Archive for the 'children' Category

04
Oct
11

Frail Honor, the Most Dangerous Kind

Well THIS is not what I wanted to write about. But there it is, Freshly Pressed, all about the protest on Wall Street and the virtue of the down trodden. Our future is in a lot of trouble. Seeing all these young Americans out in the cold to support their cause reminds me of an accidental moment of clarity I experienced in high school. It was Veteran’s Day, and instead of enjoying our new snow, I was sitting in English Lit. I’m pretty patriotic, so I had the thought that reading Lawrence Furlenghetti may not be the best way to honor our precious vets. I stood up and mentioned to the class how our time spent studying poetry was indeed undermining the sacrifices made by generations of veterans. Within minutes the tempera paint and posterboard were pilfered from the art room and we had some respectable signs. We paraded through the halls and quickly gathered a following that represented the ENTIRE school. Every student left class to support the Veteran’s Day cause. There we were, in the falling snow, on the side of the highway drinking hot chocolate and shouting something about freedom and sacrifice. The media was there within the hour and we clambered for their attention as they expounded on our devout patriotism.

Obviously, we were all lying. But the question is, were we lying to the media and our teachers? Or were we lying to ourselves? In that moment, every one of us was convinced that it was our teenage duty to honor the veterans. I was a little proud of my act of rebellion. As a teen, I was NOT rebellious and this would go a long way toward redeeming my straight-laced reputation. However, the pride was tinged with a nameless fear. I knew very well that the only reason the entire school walked out behind me was because they wanted to. I had successfully appealed to their inner-most wishes for a day off and I made it look honorable. At that moment, human nature stripped a layer and I discovered the simplicity of manipulation. Turn a person’s frailty into that which makes him honorable and he will stand for much less than he could be. It is easy to recline in one’s excuses, but so difficult to live up to an expectation.

Now, I see these protesters on Wall Street and all over the country, youth who were traded honor for mediocrity, and I am sad for our future. I would like a youth that is prepared to rise up and embrace the challenges ahead, enjoy the freedom of our new found globalism, and spread a better way of life to the truly downtrodden masses (not the ones being fed organic veggies and pasta in the street). Unfortunately, what sleeps on Wall Street right now is only bringing this nation further into despair. With it goes the hope that would bring prosperity to those who need it most.

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21
May
11

Time to Unpack

I’ve called it History’s Quandary. The Middle East, where enemies and allies change by the day and the best we can ever hope for is choosing the least unfortunate. Right now, our president is standing in fallout that is too deep to sort through, and for that he deserves our sympathy. Presidents before him have acted on the best knowledge to make the best decisions only to be judged by generations of history.

Right now, though, the President is not only drowning in the fallout from the troubled Middle East, but also at home. His Israeli peace plan has brought nothing but controversy over a steadfast ally. I have a knee-jerk opinion on what he said, but I like to do a little research before I speak out on the Middle East, so I’ve spent two days reading the blog circuit regarding this speech, Hamas, Abbas, Netanyahu, the Muslim Brotherhood…Finally I came to a conclusion.

It’s time to unpack, America, or our baggage is going to drown us.

Every comment stream I read turned into a circular argument of name-calling, blaming, excuses, and hate. Is this what our great nation has become? Golda Maier said that there will be war until Palestinians can learn to love their children as much as they hate the Jews. What about us? After reading all I have, it occurs to me that Americans are so caught up in rhetoric, we cannot reach a viable solution on any issue. In the name of being right, we have forgotten that love fosters growth, but hate destroys everything in its path. The Israeli conflict is an appropriate backdrop for such a realization. Israel, though a small and young nation, has grown more than many of its peers in the area. The nation is democratic, based on a general concept of freedom. It’s peers are bent on destruction. Nothing can destroy and intimidate its way to prosperity – not governments, ideas, egos, or armies.

We Americans inherited a legacy of peace and prosperity that we have squandered. Now that it is threatened, we are up to our ears in blame and hate that jeopardizes our future. We cannot even agree on good an evil. When we reached out to the Katrina victims, there were criticisms. The Gulf oil spill? Not an environmental tragedy, but a political blame-fest. We fight about gunmen in our schools and killings on the border. Obama compared children being blown up on school buses with the humiliation of occupation and NOBODY SAID A THING. Children are being killed, people, and we have turned it into a political debate without spending a moment to grieve for humanity.

America has always stood for what is right and good. She has been a bastion of freedom and solace. Right now, though, America doesn’t know what is right and therefore cannot stand. Instead, we have replaced good vs. evil with red vs. blue and are battering both to the ground. I promise that our skirmishes over things like abortion and clean water will look luxurious when we are fighting for existence. If we cannot come together and remember that a dead child is a tragedy no matter who her parents were and that injustice is a scourge, we will fall from within.

Right now, we are carrying our own versions of history in heavy backpacks that weigh us down, hindering our movement and keeping us out of the fight. We have got to unpack those so that we can step up and remember that good is worth fighting for. The enemy is powerful, but he should be easy for us to recognize – he’s the one threatening our future and that of the world. Usually, he has less problem saying he is bent on murder than we have believing him.

20
Dec
09

What Happened to that Silent Night?

We are living in unprecedented times. In the last year, I think we have all seen our priorities change. When priorities begin to change, we are forced to re-think. We cannot change our motives without taking a serious look deep into our lives. Now, even as we find ourselves standing among the ruins of our lives, time moves on. Ready or not, Christmas is here.

This year, I had no hope for the season. Nothing is as it should be and I’m still reeling from the last year’s mini-breakdown in the Barbie aisle at Target – the sad moment when I realized BOTH my daughters had outgrown not just Barbie, but pretty much any toy that doesn’t recharge. There was curiosity in my despondence, though, as I anticipated something miraculous. My lottery tickets did not pan out. BUT, as I shuttled two breathless girls from party to party, I had the opportunity to watch them, so grown and beautiful, as they foster these relationships and fill their lives with beloved friends. They are making their own Christmas magic and it has a lot less to do with me than it used to. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with toys and presents and everything to do with the people they care about.

While I miss Barbie and baby dolls, I am happy to usher in a much less materialistic phase. Christmas is complicated. Spending is monitored. We worry about leaving people out and hurt feelings. We worry about gifts without reciprocation. We worry about overspending. I was listening to a discussion about this on the radio and I wondered why churches don’t help us out with the gift giving dilemmas. Pastors make efforts to be relevant, but gift-giving among feuding families goes untouched year after year.

Oh wait – that’s easy. CHRISTMAS GIFT GIVING IS NOT BIBLICAL!!!! This was a dangerous thought. It made me reconsider our Christmas traditions and the very tradition we call Christmas. First, I love Christmas. I love to celebrate the birth of Divinity on Earth. I love to give gifts, and I love the traditions. It is worth considering, though, what we lose in this holiday melange. Worrying about which neighbors to gift and if the office gossip should be invited to our Christmas cocktail party completely saps the meaning from the season. It is ironic that selfless giving is the gist of the season, yet it is also the great distraction. I submit that the distraction comes from motive. As we worry through this season, we are truly worrying about reputation and there is nothing Biblical about that.

In fact, Christmas could be the time of year Christians behave the worst. We fight for Christmas then brag about what we’ve done. I myself have written letters to retailers begging them to keep “Christmas” in place of “holidays.” But Christmas 2009 finds me in a different place. Now I fear that Christians aren’t fighting for Christmas, they are using it as a weapon to fight with. The Roman Catholics “declared” Christmas in the first place to distract from pagan celebrations. Now we expect the masses to use the word “Christmas” in marketing, greeting, and relating. It doesn’t make sense to expect a person who is not celebrating the actual birth of Christ to acknowledge it. In fact, it lessens the impact. When we do this, it makes me wonder if even we Christians are celebrating the birth of Christ, or our personal triumph at being in a majority that has some political clout.

This year, I am celebrating the birth of Christ, a miracle too great to be turned over to retailers and caterers. I am not interested in leveraging my beliefs into retail dollars. I am even less interested in asking someone who does not hold this season dear to go through the empty verbal exchange just to salve my sensitivities. I am thrilled to celebrate the Santa season with everyone who cares to partake, but the Christmas part is much more personal. This day, this entire season, actually, is sacred to me and I want to celebrate Christmas with Christians who want to rejoice with me. This celebration could never be measured on a Black Friday balance sheet.

11
Jul
09

Naivety in Disguise

She was a little high school cheerleader when we first met. I was about to trust her with the life of my child for about eight hours. My firstborn survived the eight hours and I found myself inviting this little cheerleader in more and more often. Soon I had two children and she had graduated high school. Before I knew it, my two children and I were going to her college graduation. Then she left to go to grad school. Then, in an excited instant message, we got the news…”I’m getting married!”

Unlike her peers, this precious pom-pom shaker had never really dated, something I found strange because she was so adorable. News of an upcoming marriage was somewhat startling. Over the years, though, I had learned to trust this girl with more than my children. She grew into a pillar of strength and wisdom. I knew that this man she met must be something special if she was willing to offer her life to him. Then I got the rest of the story, the kind of story that reminds us what is good and what is right.

On Easter, she was cooking dinner alone for 12 friends and said that she missed Mark and all the good times they used to have in the kitchen. I immediately panicked, concerned that this man had broken her precious heart. I was completely wrong. “We have decided that we cannot be alone until the wedding,” she confided. I will paraphrase and say that she explained by saying they could no longer keep their hands off each other, so they would not be alone until they become husband and wife. Both of these young people had made a commitment years ago to remain chaste until marriage and they fully intended to honor each other in that.

Oddly, abstinence has become controvercial over the years. Even more oddly, we parents, educators, and authority figures have all but given up the fight. When did something so precious as pure love become not worth fighting for?

I was in no way chaste before becoming a wife and I do not feel hypocritical for wanting better for this generation. The pain and suffering wrought by my previous escapades still shows up today. Most recently when the boy I handed my virginity to showed up as a potential FaceBook friend and he is really a stranger to me – a stranger who has had the privilege of seeing me naked. My entire life changed my first year in college when I was kissing the man of my dreams. After being together for years, he was the one I was sure I would marry and he definitely had my heart. Until this moment. Wrapped in each other, he whispered, “I wish I were first. I wish you hadn’t have done this already.” I knew what I had lost at that very moment. Everything. He and I did not get married. From that very moment I knew that no matter how much he loved me, he would always see me differently than I looked at him.

Luckily, I was still able to marry a wonderful man, but there are scars from this previous life. We essentially married into an adulterous situation. There was jealousy. There was fear. There were comparisons and threats. Hovering over all of this was a shaky level of commitment. Mark and Cassie have already done more to prove their commitment for each other than my husband and I had after 10 years of marriage. They have proven that they are willing to sacrifice for the good of their family, even now when it only numbers the two of them. These two have shown that they can work through the very first issue a married couple faces with level heads and loving motivation. That sets a high standard for the care of a marriage and immediately elevates it to the priority it should be.

My daughter has taken a purity pledge and through her I have seen aspects of this that had never even occurred to me. It is a display of lifetime commitment to a marriage that has not yet begun. It is respect for a spouse who has not yet arrived on scene. Perhaps most interesting and selfless is the concern it shows for others. It is concern for the future wives of discarded boyfriends, a statement that she wants them to have the same opportunity for purity that she has reserved for herself. I had never considered abstinence as a way to show deference to one’s peers, but it most definitely is. It is a more subtle version of not taking a bite out of every Hershey Bar at the checkout line so the person who is willing to sacrifice the .68 can have the whole thing.

This is good. When did we forget what is good and decide to settle for less so easily? I do not want my daughters to be naive about sex. I don’t think that they are. I know that they are not, in fact. But I really don’t want them to be naive about life. Unfortunately, nobody would have called the teenaged version of me naive. I daresay, though, that I most definitely was.

Oh – and congratulations to Mark and Cassie on not only the new life you began today, but on the profound blessing you have managed to offer to one another.

18
Feb
09

Mama Bear’s First Date

After updating my Facebook status with today’s bit of bitterness, I realized that I still am not ready to watch the news again.  I cannot talk about anything current if I am banning the news – which I am – so gotta talk about Mama Bear and Daughter Number One.

She went on her first date for Valentine’s Day.  I have anticipated this event, expecting to wait another year or two, but Number One has begun to date Mr. Wonderful.  My husband and I adore this kid; he golfs, skis, travels, ballroom dances, and has the most impeccable manners.  The manners have been impeccable since third grade when we met him.  He has also looked at Number One with sheer devotion since third grade.  Did I mention that he’s grown up to look like Christian Bale?  No mother could deny her child a budding romance with this young man, and I had no reason to.  Their match is a parent’s dream, other than the fact that they have not yet crossed the threshold of fifteen, which is why the young man’s dad arranged to drive them to and from the movie.

Enter Mama Bear.  I always think I am rational, but lately I have had to rethink everything, including my sanity.  It started with a phone call from Mr. Wonderful’s dad.  He wanted to check with me because he had been called away on business so he made arrangements for his close friend of over 20 years to drive the kids.  He made the arrangements, he said, because he didn’t want to deprive his son of the first date experience.  He felt it was important that he set a chivalrous standard for his son and ensure that the young man knew it was expected that he pick up his date.

It is evident that this child has been raised to be chivalrous.  The poor boy has run, on more than one occasion, from one end of the school to another to retrieve Number One’s books, violin, lunch box, or otherwise.  He always opens her car door and he greets me with a smile, look in the eye, and firm handshake.  Considering this example set over the past six years, I made the obvious assumption that this man had not made arrangements to ensure these teens had a date.  Instead, I was convinced that he made arrangements to sell them into a life of pornography.  I replayed our entire conversation again and again in my head until it became undeniable.  It never entered my mind that I read too much.

I hung up the phone and went back to my reading.  For a while.  It was only a matter of moments before I had unraveled his plan, so I got to work.  Thank goodness for the internet.  I discovered that Mr. Wonderful’s dad owns a publicly traded company – 10,000 shares issued.  See?  Obviously a bad man.  I read the articles of incorporation and discovered that his company is a subsidiary of a larger, international corporation.  A corporation that performs background checks.  I was convinced that he had something to hide.  Thanks to Google I confirmed the location of his company and the parent company, headquartered in Denver.  Both offices are in high traffic areas.  Definitely a front.  I zoomed in to look for the rear exits.  Found one!  I continued digging.  Board members.  I looked into each one and searched for any off-shore ties.  One of them has written papers on human resource issues.  Likely story.  They are surely practiced in the art of mind control, I determined.  I mulled over whether or not I could live with myself if I allowed my daughter to go on this date and something happened.  I imagined myself, depressed and swallowing everything in my medicine cabinet, unsuccessful in my own attempt on my life.  I imagined the ambulance coming, the neighbors watching.  Nosy neighbor down the street would be shaking her head.  This would be no way to go, with her shaking her head at me, so I went to my husband and explained to him that if Number One were to go on this date, she would be sold into sex slavery.  He tried to send me shopping.

I didn’t bite.  Instead, I spent the rest of the day steeped in worry.  Number One was unconcerned.  She had no first date jitters.  I asked her what she planned to wear and she said “this.”  That was right after she got up and put on jeans and a t-shirt.  I suggested a shower and a shirt with buttons.  Then I changed my mind.  Buttons?  What was I thinking??  Much easier to stay in a t-shirt than a shirt with buttons.

Finally the big moment came.  Mr. Wonderful showed up at the door.  He greeted us, then Number One, then Berlin (if you are not versed in my family tree, Berlin is the vivacious little sister in the story).  He told my husband that they would be seeing a two hour movie, probably two and a half with previews and he would have Number One home right afterwards.  My husband looked at me with that “don’t be crazy” look that I hate so much.  I barely noticed because I was getting my shoes on so I could follow them.  I waited for them to get halfway down the street, then made a break for my car.  Intercepted.  There was my husband, right in the middle of the hallway, waving my keys at me (I only have one car key since I got mugged while Christmas shopping).  He quickly stuffed the keys down his jeans, knowing I would let it rest.  The keys.  I let the keys rest right there.

And I waited.  For two hours and fifty-seven minutes I sat in the chair in my living room window.  Then she came in.  She was flushed and smiling and just beautiful, even in her jeans and t-shirt.  And she was safe.  This is the very moment we worked so hard to prepare for, stepping out into independence and having our complete trust.  It seems she is well prepared, too, but what we neglected was to prepare ME.  Nothing could have prepared me for the gripping terror that came from watching my heart walk out the door in the care of a neophyte.

13
Dec
08

Mirror, Mirror in the Crib…

Since I have been a mother, I have made an obvious assumption that God gave us family as an earthly expression of His unconditional love.  I noticed that when the girls were unselfish, I wanted to give them more.  When they made good decisions, I trusted them with more.  It felt like I learned more and more about the Lord my Father with each passing day and I have been grateful for His love and His example. 

So I thought I had it all figured out and things were good.  But then, God felt like I should learn a little more.  He loves that.  It’s time for the annual gift binge, complicated this year by the addition of my teen daughter’s social life.  Now it’s the annual gift and party binge from reindeer hell!  After spending yet another evening driving her to yet another party and waiting in yet another parking lot to pick her up, I thought about how much I love the words “thank you.”  There is a lot of thinking time in the parking lots I frequent, so I spent some time on this, mostly because I knew I wasn’t likely to hear it.  I love to hear “thank you.”  It is usually followed by “I love you” and is all around great.  It makes me so happy to hear and I am so concerned when I don’t, when favors from me or others are taken for granted. 

Aha!  If God gave us a picture of His love when he gave us a family, then he handed us a mirror when our children were born.  I began to wonder, sitting in that parking lot, if God loves to hear “thank you” from us as much as I love to hear it from my children.  The Bible mentions gratitude hundreds of times.  He must love it.  Like our children, there is a reason we should offer thanks.  The minute we realize we have something to be thankful for, our troubles miraculously shrink.  Gratitude makes us want to share.  It makes us happy and it brings true joy.

So I wondered if God was holding up a mirror for me, a reminder that I don’t remember to thank Him for the ride – ever – but I sure complain when it is bumpy.  Or crowded.  Or lonely.

When Daughter Number One was in kindergarten, I got The Call from her teacher.  She had done something awful and was more rude than remorseful.  My first reaction was exactly what the teacher expected, “Where would she pick up something like that?”  The teacher was silent long enough for me to realize exactly where she picked it up.  Number One showed me all kinds of bad habits and unacceptable behaviors I had, so I have known about the mirror.  The problem is, I thought the mirror was mine.  Fourteen years later, I understand that the mirror, like everything else, is the Lord’s.

01
Dec
08

Stolen Magic

img_1741Black Friday is over.  Retailers are steeling themselves for the financial fallout as their lowered expectations are met.  So is my family.  Last Christmas, as happened every Christmas before, we left Grandma’s house wedged into the car among enough new belongings to start a second household.  It was bittersweet.  On one hand, the girls couldn’t wait to get home and unpack their treasures.  On the other hand, we all knew how hard it was to find the right gifts for children, friends, and grandparents because we have everything under the sun and we know that so many don’t.  My husband and I knew then, when our then-six-year-old unwrapped her second MP3 player, that a line had been crossed and it may be difficult to even find the other side, much less get to it. 

So we determined to cut back.  So did my grandparents.  So did my parents.  So did my blessed princesses, but it was not voluntary.

Amid my resolve to teach my children the true joy of this season, I am shocked that I have been knocked over by eight tiny reindeer.  For the first time in years, I did not get a JC Penny snowglobe, the prize of a true Black Friday veteran.  Even if I wasn’t getting anyone a sweater, I still stood in line just to prove that I was a soldier prepared to brave the crowds at 5:00 am even after downing half a bottle of wine and the leftovers of a meal that never ended.  From Penny’s, I would hit Circuit City.  Then Wal-Mart for the essentials.  Then Target.  Then Old Navy, Bed Bath & Beyond.  Then Pier One, TJ Maxx, and finally the mall to visit Macy’s and the Hallmark Store.  Of course, I would visit Bath & Body Works, then Claire’s for stocking stuffers.  Sixteen hours later, I would be jubilant and nearly done shopping, except for the few items I had to wait out until last minute clearances. 

This year, I worked on Black Friday.  Then, I came home to play a rolicking game of Monopoly with my daughters, a rare treat to play such a long game.  Saturday we went out together to round up any remaining bargains, then came home for family movie night.  I enjoyed every minute, but it was another bittersweet moment.  Every turn of the aisle in Target unearthed a little more holiday melancholy.  First, I miss my snowglobe.  There will be an empty “2008” spot on my console table.  But of course, there is so much more.  

I have fallen for a tremendous, damaging, and tragic lie.  All this time, I have searched Penny’s Circuit City, Wal-Mart, Target (I nearly found it there), and all the others for magic.  I even thought I found it there and I think I convinced my daughters they can find it there, too.  Each year, I try desperately to create the magical scenes of ecstatic children opening beautifully wrapped treasures beside a perfectly lit tree.  The tree was always perfect, thanks to my mother, but that was it.  The harder I tried, the bigger the failure.  I have books and books of holiday stories that I planned to read to these girls by the light of the Christmas tree.  It never happened.  Most of the bindings haven’t been cracked.  My older daughter is 14 and we have uncracked bindings.  I have a 14 year old daughter who has never baked Christmas cookies.  I am not sure she actually knows that a cookie cutter is to make cookies, not to embelish packages for her teachers.  My friends and family have never gotten a Christmas card from me.  No family pictures.  I am never home before dark on a weekend during the holidays – unless there is a party later.  However, as much as I love a Christmas party, I have never filled my own home with Christmas guests – no time.  The retailers have gotten all of my holiday time.  I am guessing that they did not miss my Christmas cards.  My great great aunt who always asks after me and my children probably does, though.

Somehow the very retailers who promise all the magic and joy our credit cards can buy stole that from me.  I have had my suspicions, but since my escape from Black Friday, I know it’s true.  It hit home walking the Target aisles.  Even with my daughters in tow, we skipped the doll aisle, the Barbie aisle, and all of the toys.  The only thing they are interested in are grown-up electronics and CD’s.  I envied the women clustered around the new dollhouses and mourned for a time that has long gone.  My greatest hope is that they take the time to ENJOY this magic, rather than BUYING it.  

My girls have the big dollhouse, the American Girls, and every My Little Pony made, but there was no delighted squealing when they opened them.  They are not spoiled rotten – yet – I think we have caught it in time.  But I promised them magical Christmases.  According to everything they see, that meant that they would be getting these things and it ruined the surprise.  This year, they WILL be surprised with stories of a miracle that means eternal life with a very best friend.  They will be surprised to learn that cookies can come from an oven instead of boxes.  And they just may think it’s fun to show their relatives they are growing up by sending out Christmas cards and pictures.  We will have a housefull of friends for a Christmas dinner and I am sure the girls will be surprised that we have time to sip hot chocolate by the lights of the tree.   If I get my Christmas wish, my girls will discover that the magic of the holiday comes not from any big box retailer; it comes from the family the Lord gave us and the love He shares through His son.  Sorry Target – we already have MP3 players.




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