my pasty skin than to slide into the frigid water to ensure my children didn't become drowning victims.

That's the first reason I'm a terrible summertime mom. Because I'm selfish enough to long for the freedom to soak up cancer-causing UV rays while catching up on the latest issue of People instead of yearning for the opportunity (fleeting as it is) to frolick in the water with my children. Do I frolick? Yes. Yes, I do. And I do enjoy it. Mostly. 

Aside from my loss of sunning time, I find that my frequent visits to the pool are just another reason for me to worry. See, I have a 6-year-old who thinks he can swim. He can't. But, will he listen to reason? No. Will he wear the floaties? No. So, I'm constantly having to keep a visual vigil to make sure he doesn't literally get in over his head. This stresses me to no end. I'm longing for the day when he, like his 10-year-old brother, can touch most places in the pool so I can relax a little. I don't have these problems during other seasons of the year. 

And can we talk lake water for a minute? Again, I'm not so neurotic that I'd let my over-exposure to nature shows ruin me for summertime fun. But, I've heard about the little no-see-'ems that live in lake water. When I submerge into the murky depths that I reveled in as a kid, now, as an adult, I'm imagining all kinds of icky things squirming into my swimsuit. I cringe every time I think about it. And now you are cringing, too. I'm sorry for ruining all your future lake trips. Just forget I said anything. 

The next reason why I'm a terrible summertime mom? Schedules. I love them. I find a great deal of comfort in the mundane, as I've previously posted. I can't tell you how excited I get when the fall is rolling around and everything shifts back to its proper place. My Fall TV shows return, anchoring my evenings, my kids' school schedule kicks in and life makes sense once again. During the summer, I'm a one-person cabbie, carting kids from one camp to another (between pool visits). We're sometimes at full-day camps, sometimes at grandma's house. Other times camps don't start until 9:30, sometimes they end at noon. All of this juggling makes for an exhausting game of "what's next?" which scrambles what brains I have left. 

And, while we're on the subject of things that bother me about summer, let's talk bugs. Now, I'm not a squirmy girl who can't stand all creepy crawling things. But I do hate mosquitos. Know what I hate more than mosquitos? June bugs. They just give me the creeps. I hate the way the buzz and crunch. And they seem to have no direction. They aren't flying towards the light; instead, they seem to just be writhing around like they have epilepsy. When do these little gems of nature appear, I ask you? In the summer. That's it. Never in the winter or the spring. Just summer. So, that's number three. 

The fourth reason I suck at summer is the boredom factor. Even my kids have a certain threshold for swimming, movies, board games and scavenger hunts. And I can only fill the weekends with so many road trips and excursions. At some point they always whine the inevitable phrase, "I'm bored." It usually takes about five to six weeks before we reach this point. But, by the time they've had enough, we still have eight weeks of down-time looming before us. 

And, not being the most Pinterest-y crafty mom out there, I can only do so much. I mean, the floors have to get mopped sometime, right? All of this open space where kids have so much unstructured time can weigh on a person. I'm starting to think maybe we need to have an optional summer school for those children of parents that just don't want to deal with the summertime slump. 

I know. I know. All of this makes me a terrible human being. I should point out, though, that just because these particular areas do not fall into my "favorites" category, doesn't mean I don't find the joy in them. I realize all-too-well that these summertime moments with my kids will quickly pass by me. So, I soak them in, and bask in my beautiful kids' laughter and freedom. 

My kids have no idea that these small annoyances bug me in the slightest (well, except maybe the June bugs). And I plan to keep it that way. One day, when they are on their own, I'll find plenty of time to lay around the pool. Not too long from now, my van will be empty of children needing me to cart them from one place or another (hopefully by that time I've traded the van in for a red convertible). And, at some time in my life, I'll have no reason to be outside when the bugs come out. When that happens my life will feel a lot emptier. The small feeling of irritation I have today will be replaced by a pain of longing for days gone by. 

That's why it doesn't matter how much I suck at summer. I'm going to dive in while I still can. With bug spray, of course. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

I Don't Want a Girl: 5 Reasons Having Only Boys Is Awesome

When my husband and I were awaiting the ultrasound for our second pregnancy, I was, as most moms, excited. I couldn't wait to tell everyone I was having a girl! I even wore pink that day to commemorate, what I assumed would be, the outcome.

I grew up a girly girl. My mother entered me in my first pageant at age 4, and I continued on through the Miss America system until I aged out at 25. So, my life was pretty much make up, high heels, glittery dresses and spotlights from the time I could walk a straight line. I couldn't wait to doll up my little girl with frilly things and pretty bows. I was so ready for that!

What I wasn't ready for, however, was the bitter disappointment I felt when I was told we were having boy number two. My spirits plunged. I had the ultrasound tech check again. Yep, she said. She was certain. I smiled, of course, thankful that our baby was healthy and that we were blessed by another little person to raise. But I couldn't shake the disappointment. And I hated myself for it.

It took weeks of discussions with my husband and older women who also had multiple boys for me to let go of my visions of girl talks and shopping trips.

When Beau was placed in my arms, I couldn't believe how much I loved him. Just like with our first son, J.T., all it took was one glance and I was hooked on this kid. Suddenly, the thought of having two boys to tumble around with appealed to me. I could see them playing together, fighting with each other, supporting one another - loving each other in ways that I couldn't. It was the greatest gift I gave my oldest son, having a lifelong buddy that would "get" him more than anyone else in the world. Forever.

As my boys are growing up (they are 10 and 6, respectively), I revel in their sweaty, messy, loud rough-and-tumble ways. But I am constantly batting down others' suggestions that we "could" have a girl if we "tried again." This is said by strangers, family members and friends, as if to say, "all is not lost; there's still hope." In a way, it feels as if I need to apologize to these people for being okay - thrilled, even - at having only boys.

Here's a shocker: I don't want a girl. Because I remember the nightmare I was when I was a 13-year-old girl. And I don't want to revisit those years. Don't get me wrong, I respect my friends who have girls. I adore little girls. They are pretty in their Easter dresses and curls. They play quietly and use sweet sing-songy voices. They like frilly things, like I do. But I know a girl wouldn't be the right fit for me, just as God knew that.

For those of you who like numbered items. Here are just five reasons why having boys is awesome:

1. They come with few accessories - I can hop in the car with just a couple of juice boxes and a sketchy idea for the day and we're off. No groping for hair bows behind the dresser or matching socks. They are good to go at a moment's notice (well, if they can find their other shoe, that is).

2. Buzz cuts - Yes! Come summer time, my children are shorn like sheep. We buzz their heads to the nub. No threat of lice, it washes off with the water hose, and cuts down on the sweat smell a little. Girls don't have this option, especially in the South, where a woman's hair is her crown of glory.

3. Everything matches - Boys don't care if they mix plaids with stripes. Our wardrobe consists of cheap t-shirts, khaki shorts, jeans and a few dress pants and shirts with a few polos thrown in for good measure. That's it. I can outfit both my kids for under $200 for the year. Seriously. What mom of girls can say that?

4. Hand-me-downs! - If I had one of each, we'd be spending a fortune on clothes and decor. Having two of the same gender means what I buy for the oldest does double duty for the next. Cost savings plus! When my oldest inherited a bunkbed from his cousin, his decor automatically transferred to his younger brother. We didn't have to unload a bunch of Disney princess stuff. Win, win!

5. Boys always love their Mommas - My brother is 43 years old, and still hugs my mother like he's 12. My two boys are the best cuddlers in the world, and I know they will always have my back. I'm the only queen in my castle, which means my knights will defend me and fight on my side as long as I live. That's a very comforting thought as old age looms ahead. 

I don't need hair bows and lace to revel in motherhood ; I've got superhero capes and plastic swords instead. I won't have quiet tea parties, bead-making tutorials or mani-pedi sessions. I'll take light-saber battles, camping trips under the stars and digging for worms instead any day. 

No, I don't need a girl, thank you very much. We are happy with the two boys we have, and make no apologies for not longing for the girl everyone thinks we need - or should want. So, if you run into me at the super market or on the town square, you will know where I stand. Save your sympathetic looks. Because, frankly, I've got it pretty good.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TransFOURmers: Four Decades of Lessons Learned

This week marks my 38th birthday. How can this be possible? I mean, I remember knocking on 18 thinking I was old. Now, 40 is breathing down my neck, and I still feel like I'm, well, 18. Except a little creakier, a little fluffier and, I hope at least, a little wiser with wear.

As with most birthdays, I've become a little reflective this week. You know, pondering things like,"What have I accomplished?", "What have I done?", "Where is my future headed?" In these times of thoughtfulness, I realize that each decade has brought its own transforming moment. And with those moments have come certain lessons that, I hope, I'm passing on to my children.

My Youth: 

My childhood was one of, let's just say, transition. Mom and Dad divorced. He pretty much disappeared from our lives, and then remarried quickly thereafter. I plunged into an uncontrollable depression at age 7, where I couldn't stop crying. Mom tried everything from counseling to bribes to getting me a puppy. Nothing could stave off the deep well of depression I found myself in. I hated everything about everything. It was terrifying.

The problem persisted to the point where I was convinced people were watching me through the vent in the bathroom. I was so terrified of water that I would make my mother sit with her hand on the bath tub faucet so I would be certain it wouldn't overflow. Then, I would get into the bathtub fully dressed (we're talking socks and all) to avoid the people in the vent, and take a super quick bath.

Eventually, I did overcome these phobias. But it was a time of darkness I will never forget.
The Lesson: Don't be ruled by your fears. If there are people in the vent, give them an eye full. 

My Teens: 

I guess you can say the crazy stretched into my teenage years, when I plunged into my "grunge period." During my father's first second marriage (he ended up remarrying, like four or five times; I've lost count) my step brother began molesting me on my weekend visits. This is not something I'm ashamed to talk about today, but at the time, I was terrified of my abuser, and didn't share my secret until I was 13 years old, many years after my Dad divorced my step-mother. Because of the way I felt about myself and because of this secret, I wore black clothes, ripped jeans and a pretty sour expression most of the time.

Interestingly enough, it wasn't until after my secret was out that I began to feel the freedom to be pretty again. I started showing an interest in colors besides black (much to my mother's relief), and yearned to rejoin humanity. Pretty soon, friends I had been keeping at a distance re-entered my life, and my teen years were filled with parties, boyfriends and activities. I also started writing again, which earned me the opportunity to lay the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. I was no longer afraid to explore who I was without the shackles of guilt and pain associated with molestation.

I ceased being a victim and became a survivor.
The Lesson(s): 1) Secrets can only thrive in the dark; shining a light on them leads to freedom from bondage. 2) Don't allow others to determine your worth. 3) Black may be slimming, but it can also be depressing. 

My Young Adulthood: 

By age 18, I had become a pretty jaded person. A series of toxic relationships, including the one between me and my father, had soured me on life. I was not a very pleasant person. Instead, I was snarky (I mean even more so than I am today), and scornful of pretty much everything in my path. In short, I was a cynic.

I don't care who you are, 18 is too young to be cynical. There's too much to explore, to experience. You should at least wait until your, I don't know, 40 to be cynical. But I digress. Without going into too much detail, I agreed to attend a worship service on my college campus, where I was introduced to a true relationship with Christ. At first, I thought all these people were a bunch of kooks. But, eventually, I came to realize what I thought was kooky was, in truth, joy. They were happy. And I couldn't identify with that.

I recommitted my life to Christ alone in my dorm room later that year. And the next day everything looked, smelled and felt different. I was truly changed. That one decision altered everything about my future, from the career path I chose, to moving to Texas to marrying my husband. Looking back, it all hinged on that one moment in my dorm room. It even led to my eventually forgiving my father and my abuser. The scales fell away. I was healed.
The Lesson: Christ changes everything. 


Well, this passage could go on for pages, but I'll try to keep it short. I feel like the most growth I have known has come since becoming a wife and mother. I've had to learn what it means to separate self from service. Because, loving someone requires sacrifice and compromise. It requires placing their needs above your own, and trusting they will do the same for you.

I was born a pretty selfish, vain person. So, this was a huge transformation for me. This period in my life has seen me go from a career-minded journalist living alone with her pomeranian to a work-at-home mom whose primary goal is to see her husband and children thrive. It has seen me go from thoughts of "me" and "mine" to "us" and "ours." I've grown in patience (at least a little), compassion, prayer and even domesticity (shocker of shockers). It's seen me grow as a person, friend, daughter and woman. And all in the context of change, which I was never really comfortable with in the first place.
The Lesson: Change, though scary, is the catalyst for all things beautiful. 

I'm approaching 40, yes. And at one time that would have bothered me. A lot. But not so much any more. As I look back over my life, each decade has brought forth colors in me I never knew were there. Each laugh line is a swift brush stroke on the Lord's canvas. And I'm eager to see just what God paints next in this masterpiece called life.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Motherhood and the F Word

My 10-year-old son took one bite of the dinner I had slaved over (okay, so maybe not slaved so much as threw together at the last minute), before leaning over and whispering in a not-so-quiet voice, "Mommy, no offense, but Grandy's a much better cook than you." That's when I lost my appetite.

Now, I'm not usually so easily offended by my kids. I get that they are kids. They don't take into account the hundreds upon thousands of times I've made their lunches, dinners and breakfasts. In their minds, dinner magically appears with a wave of my hand. They don't hear the inner groan whenever I think about menu planning, or understand the effort it takes just to muster the energy after a long day of meetings, tasks and deadlines to pull together our little family meals.

I get that he's 10. His world is very small and protected, thank goodness. But on this particular day, my emotions were just raw enough (and perhaps my meds were just unbalanced enough) for his remark to feel like a slap across the face with a weighted glove. It hurt. 

Because I am a pretty busy little bee, what with running my consulting business on top of holding down a part-time job, my friends have often commented on how I "have it all together." "You keep everything running so smooth," is a general statement. What they don't know is that each and every day I walk around feeling like spewing the F word: Failure. Fraud. Phony. (Okay, so the last one isn't technically an F word, but you get the point.) When moms give me props, I feel like pulling them aside undercover spy-style and confessing to all my flaws. Add that one to the F-word pile.

So, here's a little tip for any new mother out there or any mom struggling to measure up to her own idea of what a mom should be: none of us feels like we are doing it right. And, to be honest, searching Pinterest only fuels my feeling of failure. I mean, have you actually tried making fruit roll up origami swans? Trust me, it's not easy and, no, it doesn't come out looking like the picture.

For my mom's generation, Donna Reed was the unrealistic ideal to live up to. Today it's all these nameless faceless Pinterest moms who must have nannies because, let's face it, who else has the time? But I digress.

Each of us is facing an unattainable ideal that we can just never reach. And we get it from all sides. Magazines urge us to GET THINNER IN 10 DAYS! Or BE A BETTER LOVER IN 5 EASY STEPS! Or LOSE THAT BABY FAT! They want us to CRAFT OUR WAY TO HAPPINESS and HAVE THE HAPPIEST KID ON THE BLOCK. But the truth is, we are each just trying to make it to nap time without losing our minds. 

When my son compared me to his more culinarily gifted grandmother, it stung. But he was telling the truth. She is a better cook than I am. However, in that one statement, I felt he was pointing out what I already knew: I'm a fraud. I'm a failure. I'm a phony. No matter how hard I try, it's just not going to be enough. In that moment, I felt defeated. Truth be told, I cried. A lot. (Not in front of him, of course, but alone in my car on the way to the store). And then, I prayed.

In that quietude with the Lord, I realized something very important. I may be a fraud, but at least I'm trying. Every day, I do my best to do my best. The Lord knows we will never measure up to the ultimate goal: to be like Jesus Christ. Yet, he still asks us to try. Every day. And in ministering to my children in a Godly fashion, the fraudulence falls away and what's left is a human being "working for the Lord, not for human master." Colossians 3:23

When I returned home, my son, with sadness in his eyes, sincerely apologized for hurting my feelings. I wrapped him in my arms, overwhelmed by what a kind-hearted child he is. In that moment, my feelings of failure melted. I mean, I must be doing something right, after all, to have a son who hurts at the very idea of wounding his mother.

What was left was gratitude: for the gift of motherhood and all the lessons God is teaching me through it. Because, phonies or not, we are each His children and we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" Psalm 139:14, origami fruit roll ups or not.

Try to remember that the next time the dinner is burned, the laundry is still piled in baskets unfolded around the house, you haven't made it to the gym and your craft box has gone untouched for another month. To God, a prayerful effort is way better than a pretty Pinterest page any day.

(Note: No Pinterest pages were hurt in the writing of this blog. Incidentally, check out my Pinterest Page for more blog posts. Yes, I'm aware of the irony.)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Beauty of Nothingness: The A, B, Cs of a Sunny Summer Outlook

Do you see that picture? That's my kids' summer schedule, and it's a thing of beauty. All those color-coded, scheduled events read like a Monet painting to my eyes. But I've sort of always been that way. I like structure and schedules, knowing what's coming next, and having plans B and C ready to go in case (heaven forbid) my original plan gets shredded.

But while I really like to have something set for every minute of the day, I know it can be trying on my kiddos. So, I made a radical (for me) decision for this summer. I decided to schedule weeks of nothingness amid the camps and trips.

Now, let me explain why this is a big deal for me. And by big, I mean HUGE. When I first met my husband, I was about as rigid as you could get. I liked to be spontaneous, as long as it was carefully planned out. And sitting down for a "quiet moment" was not among my favorite things. I felt antsy, like I needed to be doing something more ... productive. My husband, Dan, on the other hand, was a master of nothingness.

He could sit and listen to nature for hours, enjoying hearing the wind moan or the birds tweet. Meanwhile, I can be sitting next to him mentally tallying up our grocery list, planning out the next week's afternoon calendar or thinking about the laundry. I'm just not good at doing nothing. Which might be why I'm tied up in knots much of the time.

While I've learned to relax more over the years, I've certainly still not mastered the joys of doing nothing. And that realization is what did it for me. It dawned on me that I was passing down this rigidity to my own children. Hence, the new improved summer schedule.

You see, while I understand it takes all kinds to make the world go 'round, I notice that my husband has a calm about him that I envy. He's rarely rattled, and usually is even-keeled emotionally. As to where I am more intense, energetic and emotional, which makes me a ball at parties, but not so much in moments of chaos. I have a theory that adding more of "nothing" to your life will improve one's emotional state including:

A. A Balanced Perspective - When you contemplate the beauty of God's nature, you begin to realize, just as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 6:26: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your lifee ?" When we consider their worry-free life, we can't help but look at our own worries as petty in the life of eternity.

B. Reliance on Imagination - Our children are constantly entertained - by T.V., video games, computers, cell phones, you name it. Everything is geared toward filling their "down time" with some sort of diversion. Very little is required of our children's own imaginations. By reducing my children's outside activities for several weeks during the summer, I'm asking them to make their own fun. While some of this "at-home" time does include a movie or two, many of the hours are spent playing outside and in their rooms with little else but each other and their make-believe worlds.

C. An Appreciation for Extracurricular Activities - Let's face it, we dump so many outside activities on our kids throughout the year, that expensive summer camps and road trips seem like white noise, blending into the rest of the busy-ness. More time at home, just being, builds up my kids' excitement about the other events I have planned for them later in the summer. So, next week, when I get them suited up for a fun church camp, I'm not going to hear moans and grunts. Instead, they will have had enough decompression time at home, that they will be eager to get out, make new friends, and dive into the summer fun.

Four days ago was our first day of summer. I decided to have someone come to the house to watch the boys while my husband and I went to work instead of scheduling them for a camp that week. They slept in, stayed in their pajamas, played board games, you name it. But they never left the house.

I was curious to see if my A, B, C theory would hold water. The result: a resounding "Thank You!" from them both. Not once have I heard the words, "Mom, I'm bored." Or "Can't we go somewhere?" In fact, while they were happy to go swimming with me in the afternoon after I got home from work, they weren't begging for me to take them, either. This proved my theory.

We must all learn to embrace a little more nothingness in our lives. As Americans we are told that we must get up, work hard, never give up, always strive for better, and so on. And all that is very true. But it doesn't have to consume our every waking moment. In fact, we might be more productive if we build in time to do absolutely nothing for an hour a day. That's right. Just sit and listen, with no cell phones or ipads to distract us. Find a spot, close your eyes and marvel at the "birds of the air" and the "lilies of the field."

Because, once we do that, we, like my kids, might just be more enthusiastic about the experiences that lay ahead.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Feminist Housewife's Take on Moms' Night Out

Anyone who knows me knows I am an anomaly. I'm a feminist housewife entrepreneur. I can see that you are perplexed. Let me further confuse you by adding another wrinkle: I'm a conservative (read: committed Christian) feminist housewife entrepreneur. How about them apples?

When I heard that Moms' Night Out was a delightful comedy depicting stay-at-home moms in their messy real-life truth, I was eager to see it. And I was not disappointed. So, I rushed home to do what I usually do after seeing a movie I love: I Googled it. That's right. I wanted to see what the rest of the world was saying about this fantastic movie. Surely they were as ecstatic as I was. Not necessarily. While those who could identify with the film (read: any mother on the planet without a nanny and a cook), most "critics" slammed the film. Here are a few of the comments I took particular offense to:

“depressingly regressive and borderline dangerous,” adding that it “peddles archaic notions of gender roles." - Roger Ebert 

  “why doesn’t she just hire a nanny, find a job and get out of the house.” - Kate Taylor, The Globe and The Mail 

“lack of a profession consigns the character into Eisenhower-esque irrelevance.” - Inkoo Kang of The Writer

I could go on. But, let's just start with these. I won't stoop so low as to disparage people I don't know (although I could probably accurately guess their lifestyle and type), I will address the five things Moms' Night Out gets right. 

1. Proper Use of a Apostrophe 

Thank you, Lord! There's someone outside the world of academia who knows how to use an apostrophe. Unlike the infamous multi-million dollar Sandra Bullock blockbuster Six Weeks Notice (which conveniently left out the the punctuation because they didn't know whether to place it before or after the "s"), at least this lower-budget film could manage to hire someone who knows a little something about grammar. For this journalist, and most any wordsmith, that's major. For a little lesson on proper apostrophe usage, please visit Your welcome, Hollywood. 

2. The Messy-ness of Life 

I don't know about you, but my life was a lot neater and compartmentalized BEFORE I became a stay-at-home mom. I'm not saying one is easier than the other, but from my experience, life's just a lot messier now. I don't have the convenience of an office or cubicle to run off to for 10 hours of the day like before. And I certainly don't have the disposable income (after feeding two boys) to hire a maid, cook or nanny.

Life is happening in my face, all the time, peanut butter smudges and all. And I like it like that. For those who find my choice somehow flying in the face of feminism, I'm sorry that is threatening to you. But that's a personal problem. 

3. We All Need a Break 

After you begin staying home with your children, it seems that people expect mothers to look zen-esque, never complaining. Some have the vision of a stay-at-home mom lounging on the sofa popping bonbons like popcorn gorging on Netflix reruns. Not so. I can tell you that is simply not the case. 

I work ten times harder ten times longer than I ever did at the office. To workout, I must rise at 5 am or it simply doesn't happen because the rest of my life is committed to serving other people. It was a choice, I know, but that doesn't make it any less exhausting. So, thanks, Moms' Night Out for shedding light on this forgotten piece of truth. Being a mother is hard, messy, stressful, delightful, joyous and depleting. We all need time to breath. 

4. Christians are Flawed 

Yep. I said it. And most Christians would agree with me. I know that most of those outside our faith look at us as hypocritical judgers, and they have a point. Some of us are. But so are some of them. That's because we are all human, and, therefore, subject to our own prejudices. 

The difference is that most committed Christians are striving to be better, tackling their own failings through biblical guidance. That doesn't make us better; it makes us human. Searching Bible Gateway you can see Jesus referencing judgment over and over. My favorite is Luke 7: 1-5, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plan in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." 

In essence, Jesus knew we would size each other up, and He warned us against it. When we start pointing fingers at each other, we are guilty of the same sin. 

5. We Are Enough 
We live in an air-brushed world. Heaven help you if you walk into a glass door or show cellulite at the beach. With everyone having a cell phone, taking pictures and posting them in a public forum, it's hard for any of us to grasp the fact that we can be just who we are and that's okay. 

We all have things we can do better, but it's not something to tear yourself up over. God loves us all, just as He made us. This is the over-arching point of the film, a reminder that we might not be perfect, but we might not be so bad after all. So, try to be okay with that. Use that as the framework for future "self improvement" instead of fighting against yourself or hating who you are today. Relax. Life's just too short. 

So for those critics of the film, who can't understand a conservative, messy, flawed life, I feel bad for you. The messes of my life are what give it texture and meaning. Without them, I'd be just one more pretender so-called Real Housewife wannabe aiming for perfection. For me, my life is perfection, even if it does come in dented packaging.