Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who are You?

I’m sure you’ve heard some version of the phrase, “Character is who you are when no one is looking.”

It makes sense, right? Everyone can put on a show, wear a mask, blend in. In fact, we wear different masks for different crowds. We may want to appear one way at church, and another at school or work. Our families may see an entirely different side of us altogether.

Who are you when no one’s looking? A better question is, do you behave differently when you are alone than when you are with people? What’s your motivation? Is it to please others, impress them, or control them?

I always thought that phrase meant you shouldn’t steal or cheat or gossip. Usually, these are things that are not done out in the open anyway. If you try to steal when someone’s looking, you’re either a horrible thief or you’ve just won an accomplice. At least that’s how it goes when it comes to the cookie jar.

Cheating is something I was rarely tempted to do in school. I hear students today say that it’s no big deal; everyone does it. That’s sad. Cheating on spouses is also done in secret, and as Mark Sanders can surely testify, it reflects on your character.

Gossip is a temptation for me. I make observations about people. Sometimes they are very astute, or at least amusing. I like to share them with others, to share in the humor or the drama. It’s not right- to say something about someone you wouldn’t say to his or her face- but it’s easy to do.

I’m not perfect, but I think I’m pretty much the same whether I am by myself or alone. There are a few exceptions. I talk to myself and even answer back at times. I dance, even at the office, when no one is looking. I even have the urge to do a cartwheel at times, but I think the ability left around junior high. I sing. I’m not talking about choir music either. I make up a song, or I do my own arrangement, or I make up words for lyrics I don’t know.

So, if character is who you are when no one is looking, I’m either insane, or a four-year-old child. C’est la vie!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fillin' Buckets

Have you read the book, “How Full is Your Bucket?” by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton? It was required reading by my company a few years ago, and I was surprised to discover my son learning the same concepts in kindergarten.

The premise is this: Everyone has a bucket. When it’s full, you feel good. When it’s empty, you feel bad. You fill others’ buckets by doing things that make them feel good. You take away from their buckets when you do things that cause negative feelings. Your own bucket is filled when you fill others’ or when they add to yours.

Although this much my 6-year old could grasp, it gets more complicated. The same things that fills some people’s buckets may not fill others. For example, words of affirmation may fill one person’s bucket more, and gifts may fill someone else’s more. Also, based on this concept, you have to make choices about spending time with people, depending on whether or not they tend to give to or take away from your bucket. You also have the choice with every personal interaction to fill buckets around you.

This concept goes against the win-lose culture prevalent in schools and workplaces today. Instead, if I help you out, I will benefit also. If I am rude or selfish, we both lose.

Positive actions such as kindness, appreciation, encouragement, recognition, and generosity can create an environment where cooperation prevails over competition, productivity increases, and everyone is happier to be a part of the organization.

It also means that everyone can make a difference in the life of others. It doesn’t cost anything to find a positive word to say to someone in your life. It doesn’t take much to realize how a simple smile or kind deed can brighten someone’s day. It doesn’t take but a moment to thank someone or recognize a job well done. It doesn’t matter what your age, status, or abilities are, you can fill someone’s bucket.

With all the junk out there- profanity, criticism, apathy a little positive can do a lot of good. The more you give, the better you feel. I believe some people have made such a habit of creating positive feelings in other people, their buckets are constantly overflowing and splashing on people, even total strangers. Like the psalmist writes in Psalm 23, “my cup runs over.”

Give it a try. Say something nice to somebody. Perform a random act of kindness. Smile. If you need a coach, there’s a classroom of kindergarten graduates out there ready to demonstrate!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Weeding

I don’t know what it is about a breeze through my hair and dirt between my toes that makes me wax philosophical, but here I go again!

This afternoon I was standing at the corner of the “garden” I had reluctantly agreed to start a month ago. I was reluctant because the only place I have a green thumb is on the online game Farmtown, and I think all my crops have wasted away there, too. When a friend recently asked me to water her plants while she was out of town, it took me five days to remember (Sorry Lisa!).

I kicked off my shoes, there at the corner of the garden, and rolled up my sleeves to avoid a farmer’s tan, as ironic as that is. Then, blade by blade, I began pulling grass and weeds from around my tiny, fragile, carrot plants.

I began to think how I needed to start pulling some weeds in my life. I have some bad habits. I like to eat, pretty much whenever food is available. Sometimes I’m actually hungry, but other times I’m looking for comfort or something to do. I also have a short fuse at times, particularly with my family. I just don’t know how many times you have to tell a six-year-old to get dressed! I watch way too much TV- it seems like it’s always on at our house. There are so few shows I actually enjoy anymore- if it doesn’t make me laugh, think, or learn, why am I watching? I am a horrible procrastinator. Even though I have a goal of writing everyday, you may notice a majority of my posts are stamped between 9 PM and midnight. I’m also a terrible housekeeper. There are so many more interesting things to do than laundry or dishes.

Just like the poor carrot plants that can’t grow when the weeds are taking up all their space and nutrients, I can’t grow when I have all these bad habits that I’m hanging on to, that eat up my time and energy and work against my goals. The “fruit” (or vegetable if you’re a carrot) of everything I’m trying to do is going to be pitiful and withered if I don’t do some weeding.

So, after I curl up on the couch in front of the TV with a snack, leaving my dish on the floor and yelling at someone to pick it up, then I’ll start to work on my “weeds.” Well, maybe I’d better start now.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Roller Coaster 10

Continued from 6/19 post…

Wendy opened the bathroom door and brushed past her mother. She found a granola bar in the kitchen and stuffed it in her purse. She even found an old Gideon New Testament she had been given in elementary school. She gave her mom a light kiss on the cheek and headed outside.

The air was hot and muggy, even this early in the morning. She decided to walk. She hadn’t been in a church building since Christmas. She was starting to second-guess her brilliant plan to win God’s favor so He would grant her wish. Yet, her sandaled feel kept moving forward down the sidewalk, and the steeple seemed to grow taller and taller. It sure was pretty in the morning light.

Suddenly she turned. She could have sworn she heard someone calling her name. It was coming from the parking lot of the church. Someone was waving at her. “Wendy!” he called again, as he began to run toward her.

She finally recognized her greeter. It was Jason from the hospital, looking quite handsome in a peach polo shirt and khaki cargo pants. “What are you doing here?” they both asked at the same time.

Wendy laughed, hoping he would answer first, since she didn’t have a good response. “I’ve been coming here just about every Sunday morning for the last 19 years,” he said jovially. “It’s nice to see a new face once in awhile.” He seemed to sense she wasn’t going to come out and explain her presence, so he led the way to the front entrance of the church.

Jason opened the door for her, and she found herself blushing at his kindness. “I am such a mess!” she thought.

“Would you like to sit with me and my family?” he asked. “We kinda have our own pew,” he explained, a little sheepishly.

“Thank you,” she breathed, relieved not to have to choose a spot. He led her down the center aisle and stopped at the third row from the front. Already seated were a well-dressed couple in their 50s, a white-haired lady, and three teenagers- two girls and a boy. “This is your family?” she whispered in disbelief.

“For better or worse,” he said lightly, delivering a hip check to the red-headed young lady seated closest to the aisle. Her look of annoyance changed to one of surprise and then curiosity. “Jason, who’s your friend?” she asked teasingly.

Continued on Fiction Fridays

Friday, June 26, 2009

Anything Exciting?

“Anything exciting happen today?” my husband asked.

I hate that question. For the record, no, nothing exciting happened at the nursing home today. Or at my parents’ house. My life is full of lists and schedules, rituals and responsibilities. I am officially in a rut.

I should count my blessings, right? My husband is caring, affectionate, and one hundred percent faithful. My children are beautiful and brilliant. My family and friends are always there for me. My work provides variety and a steady income. I am in good health and have a strong faith. What on earth do I have to complain about?

TV shows are fun. Shows like CSI and House are suspenseful and exciting. It’s also usually a happy ending, at least the mystery is solved. Probably the “vic” doesn’t feel like it’s very happy. The internet is fun, but hardly exciting.

I suppose, compared to TV, I should be thankful I’ve never come down with a mysterious illness, been kidnapped, been raped, been shot at, been cheated on, wondered who my dad was, struggled with my sexuality, accidentally killed anyone, been held hostage, been diagnosed with a terminal illness, had to bail anyone out of jail, woke up wondering what happened last night, fallen off a building, been cornered by a gang, been lost in a foreign country, lost a fist-fight, met an alien, had to dance for money, or lost my first love.

Maybe even excitement has its limitations. It’s probably not something to be pursued for its own sake. Yet, there’s gotta be a way to spice things up a bit: maybe a dance class, a mini-vacation, or an exotic restaurant. I’ll have to think about that. Maybe I’m restless for a reason. Maybe it’s time for some kind of change in my life, and I have to be prepared to accept it.

Maybe tomorrow, I can answer my husband’s question differently.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

“Serenity Now!”

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

I’ve decided the serenity prayer could answer many of life’s problems. It is often used in AA meetings and other 12-step programs to overcome addictions and repair broken lives.

There are things we cannot change. We cannot change the way we were created, including our face, body shape, and personality. We cannot change our heritage, either our family or our past. We cannot change the actions or feelings of others. We cannot change the weather or the natural laws of the universe.

There are a lot of things that can be changed. We can change our appearance. We can choose our attitudes and our actions. We can choose to make peace with the past, forgiving others, and making up for our mistakes. We can influence others to do what is right. We can plan for the unexpected.

How do we know the difference? That can be harder. I am sure I could have plastic surgeon sculpt my face and body into what I would consider ideal, except for my height. Even if I could afford that, I’m not sure I would do it. I respect my body enough not to subject it to non-health related surgery. I may try to lose weight to be healthy and fit into my clothes better, and wear make-up to soften some of my features, but for the most part, what I have is what I have to live with.

I am very fortunate. I like my family, both the one I was born into and the one I started with my husband. Some people aren’t so fortunate. Some have had to suffer abuse, neglect, or abandonment at the hand of people who were supposed to love them the most. Nothing can change what’s already happened. They have to accept these things as part of their lives, even part of who they have become. They can, however, choose to break the cycle and live their lives with love and respect for others.

No matter what my circumstances, I have to rationally accept that today, they are what they are. No amount of regret or wishing is going to change that. I can move in a better direction, or I can stay where I’m at. I have to have the courage to make positive changes, to grow. Because when something’s stagnant, it just stinks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Looking “Up”

Usually, when I leave the movie theatre with my kids, I ask them if they liked the movie, and what their favorite parts were. Tonight, I was compelled to ask a different question.

“What did you learn from the movie?” I asked my children.

“What did we learn?” my daughter asked, her face contorted into that “what are you talking about” look.

“Yeah. What did the main character do right?” I asked.

“He kept his promises,” she replied, her voice ending high as if it were a question rather than an answer. Then we digressed into a discussion of whether her brother broke his promises.

After we settled that matter, I asked my son what he learned. “That a house is just a house,” was his response. I had forgotten the “people over things” theme.

I could have come up with a dozen more. Carpe Diem, or seize the day. Life is an adventure. People (and animals) enter your life for a reason.

My husband and I had splurged on an evening at the movies because we have so few nights together as a family. At the beginning, he was grumbling about the extra cost due to the 3-D effects. I think the experience was worth every penny.

Pixar’s “Up” was an incredible movie. I’ve heard some people say they cried, but I was more inspired than anything. Without intending to ruin the movie for those who have yet to view it, it is about keeping promises, cross your heart. It’s about acting on what’s really important to you. It’s about valuing the people in your life. As I said, an incredible movie, for young and old alike.

Don’t let me mislead you. It’s also truly entertaining, without the rude and crude humor so prevalent in kids’ movies today. There are no sexual innuendos whatsoever. Don’t be surprised if your kids are saying “Squirrel!” for days afterward. I laughed so loudly at a few parts that my husband had to shush me.

So, if you’re caught in a heat wave, duck into the air conditioning at your local theatre and check out “Up.” I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Looking for Love

Fox is coming out with a show called More to Love. It’s a version of The Bachelor with plus size participants.

Although I am glad that this is a reality show with large women that is not trying to make them lose weight to be more attractive, the ads show women who talk about how they just want to feel beautiful, loved, and wanted. So they decide to compete with 19 other women for the love of a stranger on national TV?

Ladies, ladies, ladies! First of all, the ladies they profiled were already beautiful. They don’t need a man’s approval to feel that way. Secondly, everyone wants to feel loved, but if you don’t feel lovable, you’ll never accept love from someone else.

Our society is messed up. In America, women strive for thin and busty with tanned, clear, wrinkle-free skin. The few women who are able to meet that standard go to great lengths to achieve it, including surgically altering their bodies.

Why do we let a few magazine publishers and TV producers determine what we should look like? Don’t we give God any credit for making us just the way we are?

Granted, obesity is a real health risk. But if a women is a size 16 and the doctor gives a clean bill of health, why shouldn’t she be proud of the way she looks?

Surprisingly, researchers have found that even when women lose a lot of weight, their self-image doesn’t necessarily change for the better. They still see their old self in the mirror, even if it doesn’t reflect reality. Sometimes they’re disappointed that the weight loss didn’t miraculously turn their bodies into model material. Some psychologists call this “phantom fat.”

If you can’t accept yourself when you’re overweight, you probably won’t accept yourself if you lose weight. It’s not about the weight. It’s about accepting who you are, right here, right now. It’s admirable to have goals to be healthier, or to further an education, or to have a loving relationship. You just can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. Or who you are. No matter what, you are beautiful, and you are loved.

Source: Stenson, Jacqueline. “’Phantom fat’ can linger after weight loss.” www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31489881/ns/health-womens_health/

Monday, June 22, 2009

First Aid for the Heart

Finished with my business at the hospital, I pushed open the massive door with the pretty green EXIT sign above it. I started heading down the three floors I had until I reached ground level. On the third step or so, my heel wobbled and I had to grab the handrail to steady myself.

My imagination ran away with me. What if I had fallen? What if I had tumbled head over heels until I landed against the door of the third floor? How long would it take until someone came down that particular staircase? How long would I lay in a pool of my own blood, slowly dying? Or if I were able to make it out into the hallway, crawling on my hands and knees, dizzy from the concussion and dragging my broken leg behind me, would someone help me? With all the nurses and other hospital staff roaming the halls, would anyone stop? Or would they be too busy? Would they think I was being strange and call security? Would they stuff me in an elevator and send me to the ER? Or maybe just kick me down the rest of the stairs to get me there faster?

It is very scary to think about needing help and not having access to it. Or that someone might see you need help and not care enough to give it.

It would be easy to see when someone is bleeding profusely or if he has a limb that is bent at an awkward angle. Obviously he needs help, and walking away from him would be cruel.

It’s not so easy to see when someone is bleeding on the inside. Everyone has their own struggles they deal with. You never know if the person you pass in the hallway is dealing with a difficult illness, tight finances, a rocky marriage, or a life-changing decision. Sometimes, if they’re acquaintances or friends, you might have a better idea what challenges they face. When do you offer first-aid? When do you walk away?

Most people keep their personal feelings and problems quiet and close at hand. Perhaps they don’t want to feel rejected for their problems, or appear to be a failure, or become vulnerable to be hurt more. Maybe they don’t think their problems are worth consideration, or don’t want to burden others.

It takes a keen eye and a soft heart to detect the type of internal bleeding that needs intervention, and the wisdom to know how it should be done. It can only happen when you turn your eyes from your own problems and look to help others. A listening ear is the best band-aid for many of life’s troubles.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Common Sense Dadisms

The following is a guest blog by my dad, Dallas Johnston:

I’m no expert. I never read Parents Magazines. And my nature is to be short on patience and, at times, a fairly quick temper. But, I’ve always felt that most of parenting is “Common Sense”, which in general, is my forte. More important, I’ve felt from day one of becoming a Dad, that being a good parent is probably the most important thing I’ll do in my lifetime. Everyone is limited to the amount of impact they can have on the world, but your kids and their kids for generations to come can have a huge impact to make the world a better place.

  1. Become a working partner with Mom.. I learned this one from my parents. When one of you has “had it up to here”, the other needs to become stronger. When one of you loses their temper, the other needs to be the one to soften things up. There should be times when you can casually talk to each other about your kids. Take advantage of the opportunity to work as a team.
  2. Enjoy all the phases of your kid’s lives. Your kids will grow up in a hurry. Some ages are more difficult than others. But each age has adventures that they only go through once. Be a part of all of it and have no regrets of what you missed.
  3. Dare to Discipline. – The world has rules. There are rewards for good behavior and penalties or punishments for unacceptable behavior. If children don’t learn this at an early age, the penalties become harsher as they grow older. Try to explain why behaviors are unacceptable…how it affects them and the people around them.
  4. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. No is the answer when requests are not safe, not good for you, not in the family economic situation, not fair to everyone in the family. Children need to learn early on that they will not always get there way. Never surrender to a child because they are throwing a fit. These are wars that parents must win.
  5. Don’t be afraid to say “yes”. When my kids asked for things, my immediate response was usually “no way”. That would give me the option to surprise them with a ‘yes’ once in a while. Kids should be rewarded for responsible behavior. As they become teenagers, the reward is additional independence, which they’ve earned by showing their trustworthiness.
  6. Integrity is everything. When kids get in trouble, their defensive mechanisms often cause them to lie about what happened. Mistakes can be overcome, but lying can not be tolerated. If you cannot trust what your child is telling you is the truth, you have a very damaged relationship. This should be made very clear to your children at every stage of growing up.
  7. Stupid Mistakes do not make a child ‘Stupid’. We all have done a lot of stupid things in our lives. Kids will make a lot of dumb mistakes as they experiment with new things in life. Do not call your child an idiot or stupid because they did something without thinking. Mistakes are easy to overcome, but damaging a child’s sense of being and their confidence can be long lasting.
  8. Balance work and family life. Most people who are workaholics have self inflicted themselves with work. Supporting your family in an important part of being Dad. But most employers actually understand the need for family time and are able to adjust to family needs. Look for that balance to fulfill all of your duties.
  9. Be there. Know your kids well enough to know what’s important to them. They won’t always tell you. You don’t have to be at every game, but you do need to figure out when your presence is needed and wanted.
  10. Recognize the difference in your kids. Before you have your second child, you often are naïve enough to think that your kids will all be very similar. Then you learn that they are all unique, driven by different things, have different needs, resolve things differently. You need to recognize and appreciate these differences to work the best with each child.
  11. Take your family to Church. Ideally, Dad should be the spiritual leader of the family. But that actually happens in a very low percentage of families. If you can’t fulfill that role, take one for the team, and attend a church you like with your family. Everyone in life will run across difficulties larger then them, larger than their parents. Give your children the opportunity to be prepared. Also, as children become teenagers, they tend to get advice from people other than their parents. Do you want that person to be a Youth Leader or a Gang Leader.

I’ve been blessed with great kids that have grown up to become adults with character that care about others and are now raising their own families. Taking that time for good parenting is beneficial for the rest of your life. The penalty for ignoring your kids and letting them grow up without you can also follow you around the rest of your life.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Dad

In honor of Father’s day, I’m going to tell you about my dad. Tomorrow, I’ll let him speak for himself.

My dad survived three girls growing up in his house. We always joked that he was badly outnumbered; even the dog was female.

He has never indicated that he was dissatisfied raising three girls rather than any sons. His passion for sports was passed down, however. I started playing baseball when I was six, soccer when I was eight, and basketball when I was nine. I also ran my first 10K when I was nine, and started volleyball when I was ten. I believe there was also a gymnastics class, tennis lessons, and a never-ending golf game in there as well.

As far as I can remember, Dad never missed a single game or meet. Sometimes he’d show up still dressed in his 3-piece suit, and find his place on the bleachers. He has a deep, strong voice, and I could always hear him cheering me on. He would often kick me off the couch at home and get me out tossing a softball, shooting some hoops, or running through the neighborhood. He was a natural teacher, helping me adjust my grip on the bat or align my jumpshot. That didn’t prevent him from keeping score when we played one-on-one.

My dad was never big on punishment. I don’t remember a spanking, although I’m sure I received some. His voice was enough to scare me into obedience. His favorite quote when I was arguing with one of my sisters was, “It just doesn’t matter.” Usually he was right, although what matters to a kids differs from what matters to adults.

As I grew older, I started to resent my dad pushing me all the time. It seemed like nothing I did was good enough. When I finally expressed how I felt, he was flabbergasted. He told me how proud he was of me, how he bragged about me to all his friends. He just wanted me not to settle for good enough, to be my best.

I was a passionate teenager. I always had a cause. My dad didn’t always understand my passion, but he always stood behind me. Even when I tried to take on the school system when they decided to disinclude the invocation from graduation ceremonies due to pressure from the ACLU, he listened patiently and didn’t discourage me from trying to make a difference.

As a fellow adult, I see my dad for the incredible man he is today. He’s caring, disciplined, wise, and has a great sense of humor. Once in a while, someone will tell me I’m just like my dad. I don’t know if I can live up to him, but I certainly take it as a compliment.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Roller Coaster 9

Continued from 6/12 post…

Wendy slept fitfully for the rest of the afternoon and into the night. She didn’t want to leave her oasis in the dark living room. She never heard her mom come in. Every time she awakened, she would try to get back to sleep, to escape the pain.

At 3:00 in the morning, her mind wouldn’t allow her any more sleep. She stared straight up at the ceiling. She felt so hollow, so desperate for answers. “God?”

There was no answer. She felt a little silly, speaking into the darkness, but felt compelled to continue. “I know. I haven’t talked to you since I was a kid. I just don’t know where else to turn.”

She paused, taking a deep breath. “God, I love my daddy. I can’t imagine my life without him. Please let him make it. Take away the cancer. Please, God.”

She stared into the darkness. There were no flashes of light, no ringing bells, no indication her prayer had reached past the ceiling of her house. She knew it was irrational to believe that God would do anything for her. Yet, somehow, a glimmer of hope flickered within her, and she dared to hold on to it.

Wrapping her afghan around her, she traipsed to the office. Her mother’s desktop computer sat there. She turned it on, her eyes aching at the bright glow emanating from the monitor. She began searching online for any information about her father’s disease, including symptoms, treatments, and the prognosis. She read article after article until she felt like her head was going to explode.

She did one final search. She looked up the church around the corner, finally locating a website that included service times. If she was going to ask God for a miracle, she was going to have to prove she was worthy.

It was still early, but she started the shower. She took her time getting ready, wanting to do the church thing right. There was a knock on the door.

“Wendy, what on earth are you doing?” asked her mom sleepily.

“I’m going to church. You wanna come, too?” Wendy asked hopefully.

“Church?” Her mom paused. “I can’t go to church. I have to go back to the hospital. There’s a chaplain there, honey, if you want to talk to someone.”

Wendy considered the idea briefly. “Nope, I’m going to church today. It just seems like the right thing to do.”

Continued on Fiction Fridays…

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Big Daddy

She spins and she sways
To whatever song plays
Without a care in the world
And I'm sitting here wearing
The weight of the world on my shoulders
It's been a long day
And there's still work to do
She's pulling at me
Saying "Dad, I need you
There's a ball at the castle
And I've been invited
And I need to practice my dancing
Oh, please, Daddy, please?"
So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
'Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh, I will dance with Cinderella
I don't want to miss even one song
'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she'll be gone...

Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, Cinderella, is a beautiful portrayal of what a good dad looks like.

I’ve seen some bad dads lately: dads who are apathetic, abusive, or absent. It breaks my heart, because dads have such an important role to play in their children’s lives.

Even though moms are reputed to be the primary nurturers and caregivers, dads or dadlike figures are vital to healthy social and emotional growth. For little boys, dads are role models on what it means to work hard, to compete fairly, and how to lead others, among other things. They also demonstrate how to be strong, respect women, and take care of others.

For little girls, dads teach many of the same kinds of things, but also provide love, acceptance, and affection. Dads are not only role models, but set a pattern for what their daughters will seek in a mate. She will either seek someone to fill the void he leaves, usually to her own destruction, or seek someone who makes her feel loved and important like her father does.

It seems like a tall order, but the key is in Chapman’s song. Even though the dad is busy and has work to do, he stops what he is doing and spends some time with his daughter. He realizes that childhood is fleeting, and there will come a time when she will no longer look up to him in the same way. She needs his attention in her life every step of the way. No thing, no career, no hobby will be more important that those special moments engaging in a child’s life.

Fatherhood is a job to be taken more seriously than any other undertaking. It has the most lasting consequences, and the greatest rewards.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In His Hands

You’re in the back seat, arguing with your sibling over who’s turn it is to play with the cheap kid’s meal toy. Suddenly, your body jerks forward as your loving parent slams on the brakes. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

It’s one of those parent discipline techniques I’ve kept for my repertoire. Only, today, it didn’t work so well.

I was running late to double little league games and my children were arguing: “Let me see it!”

“It’s mine!”

“Let me see it!”

“It’s mine!” This continued for at least a minute before I found a grassy shoulder, checked for any traffic behind me and then did the brake slam.

The car didn’t stop. It slowed and eventually stopped in the grass. It felt like it does when you hit a patch of snow or ice and you eventually slow when the tire meets pavement. Except it’s June.

The kids didn’t even stop their arguing. I wondered if it was a one-time thing. Finally I asked who the toy belonged to and pronounced judgment that she could do what she wanted with it. I slowly pulled back out onto the road, testing the brakes every 200 yards or so. After the third time, I decided that games or no games, I was not driving my children anywhere else in that vehicle.

Except I had to get back home. As long as I started to brake a half block before the stop signs, I did fine. It was a nerve-wracking mile.

As I drove at a snail’s pace, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I slammed on my brakes as someone pulled out in front of me, or stopped short in front of me. What if it hadn’t been a patch of grass? What if my stuttered stop left me in the path of a semi truck? It’s too awful to even consider.

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe Someone kept us from disaster today.

Although some people are ready to point a finger at God when bad things happen, I wonder how many times His hand prevents us from bad things. We never know when an unforeseen circumstance changes our planned path and we avoid something bad.

I’m reminded of the gentleman who worked at the World Trade Center in New York. On September 11, 2001, he was wearing a new pair of shoes as he walked to work. He stopped at a drug store to buy band-aids for a blister that had developed on his foot. He was therefore late to work that morning, and missed being killed in the terrorist attacks.

Today I praise God for all the times he protected me from bad stuff and pray His continued protection and providence for those I love.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cell Phone Safety

I wanted to share some insight regarding wet cell phones. You see, my phone is now kaput because I just didn’t know what you are supposed to do when your cell phone meets water.

  1. Don’t wait three hours to use the restroom just because you’re afraid of little league bathrooms.
  2. Don’t put your cell phone in an unzipped jacket pocket.
  3. Don’t use the restroom while wearing your jacket when your cell phone is in your jacket pocket.
  4. Have quick reflexes when your phone falls out of your jacket pocket and drops toward the toilet.
  5. Do remove the phone from the water or liquid immediately.
  6. Do not rinse off the phone because it is icky from toilet water.
  7. Do remove the battery immediately.
  8. Do not use a hair dryer set on the highest temperature to evaporate the water from your cell phone. Turns out heat is as bad as water for cell phones.
  9. Do wipe off as much water as possible with a soft towel.
  10. Do not leave your wet phone on the bathroom sink while you look up “how to save a wet cell phone” on the internet.
  11. Do use a vacuum cleaner to suck as much water from the phone as possible. Use as small an attachment as possible. Do this for at least 20 minutes.
  12. Do not use bleach water to sanitize your phone. Alcohol is acceptable.
  13. Do not put the battery back in your phone to see if it works now. It will probably just vibrate weakly and you’ve just sent an electrical charge through your wet phone.
  14. Do not wrap your phone in bread and secure it with your daughter’s elastic bands. Despite a glowing testimony on the internet, it doesn’t work and looks really silly on the window sill.
  15. Do put your phone in a bowl of uncooked rice to soak up any additional moisture.
  16. Do check your phone and battery for a tiny sticker that may have changed colors. If so, you’re phone will probably not revive.
  17. Do wait 48 hours before removing your phone from the rice before replacing the battery to see if you’ve been successful. You may need to charge it first.
  18. Do feel free to “borrow” your child’s phone in the mean time.
  19. Do avoid panic attacks over people trying to call you or text you, thinking you are irresponsible or unfriendly for not answering.
  20. Do realize that my phone is still dead and none of this advice is guaranteed to work! Water and electronics don’t mix.

Good luck! May your cell phone stay dry and functional until your provider allows you to trade-in for a new one.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Better than Rubies

“For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” –Proverbs 8:11

Wisdom is difficult to understand or appreciate. In a society where truth is considered an arbitrary subject, and tolerance is valued more highly than what is right, wisdom becomes something of past generations, gained merely be life experience.

Even though I seek wisdom, I don’t ever feel wise. It seems like daily I have decisions to make and I rarely feel confident that I’m choosing the right path. I have this twisted desire to interfere in the lives of others- to give them advice or provide for them- and never know for sure what the right thing to do is.

I am also horrible at organizing my time, things, or finances. I know what I value, but it’s difficult to make tough decisions. For example, I play flute in the church orchestra. I originally signed up to get my husband involved. The problem is, I haven’t played in a group since sixth grade. It’s like a 12 year old trying to read War and Peace. I’m in way over my head. I keep a fingering chart nearby because I can’t always remember the notes, and a change in key signature throws me for a major loop.

At rehearsal last night, I asked myself why I was doing it. It’s nice to be well-rounded, and to re-learn a skill. I enjoy the company of the other musicians. On the other hand, I hate not being good at something. It took me about ten minutes just to get tuned. I was just glad the other flute player was busy with her high school graduation party. I’m going to have to practice, and how am I going to find time to do that with four ballgames scheduled this week?

As a teenager, I was once told I was wise beyond my years. The problem is I think my years caught up with my wisdom.

James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

So, if I tell you I’m a praying person, it’s not to brag about my spirituality. It’s because I lack wisdom! I find comfort in placing all of my doubts, fears, worries, concerns, and misgivings into the hands of God. I believe He knows what to do with them. I know He has a plan, even if I can only see a small portion at a time. He gives me enough wisdom for today. That’s really all I need, after all.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

To Date or Not to Date

It was a friendly debate. Should you go out on a date with someone if there is no initial spark of attraction?

On the one hand, if you’re not attracted to someone, why spend the time getting to know him or her if you’re sure it’s not going to become more than a friendship?

On the other hand, how do you know if someone has an attractive personality if you don’t take the time to find out? Or, another side of this argument may be, why not date just for fun?

As a person who has been out of the dating game for over a decade, my views may be a little old fashioned. And wishy washy. After all, my answer would be, “it depends.”

First of all, it depends whether you are male or female. A male’s initial attraction to someone is probably 95 percent physical. It may be the color of her hair, her smile, her eyes, and oh, yes, definitely her body. Although it will be shaped by his culture, what he finds attractive in the opposite sex will be highly individualized.

On behalf of the many women who do not reflect American society’s ideal of the airbrushed supermodel, I think men should at least talk to and get to know someone before they decide if she is dateable material. This both eliminates the whitewashed tombs- pretty on the outside and deadly on the inside- and gives others the chance to let their true beauty shine through.

Women, however, tend to take in the whole picture. While observing his hair, face, and body, they are noting the level of respect in his eyes and his voice. They are processing his anecdotes to determine if he’s self-centered or soft-hearted. They are also monitoring their own feelings and deciding whether he gives her that indescribable feeling of “like.”

Therefore, I think women are better equipped to decide upon an initial meeting if someone would be a compatible date. Although physical attraction cannot be left out of the equation when choosing whom you should date, it definitely should not be the sole deciding factor. You can never judge a book by its cover.

I do not think dating should be purely recreational either. When you ask someone out, or agree to go out on a date with him or her, it should represent an agreement of “I like you enough to see if our relationship could be more than a friendship.” Again, it may be old-fashioned, but dating should be a way to find out if the other person is potential marriageable material. When that’s not the case and expectations aren’t clear, someone is bound to be hurt. Why date someone you can’t see yourself with down the road?

So, I have to take a middle of the road response to the debate. You should date someone you are attracted to, but be slow to write someone off as a potential “more-than-a-friend.” As always, honesty, especially with yourself, is always the best policy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Darkness

Dark clouds frame the softball field; my daughter is preparing to play another game.  I remember yesterday, when the hot, bright sunshine made the world to seem to glitter.  Colors were brighter, and shapes were enhanced by contrasting shadows. 

At church, our pastor has been preaching out of 1 John.  1 John 1:5 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”  Even though there is no darkness in God, there is God in the darkness.  Sometimes He’s hard to find, but that doesn’t mean He’s not there.  Like the sun in the thunderstorm, God still exists, obstructed from view by the storms and circumstances of life. 

When the darkness is within, seeping into our very souls, it may take a fight to find God.  For anyone else that battles depression, you know that anything can set off that downward spiral of hopelessness and helplessness.  You start to doubt that you are loved and created for a purpose- doubting the very character of God. 

It takes superhuman effort (and supernatural help) to fight the negative thoughts that creep into your head when you’re already down.  Even King David struggled, asking “why so downcast, oh my soul?”  Your focus has to be readjusted, as if donning a new pair of glasses, to see goodness, joy, and hope. 

Sometimes, however, darkness has a purpose.  Even our bodies are unable to create enough sleep hormone, melatonin, without the dark.  When the sun goes behind a cloud, even for a moment, a pall is cast on the world.  Our eyes adjust to the reduced light, colors dull, and everything seems softer and more subtle.  It’s time to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate.         

I read about something called “the dark night of the soul” in the book “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby.  From what I understand it is a darkness that comes not from being separated from God, but from allowing oneself to be separated from the things of the world in order to come closer to God.  It’s a spiritual purification, like iron being purified in fire.  The iron probably doesn’t like it much, but the process makes it stronger and more refined.  

Am I willing to experience the terror of the darkness, if I know that there is light on the other side?  Will I go if someone is there beside me who knows the way?  Do I believe I am able to make it all the way through, without giving up and giving in to the darkness? 

When darkness comes, I will seek the Light.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Roller Coaster 8

Continued from 6/5 post…

Wendy navigated her bike down the stairway, focusing on one stair at a time.  She felt numb, and that was okay.  She was tired of feeling, of thinking… anything.  She wheeled her bike past the disapproving lady at the front desk, ignoring the glare she felt emanating from that direction.

When she finally arrived outside the hospital, she took a deep breath.  She felt lighter and freer, as if she had just released from a dark musty closet.  She slowly mounted her bike and started to pedal home. 

When she arrived at her house, she left her bike on the front lawn.  Her dad would disapprove, but he wasn’t around right now.  She found her spot on the couch, the afghan still spilled unevenly over the cushions, the half empty bag of chips on the coffee table, the remote lying skewed on the floor.

Wendy suddenly felt very tired.  She kicked off her shoes, leaving them in the middle of the living room floor.  She pulled the blanket almost entirely over her head, wishing she could disappear under it completely.  She finally grabbed the remote, trying to find something to distract her from the drama of life.

She settled on a sit-com in syndication, not caring that she had already seen the episode before.  Before the show was half over, she had fallen asleep.

She awoke two hours later, hot, thirsty, and groggy.  She kicked off the afghan and tried to fall back asleep, but sleep wouldn’t return.  She finally got up and got a drink of water.  She knew she should think about lunch, but had no interest in food.

Wendy returned to her little cave and surfed the channels until she found a movie.  It was an old science fiction movie with bad special effects, but she didn’t care. 

Continued on Fiction Fridays…

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Still Raining

Rain. It’s still raining. It’s been raining almost nonstop for the last 16 hours.

It’s funny how rain is a good thing when it’s been dry, or if it takes the place of snow. However, when it’s summer time, and there are ballgames to be played and swings to be swung and parks to visit and beaches to play and outside parties to plan… rain becomes the enemy.

If I could stay home all day in front of the fireplace with a good mystery novel, listening to the rain drum on the roof or the window pane, I would be perfectly content with an all day rain. In fact, a colorful thunderstorm would be even better, with all the drama of booming crashes and blinding flashes of light.

As it is, I got wet walking my daughter to the school so she can catch the bus to her summer art class. Although my giant umbrella was perfect for that walk, it was a little hard to maneuver in and out of the minivan when going to and from work and lunch. On the way home from child care, my daughter removed her shoes and ran through the puddles. My son stole my umbrella.

I thrive on sunshine. I long for the warmth of it on my face. It’s light seems to give me energy, as if my brain is solar-powered. Sometimes I see it as a visual reminder of God’s love and grace. It gives me hope that nothing is as bad as it appears.

Wait. The sky is clearing. Has the rain stopped? I have to go! I have things to do and people to see! Now, if I could just see the sunshine, everything would be perfect. Maybe there will be a rainbow…

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Daddy’s Girl

She’s a blaze of lightening on the basketball court. She dribbles down the center of the court, passing off to a guard posted on the three-point line and then running to make a pick at the baseline. She rolls in toward the basket, arms out and ready for the pass. The ball comes to her on a bounce. She takes a step and drives straight up to the basket, banking the ball off the backboard and into the hoop. The buzzer sounds.

Melissa bounds toward the locker room with the rest of her team, meeting their hands with high fives. It’s half time and the Hawks are now up by two. On the way out of the gym, her coach slaps her on the back, square on her number 22.

She listens intently to the coach’s talk, habitually biting on her nails as he discusses his plan for tightening the defense. As soon as he closes his speech, the team gathers around for quick cheer. “Fly Hawks fly!”

Melissa runs back on to the court. There’s still a few minutes to shoot before the game starts. She plays her own game of “Around the World,” shooting from different spots on her half of the court. One of her shots hits the rim and bounces off toward the concession stand. She runs after it, nearly knocking over a tall gentleman with his hands full with a large popcorn and a bottle of water.

“Sorry,” she says, scrambling to corner the ball and leave a path for him to pass.

“Hi Missy,” he says softly, looking at her almost bashfully.

She stops, hugging the ball close to her. No one had called her Missy since she transferred to this school. “Do I know you?” she asks. She studies his face. There is something oddly familiar about that smile, those eyes.

He took a deep breath. “I’m Trey.”

Trey. That was her father’s name. Her heart lurched. She hadn’t seen her dad for eleven years. Her mother had left with another man while her dad was in the service, and she never had a way to contact him.

“Daddy?” she ventures, tentatively. He nods, a gentle smile forming behind his eyes. She wants to hug him and never let go. She has a million questions.

The buzzer sounds. She swallows, trying to find her game face again. “I’ll be here,” he says, answering the burning question that will not come to her lips.

She smiles, relieved, her head still spinning. She dribbles back to her bench as her newly found father climbs the bleachers. He settles back with his popcorn, a silly grin on his face. “Yep,” he thinks. “22. That’s my number. That’s my girl.”

Based on a true story.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mom’s Musings

Sometimes I worry about what kind of mom I am. I don’t spend inordinate amounts of time with my children. Sometimes I yell at them. Sometimes I say things I shouldn’t about people or situations that frustrate me. Sometimes I forget to keep up with their papers, projects, and events from school and activities. Sometimes I shut myself up in my room for some alone time.

When it comes down to it, I am largely responsible, along with my husband, for the kind of people my children become. By helping support their interests and abilities as they grow, we give them tools to become what they are created to be. By instructing and disciplining, we teach them what is and is not appropriate in the social arena. It’s more than turning my children into responsible citizens, however.

Whether I like it or not, their view of the world is colored by their interaction with me. When I show them affection, they feel how great it is to be loved. When I laugh with them, they learn how to find joy. When I set boundaries for them, they know where they stand with me, and know security. When I listen to them, they feel important and cared for. When I surprise them with gifts, they feel how fun it is to receive.

However, if I criticize someone, including other drivers, they think it’s okay to be critical of other people. If I lose my temper, they will not learn self control. If I talk about how fat I am, they will have a poor body image. If I enjoy violent television shows, they will see violence as a practical solution. If I withdraw from the world when overwhelmed, they will try to escape their problems as well.

My kids watch what I do, too. They notice when I pour myself a ginger ale while they drink milk. They notice when the car feels like it’s traveling faster than it ought to be, and know speeding is against the law. They notice when I procrastinate returning overdue library books. They notice when I leave my things by the front door instead of putting them away. They notice when I don’t answer my phone after finding out who’s calling.

Of course, I know I’m not perfect. As my children grow older, they will continue to observe my behavior and draw conclusions that will color their views of who I am, what I value, and what I believe. In turn, they will have to decide who they are, what they value, and what they believe, and how those aspects may or may not differ from mine. I hope that, with God’s blessing, I give them the tools to stay true to themselves and make wise decisions along the way.

Monday, June 8, 2009

From Different Planets?

At one point in my life, I believed there was no fundamental difference between males and females, with the obvious physical exceptions. I was a 10-year-old feminist. I believed I could play football, excel in math, run fast, become president, and win a fist fight as well as any boy I knew. I rebelled against the idea that my passions and talents might be limited by people who made up arbitrary rules about which sports, activities or classes I could participate in.

I still feel the hairs on the back of my neck bristle when people, especially children, are encouraged to behave in a particular way simply due to their gender. Let them play with whatever they want to, whether it’s trucks or dolls or blocks or crayons. Don’t let “boys be boys” and allow rude behavior or destruction. Don’t make girls “act like a lady” and prevent them from playing in dirt or running around.

As I grew older, I began to see that there were some general differences between men and women. While I could play football with my friends in their backyard, and make a pretty good receiver, I couldn’t tackle them. I would jump on their backs and they would run for the goal line. Men have the ability to enjoy increased physical strength, thanks to their muscle fiber and testosterone.

I spent years hustling to move tables and other heavy items whenever there was a need, just to show I could. Then I got smart. It was easier for the guys to use their muscle, and they enjoyed showing it off. I think there’s something to rescuing the “damsel in distress” that prevents them from denying a request for physical help. It makes them feel needed and important.

Women enjoy the security that the perceived strength of a man provides. It’s the security of having someone walk her home on a dark night, or get up in the middle of the night to check out that mysterious noise. It’s the security of a bear hug that tries to protect from emotional pain.

Women are the relationship gatekeepers. Little girls’ friendships are based on who they like and who is nice. Early on they are sensitive to the opinions and feelings of other people. They will try to keep the peace when the guys want to fight it out. They are able to empathize and make decisions that accomplish the most good for the most people.

Men need women to understand the dynamics of relationships. In an all-male universe, communication would be limited to a series of grunts and shrugs, in the style of the Tim “The Toolman” Taylor character on the television show, “Home Improvement.” When men are open to the dimension and texture that various channels of communication bring to life, they will discover success in relationships and in other pursuits.

“Viva la difference!” Praise God we are not a world of unisex automatons, but individuals, created with strengths and weaknesses, hopes and desires, life and a purpose. Praise God that our differences do not limit us but enable us to reach our true potential.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where Am I Going?

If you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t get there. That sounds obvious, but even in the everyday, simple things of life, it can be a little bit of a challenge to figure out your destination and the best path to get there.

Suppose, for example, if someone were to be headed to church for a youth meeting, and instead started driving to work without thinking about it, even though it was a Sunday evening. That person would not have made it to the church if she had not suddenly asked, “Where am I going?”

In life, you have to decide where you want to go before you start moving in one direction or another. If you don’t have a goal, you will waste a lot of time and energy doing things you don’t really care about.

With summertime in northern Indiana comes construction. Even though I know that my usual route to work is blocked off, it took a few times driving to a dead end street before I learned to turn at the intersection prior to the construction site.

You have to learn from your mistakes. Everyone messes up, and you definitely won’t go anywhere if you never leave the house. Just be sure to adjust your route to match changing circumstances.

When trying desperately to find the location for a wedding a few weeks ago, I easily found the park where the wedding was going to take place. Since it was a county park, however, covering several miles of trails and supporting half a dozen pavilions, I was still lost and the wedding was 15 minutes away. I found out I had driven right past the correct pavilion and had to turn around.

Things are not always what they seem. Even when you think you have it all figured out, it may take some adjustment and advice to get to where you want to go. Even when you’re scared, if you push through it you’ll be successful.

I had received secondhand instructions to get to a ballpark in a neighboring city. My GPS took me to Greene Dr. instead of Greene Rd. When I found Greene Rd., I didn’t know if I should head north or south. Since one way was a dead end, guessing and testing finally got me to my destination. It took me nearly 45 minutes to get to somewhere about 20 minutes away.

Avoid dead ends, and don’t trust your life to electronic devices. As useful as phones, TVs, and computers are, they can zap a lot of time that could be used to spend time with people and pursue worthwhile goals.

When traveling to another city to visit an art fair, I let my friend drive. She had no idea where we were traveling to. She had to rely on me to get most of the way there, and we followed my sister the rest of the way. Once we arrived, we needed people to direct us to the nearest parking area.

Don’t be afraid to rely on other people to get you where you need to go. As much as I respect Simon and Garfunkel, no man is a rock, or an island. Instead, we “get by with a little help from [our] friends.”

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Benefits of Sleep

Everyone knows that sleep deprivation can cause problems. When I’m in need of sleep, I feel drained and lethargic. I don’t concentrate well and I tend to be irritable. In order to persuade myself to get a few extra z’s, I’ve been researching the health benefits of sleep.

Heart Health

Apparently the cycle of sleep does something to keep cholesterol levels and blood pressure down. What would happen to the pharmacy industry if we treated high blood pressure with more sleep?

Cancer Prevention

Melatonin needs dark and quiet to be produced in the body. Without it, we don’t get sleepy, and we are at a higher risk for cancer. Sleep also allows the body to repair damaged cells and reduce inflammation in the body.

Stress Reduction

When we’re well rested, our bodies are less likely to produce stress hormones that can cause inflammation in the body and also make it difficult to sleep. Sleep also refreshes the mind to deal with problems in new ways.

Alertness

Sleeping refreshes the mind and the body, allowing us to have more energy and to remain more alert during the day. If we use that energy to do new and active things when we’re awake, we will be more likely to be able to fall asleep at night.

Memory

Our dreams help us to process the day’s information. With proper amounts of sleep our memory functions properly, and we’re better able to make connections and solve problems. Sleep deprivation can cause short-term memory issues similar to dementia.

Weight Loss

Adequate sleep ensures the proper balance of hormones that control appetite. Studies have linked fewer hours of sleep with obesity. Obviously, the fewer hours you are awake, the fewer hours you have available to consume calories.

Less Depression

Serotonin, a brain chemical responsible mood regulation, is kept in balance with proper amounts of sleep. Unfortunately, depression itself can cause insomnia, making it hard to get enough sleep.

Body Repair

During sleep our bodies repair themselves from damage done during the day. That’s why increased rest is recommended when we’re sick. Our body needs the extra time to fight infection and fix itself.

The irony of this article is I am trying to function on about five hours of sleep and a full weekend at this very moment. It’s been humbling to try to work through spelling errors, impatience, and a wandering mind to complete it. To all of you who are trying to skate by on minimum sleep, you’re cheating yourself and those around you. Go to bed! Even a nap is good for you.

Mom, Dad… “I told you so” is not appropriate at this point. :)

Source: Stibich, Mark. “Top 10 Health Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep.” http://longevity.about.com/od/lifelongenergy/tp/healthy_sleep.htm

Roller Coaster 7

Continued from 5/29 post…

Wendy felt the tears fill her eyes. She hurriedly looked away and blinked, regaining composure. When she turned back, she was looking right into Jason’s eyes. The mischievous glint was gone, and instead she saw deep blue eyes, filled with concern and compassion… for her? She didn’t understand how a stranger could care so much.

“I… I’m not,” she finally blurted out. “I’m not ready for this. I don’t want to let go.” A sob welled up deep within her, and she felt weak in the knees. Without a word, he drew her into a brief hug, holding her for just a moment as the tears began to fall, then gently pushing her to arms length.

“It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. No one expects you to be strong all the time.” He spoke the truth, but she wasn’t ready to hear it.

Wendy murmured a hurried “excuse me” and brushed past him. She swiped angrily at the tears, trying to find a place to hide. Just past the elevators she spotted a door with a restroom symbol. She burst in, thankful it was designed for one person. She locked the door behind her, then slowly slumped to the floor. She buried her face in her hands. How could she break down like that?

She let the tears flow freely now, wishing for an escape, for a way to fix everything. After a few minutes, she decided she’d enjoyed the pity party long enough, and stood up to wash her face. Her eye makeup had smeared, and red blotches had appeared around her eyes. She took a few deep breaths, and slowly opened the door.

As Wendy headed down the hall, she could see the back of Jason, standing at the nurse’s station, laughing with another aide. She walked quickly with her head down, making a beeline for her father’s room.

Her dad was sleeping again. “Mom, I’m heading home,” she whispered, as if her small voice would wake the snoring giant.

“He’s coming home tomorrow, Wendy.” Her mom seemed excited about the news, and Wendy didn’t know why. She shrugged and gave a half-hearted wave, and left the room.

When she headed down toward the lounge, Jason was there, wheeling her bicycle toward her. “Take care,” he said, his eyes catching her own once again. She managed a weak smile and a nod, then walked her bike toward the stairway.

To be continued on Fiction Fridays…

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Uprooted

Yesterday, driving down the street to work, I didn’t notice all the stumps along the side of the road. I knew there was a lot of construction, and the trees had been cut down to widen the road. Their remains had been left, leveled to the ground, for months now.

Today there was a big yellow excavator blocking half the street. It was making it’s way up one side of the street, apparently using an arrowhead shaped attachment to dig up the stumps of the trees that had once lined the street.

The stumps, turned upside down with roots exposed, were huge, gnarly monstrosities aligned along the road.

Sometimes I wish I could see people’s roots. What is keeping them upright? Where have they drawn their strength and vitality from? Did they have to struggle to get what they needed out of life? Do their roots run deep or stretch out wide?

Some people are ashamed of their roots, even though they are the basis of who we are. Our ancestors, our parents, our friends, and our faith are all parts of who we have become to be, even if it is in spite of what we were given or how we were treated. Those that struggle the most either give up and wither away, or become the strongest of all.

Sometimes we’re forced to dig deeper to find that which gives us life and passion. When our roots are anchored deep, we are single-minded and disciplined in achieving our goals. Sometimes we stretch out to others for stability, making our base wide. If we depend on others alone for our identity however, we may be easy to tip over and fall.

Even though most people are only going to see the shiny green leaves that represent who you are on the outside, it doesn’t hurt to expose a little of your roots once in awhile, even if you think they’re a little ugly. The truth is, whether ugly or not, your roots make up a large part of who you are, and the people closest to you are genuinely interested in knowing all of you.

Don’t be afraid to grow, tree! Stretch your branches to the sky, dig your roots in deep, and don’t forget to photosynthesize!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Thinker

thinker How does a treeline form? I’m looking at the trees surrounding my kids’ school, and the tops form a fairly smooth line. You would think, with the wide variety of trees, it would be more uneven and choppy at the top. Instead, the line itself rises and falls in a series of shallow undulating waves, with all the trees right next to each other coming up to approximately the same height.

I wonder if it has to do with the amount of sunlight available to the leaves. Maybe once the tree grows to the height of the surrounding trees, it no longer has to fight for sunlight. Maybe all the trees were planted at the same time, although my guess is that they were here before the school or the playground. Maybe the slope of the land affects the height of the trees, since it might affect how much water is collected in each place.

I’m always thinking. It’s like the little “why” that started when I was a little girl never died. Usually I think about people or relationships or problems. Sometimes my husband will ask me what I’m thinking, and I’m embarrassed to say what’s really on my mind, either because it’s too mundane or too bizarre.

Maxwell's bookJohn C. Maxwell advocates “think time” in his book, “How Successful People Think: Change your Thinking, Change your Life.” I think the idea is spectacular, although I’ve never found a good way to implement it. The idea is to schedule times during your day, week, and year to problem solve, plan for the future, and imagine the possibilities- both in your personal life and in your career. If we think before we make decisions, considering the possibilities and consequences first, we have a better chance of being successful. Without thought, actions are primarily reactions, and vision and goals go out the window.

I’ve heard it said that humans use only ten percent of their total brain capacity. Such statements have led to science fiction stories surrounding ESP and telekinesis. I’m not sure how that works, although it would be nice to have such abilities. I do believe that envisioning yourself being successful at something increases your chances of doing well. I believe a good attitude can help heal your body. I believe evaluating your past choices leads to better decisions in the future.

The biggest problem with thinking, however, is the difficulty in recording the good thoughts, especially when they may occur in the middle of the night, or in the shower, or when you’re driving.

If only thinking burned more calories… I’ll have to think more about that later.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

“Gotta Make a Change”

A song on the radio has been haunting me. It seems like every day I hear it, sometimes more than once. I’m not sure why, but I wonder if God’s trying to tell me something.

“The Motions” by Matthew West:

This might hurt, it's not safe
But I know that I've gotta make a change
I don't care if I break,
At least I'll be feeling something
'Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of life
I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
without Your all consuming passion inside of me
I don't wanna spend my whole life asking,
"What if I had given everything,
instead of going through the motions?"
No regrets, not this time
I'm gonna let my heart defeat my mind
Let Your love make me whole…

The phrase that captures me the most is, “I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything…’” Isn’t that haunting? How would life be different if it was lived with complete abandon and unbridled passion? I don’t mean anarchy or sexual indulgence. I mean lining up your values and dreams and living by them, without being imprisoned by fear… fear of failure, fear of rejection, or fear of being hurt.

Amelia Earhart said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

I’m not sure what kind of change I need to make, but I do feel restless, like I’m, well, “going through the motions.” Is it really as simple as Earhart said, that after making a decision, you just hang on, overcome your fears and enjoy the ride? How do I “let my heart defeat my mind,” as West says, and have an answer for all the reasons not to act?

I am tired of the “nothingness of life.” I want my life to be something, a unique contribution, a legacy. I want to feel like I did when I ran cross country, like I gave everything I had every step of the way.

It’s not easy. The powers that be want us to perform and conform and go along to get along. That’s why E.E. Cummings said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world that's doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.”

Never stop fighting. “Just okay is not enough.”

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mad Pride

He asked to talk to me on the phone. I’m not sure why. He’s a former nursing home resident, known for his sexual innuendos, talking to himself, and refusing treatment for his schizophrenia for fear of impotence. He left against medical advice almost a year ago, and is back at the psychiatric hospital, needing a long term situation.

As an employee at a nursing home, we often have to consider the issue of “competence.” At what point does a person lose his or her right to make decisions because they are no longer mentally capable of making them? Who makes the determination? How can nursing home residents lose their rights to choose treatment due to incompetence when they are lots of “incompetent” people living in our community who do not make decisions that serve their own best interests.

Ray Sandford of St. Paul, Minnesota, is fighting for his right to forego his monthly electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments. A lot of people don’t know that some mental health professionals still use electroshock therapy. No one is even sure how it works, but by inducing seizures, ECT seems to reset the brain, and put a halt to severely psychotic or depressive behavior.

Mr. Sandford has a history of psychotic behavior including violence and acting on delusions. He has been declared legally incompetent, but he and a group of other people diagnosed with mental disorders want to be able to pick and choose their treatments. They want their diagnoses respected, rather than treated like a problem. They celebrate mad pride.

We have had residents at the nursing home throw chairs through windows, bite, punch, kick, and try to run away. Some have had a diagnosed mental illness; others have had a form of dementia. Without some kind of treatment, they are likely to hurt themselves or other people.

The question arises, again, as to where the line is drawn, and when someone becomes incapacitated to the point that he or she forfeits the right to say “no.” Realistically, everyone has a bit of mental illness lurking in the corners of their consciousness. Most people have enough common sense and social grace to overcome their shadows. Then every once in awhile, you hear about someone that cracks, and loses it.

So, maybe we should all join the mad pride cause. Instead of the fist high in the air, I think the gesture should be the finger encircling the ear, also known as the “cuckoo” sign. When you see me on the street and flash me the sign, I’ll know that you, too, are crazy, and proud of it.

Source: “Patient wants right to refuse electroshocks.” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30670631/