Category: children


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???”

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This weekend marked my maternal grandmother’s 97th birthday. Yes, 97. She looks like a spritely 75-year-old, is in excellent health, and until very recently could work circles around anyone half her age. I remember a few years ago when she was in the emergency room with an about-to-rupture gall bladder and the nurse asked her what medications she was currently taking. She said, ‘I don’t take anything’. The nurse turned to my mother and asked the same question, remarking that my grandmother didn’t hear or understand what she had asked. My grandmother, in excruciating pain, fired right back, “I heard you and I understood you. And I will tell you again, I don’t take any medication for anything.”

 My mother didn’t need to say a word.

 This weekend my family also celebrated my youngest son’s 10th birthday. Finally, double digits. My grandmother, his great-grandmother, “Memaw”, 87 years his senior.

 Although we don’t get to spend a tremendous amount of time together, my children adore their great-grandmother. And I’ve been thinking of a few things I hope they have learned from her, passed down generation to generation, reminding them of their roots and the legacy they’ve been given.

1. Family is everything. My earliest memories of my grandmother center around family gatherings. She and my Papa loved nothing more in the world than being surrounded by their children and grandchildren. They loved the churches my grandfather pastored and poured their hearts into the lives of its members, but nothing – and I mean nothing – brought them greater joy than having family around them.

2. Loyalty matters. My grandmother is fiercely loyal. She can correct, rebuke, and even punish a family member who gets out of line, but woe to the outsider who attempts to do the same. My Memaw is one of the sweetest, most gracious and forgiving Southern women you could ever hope to meet. Until you say something unkind about one of her own. Then I would suggest you head for the hills. Fast.

3. Growth is important. My grandmother was a teacher for most of her adult life using a teaching degree she earned in 1934. And at the age of 50, she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Education fromBerryCollege. Yes, going back to college was difficult. Yes, it took time, and energy, and commitment. But she did it. She also learned to drive. And for the record, she was a better student than she was a driver. The roots of my “Lead Foot Lucy” nickname can be traced straight back to her!

4. Change is inevitable. My grandfather was a pastor. Not at one church. Not at two or three churches. In his 57 years as a pastor, my Papa shepherded seven church congregations spread out over three states. My grandmother always made it an adventure, a calling, an opportunity. And she always made it home. No muss, no fuss. Just set up house, share the (one) bathroom, gather the family around the table for a home-cooked meal, and say the blessing. Make friends, embrace change, celebrate birthdays, holidays, and babies, and be grateful for the pillow on which you lay your head at night.

5. Marriage is forever. My grandparents were married for almost 60 years. When my Papa, her beloved Charles, was dying of cancer she was his advocate, his caretaker, his nurse, his meal planner, his gentle bath-giver, his prayer warrior. She was strong as he grew weaker, and she bravely held his hand as he left his earthly body to embrace immortality. Memaw taught us how to grieve loss and celebrate life in the same breath. She cried and she laughed and she hugged long and hard those who shared her grief. And she has faced head-on the years without him, sadly at times, accepting that it is not yet her time to be reunited with him. When it was suggested at one time that she consider re-marrying, she looked away and softly said, “it’s not for me; Charles was my one and only.”

6. The Bible is true. I don’t know how many times my Memaw has read through the Bible but she can teach it as if she wrote it herself! (No disrespect intended.) When she talks about her favorite passages or verses in the Bible, they truly come to life. Her love for God’s word is the foundation and cornerstone of her existence. And anyone who has ever met her knows that to be true about her. She doesn’t preach the Bible to those around her. She doesn’t have to because she lives it every single day.

7. Prayer works. My Memaw has spent hundreds, probably thousands, of hours throughout her life praying for her family, her friends, her community, her country, and the world. When she awakens during the night, instead of getting a warm glass of milk and going back to sleep, she gets on her knees and prays for whoever is on her heart and mind. And she stays there until she feels a peace about climbing back under the covers. I’ve heard her tell of many a night when she prayed right on through the night until it was time to start the day’s work. My life is living proof that her prayers were heard and answered.

8. Eternity is forever. I can’t remember a time (almost ever) when my grandmother hasn’t reminded us all that she wants nothing more in the world than for her family to be together. Forever. Eternally. She reminds us all how important it is for us to stay in right relationship with God, to love Him above all else, and to be obedient to His leading. Through teary eyes and strained voice she pleads with us all to be sure, be absolutely sure, that we know where we will spend eternity. And then she smiles that sweet little smile, cocks her head and whispers, “I love you all so much.”

 Happy birthday, Memaw. Happy birthday, Stephen. As I find myself standing between the young and old, it occurs to me that the distance between 10 and 97 is not really very far. Not when it’s measured with love.

I heard on the radio this morning a news story about a video trend exploding across the country on YouTube. It’s a video called “Do you think I’m pretty?” and apparently it goes something like this: 12 and 13-year-old girls are making videos of themselves, talking to the camera and telling a little bit about their friends – or lack thereof – at school. The question at the end of the video is, “Well, do you think I’m pretty? Or do you think I’m ugly? Tell me the truth.”

As of this morning there are over 4 million hits on these videos from thousands of adolescent girls across the country. Four million! The host of this particular morning show made an interesting point: “Whether or not a young girl believes she is pretty is one thing; but there is no way she can possibly be prepared for the avalanche of cruel comments that will be posted in response to her video. Even if she’s drop dead gorgeous, people will say mean things just because they can. And because there’s such tremendous anonymity on the internet, you can say anything you want and no one has to know who you are.”

This is cyber bullying on steroids. What young middle school-aged girl, already insecure and overly sensitive, is not going to obsess over every negative comment posted and then dismiss the positive ones? What is it in our psyche that makes us unable to appreciate our own selves? Not in a puffed-up arrogant way, but simply because we are uniquely our own. The radio host and his crew decided to focus on one particular video and traced the girl back to a city in Colorado. Frightening in and of itself, this opens up a whole new world to pedophiles and would-be traffickers that someone can be so easily tracked down from a video posted on the internet. When the crew called the mother and told her what they had watched featuring her daughter, the mother said she had no idea the video even existed.

Please hear me: I am not condemning this mother. No one can possibly know her story or why she didn’t know about the video. Maybe she’s a single mom working two or three jobs because a dead-beat dad walked out on his family. Maybe she’s struggling to slay her own dragons and has lost her child or children in the process. Maybe she wasn’t taught by her own family’s example how to be a good parent and she simply doesn’t know what to do or how to connect with her own kids.

My point is simply this: somewhere in this young girl’s mind and heart, she is desperate for someone to affirm her, validate her, and tell her what she longs to hear. “I am valuable to someone.” It goes way beyond physical appearance, although I would bet this is the only way she knows how to express her need for attention. Be better, be thinner, wear nicer clothes, be more popular, have prettier skin/hair/makeup. The list goes on and on and on.

What does it say about our society as human beings – created and designed for relationship – when our children are screaming into cyberspace for attention and affirmation? The internet is a wonderful tool, no doubt, but as with every other advance throughout human history, it must be kept in balance. We must ensure that it falls way down the list of priorities in our lives, and certainly not allow it to be the barometer for our children’s love and appreciation of themselves and each other.

I fear we are losing our children to a world, a society, an environment that is not even real. And the only way to protect them – to snatch them from the grip of a cyber-society that is nameless, faceless, and shameless – is to regularly connect with them. They need to hear our voice, they need to feel our touch, they need to see our smile and embrace the warmth of our approval.

A friend said to me recently, “You know, I’ve come to realize my children will never love me as much as I love them. They can’t comprehend that kind of love. They’re not made that way.” It was a stunning revelation. She’s right. But what really struck me as I chewed on that statement throughout the rest of the day is this: our Heavenly Father can say exactly the same thing about us. We will never love Him as much as He loves us. We can’t comprehend that kind of love.

Our love for each other and especially our children is broken at best. We all have wounds that shape and, unfortunately at times, define us. Our perception of ourselves and the lens through which we view and respond to the world and people around us has to constantly be checked, evaluated, and adjusted. And I’ve found a great place to work on those adjustments: the word of God.  Check it out:

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Psalm 139:13-16 “For you 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.”

Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Isaiah 49:16 “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

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?”

Luke 12:7 “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

We humans are a fantastic mix of fragility and strength. We endure excruciating physical and emotional pain, we accomplish the seemingly impossible, and we press on against insurmountable odds. But at our core, in our heart, we are as fragile as a word, a look, a touch. And no one knows this better than the One who gave us our very breath. So walk gently with the world around you.

The mark you leave behind may very well be a permanent one.

“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!

Last week a dear friend of mine shared a post on facebook which, quite
honestly, has dominated my thoughts and kept me awake for several nights now. Her name is Dawn and, coincidentally, we share not only our name but the same birthday month – how cool is that? And for the sake of clarity, she is the younger Dawn by far!

Dawn and I met through our childrens’ sports activities and have become good friends. Mikey, her oldest son, has the biggest, most heartwarming smile you’ve ever seen. He loves to share hugs, high fives, and french fries at baseball games. Mikey is also a special needs young man with Down Syndrome. When our families first met, he called me ‘Mrs. Hood’. I laid my hand on his arm and pleaded with him, “Mikey, please don’t call me Mrs. Hood – it makes me feel old. You can call me Miss Dawn.” He threw his head back and laughed big and hard, then smiled and said, “okay, Miss Dawn.” He now refers to my in-laws as Mimi and Papaw and has a not-so-secret crush on our daughter Rachel. {smile}

I am blessed to know Dawn and her family. All of her children – Mikey included – are fierce athletes. Their daughter Ashley has college scholarship potential as a softball player; she also excels academically. Their two younger sons, Evan and Zach, are baseball and football superstars and Mikey, although on a special needs baseball team, far exceeds the physical and mental abilities of his teammates. As I’ve observed their family dynamics over the years, I’ve learned that Dawn and her husband Mike rarely make concessions for Mikey. They hold him accountable for his behavior, his speech, and the sometimes belligerent taunting of his sister. Having never spent a significant amount of time around a family with a special needs child, it has been fascinating to watch how they treat him – literally – just like any other kid. Somewhere in my brain I wrongly assumed there would always be the ‘making excuses’, the ‘indulging’, the ‘oh, I’m sorry’.

My perspective was always based on the family’s and the inspiring way in which they completely and totally embrace Mikey. (Although it has never crossed my mind that they would do anything else.) But I never thought about it from Mikey’s point of view until last week’s facebook post from Dawn. On a regular morning, in the midst of a regular weekday routine in which two parents were preparing themselves for the workday ahead and four children were eating breakfast and grabbing book bags for school, Mikey said to Dawn, “I don’t want to be a special ed kid, Mom. I want God to fix me.” 

Whoa. Shut the front door. If this were a scene in a movie, the moment would freeze on the big screen accompanied by deafening silence.

My kids have said a few things over the years that have stopped me in my tracks, but what could any parent possibly say in response to a statement like this? Dawn shared that this is a recurring topic with Mikey and also bravely shared how it breaks her heart. Mikey knows he is special needs; knows he functions at a different level and pace; knows he will always live life ‘differently’ from his siblings. And it frustrates him. More than how Dawn responded to his statement, I’ve been reflecting on Mikey’s simple, innocent proclamation: “I want God to fix me.”

We all have things we would like for God to ‘fix’: finances, marriages, wayward children, jobs, physical features that we label ‘too much of’ or ‘not enough of’ or ‘just not the way I want’. But when is the last time we asked God simply, ‘fix me‘? I have to admit, God has really been dealing with me in this area (no, actually it’s been more like hammering – I do have a stubborn streak). I tend to look at what surrounds me and want those things to change. The ‘If only…I just wish…why can’t I…or why don’t they…’  Maybe what I need to be looking at is me and what needs to change.

I heard a sermon recently by a man, well into his 70s, addressing this very subject. His text was 15 little words nestled in the middle of Psalm 37, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (v.4). Dr. Hill put it this way: “if you try to delight in what you desire, your desires will never bring you any delight.”  His point was this: until I delight myself in the Lord first (the result of which is a contended heart), my desires will never satisfy me. You guessed it: hammer firmly in hand, nail placed strategically right between my eyes, swing with intent. Bam!

Will God ‘fix’ Mikey? I don’t have any idea. Conventional wisdom, the history of medicine, and DNA would all say no. But everyone who knows and loves Mikey would tell you he doesn’t need ‘fixing’. Is this a pat-on-the-back, “just give God the desires of your heart, son” quick fix? Absolutely not. I don’t doubt for a moment that God created Mikey in his mama’s womb exactly the way He planned. I don’t question that His purpose for Mikey’s life is of any less importance than any other person on planet Earth. Does knowing that make it easy? Of course not. Does it satisfy Mikey’s desire to be more like his siblings and their friends? Probably not. Does it explain God? No more than understanding how a clock works explains eternity.

The lesson is for me. For us. Fact is, we live in a broken world. There always have been and always will be circumstances and situations that we wish could be fixed. But how would those circumstances and situations change if nothing changed except the heart through which we look at them? Thank you, Dawn, for offering me a view behind closed doors; and thank you, Mikey, for being you.

I think my Christmas list will be short this year: Dear Santa, I want God to fix me.

I must admit, I was absolutely convinced that after 33 days of trial and only 10 hours of deliberation, Casey Anthony’s jury would hand down a guilty verdict.  Yesterday afternoon, sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office with my Mom (who fell and broke her shoulder over the weekend), I was absolutely stunned when a ‘not guilty’ was announced on the more serious Murder 1, Murder 2, and Negligent Homicide charges.  Facebook posts went through the roof, Twitter was all aflutter, and every cable channel except Disney and Cartoon Network provided up-to-the-minute commentary.  One newscaster offering her own particular flair for drama was practically salivating over the assumed guilty verdict just moments prior to the live announcement.

After hours and hours of research over the last two weeks about filicide – the deliberate murder of a child by a parent – I have learned that approximately 400 children under the age of 5 are killed in the United States every year.  That’s more than one child every single day!  And the large majority of these precious little ones are killed by a biological parent – not another family member, foster or adoptive parent, daycare provider, or stranger/predator.  Those we are born to trust the most are the very ones who have viciously, violently robbed these babies of life, liberty, and the simple joy of a frozen popsicle on a hot summer day.  If you increase the age of children to 12, the numbers go up even more.  In fact, the most life-threatening risk to a child under the age of 15 is their own parent.

Right about now, you’re probably sitting at your computer or holding your iPod shaking your head, wondering what happens in the mind and heart of a parent to move them from the normal, everyday frustration of parenting to not only thinking about but actually carrying out the murder of their own flesh and blood. This can’t even be stretched to ‘mercy killing’, where a parent might possibly argue that death was an act of kindness. No, not by any stretch.  This is the cold-blooded, premeditated, planned and rehearsed killing of a defenseless human being.  Now, if your blood pressure is rising and you’re starting to squirm, keep reading.

In 2008, approximately 1.2 million abortions were performed in the United States.  More than 50% of those abortions were performed on women between the ages of 21 and 25.  Cold-blooded, premediated, planned and paid for killing of a defenseless human being.  As much as we cry out for justice on behalf of little Caylee Anthony’s murder, had her mother opted for an abortion anytime prior to the birth of her daughter on August 9, 2005 we would call it ‘a woman’s choice’.  Caylee was murdered and callously tossed away in a garbage bag before she could celebrate her 3rd birthday with cupcakes, lemonade, and girlfriends.  But over a million little Caylees die every year in legal abortion clinics throughout the US before they ever draw their first breath.

For all the outrage Casey Anthony’s verdict has brought to the surface, it would do us well to recognize that until we as a people put inestimable value on human life – all human life – we will continue to reap what we have sown.  Selfishness will prevail.  And we will grieve the heart of God who knit us together in our mother’s womb.

Last month I wrote about the mutual crush my 9-year-old son and I have shared since sometime around Christmas (see My Son’s New Crush on this blog site).  Sadly, the honeymoon is over.  I know this because I endured a shameful public break-up yesterday afternoon.  Stephen and I were perusing the aisles at our local Walgreen’s in search of tennis balls before he went to a friend’s house.  I detoured past the toilet paper aisle (we were dangerously down to two rolls, not a good plan at our house) and then over to the wall of refrigerated drinks to grab the 3/$5 bottles of Gatorade.  It’s travel baseball season and we go through Gatorade like most kids go through frozen popsicles during ‘adult swim’ at the pool.

Stephen and I reunited at the front of the store and headed for the cash register.  The man behind the register is the same familiar smiling face who usually rings up my purchases and is always quick to look through the flyer to see if I’ve missed a sale or a coupon.  He heard me call Stephen by name as we were standing there and after I ran my debit card through the machine, he looked at Stephen and asked, “Are you going to help Mom out today, Stephen?”

In a moment of in-your-face-alien-abduction my son shrugged his shoulders and answered, “Probably not.”  And then, to add utter humiliation to my shock and awe, he turned and walked toward the door with his tennis balls.  “Stephen Clay Hood! Turn around and get back over here [pause for effect and lower voice before continuing]. Right. Now.”  There was no mistaking the steely tone of my voice or the fiery darts shooting from my blue eyes.  It is unfortunate for me that so many people were in the check-out line to witness my son’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde moment.  It is indeed very fortunate for my son that there were so many witnesses to what could have been a horrific crime of parenting rage right there in front of the bubble gum and breath mints.

The only words I could muster after he lazily sauntered back over to the counter were, “We are still in the store young man, and I can easily return those tennis balls I just bought.  Now pick up the Gatorade and go to the car.”

Ruth Bell Graham was once asked during an interview if she had ever been tempted to divorce her world-famous evangelist husband, Billy.  She wittily replied, “Divorce? Never.  Murder? Yes.”  I know exactly how she felt.  Honestly, in that nano-second of anger and embarrassment I visualized several ways I could rid the free world of my son’s belligerent and disrespectful attitude.  There’s not a parent on Planet Earth who would convict me: we’ve all been there, done that, and hidden the t-shirt.

The ensuing car ride was stifling in its quiet.  Stephen dared not say a word and I was biting my lip afraid of what I might say if I opened my mouth.  By the time we turned back into our neighborhood I was able to calmly but firmly express that his behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable.  I’m fairly certain he got the message and is afraid to find out what the woods behind Walgreen’s look like after dark.

It will probably be a while before I summon the courage to shop again at my neighborhood Walgreen’s.  I can guarantee you it will be a long time before I walk through those doors with Stephen at my side.  I still love him and I know he still loves me.  But in a moment of stretching his proverbial wings, he knocked me off my pillar of sweetness and light.

And the crush was crushed.

This past Friday evening I had the privilege to walk the Survivor’s Lap during the opening ceremonies of the Cherokee County Relay for Life.  My daughter’s best friend, Meghan, had joined a team from her middle school to raise funds for the American Cancer Society – the “Official Sponsor of Birthdays”.  When we arrived at the high school hosting the event, it looked somewhat like the inner circle of the Daytona 500.  Brightly colored tents everywhere, loud celebratory music blasting from the speakers on the stage, and a huge inflatable birthday cake covered in blow-up candles.  It was a long drive to the school, the traffic was terrible (go figure – Friday afternoon at 5pm), and it was one of the first really hot days we’ve had here in the area.

I was wearing my “The Chemo Made Me Do It” t-shirt with a pink breast cancer ribbon on it.  The kids and I walked around from tent to tent admiring all the creative ways people show their support and raise funds for cancer research.  Rachel and Stephen excitedly pulled me in the direction of the Survivor Wall of Fame and helped me sign it, adding their own personal touch to my autograph. 

To say that I attend these events with mixed emotions is an understatement of epic proportions.  It is with a deeply grateful heart and tremendous pride that I call myself a ‘survivor’ and I have gained laser precision accuracy at spotting others in the same camp.  There’s something a little different about us and unless you are one, there’s no way to explain it.  We simply know each other.  But I have to admit, there is an indescribable pit in my stomach that rears its ugly head when I see a man, woman, or child walking around with the telltale ill-fitting baseball cap.  It forces me to remember.  It smacks me in the face and screams, “I almost had you, too”.  And as proud as I am to be a survivor – as strong as I feel every day – it is my ghost whisperer.  An unexpected ache or pain or an unusual lack of energy always provokes the inevitable “what if it’s back?” in the deep recesses of my mind.

Thankfully, my kids were with me and Meghan was happy to introduce me to her classmates/team members.  The emcee for the event called all the survivors to gather around the stage and after a beautifully patriotic national anthem, we all sang Happy Birthday to each other.  Rachel and Stephen were on either side of me and before we started the first lap we heard a couple of stories from other survivors who had joined the celebration.  One young man was diagnosed with colon cancer barely a year ago and shared about his treatments and prognosis.  His young wife and son were sitting on the grass as close as they could get to the front of the stage, obviously proud of their warrior husband and dad who was fighting hard and winning his battle.

Then we heard from a young lady (barely 19 years of age) who is preparing for surgery this week.  She has had FOUR cancer diagnoses in the last few years.  Four!  She is a beautiful young lady, full of energy and a positive spirit.  She talked about her cancer as if she were sharing with us her volleyball schedule.  I felt some very familiar emotions start to rise as she shared about the support of her family and friends, and the daily conflict of emotions.  She even made a statement that I remember jokingly sharing upon my initial diagnosis, “I’m too stubborn to let cancer beat me.” 

As I was standing there I met two other ladies, Donna and Laurie, who less than a year ago were photographed at the lake together enjoying each other’s friendship, their families, and life in general.  And here they stood this night, both diagnosed within weeks of each other, currently in treatment, and bald.  I briefly shared my story with them and introduced them to my little hero (Stephen) and my private nurse (Rachel).  We chatted as only survivor sisters can and then Laurie looked at me and said, “can I ask you a question?”  “Sure. Anything.”  She looked at me for a few long seconds and asked, “Is that your real hair?”  I smiled.  “Yes, every single strand of it.”  Smiles.  Hugs.  Hope.

We walked the survivor lap, my children and I, arm in arm.  To see several hundred people standing on the inside track clapping, cheering, and waving was incredibly moving.  Tears.  I couldn’t speak, and my kids don’t see me like that very often.  Rachel held my hand a little tighter.  Stephen put his arm around my waist.  And then I rounded that last curve and looked up.  Meghan was standing there with her team, clapping and cheering like crazy.  It got the best of all of us and as I started to run to meet her, she and the others broke away and ran right towards us.  We met in a huge circle of hugs and cheers and smiles.  And we walked that final stretch together.   I turned around and looked back through the crowd of other survivors.  A few paces back, Donna and Laurie were walking arm in arm surrounded by their circle of friends.  Our eyes met and we exchanged a ‘thumbs up’.  New friends.  New heroes.  And a fresh reminder that beauty is often found in the most unexpected places.

Sitting in front of my computer last night, catching up on emails, and reading a detailed online article about what an “After Rapture Party” is (for those who remain after May 21st), I saw a new ‘friend request’ on my facebook page.  I recognized the name and clicked on the picture to enlarge it.  Sure enough, it was one of my daughter’s classmates from school.  She and another friend had posed wearing spaghetti strap camisoles holding wine glasses up to their lips with what appeared to be white wine in their glasses.  I can only hope it was apple juice or sparkling cider. They were clearly trying to convey a seductive look (as much as a 12-year-old is capable of) and pass themselves off as older, sexier, and ready to party.

Mortified doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction.  This little girl (and yes, she is still a girl) is advertising herself on the internet very much like some of the ads you would be able to find on the back pages of any edition of Creative Loafing.  At first I was angry and reached for my phone to call her dad and tattle on her.  And then overwhelming sadness replaced the outrage.  I remembered that she’s had ‘boyfriends’ all the way back to fourth grade.  She was given a cell phone long before any of the other kids her age and has privileges at home that are part of the reason Rachel is not allowed to spend the night at her house. She’s a sweet, smart girl who refers to me as Mrs. Mom and runs to hug me every time we see each other.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons her facebook page bothered me so much.  If she were a ‘bad seed’ or a bully or just plain mean maybe it would be easier to write her off.  But she’s not. 

She’s one of millions of girls in our society today (yes, my daughter included) who are being blatantly told by the media, TV, music, and movies that the only thing they are good for is sex – and they better look the part.  It’s everywhere, in every form of communication.  Hip-hop and rap music seem to take it to an extreme but don’t be fooled.  It’s in country music, too.  And top 40.  And rock.  Pop artist Rhianna, who became the poster child for domestic violence about two years ago has now released a song containing the lyrics, “sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me.”  What?!?!?  And my kids say the same thing to me that I said to my parents: “I don’t listen to the words. I just like the music.”  Yeah, right – as they sing every word to every song on the playlist.

Our county’s school system has a dress code.  Not uniforms mind you, but a certain degree of standards that must be adhered to during the school day.  And I’m happy to say they are quick to enforce it.  I’m also sad to note that I’ve actually heard parents complaining about it.  Yep.  Parents.  Dads griping because their daughters can’t wear ‘booty call’ shorts and Moms whining about the fact that their daughters’ midriff must be covered at all times.  Really?  You, as a parent, are incensed because the school system is requiring your daughters to be modest?  Who’s drinking the Kool-Aid now? 

Because of my cancer and the grueling reconstruction surgeries that followed treatment, my husband and I have become more than just acquaintances with my doctors.  We’ve gotten to know them and have taken the opportunity to talk about a myriad of topics other than just my particular procedures.  We were shocked to learn that my plastic surgeon’s office does breast enhancements on girls as young as 16!  My specific doctor does not, and as a whole the practice does not encourage it, but there are parents – right here in the Bible belt – giving their daughters plastic surgery procedures as high school graduation gifts.  Excuse me, what planet are you from???  It’s one thing for ‘the world’ to be telling our daughters to go to any lengths necessary to make themselves a hot mess, but it’s another thing altogether for their parents to be footing the bill.

This has been my soap box for years.  I’ve noticed even at our church – one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the country – a growing number of girls and young women who obviously put a lot of thought into what they wear and how they wear it on Sunday.  And not in a good way.  It occurs to me, especially for the younger girls, that they are not old enough to drive nor hold down a job.  So who is taking them shopping and who is paying for these clothes?  Mom and Dad.  Which means that as they are walking to the car on Sunday morning (or any other day of the week) unless Mom and Dad are blind they see what their daughters are wearing – and the message it’s portraying.  I for one would have been locked in my closet for 30 years if I had ever tried to dress that way, much less leave the house.

And maybe that’s the key.  My Mom taught me – by her example – what was appropriate.  She dressed like a lady.  When we went shopping together she would let me pick out what I liked.  If something didn’t fit properly or wasn’t appropriate we would discuss the why behind the ‘no’.  And after we talked about it, 90% of the time it was still a ‘no’ but she taught me to use good judgment and good sense and to be careful what I presented to others.  But here’s the key: she didn’t hesitate to say ‘no’.  My mom wasn’t so obsessed with being my best friend that she stopped being a parent.  And my Dad didn’t use the excuse of “giving me a competitive edge” to justify allowing inappropriate behavior.

Maybe we should add a new line to the children’s tune, “Oh be careful little eyes, what you see.”  It might go something like this:

“Oh be careful, Mom and Dad, what you buy.
 Oh be careful, Mom and Dad, what you buy. 
 For the world is standing by and your daughter will pay the price.
 Oh be careful, Mom and Dad, what you buy.”

Some time before Thanksgiving last year my dishwasher went kaput.  I opened the door one morning to unload the previous night’s dinner dishes and noticed detergent baked onto the bottom of the dishwasher floor.  Along with last night’s dinner baked onto my dishes, glasses, pots, and pans.  Apparently the tube thingy that comes out of the middle to spray water everywhere had snapped.  So instead of actually washing the dishes with hot water, it simply baked at high heat everything I hadn’t rinsed off.  Note to self: Mom was right – rinse the dishes thoroughly before placing them in the dishwasher.

After fiddling with it a few times, we determined this was something a little more advanced than a do-it-yourself superstore fix.  I called a reputable appliance guy in our area and after his assessment and estimate, we realized we could replace the dishwasher for about the same price as repairing the existing one.  One problem: with my husband and I both unemployed, it didn’t matter how comparable the costs were – neither repair or replace was an option.  Now, let me say I love to cook.  I really do.  But I love it a lot more when I can stuff all the evidence into the dishwasher, press a couple of buttons, and walk away.

So it was with mixed emotions that I began washing dishes at the sink.  And let me just tell you, a sink doesn’t hold as much as a dishwasher.  It seemed like every time I turned around the sink was full again.  Yes, I enlisted the help of our kids to gather dishes, help rinse, and put away (I’m very particular about the washing part).  But it’s still a time consuming process and something about standing over the sink really bothers my lower back.  Not to mention, I have dropped and broken more dishes from slippery dish washing liquid than I care to admit (maybe a Freudian way of justifying less elaborate meals?)  Anyway, after a particularly big meal one evening – roast in the crock pot, potatoes, carrots, green beans, biscuits and gravy – Richard half-heartedly said, “I’ll do the dishes tonight.  You cooked a nice, big meal.  It’s my turn.”  Woohoo!  I was out of the kitchen before the kids took their last bite of biscuits.

A few minutes later, feeling a little guilty about taking such great delight in my mini-vacation from the kitchen, I walked back to the sink and began rinsing the growing pile of now soapy dishes and glasses.  At first we just stood there, side by side, my husband washing and me rinsing.  And then Richard, never one to be quiet for long, started making small talk.  Nothing major, simply news of the day or something he had heard on the radio or something about the kids.  The conversation started flowing, moving seamlessly between us.  And before we knew it the dishes were done.  A few nights later he helped me do the dishes again.  And so the pattern has continued.  There have been a few nights when Richard and Rachel have taken clean-up duty.  I think there may have been more soap sud battles than actual dish washing but it was great to hear them laughing from the other room.  Stephen has helped  a few times but usually ends up asking for something else to eat, making more dirty dishes.  You see where this is going, don’t you?

My point is this: sometimes the unexpected, even aggravating circumstances in our lives create an open door for us to discover a whole new way to connect with one another.  The dishwasher is still broken, and I still do the bulk of the clean-up after dinner, but I may wait a while to replace it.  That broken dishwasher has given me a new place, and a new way, to connect with my family.  And I love it.

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