Monday, December 26, 2011

Gotta Get Up

I hope your Christmas day was everything it was meant to be.  Mine was, even if it wasn't everything I thought it should be, it was everything God meant it to be.  And that was pretty glorious.

So we were in the middle of our glorious Christmas morn.  Well, glorious by our standards--which involves a lot of jumping off couches, screams of joy, and general whooping-it-up mayhem, with a little sibling rivalry and "Stop that, or you'll go to your room!" thrown in for good measure.  I've said it before: we're a wild crew.  At some point, we decided to take a break from the present-opening extravaganza (for which I bought almost nothing, yet God deluged us with the most beautiful hand-me-down gifts.)  I baked up a mediocre egg and sausage breakfast casserole, and we congregated around the table. (Note: I didn't say "sat down."  That's out of our league at this point.  Baby steps.)

There was general merriment, as the children discussed the gifts they'd already opened, and the ones they hoped they still might get.  Suddenly, my oldest child blurted out, in all sincerity,

"Hey everybody!  Do you know what my favorite holiday is???

[insert one millisecond of suspenseful silence]

Saint Patrick's Day!  I just love wearing all that green."

I sat dumbfounded for a minute, waiting for a great big "JUST KIDDING!" or some other retraction, but it never came.  He dove right back into his eggs without skipping a beat.  The other kids looked at him cockeyed for a split second, and rolled with it.  (I probably should have rolled with it too, but I tried arguing with him, before I realized, "Why?")

And his left-of-center comment got me thinking.  It got me thinking about myself; about how many times in the midst of God's lavish grace, I totally miss it.  I may not miss it maliciously, but I'm still missing it; missing the gifts God's piled all around me.  Right that very minute.  And I miss it, just because I'm thinking about something else.

It's easy to forget that I'm living the best time of my life right in the midst of the dirty kitchen floor and out-of-control kids.  While thinking about cleaning up and getting the kids "settled down," I forget that the dirty floor and the crazy kids aren't detractions from the dream, they are the dream.

At one of my Al-Anon meetings recently, a woman shared an edgy mantra she'd created for herself during the holidays to help her readjust her expectations: "Kill Norman Rockwell."

"I know, I know, he's already dead," she said.  "But I just have to get it through my head that it's almost never like that, and then if it all somehow works out, I'm just pleasantly surprised."

How much of my life do I spend waiting for Norman Rockwell, when God's blessed me with something very different, yet wonderful?  I can miss the wonder and the joy of the "best days of my life" through nothing more than sheer oblivion, if I'm not careful.  Or, I can miss it, by wishing for something else.  Either way, I can miss the chance for gratitude.

This Christmas could have easily been a time when I felt sorry for myself: "The Christmas after my marriage fell apart," or "My kid's first Christmas without their Dad," or something like that.  Instead, God sent me the message loud and clear that this year, I am to rejoice.  I have so much to be thankful for.  My heart was seared with the realization that life, in and of itself, is to be so treasured.  My eyes opened to see that I am surrounded by others whose hurt and pain is so much greater than my own:

A friend who sat, a hollow shell of her formerly vibrant, free-spirited self at Christmas Eve church service: unable to speak or stand after a recent massive stroke.  Wheelchair bound, she still tried to rouse herself for her favorite carols, but could not.

A lonely family member whose cancer has returned.  In three places.  

A young mother: her 34 year old husband dying of Lymphoma at a nearby hospital.  She, with a two year old daughter: begging for prayers on Christmas Eve night for how to guide her daughter through a final goodbye to her Daddy.  

I am speechless in the face of others' agony.  As I am surrounded by stacks of both literal an figurative gifts, I bow humbly before God.  I beg Him to show me how to treasure up all the blessings He's given me, and hide them in my heart.  Like Mary....

I want to pay attention, and be "present" in the time that God gives me.  I don't want to miss the fact that I'm living amid blessing heaped upon blessing, every morning that I still wake up with the gift of life.   I don't want to miss Christmas Morning, pining away for a paltry St. Patrick's Day.

I "Gotta Get Up" because I do not want to miss it.

Rich Mullins': "Gotta Get Up" about Christmas morning.

P.S.  I have no problem with St. Patrick's Day.  It's a wonderful holiday, in and of itself.  But it's no Christmas morning ;-)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

Tears are falling,
Hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God,
You've been promised
We've been waiting,
Welcome, holy child
Hope that you don't mind our manger
How I wish we would have known,
But long awaited Holy stranger,
Make yourself at home
Bring your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled,
Word now breaking heaven's silence
Welcome to our world
Fragile finger Sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart Whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
So wrap our injured Flesh around you
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect son of God...welcome to our world

-Amy Grant
When I saw this--lyrics from one of my favorite Christmas songs--posted on Elisabeth K. Corcoran's site--one of my favorite blogs, I, too wanted to share.  I hope she doesn't mind me copying her idea.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

All I Want for Christmas Is......To Get My Own Way

Today, I'm posting a quick thought about something that many of us may be struggling with.

Today, not everything is going my way.

It's Christmas Eve, and I've already had the usual barrage of very NON-holiday-ish child-rearing episodes.  I've already had one or two exchanges with people that were....well.....let's just say less than Baby-Jesus-in-the-Manger-Picture-Perfect.  And, to top it all off, I've had to spend well over an hour on one task that I really didn't plan for today.  It was upsetting.  It was a real downer.  Not what I wanted to be doing.

And I was starting to get mad.  How could I focus on Christ, in the midst of all this??

But you know what? The real question is:  How can I not?

Baby Jesus (and the grown up Jesus) doesn't look at it like I do.  He knows that it's not going to be perfect.  He knows that as I celebrate His amazing arrival, things aren't going to be all set up just right for me to "feel reverent," and "get holy" all of a sudden.  His very coming down was to us here in the muck and mire of our tangled up sin.  Ugly sin.  Killjoy sin.

And today, I'm going to make sure that I don't forget that God knows where I'm at.  Celebrating His birth doesn't have to be picture perfect, and I'm not going to let all the "stuff of earth" cloud my ability to marvel in it--and that includes my own selfish desire to just get my own way.  Even if "all I want for Christmas" is to be able to "focus on Christ," even that can get in the way.  Because although the desire to have a Christ-focused Christmas is a very good thing, turning that desire into an idol, and making it in my own image (It has to look like this!") is a very bad thing.

And letting Jesus come on his own terms is really what I want, after all.  I just tend to forget.

Friday, December 23, 2011

'Tis the Season to be Hedonistic

We all know that the holidays can easily go awry, and turn into a materialistic orgy.  But I also tend to kind of forget about that, since I'm surrounded by women (and people) who try to keep their focus on Christ and their families.  I know that materialism is always crouching at the door, and that present-opening with the kids on Christmas morning can easily become what I've termed the "greed-fest."  But we don't go overboard with gifts, don't go into debt, and often my kids get only thrift-store presents--which is just fine with them.

So, it was still a shock to me when I saw McDonald's ad campaign this season:

Celebrate Season's Cravings

I guess, in a way, it's not all that bad.  But the more I thought about it, the more it irritated me.  Celebrate your cravings?  Man, they may as well just say, "Celebrate Hedonism."  I know, it's McDonald's.  What should I expect?  They have to keep the American population obese somehow.  But geesh....couldn't they come up with something better than merely satiating your urges at Christmas?

What do you think?  Am I being way too uptight?  Or do you find it annoying too?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thankful for the Cookie Angel

We all know I'm a ne'er do well.  An underachiever.  A big "L" a ton of areas of my life. 

One of these areas is baking.  Another is gift-giving during the holidays.  Put those together and "BAM!" I'm in perpetual awe of people who "drop by with a plate of cookies" around Christmas.  And I'm not talking about Nilla Wafers all wrapped up on a plate--which is what I'd arrive with if ever forced into such an act of kindness.  No, I'm talking about homemade, painstakingly decorated, perfectly baked cookie goodness. 

These people who do such things?  First, I bow to your bake-tastic skillz.  Second, I shall forever dub thee, "Cookie Angel."

Well, one "dropped by" my house today.  You know who you are.  And I'm thankful for the Cookie Angel.

Look at those beauties.  I know!  Right??

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Documenting Laughter

The past few months have provided so much more freedom to experience joy around here.  Now I can laugh so much more readily with my kids and even (sometimes!) at them.  This is a big change for us, because Mommy hasn't laughed much in the past.  But times, they are a changin'!

One thing I've found about dynamic periods of change is that they're full of exhilaration at the time, but I quickly forget them.  It's sad but true.  I'm like the Israelites in the Bible who quickly complain that they want to return to Egypt; even when God is leading them with a pillar of fire and feeding them with manna.  Instead of realizing or remembering all the goodness of God, they begin missing the "leeks" and other foods back in stinky-ol'-slavin'-away Egypt.

Anyway, at some point in the Bible, God tells people to start recording all the miracles he does for them, so they don't forget.  And at some point, they start building little shrines to help them remember.  They call them........wait for it now........Ebenezers. 

Yeah, weird in Scrooge, Cratchit, et. all.  But it has nothing to do with that.  Except that it is Christmas time right now, so it relates in a bizarre sort of non sequitur way.  Merry Christmas.

But back to the Ebenezers in the Bible.  They were simply a way for people to memorialize or record something awesome that God did.  And since most people back then didn't write, they couldn't just write it down.  So, they built up some rocks, or did other stuff that would help them remember: an Ebenezer.

But, nowadays, most of us read and write.  And that makes things easier.  So that's a little bit of what this blog is for me, because it's kind of like an Ebenezer in a crazy digital way.  It's a record, anyway.  One of the things that I want to record is God's work in my heart as evidenced by laughter.  So now, because this is totally a stream of consciousness post, I'm going to relay a 3-second snippet of my day that made me laugh until a tear rolled down my cheek. 

I laughed because I could, more than because it was funny.  I laughed because God loves me, and I love my kids, and I don't have to live in fear any more.

Overheard today.  The scene:  My 4 year old girl is dressed in a fairy costume.

"I'm Tinkerbell.  (pause)

I don't really have control.....of my hair.  I'm not having a very good day with my hair.  (pause)

But I'm Tinkerbell."

It really made me laugh.  And maybe the Christmas reference shouldn't be overlooked, because I hope to record this as The Christmas We Laughed Again.  And I'm going to make sure we don't forget what a blessing that is.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Who is this woman inside my head?

This morning I fumbled groggily downstairs at 6:30 a.m. to wake up my older kids, just like I do every weekday.  (Even my big 'uns are still pretty little.)  And, like many other days, I had to creep past various other younger children who I didn't want to awaken; children who, for the love of my much-needed-beauty-rest, don't stay in their own beds at night. They wind up in my bed, or on my floor, or other inconvenient places, come morning.  Well, at least the places are inconvenient if the children don't want to be awakened at 6:30 a.m. 

Actually, as any parent knows, the problem is they'd be more than happy to be awakened at that time. They wouldn't stumble groggily down the stairs like me.  They'd race gleefully.  And I'd be ticked as hell that I had to endure their joyous exuberance at a time of day when any sane person should either be A) sleeping or B) wearing sackcloth and ashes because they are not sleeping.

Anyway, this morning, I had to sneak out of my bedroom so stealthily that I didn't get to find my slippers.  Or my robe.  Or anything comfy or warm or cozy.  So I'm dressed in nothing but my nightie, goosebumps, and leg hair, which is a sight to behold.  In fact, I bear a striking resemblance to Godzilla.  Wait.  Does Godzilla have hair?  Fine, then.  Wolf man, or....something....hairy and not good.  Anyway....we'll call me Wolf-zilla.

Just when I thought I was going to have to freeze my hairy legs off all morning, the fates turned for Wolf-zilla.  I remembered a load of clean laundry in the dryer.  As luck had it, there was both a top and bottom in there for me.  Amazing!  But it gets better.  Coming into my son's room, I spied one of my old slippers.  (He likes to play with them.  Don't ask.  The boy's got a thing for footwear.) 

I actually thought to myself, "Well, one slipper is better than nothing."  My comfort threshold as a Mom has dropped so low, that I figured I'd reached my zenith with a warm pair of sweatpants, a hoodie and one slipper.  Who could ask for more?  Right?  I wiggled my foot into it.  I'm pretty sure I was prepared to wear that one slipper around all morning.  I wasn't really even looking for the other one. 

And then, there it was; The Holy Grail of my morning ensemble!  The other slipper--on the other side of his bed.  Angels were singing along with a background muzak track, and I heard a voice in my head.  Through layers of grogginess, and stupor, the voice was clear.  Unbelievably, it was my pre-coffee self saying,

"Wow.  This is the awesomest start to a great day."

What the???

It only took a minute for me to laugh and ask myself, "Who is this woman inside my head?"  And then it hit me. 

It was the new me. 

The new me, although still not a morning person, isn't dreading each new day that arrives. 

The new me, even with less than six hours of sleep, can still feel optimistic. 

The new me, even when freezing cold at 6:30 a.m., can still be cheerful.

The new me is content and amazed; amazed at an entire morning wardrobe picked from amongst the bedroom floor toys and the laundry room.

I've heard it said that when you combine thankfulness and awe, you get gratitude.  I think that's what the new me is experiencing.  And I'm looking forward to getting to know her better. 

Well, after she gets her first cup of coffee....just in case.  'Cause I'm pretty sure even the new me can still morph back into Wolf-zilla when she's not caffeinated.  I mean, she's still got the leg hair thing going on.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Serenity: Power and Love

When you pray, you open yourself to the influence of the Power which has revealed itself as Love.
-Henri Nouwen

God has been showing me His love in special ways during this season, especially through prayer, so I am intrigued by this quote from the late Henri Nouwen.  Nouwen wrote in a unique way that showed how God's love is very real and accessible.

I continue to grapple with prayer, and the ideas of why I pray, or how I pray (or don't.)  I think it is going to be a long journey for me.  On my journey, I have to remember that God is both powerful and loving.  It's amazing to realize that prayer opens me up to both that power and that love.  And boy, do I need both.  In fact, without God's power, I find it almost impossible to be loving; At least, when loving is hardest--which seems to be when it's most important.

This post is inspired by Melissa at 320 Sycamore, and her regular Sunday Courage for the Week posts.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Snort Laugh Saturday 12/17/11

In a rare utopian moment, my seven year old son and four year old daughter are playing nicely together.  The boy is dressed in a cape and other superhero paraphernalia. 

Four year old: "Wow!  Are you a superhero?"

Seven year old: "Yes!"

Four year old:  "Which one?"

Seven year old:  "I don't know! "

Four year old:  "I know, you're CAPTAIN BRAINSTORM!"

Seven year old: "Do I have to think?"

My commentary:  Wow.  I want to have that superpower.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Favorite Things!

This is a re-post from my old URL.  I'm linking up to 320 Sycamore's Favorite Things Party!

I have written a quick post to link MY FAVORITE things $30 or less.  Here goes!

Spenco Inserts
These babies can turn a cheap, flimsy pair of shoes into completely comfortable footwear.  I'm not kidding.  Bring them with you when you try the shoes on, because you may have to size a half size up.  They are awesome.

Burt's Bees Red Dahlia Tinted Lip Balm
This stuff if luscious feeling, and gives a hint of color that looks pretty.  I'm still not a lipstick kinda girl, so this is my compromise.

Eggnog Latte from my French Press at home 
Not everything has to be from a store, right?  To me, this is the essence of Holiday-y.  At home, I make a french press of coffee, and then add half skim milk and half eggnog to my liking.  It's not Christmas until I have my eggnog latte.  I love to have a friend over and chat in lieu of gifts.  Then, I serve this!  (If I really splurge, I can hire a babysitter for the occasion!)

Kiss My Face Grapefruit and Bergamot foaming hand soap
This soap has the most refreshing scent, and the foam is velvety.  My "hands down" favorite.  Yes.  I just said that.

Air Wick Aqua Mist 
This is the only "air freshener" I will use.  Lots of others make me sick to my stomach.  But I love this stuff.  It's actually refreshing, and seems to truly "wick" odors out of the air.  It does wonders when you need it and where you need it.  With a house full of kids, and three toilets, you know what I mean.  Bonus?  There are more coupons for this product out there every month than you can shake a non-aerosol bottle at.

Sunnyland Farms Dark Chocolate Pecan Turtles
I apologize in advance for introducing you to these.  These are the real deal from Georgia.   None other compare.  Once you try them, you will hate me forever because you'll never go back to anything else.  At $30.35 for the decorative tin, these are at the top of my budget.  But they're worth it.  Trust me.   I buy the big "home box" and divvy them up in pretty little dollar store packaging for teachers and friends. They are my signature item, although this Christmas is going to be very lean, and we may not have the funds!

Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent: Waiting for Someone who Loves You

Sometimes I go to Al-Anon.  It's a support network for people in a relationship with an alcoholic.  I'm not actually in a relationship with an alcoholic.  That's not why I go.  I go, 'cause I'm a rebel.  I'm wild like that.  Well, technically I lied.  I do have several alcoholics in my life, but most of them are sober, and have been for years.  (According to Al-Anon and AA, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.  Even if you haven't had a drink in years, you're still a "recovering" alcoholic.)  The idea is, the alcoholism still affected me.  And, frankly, I'm pretty sure that's true.  Anyway, that's another long, hairy story.  And we're not doing hairy today.  (So don't look at my legs.)

Today, we're doing uplifting.

Well, the night before Thanksgiving, I was playing a round of my most favorite game.  Some of you know it.  It's called "Stare at the Ceiling at Three A.M. and Wonder How You Got Into This Bloody Mess."  Sometimes I refer to it as "SCATAWHYGITBM" for short.  It's entertaining and all, but it gets old after a while.  Finally I started praying, since prayer is right up there on my list with "SCATAWHYGITBM."

Anyone else out there struggle with prioritizing prayer?  Is anyone else even out there??  Ahem. 

Anyway, as I was talking to God, I found myself telling Him, "Yeah, God, I know you love me.  I mean, I've kinda known it my whole life.  I've seen it clearly in the past, and I can read about it in the Bible. would be really nice to just.....sorta.....hear from you again about that; to hear again that you love me.  What I'm trying to say, God, is that I could really use some proof right now." 

And that was basically how God and I wrapped up the night.  I managed to get to sleep after that, and by  morning, the only reminders of my little chat with the Almighty were the bags under my eyes.   Oh wait, those are there every day.  So, I didn't have any reminders.

Alright.  Coming back to my Al-Anon meetings.  I got up and went to one that morning.  I try to go every Thursday.  Yes, I even went on Thanksgiving because I'm so screwed up hardcore like that.  And the topic that morning was (of course) Gratitude and Thanksgiving.  And lots of people shared their Gratitude Lists.  It was an open share group, and we talked about what we were thankful for, even in difficult circumstances, and how gratitude helps us keep things in perspective.

Then, at the conclusion of the meeting, when we were all feeling warm and fuzzy, the group leader suddenly changed directions with a comment that absolutely floored me.  She said,

"Okay.  Now, I want each and every one of you to think of all those things on your list that you are thankful for.  Right now."  I easily envisioned my four beautiful children, my extended family and friends, my home, and a myriad of other blessings.

"Now say to yourself," she continued, "Every single one of those is proof that my Higher Power (God!) loves me!"

The memory of my three a.m. prayer came flooding back over me.   Those were the exact words I'd used: "God, can you show me some proof that you love me?"  It had been just a few short hours earlier!  I had begged God for proof, and there it was in black and white.  He did, indeed love me.  And all the blessings in my life were the proof.  Why hadn't I seen it before?  God had answered my prayer.

Since Thanksgiving, it's been just a little easier for me to say, "Okay, God.  I'm gonna trust you here, because I've got proof that you love me.  Thanks for giving me that, in the midst of a tough time."

Frankly, I'm just amazed that God answered the pitiful prayer of a girl who didn't even take time out of her day to really talk to Him....just squeezed in a desperate plea between bouts of insomnia.  I can't believe He was listening.  If He was listening to me, He's definitely listening to you.  I couldn't have asked for a kinder, gentler, way for God to start my Advent.  It's a different season, when you're waiting for Someone who loves you.  I'm putting that on my Gratitude List.

linking to

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Cheater's Quick "Homemade" Dark Chocolate Frosting

This is a repost from my old blog, in honor of Works for me Wednesday!

I love to bake. 


OK, so I love to eat baked goods.  Like the other critters in the story of the Little Red Hen, I'm always hoping someone else will do all the work, and I'll get to feast on the work of their hands (wings?) 

(Anyone else have this book growing up?)

Anyway, last night my mom was visiting, and I wanted to make her a special treat.  (Plus, while cleaning out my pantry I discovered a tad-bit expired chocolate cake mix: her favorite!  Lucky me.)  I threw the cake mix together with the "help" of my two and four year old daughters.  Messy.

Side note: isn't there something wrong with a child who doesn't like to lick the beaters?  

Very proud that I'd remembered to preheat the oven, and to take out the pots and pans I store in there, I slammed the pan of batter in the oven.  Then I accidentally turned the oven off for the next 10 minutes.  But never mind. 

I contemplated the issue of frosting.  We could eat it without frosting.  Yeah, we're ghetto like that.  After the whole batter explosion, I was re-thinking my plan to let the girls frost the entire kitchen cake.  But I had discovered a big jar of the whipped chocolate frosting in the pantry that also needed to be used up.

But the more I thought about that fluffy, slightly gritty, way too sweet stuff, the less I wanted to use it.  And then, in the back of the pantry, behind all the Rice Krispy Treats, I saw this:

I remembered my Grandma's best chocolate cake recipe.  It calls for homemade icing to be poured on hot, on top of a hot sheet cake straight from the oven.  The clouds parted and I had (my first?) cooking epiphany of my lifetime.  So here's what I did:

-Broke apart the 3 remaining Unsweetened Baker's chocolate squares
-Put them in a microwave bowl
-Poured a few tablespoons of milk in with them
-Cooked it all in the microwave until the milk boiled for a while, and the squares were all melted
-Whisked it all together and decided it was too thick and needed a little more milk
-Microwaved it a bit more
-Folded it all together in the bowl with the can of Whipped Duncan Hines chocolate frosting (which melted down quite a bit)
-Poured it all over the top of the cake, which I somehow managed to get out of the oven at the right time
-Poked some holes in the cake so the frosting soaked in

The verdict?  OK, seriously, this stuff tastes homemade.  It's really, really good.  The icing is just the right bit of sweet now.  And the consistency is so smooth, and not grainy.  So easy, so yummy.
I am not a food photographer, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say it's good!  As you can see, we've already done serious damage.

I am so not the Little Red Hen working her fingers (feathers?) to the bone.  But I sure don't mind faking it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sometimes you just need a good kick to the jaw

For about two weeks, I've been plagued with fairly severe jaw pain.  It came out of nowhere, and I've never experienced it before.  One side of my jaw hurt like heck if I chewed or opened my mouth.  God forbid I forget to stifle a yawn: ouch!  I finally resorted to Ibuprofen around the clock to deal with the pain.  I don't know if it was TMJ or what.   (I don't even know what that is.  But I used to have a friend who complained about it all the time, and it sounded good.)

I had a visit to the dentist scheduled for some tooth work, so I asked her about it.  She advised me to "rest" the jaw and treat it very carefully.  She told me to eat soft foods, and try not to "stress" the jaw.  Don't open it too wide.  Don't chew hard stuff.  Give it time to heal.  In a word: baby it.

Anyway, two nights ago a certain high-maintenance child of mine (ahem! naming no names!) was up crying at 1:00 in the morning.  What started as a nightmare turned into a little tantrum, and devolved into some kicking and screaming, even though I offered to let the child spend the rest of the night in my bed.  Long story short, I ended up getting kicked in the jaw.  It was an accident, but boy did it hurt!  I thought to myself, "Great. That's the last thing I needed, when I was already hurting."

And then, suddenly the pain was gone.  All the pain.  The next morning I woke up pain-free for the first time in two weeks.  A few days later, the pain hasn't returned.  What on earth??  No clue.  But I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth. (har! har!)

And this made me start thinking about how many times in our life we let the status quo dictate our behaviour, even in a really bad situation.  We tiptoe around, try not to disrupt things, and baby it.  But nothing really gets better.  Nothing is actually healing.  How long could we go on like that? 

Maybe forever.

But if we're lucky, suddenly, by our own actions, or something outside ourselves, we may get a swift kick to the jaw, and the situation is relieved.  Knocked back into balance.  And the painful jolt may come in the form of changes that we would never have had the courage to bring about on our own.  (I never would have been willing to get kicked in the jaw, if the choice was up to me!)  But once administered, the blow may have restorative, healing powers that we never saw coming; even if it seems like the last thing we need when we are already hurting.

Is this what Hebrews 12:6 is trying to say?

"Because the Lord disciples the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his [child.]"

I don't know, but it's got me thinking about the other areas of my life where I've already received a good kick to the jaw......or where I may still be needing one.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Crazy Peace

Let's just face it.  Sometimes it hurts too much to laugh.  Sometimes laughter isn't even appropriate.

The death of a loved one.  Pain visited on a child.  Senseless violence.

And for me, more recently: Rejection.  Cold, hard, rejection is one of those things that can cause so much pain that it's really hard to even breathe, much less laugh.  For me, rejection, coupled with betrayal (secrecy, deception or outright lies) causes one of the most bitter forms of pain.  At many points in the last few months, not only has it been too painful to laugh, it would have been inappropriate, since some revelations have signified a descent into such a place of darkness for a person I once loved and trusted that nothing joyful can immediately emerge.  I can trust that in time, there can be a joyful end...but now?  There's nothing joyful about it.

So in the midst of darkness, if you can't laugh, is there an alternative?  Are we left with only sadness, anger, bitterness or fear?  Is time the only healer?

After doing some searches in the Bible, although Laughter and Joy are powerful themes in the book, there are other themes that call out to me as well.  The theme of Peace is one of them.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27

Shortly after my marriage fell apart, I felt strongly led, and was even given a "word from the Lord" from a friend that I needed to

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

Of course that phrase is thrown about so much it's cliche.  A no-brainer, right?  But in the most turbulent of circumstances, it doesn't seem like a no-brainer at all.  In fact, it seems counter-intuitive, since everything around me has led me to take action.  And, in fact, I had to take action.  But how can I take action and also "Be still?"  How can these two ideas coexist?  Gradually, I am beginning to see that they can.

I'm trying to understand it.  But I don't know how well I've done.  I've felt strongly led to go spend some time at a local monastery in prayer, but I haven't made it out there yet.  My time without children is still so little, and it's an hour or so drive each way.  My life doesn't lend itself to being still.  There isn't much apparent peace around me, either.  I've got four kids.  Pretty loud kids.  Pretty crazy kids.

I don't have all the answers, that's for sure.  But I do know this.  I need to know more about Peace.  God's peace.  Sometimes the Bible calls it "Peace that passes all understanding."  To me, that means "Peace that doesn't make sense."  Well, how about, "Crazy peace?"  Is that an oxymoron?  I don't know, but maybe that should be added to my list of things the "new me" is learning more about.

Crazy peace.  Yeah, that's got a certain ring to it.  I'm on it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

George Bailey's Turning Point

Today (although she doesn't know it) I'm linking up to a blogger who I follow and enjoy.  Each week on Sundays, Melissa at 320 Sycamore posts an inspirational thought that she calls Courage For The Week.

Today, she posted a clip from It's A Wonderful Life, where George Bailey prays his famous tavern prayer.  I never knew before that as Jimmy Stewart filmed that scene, he had a very profound experience himself.  I watched the clip, and read Jimmy Stewart's commentary on it, and I am struck by how it resonates with my post yesterday.  Each of us will stand at our own "turning point."  We will realize we must ask for "God's protection and care with complete abandon."  George Bailey is at that place in this scene.

Jimmy Stewart wrote an article for Guideposts magazine about the prayer.  As a film studies major in school, I know how painstaking the editing process is.  Back in the days before digital media, I can't imagine the labor involved.  I am in awe:

“As I said those words, I felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless, had reduced me to tears.

Frank (Capra, the director), who loved spontaneity in his films, was ecstatic. He wanted a close-up of me saying that prayer, but was sensitive enough to know that my breaking down was real and that repeating it in another take was unlikely. But Frank got his close-up. The following week he worked long hours in the film laboratory, repeatedly enlarging the frames so that eventually it would appear as a close-up on the screen. I believe nothing like this had ever been done before. It involved thousands of enlargements with extra time and money. But he felt it was worth it…” ~Jimmy Stewart, Guideposts.

Stewart goes on to describe how, despite high hopes, the film was a box office flop.  A total failure.  But inexplicably, it "wouldn't die."  It eventually became one of the most beloved films of all time, eventually called an "American cultural phenomenon."  Stewart wraps up the article by saying,

"Well, maybe so, but it seems to me there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It's simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and a selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life." 

Thanks, Melissa, for letting me link over to you.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Quote for today: Half Measures Availed us Nothing

Although AA was originally founded for the benefit of alcoholics, I have found that the 12-steps are applicable to almost anyone, in whatever struggle they may find themselves.  Insert whatever your own problem is, and the 12-steps offer help and guidance.

Quoted directly from the AA Big Book, ch. 5

"Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.  Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.  There are such unfortunates.  They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.  They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.  Their chances are less than average.  There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.....If you have decided that you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it--then you are ready to take certain steps. 

At some of these we balked.  We thought we could find an easier, softer way.  But we could not.  With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start.  Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.

Remember what we deal with [insert your own, personal struggle here.] It is cunning, baffling, powerful!  Without help it is too much for us.  But there is One who has all power--that One is God.  May you find Him now!

Half measures availed us nothing.  We stood at the turning point.  We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.

Here are the steps we took:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over [insert your own, personal struggle here]—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [others], and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Does awareness = improvement?

With bullying on everyone's mind, because of Jonah, I'll repost here a comment I made over on Single Dad Laughing, that tells more about my own bullying experience, which I first wrote about here.

But first let me say, I'm not too impressed with the way schools handled bullying when I was a kid, nor how they are handling it these days.  Nowadays, they have big anti-bullying campaigns, and anti-bullying slogans plastered all over the walls.  When I go to lunch with my kids, I see huge posters in the cafeteria saying, "Be a buddy, not a bully!" or "Stop bullying NOW!"  But when I read them I don't feel uplifted; I feel sickened!  What are we teaching our kids?  That would be like hanging a sign in our dining room that says, "Stop rape now!" Appetizing.

Yeah.  That's what I want to see while I'm eating my lunch.

I was bullied in elementary school--very badly--by other girls, in 4th and 5th grade. They beat me up several times, and were very cruel. I've blogged about it a little bit, but it was much worse than I've written about. Like many kids, I basically never told anyone. Finally, at one point, when I'd been hurt pretty badly, I came home and told my Mother. Thank God, she raised hell, and I was protected physically after that, but nothing could stop the mental abuse.

Fortunately, I was able to attend a new school in 6th grade. At that school, I wasn't a bullying target. But another boy in our class was. He was "slow" and came part way through the year from a rural school district. The teacher asked him where he was living, on his first day in our class.  I winced when he proudly answered with a thick West Virginia drawl and an open smile, "VA Mobile Home Park!"  I remember thinking, "Oh, God! He's in for it!"  (Northern Virginia has WAY too much money.)

One day, I saw two bullies back him into the corner of the classroom, after most children had already boarded the bus. The bullies demanded that he recite the times tables, but he couldn't. They taunted him, and jeered at him. I was filled with indescribable rage, and I quietly lifted the heaviest hard-cover Social Studies textbook I could find, and slammed the lead bully over the head with it. He fell to the floor, curled in the fetal position.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Today was a rough one. But laughter won out!

In all sincerity, the last 48 hours have been tough.  I'm prepared for ups and downs at this point, so I'm not letting "being down" get me down.  Know what I mean?

Today, in the midst of my funk, glory be to God, I pulled my head out of the ground long enough to do the following:

-Be thankful and express thanks to a family member who took valuable time (many hours!) to come spend time with me, go to Home Depot with me, and to do some repair work in my house.  A few days ago, I opened up my daughter's ceiling fan light fixture to replace the light bulb, and I discovered exposed melted wires, lying directly on burned out light bulbs.  Wow.  So today I choose gratitude for the fact that our home didn't burn down, and that my family member took time out to come replace the entire fixture.  (Bonus! The new fan is much prettier than the old one!)  But even more than the household help, I am grateful for the company and love that my family member showed me today.  I needed the companionship, and Jesus provided.

-In a moment of enjoying my two year old laugh, I chose to join her in pretending to lick the table like a "puppy dog."  Just this simple act of silliness brought forth laughter from me that was sorely needed.  Although at first I didn't feel like being silly, I immediately felt better!

-Later (having uncorked my bottle of laughter) I found myself laughing until a tear rolled down my cheek when I showed off the ugliest ever light fixture (headed for the trash) that I had recently replaced myself.  As I looked at it, and watched my family member's reaction, I realized just how hideous it really was.  This allowed me to LOL at the fact that I'd lived with it over my front door for nearly four years.

So, on a day when I really didn't feel like enjoying laughter or feeling gratitude, God gave me a couple of chances, and I dove in head first.  Thank you, God for the strength.  Give me more for the days to come.  I'm feeling better for it already ;-)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Laughter in the midst of turmoil

As I've previously shared, I'm on a personal search to rediscover laughter in the midst of turmoil and pain.  Of course I naturally gravitate to other people whose pain is similar to mine (marriage problems, relationship difficulties, day-to-day parenting challenges, etc.)  But sometimes I run across a blog or an article that describes someone else's search for laughter and joy in the midst of a different life crisis.

I just read this article on Bankruptcy Law Network (of all places) about the importance of laughter during bankruptcy.  This is a struggle I have yet to face.  However, sure's shootin' having said that, I'm in for it.  Murphy's Law has always been generous consistent with me!  Every time I've ever thought something like that; i.e. "I'll never have to face miscarriage," or "I'll never have to face separation or divorce," or any of the other "biggies" out there, they eventually seem to saunter my way. 

(Note to self: Please don't think about purple dinosaurs eating my house.  Please, please, please.)

Anyway, the article is neat because it also gives a brief history of an American icon who faced bankruptcy but later became a symbol of laughter, humor and joy.  Click through if you're looking for encouragement! 

Proverbs 17:22 – Sometimes Laughter Is The Best Medicine
from Bankruptcy Law Network


The Abuse of Rice Krispie Treats

This morning I heard a new kind of tattle.

2 year old:  "Mommy!  Sister's being mean to my Rice Krispie Treat!"

Now, what do you say to that?

The truth is, it's all my fault.  Ever since they started selling these in the enormous box at Costco, they've become a major food group around here.  I find wrappers stashed everywhere; evidence of thievery around every corner.  So, when I allowed them to enter the home, I knew they would be stolen.  Yes.  I was banking on that. 

I just hadn't counted on them being abused as well....My apologies, little Krispie Treat.

LOL. But not really.


It's been my little white lie for ages.  I type it, but I don't really do it.  There's no real laughing going on.  It's only a virtual laugh out loud.

But a laugh in my head is just as good as a real one, right?  A laugh no one hears.  A laugh no one sees.  A laugh that no "real" people enjoy.  Not my children.  Not anyone.  In fact, probably not really a laugh at all.

The ugly truth is that until very recently, I had stopped laughing altogether.  My LOLs were a fraud.

But I used to LOL for real.  I admit I was never the class clown.  That was my brother.  He sparked enough laughs for everyone.  But although I wasn't usually the one making people laugh, I could laugh right along with the best of them.  All through growing up, and into early adulthood, I'd laugh.  Sometimes uproariously, especially with my girl friends.  Or at home, with my family.  Lots of laughs was real.

But in the last few years I'd noticed something.  Laughter was petering out.  And what laughter or jokes were left had all turned sharp.  Hard.  Cutting.  Tinged...with something.  Something I didn't want to talk about.

And its been like that all the way up until recently.  But shortly after the big changes that happened in our family, laughter began reemerging.  It crept in when I didn't expect it.  Really, at first it was just a chuckle or two.  They took me by surprise.  I was hesitant.  I almost felt guilty.  Laughing?  How could I be laughing?  I'm going through a living hell, for cripes sake!  This is serious.

But I got suspicious that it might be a "God thing" when a good friend, 20 years my senior gently drew me aside.  A church leader, she confided to me her own story: 

"Very few people know this, but fifteen years ago my husband and I separated.  Although we were able to repair our marriage and reconcile, it was a very dark time.  I was left with two small children, and I felt very afraid.  But my dear," she continued, "You must start laughing again.  Do whatever it takes.  Turn on the Funnies, Lucielle Ball, whatever makes you just bust a gut and start laughing.  If one of your kids puts a pie plate on his head, you should all put pie plates on your heads and march around the house laughing.  It will be your salvation, as it was mine.  Whether your marriage is healed or not, you absolutely must bring laughter back."

Her comments struck me.  Laughter is no laughing matter.  It's vital to the healing process.

As time has worn on, she's been so right.  I've tried hard to follow her advice.  And not only has it been good, it's gotten easier.  Way easier.  And it's become contagious.  My kids are laughing.  Instead of constantly scolding them; I'm laughing right along with them!  I had no idea what the load I'd been carrying around was doing to me.  And my kids.  And everyone around me.  The absence of laughter was a telltale sign that something was very rotten in Denmark.

Then, I found Single Dad Laughing.  'Nuff said.

But despite my revived addiction to laughter, had I really started laughing for real?  I was skeptical.  The acid test for me would come in the form of the snort laugh.  You see I haven't always been a snort laugher.  In fact, the snort laugh was a bit of an enigma to me for years.  I thought it belonged only to the purview of preadolescent slumber parties and the like.  I could be a guffawer, or a snickerer, but it wasn't until I was well into my 20's that I was shocked to hear myself develop a snort laugh.  I don't know whether it was allergies, physiological changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth, or a change of administrations in nearby Washington, but whatever the cause, I joined the ranks of the snort laughers.

So, of course when laughter went out of my life, so did my snort laugh.  And my snort laugh required such a degree of uninhibited joviality that I knew I'd be back in business when it returned.  So, as the weeks have progressed since I started laughing again, I have anxiously awaited its arrival. 

And the snort laugh has not disappointed.  Just as my first, tentative chuckles suddenly and surprisingly surfaced, so has my snort laugh.  Sometimes at the most inappropriate times, because...well...when is a snort laugh appropriate?  But I am now thrilled to say that yes, my finest of ladylike qualities has finally reemerged.  And I'm feeding it; hoping to bring it back in all its appalling glory.

Why just this morning I snort laughed at only the tiniest bit of humor.  It was great.  And I hope to do a lot more of it.  Maybe even with food in my mouth, if I'm lucky.  Almost like the time in 3rd grade when I was noshing on a raw carrot.  And I was riding my bike.  At the same time.  And I sneezed while hanging on to the handlebars for dear, that took days of blowing my nose to clear things out. 

Why was I riding a bike and eating a carrot at the same time, Mom?

In case you need a little help, I wanted to directly link my favorite Lucy YouTube video, which also happens to involve a vegetable type substance.



Starting a blog, Self-deprecation and the Snort Laugh

Without any other great literary talent, I at least offer up my skills at alliteration.

On the heels of most respected Internet pundits declaring that "blogging is dead," I, in my typical fashion am starting a blog.  Never one to pass up an opportunity to be a "day late and a dollar short," I'm hoping to jump on this bandwagon well after its heyday, just as I have basically every other trend that I actually ended up noticing (which hasn't been most of them.) 

This makes me think of another trend: zippers on the bottoms of jeans.  These were first popular in the 80's, during which time I had the misfortune of being a kid and eventual preteen.  Being the basically oblivious geek that I was, I didn't have any jeans with zippers on the bottoms....until....I came home in hysterics one day, having been beaten up by a group of girls on the playground.  Picture it: me huddled in some hidden corner of the schoolyard with my Chronicles of Narnia book  (I told you. GEEK.)  They came upon me like a flock of angry birds straight out of Alfred Hitchcock...or, well...Angry Birds...anyway.  The one thing I was able to decipher from their jeers was that my clothing was out of style.  So, my Mom took me to the local girls boutique and bought me some "stylish" clothes.  The next day, I self-consciously entered the classroom in one of my new outfits, which included zipper-bottom jeans.  As soon as girlishly possible, on of my abusers made a whole-room declaration, "Look, everybody!  She got new clothes!  And she's *trying* to be in style!"  General mayhem ensued until the teacher quieted the room.  And for the first time in my life, I remember thinking, "I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't."  It was a pivotal moment in coming to grips with my inability to hack it in the popularity meat market.

Of course, zipper-bottom jeans are totally again on my mind now, since they are all "back."  And stuff.  Which throws me into all kinds of PTSD.  But that's another story for another blog post.  It's still way too early for me to get a pair.  Again.  Since I only subscribe to trends once they aren't trendy anymore.  And I think they're still trendy, right?  After all, I'm still easing into the skinny jeans trend.  For the love of dimpled thighs and muffin top, I'm having trouble finding a pair that look right, even with a ton of Lycra in there.

So, here I am 25 years after the playground incident, all dimple-thighed and muffin-topped, and I find myself in the place of shame again, after my marriage of seven years has fallen apart.  Someone may as well stand up and shout, "Look at her!  Four kids later!"  Yes, I said four. Including two expensive, highly contested domestic adoptions.  Yeah, major screw-up with the whole marriage-disintegrated-thing.  Again, I'm a day late and a dollar short, or, in the words of my father, "the last to know and the most surprised" that my whole life fell apart.

But not quite.  Which is part of why I've been drawn to blogs.  Because although I don't understand why this has happened, all I have to do is look at my four beautiful children to know that I have so much to be immeasurably grateful for.  And I have a story to tell.  I just don't know how it's all going to end.  But I do know that it's filled with blessings.  Four of them are easy to spot.  Easy to be thankful for.  The others, I'm hoping to see more clearly by writing about them.  And reading other peoples' stories too.  Which led me to look for others out there like me.

And after scouring the Internet for over a month, I've discovered an appalling lack of blogs written by single parents.  Yes, there is a plethora of information out there *for* single moms, for which I ought to be thoroughly grateful.  But there aren't many single mom blogs.  At least, I haven't found them yet.  Of course, this may very well elicit a "Duh!" from you, owing to the relatively accurate stereotype that us single moms don't have time to nurse a blog.  

However, I'd like to counter the "no time to blog" thought with a different one.  We single moms are *ideal* bloggers: we have no social life, no one to talk to after 9:00 pm, way too many thoughts swirling around in our heads, but too few adults to talk with them about, especially since all those closest to us are exhausted from hearing our same tirades over and over and over...So, we may as well put our thoughts down for no one to read, but at least get them off our chest.  Even if gravity has hit the chest area. 

So, I found inspiration across the web from a few great single parent blogs, as well as a hundred others that I wish existed but don't.  The result?  This lil' ole blog-o-mine.  Because we single parents have a song to sing too, dammit.  Even if we do it all alone at 9:00 pm in zipperless-bottom Lycra-enriched jeans.  Happy birthday baby blog.  May you live long and prosper.  (Vulcan hand sign optional.)

Anyone else remember these?


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