Archive for the 'family' Category

31
Dec
10

Magic on Ice

As the year comes to a close, so does our holiday season. This year, the season settled in with disillusion. I resented the materialism and mourned the childhoods of my daughters, all the while seeking a spiritual connection that went missing some time in September. It was difficult to stave off cynicism, particularly after a Black-Friday all-nighter that left me feeling used and exploited like a night at a frat house caveman party.

Then I took Berlin ice skating.

Ice skating is like mainlining childhood for me. Growing up in Minnesota, I spent many weekends on the lake. If it got dark, my dad would turn on the Nova’s headlights and I would circle the lake, getting more and more bruised as I pursued a doomed Olympic career. The minute my feet are captivated by little white boots with metallic blades, I am eight again, and everything is possible.

So mother and daughter circled the ice, together in childish spirit, chatting about the latest pop stars and admiring our icy grace as we twirled around dodged wobbly grown ups and slow beginners. Most of these obstacles belonged to the same group. When we got cold, we left the ice to sit by the fire and we stopped talking long enough to notice these people. It was a family, reunited from lives that took them all over the country. Grandpa and grandma were there with thermoses of hot chocolate for the brothers and sisters they had borne. The cousins were scattered around the ice and the fire pit, according to age, and they chatted feverishly, distracted only by the effort of gliding around the ice. Remember that? The anticipation, the travel, the arrival, the hiding away with those so dear and precious for their absence?

Magic. I nearly fell off my skates. The season IS magical, there is no denying it. It is the only time we step back from living to make love a deliberate part of our routine. We have parties and gather, but even as we are alone in our daily routines, we think of others. We think of their needs rather than their demands…What to gift, whom to gift, charity, life changes as we catch up through Christmas letters and admire growing families. This season, despite the guerrilla tactics of retailers, exemplifies humanity at its best. I believe that love is our greatest emotion wrought with a power we cannot understand. The media has undermined love with manipulation and lust, but deep, platonic love is the closest we can come to a God who is Love. Perhaps the retailers are stealing Christmas from the Christians as we stole it from the Pagans, but there is a reason it is so sought after. It exemplifies the best of us and that is a perfect reason to hold on to it. There is a movement among Christians to give up the materialism and commercialism of the holiday and while I agree that these things are distracting, I think that the cost of letting them go is too great. Our material prowess is the result of a human spirit set free, and we ave a right to embrace it. If we do not, it becomes a controlling force and embraces us. We are commissioned to act as the Lord’s Hands and Feet, serving humanity. This means many things, but giving is a large part of it, the easy part. The rest comes in time as we learn to express love untarnished by a fallen mankind. We need to practice. We need this season. We need this magic that is really a miracle.

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01
Aug
10

Last weekend, I traded my fresh cut suburban paradise for a moonlit forest high up in the mountains. When I arrived at the campsite my family had set up, it was dark and all I was aware of was moonlight and a crowd of very concerned loved ones (we spent two hours lost in the forest on the way). Morning unveiled a spectacular view of rocky peaks jutting up over the treeline and reflecting in the lake below. It unveiled something else, too, something unexpected.

Freedom.

After years of wondering why anyone would leave the security of paved roads, stoplights, and Target just to get dirty in the woods and sleep on the ground, understanding settled around me like Superman’s cape. Up here, there were no cellular towers (something we rued the night before as we wandered over miles of backroads). I didn’t wear a watch. I didn’t bring any make up, and in the interest of keeping warm, my clothes were mismatched. My dog was off a leash and my children were exploring the wilds of the forest. There were no child molesters to worry about, no schedules to keep, and, in the greatest paradigm shift I have experienced, there were no social standards to maintain – nobody to impress. For these moments, I had no persona to maintain, but plenty of time to ponder the person I wished to be.

Looking over the quiet of the morning lake, I fantasized about building a cabin with all the beetlekill pine. By hand. I would piece business suits and cocktail dresses into quilts and curtains. I would start a small garden, then grow it into something bigger until we had gourmet meals cooked on the open fire. The children would learn all they needed right by my side. I would never be beholden to anyone or anything. This only lasted until the coffee kicked in. I wonder how many regrettable decisions were made pre-coffee?

I hate it when people say that we don’t actually live in a free country anymore. Americans enjoy freedoms that others don’t even have the privilege to fathom. However, there is truth to the statement. Free will was bestowed upon us by our Creator. For just one moment, contemplate the implications of this. It is this very will that gives us the power to doubt, that drives us to find our own answers, that pulls us away from faith and strips our need for trust.

Yet, it is this gift of the will that completes the Creation as we become ourselves. We choose our beliefs, our ideals, and our priorities. Then we guide our lives accordingly. But with what compromise? That is when priorities become the issue. By the time I finished that contemplative cup of coffee, I was not just willing, but anxious to apply make-up, put on uncomfortable shoes, shove my lower half into pantyhose, and and run under the crack of a gun just to have running water complete with privacy.

Free will, properly regarded, is that which makes us great. It separates us from the animals and even from the angels. But we often fail to regard. We were given a perfect, Godly gift, but we are human and The Gift was brought down to us. While the human spirit is great, humanity is not. Humanity is guided by the physical and the physical bears limitation. In the years since the founding of this nation, we have seen the human spirit thrive. In a mere 500 years, this land has gone from savage to productive and wildly developed because of the spirit of greatness. We can travel the globe in a matter of hours and can have the world at our fingertips in a matter of seconds. Untold fortunes are made and lost each day from ingenuity, hard work, or greed. Is the great fortune our great failing? This is where spirit meets physical. An ability to do the great things of our imagination shrouded in responsibility and stewardship. What is the cost for amassing such fortune? How many compromises are struck each day as a man says the end justifies the means? Every compromise erodes greatness and yet, because of this society we have built, success is not possible without compromise. We have compromised greatness for that which we already know and in so doing, we have redefined success to fit a media mold. We forget to follow the pursuits of imagination because we believe we know what is beautiful and we have disguised success as such.

Today, we reap the rewards of all that has been sown. Every plan is laid with a plan B close behind as we anticipate failure along the way. Athletes, once national heroes, are in no way great. World leaders fail us daily, constantly. Business men are not moral pillars. We accept this and account for it in our daily lives, making our own plan B. Then we forget the failure and compromise the standard, which lowers yet again. We compromise for comfort, for success, for a future that grows more bleak.

We know what is great. Instinctively, looking over that lake, I momentarily glimpsed the true freedom that bore such enterprise, the very enterprise that has shackled us since. The time has come to stop settling. We can no longer excuse those who force us to compromise for their agenda. We must strive for greatness and forget Plan B.

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.

22
Oct
09

Aahhhh…Seventeen Again

The plot may be Hollywood’s most worn out cliche, but I can’t help but love the movie “17 Again.” Regardless of the overdone plot, it is fresh, witty, and heartfelt with a message that is almost foreign to Hollywood.

Plus, the cougar in me is quite taken with Zac Efron (eewwww…that was my outside typing).

Beyond the young, young hottie, though, is an interesting contrast between youth and maturity. Youth is bombastic. I wish it were contagious. Children are nurtured and encouraged and in these conditions they flourish. As they hover near adulthood, they are full of bravado and really can take on the world. Pepsi has an amazing commercial right now that portrays the spirit of youth as that which moves a nation and I don’t think that they are far from the truth.

Then it happens. It happened in the movie when Zac’s character made the very grown up choice to raise an unexpected family. I’m sure we can all remember when it began for us. First, Adulthood lures us away with the freedom to make some choices for our selves, but before we know it, it has us tangled by our feet. One choice leads to another, then we have to take responsibility. Then comes the most vicious assault, the point of no return, self-doubt. This is where the adult falters and what steals the bombast of youth.

While a solid self-check is a good thing, self-doubt is destructive. It steals the confidence we had to make dreams come true and even to stand for principle. Choices that seemed simple from the protection of our youth become more and more difficult when the mortgage is stares us down from the first of the month. We trudge through adulthood with the tattered memory of youthful verve.

What if it were different? If we could hold onto that hope and the uncompromising innocence that comes with it, would we be better off as a society? I think that we would. I would never suggest that we walk away from personal responsibility – ever – but I strongly feel that if we can hold onto something inside that is empowering, we will be much better for it. It is detrimental to allow our youth to be ripped away from us; instead, we have to let go, making decisions along the way. We have to mature with intentionality that gives us the control we thought we had when we were young. Only then can we protect ourselves, the id, according to Freud, with the love and care that we deserve. When we make the effort to care for ourselves, we can extend this to those around us. If we fail and our lives are in tatters, it is impossible to live in true selflessness.

17
Oct
09

Furthermore…

I can’t let it go. In my previous post, “Use Your Words,” I veered from the point I wanted to make. Thankfully, this can be said quickly, in 300 words or less.

The name calling and general disregard has escalated over the past year. I really think it has a lot to do with social media. We can post any vitriol we want, forgetting the implication when a loved one reads it later. I certainly am guilty of this. Frankly, though, I hate the names, particularly “breeder.” Well, I really hate being called a racist because I don’t agree with Obama’s policies. From the bottom of my soul I can say that I am completely unfazed by his skin color. It is offensive to me that people I have known for many years would take such distaste down to something so shallow and disregard anything I have to say about the actual policies in question.

Regarding the namecalling, though. We have hate crime legislation on the books and anti-discrimination policies. In the workplace we all sit through diversity training. To me, all of this points to one conclusion. If we could simply behave ourselves, would any of this be necessary? Do we really have to be visited by a consultant in the work-place to ensure we don’t use offensive references? The lack of civility in our culture is distressing. The citizenry cannot be counted on to behave in public and we continue to defend such behavior. When Kanye or Letterman commit a gaffe, people are rushing to their defense, justifying it for whatever reason. Whether or not we agree on the issues, it would be helpful if we could agree on conduct. Playground rules reign supreme – share, don’t call each other names, no hitting, and take turns. If we could just abide each other the way we did when we were five, the government may be able to step back into its appropriate place.

13
Sep
09

No Means No

WE DON’T WANT IT!!!!!!!! The first question we HAVE to ask is “why?” We have said no. It is grossly unpopular. Nobody wants it and even my eight-year old can tell it’s not viable. So why is our president so intent on passing THIS health-care legislation? Just today, he said to come and offer an alternative – his “door is always open,” but he followed with a warning. He has no time for people “who think that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it.” He also said he wouldn’t stand by while special interests “use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are.” And he warned, “If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out.”

I’m reading the plan. It’s somewhat hard to represent because it’s all-encompassing yet still ambiguous. And there is no need. Really, we don’t need to debate what’s in the plan. We should be debating why we would have such a plan, regardless of content. This plan HINGES on the government taking over the health care system. It says that it will allow people to maintain existing insurance, but if that insurance terminates, it will not be available to the insured again. He will have to take the government option. There are propsed fines for non-compliance; I believe the fine amounts to 2.5% of income. That is an interesting formula that should give us pause. Nine million of the 30 million who are uninsured CHOOSE to live that way because they are wealthy enough to afford a pay-as-you-go strategy. This is an interesting new way to tax the wealthy. Is this how we are paying for a $900 billion plan after so recently tripling our already insurmountable deficit? Obama looked into a camera six hours ago and said that this plan will not increase our deficit. He promised. ?

My mathematically-challenged brain cannot imagine a way we can offer this plan, pay off every big business and union, and have anything left to fund existing programs. Our tax revenues shrink as unemployment increases, which it is doing so rapidly that the press is reporting “less than expected increases” with giddy optimism. The president cites 6 million Americans losing their health insurance in the last 17 months. True. Because 6 million Americans have lost jobs or benefits, or both in the last 17 months. This will not improve when small businesses are forced to ensure their employees. More Americans will become unemployed, so even more Americans will be accepting the “public option.”

Please, again ask why? It is a beautifully crafted catch-22 in which everyone ends up under the “public option.”

Really, I don’t think it necessary to debate the merits of the bill because it is not sustainable and it is dangerous. When did we begin to trust our governing officials so much that we believe they will take care of our basic comforts when money is on the line? People are calling this an answer to prayer, saying it is the most compassionate solution. Really? Perhaps it is, in this very moment, but what about in five years when the program feels the inherent financial strain? This is a lot of power to give to a group of people only 28 per cent of Americans trust.

I hate to draw likenesses between Obama and Hitler. It is too easy to make a shallow and emotional argument, yet every day it becomes a little more difficult to NOT draw likenesses. Hitler started this way. He was compassionate. He was doing what was best for Germany. He began to exterminate, with the blessing of the populace, the handicapped. He sent them to state-run hospitals where their viability was measured against the resources they consumed. If they were not able to actively contribute to the interest of Germany (in a measurable way), they were systematically murdered. Seventy people a day. The definition of handicapped broadened to elderly, to sickly, and we all know the rest. Really? Do we really believe that there will never again be a government capable of such atrocity? Even now, the curator of a German death camp turned museum says that the men who delivered death to seventy people a day were not insane. Instead, she says, “They had a purpose.”

Purpose. Purpose, at its best, instigates excellence. At its worst, however, purpose is an unspeakable danger. We, as a nation, cannot afford to live under the purpose of government.

29
Jul
09

Life is Steadfast

My daughters make me miss my grandma. She was an amazing woman who always had time to share something sweet with me. In those moments she told me what it was like to live through the depression, how she felt when her husband built her a house in town – away from the farm, and how she cared for four children by herself after he passed. Then she would tell stories about life on a Minnesota farm and she’d even pass on the stories her parents told of their journey from Norway to that very Minnesota farm. Nobody could accuse my grandma of being rich, yet anyone who spent an afternoon with her came away knowing something about the richness that life holds. My grandma understood, above all, about the twists and turns of life and how to make the most of the few things that remain constant. Like children. She would have been just “tickled” to see my girls.

Even as a little girl, I understood the wisdom my grandma had earned. She shared what I was ready for and I appreciated what I could. My mom looked to her grandma the same way. She was quick to dispense with great advice and engaging stories and the small tidbits that made my mom think things out for herself. I remember being hesitant to say too much to my great grandma because she always knew what motivated me and that scared me just a little. Now I think she would be a much needed mirror for my soul.

Many cultures recognize this. They revere their elderly and are honored to care for them with respect and adoration; but Americans seem to have a somewhat different view. We weigh the value of a life against the cost of sustaining it. We consider whether it is worth caring for the elderly and if their quality of life justifies such care. Then, as we pursue our busy lives, we consider where to put them so they will be out of the way.

With the elderly neatly tucked away, we are forced to find counsel in sources we consider relevant to our lives. We have turned our backs on Grandma’s years of life experience for the more appealing package of Tyra Banks, which begs the question, when did we begin to equate beauty with wisdom? We hang on Madonna’s every word, wait with bated breath for Brad Pitt to speak, and take Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental advice as law. We call their voices relevant in a world foreign to our grandmothers. We are so wrapped up in the image that we shut our grandmothers out, refusing to look at the soul-mirrors they hold.

That soul-mirror just may tell us we are faltering, reinforcing the voice calling out from the backs of our minds. I know that the only thing that would impress my departed grandparents and great-grandparents is my character. There is nothing material that can impress someone who survived the Great Depression. There is no vacation or even party that would impress a woman whose fingers bled from her chores on the farm, the chores she did before her children woke up and she made them breakfast. And I can just imagine how these departed people would shake their heads at my morning road rage, which reminds us just how easily we forget our character as we carry on with the busyness of “keeping up.”

As we fear the opinions of generations refined by hardship, it is not hard to imagine that we can find comfort accepting “non-advice.” That is, the pleasure that comes from watching Jerry Springer and his guests, knowing that we are not that bad yet. We ourselves have turned our worlds upside down with this thinking. We say that we cannot get away from the trappings of the world, yet we consistently invite these trappings into our living rooms, bed rooms, and even our children’s rooms. TV has given us the visual entertainment that we crave, with none of the admonition we fear. Programmers are certain to avoid anything that may convict or cause discomfort, so we watch beautiful people living lives we covet and slowly but surely, our priorities turn inside-out. Grandma is sent away to a nursing home and we are free from burden, not the burden of care, but the burden of introspection. With Grandma away, we are free to pursue these lives of the rich and famous regardless of cost. Unfortunately, worldly pursuits will always leave us wanting, for as vast as they are, they are finite so somebody keeps changing the goal, just to keep us interested. It is defeating. To find fulfillment, we must remain steadfast in character and priority, following the legacy of the generations before us.




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