Archives for December 2010

The “Manceremony”

My son entered the holiday season yet a boy, but will return to school this New Year a man.  And so last night, we celebrated his coming of age with a “Manceremony.”

It was only a few days ago that my twelve-year-old son with the warbled voice, the distinct Jr. High aloofness, and all the awkwardness of a “boy of a certain age,” roamed the halls of our home.  Now, a man with a deep voice, facial hair and a buff physique has stolen my chubby cheeked angel. 

He turned and smiled at me last night, and in the dim light of the fire, I caught the distinct outline of a mustache on my baby, I mean man-child. 

He is almost a teen-ager now, though we have avoided that word in our home.  I have chosen to reject all the rebelliousness and disrespect that comes along with that verbiage.  My husband and I have decided to give the first-born instead, a “man” blessing, and skip the teen stage altogether.  Clearly this is an experiment, one that may or may not work, but we are hopeful, though possibly naïve, for the years to come.

So in honor of his impending need to shave, I pulled out the champagne glasses for the whole family, excluding the baby, filled them with apple juice, and we toasted to the end of one season and the beginning of the next.  With a nervous laugh, my son lifted his glass.  I could see his emotions ranging from uncomfortable to proud, but he was obviously appreciative that we recognized his maturation and took it seriously.

And so, I will store up the memories of his childhood deep within my heart; his incessant curiosity, the cherubic blond curls, and his chubby little arms reaching out for a hug.  It’s hard to let go of my tiny football player and embrace this new creature who wears cologne and attracts stares from women of all ages.

 I feel unprepared and truly inadequate for this next stage of motherhood.  We, both my son and I, stand at the edge of an uncertain future.  Like the cusp of a roller-coaster, just about to crest over the highest peak, either I choose to lift my arms up high and enjoy the ride or close my eyes and scream for dear life.

Today we worked out at the gym, lifting weights side by side.  And though I am teaching him proper form, he is pushing me on to new limits. Our relationship is changing, as I both embrace and simultaneously release my son into this dance of growing up.

Giligan’s Journey

Christmas Eve was a day of perpetual mishaps.  The best laid plans were best laid to rest…because chaos reigned supreme. 

The older kids were at Grandma’s and it was time to rendezvous with my parents to bring them home.  And so my little one hour jaunt turned into Gilligan’s three hour tour.  The baby and I set off and not fifteen minutes into my journey, I heard a strange clicking  and within seconds a loud bang erupted from under the car and the front tire on my Xterra exploded off the rim. 

My car shuddered ominously, which happens when you are traveling at 75 mph, and so, I prayed, wailed and held on for dear life.  Fortunately, I managed to pull over, traffic rushing by me on the toll road, and rolled into a small inlet off the side of the road. All this happened as I was “multi-tasking” on my cell phone to my husband who heard the whole fiasco on speaker-phone.

Ever the Eagle Scout, my husband told me to sit tight and he would be there shortly.  Thirty minutes later, he pulled up.  We moved the baby into his car, he pulled out the jack, and off I set again to bring back our kids from Grandma’s. 

After giving him a big kiss, I left my husband on the side of the road changing the tire.  Only fifteen minutes later, we were diverted off the toll road because of mud slide damage from the recent storms.  After a thirty minute alternate route, we finally got back on track.

Then the crying started.  I had left the baby’s bottle at home in my haste to pick up the kids, and baby was hungry.  Already an hour late for the pick-up, I had no time to stop for food, so in my best soothing voice I kept repeating, over and over, “Just a few more minutes baby. “

 Then the next freeway closure hit from storm damage, and once again we were re-routed for another thirty minute detour.

As we pulled up to meet my father, two hours late for our pick-up, I pulled a hysterical baby out the car.  On the verge of tears myself, my dad rushed us over to Chili’s for some R & R.  As I quickly made the baby a bottle, sad little sobs erupted and her body shook with frustration.

As I handed the baby a makeshift bottle, she leaned back in my arms, looked deep into my eyes and said “Thank You.”

This is my eleven month old baby.  An exhausted, starving baby who had endured suffering for the first time in her life, and her response when finally fed was to say, “Thank You.”

She didn’t hit me, turn away in anger, refuse to eat, or play passive aggressive baby.  She simply took the food and thanked me.

I reflected on the last time, or any time for that matter, that I had thanked God for the circumstances in my life that tested my spirit and lead to patient endurance.  Just thanked him for the character defining moments I hate because I am forced to grow, despite my unwillingness to change.

My baby inherently knows what I often forget…to have a childlike trust in God, a simple dependence, and a thankful heart

Then the little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.  But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Too Much Frivolity

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Image via Wikipedia

I am a survivor of Christmas overload.  Seven parties in seven days, and three more to go. There should be medals for this kind of dedication to frivolity.

I love parties.  I love Christmas.  But I don’t love the exhausted, bloated feeling that goes along with the Christmas party.  Call me undisciplined, fallacious even…but night after night of decadent temptation starts to crumble the walls of careful self-preservation and eventually, caution is thrown to the wind, carbs are embraced, and the culinary delights of the season are succumbed to.

Christmas is such a strange animal.  People overeat, overspend, and drink too much for a solid month, leaving them pudgy, broke and hung over by New Years.  Entitlement aside, deep down, we all know that Christmas doesn’t have to be this gluttonous and yet setting boundaries on fun proves to be much easier said than done. 

It’s not an obvious seduction, like drugs or illicit compromise; true Christmas party overload is inherently subtle.  It’s one sip of wine at a time, two late nights justified, then three more. It’s going back for seconds at the buffet table and avoiding the gym because there is “just so much to do.”  Bustle, bustle, justify, justify…and then, all of sudden you can’t zip up your pants.

If someone offers me a cigarette, it’s easy to say no because I am not a smoker, nor do I intend to be one, but when it’s your mother pushing the most divine pecan pie known to man, the boundaries start to blur…a lot.

Moderation seems to be the obvious solution, when we veer towards excess, but it’s a tough sell to say no to “just one more” party, the last cookie in the office basket and the mocha swirl sample at Starbucks

The Grinch said it well, “Maybe Christmas, doesn’t come from a store, perhaps maybe Christmas, means a little bit more.”

And so, maybe contentment at Christmas parties comes with less and not more, maybe finding the “more” is simply saying “no more.”

Secret Santa

Starbucks on Briggate

Image via Wikipedia

I got that giving itch from God today.  A little tickle on my spirit, saying “My daughter, do you see I have a child in need?”

Every now and then, this burden descends upon me to give financially to a specific person. It’s as if God is sitting on my heart and pressing, firmly adjusting my internal vision to see the crisis at hand and move towards it on behalf of my Father’s will. 

I have learned through trial and error to heed this call, avoiding second-guessing and justification,(i.e., does He really want me to go without my monthly Sushi treat or Starbucks?) choosing simple obedience and giving out of my blessings, or lack thereof, depending on the season.

The first time I felt this compulsion to give, I drove over to the family’s home that I felt God nudging me towards and handed them a check.  And though it felt good to be obedient, taking credit for the giving proved anticlimactic.  It felt awkward and rather prideful taking on the role of a Christmas benefactor.

There I stood at the door, having no idea what to say. Somehow, “Hark, I bring tidings of good will and generosity,” didn’t seem appropriate.

The “secret sauce” was missing and the key factor was taking “me” out of the equation and adding in the actual “secret.” 

The next time God put someone on my heart; I got out-of-the-way and allowed Him to be the Giver of all Good Gifts.  I simply played the humble steward, using the gifts and talents He had given me to run his estate. 

And yes, this time my joy was complete.  I got to watch God get the glory and revel in the delight of being a small part of an answered prayer.

Remaining anonymous is like playing Secret Santa without the big reveal, where only you and Jesus know who the real Santa is.  It’s a covert mission from God for the average Christian, a little slice of heaven, to be eaten in the company of angels and not men, for the rewards of this obedience can only be seen in the celestial realm.

When a financial gift is given to someone in need, and the giver remains hidden, something mysterious happens in the spiritual world.  The person sacrificially given to, though they know not of the giver, has become all the more tender.  They have secretly joined in on a “story” of God’s provision.

When I encounter someone whom God financially blessed through me, there is an unexpected seed of compassion deeply rooted in my heart that God has planted.  It’s completely beyond my normal and slightly selfish paradigm, unnatural even, but effortless because of God.  It is His love weaving through my crusty heart to bless both the giver and recipient.

My story and their story intersect, our journeys of faith swirled in layers of sacrifice, obedience, comfort and provision. 

So when the Christmas bonus comes this week, what face comes to mind? A single mom you know, the unemployed father sitting next to you in church, or maybe the family losing their home in your neighborhood?   

But please, oh please…don’t forget the “secret sauce” when you put on that Santa Suit!

Chocolate Rivers

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Image via Wikipedia

I started to cook again this week.  

 Food and the preparation of said food, i.e. – cooking, is an uncanny indicator in my life regarding the true state of my heart.  If my spirit is peaceful, cooking seems amusing and diverting, but if my soul is weary and overwrought, the very same task feels like a loathsome chore.

 In the Christian world, it’s common to hear the wise and mature folk ask younger leaders, “So dear, where are you at spiritually?” 

And my response would be, “well, my kids had a frozen TV dinner consisting of macaroni with a side of zapped peas last night.” Translation…my cup over runneth with too much activity and my kids are getting neglected again in the kitchen realm.

It’s such a vague question, really, when considering the totality of a human being, this “Christianise” vernacular of “where are you at spiritually,” as if we could point to a spot on the map or a quadrant and define our status.  Call me complex or multi-faceted as my friend Krista likes to say, but who, in all reality, could ever chart the condition of their heart on a graph?

Husband (9), kids(8), writing(7), cooking(2), status of garage(-10), ministry (7) health (5) workouts(3), quiet times (5), time for friends(1), time for me(-5), talks with God (7), rest(1), work (5), sex life(well, that’s private)

My graph would make Jack’O Lantern teeth; consistent only in the up and down, ebb and flow…of highs and lows and in and outs.  Nothing static…but a tornado of emotions, physical peaks and valleys, and spiritual growth and setbacks all tumbled together under the umbrella of God’s grace.

My points average out to about 2, which puts me right back to cooking.

These days, it’s popular for food to be referenced as a metaphor for emotional undercurrents. Cooking is suggested as an alternate form of therapy, sometimes revenge, and even self-punishment. 

I thought I was above using food as a weapon, but I was clearly wrong, because the first thing I did when my husband recently traveled for a week was to go directly to the store and buy all the food he doesn’t like or approve of. 

My shopping cart resembled the chocolate river from Willy Wonka; peppermint Jo Jo’s, peppermint chunk mocha sipping chocolate, chocolate dipped strawberries, and Swedish dark chocolate. The checker looked at me with disdain, a subtle suggestion that maybe my chocolate binge was hormonal.  I stared back belligerently.

It was passive aggressive at best…a defiant move that asserted my sense of self apart from my husband.  Call me crazy, but sometimes, I need those little moments for my soul to scream out, “I am woman. A chocolate fiend of a woman.  Hear me roar.”

Notwithstanding the  chocolate fiasco, my life has begun to calm down lately.  Rest has moved up the graph and peace has burst through the dam of exhaustion.  

So, where am I at spiritually?

Well, last week my girls and I ate pork-chops with mango papaya salsa and green bean casserole,  Lasagna and salad with fruit and pear-gorgonzola dressing, salmon with chocolate mole sauce, and divine home-made turkey soup from Thanksgiving left-over’s.

Translation…my spirit is fruitful with a little dash of spice, dark, meaty and sweet, sometimes nostalgic and often saucy.

Maybe that’s why God gave us manna, asks us to fast in prayer, and calls himself the “bread of life,” because somehow our spirits are mysteriously and deeply intertwined with food. No pun intended…but maybe we really are what we eat.

Intuition and Pet Prayers

my dog, a labrador retriever

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote an article the other day on prayers for pet funerals

Really Sam?  Pet funerals?

Yes, I know…cheesy with an extra slice (but there is no shame in trying to make a few bucks)

Ok, maybe a little shame. I would post a link to the article but my editor sent it back for revision.  No comments please.

But the point is, the next day my dad calls me and tells me his dog died.

Freaky, right?

So, now in a matter of a few weeks I get to tell the kids their favorite animal kicked the bucket, right on the heels of losing their great-uncle.

The sad part is my daughter will cry over the dog. A lot.  Maggie was a beautiful blond Labrador and everybody knows that labs are the best kind of dog.

And I will have to tell my daughter, because she will ask, about pets and heaven.

And then I will have to lie. 

Because I don’t believe pets go to heaven, although I do think there are animals in heaven.

One day at work, we spent a whole afternoon debating this very topic.  And I learned that there are passionate and crazed people who think I am wrong. 

Like death threat wrong. 

But I am sticking to my guns, and on the off-chance that I am mistaken, I am more than willing to stand corrected; because honestly, I really miss Wilbur, my old childhood dog that I lost as a teen.

It sure would make this conversation easier if I was wrong.

Maybe my freaky intuition will give me some profound words to say.

Then again… sometimes there are no words.

When I Grow Up…

Cover of "When I Grow Up"

Cover of When I Grow Up

“I don’t want to grow up, because baby if I did…I wouldn’t be a Toy’s R Us kid!”

My nine-year old daughter chimed in to the commercial jingle while shaking her hips with gusto.   I smiled at her in agreement.

“Being a kid is pretty great, isn’t it?”  I asked her.

“Yep mom and my favorite part is that I don’t have to go to work every day,” she replied.  “Some people hate their jobs.”

Her response took me by surprise. I could hear echo’s of her father’s voice complaining about his job through her little statement. My ex-husband hasn’t loved his on-again, off-again profession in about ten years.  It’s amazing how perceptive children are.

I quietly acknowledged the work comment and then suggested we focus on finding her a job she adores, so that work would be a blessing and not a curse.

“I want to be an actress mommy,” my daughter said. 

I nodded in approval, thrilled that she has moved on from professional cheerleader to actress. 

Mommy, what did you want to be when you were little?” my daughter inquired.

My eyes filled with tears as I thought about her innocent little question. 

“Well honey, I wanted to be a writer,” I said passionately. “I wanted to tell stories and entertain other people the way my books carried me through dark days.  I also wanted to read and get paid for it.  Read and write for a living… all day, every day, forever and ever!”

She gave me a quizzical look, slightly concerned at my over-dramatic response to her simple question. 

“Mommy, you are a writer.  You just took a long time to figure it out.”

Off she skipped, leaving me to process the ramifications of her statement. 

How is it that thirty-eight years slipped through my fingers before I finally pursued my childhood dream of writing?  I don’t remember saying as a child, “When I grow up I want to play it safe!  Minimize risk and avoid failure at all costs.”

And yet that’s exactly what I have done and what I see so many of my friends do.  We bury our dreams, escape into destructive coping mechanisms, and little by little lose the fiery spirit God gave us each one of us to uniquely live out loud. 

Isn’t this really the essence of a mid-life crisis?  We simply forget our identity and think hot sex or a Porsche will make the aching hole vanish.

So, when I grow up, hopefully before I turn 40 (I have about 18 months to go), I want to be bold like my daughter.  Reclaim my courageous spirit beaten down by years of life, and like a little child, have faith that with God all things are possible.  

Oh yeah…and I want to write, read books and tell stories, every day, forever and ever.



Biological Warfare and Snotty Noses

The Devil Wears Prada (film)

Image via Wikipedia

I am sick.  Snotty, green-nosed, hack up a lung sick. It’s a genuine mystery, how feeling like crap permeates every neuron of the body, particularly the brain cells, which I am pretty sure have started to atrophy.

I reach for a thought, strain to think and…nothing happens.  The synapses have lost their connectivity to a viral influenza blocker.  I think I can make a case for another conspiracy theory-biological warfare is at hand!

Wikipedia, my favorite source of mostly true information, defines this germ warfare as the deliberate use of disease causing biological agents such as protozoa, fungi, bacteria, protists, or viruses, that kill and incapacitate humans.  Biological weapons (often referred to as bioweapons) are living organisms or replicating entities (virus) that reproduce or replicate within their host victims.

This is high–tech warfare masquerading as sneezes, a strategic malaise allowing the perpetrator to gain a tactical advantage over their adversary. 

And I am pretty sure I know the little terrorist who got me sick.  My neighbor’s daughter, a bouncing baby girl about ten months old had all the signs of mal-intent.  The green nose, the distinct seal bark cough, watery eyes, and a grumpy demeanor. 

The baby infiltrator grabbed my own tot’s toys and polluted them.  It was stealth-like and swift.  Within forty-eight hours, my baby showed signs of infection, and a few days later the whole house has been taken out.

So here I am, left to wither and decay on the sofa…watching chick movies and scarfing down Dayquil and Robitussin. 

If other countries are out to get us, each time another family goes down, annihilated by germs and misery, than they have succeeded in making us a tad more lethargic and stupid.  If you multiple my lazy and weakened state, you have a whole country of sick idiots watching The Devil Wears Prada and Legally Blonde Part II, instead of being productive and contributing members of society.

If I get any brain function back soon…I will begin the search for real answers to what could become a national pandemic.  But until then, I think I saw a rerun of When Harry Met Sally on TBN that might just be the best medicine of all.

Christmas Lights and Humility

Ned Flanders

Image via Wikipedia

Someone stole my neighborhood and turned it into Whoville.  Large elves, masquerading as competitive men have ambushed our energy resources and hung up enough LED lights to have the streets aglow with a garish gleam as bright as the sun.

My first indication that our new neighborhood might go a little “over the top” at Christmas was during a conversation at my son’s baseball game. My neighbor asked me if I wanted to join in on the lift rental. 

A “lift” rental?  Seriously? 

She assured me that it was a normal occurrence in our neck of the suburban woods at Christmastime, and that all the neighbors cooperatively shared the expense and used it for the soaring high icy peaks of our two-story homes.  I could see desperation in her eyes that I grab onto her vision, but I wasn’t taking the bait.

I said “maybe” to the lift. Silly me…I’m so old-school thinking a ladder might be sufficient.

So, a few weeks later, the foretold lift arrived and our neighbors got busy stringing lights on the trees and peaks of our little borough.  My family was out-of-town that weekend, so you can imagine our surprise when we returned.

Remember that song, “I wear my sunglasses at night”? Think bright, stadium bright and you just might get the picture. Every nook, corner and cranny burst forth with Christmas paraphernalia. And that’s just the lights!

The inflatable army has also come out in full force-Frosty, Spongebob, Mickey, and Santa bluster and blow about depending on their robustness or their lack of. Sparkly reindeer, candy-canes and the angelic host have all joined the cast of characters on our street. 

So, not wanting to feel left out, the next weekend my husband risked life and limb on an extension ladder to string a Charlie Brown strand from our roof to our neighbors.  We highlighted one simple peak on the second story, strung lights around the porch, added a few multi-coloreds to the bushes and called it a day. 

We were so proud of our simple accomplishment.  We had fun, experienced a little danger on the extension ladder and laughed a great deal at our slightly cheesy and ghetto attempt at illuminating design.

That is…until we walked to the tract across the street.  Some of our neighbors, concerned that we didn’t quite grasp the seriousness of the “decorating spirit” encouraged our family to travel over to Sarasota, where apparently the big Christmas dogs come out to play.

So, we bundled up the baby, grabbed some coats and mittens, and the family ambled out of our tract into the neighborhood just across the street. 

And this is how we got schooled in the Ned Flanders way of Christmas.

We could hear the roar before we even crossed the street.  Three lifts were at work.  About fifty people were out, from kids to grandmas, and all were busy decorating.  This was definitely the bigger the better, and anti-less is more school of thought. 

Every tree was being wrapped in lights.  Some of the homes had music synchronized with the lights to create shows.  I’m pretty sure I saw a real sleigh and a chorus of angels.  Music blared from loud speakers.  There were Christmas banners, themed homes and lights strung across the street from roof to roof creating a tunnel of extreme awesomeness.  It was the North Pole, a fairy tale, and a child’s Disney dream! 

As my son and I reveled in the majesty of our Costco culture, laughed at the over-commercialized decorations, and took in materialism at its finest, my husband on the other hand, turned sour.  The Grinch face was starting to appear.

“It’s too much,” he said, “too competitive, too garish. They’ve lost the Christmas spirit.”

I nodded my head in agreement while secretly plotting ways to spruce up our own lawn.

“So how about an inflatable Jesus on roller-skates?” I suggested. 

At least I got a smile out of him.

Deep down, I know it’s the posture of our heart that matters at Christmas.  If we are decorating our neighborhood as a gift to the community, than the gift–whatever it’s brilliance or lack thereof is enough.  If we are decorating for approval, applause and to win the association’s contest, then shame on us. 

If I am to be honest, I desire both.  I want to be content with a little.  I also want to compete and win. 

I struggle with my inner naughty; this duality of the Christian walk and the daily battle between choosing humility or competitiveness.  I think I might have caught my neighbor’s desperation.  I’m pretty sure it’s viral.

Praise the Lord that Jesus doesn’t keep a naughty list like Santa or I might get some coal in my stocking.  Because, when my husband goes out of town, some elves just might drop by our house too!

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