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The Disease of Expectation

winter snow heartAhhhhh, February – Christmas decorations are packed away, tax returns are being filed, winter stews fill the crock pot, and we watch the skies anxiously for a cozy blanket of snow or a promising hint of spring. And Valentine’s Day…oh yes, Valentine’s Day: the one day that possibly generates more stress in the hearts of men than a wedding anniversary; or a first date; or the wedding day itself; or the honeymoon; or becoming a father; or being a father on his daughter’s wedding day.
In a word, Valentine’s Day = anxiety.

Here’s the quandary: if a man spends too much his wife may question his motives or wonder if he is being financially responsible; if he doesn’t spend enough she may feel cheated, disappointed, unappreciated, rejected. This presents a tightrope walk for sure with only past successes (or failures) as the balancing pole for our men.

Enter peer pressure. “Well, so-and-so’s husband took her [fill-in-the-blank]” or “you should see what so-and-so’s husband gave her for Valentine’s Day” or the ever popular “I just thought you knew how much this day meant to me” (accompanied by sad little tears, manipulative pout, and possible stomping of feet and/or a lock on the bathroom door).

And exactly when did one day on the calendar become the benchmark for LOVE? Love can’t be measured in a day! I propose we have taken a dangerous detour from the word’s true meaning when it has been reduced to what can be paid for, wrapped up, and tied with a bow.

A group of professionals recently posed the following question to a few children between the ages of 4 and 8: “What does love mean?” The answers were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think (italics mine):

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy, age 4 (Love protects)

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Karl, age 5 (Love inspires our best)

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy, age 6 (Love shares)

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” Terri, age 4 (Love energizes)

“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Danny, age 7 (Love makes the extra effort)

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” Tommy, age 6 (Love is committed)

“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy, age 8 (Love is empowering)

“My mommy loves me more than anybody. I don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.” Clare, age 6 (Love is affectionate)

“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” Elaine, age 5 (Love is selfless)

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” Mary Ann, age 4 (Love is happy)

“I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Lauren, age 4 (Love is smart!)

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” Karen, age 7 (Love is romantic)

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” Jessica, age 8 (Love is expressive)

And in my personal opinion, hands down the best one:

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Bobby, age 7 (Love is profound)

WoW! “… if you stop opening presents and listen …”

As parents, my husband and I have tried very hard to instill balance in our children’s expectations about holidays, and about life in general. While we want them to always believe in the magic of Christmas and the unique celebrating of their birth day, we have worked to keep their expectations within the framework of reality. As in, “I don’t care if one of your friends got a limo ride downtown to share a hotel suite with their friends for the weekend, complete with 24/7 room service and tickets to a concert.” Someone – or several someone’s – will always have more, do more, be more. And the disease of ‘expectation’ may be far more dangerous than any other childhood illness they will ever face.

So what kind of example are we setting for our children when it comes to this one day set aside for lovers? What are we teaching them about what love really means? I’m not suggesting that gifts are not appropriate; I certainly enjoy opening a pretty little box or two and I have never been accused of turning away from chocolate. True, there are times when a card can express what we may not be able to say in our own words. But maybe right alongside reining in our children’s expectations, we ought to be evaluating our own.

Ladies, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to set aside your expectations of the presents you ought to get – or stop comparing what your friends and co-workers get – and simply listen to what’s already around you?

Men, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to pause, look your wife in the eyes and give to her from your heart? Not as an excuse to squeeze your wallet a little tighter, but because you truly want to share yourself with her.

sharing hearts

It’s easy to buy something. What takes time and effort is giving of our selves. To share a piece of who we are. This Valentine’s Day, let’s stop opening the presents and listen. It just might be the best Valentine’s Day ever.

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Me, Myself, and My Neighbor

Me, Myself, and My Neighbor.

I’ve been hearing, reading, studying, and ‘Google-ing’ a lot about relationships lately. It seems to be where the needle is stuck on the record player of my mind and heart. And I’m learning that I have an awful lot to learn. I’m discovering that sometimes I’m not a good wife, parent, friend, or neighbor because I’m not a good me. And unfortunately, when I’m not a good me, I’m not good for anyone around me.

So what makes me a good me? Well, a lot of things. And really just one thing: I gotta’ be me. Sounds simple, huh? Not so fast.

Take a moment and go through your mind’s eye to your ‘friend list’. Unless there are identical twins among them, no two look exactly alike, do they? And even if there are identical twins, you probably know them well enough to successfully tell them apart. So why on earth do we kill ourselves (especially us ladies) trying to be exactly alike? Way beyond fashion trends, hair styles or color, and home decorating tips, our comparisons of each other – against the other – keep us stressed out, anxious, unpleasant, and flat-out exhausted.

If God wanted us all to be the same, why didn’t He simply line up Michael, Gabriel, and the other angels on an assembly line and mass produce humanity? Because that would make us robots. And God doesn’t want robots. Robots are not ‘emotionally available’. God wants people. Individuals. Souls. Heartbeats. As my hero and friend Dr. Ravi Zacharias puts it in his elegant Indian accent, “We are not bodies who happen to have a soul. We are souls who happen to have a body.” That’s right. First and foremost, we are souls. Our bodies are just a byproduct of our DNA. The genetic lottery if you will. And admittedly, some win bigger than others. (Well, I had to lighten things up a little, didn’t I?)

So when we hear “love your neighbor as yourself”, what does it look like? We assume it’s always in the most positive light: be kind, be gracious, be helpful, be friendly, be charitable, be forgiving. But all those attributes assume that we are kind, gracious, helpful, friendly, charitable, and forgiving of our selves.

Alas, most of us are not.

If I truly love my neighbor as myself, will it be helpful or harmful? In their book The Cure, What if God isn’t who you think He is and neither are you? authors Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch pose this question, among others: “What if it was less important that anything ever gets fixed than that nothing has to be hidden?” Can you imagine? Being in relationship with others who are not fixated on ‘fixing you’ but on knowing you and being known by you? Relationships built on being honest, authentic, and real with each other? This, my friends, is where we find freedom to heal and to experience genuine, loving, life-giving relationships.

Here’s the gist of what I’m saying: We simply cannot over-invest our souls in the lives of those around us – our spouse, our children, our friends, our children’s friends, our co-workers, or our neighbors. Hear me out. I’m not suggesting we go all emotionally bare naked with anyone and everyone, revealing our deepest darkest secrets over a loudspeaker at the grocery store. But I am being challenged to ‘know and be known’. To let my guard down, let people in, and dare I say it? Be vulnerable. Oh, I cringe even as I hear that word go through my brain and come out of my fingertips on the keyboard! But it is possible. It is terrifying. It is glorious. And it is the heartbeat of relationships.

The challenge for me is this: when I allow myself to embrace God’s great love, boundless grace, and passionate pursuit of relationship, I’m a good me. I’m not perfect, but I’m real. And that makes it safe for people around me to be real. Loving my neighbor begins to look like God loving my neighbor. And God loving me. And me loving me. And my neighbor loving God. And my neighbor loving me.

Sounds like a pretty good gig, huh? be you

438,000 Hours

I am 50 years old today.

438,000 hours have passed since I drew my first breath. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 50 years I’ve been simply breathing. Give or take a few hours (more as a baby, less as a college student, virtually none as a new mom) I have spent approximately 146,000 of those hours sleeping.

Funny, the face in the mirror doesn’t reflect that I’ve slept a little over 6,000 days.

As for the remaining 292,000 hours:

I’ve been loved by my parents since before I was born. They provided for me a solid foundation on which to grow, learn, explore, succeed, fail, and become fiercely independent. I’m deeply grateful that the large majority of my memories are built around them, my big brother, and the rest of my family. Their influence, character, and faith are undeniable benchmarks in my life.

I’ve enjoyed 23 years raising my children. And for all the spilled Cheerios, tickle-fests, school projects, year-round sports, and story times under a blanket, I wouldn’t trade a moment. My children are my heartbeat and they know it. They have made me a better person and I pray that, in spite of my many parenting failures, they know I will always be their biggest fan. (And I will always say ‘yes’ when they ask for hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles.)

I’ve loved my husband and he has loved me: for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. Many couples spend their whole lives together never knowing what the other is truly made of. But we are together navigating the sometimes delightful and often treacherous path of marriage. And I believe we will continue to love each other, to pursue harmony for ourselves and those around us, until death parts us.

I’ve worked hard, I’ve played hard, I’ve been easy to get along with, and I’ve been a thorn in the flesh of others I’m sure. I’ve done happy dances, wept bitterly, burned biscuits, changed a flat tire, learned to shoot a handgun as well as a shotgun, squealed on a roller coaster, killed spiders (and a few snakes), and felt the sting of bad news. I’ve grieved the passing of those I love; I’ve tenderly kissed and tightly hugged my babies; I’ve prayed my heart out; and I’m learning the difficult task of holding on while letting go as I watch my own children dare to tackle life head on.

The one thing I know better than my own breath is that God knows my name and Jesus loves me. It’s been a long journey, at times painfully desperate, to come to the realization that I am not here – none of us are – by accident or simple reproduction. There is a plan. There is a purpose. It is why our hearts continue their glorious thump-thump of rhythm.

Another 50 years? I doubt it. However, my maternal grandmother is 97 and in excellent health so it’s at least within the realm of possibility that I have her genes. If so, I will have enjoyed close to a million hours here on planet Earth. Yet, it is but a moment – a mist, a vapor, the morning fog – in light of the glorious adventure waiting for me in eternity.

438,000 hours. And the God who created me has had His hand in every one.

No Burden Too Heavy

Today I’ve been deep in thought…pondering whether I should/could blog about this 11th anniversary of the attacks on America. I don’t like to call that day an “anniversary”. Anniversaries should be happy occasions: wedding anniversaries, successful business anniversaries, cancer-surviving anniversaries, and the like. But what should we call it? How do we appropriately refer to the day which horrifically changed America and the world as we know it? Forever.

I watched several documentaries last night from differing viewpoints of the 9/11 attacks. One was about men and women who survived, sharing their memories, re-telling the events that led to their safe exit – or their rescue – from the Towers as others died around them. One program re-enacted the timeline, moment by tragic moment, as around the world we learned that Hatred was at the helm of four fuel-heavy jetliners. The last program and the most difficult to watch, profiled surviving family members of those whose lives were ripped away from them in a breath: one moment drinking coffee, checking email, and prioritizing the day’s activity; the next making frantic phone calls and sending hurried text messages to share one last “I love you”, certain they were never going home. Children whose parent(s) would never watch another baseball game or school play; sons who would never again come home to mom’s chocolate chip cookies; daughters left with only memories of their daddy’s tender hugs.

What struck me was that in the midst of all their pain, sadness, confusion, and grief were smiles of remembrance. These family members and friends truly enjoy sharing with the world their loved one, what they meant to their family and community, how they acted bravely – even heroically – in the face of incredible danger. And without fail, every single person shared their overwhelming gratitude for the outpouring of love and care from those around them and from America as a whole. These precious orphans, grieving parents, widows, and widowers collectively thanked America for sharing their burden, for bearing the weight with them, for never forgetting.

It is what we do, we Americans. In the face of unspeakable tragedy or natural disaster, we rally. We come together. We unite. We act as one for the betterment of the other. It is why we are America. Whatever your religious or political affiliation, compassion is one of the hallmarks of our nation.

It reminds me today that there is no burden too heavy for us to carry together. We are made for relationship: for sharing happiness and grief, play and work, contentment and despair. We have each other because each needs the other.

It also reminds me, in the bigger picture that we are made for relationship with God: not for what He can do for us or we should do for Him, but for honest, authentic relationship; knowing Him and being known by Him. For all our happiness, play, and contentment He longs to rejoice with us. And for all our grief, work, and despair, He will be our comfort, our strength, our peace.

It reminds me once again that there is no burden too heavy for the Cross…

 

Fragile and Fierce

ImageI remember as a young girl of 12 or 13 a particular Saturday afternoon at a friend’s house. Janice and I had been playing outside all day, running around through her neighborhood bare foot, enjoying what was left of our summer vacation from school.  Janice had an older brother (super cute – and in college!) and his girlfriend had come over late in the day to join the family for dinner. Gathered around the table for a beautiful meal, Girlfriend suddenly shrieked and started crying hysterically. Knives and forks dropped, we all jumped, and I think a glass of iced tea or two may have been spilled over onto the tablecloth.

As Girlfriend pushed away from the table and ran towards the kitchen, Janice’s brother right behind her, we realized what had happened. A tiny, little spider – not much bigger than a speck – had drifted down from the ceiling to retrieve his share of the evening meal and in doing so had landed on Girlfriend’s plate, sending her into an emotional frenzy. No reflection on the housekeeping skills of Janice’s mom, it was simply late summer in Georgia. Spiders welcomed the indoor relief from heat and humidity as much as we humans. Not to mention, the food smelled absolutely divine.

The meal was ruined. Janice’s mom was morbidly embarrassed. Her brother was trying to calm down Girlfriend still shaking and crying over the kitchen sink. Janice’s dad was reprimanding us for making fun of a grown woman afraid of an itsy bitsy spider. And I remember thinking, “I hope I’m not that fragile when I grow up.”

A few weeks later in middle school: P.E. was a required class back then and I had a gym teacher who, by today’s standards, would either be in jail or tied up in legal battles from multiple parent-initiated lawsuits. We didn’t play games, we didn’t ‘talk’ about physical education, and her goal was not to make fitness fun. We worked. Hard. She took those 50 minutes and wore us out. My P.E. teacher was not an attractive woman, and morbidly obese (yes, ironically she taught physical education). Her idea of lesson planning was to tap her pen against the clipboard while she debated which form of torture to put us through on any given day.

This particular afternoon, we ran. Outside. In the August afternoon heat. For 50 straight minutes. Not on a track. No ma’am, she had us run out behind the school on the dirt field. And for whatever reason on that day, she had my number. As we headed back for the locker room sweaty and clutching our sides (no mandatory water breaks in our day), she called my name. “Chambers! Inside the gym! Now!” For some reason known only to her, I was going to be the brunt of her punishment. After all that running, she took me inside the gym to do squats. Hands clasped behind my head, I started my squats and she started counting. We had reached about 35 when another teacher walked into the gym to talk with her. I kept doing squats. Several minutes later, she walked back over to me and with a smirk in my direction said, “I forgot where we were.  1…..2..…3…..” and she started over.

Honestly, I don’t know how many squats I did that afternoon. I know when she finally let me stop, my legs literally felt like spaghetti noodles. I couldn’t walk to the locker room to change my clothes. By the time I finally made it to my class with an illegibly scribbled note in my hand from the P.E. teacher, the bell rang for dismissal. And I remember thinking, “That woman is fierce. I hope I’m not like that when I grow up.”

Let me just say that life has provided many opportunities to test my resolve.

And my experiences have taught me that there is a fine line between fragile and fierce. Sometimes all it takes is one painful, traumatic, heartbreaking moment to turn a fragile heart into stone. And sometimes all it takes is one small, tender, compassionate act of grace to melt the fiercest of hearts.

The key, I think, is to embrace a bit of both.

There are times when I must be fierce: protecting my family, defending my faith, respecting and honoring my love of freedom. And there are times when I must allow myself to be fragile: entrusting my heart to those I love, staying sensitive to God’s voice, and allowing my dreams and disappointments to be known. It is my choice and sadly, I could recount many times when I have chosen badly. The fragile born from feelings of self-pity. The fierce born from feelings of entitlement.

Jesus is the perfect example of living out the two in perfect harmony: Fierce when protecting his Father’s house and raging against those who willfully manipulated his people; fragile when offering his body as a sacrifice, acknowledging complete abandonment by those he came to serve and the One who sent him.

Learning to be both fragile and fierce – at the right time and in the right place – is learning to be like Him.  And that, my friends, is my highest resolve.Image

A Boy, A Girl, and A Canvas

ImageMy parents celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary this past week.  55 years. My mom was not even 19 when she and my Dad married – and he was an old man of 21. Robert Vern Chambers and Charlotte Cathleen Crowe married on a very hot June afternoon in a sweet little southern church with no air conditioning — at 6pm! My mother was every bit as elegant as Grace Kelly in her borrowed wedding gown and my Dad would have given James Bond a run for his money in his elegant white coat tuxedo.

Shortly after they were married my Dad, enlisted in the Army, became stationed in Germany. Mom went along and without the comfort of cell phones, email, or Skype to reach ‘home’, they managed to turn his call of duty into an extended honeymoon all across Europe. For two full years, each time my Dad had leave, they would set out for a previously unvisited country and explore the diverse and unique beauty that is the continent of culture. My Mom still tells wonderful stories of their ventures into Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Monte Carlo among others.

As I’ve watched them over the years, there are many things that stand out to me about their relationship. My Daddy is reserved, kinda’ serious, a packrat of sorts, and solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. He enjoys spending time with friends but would never be one to initiate any kind of social gathering. An excellent (and sometimes experimental) cook, he especially enjoys baking. For years, we have enjoyed his homemade cinnamon rolls, cheesecake, and German Christmas bread. I can think of only one mishap of his which has jokingly been placed in the annals of history as “Dad’s sauerkraut cake”. Ick – my mouth curls up even now as I remember that first (and last) awful bite.

My Mom is super organized, highly social, and has an incredible way of making everyone around her feel special and important. She’s tenderhearted and compassionate to the core. Watch out though, she will cut you like a butcher’s knife through soft butter if you come after her family! Mama can make popcorn and brownies seem like a feast fit for a king, cry tears of joy as quickly as tears of sorrow, and read a story in a way that truly makes you feel as if you have been transported through time.

Daddy gave me my blue eyes, my appetite, and my ugly knees. Mama gave me my great cheekbones, my love of entertaining, and my stubborn streak.

So how do two people, with such diverse personalities, make a marriage that is still going strong after 55 years? There are several things which come to mind:

Commitment. The dictionary defines the word “commit” this way: To give in trust or charge; to pledge oneself; to entrust, especially for safekeeping.  My parents have encompassed all those beautiful attributes of commitment in their attitude and actions towards each other. They trust one another. And they know that no one else on Planet Earth has more invested in their safekeeping than each for the other.

My grandmother told my mom the morning of her wedding that if she ever showed up at their door after she married my dad, she would swat her on the backside and send her back home.  Bottom line, it was my Memaw’s way of saying ‘you’re in this for the long haul; be committed to it and work it out.’ And work it out they have. There have been incredible highs and devastating lows, but my parents have gone through it all together. Their commitment to each other is absolutely unwavering. And everyone around them knows it.

Strength. Strength is not the same as commitment. One of the definitions for strength is moral power, firmness, and courage. My mom and dad have been strong for each other, strong for their marriage, and strong for each other’s families. My dad has always had an excellent relationship with my mom’s parents. Daddy grieved the loss of one of his best friends when my Papa died. And Mama was every bit as caring and loving towards my dad’s family as she was her own. They have been strong and courageous for each other, on behalf of each other, and with each other. They give strength to one another and receive strength from each other.

Loyalty. In a word, faithful. My parents have many friends and acquaintances of the opposite sex. But they have observed and respected undeniable boundaries, remaining loyal and faithful to each other from before their wedding. They are truly each other’s one and only.

Perseverance. Definition: steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. Nothing could be more true of two people in this world than the perseverance of my mom and dad. They have faced insurmountable odds, endured betrayal by those they considered friends, survived financial hardships, and suffered the heartache of their extremely rebellious children. But they have stayed the course. Unwavering in their faith and their commitment to prayer, my parents have walked what they talk.

Unity. Oneness. “The state of being one.” I remember growing up, there was no playing one against the other in our house. Mom and Dad always presented a united front to my brother and me. Even if they might have disagreed behind closed doors, we never knew it. Mom and Dad truly enjoy each other’s company and have made their friendship a huge part of their marriage.

My parents are not perfect. They have disagreements and spats. They get frustrated with each other. And there have probably been at least a couple of occasions when they questioned their sanity. But they have, over the years, taken a blank canvas and painted a beautiful picture of commitment, strength, loyalty, perseverance, and unity. In their 55 years of marriage, that canvas has become a masterpiece. And I, for one, am grateful to have watched these two artists at work, at play, at home. Together.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you.

This past Friday night I had the privilege to enjoy one of life’s rare, almost perfect, dare I say glorious evenings with my family. Not only with my husband and our two children who are still at home, but my parents, my brother, and my oldest son who lives now in Texas. It’s a rarity for all of us to be in the same place at the same time: my brother is in town between chef jobs at an exclusive hunting lodge in the Midwest and Alex is home for a week – the first time since Christmas.

I love to cook, and I try to be creative, but I am absolutely no match for my brother. He is a self-taught chef and in a word, amazing. “Chef Bo” has an instinctive sixth sense about technique, taste, texture, and presentation. Meats, fish, seafood, veggies, potatoes, sauces, fruits, desserts, you name it – he has a recipe somewhere in his head. I don’t even understand about half of what he does or how. But one thing is certain: it is always delicious. I don’t just mean “wow, that’s really good.” I mean, “How did you do that? That’s ridiculous good! Yes, more. Right there on my plate. Yep, keep it coming.”

So last Friday we decided on a menu, took our field trip for food shopping, and met at my house to begin preparing for the gorging that lay ahead. My mom was leaving town the next day for a choir trip so we were celebrating an early Father’s Day. And it was all hands on deck: I was working on the meat, Chef Bo was directing the appetizers and preparing side dishes, kids were chopping fruit and cutting blocks of cheese, Richard was cooking bacon. Everyone right there in the kitchen, together, doing something.

Knives flying, oven heating, refrigerator and pantry opened and closed, it all started coming together. Add a little move-your-feet music to the mix (U-verse, my family thanks you) and we had Paula Deen meets MasterChef.  We were laughing, talking, feeding ourselves a bite over here and playfully stealing a bite from someone else over there. By the time my parents arrived, the house smelled delicious. And we had artfully arranged the appetizers on a new (smaller) dish to disguise how much had already been consumed.

My responsibility for this particular feast was the meat: BBQ boneless ribs. Mmmm, my mouth waters just thinking about them. I’ve baked them many times before but I don’t remember ever cooking them when my brother was going to be eating them (did I mentioned he’s a chef?). Talk about pressure. The main attraction, the one thing everything else on the table centered on – even the appetizers – was my responsibility! Aye-yi-yi! I have to admit, I was tempted to change things up a bit, try something new, do them just a little different, but I stayed true to my personal recipe and slid the baking dishes into the oven.

Chef Bo, with a raised eyebrow asked, “Are you sure about those ribs? You know we’re eating in 2 ½ hours right?” I acknowledged the clock and his question with a simple, “uh-huh” and a smile.

Fast forward to 7pm. Appetizers consumed. Table set. Side dishes working on the stove and in the oven. Clock ticking. Laughter. Conversation. Billiards tournament underway in the basement.  And then it was time: time to pour the drinks, summon everyone to the table, and let the feasting begin. Everyone who knows me knows I love having my family around the table together (Norman Rockwell, my grandmothers and my mother, I thank you). So on any other day, just the fact that we were all together would have been enough. Not this evening. Not this meal. The ribs had to be perfect: tender and juicy but not watery, with sauce that wasn’t too thick or pasty. We all sat down and held hands to bless the food and our time together. Dishes began to move around the table in every direction, forks and spoons clinking, passing this, sharing that. And then the moment of truth: Chef Bo took a bite of those cooked-to-perfection ribs. I placed my napkin in my lap and sat back in my chair waiting, watching.

A big, surprised expression in those cat-like green eyes of his followed by a huge smile answered my unspoken question. “Wow! Those are amazing! How did you do that?”

Ah, yes, the sweetness of a food triumph.

What followed was in a word, carnage. We ate ribs until we couldn’t lift our forks. We ate homemade mac n’ cheese made from lasagna noodles (I told you, he’s a chef!). We ate a most unusual and delicious green bean and sweet pea concoction I feel very sure I could not re-create. Chef Bo asked my secret for the ribs followed immediately by, “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You can keep that culinary secret and I’ll just keep eating.”

We ate, we laughed, we told stories on each other. We shared a meal and we shared memories. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is truly unforgettable. No one rushed away from the dinner table, no one was anxious to go do something else or be somewhere else. Just family. Just perfect. And the email I received from my brother the next morning went something like this:

“About last night…it was grrreeeaaat. One of our best family times ever. And how exactly did you do those ribs???”

800 Feet in the Air

My family and I went on a week’s vacation to Florida last week, compliments of a Christmas present from my parents (thanks, Mom and Dad!) We moved to our new home in early April and I hadn’t needed our luggage until last week.

Our suitcases were nowhere to be found.

So we opted for Plan B: everyone packed their own duffel bag. It was actually a lot of fun. I’m usually a complete nut about everything being packed, perfectly organized, in its proper space, folded correctly. Not this year. It was every man, woman, boy, and girl for themselves.

We started out early in the morning and between GPS and the directions provided by the resort we managed to turn a 5-1/2 hour trip into 7+ hours. For all her engaging British-accent instructions, Miss GPS led us astray. By the time we arrived at our destination we were an engaging mix of slap-happy and belligerent, which is probably the reason I misunderstood the directions to our room provided by the smiling young lady at the front desk.

The kids and I unloaded the ‘luggage’ while Richard went to park the car. What we thought was a direct route to our room took us to a revolving door that launched us out onto the ocean-front pool deck. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies trekking across the landing with our mis-matched duffel bags, pillows, blankets, and bare feet. I was tempted to call out to the children in my best redneck accent, “Looky thar, kids, it’s a cement pond!”

A kind (and slightly embarrassed) security guard rescued us and escorted us straight to our room. Oh, the stories he must tell his family at the end of a shift!

We enjoyed a week of gorgeous weather, great food, beautiful accommodations, late nights, and later mornings. On our last full day the kids decided their big splurge was to go para-sailing. After several phone calls we made an afternoon reservation and headed out for a bite of lunch.

We had a grand total of 12 on the boat, plus two instructors. Eleven of us were flying and Stephen had made it perfectly clear we were NOT going to be the first ones up. He wanted to see what everyone else thought about it before the captain strapped us in. Much to his dismay, we were the very first ones – the chosen ones – to venture up into the Big Blue.

I was not about to let the kids know I was afraid but I have to admit I was a little shaken by the thin strap under my seat, the one (only one) buckle around my waist and the two hooks above my shoulders. This is really the only thing connecting me to that chute and this rope??? 

Because of the weight distribution (no sarcastic remarks, please) I had to be in the middle with the kids on either side. Stephen was none too happy about being on the outside. He had planned to be safely encased between his sister and me.  Rachel, on the other hand, could not get up in the air fast enough. The metal bar to which our hooks were strapped was literally shaking with our fear as the chute inflated and began to take us airborne. Higher, higher, higher: 800+ feet in the air. It was exhilarating and terrifying. The boat appeared like a toy in that vast expanse of ocean.

I kept reminding myself to breathe while trying to take Stephen’s mind off the fact that we were 800 feet in the air by pointing out how far we could see and how beautiful the water was as we looked out. The thought kept running through my mind, “I wonder what would happen if I just leaned back and let go.”

I didn’t find out.

After about 30 seconds in the air, I noticed Stephen’s legs swinging back and forth. He was smiling, pointing things out here and there across the horizon, and almost laughing out loud. He loves it! He really loves it! Rachel was shouting down to the boat, and at first I looked at her and said, “Shhh, not so loud.” Then I checked myself and laughing out loud, I said, “Go ahead, girlfriend, give it all you’ve got!”

Back on the boat we were all smiles and talking a mile a minute. Stephen couldn’t wait to tell everyone about his adventure once we got back home and it has now been permanently placed on his “all time favorite things” list.

I’ve been thinking about that sky-high ride a lot since last week.  

Sometimes life brings us to a place where we have to hang on with both hands and simply let the chute take us where the wind is blowing. Yes, it is terrifying. But it is also exhilarating. The sun is warm, the breeze is perfect, the view is breathtaking. Fear makes us more aware of what’s around us and sometimes we see things we might have otherwise missed. White knuckles and all, you realize you wouldn’t trade that moment for anything.

800 feet in the air; and 14 minutes that will last a lifetime.

It’s Really Not A.D.D.

Ready to leave the house yesterday morning, I walked downstairs and noticed the flower pots on the front porch needed a drink of water. So I headed to the kitchen to put some water in a pitcher.

As I stood over the sink ready to fill the pitcher, I noticed a few dishes that needed to go in the dishwasher. While I was shifting the pile from sink to dishwasher I came across an item of some sort that didn’t belong in the dishwasher – its home was in the trash can. So I walked over to the pantry where the trash can is kept out of sight.

The trash can was full (as always). Removing the lid, I wrapped and twist-tied the bag and took it outside to the big trash can. Walking back across the patio, I stopped to ‘dead-head’ a few petunia pots and a basket of impatiens, observing that they were the perfect dampness for that time of morning.

Back inside the house to put a new bag in the trash can, I noticed a trail of ‘something’ brown and icky across the floor that had apparently dripped out of the trash bag. I took the mop out of the pantryand gave the floor quick once-over to clean up the mess; back to the pantry to put a new bag in the trash can.

As I reached for the trash bag I noticed a plastic Home Depot bag with some items that my husband needed to return. Better move this right now, I thought and walked back outside to his truck where I laid the bag on the front seat. Back to the pantry and finally, a new bag was in the trash can.

I turned around towards the sink (why is that pitcher sitting out on the counter?) and remembered I had left my cell phone upstairs on top of the dryer. I walked upstairs to retrieve my phone and realized that the washing machine cycle was finished and the clothes were now ready to go in the dryer. I put my phone down (big mistake) and moved the clothes, set the dryer cycle, and trotted back downstairs.

Grabbing my purse, ready to go, I opened the door to the garage. Remembering that I wanted to take yogurt with me, I turned around and went back to the kitchen. When I opened the refrigerator, an opened stick of butter fell out – someone had forgotten to close the little plastic lid on the shelf where the butter sits. I grabbed a paper towel (the last one) and cleaned up the butter mess on the floor.

I went to the cabinet under the kitchen sink where the extra roll of paper towels is kept.  By now I had to go to the bathroom, which was thankfully right by the kitchen. And which I discovered was out of toilet paper. Back upstairs to the closet where bathroom supplies are kept. Downstairs again to the bathroom (why didn’t I just go while I was up there?)

Out to the garage again, I got in the car, hit the garage door button and reached for my phone, which was still upstairs on top of the dryer. Okay, really? This is getting ridiculous! Another trip back inside the house, upstairs to grab my phone, and finally out the door.

About halfway down the driveway, I remembered the yogurt. Forget it, I told myself. At least I had my purse, my keys, my phone, and matching shoes. Thank the Lord my head is attached at all times to my shoulders.

Pulling out onto the street, I looked up at the house and muttered to myself, “Oh yeah, I forgot to water the flower pots.”

I don’t have A.D.D. – I have T.M.D…. Too Many Distractions! 

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