Archive for January, 2012

“Be careful – you’re gonna’ reap what you sow.” Remember hearing these words spoken from someone older (and probably wiser)?

I certainly do. I found myself on the receiving end of this admonishment from grandmothers, parents, teachers, my parents’ friends, neighbors, you name it. Having been born and raised in the South, this little nugget of truth wedged itself in my brain right alongside the more classic, “you ain’t got no dog in that fight” (translation, mind your own business) and “bless her heart, every dog has to have a few fleas” (translation, no one is perfect).

Of course, I also learned at a very early age that we could say anything about anybody as long as it was preceded by “bless her heart”.

Ahhh, how I love the South! But, that’s another blog for another day…

Karma; consequences; GIGO, the iconic ‘garbage in, garbage out’ which originated with the IRS during its shift to computer science in the early 60s.  Whatever terminology you use, it boils down to the same thing: if you do good stuff, you’ll get good stuff back; if you don’t, you won’t.  Now, try this on for size:

Hosea 8:7, “they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”

This tiny little verse in the tiny little book of Hosea takes the concept to a whole new level. These words introduce the principle that we actually reap exponentially MORE than what we sow; ‘they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind’. I like the idea of reaping more than what I sow when it’s in the positive; but wow, not so much the negative. As I reminisce through the years, I can think of very specific examples where both these principles have played out in my own life and the lives of those around me. What about you? Are you able to temporarily see through the glasses of your past and examine where you have reaped – for the better or worse – what you have sown?

Our children begin to experience this at an early age: if they play nicely and use their manners, the reward is praise and encouragement – and sometimes an ice cream cone! Conversely, when children lie or act out inappropriately towards another, the consequence takes on varying forms of discipline. Discipline is a tricky thing these days, ranging in severity from the Time Out chair (or corner) to having the Hand of Knowledge applied to the Seat of Understanding (my dad preferred the latter but hey, I’m old school). Hopefully, these life lessons are engrained in our psyche very early on. But all too often as adults, I think we challenge this truth and try to beat the system. Minor offenses, ‘little white lies’, nothing significant or alarming to those around us. Until the whirlwind hits.

We behave based on the mindset that we are above negative or unpleasant consequences. We are not.

There are laws in nature: survival of the fittest; predator versus prey; gravity; the cycle of the tides. There are laws in life as well and this one is a classic. I’m taking this new month in this new year to re-examine some of the actions I take for granted and my mindset behind them. There’s some sowing I need to do and some sowing I need to stop. As my best friend shared with me recently, “if you don’t like the dance, change the steps.”

If you’re currently reaping an unpleasant whirlwind, may I encourage you to take a closer look at what you’re sowing?  And if you’re in that wonderful place where you are reaping a bounty and experiencing a refreshing whirlwind of blessing, be thankful…and do a happy dance!


Little Lambs, Lullabys, and Blessings

My daughter will become a teenager this week. Am I excited? Yes. Am I terrified? I’d be lying if I said ‘no’.

At 8:57 a.m. on a very cold Sunday morning 13 years ago, God graced us with a porcelain-skinned, long and lean, little pink bundle of beauty.  It took us three days to figure out what we would name her. Tagged “Baby Hood” for her stay in the hospital nursery, the discharge nurse finally brought me the birth certificate and a black pen. With a stern look she said, “you know you can’t take her home until you name her, right?”

We settled on Rachel Elizabeth. Her name fits her like a glove.

Rachel means ‘little lamb’; Elizabeth means ‘consecrated to God’.  She is everything her name means: playful, happy, sweet, snuggly, tender-hearted, and kind. Although we may have missed the lamb part a little – she can be pretty loud when  she gets excited! Rachel plays hard and sleeps harder. She has always been our best sleeper – blessing her parents early on by sleeping through the night at 8 weeks of age.

On the rare occasions that she was really out of sorts as a baby, her Daddy and her big brother Alex learned that if they sang, “You Are My Sunshine”,  it wasn’t long before she was smiling and cooing again. She and her Daddy have an amazing, not often spoken bond. They laugh, they cut up, they tease, but there is no denying that she thinks he hung the moon and he is convinced she is the reason the stars shine at night.

Rachel went straight from crawling to running; I think she walked for about a day. As soon as our baby girl realized she was mobile, she was gone. And she’s been going ever since. We used to joke that she could climb straight up a wall – it truly seemed that nothing stopped her. She loved to play on the floor with our two dogs and loved even more playing with them out in the backyard. She soon learned, much to the dismay of her mother, that she could crawl under the deck and play in the cool dirt right beside where Tiger and Bo liked to lay. All my coaxing and bribing could not bring her back out until the dogs came as well.

My brother describes her as a cartoon character come to life. He captured her 100%. She loves to dance, sing, jump, run, tumble, play on the trampoline, and cheer. She’s taken gymnastics, tumbling, ballet, tap, and jazz. Then she became a cheerleader and nothing holds a candle to the joy it brings her. She loves to practice hard and cheer hard; she expects her teammates to do the same.

Rachel has an infectious laugh – I’ve often said it sounds like butterflies. When she gets tickled about something, you simply can’t hear her laugh and keep a straight face. This has made discipline a bit of an issue at times; although she’s one of those kids who, thankfully, has not needed a strong hand. She usually realizes she’s crossed the line with a simple look…and those doe eyes of hers turn as soft as butter when she says, “I’m sorry”.

We have learned that gifts are her love language. I don’t mean big, expensive, extravagant gifts – although she does enjoy being spoiled by her PaPaw (her first word was “visa” as she sweetly reached for the plastic card in his hand).  Rachel gets excited when I come home with a package of her favorite gum; or when her Daddy takes her out for ice cream. She simply loves knowing that someone was thinking of her. And she loves to give gifts as well. Not a friend’s birthday goes by without her decorating their locker at school or taking them a super-sized cupcake to celebrate.

My little girl is growing up. Oh, how it tugs at my heart! Surely this is the epitome of contradiction: the joy a parent feels knowing their children are growing up to become responsible, wonderful young people. And the sadness that a season has passed. Rachel doesn’t need for me to help her into her snuggly, pink pajamas anymore; she doesn’t need for me to hold her hand when we walk through the mall. She can no longer curl up in my lap and fall asleep with her fingers wrapped around my hair. But when I look at her, I see a confident, happy, energetic young woman who sees the world as one enormous adventure just waiting for her to grab hold.

I thank God every day for my children and for the health He’s given me to watch them grow up.  I know the next few years will bring new blessings and new challenges as Rachel becomes a young adult, ready to launch out on her own. I may no longer sing her a lullaby at bedtime, but she is still my brown-haired, hazel-eyed blessing.

And she will always be my little lamb. Happy birthday, baby girl. Mommy loves you.


Kiss of Death

“Be vewy qwiet…weew hunting gwasshoppews!”

Open the Gate.

Open the Gate

January 15, 2012. Two weeks and one day into the new year. I will celebrate my 50th birthday this year; become an 11-year cancer survivor; my daughter will turn 13 (yikes!) and my youngest son will turn 10. Everyone in double digits this year…and my husband doesn’t often let me forget that he is the younger of our duo.

I’m not sure if it’s the thought of turning 50 or simply another small step in this journey towards ‘maturity’, but I’ve been pondering (definition: “To reflect or consider with thoroughness and care”) a lot about my life. 50 doesn’t seem possible. When I was a teenager my grandparents were in their 50s! High school graduation seems like five years ago, not almost 35; my first really good job and the cute little sports car I bought as a reward; my first apartment and the terrible furniture that I thought was fabulous because it was mine. Weddings, vacations, funerals, spades parties that lasted all weekend, and babies. I am married to a man who loves his family more than his own life and we have three absolutely amazing children: handsome boys and a beautiful girl, they are smart, quick-witted, and kindhearted. I thank God daily for giving me children who bring me such tremendous joy. And just enough aggravation that I want them to grow up and leave someday!

All kidding aside, I realize that I’m probably in the last half of my life – and if I take after my maternal grandmother it will be a long half! She will turn 97 in May of this year. In another 50 years, there won’t be too many people on planet Earth who remember me. In another 100 years, the only remnant of my ever taking up space will be a headstone on the cemetery plot bearing my name. So what do I want to do with what’s left of my years? I have a few ideas: not quite a bucket list, but some thoughts on making every day an opportunity to “live… like someone left the gate open”.

~ I want to have fun with my kids – it’s easy to get caught up being a parent and forget that our kids are wonderful people. I want to see the world the way they do: full of opportunity, excitement, and adventure. My daughter tells everyone when she graduates she’s going to backpack across Europe with a friend. Wonderful! I hope she gets to do exactly that (and I hope she skypes me from every city and town). My youngest son told me recently that when he goes to college he wants to “do math and football”. Very cool. Go for it, little man – your Daddy and I will be loud and proud on the sideline.

~ I want to have fun with my friends – I’m learning the value of spending time with my friends not because we ‘need to connect’ or catch up, but because I LIKE THEM. Sounds goofy I know, but it’s so nice when there’s no agenda. Whether we laugh, go shopping, catch a movie, or fantasize about being “Thelma and Louise”, I want to hang out for the simple pleasure of hangin’ out.

~I want a pair of red high-heeled pumps – almost everything in my closet is black. Because black is easy. Black doesn’t scream, “remember the last time I wore this outfit?” But I’m tired of black. I want a pair of completely impractical, bright red, high-heeled pumps that scream, “look at me – I’m adventurous and daring and don’t you wish you were my friend?”

~ I want to take more walks in the rain -I used to love to do this. Somewhere along the way I forgot the simple joy of getting soaked. And jumping in puddles.

~ I want to take more pictures – of everything that I find beautiful and interesting. Leaves on a tree, a fencepost, children playing, flowers in the Spring, snow in the winter, my family around the dinner table.

~ I want to go on more dates with my husband – unemployment, school projects, and our childrens’ sports activities have taken their toll on this area. I think we’ve been on one trip by ourselves since our honeymoon almost 18 years ago. I wonder if we can be boyfriend and girlfriend again? Definitely worth trying…

~ I want to dance – whether in the den, the kitchen, the car, or from the bleachers at a baseball or football game, I don’t want to be afraid or embarrassed or intimidated. In the words of my sweet Southern friend Miss Marian, I don’t want to die with any music left in me.

~ I want to become a published author – this one definitely qualifies for the bucket list but oh, I want it so badly and I’ll never know if I don’t take a huge step in that direction.

These things, and many more that make us feel alive, get our blood pumping and our heart racing, are the equivalent of living like someone opened the gate.

Think of all the fun we’ll have if we do it together!

I’ve just watched again, for the umpteen-gazillionth time (that’s a Southern expression for a bunch) the ASPCA’s commercial featuring Sarah McLachlan’s soulful ballad ‘Angel’. It is a tear-jerker to be sure. Sad, lonely, and abused animals fill frame after frame while the singer’s haunting melody drifts woefully along in the background. The ASPCA nailed it with this one. Their two-minute ad has garnered over $30 million in donations since it began its TV and website appearance in 2007 – an unimaginable windfall in the world of nonprofit fund raising from a single campaign.  I’ve also seen an increasing number of advertisements for ‘nutritionally sound’ dog and cat food, more ‘comfortable’ methods of leashing and grooming our pets, psychiatric care for stressed-out pets, and one particularly new brand of food that is bought from the refrigerated section and kept in the refrigerator at home because it’s made from 100% fresh ingredients! Exactly the same food we eat – minus the preservatives, additives, and fillers.

Is it just me or have we gone a little pet-crazy?

Let me be quick to say, I love animals. I’ve had numerous dogs and cats throughout my life, a few fish, and even a lizard for almost two years (and if you know me, it was truly a sacrifice of love for me to allow any kind of reptile inside the house). I draw a hard line on rodents. Absolutely not. No way. Not happening. But I’m getting off point…

I really do love animals and have experienced the ecstasy of puppy kisses, the amazing birth of kittens (three different litters), blue-ribbon worthy photographs, and the abiding loyalty from a pet that only its owner can understand and appreciate. I’ve also suffered through the agony of emergency vet appointments, lost and runaway pets, accidents (two dogs hit by a car), injuries (one dog bitten by a snake), mental instability (a cat who went crazy), and saying good-bye to a four-legged friend who shared life with us for 18 years. I often referred to our flat-coated retriever, Tiger, as my second oldest child.

However, it strikes me as of late that we as a society have elevated our pets to an almost god-like position within the family. People name pets in their wills (think Leona Helmsley), provide air conditioned dog houses (remember Tammy Faye Baker?), and buy puppy treadmills for their dogs to enjoy a pleasant walk inside when the weather outside is frightful. For the super-elite (or insane), pet owners now have the opportunity to provide the Fauna Sauna Heated Spa Bed. At a cool $850, their pet will enjoy lounging on an elevated, heated spa bed to relax muscles and treat anxiety. I’m not making this up, folks – it’s out there. Google it.

While I deeply appreciate the work that animal rescue organizations do to promote spay/neuter campaigns and punish animal cruelty, it flabbergasts me (another Southern expression for shock and amazement) that the loss of even one cat or dog in a shelter is intolerable. Extreme measures are taken – and accompanying exorbitant costs – to provide emergency surgeries, treatments, foster parents, etc. Sadly, many of these pets don’t survive in spite of the monumental efforts on their behalf. And if a female dog or cat is pregnant? The call to action is desperate, if not hysterical. We must not lose a puppy or a kitten!

What does this elevated pet status say about us? Rabbi Shmuley Boteach reflected in a 2009 Huff Post Healthy Living article, “…I met [a woman] recently in a Manhattan office. Seeing that an enormous Great Dane sat next to her desk, I inquired as to why the dog was at work and not at home. Her reply startled me. “My husband and I divorced about six months ago and we share joint custody of the dog. And since she’ll be going back to him this weekend, I want to spend as much time with her as possible.”” (July 20, 2009).

Really? What could possibly be going on in our minds and hearts that would cause adults to fight over who gets to spend the most time with their pet but not their own children? I think I have an idea…

Unconditional love.

We crave it. We bounce through relationships trying to find it. We read books and visit counselors and attend seminars to learn how to give and receive it. But we are human. Imperfect, broken, and flawed. And emotionally intimate relationships are fragile. Our very nature shuns vulnerability. Since the Garden of Eden, we have been trying to hide our nakedness, physically and emotionally. But our pets don’t tell us we are overweight, or financially irresponsible, or negligent housekeepers. Our pets don’t blame us for a divorce, or become disrespectful teenagers, or get strung out on drugs. They don’t cheat on us, or hurt our feelings with an ill-timed remark, or give us the silent treatment after an argument.

They simply love us where we are, for who we are. They are happy to be with us, whether lazily spending the day watching TV or going to the park for a brisk walk and a game of frisbee. They wag their tails from the simple joy of being called by name, tenderly scrubbed around the ears, or given a crunchy little dry treat out of a box off a shelf in the laundry room.

We love them because they do not judge us. They do not compare us. They love each of us individually and uniquely. And we don’t fear losing their love. Hmmmm….sound vaguely familiar?

Check out Psalms 139:13-16:

“For you [God] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

God knew every one of our days before we took our first scared, cold, naked, vulnerable breath. He knew about first days of kindergarten, hurtful nicknames, straight As, first dates, college classes, divorces, lost jobs, car payments, vacations, and cancer. And He knew our nature would be to reject him, to run from that which knows us too well. Still He loves us. Still He pursues us. Still He died for us. Still He answers prayers, performs miracles, provides unexpected blessings, and remains faithful when we are not. Is it possible that we are trying to fill a void intended for God with a pet? Satisfy our craving with the creation instead of the Creator? The Bible tells us that He calls us by name, knows the hairs on our head (which change daily), and has our name carved on the palm of His hand.

Enjoy your pet(s). Love them. Provide your best care. But remember: at the end of the day no pet, no spouse, child, friend, or significant other can fill the void intended for our relationship with God. And the next time you have a cool $850 laying around? Give it to a local children’s shelter. Your pet won’t know the difference and you could very well be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone who needs to know they are special, valuable, and unique.

Literally, 20 Seconds

My youngest son and I enjoyed a date to the movies last night. We chose  the new Matt Damon flick, “We Bought a Zoo”, inspired by the true story of Benjamin Mee. In case you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t give everything away but suffice it to say it is an emotional story with a healthy dose of drama, humor, and the reality of family. Matt Damon’s character as the widowed father of 7-year Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones – TOO cute!) and 14-year-old Dylan (Collin Ford) explores the complex and often unpredictable roller coaster of grief, along with the accompanying and unwelcome life changes. The morning after a particularly heated argument between father and son, the two are sitting on the floor of a shelter with a dying tiger, trying to find a way to connect with each other. They agree to speak what they wish the other would say and so begins a real heart-to-heart.

And then it happens. The statement. Those few words on which the entire story rests. There, sitting on the floor of a beat-up, old, big cat shelter, father looks at son and says, “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage – just, literally, 20 seconds of, just, embarrassing bravery – and I promise something great will come of it.”

Insane courage. Embarrassing bravery. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the movie ended.

I laid in bed last night asking myself if I know anyone who exhibits insane courage. Nope.

Embarrassing bravery? Not recently. History, however, provides us with many who would fit such a category:

David – can you imagine facing Goliath? Sure, it was easy to go before the king and ask permission to fight. You know, male bravado and all that. It was probably even easy to gather those small stones out of the river. After all, David had used stones before to defeat his enemies and those of his flock. But the moment he looked up, rolled those stones in his hand, and saw Goliath standing there? Goliath was enormous; mocking; ready and waiting to hand down some serious humiliation Philistine-style. It was insane courage that caused David to pull back his arm and throw the stone. His source of insane courage was his God – but it was still, by all accounts, insane.

Mary – on the heels of Christmas, she is still fresh on my mind and heart. I don’t know how common it was for someone to be visited by an angel in those days, but the message from the angel was far from normal, even if his visit wasn’t. We assume from the very brief recorded account of Mary’s interaction with the angel that she was a quiet, soft-spoken, submissive young woman. What we dare not assume is the reaction of her family, her friends, her neighbors, her church. We know Joseph’s reaction: keep the disgrace to a minimum; damage control and all that. Mary chose to go forward with God – with or without a husband by her side to brave the storm. Embarrassing bravery.

The unknown rebel of Tiananmen Square – June 5, 1989. One solitary unidentified man stood brave and courageous in front of a long line of Chinese military tanks the day after protesters stormed Beijing’s famed cultural and political center in protest of China’s government. Rumors swelled about the identity of this young man, and whether or not he was executed as a result of his quiet protest. While his actions were the source of international acclaim and inspiration, within China itself his story is virtually unknown.

No doubt, I could fill this blog for months with widely known and little known stories of courage and bravery replete throughout history.

And now we turn the page to 2012. Here we are five days into a new year. 360 days before we count it all down again. Resolutions? I rarely make them. But this idea of insane courage, this concept of embracing 20 seconds – just 20 seconds – of embarrassing bravery has me hooked. I don’t know if I have it in me. I don’t know that I will even have the opportunity. I hope I do – I think. And I hope at the end of this year I can say that I inspired my husband, my children, and those around me to embrace courage and bravery.

I feel confident something great will come of it.

And before I forget, thanks for visiting my new blog site! It’s definitely a work in progress. It’s also a big, brave, courageous step for me.

My 1st Post

My 1st post is coming soon!

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