Sunday, May 31, 2009

Graduation Day

It’s a familiar scene. Rows of mortarboard hats, jumbled together and jostling one another in excitement. Rows of proud family and friends, equipped with cameras, cards and flowers, celebrate exuberantly. Smiles can be seen as far as the eye can see.

High school graduation has become a coming of age ceremony in our culture. It represents a step over the boundary that separates childhood, conformity, and dependence from adulthood, identity, and independence. Even though you have merely progressed from grade to grade for the past 12 or 13 years, there is no longer a set path. At the point of graduation, you are expected to make the next step.

Standing on the precipice of decision at such a point can be scary. What if you make a wrong decision? What if you go to the wrong school or pick the wrong major or can’t get a job?

It may be easier to see graduation as a “graduated” part of life. Just like any other day in life, it is a day to grow, a day to learn, and a day to just be the person God made you to be.

The speeches that will be made at the graduation ceremonies will be about living your dreams, reaching for the stars, following your heart, meeting challenges, achieving your goals, soaring to the heavens, never giving up, making your wishes come true, and taking chances along the way. Even if the overly optimistic sentiments seem to sugarcoat the idea of life as experienced adults may know it, there is something in these messages that we need to grab hold of and hang on to, no matter what season of life we are in.

So many people lose sight of the possibilities life has to offer. At one point or another, they’ve gotten caught up in the burdens of life and have forgotten passions they once had and the relationships and activities that brought them joy. They lose the dreams they once drew about and wrote about as young children. In trying to “just get by” in life, they’ve lost a piece of themselves.

Graduation is also known as commencement, which means beginning. Whether your graduation marks years of hard work, or merely a stepping stone in life, it is a new beginning. Even if this isn’t your year, when you hear a commencement speech, or buy a graduation card, think about what your commencement is going to be this year. Why should the graduates have all the fun?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Life is…

Life is like a poker game. Sometimes the chips are up; sometimes the chips are down. You can’t control what you’re dealt, but you can decide what to do with them. Sometimes you can bluff your way through. The better you read other people the better you can play. You really can’t get anywhere unless you’re willing to risk something. You get your biggest success when you put it all in.

Life is like a baseball game. Different people have different strengths and succeed best when their role matches their strengths. Every person plays an important part, although you never know when you’ll be called into action. You do better when you think ahead before you need to act. The more you practice, the better you get, but a coach always helps. Your decisions affect other people. As good as you are, you can’t succeed without the help of others.

Life is like a nursing home. Some people are genuinely needy, but try to do what they can for themselves. Some people expect other people to do everything for them. Some people have a good attitude, and seem to be able to lift the spirits of people they talk to. Some people are so negative that it’s easier to avoid them, even if they have a genuine concern.

Life is like facebook. There are a lot of people coming and going, but you only respond to the ones who say something interesting. People’s children are never as cute or wonderful as their parents think they are. A lot of people do a lot of talking, but no one is really saying anything important, and few people are really listening. Some people spend all their time playing games. Some people are just trying to find out who they are.

Life is like a rich dessert. It’s full of different textures and flavors. If anything is in excess or lacking, it’s not what it should be. It makes you feel good. Sometimes it’s better to take it in separate parts; sometimes it’s better to have it altogether. You can savor it slowly or go at it with gusto. It can be sweet at the end, but some people choose not to save the best for last.

Life is like a box of chocolates. Oh, wait. You’ve probably heard that one already.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Roller Coaster 7

Continued from 5/22 post…

Wendy jumped, dropping her father’s hand as if she had been caught doing something wrong.  Her mother looked perplexed, then smiled. 

“Hi Wendy.  You changed your mind?”  Her mom set her cup of coffee on a side table.  Wendy shrugged and looked away. 

There was a sharp rap at the door.  Again, Wendy startled.  “What’s wrong with me?” she asked herself. 

A gentleman with white hair and a stethoscope around his neck peered around the door.  “Good morning.”  His voice was soft but strong.  “Will you ladies excuse us please?”  he asked.

Wendy followed her mom out of the room and down the hall to the lounge.  “Is that your bike?” her mother asked in disbelief.  Wendy hid her face behind an old issue of Glamour. 

A moment of silence stretched into several minutes.  “I’m glad you came,” said her mother finally.  “I know your dad has missed you.”  The words on the page of the magazine blurred before Wendy’s eyes as tears threatened to fall.  She felt so ashamed of avoiding her dad, as if cancer were contagious. 

When she finally looked up, she expected her mom to be right beside her, but she was across the room, looking out a window.  Wendy studied her mom’s face.  Laugh lines had faded into dark circles, and no makeup highlighted her features.  She was torn between wanting to reach out to comfort her, and longing for her own shoulder to cry on.

The doctor poked his head around the corner.  “Mrs. Rogers.  May I speak with you please?”  As her mother left the room, Wendy wiped her eyes just in time to see the handsome young man she almost ran over in the elevator. 

“Hey!  Are you Mr. Rogers’ daughter?” he asked.  She frowned and nodded.  “He is so cool.  He is always making us laugh.” 

Wendy’s curiosity got the best of her.  “What do you do here?  I know you’re not old enough to be a doctor.”  She felt dumb, saying exactly what was on her mind.

“I’m an aide.  I help him get up to the restroom, get him water, stuff like that.  I’m debating whether I want to go to school to be a nurse or a doctor, or something in between.” He took a sip from the can of soda he was holding.

“A guy nurse, huh?   It doesn’t sound like a very masculine job.”  Almost instinctively, Wendy found herself flirting with the young man.  He was exceptionally good looking, and had a fascinating occupation.

“Actually, it takes a man secure in his own masculinity to do what I do.  Besides, everyday I’m surrounded by women.  What more could I ask for?” His lopsided smile indicated that he was not as much of a player as he pretended to be.

“I’m Wendy,” she finally said, offering her hand. 

“Jason,” he replied, grasping her hand and shaking it firmly.  He cleared his throat.  “So, how are you dealing with your dad’s, um, illness?” 

Continued on Fiction Fridays…

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Last Day of School

Today was the last day of school for my kids. They’ve just finished 2nd grade and kindergarten, respectively. My husband was reminding me of their first day, just over nine months ago.

It was supposed to be some big emotional moment, with my youngest child starting school. I was too proud to be sad. He was so excited to get on the big yellow bus with his big sister. I was so nervous I was calling the bus garage when there was no bus after 15 minutes of waiting.

I think he’s grown so much in that one school year. He seems older, anyway. He can read now. He wants to be a scientist. He brought home an old phone they had taken apart in class. He writes and illustrates his own stories. The thumb habit is nearly history. He’s an official first grader.

My daughter has grown, too. I’m only a head taller than her now, and I had a dream that she was asking to wear my shoes. She is constantly thinking of new schemes and projects for her and her brother to do. She also likes to make up plays and stories. She’s going to have a challenge in third grade, where she’ll probably have homework every night.

Now the summer stretches forth, like a giant white piece of paper, with stories that are yet to be written, and adventures that remain unexplored. There will be ballgames, camps, and late nights watching movies. There will be picnics, parks, and pools, and opportunities to enjoy time with family and friends.

My kids will be sure they get to stay up late tonight, with no school to wake up for in the morning. I’ll be able to get ready for work in the morning without signing papers, looking for shoes, or making sure everyone’s had breakfast. They will be essentially clueless about the special gift of summer vacation, as I trudge to my 9-5 job on beautiful sunny mornings, looking out my office window at blue skies and blooming flowers.

Even in the carefree days of summer, I hope my kids will continue to learn. My daughter’s already asked about the reading program at the library. Right now they are completely fascinated with caterpillars and four leaf clovers. As long as they keep exploring and asking “why?” they’re little brain cells are going to continue to grow and expand. It’s the best kind of summer school.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Got to Get Away

After reading a news story about a woman who faked her abduction to take a trip to Disney World, the lyrics from “Tainted Love” kept running through my head:

Sometimes I feel I've got to
Run away I've got to
Get away

What else could motivate someone to call 911 to report her own carjacking and abduction, and then get on a plane to Orlando? Was she afraid to call in to work? Did she want a vacation without her husband and infant, and was afraid to ask?

Everyone has the desire to escape at one time or another. Most of us handle that desire by escaping in small doses, from watching television, engaging in creative hobbies, playing a sport, or participating in social networking sites. A little dose of escape from daily responsibilities, worries, or stresses is a healthy thing.

What is it about a situation that causes a desire to get away? According to Walter Cannon, any kind of stress causes a biological fight or flight response. When faced with frustration, the body gears up: the heart beats faster; breathing becomes more rapid and shallow; muscles tighten.

Sometimes we choose to fight. We confront the issue; we attempt to resolve it. In fact, any time the stressor can be dealt with and removed, we take care of it.

Some stressors are more complicated, such as those related to work or marriage. It wouldn’t make sense to walk away from something involving a long-term commitment the first time a problem arose. By doing so, you take the risk of missing out on the incredible benefits of a job (salary, etc.) or a relationship (love, etc.).

For some people the mode of escape may be more sinister than an innocent hobby. Escaping from relationships by avoiding them or shutting down your feelings can lead to an implosion of loneliness and fear. Mind altering methods of escape can take way inhibitions, leading to dangerous behavior. They can also be addicting and lead to a downward spiral of self-destruction. Faking your abduction for a little getaway can lead to jail time and a lot of ‘splaining to your family.

The moral of the story is to plan healthy little escapes and vacations to decompress from the stress that life brings. If you have to go to Disney World, use your vacation time, and take your whole family. Don’t tell the police you’re stuck in the trunk of a Cadillac. That will just increase your stress levels in the end.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Boundaries

I picked up an oldie but a goodie this week: “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

I like to be inside people’s heads anyway, but to see how so many conflicts and emotional trauma could be avoided by the simple concept of boundaries is astounding.

I am what the good authors would call “compliant.” I have trouble saying the word “no.” It’s a perfectly good word, useful in many situations, but for some reason it’s hard for me. I don’t want to make waves; I don’t want to let anyone down. I want to do the right thing; I want to help people.

Did you know that it’s okay to say “no” if you don’t want to do something? I didn’t. I thought feeling guilty was an acceptable reason to say yes, even if I didn’t have the desire or the time to do it. For some strange reason, living by everyone else’s agenda leaves me a little hollow, and a little resentful.

Yet bad feelings is what I’ve tried to avoid. I don’t want other people to think I’m selfish. I want to avoid the potential conflict.

The authors answer? Set boundaries. Take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings. Don’t be afraid to communicate them to others. Do things that line up with your values. Respect other people’s boundaries.

I also didn’t realize that I am responsible to get my needs met and my desires fulfilled. I can’t expect anyone else to do that for me. If things aren’t going right, I have to be proactive enough to take a step toward making them right.

One of the illustrations that really tickled me was that God is good at maintaining boundaries. After all, He doesn’t let anyone in His house (heaven) who doesn’t respect Him and His Son. People think He’s mean, but he’s just setting proper boundaries.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who tends to say yes to the bad (like me), or say no to the good, or manipulate others, or ignore other’s concerns. We each have responsibilities for ourselves and to others. No one else is going to create and maintain the boundaries in your life that will protect you and provide a way for you to grow. That’s up to you.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Finding my Way

After a huge barbecue at my sister’s house, a large group of us went for a walk. We followed my brother-in-law’s lead on a winding trail across a field, through a wooded area down to the river, back through the woods and across another field, and onto the neighborhood street.

The walk brought back childhood memories of being gone all day during the summer, exploring uncultivated areas, creating forts in the woods, and munching on wild mulberries.

As a child, I didn’t plan my day. I got up in the morning, and rode my bike to a friend’s house or to the drug store or to a new place to explore. Whatever “good idea” popped up, I’d pursue, looking for something interesting and fun to do.

As I got older, these strange new questions started to pop in my head: “Who am I? Where am I going? What am I doing?”

I thought these were questions that I would figure out and have answered by the time I was an adult. I’m not sure how I got the idea that people choose a college major, get a job, and are settled on a specific path the rest of their lives.

In my 10+ years as an adult, I’ve come to realize that life just doesn’t work that way. I don’t go along with the commencement speaker who told the high school graduates they could become whatever they wanted to be.

What if I wanted to be a pro basketball player? With a height of 5’3” and about 50% on the free throw line, I don’t stand much of a chance. What if I wanted to be a Broadway star? With a voice that can’t get a solo in the church choir and dance skills that are just passable in community theatre, it’s not likely to happen.

Life is simply a series of choices. Based on your experience and education, you make the best choices you can in each situation. When you have a desire or goal, you make a proactive decision to line up your choices to get to that goal.

I believe God gives each person passions and experiences to point him or her in a specific direction. Like a good GPS, He is available to give directions along the way. More than that, He can help set up circumstances to point us the right direction. Even if we get off track or choose a different path, He’s always there to provide guidance. The thing is, we still have to drive the car to get to where we want to go. We can’t just wait for good things to happen.

If my brother-in-law hadn’t been there today, I very easily could have lost my way and been no more than a half mile from my destination. Since I trusted him, I let him lead the way, even though I wasn’t sure where I was going. The path was unexpected, but it was the right way for me. I hope I can be just as successful in life, following God’s way.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is one of those anti-holidays. It’s not exactly a happy celebration, although the picnics and parties can be fun.

As I celebrate Memorial Day, even if it’s only by taking a day off work, I think about my grandfather. He was a proud veteran from the Korean War. He didn’t talk much about his experiences, but I remember pictures of him in his uniform. He passed away a few years ago. At his funeral he received the traditional military honors.

As part of our celebration in church today, we sang a song called “Freedom’s Never Free” by Phillips, Craig & Dean. The first verse goes like this:

Standing on a hillside
Where the river meets the sea
White crosses without number
Line the fields of peace
And each one a silent witness
Staring back at me
Every cross a story
Of another place in time
Where young men thought it worthy
To give their life for mine
And for the sake of honor
Left their dreams behind
And for the price they paid
I'm forever in their debt
Their memory will not die
'Cause I will not forget

Our heritage as human beings and as Americans is marked with individuals who were willing to pay any price for freedom, whether for religious freedom, democratic freedom, individual freedoms, or spiritual freedom. Whether they were fully aware of the causes they fought for, or the people’s lives they would impact, they gave their lives.

Today Americans are in the military, working and fighting all over the world. We pray that they return home safely. Each one of them knows that there is a chance, however remote, that they may be asked to pay that ultimate price. They continue to serve the people in our country by making the world a better place.

However you celebrate, take a moment to give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, and the people who made that freedom possible.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Planting Seeds

Dirt. Sunshine. Children’s laughter. It was a perfect recipe for starting a garden.

I don’t grow things. I can’t even keep cut flowers alive for more than a day. I bought one of those already planted strawberry plants once. Somehow, it grew mold. And not one strawberry.

My friend doesn’t grow things either. But she rents from a farmer who gave her a huge area to use for a garden. She invited a few of her friends to plant stuff. I bought some seed packets on a whim at the grocery store. I’m not even sure it’s anything I’ll eat if it grows, like yellow beans and a kind of lettuce I’ve never heard of.

My friend was smart. She bought tomato plants, so she doesn’t have to make sure the seeds actually germinate. She inadvertently bought 48 plants, however. It’s good thing tomatoes are so versatile and healthy for you!

I have fond memories of “helping” in the garden. My mom had this little plot in the backyard. She always bordered it with marigolds. She planted rhubarb, which grew like crazy but only tastes good in pie. She also planted potatoes. Potatoes were the most fun to harvest. My sisters and I would just dig in the dirt until we found the golden lumps and piled them in the grass. I think she grew green beans too, because I remember snapping piles of them into large aluminum bowls.

So this past weekend, three adults and four kids, aged 2 to 8, started their own garden. The kids used their measuring skills, as we tried to plant the seeds at the recommended depth and space them out evenly. They used their best brawn to dig holes for the seeds and plants. They gently coaxed tender young plants out of their plastic holders and placed them in the ground, covering them to just the right height with loose soil.

I have no idea what kind of work is involved in taking care of a garden. I know what weeding is, and it’s not very fun. I’m hoping mother nature will take care of a lot of watering. Most of all I hope that something edible is produced in the garden. It would be great if we had tons of tomatoes, broccoli, beans, carrots, lettuce, and melons.

I want my kids to learn that you literally reap what you sow. Even when your contribution seems so tiny, like a carrot seed, with care and patience, it can yield something large and beautiful. It wouldn’t hurt if it helped them eat their vegetables, either.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Roller Coaster 6

Continued from 5/15 post…

Just as Wendy was trying to figure out how she was going to open the door when she reached the third floor, the door swung open.  A tall young man with curly brown hair, dressed in scrubs, jumped a little when he realized his path was blocked.  He held the door open while Wendy wheeled her bike through.  He cocked his head for a moment, a touch of amusement playing on his lips. 

She gave a half smile and shrugged her shoulders.  She knew she must look ridiculous.  She found a family lounge area and wheeled her bike into a corner.  Surely no one else would be dumb enough to take a bike down stairs.  It was probably safe. 

Wendy took a deep breath, and wiped her hands on her shorts.  She counted the room numbers, and finally ended up in front of 406.  She walked slowly into the room.  She looked for her mom, but no one was in the room except someone’s feet covered in white sheets to her left. 

She was almost tiptoeing in the door.  Her dad lay in the hospital bed, looking years older, his hair matted on the pillow.  Clear plastic tubes seemed to come from everywhere.  He was sleeping, slack-jawed, with the old familiar chainsaw snore vibrating from his throat.  She smiled.  It was her daddy, alright.

She went up to her dad and gave him a kiss on the forehead.  He startled, then opened his eyes.  He seemed to have trouble focusing on her face at first.  “Wendy,” he finally said, his voice raspy and soft.  His eyes lit up and he managed a weak smile.  

“How are you feeling?” she asked, taking his hand in hers and squeezing it gently.  Her heart hurt.  She hated to see him like this.  She wished for a magic wand, something to take away all the pain, the cloud of death that hung over the room.  Tears sprang to her eyes, and she swallowed hard.  She blinked rapidly.  She couldn’t let him see her cry.

“Morphine is wonderful,” he said dreamily.  She laughed in spite of herself.  She grabbed a chair and pulled it next to his bedside.  “Tell me about work,” he said, as if they were sitting over the dinner table passing around a bowl of mashed potatoes.

“Work’s fine.  I’m learning a lot about golf,” said Wendy, beginning to relax and feel comfort in the routine conversation.  She told him about her job at the country club, and the people she had met.  She was in the middle of explaining something funny that had happened, when her mom walked in the door. 

Continued on Fiction Fridays…

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Laugh Long

If you’ve never seen Rene Hicks on Comedy Central, you have missed out on one special, hilarious young lady.

Born to a Pentecostal preacher father and equally devout mother, Rene ran cross country in college, earned a business degree, and became an accountant in a large firm. On a dare she improvised a routine on amateur night at a comedy club, and the rest is history.

As an otherwise healthy woman, her diagnosis of lung cancer baffled her. She had never smoked, but had been exposed to second-hand smoke in the hundreds of clubs and venues she performed at.

She made an appearance at the Women’s Council luncheon here in Elkhart today, to talk about the dangers of smoking, and I laughed so hard… well, you can guess the rest.

A self-described cultural sherpa, history lover, and cancer survivor, Rene has a lot to talk about. Her unique perspective allows her to see little incongruities in what people say and do, and the results are a riot.

Most people wouldn’t think that cancer could be funny. In Rene’s twisted mind, everything is funny. She talked about how strangely people react when they find out you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. “Oh, honey, you’re such a wonderful person. You don’t deserve this cancer.”

Rene asked, (paraphrase) “Does anyone really deserve cancer? Could you say to even your worst enemy, ‘you deserve to get cancer’?” She went on to elaborate, but I can’t write what she said here.

Rene also related a conversation with her “crack-head cousin.” She was enjoying some bacon shortly after her partial lobectomy to remove the cancer in her lung. “You can’t eat that!” warned her cousin. “It’s poison!” She gave her trademark wide-eyed, sideways shrug. “What?” Bacon is poison, and crack is….?

Rene believes in the power of women to make a difference. She cited groups of women in Afghanistan, banned from laughing out loud by the Taliban. They would gather in secret, just to laugh. After all, laughter is the best medicine, and it’s Rene’s secret weapon against the ravages of cancer and its causes.

Rene’s motto is Breathe Strong! Laugh Long! Live On! You can learn more about her and her mission at www.renehicks.com.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Discovering Happiness

What makes you happy?

Since I have a Bachelor’s in psychology, I could tell you that nothing can make you feel a certain way.  You choose to perceive the circumstances around you and interpret those thoughts into feelings. 

What fun is that?

Julie Andrews sang about “My Favorite Things” in the movie, “Sound of Music”:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings…
Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings…
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

I’m not quite as poetic, but here a few of my favorite things:


May sunshine, warming my face and arms
Rich dark chocolate, melting on my tongue
Scent of new leather, black and rebellious
Stars that shine, brilliant against a dark sky
A baby's first laugh, a cascading melody
Wind through my hair, riding with the top down
Hot flavored coffee, bold and perfectly brewed
Smell of chocolate chip cookies, freshly baked
Waning sunlight, glinting across water
The crash of thunder, bursting across the sky

The only reason these things “make” me happy is the pleasure and beauty they bring into my life.  They often spark memories of happy times in my past.  However, I have to take time to notice them to truly enjoy them.  I have to fully experience them, disengage my mind and my other senses and truly be in the moment.  Enjoying these simple pleasures is part of what makes life worth living. 

Sometimes I don’t think I want to live.  I get depressed.  The only thing that brings me out, besides the grace of God, is focusing on something outside of my sadness and pain.  Sometimes it’s getting involved with children’s play, or reading a novel, or enjoying one of my favorite things. 

If the things that make us happy are as simple as raindrops, or ponies, or snowflakes, or stars… what’s keeping us from happiness?

Source for lyrics:  www.stlyrics.com

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why Kids?

Have you ever wondered what are children good for? They can’t work; they can’t contribute. They tend to be loud, needy, and self-centered. Why did God create us so that we come into the world in the form of an infant, rather than fully mature? Why did He send His Son to earth in the same form?

Anyone I’ve ever known who has become a parent has said the experience changes him or her. All of the sudden, you are not living for yourself. As a pregnant woman, everything you eat, drink, or breathe affects your child. After a baby is born, it relies on its parents for everything. The choices the caregivers make will affect whether that child learns to trust them to meet his or her needs.

A child teaches you to love in a way that you’ve never loved before. It’s unconditional and fierce. It protects at all costs, yet disciplines without regret. It believes that anything is possible, and teaches how to deal with reality. It is completely patient, and always yearning for more time.

Children look at the world differently than adults do. Their view is free from a lifetime of cultural and media bias. They look with wonder at a flower or an insect. They see people as people, no matter what color or shape. They see play in everything, from parking lot stripes to grassy hills. Everything has a story to tell; anybody and anything might be a character.

When we are children, our memories are formed. Our pictures of who we are as a person is formed. We pick up on the cues from those around us and decide how important we are and what we are good at. We learn what it means to be a member of our gender, of our family, of our neighborhood, of our school. We make friends with people we share common interests with.

God gave us this period of life to make us into the person He designed us to be. He gives us the opportunity to be a part of this extraordinary process in the lives of children who take on our own DNA. These little people look like us, act like us, and depend on us to teach them about life and the world.

God gave us childhood to give us an opportunity to grow. He gave us children to give us an opportunity to mature. He calls us His children and loves us in the same encompassing, forgiving, heartbreaking way we love our own children. Be still and know.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Just Married

Pink roses and white tapers adorned the front of the church sanctuary. The decorations highlighted the room itself, with an ornate plaster ceiling, tall stained glass windows, and solid, wooden pews.

The people ensconced within the pews fit into the scheme: beautiful, young, dressed in summery dresses and colorful dress shirts. They whispered and laughed in anticipation.

Even though I was feeling rather ambivalent about the affair, the lilting notes of the piano and the beautifully simple decorations lent themselves to a genuine romantic atmosphere, despite my sore backside from a 6-hour car ride and the fact I knew absolutely no one in the room except my husband.

The groomsmen, dressed in gold vests and ties, waited in a line at the front, the groom’s smile wide and expectant. Three tiny tuxedoed ring-bearers trotted in, followed by two tiny flower girls, serenaded by the loud protests of the third would-be flower girl. Six attendants, sheathed in shimmering pink, hair perfectly coiffed, sauntered down the aisle to meet their mismatched mates. Then, of course, came the bride, nervous but stunning.

The ceremony was sweet and simple. There were a few readings, the lighting of the unity candle, the promise to love each other “for better or for worse,” allowing only death to separate them, the final kiss, and the pronouncement of marriage.

I hope this couple makes it. Statistics give them a 50-50 shot. In this moment, surrounded by love and beauty, marriage is easy. They have no way of knowing how much work it will take to keep that love strong and alive, no way of predicting the challenges, losses, and joys they will experience as a married couple. Will they remember the commitment they made before these witnesses when the stresses of life threaten to split them apart?

Despite cultural influences to the contrary, marriage is important. It is a sacred relationship, which should be entered into with a full knowledge and desire for a lifetime commitment. When that commitment is broken, for whatever reason and in whatever way, lives are broken.

Congratulations to Chad and Becca! May the joy of their wedding day be increased a hundredfold over their lifetime. May God give them the strength and courage to see their relationship through. May their marriage be a blessing to others as they grow old together.

Why didn’t anyone ask me to write the toast?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Beyond Limitations

Imagine being born without arms and without legs. You’d never be able to run or dance or play sports. You wouldn’t be able to hold someone’s hand, pet a dog, or hug a friend. People would either pity you or mock you. You would have every reason to feel angry and cheated by life.

I saw a man today who faces this challenge. However, he has such a strong, compelling spirit, that after hearing him speak, you almost forget that he has physical limitations. His name is Nick Vujicic.

The following is an excerpt from his web page, www.lifewithoutlimbs.org:

“Due to the emotional struggles I had experienced with bullying, self-esteem and loneliness, God began to instill a passion of sharing my story and experiences to help others cope with whatever challenge they might have in their lives. Turning my struggles into something that would glorify God and bless others, I realized my purpose! The Lord was going to use me to encourage and inspire others to live to their fullest potential and not let anything get in the way of accomplishing their hopes and dreams.”

This young man is truly amazing. At 26 years of age, he travels around the world, speaking to others about the obstacles he’s faced and how with the strength and grace of God he has overcome them. Then he reminds his listeners that in the same way God has stood beside him and given him a purpose, God can take the pain we experience and give us hope and a purpose.

In effect, he dares us to come up with any fear or pain or struggle that is too big for God to overcome and meet us where we are. He challenges us to believe in the greatness of our God.

Nick insists that when God gives us a mission, it’s not up to us to decide if we are capable or not. It is up to us to trust Him, and to be willing to give whatever He asks us to give and go wherever He asks us to go and to meet people’s needs as He sends us to them. “What is your faith costing you today?” he asks.

Something else Nick said is that you can’t fix your life on your own. You can’t overcome that addiction, or repair that relationship, or do anything without His strength and power. Unless we turn our lives over to Him completely, we can do nothing of significance for Him.

Even though I wasn’t planning on going to church today, God brought a compelling message to me through the television ministry of Southland Christian Church in Kentucky, 350 miles from home. “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Real Representation

I attended an ADEC (Association for the Disabled of Elkhart County) “Learn at Lunch” educational meeting on Friday. The speaker was Jackie Walorski, Indiana State Representative. Although her topic was legislative updates related to funding programs for the disabled, I learned a lot more.

Jackie is probably unique as a politician, but she is a self-proclaimed straight shooter. She reminded the group repeatedly that our government is, essentially, of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Did you know it is the job of our representatives to help us? It sounds obvious, but I’ve come to see government as a group of individuals detached from the real world, playing with other people’s money, and spending most of their time arguing with each other.

When individuals at this event expressed frustration at applications for assistance that lay dormant on some bureaucrat’s desk, she repeatedly told them, (paraphrased) “Call your representative. Call me. It is our job to solve your problems. We have a staff specifically to address the requests and concerns of individual constituents. Let us cut through that red tape for you and get people the help they need.”

Maybe it’s because the only time I hear a politician speak is when it’s election time or when the cameras are rolling, but I have never heard a government official say such things. It blew my mind. What she was saying is exactly true, but I didn’t think anyone believed it anymore.

I’ve always admired Jackie for fighting for family friendly legislation, but I didn’t realize the extent of her passion. She does what she does to help people. People, whether disabled, unemployed, or otherwise, are her main concern and the source of her drive.

She mentioned that new legislation comes about because someone wants something started or stopped, and that idea often comes from an individual or a grassroots organization, rather than from legislators’ pet projects.

I’m still not sure I could ever survive the political realm, but I have a new respect for those who choose to pursue that vocation, especially when they do it to help people and make our state, city, or nation a better place. And I will continue to pray that their decisions will truly benefit the most people.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Roller Coaster 5

Continued from 5/8 post…

Wendy ate her breakfast. She didn’t realize she was so hungry. When had she eaten last? She grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, flipping the channels to Tom and Jerry.

For a moment, lost in the silliness of a clever mouse and a persistent cat, Wendy felt like a child again. She daydreamed about Saturday mornings with her dad when she was little. He would tear her away from the cartoons, and she would feign kicking and screaming as he’d take her outside and push her on the swings, or teach her to ride a bike, or walk to the park. He would never let her sit in front of the television on a golden Saturday like today.

Slowly, reluctantly, she willed herself out of her chair and into her room to change her clothes. She put on a T-shirt her dad had bought her on a business trip. Feeling adventurous, she bypassed the car keys and wheeled out her bicycle. It had been gathering dust since she got her license last spring.

Wendy started pedaling down the road. The sun felt good on her face and shoulders. A light breeze tousled her hair. She began to ride faster. She wasn’t sure where she wanted to go. She started toward the park. It was a perfect day.

She came to the last intersection before the park and stopped at the stop sign. A broad expanse of grass was to her left, where a few teenage boys were tossing around a football. To her right, a blue sign pointed in the opposite direction. The hospital was about a mile away.

Wendy’s heart pounded, and her head began to hurt. Suddenly she was aware of a car pulling up behind her. Without thinking, she turned and rode in the direction of the hospital. She tried to think about what she was going to say. She just knew couldn’t avoid him anymore. She didn’t really want to. She really missed him, and was sorry their last interaction was an angry one.

Not wanting to leave her bike outside unattended, she walked it right into the hospital. She walked up to the elderly lady at the information desk. “Um, I’m trying to find my dad,” Wendy muttered, avoiding eye contact. The lady looked disapprovingly over her reading glasses at the disrespectful teenager brash enough to bring a bicycle inside the hospital.

“Name?” she asked haughtily.

“Wendy Rogers.”

“Your dad’s name?” She added a note of contempt.

“Oh, sorry.” Wendy felt so stupid. “Jim. Jim Rogers.”

“406. Take the east elevator.” The snooty lady gave her a scrap of paper with the room number written on it.

Wendy walked her bike down the hall, ignoring the looks from passersby. When she arrived at the elevator, she knew her bike would not fit. She spotted an EXIT sign and discovered a stairway. She hesitated for a moment, then began to wrestle her bike up three flights of stairs.

To be continued on Fiction Fridays.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Make a Difference

I was watching Oprah the other day. It’s not my usual routine, but I wasn’t in an Ellen mood.

It was one of those update shows about Dr. Oz and how people fared after taking his advice. There were people who had lost over 100 pounds and people who discovered they had cancer in the early stages.

All I could think about is how awesome it would be to have that kind of influence. How would it feel to know you were making a life-changing difference in the lives of untold numbers of people? Wouldn’t you feel important? How amazing would that be?

I dream that someday my words will influence that many people in a positive way. Even if I never get there, though, I have to think that making a difference in the world can be an accumulation of small positive gifts everyday.

Have you ever heard the Teddy Stallard story by Elizabeth Ballard? It is merely a story, unfortunately, but it chronicles how one person has the ability to say or do just the right thing to change the direction of someone else’s life.

In this story, little Teddy is a nasty, angry, unlikeable little fifth grade boy. His teacher even takes secret pleasure in marking his papers in red ink. When she takes the time to look over his past files, she finds out he was a bright, delightful boy until his mother died of a terminal illness the year before.

When the boy gives her a half-empty bottle of his mom’s perfume for Christmas, the teacher’s heart is softened and she begins to give him a little extra time with his reading, helping him to catch up to the other students. Teddy keeps in touch, and eventually becomes a doctor and asks his teacher to stand in for his mother at his wedding.

Teddy thanks his teacher for showing him how one person can make a difference. She insists he was the one that taught her how to really teach, that he made a difference in her life first.

We may never know what kind of difference any of our good deeds make, at least this side of heaven. That doesn’t mean we should stop doing them. Like the Biblical parable of the loaves and fishes, “little is much, when God is in it” (Kittie L. Suffield, 1924).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tunnel of Chaos

It was after 4:00, and I was grudgingly rushing back to work to meet with a family member at the nursing home. I was focusing on the construction sight at the end of the road, and almost missed my turn.

I had one of those dissociative thoughts as I made my turn, that I had narrowly missed driving into destruction. It could be a metaphor for life- that by focusing on all the negative circumstances in life, you inevitably drive your life right into negativity and destruction.

Then it occurred to me that it was not called a destruction site. It was a construction site. Even though it looks like a complete mess, each machine, hole, orange sign, and pile of dirt serves a purpose. In time, what now looks like a confused eyesore will be a safer traffic flow pattern with brand new asphalt and signs.

Sometimes the roads of life need fixed, too. Too many of us continue down the same paths we’ve always known, and don’t realize they’re filled with potholes until we lose a hubcap or get a flat tire. Then we’re stuck. Sometimes we can patch up the road, and it’s still workable. Other times, there needs to be a complete overhaul.

Constructions sites with their accompanying one-lane traffic, detours, and noise, are quite a nuisance. We question whether changes are really necessary. We wonder how long it’s going to take. We wonder if it’s all worth it.

Sometimes our lives have to go through construction or re-construction. It’s never easy. But at some point we have to decide which is worse, the pot-hole filled road which could cause some serous damage, or temporary chaos that will eventually lead to a smoother road.

M. Scott Peck talks about something called pseudo-community in his book, “The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace.” The inhabitants don’t quite tell each other the whole truth, and continue to tolerate, accommodate, and overlook unspoken issues, in an attempt maintain the illusion of a community.

According to Bill Hybels in his book, "Axiom," real community can’t take place until you face your fear and deal with the unspoken issues. Chances are the other person or people are just as uncomfortable faking it. But until someone has the guts to say that “this isn’t working; what went wrong?” then nothing will change.

Hybels calls this entering the tunnel of chaos, because working through issues between two people can be scary, messy, and downright ugly. But when both parties are committed to working it out, the end result is a stronger, truer relationship. We come out on the other end of the tunnel to brand new light.

So the next time you have to maneuver around a construction site, think about choosing one relationship in your life that could use a little work. And get ready to get messy!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Virtual Surgery

My eight-year-old performed surgery today. She started with knee surgery on a man in his seventies, and then moved on to a hip replacement.

She let me watch the hip replacement. I was fascinated, since I work in a field that sees people recovering from joint surgeries all the time. She viewed the X-ray and made sure she had the right size parts for the job. Then she drew on the hip to mark the point of incision.

The next part is a little graphic, so the faint of heart should beware. She used a scalpel to make the incision, and used a zapper (clinical term) to cauterize the bleeding. She separated the fat layer with spreaders, then cut back the muscle tissue, being careful to avoid the sciatic nerve.

I could go on, but it gets complicated. I actually learned how they do hip replacements through an internet video game. The site is called EdHeads (http://www.edheads.org/) and is sponsored by Ohio State University Medical Center. Edheads is a non-profit organization, which creates unique, educational web experiences that are free to teachers, students and parents. They even give teachers lesson plans to work with.

The game my daughter found at school today was intended for 7th graders and older, mostly because it is at least as graphic as a cartoon version of surgery on The Learning Channel. Cutting through muscle and bone didn’t seem to phase her a bit. I have to admit, It was hard to look when she turned the lady’s leg to pop it in and out of joint.

My daughter has said she’s wanted to be a doctor since she was two years old, when her brother was born. We’ve encouraged her, and she has since mentioned wanting to be an artist, rock star, and a teacher, while practicing medicine. It might just happen. She has a strong desire to learn and help others. She’s always wanted to be an obstetrician up to this point, but maybe she’ll consider orthopedics now.

I cannot begin to imagine the possibilities in store for my children as they grow, learn, and explore. When they graduate college, there will be technology available that will solve problems we don’t even have yet. I pray for God’s blessings on their lives, that they reach their full potential, and use it to make a difference in the world.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weather Predictions

Everyone complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it. I have come up with some foolproof ways to control the weather.

The following are ways to make sure it rains:

  1. Leave your umbrella at home or in your car.
  2. Plan an outdoor event.
  3. Go to the beach.
  4. Park you car a half mile away from your destination.
  5. Prepare to grill outdoors.
  6. Tell your children you’re going to the park.
  7. Go to an amusement park.
  8. Schedule a baseball game.
  9. Wear a white shirt.
  10. Leave the windows open in your car.

The following are ways to make sure the sun shines:

  1. Get scheduled to work on a weekend.
  2. Plan an all-day meeting.
  3. Start spring cleaning.
  4. Carry your umbrella everywhere.
  5. Spend the day at the mall.
  6. Ground your child.
  7. Forget your sunscreen.
  8. Leave your restaurant leftovers in the car.
  9. Plan a trip to the movies.
  10. Get a migraine.

The following are ways to make sure it really storms:

  1. Plan a long car trip.
  2. Visit a mobile home.
  3. Plan an outdoor wedding.
  4. Stay in the top floor of a hotel.
  5. Plan a long hike.
  6. Plan a trip to the ocean.
  7. Plan a softball tournament.
  8. Go to a golf tournament.
  9. Plan a camping trip.
  10. Plan a skydiving trip.

Some of these techniques may not work if you live in places like southern California or Florida. They are best suited to inhabitants of the midwest, where if you don’t like the weather, you just wait a minute.

If you find that even in the midwest, none of these techniques ever work for you, please report back to Mt. Olympus and have mercy on us poor mortals. In the mean time, why don’t we plan a trip to the beach?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

To Mom

Dedicated to Karen Johnston

The doctor said, “no kids”

Your polio forbids

You were ready to fight

I was born, in the rite

Of motherhood

Under your guidance

Words became sentence

They said I was bright

You taught me to write

I was three

Every question I asked

I was then tasked

To tell what I think

“Look it up” with a wink

An answer

You gave me freedom

To explore wisdom

Friendships and the world

Hopes slowly uncurled

And life

Your strength displayed

You weren’t afraid

To speak your mind

To do what was kind

And right

You provided meals

To talk of ordeals

A place to unwind

Home ever enshrined

In my heart

You gave the right to choose

Present for all debuts

Cheering at each game

To everything you came

My biggest fan

As an adult I received

The best gift achieved

My mom as my friend

To listen and commend

And advise

I admire your courage

In living out wordage

Literature and theatre

Loving life as actor

Of your story

As I bid adieu

Know I love you

And truly thank you

For all that you do

And have done.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Momdom

I don’t remember making a big deal out of Mother’s Day as I child. I think we all went out to eat after church. At least that would make sense to me since Mom always cooked, but I can’t imagine either of my parents waiting for an hour for a meal at a crowded restaurant.

I’m sure there were a string of homemade cards with the accompanying homemade verse. There might have been breakfast in bed a time or two, although Mom always seemed to be up before us. I imagine there may have been some offerings of wadded violets or dandelions as well.

In my husband’s family, all the ladies wear orchids to church on Mother’s Day. I felt a little silly the first time, sporting one as a very unmotherly college student, but I felt a little special, too.

On Mother’s Day, my home church gives out carnations to all the women. I thought it was merely an inexpensive choice, but it turns out carnations are traditional representations of Mother’s Day. It was the favorite flower of Ann Marie Jarvis, whose passing inspired her daughter Anna to give children an occasion to appreciate their mothers while they were alive.

On May 9th, 1914, on the nine year anniversary of Ann Marie Jarvis’ death, President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day always takes on a new significance when you actually become a mother. For me it was on May 13th, 2001. I was the associate pastor of a church, and proud mother of a 5-month old girl. I was humbled to be honored among such an indescribable group of women.

I am a little more ambivalent about the celebration today. I’m not of the theory that my co-worker espouses, that her children had better get her a gift of value, or else. I love the homemade cards and gifts my children shower me with. I just don’t know that I’ve done anything to deserve special treatment.

I’m just a mom. I’ve answered my children’s calls since their little lungs were able to fill with air. At all times of the night, for all kinds of reasons, I’ve tried to be there for them. I’ve tried to provide healthy food, clean clothes, and a fun home environment. I’ve tried to answer every “what’s that?” and “why” along the way. I’ve tried to share every value I hold deeply, from loving God, to compassion for others, to creative thinking.

On the other hand, I’ve had to tell them “no” more times than I could possibly count. I’ve had to let them make their own choices in clothing and activities, even when I’ve disagreed. I’ve had to allow them to do things for themselves when my way is much more efficient. I’ve had to let them grow into their own as separate individuals, even when that means leaving me behind.

The path of momdom I will travel has just begun. I have miles to go yet. I pray for the wisdom of God and of all my female relatives before me. I pray that a simple token for my mother will communicate how much I love and appreciate her. God knows she deserves it.

Source for history: http://www.theholidayspot.com/mothersday/history.htm

Friday, May 8, 2009

Roller Coaster 4

Continued from 5/3 post…

Wendy put aside her chips and snuggled down under her blanket. The images on the television set grew fuzzy as she dozed off to sleep.

She awoke abruptly and sat straight up. Her mind tried to sort out the underground caves from her dreams and where she was now. It was dark. What time was it?

She groped for her cell phone but was unable to locate it. She stumbled through the darkness, banging her shin on the coffee table. “Ouch!” she muttered. She realized it was very dark. Neither the oven nor the microwave sported the usual neon numbers. The storm must have knocked out the power.

Wendy made her way back to her parent’s bedroom. Seeing her mother’s form wrapped in bedclothes and hearing her soft snore, she relaxed a little. Feeling a little chagrined, she nonetheless crawled under the covers with her mom, feeling comfort in their closeness. Her mind drifted to childhood memories of doing the same thing when her father was away on business. As sleep returned, her dreams were lighter and happier.

She awoke to sunlight streaming in the windows. She tried to remember why she was in her parent’s room. As she became more fully awake, she remembered the nightmare of her father’s illness, and wished she had stayed in dreamland.

She realized she was hungry. Saturdays her dad usually fixed breakfast. Determined to keep the tradition alive, she pulled out the eggs, pancake mix, and bacon. For the next half hour, she immersed herself in making a breakfast special that would rival Denny’s.

Wendy heard the shower running. She decided to make some coffee for Mom, too. She was almost singing to herself, when she began to feel guilty. She shouldn’t be happy. Her dad was dying. She decided not to think about it. She set up a plate for herself and her mom. She poured coffee and orange juice.

Her mom came bustling out of her room, fully dressed. “I can’t believe I slept in so late. I’ve got to get up to the hospital.”

“Mom, I made breakfast,” Wendy announced, with a childlike enthusiasm. Her mom paused and gave her a crestfallen look.

“Honey, I’m sorry. I’m just not hungry. Did you want to come with me to the hospital today? I’ll give you some money for the gift shop.”

Wendy frowned. Did her mom actually think she could be bribed like a little kid? She shook her head. “No thanks. I’d rather stay here. I have…um, important things to do here.”

Her mom frowned too, but nodded with understanding. “Okay. I’ll see you at lunch time then,” she said.

As the sound of her mother’s car engine revved and drifted away, Wendy went back to her breakfast. It was a little cold.

To be continued on “Fiction Fridays.”

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Ideal Mom

What does the ideal mom look like? Is it June Cleaver, wearing pearls while she vacuums and having dinner ready when dad walks in the door?

Is it Lucy Ricardo, devoted mother still looking for her next big break on stage or screen, or at least a good adventure?

Is it Roseanne Connor, keeping her kids in line with sharp remarks and always speaking her mind?

Is it Abby O’Neil, the vegan, homeschooling, all-natural mom from Dharma & Greg who walks around in overalls and burns incense?

Is it Reba Hart, a single working mom dealing with her teenage daughter’s pregnancy and her ex-husband’s new wife?

Every mom has to decide for herself what motherhood is going to look like. For most people, no one is going to be harder on mom than she is on herself.

As times change, society’s expectations of the role of mother change and evolve with them. I don’t know if there is any other time in history that has so many potential expectations of motherhood.

Moms are supposed to be totally devoted to the well-being of their children, and still be their own person. They are supposed to volunteer at the school, but have to put in extra hours at work to get ahead. They are supposed to manage the household, and find time to rest and rejuvenate as well. Sometimes it feels like you can hardly keep your head above water when you try to meet everyone else’s expectations.

I want to be a little of every mom. I want to be a devoted wife like June. I want to always be open to new adventures like Lucy. I want to work toward a better world like Abby. I want to speak my mind like Roseanne. I want to be be resilient enough to deal with life’s challenges like Reba.

For those of us who yearn for simpler times, when a woman’s role was merely motherhood and keeping house, remember the woman in Proverbs 31.

She shops; she makes clothing; she gardens; she invests; she helps others; she provides for her family; she runs her own business; she’s a sharp dresser; she’s a teacher; she works hard; her family loves her and she loves God.

Even though she lived in a time when women were little more than property, she used every gift God gave her to provide for herself, her family and community.

Moms, there’s no simple answers to the challenges you face everyday. Just keep at it. And pray a lot.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wisdom from the Penny Man

I’m not a political person. I lean toward one party, but vote what I feel is best. I don’t discuss politics with people, because I don’t like to argue. It seems everyone has a slightly different perspective, even when they are from the same party.

I got my hands on a quote from Abraham Lincoln that I found very interesting and apropos to our current economic situation.

“You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.

You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down.

You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away people’s initiative and independence.

You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves.”

Even though the recession has affected almost everyone, it has righted some wrongs. Personal finance gurus have been telling us for years to save and be thrifty. But because we as a society have gone hog wild, buying everything and anything we desire on credit, we’ve created an economy that wasn’t real. When too many people couldn’t make good, the bottom fell out. Retailers had grown fat on a diet of credit, and now are feeling the pain of people actually spending only money they have, only on things they actually need.

Our unemployment system is broken. Fewer high paying jobs are available, and able-bodied workers are choosing to live off unemployment rather than find work because they are receiving more that way. Now the coffers are empty, so the state wants to make the employers pay more taxes. A small business owner will just hire fewer workers and/or pay them less, furthering the unemployment problem.

I know that today more people need help with day-to-day needs like food and medicine than two years ago. I fully support the organizations that strive to meet these growing needs everyday. However, it would behoove us as a society to continue to offer programs that offer a hand up, and not just a hand out. Training programs like Soup of Success in Elkhart provides women with work experience, interview and resume practice, and the opportunity to further their education, all in a supportive environment. Any program that teaches a man to fish is going to bring up the potential earnings for that person, that family, and that community. It also opens doors for new entrepreneurs and capitalism as it’s meant to be.

I’ll step off my soap box now. I just hope and pray the powers that be on the local and national levels use some common sense in the coming years as they try to “fix” our current economic woes. God help us all.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

According to Plan

I read an email reply from my son’s kindergarten teacher. She had asked me to pray that it didn’t rain the next day during their field trip to the zoo. I typed back, “I hope everything goes according to plan.”

I felt a little guilty for responding that way. Did I really hope that everything went according to plan? Does anything ever go 100 percent according to plan?

Of course I hope it doesn’t rain. I hope all the children stay healthy and safe and with the group. I hope none of the animals are traumatized by the onslaught of kindergartners.

I also hope for little “unplanned” surprises along the way. I hope for animals that come right up the edge of their pens to discover what children are like. I hope for monkeys that are funny and lions that are scary. I hope for peacocks that show their full plumage.

I hope for all the cute, unexpected things children say and do that will make their teachers smile. I hope young friendships are created and strengthened. I hope for memories that may even last a lifetime.

I am the type of person who prefers to know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen and what I need to be prepared for in the mean time. I like for things to go according to my plan, and occasionally get frustrated when they don’t work out that way.

Life seldom goes according to plan. Sometimes that’s good, like Garth Brook’s song, “Unanswered Prayers” where it doesn’t work out with his high school sweetheart, but he ends up with his true love. The older we get, the more we realize that life has more in store for us than we can begin to think or imagine.

So, I really hope the field trip turns out better than planned, even if it rains a little. I hope any little glitches that come up along the way become part of the charm of the trip. I hope my son enjoys every moment and tells me all about it tomorrow. I’m planning on it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Doodle-a-Dog

“It’s a golden doodle,” said my co-worker. She had brought pictures of her new puppy to work.

“A what?” I asked.

“A cross between a golden retriever and a poodle. A golden doodle.” she repeated. The photograph showed a miniature canine with pale gold kinky fur, long ears, and bright black eyes. It was playing in the grass.

“Where does the “d” come from in doodle?” I asked. A doodle was a scribble on a piece of paper. It was not a dog.

“I don’t know!” she exclaimed, a little exasperated with me.

I remember the days when dogs stuck to their own kind. There were no schnoodles or doodles or mi-kis. Who do we think we are, messing with nature?

My first dog was one third red setter, one third husky, and one third collie. I’m not sure how you breed a dog by thirds, but that was how I remember it. Her name was Frances. She loved to run through the open field at the end of the road.

Frances also liked to swim, which was bad news whenever she managed to escape from the house. She’d run right for the pond in the backyard and jump into its murky depths. Then we’d have to chase her with the hose to clean her off before she was allowed to come back inside.

I may be biased based on my experience, but I’ve always thought big dogs were better. I lived down the street from a yard full of beagles once. Every time I rounded the corner I heard, “Yap, yap, yap,” for about half a block.

Did you hear about the flying chihuahua aptly named Tinker Bell? 70 mph winds near Detroit picked up the 6-pound dog and carried her almost a mile away. Thank goodness for that pet psychic or Tinker Bell would have been bear food.

It would have been hard to forgive a dog like the cash-eating Swiss mountain dog from North Carolina. It ate $400 in cash that its owner had left on a table. She had to follow the dog around the backyard to pick up pieces of the bills. Eeeew!

If you are a true dog lover, you can be jealous of the employees at ilovedogs.com. They take their dogs to work every Friday!

Whatever your preference, you have to admit dogs are very unique and fascinating animals. Whether sniffing out survivors after a natural disaster or warning someone about skin cancer, they have proven they belong at man’s side. Just give them the respect they deserve and don’t call them a snickerdoodle!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Roller Coaster 3

continued from 4/25 post

As Wendy’s sobs lessened, unbidden thoughts came to her. They came slowly at first, then rushed in on her in another wave of grief.

Would he be at her first soccer match in the fall? He hadn’t missed one since she started running up and down the field as a preschooler. What about graduation? He probably wouldn’t even see her graduate, or see her college dorm room. When she finally found her Prince Charming, who was going to walk her down the aisle?

“Oh, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” she cried out loud, wishing for a miracle, wishing that all of this was just a bad dream.

When Wendy couldn’t cry anymore, she blew her nose, took a deep breath, and put her keys into the ignition. The rain had lessened somewhat, but lightning still cut through the sky. She slowly pulled out of the lot and made her way home.

The drive was a complete blur, and before she knew it she was pulling into her driveway. Her mother’s car was conspicuously absent. Mom was probably at the hospital. She spent every spare moment there. Wendy opened the garage door and walked into the dark, dreary kitchen. Dishes were piled in the sink and the trash can was overflowing.

Wendy wasn’t hungry, but she opened the refrigerator anyway. Unable to find anything interesting there, she settled on a bag of flavored corn chips and ensconced herself in an afghan on the living room couch to watch TV. She felt vaguely guilty about not visiting her dad in the hospital, but she couldn’t bear to see him all sick and connected to tubes and wires. Part of her thought if she didn’t see him sick, it wasn’t real.

No matter what channel she turned to, there seemed to be a commercial or storyline about cancer or cancer treatment. “Maybe the doctor’s wrong,” she thought. “Maybe he misinterpreted the tests.” The thought began to eat at her, that maybe she was upset for no reason, that someone had made a mistake.

She picked up her cell phone and called her mother to explain her concerns. Her mother was only slightly patronizing. “No dear. It showed up on an X-ray, and other tests confirmed it. When I get home tonight we’ll talk some more. Dad’s coming home soon.”

“Why? Is he better?” asked Wendy.

“No, he just wants to be home. There’s nothing more they can do for him here,” answered her mom, more gently this time.

“How you can be so calm?” Wendy asked, her voice rising in anger. “Dad is dying and you don’t even care! We’re just going to bring him home and pretend everything’s okay? It’s not okay!”

There was a long pause. Then her mom spoke in a slow, pressured voice. “I know you’re upset, Wendy, but now is not the time. We’ll talk tonight.” There was silence. A glance at her phone confirmed that her mother had ended the call abruptly.

to be continued on “Fiction Fridays”

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Opening Day

Is there anything more American than baseball? As I sit behind center field, awaiting the start of opening day for the 51st year of Osolo Little League, I’m taken back to some of the happiest moments of my childhood.

My dad coached softball before any of his kids were old enough to play. In fact, both my sisters were named after young ladies he coached. We grew up entertaining ourselves by digging in the dirt, running the bases before games, and climbing the bleachers.

When I was six, I was finally allowed to play T-ball. We played in jeans then. Even though I was probably just as bored as the other players, I wasn’t a grass picker or a butterfly chaser. I took the game seriously. I put my hands on my knees in a ready stance, and then ran all over the field when someone hit the ball. When it was my turn to bat, I hit the ball and ran as fast as I could.

League designations were based on age and not ability then. I played T-ball for three years, and didn’t see a softball until I was nine. Part of me wanted to be that one girl that was good enough to play baseball with the boys, but I really wasn’t. Besides, I grew up with softball.

My coach in the minor league was so patient. I believe we even won a championship my third or fourth year in the league. I loved playing catcher. Even then I knew that the catcher could rule the field: throwing out base-stealers and making sure fielders knew how many outs there were. I didn’t call pitches, though. At that age, you were lucky to get a pitcher who could make it over the plate, even with a simple slingshot pitch.

I chose to play in the major league, instead of play high school ball. About the same time I had started playing softball, I had fallen in love with long distance running, again taking after my dad. Since track and softball were the same season, I could only do both by playing at little league. I did make it to the All-Star team my last year. I played centerfield and could throw that ball all the way to the catcher.

I’ve played about half a dozen seasons of church softball since. I still love the game, and am really excited about my daughter’s first year in the minor league. I’m a little nervous about potential injuries as she grows older, but I hope she continues to play. She’s got just enough of her mom’s competitive spirit to excel.

To all the coaches and parents and little league volunteers who are running around today, trying to start off the season right, hats off to you. Thank you for your dedication and for teaching a new generation the love of the game. Who knows? Maybe the next Ken Griffey or Jenny Finch will start right here in Elkhart.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Peter Pan Syndrome

It’s my nephew’s birthday today. He’s seven years old. He likes to read, play video games, and is a powerful hitter on the little league field.

Kids grow up fast. It never seems like it when you’re wading through diapers and spattered baby food, but they do. Before you know it, that bald baby with a big head is going to school and teaching his parents things they forgot they knew.

I love watching babies interact with their world. They are constantly gathering information through all their senses and putting it into practice. I remember watching a baby next to me in a waiting room. His mother had given him a small bottle of pop to keep him busy. He grasped at it with tiny fingers, mouthed the cap, turned it, shook it, and dropped it several times.

Once kids are mobile, their explorations increase ten-fold. There’s a child at my friend’s childcare that is like a wind-up doll. You put her on the floor and zoom! She’s crawling so fast her arms and legs are a blur. Soon she’ll be like my preschool nephews, climbing anything to the highest heights, with no fear.

When kids start going to school, their sponge-like brains absorb everything, from new words, to classification of objects, to relationship dynamics among the kindergarten set. It’s not much later when they start learning values in school, and try to influence their parents. My daughter read a letter recently from the school about avoiding the spread of illness by keeping sick children home. She was sure I was breaking the rules by sending her to school with a stuffy nose.

I never want to grow up, if being grown up is a place where you “arrive” and always do what is expected. I want to keep exploring, looking at things in new ways like a baby does. I want to challenge myself physically like a preschooler does. I want to make new friends and appreciate their differences like a kindergartner does. I want to decide what’s important to me and influence others like a school-age child does.

I also want to take time to enjoy upcoming stages of growth in my children’s lives. They teach me things they learn in school, but also teach me to be a better person. As their relationships grow and their thinking becomes more complicated, I will have to keep up with them just to remain an important part of their lives.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”