Tuesday, December 7, 2010

If I Could Give Everyone Just 5 Books...

I'm an avid reader (understatement of the century), and so, if I were to overthink this topic, this blog would never get written.  The top three on my list are the standing top 3, they'd never change, and would always be on my list in this order.  Probably a blog on "If I Could Give Everyone Just 10 Books" would have been more accurate, but most folks won't read one or two, so shoving 10 at you would just be overkill.

So, If I could give everyone just 5 books, I'd give these:

1.  "The Bible", by God - Red Letter of course, probably New International Version or the New Living Translation, for teens I'd give "The Way" Bible, it's what I used as a teen myself and is my most used and abused Bible to date. 

2.  "To Kill a Mockingbird", by Harper Lee - I can't say enough about how beloved this book is to me. The story is never old, it always touches a deep place inside the heart and conscience.  No wonder Harper Lee never released another book to the world, she didn't need to.  It doesn't get better than this.

3.  "The Littlest Angel" by Charles Tazwell - the family tradition for my immediate family of two, is to read this book every Christmas Eve night.  I dare anyone to read it outloud all the way through without at least choking up a little.  Me, I bawl.  Give yourself the gift of this book, you'll be glad you did.

4.  "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" by Betty Smith - full of hope and inspiration, a story of a family living in less than ideal circumstances, how one sucummbs to those circumstances, how some survive them, and one who overcomes them. *

5.  "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller - I have such an intellectual crush on Donald Miller I can barely stand it.  His writing is just like cool, soothing water.  Ever been disillusioned with church?  With a parent?  With life?  Yeah, well so had Don - and he ain't afraid to tell you about it and to also tell you how he moved through it and on to the brighter side.  I LOVE THIS BOOK.  (Thanks Kelly!)

* Number 4 was really a toss up.  I could have easily included "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck here.  If you haven't read any Steinbeck, do yourself a favor and add this book to your reading list.  It will take some real effort, and a copy of the Cliff Notes (there's an entire chapter on Dust - deeply moving believe it or not), but it will be worth it.  I promise.

What 5 books would you give? 

Monday, November 29, 2010

If you can read this, I'm not last!

I wish I'd had that on the back of the T-shirt I was wearing during the Atlanta Thanksgiving Half Marathon 2010 last Thursday.  I actually did it, I finished - via run/walking - my very first 1/2 Marathon.  That's 13.1 miles for those who don't know, and trust me, the .1 counts!  I didn't finish fast, but I sure didn't finish last - what a good feeling to set a goal and accomplish it.  I haven't felt that feeling in a VERY long time.

I won't lie.  I was a WRECK for quite a while leading up to the race.  When I'd signed up for the Half, a total allowable time limit was given of 5 hours, I put down that I'd be able to finish in just 4.  Two weeks before the race, I learned that the website was now indicating an allowable time limit of only 3.5 hours! I had missed a crucial 6 weeks of training just a month out from the big day, and those 6 weeks were lounging around in the front of my brain like big ol' couch potatos, systematically wearing down any shreds of confidence I'd built up earlier in the summer about finishing 13.1 miles on foot (my own foots!).  The shorter amount of time combined with the lack of training had me in a terrible place mentally.

The final three days before race day, I had to fight myself almost continually to stave off tears.  I was so afraid.  I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to start and finish the race running.  I was afraid that I'd not be able to finish all 13.1 mi. which would cause feelings of shame and almost total mortification when my friends found out. I was afraid I'd let my daughter down.  I was afraid that I'd be the very last person to finish (This was, hands down, my biggest fear.  I now know that even had this been the case, in the very personal battle the Half was for me, I'd have still acheived something huge. And so did whoever did end up finishing last.)

5:00 a.m. Thanksgiving Morning arrived.  Rebecca and I were on the interstate headed to Turner Field by 5:45 a.m.  We got really close to the stadium, and I was about to bust up into a full on bawling cry-fest.  Just then, I took a wrong turn and ended up in... well, in an area of Atlanta you REALLY don't want to end up in.  Isn't it funny how God knows just what you need right when you need it?  I was forced to stop thinking about my own ridiculous fears and focus on getting to a safe and recongnizable area of Atlanta and to Turner Field.  We got there, parked and stepped outside onto the parking lot.

Everywhere I looked I saw people who looked like professional athletes!  Rebecca caught me staring at two of these "pros" and I  must've had a terrified expression on my face becasue she said "Mom, you can DO this! Don't worry, you're gonna do fine."  I felt sick to my stomach.  My legs felt wobbly.  Even so, we made our way pretty quickly to the front of our corral.  We were in the last (read: slowest) grouping of runners.  A nice jewish man named David helped me get my timing tag onto my shoe - my hands were shaking something serious!  I got my headphones plugged into my iphone so I could have music to help pace myself.  I dropped my inhaler, somone picked it up and handed it to me.  The announcer announced that it was 20 minutes until race time.  I took two puffs on my inhaler.  People were smiling, so I tried to make my grimace look as cheerful as possible.  I noticed 4 arms flailing and 2 heads bobbing in the corral just ahead of us - Bryan and Becky!  They looked THRILLED to be there, and so I tried to look thrilled too as I waved back.

All this time, I kept telling myself "Are you crazy?  You cannot do this!  Why are you here?  You're gonna look like an idiot soon."  Then I hear the announcer saying that the wheelchair participant had just left the starting line and that the on foot runners would start in waves momentarily.  Rebecca says "Mom, if that wheelchair guy can do this, you can so do this."  I said "I know, I know, you're right."  But inside I was saying "Yeah, riiiight."  The race begins. They move through each corral.  Before I knew it, we found ourselves at the starting line about 12 minutes after the first group of runners left.  Rebecca hugs me and readies herself.  The announcer says "Runners, Ready. . . GO!"

My feet started moving - running in fact - almost without me even realizing it.  I see Rebecca shoot ahead and I lose her in the crowd.  It seemed like several hundred folks passed me, but when I looked back, the start line was a good clip behind me and so were a TON of people.  I just kept running.  During training, I'd run 1/4 of a mile and walk the rest, but I just kept running on Thursday and before I knew it I'd reached the 1 mile marker and I'd run the ENTIRE WAY!  That was my first accomplishment of the day - the first full mile I'd ever run without stopping to walk in my entire life!!!!

I walked and ran, walked, walked, walked, and ran some more for most of the duration of the race.  We'd pass random people on the street and they'd shout "Melissa, you've got this girl!  Way to go!"  (They could read my name on my bib.)  Every time we'd pass a cop working the race, they'd say "Happy Thanksgiving!"  The volunteers handing out water, Powerade, and sports beans would say "You're doing great Melissa!"  "You're almost half way girl!" "Lookin' Good!"  Somewhere between mile 7 and mile 8, I started thinking "I cannot do this, I can't make it to the end."  And I kept thinking it.  Over, and over and over.  My legs felt like lead, my feet like boulders.  My shoulders hurt, my arms ached.  My attitude, it SUCKED. 

At about 8.5 miles, a young man missing the bottom half of his legs and wearing sports prosthetics jogged by and he smiled as he passed me.  The first slice of pie I was served on Thanksgiving was Humble Pie.   I mean, come on, the guy is missing half of his legs and he's RUNNING and SMILING and I am here to tell you that this race was not his first time at the rodeo.

I immediately asked God's forgiveness for taking my own working legs for granted, for doubting the ability He's given me to use my body to do physically hard things, for not treating my body as the temple He tells me it is.  I picked up the pace, when I'd find myself thinking I can't run, I can't jog a second longer - I'd pray, asking God to help me run just a few steps farther.   

By mile 9 the running crowd had thinned out considerably.  We passed a couple of young guys with a megaphone, shouting "Every single one of you inspires me!  You inspire my friend too - don't let his Iron Man Medal fool you, He's inspired!"  We passed a soup kitchen, some of the beautiful homeless people there shouted encouragements.  As we passed the home of an elderly black woman in the Ebenezer Baptist Church area, she'd say "There you are Baby!  I just knew I'd be seein' you today!  You're gonna make it Baby!"  I wanted to cry, I wanted to hug her, I wanted to ask her if she was 'Mother Abagail' from Stephen Kings "The Stand".  As I walked passed  Ebenezer Baptist Church I offered a prayer of Thanks for Martin Luther King, Jr. and for how far race relations have come in our country and asked God's help with all that's still left to do in this area. 

With three miles left, I got a text from my awesome daughter...
"I just finished!!!!!!  Good Luck Mom, I'm waiting for u!!!  When u cross the finish they're gonna give  u a medal!"
(Rebecca finished in 3 hours!  I'm so proud of her!)

I had to walk almost all of those last three miles, but I never once stopped moving forward.  I was sad to see many people within less than 2 miles of the finish hop on SAG wagons - I can't imagine giving up so close to the goal!  Too many other times in my life I've done just that, I wasn't about to do it Thursday. 

When I had only 1 mile left to go, I got a text message from Bryan...
"How did u do?" 
"I've got one mile to go"
"U can do it!!!!"
"I'm dying! A grandpa passed me, I almost spit on him!"
"Quit texting and RUN!!!!!!!!" 

Um, point taken.  I kept moving forward, one very painful step at a time.  Did I mention the last half of the route was ALL UP HILL?  And it didn't just seem that way, it really was.  Ask anyone who participated, that was a rough route.

Rebecca sent me one last text...
"Channel your Inner-Kenyan!"

And so I did.  I somehow managed to find it in myself to run the last 1/2 mile!  People were walking across the finish before me, and after me.  That's just not acceptable! You can't finish a race WALKING.  Some guys who had long finished the race (and who I came to find out were among those who finished the race in under 2 hours) were on the sidelines yelling at me "That's it Melissa!  That's how you finish a race!  That's it girl!!!!"

The clock read 3 hours and 52 minutes as I passed the Finish line.  Take the 12 minute delayed start from that, and I finished the race in 3 hours and 40  minutes - 20 full minutes under my goal time!!!!  Yet, not enough under to be considered "within time limit" for the race.  I'm totally OK with this.  I faced my fears, I tried something really hard for an overweight (but 34 pounds lighter than when I started training), sedentary woman facing 40!  I am stronger physically than I even knew! I can do hard things!  I can see something through to the finish, even if it hurts!  I am able to take on a challenge and beat it!  I am fearfully and wonderfully made!  I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me!

I.  Am.  Woman.   HEAR ME ROAR!!!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do Nascar Drivers Have Room To Breathe?

First, a disclaimer: I am not an expert. I don’t parent my teen or relate to any other teens I know from a place of PhD intellect and “expertise”. I parent and relate from my gut and my heart - and I screw up. A lot. But not always. I don’t know for sure what works any more than the next over-worked, over-tired, and over-stressed out Mom knows. What I do know is, my kid does talk to me. And I do mean REALLY talks to me. We’ve had conversations that began with a question of hers which caused a little throw-up to threaten at the back of my throat. She’s only 14, but so far, we’ve lived through it and come out on the back end of those talks both sighing in relief, with a better understanding of the topic and of each other. Thank you God for those late night conversations – Please keep them coming.

When I stop to think about it, and I often do, it’s incredible the amount of stuff teenagers today have to take in, process, deal with, be responsible for, face, learn, un-learn, do, or not do. They have instant access to more information, opinions, ideas, music, and images than I could’ve even fathomed during my own teen years – more than I can fathom now. As a parent it’s like steering them down a slick and winding road in a stock car approaching full speed with a death grip on the steering wheel while barely breathing. It’s hard sometimes to know when to relax and let off the brake a little, and when to buckle up and slam the brake to the floor.

I’m the first to admit that it takes an act of sheer will to “Mother” my daughter rather than “Smother” her. I have to verbally remind myself repeatedly, “Yes, she is my baby girl – but she is no longer a baby.” I worry about bullying. I worry about drugs. I worry about teen sex. I worry about alcohol. I worry that she’ll have her first kiss too soon, then I worry that she won’t have one until she’s 30. I worry about broken hearts, then I worry she’ll never have a boyfriend. I worry about… EVERYTHING.

Often, I think it’s easy to give in to our fears about all these things and to almost allow those fears to guide us in our parenting. We think, if I don’t talk about these things, if I don’t tell my child that this exists - my child won’t know it and will be spared. We convince ourselves, if I don’t let my child talk to anyone outside of a certain group, if I don’t let my child know anyone who doesn’t fit a certain mold – my child will be spared. In church circles, we feel security in finding a “Holy Huddle” for our children. It’s a false sense of security. Allowing our fears to drive our parenting is surely a failure on our part. I can’t think of a more sure or quick method of crippling and smothering a child on almost every level.

When we are driven by our fears we respond to our teens asking point blank about sex by telling them “Mom and Dad go to sleep and wake up pregnant.” Or we have conversations with teens asking them to consider whether “Justin Bieber is a “real” Christian or has he begun to embrace the dark side”. (I couldn’t make this stuff up folks. Has the Beibs even claimed Christianity for himself?) Newsflash: They know we’re lying about sex. They think we’re crazy - not the fun kind of crazy, but the “Um, her eyes look like Manson’s” crazy - when we ponder a 15 year old pop sensation’s ties to the Devil. When they know we’re lying, and they think we’re crazy – they then begin to dismiss and doubt everything else we tell them also. Think about it, do we respect, trust and believe people we know lie to us, or those who come off as a tad too much panicky (i.e. “crazy”) about some passing trend? No. We don’t. And we don’t hold any stock in anything they tell us. Well, our kids aren’t stupid either.

Please know that I do understand there are BAD things in this world. There are things we should protect our children, ourselves and anyone we care about from. I’m just saying that if you’re kid has read the “Harry Potter” books (mine hasn’t), or the “Twilight” books (mine has – and I did too – and they’re GOOD) – you’re kid isn’t about to become a Wizard or a Vampire. With any luck, they’ll decide to be a good student who cares about his friends like Harry, or they’ll decide to wait until marriage to have sex like Bella. (Can we as Christian parents ask for more than virginal brides and grooms? I meant this to be funny, but it’s so what I’m hoping for. Seriously.) I’m not saying there’s no badness, no darkness in the world – I’m just saying we shouldn’t be creating evil where it doesn’t necessarily exist, we should be celebrating the stage of life they’re in and pointing to a vision for their road ahead. Fear has caused a great many of us to usher into our teens a deep sense of apathy and shattered innocence long before Justin Bieber, J.K. Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer did. Instead of creating evil where only imagination has existed, why don’t we focus more on the real evils they face? The scariest of which is that deep apathy that seems to be swallowing an entire generation (or two).

Apathy is like hard rain on the windshield – one can’t see through it to the truth and certainly not to a bright future. I’m saying that when we allow our parenting to be fear driven, we parent in a panicked frenzy, holding our breath the entire time. When we allow our parenting to be fear-driven we make it hard for our teens to breath – we truly smother them. We make it hard for them to see - instead of giving them a vision to hold on to, we give them a picture of ourselves as liars and crazies. We should enjoy some of the teen angst with them – assure them they’re normal and “OK”, remind them that these years don’t last forever and give them a vision for their future.

If we want our teens to come to us with their burdens, thoughts, cares – we have to be able to really listen (instead of mentally preparing our lecture against them to correct them). We can’t lie, withhold the truth or go off half crazy about sex, movies, and just LIFE. We can’t feign mini-strokes when they say something we don’t whole-heartedly agree with. Instead we must hear them out and then calmly and honestly share our thoughts, opinions and beliefs. If we want our teens to have a strong, real faith – we can’t simply cram Bible verses down their throats and force them to worship when they’re “chill-axin” with their friends. Memorized verses don’t prove a relationship with God, and forced worship is no worship at all anyway. We can’t tell them that Edward Cullen is Evil (he’s not, he’s just HOT!). Most importantly we have to display real faith through our own trust of God. Truth is, if we are busy controlling every aspect of our teen’s life, every single thing they see, hear, say, do, etc. – and if we’re busy telling them half-truths or making evil out of the truly harmless - then we are too busy to be trusting God. Do we trust our teens in His hands? Do we trust Him enough to take our foot off the brake a little? Do we trust Him enough to give ourselves and our teens room to breathe? Do we trust Him enough to let Him drive?

As for me, I’m buckled up – and trying my hardest to stay in the passenger seat (No really, I mean it!). I’ve got the windows down. I’m breathing in big gulps of fresh air and I’m trying to enjoy the ride.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Long Way To Go, Short Time To Get There

I know and love some of the greatest people you’d ever want to meet. The mix of those I call “friend” is a varied and colorful group encompassing folks of all interests, opinions, spiritual beliefs, passions, and ages. While differences in any of these areas can sometimes create difficulties to overcome in relationships, I’m starting to think age might be the hardest. I’m thinking this because of a group my friends, all under 30, who I fondly refer to as “The Young and Beautifuls”.  (They are both of these things inside and out by the way.)
What makes them pretty on the inside are their kindness, their strong faiths, their commitment to their friendships and their marriages (best examples of young marrieds I’ve ever personally known), they are active in their communities and in our church and they’re just all-around good eggs.

However, over the past few months, I’ve discovered their dark side. They are all health nuts! Sometime last spring, my daughter and I were included in a conversation wherein the Young and Beautifuls were planning to run the Atlanta Half Marathon on Thanksgiving Day together. My daughter, Rebecca, in a mildly-interested tone asked, “Can teenagers do it too?”

Now, I’m not sure which one of these dastardly kiddos responded, and I don’t want to know because I want to still love them all - (however, I do suspect it was the friend I call “Face”) – but someone did respond to Rebecca’s question with a, “Yep! I think it’s open to anyone 14 and up.”

The very next day, my usually sweet daughter says “Mom, we should do that marathon thing together. Don’t you think?” (Um, Nooooo, I do not.) I hesitated, but she was so eager about it. I mean, come on… for a 14 year old teen-age girl to want to do something with her Mother, and for that 14 year old girl to be the one to initiate the togetherness – with eagerness in her voice! Honestly, that’s just so rare! I admit it. I got drunk off of the “My Baby Still Loves Me!” feeling and I excitedly said “Yes! Yes! Let’s do it girl!”

It’s important to note here that as of last spring, I was walking only a couple of times a week, and a long walk for me was 3 miles. For the Half Marathon I will have to be able to endure a little over 13 miles, and I’ll have to run at least some of the distance or I won’t finish the event within the allowable time frame.

Oh, and I’m not super skinny….yeah, let’s say it that way “Not super skinny.” Yes, I like it. While we’re at it, I was also “Not very active.” My food intake was “Not Jenny Craig.” And, my preferred method of travel was “Not by foot.”

In any event, I’d agreed to the Marathon. I didn’t want to let Rebecca down (I still don’t want too). I knew I was going to have to give it my best shot, because I didn’t want her to see me give up (yet again). I wanted her to see that I am willing to do hard things, and that there are benefits to accepting and facing a challenge. So, during the last week in May, I printed off instructions for how to complete a half marathon via Run/Walk intervals. We started with 3 mile walks, gradually including short stretches of running. By the first week of August we were able to last right at 6 miles on our “distance day” (how’s that for learning the lingo?) and the running portions weren’t killing us. We were feeling pretty darn good about ourselves! Then… a setback.

Due to an unexpected and severe Kidney Stone attack and subsequent treatment, I was on bed rest for the first 23 days of September. When I wasn’t drugged, sleeping or in pain, I was worrying myself to the point of tears over the lapse in training. Every day the Half inches closer and closer, and there I was back on the couch. I started to realize that I didn’t like the couch anymore, it’d been so long since I’d seen it! I prayed, asking God to keep me strong and to keep me from losing ground. I had my small group pray for me. I read Hebrews 12 over and over. And I rested. I found physical rest in my bed. I found mental and spiritual rest in Him who saved me.

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.” Hbr 12:13

Two days ago was my first foray back into training since the stones; I walked just over 2 miles with a friend. Yesterday, Rebecca and I put feet to the pavement. WE CLOCKED 7.5 MILES in 2 hours and 45 minutes! We have to go almost double this distance in 5 hours or less. We’re not there yet – but we have come very far. And guess what?  We are not quitting.

“And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” Hbr 12:1

We have a long way to go and a short time to get there. With the encouragement of friends, commitment to this race that we’ve dug up from the depths, and mostly by the sheer Grace of God – we may just finish this thing!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Agnus Dei (or Why I Got the Giggles in Church on Sunday)

We have a great Praise and Worship team at my church, Dunwoody Community Church (in Dunwoody, Georgia) - if you live nearby or are visiting Atlanta, I invite you to stop in and check them out - they are THAT good.   All members of the band are professional musicians, not that you must be to lead worship in a church, but I am so proud of each of them and so thankful to have them lead us each week.  They always lead us in some amazing, meaningful, and deeply felt worship at the beginning of our services, and no Sunday morning would seem complete without it. 

I have on several occassions been moved to tears by the beauty and feeling of it all.  I have on  occassion been moved to tears because the words of a particular hymn happen to speak to something that I am dealing or struggling with in life at the time.  I have also on occassion been moved to prayer, and stop singing along so that I can pray right then and there.  On all occassions I can't help but do a little "dancing" - just tapping my feet or swaying, I've even caught myself bouncing a time or two.  But this past Sunday, I was moved to giggle when we began singing Michael W. Smith's "Agnus Dei". 

Growing up Catholic leaves it's indelible mark on a person.  For me, there are many things that bring me back to the Sundays of my early childhood where you'd have found me sitting on kneelers at St. Bartholamew's Catholic Church, eating whatever snack Mom had tucked away in her purse and drawing on the edge of the bulletin.  Mom and Dad would hand us each coins so that we too would have something to place in the collection baskets - this was a good thing, however for me it was never good enough - I wanted to put in a dollar.  Anyway, of all the many things that take me back, hearing anything with Latin words for a title takes me back immediately!  Which is why I caught a case of the giggles yesterday.

As we began to sing Agnus Dei Sunday, my mind filled with memories of training for my first confession at the ripe ol' age of six.  You had to make your first confession before you could make what I'd been looking forward to all that year... My First Communion!  I couldn't wait to finally wear the white eyelet, floor lenth dress that my Mother had sewn (and that my sister before me had worn for the same blessed event in her life) and to top my head with a lace-edged veil just like brides wore!  The only problem was... I was deathly afraid of making that first confession!  I had to tell someone else all the ways I'd been "bad" and if that weren't harsh enough I also had to memorize the "Act of Contrition" - the prayer one recites to the priest while in the confessional.  It goes like this:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because I have offended you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.

I was horrible at memorization.  I still am.  As long as I live I'll never forget standing in line on my own personal "D-Day" waiting to make my confession.  Confession of what I do not remember, and 30+ years later I can't imagine what "mortal" sin I required absolution from. With sweaty palms and nervously shifting my weight from one foot to the other, I remember heartily praying that God would make sure I ended up in the confessional on the right instead of the left, as the one on the right had the "Act of Contrition" framed and posted beside the black screen in the wall that seperated the sinner from the priest.  (Good news - God came through!)

I lived through my confession, read the prayer right off the wall, and  and received and prayed the appropriate penance for my crimes:  One "Our Father" and a "Glory Be". 

A few weeks later I made my way down the center aisle in that beautiful dress and veil, with a lovely corsage of daisies and gold floral ribbon.  My Mother had set my hair on big painful rollers the night before, and she'd assured me in the morning that I looked "just like Farrah Fawcett", something always important to me in those days.  I was so happy to have the entire church see me daintily place the communion host on my tongue, and I even remembered to perform the Sign of the Cross afterward.  Just before my group entered the church, I remember telling one little boy "I love you in God's way because I have to, but I sure don't like you!".

So should you ever see me grinning and giggleing to myself in church, just know that there's probably a good Catholic story behind it, and I hope you'll pardon me for it - I promise to share the story with you later if you do!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Slippin into my covers & Slippin thru my fingers

On my morning drive to work today I was listening to a couple of radio DJ's talking about the problems with allowing your child(ren) to sleep with you. They asked for listeners to call in if they were parents with kids in the bed. Each parent that called in would admit in very sheepish, guilty tones that yes, their little one did sleep in their bed. One woman didn't want to share her first name for fear of being "found out", and another even admitted that she has lied to her child's pediatrician about it.

Most mornings, I'd have changed the station because I generally prefer hearing and singing along with music and songs that I like. This morning, however, found me missing my 14 year old daughter terribly! She's on vacation, visiting my family for the week as she does each and every summer. This year her short term absence has been harder on me than ever before. I'm not exactly sure why, but I suspect is has much to do with how mature and competent she is, how she hasn't needed to call me every day during this trip away, and how each of my family members has commented in phone calls or emails about how "grown up" she is. And isn't all of that just sooo exciting? Not for me it's not! Although her growing up and maturing is a wonderful and healthy thing - it's a melancholy thing for me too. It makes me long for the days when my little girl snuggled up and slept with me.

Yes, it's true... Rebecca slept with me every night of her life from the age of 13 months thru 11 years old, and then off and on at various times during her 12th and 13th years. I admit this with no guilt. I don't feel sheepishly about it at all. For us, co-sleeping was a good thing.

If asked, I think most Americans would probably say that children should never sleep with their parents, citing dire possibile outcomes such as destroyed marriages, suffocated infants, poor future sleeping habits, or even the creation of a child's over-dependence on the parent(s).

It's important to note that my marriage was destroyed before my daughter's birth, so that was not an issue for me as a single Mom. I'm sure there are marriages where this would cause an issue, as men don't generally care for the idea of co-sleeping from what I hear. However, the notion of children sleeping seperately from their parents is actually only about 150 years young here in America. Prior to that most young children slept with their parents or other relatives as the majority of families at the time simply could not afford living arrangements that allowed seperate sleeping quarters. Additionally, it assured that all members of a family, down to the tiniest sibling, stayed warm through the night. I also know current-day families who share a bed with their children and all involved are happy and really ok with the arrangement (Yes - even the Dads).

For very small infants there may be some validity for being cautious about co-sleeping, but definitely no reason to sucuumb to the media's fear-mongering about it. Reports about infants dying from being rolled over on by an adult have been grossly blown out of proportion. They come from data collected between 1980 - 1997 which shows 2,178 cases of unintentional mechanical suffocation of American infants under 13 months old. An alarming number when stated alone, though a closer look through the data shows us that only 139 of those suffocations occurred in an adult bed. The same data shows 428 suffocations occurred in a crib where the infant was sleeping alone. Also, the advice to have a sleeping infant lie on their backs instead of their stomachs wasn't the advice being given during the majority of years the report data was being gathered.

As for co-sleeping developing poor future sleeping habits...I beg to differ. In my own childhood I was petrified of sleeping alone, and had such trouble successfully going to sleep by myself that my sisters took turns for years (until I was done with middle school) sleeping in my bed with me, or having me sleep in their beds with them. All members of my family got a better night's sleep when I was sleeping with someone. Rebecca, now in her own bed, adores sleep and gets plenty of it. If her current sleeping habits are not good it would have to be because she sleeps too much!

With regard to the potential problem of the child becoming overly dependant on it's parent(s) - I would have to disagree also. While I do feel that the years of nightly giggles, snuggling, deep conversation, light conversation, and comfort and security that come from being physically close to a family member have helped create an incredibly deep bond between my daughter and myself - she is very independent. Rebecca is capable of doing all sorts of things without me holding her hand or holding her back. She has an inner confidence that I did not possess at her young age (I wonder if I even have it now). She knows she can depend on me - but she does not feel that she has to depend on me for her own sense of well-being. She's very well-adjusted if I do say so myself. And I do.

All of that to say this: Should we really assume that we know what's best for another family? Should those of us who do allow our children into our beds feel guilty and shameful for doing so? Should those who have their children sleep in their own beds feel that they're doing this parenting thing more successfully? Or rather, should we acknowledge that every family is different. Every family situation varies from one to another. Every child and every parent is unique. Because of all these differences, variances and uniquenesses - bedtime, and the innumerable other parenting decisions, actions and duties we as parents are responsible for - will be handled differently and uniquely in various homes - and whatever way it's all handled in each home is O.K. if it allows the family to get the rest they need to function well together and makes the home a happy one.

I remember people offering, always unsolicited, advice (that's my nice way of saying "I remember people cramming their opinion down my throat while 'tsk, tsking' me") to "Girl you better get that child out of your bed!" So as a young and new mother worrying myself nearly to death about it, I worked up the courage to fearfully ask my pediatrician if it was wrong or harmful to let my sweet child nestle in with me each night and sleep in my bed. His response was "The only thing wrong with letting Rebecca sleep with you is what other people have to say about it. You and only you know what's best for Rebecca and you're doing great so far." God Bless You Dr. Ramey!

My advice, and I offer it the most loving way I know how, is this:

Whether you tuck your child into their own bed tonight, or into yours - make sure you place a kiss upon their cheek, rub their back for a few minutes, get close to your child and breathe in their sweet scent, tell them you love them several times - and then one more time just to be sure they know.

And while you're doing that, I'll be doing what I have done each night while she's been gone... on my way to bed I will stop in her bedroom doorway and stare into the darkness at the bed she left unmade 7 days ago with a dull ache in the pit of my stomach asking myself things like:

Does that over 5 foot long body indention in the messy covers really belong to my little girl?

Is that small flashlight what she's using late a night to write down in her journal all of her secret thoughts, hopes and dreams?

Or worse... is she using it to write her secret bad thoughts and opinions of me?

Or... is she using it read another "Twilight" book instead of finishing "To Kill a Mocking Bird" like I want her too?

Do all of these posters of Robert Pattinson bring her sweet dreams, or do they keep her up sighing and giggling to herself long past when she should have fallen asleep?

Is she really this close to 15, which means we're only a very short time away from 18 years old and her... FUTURE?

And yeah, that last question there - that's the one that looks back at all the years of my precious little girl sleeping in my bed with nothing but Thanks to God for so many happy nights spent with her - that time passed all too quickly and now no matter how tightly I cling to my efforts to keep her young, innocent and mine all mine - she manages to slip through my fingers a little at a time on her way to becoming a young woman ready to take on the world. Yes, there's a long way to go - but it will be a painfully short time to get there.

If you have a moment, listen to the video attached to this link - it's the song Rebecca says she hopes we'll dance to together at her wedding one day *insert my stiffled sob here*...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Quotes I'm Loving Today

Often on my facebook or twitter updates, I'll share a quote I've run across and loved. Today, I've come across many - too many to share in a status update, so I'm sharing them here in my blog. Enjoy!

I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden. ~ St. Augustine

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. ~ C. S. Lewis

There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us. ~Edward Wallis Hoch

Judge yourself; if you do that you will not be judged by God, as St. Paul says. But it must be a real sense of your own sinfulness, not an artificial humility. ~Johannes Tauler

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone. ~Audrey Hepburn

Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness. ~George Sand

If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson, hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example. ~George Bernard Shaw

Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections. ~Unknown

Monday, June 21, 2010

be·lov·ed: greatly loved and dear to the heart

Have been thinking on many people and happenings that are beloved to me. It's humbling and wonderful to realize, through their words, actions, and deeds - that I'm someone beloved to them also. Life is too short not to show our love for others, and too long to get through it without love shown to you. I am blessed and thankful for the love that is shown to me in my life. I have COUNTLESS experiences of love that I could share, but they'd fill up a blog every day for a year! So, with a few free minutes I've found myself with today, thought I'd share just a few "Love is..." experiences I've had in the past couple of weeks (this list is not all-inclusive):

Love is my best friend, Andrea, making an overnight - immediate turnaround - 8.5 hour road trip (both ways) to deliver her most precious cargo to me.

Love is that same friend giving me the gift of two special weeks to spend loving and laughing with my youngest Godchild.

Love is a friend who shows up with power-steering fluid and a flashlight and helps figure out just what's wrong with my car - in the humid heat of late afternoon.

Love is a friend who follows you to the mechanic shop and takes you to work while the car is being repaired - and who brings you beautiful flowers from her garden too!

Love is a friend who makes a delicious dinner and invites you over to watch a Barbara Streisand movie on the night of your Mother's open heart surgery so you don't have have to be alone with your worry.

Love is having my teenager, happily, re-do pretty braids, paint 10 cute toddler fingers, and paint 10 "Corbin-pretty" toes almost every night for two weeks just because it made Ashleigh happy!

Love is having friends who happily drive Rebecca (and Ashleigh) to and fro for me so I don't miss work and they don't miss the fun!

Love is Ashleigh saying "This is a good sandwich Missy!" and "I really love you Missy!" and a million other truly sweet things.

Love is having my teenager clean the dishes - even when I didn't ask her too.

Love is sending an electronic singing Snow Woman to live out the remainder of her battery-driven days in Baton Rouge with Ashleigh!

Love is having friends who let you interrupt their anniversary dinner to drop your teenager off, and then treat that teenager like one of their own - making sure she has a good time while you are gone.

Love is a friend who thoughtfully chooses and then gives you your birthday present early, so you have time to read it during your short sabatical from day-to-day living.

Love is having a friend who will pick you up, load you up, and get you to the airport at 6 o'something in the morning - with a smile and a cheerful attitude - even when they didn't get any sleep the night before.

Love is a 4 year old Ashleigh putting her arm around me when she watched my smile fade as our plane was landing last Thursday morning, and saying "It's Ok. I'm not scared!"

Love is my neice, Meagan, walking towards me in the airport with a smile beaming across her beautiful face.

Love is seeing all the hugs of reunion at the airport, and receiving my own hug too!

Love is pulling into my Best Friend's drive way, seeing her smile to see me, and hearing her little girl say with need and excitement, "THAT'S MY MOMMY!"

Love is walking into my own Mother's house, seeing her looking lovely, alive and well, and saying to myself - with need and great relief, "THAT'S MY MOMMY!"

Love is the smell of my Aunt Maureen's unparallelled cooking wafting through the kitchen and being told "I made a special lunch for you." (Shrimp Fettucinni - the best ever!)

Love is being able to enjoy the time I spent with my Mom knowing my Kitty Cats were begin looked after and cared for.

Love is sitting up until midnight talking and laughing with my neices Layne and Jalisacia.

Love is Mom waking me up just after 6:00 a.m., instead of just before, so we can get our walk in during the coolness of early morning.

Love is eating hot, boiled crawfish from Tony's with Lydia and Mom - a great last meal and a great way to spend my last day in Louisiana!

Love is being picked up at the airport super late at night (11:00 pm!) by a water-skiing tired and road-weary friend, and then having that friend wait in the driveway until I could prove we were safely inside our home!

Love is collapsing in my own bed, uncomfortably and with my body at weird angles because of my long, lean and leggy daughter snuggling in with me and my big (read: fat) cats curling up into (read: squeezing themselves into) the sparse remaining spaces of my mattress and covers.

Love is praying for sleep to come quickly, and receiving an immediate answer to the prayer.

Love is waking and realizing how very blessed I am to be loved and cared for by so many special, wonderful people - young, old, human and feline - you are all beloved to me and I am ever-grateful to count you as friends.

This is my beloved and this is my friend. ~Song of Solomon 5:16

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day Daddy

Thankful today to my Heavenly Father for the Father he blessed me with here on earth. Daddy passed away in 2003 - oh how I miss him - especially finding myself on this Father's Day in my Mother's home with so many photos and momentos of Daddy.

I learned a lot from the passing of my Father and in the hours upon hours that I've spent in the years since, reflecting on him and our relationship - about who he was, the role(s) he played in my family, and through these reflections, I've learned alot about MYSELF. Thank God that I had learned about some of those things in the few years prior to his passing too!

It was so easy - when he was still alive and the thought of his passing seemed something that may never happen - to see his "flaws" and to focus on what I thought were unsavory things about him. It was so easy, it seemed then, to find fault with him and see him as the reason I made so many bad decisions, the reason I felt not good enough, the reason I put myself in an unsafe marriage in a desperate attempt to feel loved, the reason I just couldn't put my life together in any healthy way. And no, Daddy wasn't perfect. He was, like all of us, only human. The truth is though, that it was easier to accept my failings if I had someone to blame for them. And isn't it always so easy to blame our parents?

I remember that when I was a very little girl, Dad would pick me up every day from the sitters and say "There's my Treasure Chest!" Sometimes on the way home he'd stop at Dairy Queen and get me an ice cream cone, then instead of taking the direct route home, he'd take the longer road I liked because it took us past a field with a few horses. When "Brown-Eyed Girl" came on the radio once on the way home he sang it to me. One time seeing the flowers on the side of that Texas road he said, "Every time I see Brown-eyed Susan's I think of your pretty eyes Missy!" He never laughed when I sang "Wildfire" at the top of my lungs - and one time he ate several cookies I made using salt instead of sugar - he never winced and with a straight face told me "These are good!"

Then, I got older. I became a teen-ager. While I wasn't horrible - ok, not too horrible, I did still have the typical "I KNOW IT ALL" disease that most teenagers catch, and I also did a lot of pulling away. S o, of course, once I'd created that distance - I decided that was his fault too! And finally, one day, we just didn't have a good connection anymore, and neither of us could seem to find it.

I got to a place in my mid-twenties, when I knew he wasn't the one responsible for my mistakes. I, and I alone, had made the bad choices I'd made. Still though, I was too proud to admit it. For a while...

I had Rebecca and her birth and my parents being there for me in every possible way during my divorce/pregnancy and life thereafter - helped my and Daddy's relationship quite a bit. But there was still that terrible distance between us. I hated it. He hated it. I prayed about it quite a bit, we both made weak attempts to move towards each other, but it was hard to find a way to close the gap.

Then, Daddy scared us. He almost died. Guess what? It scared him too. He called me from the hospital crying and told me over and over that he loved me so much. And with that, the years-long chasm was bridged. So I thank God that he ALMOST died, because we had a few years after that to continue to reconnect and love each other.

No. Our parents aren't perfect. Yes. They make mistakes. Yes. There are many things we can look back on and point out what they could've done better or differently so that we would be happier adults with less work! As a Mom who has made her own share of less than perfect parenting moves, I realize that parents KNOW what they could've done differently too- and parents feel worse about it than their children can ever imagine. The sooner we accept our parents flaws, as much as we desire them to accept ours, instead of holding their flaws against them...the sooner we become free to love and be loved and have a truly happy existence on this ride called "LIFE."

I am happy to say that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my Dad - flaws and all - was a great Dad! He loved me. He loved my sisters. He loved our Mother. He was truly devoted to us all. He was a substitute Father for all four of his fatherless granddaughters - and left nothing but good memories for their sweet selves.

If you are blessed enough to still have both of your parents living - but feel in any way that your relationship with them is not what it should or could be - I strongly encourage you to take steps - no matter how small - to make it better. Try to understand and accept them and love them unconditionally - even if you feel they don't do those things back to you. Pray for restoration of the relationship.

I hope my Daddy knew how much I loved and accepted him before he died - I tried my best to show him.

The song "In The Living Years" by Mike & The Mechanics - ALWAYS brings Daddy to my mind.
Every generation blames the one before
And all of their frustrations come beating on your door
I know that I'm a prisoner to all my father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage to all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
Crumpled bits of paper filled with imperfect thoughts
Stilted conversations, I'm afraid that's all we've got
You say you just don't see it - He says it's perfect sense
You just can't get agreement in this present tense
We all talk a different language - Talking in defense

Say it loud, say it clear - You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die - To admit we don't see eye to eye

So we open up a quarrel between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future, it's the bitterness that lasts
So don't yield to the fortunes you sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective on a different date
And if you don't give up, and don't give in you may just be okay

Say it loud, say it clear -You can listen as well as you hear
Because it's too late when we die, to admit we don't see eye to eye

I wasn't there that morning when my father passed away
Didn't get to tell him, all the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit, later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo in my baby's new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Monday, April 12, 2010

Miscellaneous Thoughts I'm Having Right Now

I'm hungry. I forgot to bring my lunch, and never found time to leave and go grab some. If blogs came with sound, you could hear my stomach growling right now, and me whimpering every so often.

I attended the most joyful funeral I have ever been to yesterday. Rutledge Beacham touched countless lives for the better. All agreed that he was always ready with a smile and nice to everyone - all the time. I know that I'm not, but would like to be. Hearing his closest friends speak about him, challenges me to actively do my best to be a kinder, gentler person and be nice to everyone - all. the. time. - so they too will feel the type of joy and love Rut left a person feeling after spending any amount of time with him. Rutlege will truly be missed.

I'll tell you what I am, I'm a Christian. If forced to state myself as either Calvanist or Arminian, I'd have to say I'm a 4 point Calvanist. And then I'll quickly tell you, I just go by the Bible - and Neither Calvin or Arminian is mentioned there. I just refuse to believe that Jesus only died for the sins of SOME, that God only truly loves the "elect". I've never been part of the "elect" in my life! So if that's true, I'm believing all this for nought - but I'm not. If you ever want to discuss Jesus, I'll tell you what I DO know... and while I'll never be the world's most renowned theologian, I KNOW my Redeemer lives, and He died for me - and for all.

This is the day that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friend...no matter what I do today, it seems like 5 o'clock just won't get here!

I am hungry. I also just remembered that I didn't take anything out to make for dinner. I hate when that happens.

I had a week without my daughter, and discovered that without her I am STILL busy! I also discovered that even 14 years later, I still miss her every second that she's away. I'm beyond glad to have her back home.

I'm worried about my Mom's diabetes. She promises the past two weeks have been a "wake up call" and that she's serious and comitted to doing what she needs to do to keep the diabetes in check. I pray this is so.

I am hungry. I'm having flashbacks of the menu at Uncle Julio's - SO yummy.

I wish my landlord would finally fix the fence. I wish my landlord would have someone come deal with the huge dead pine tree before it falls onto the house. I wish I was more comfortable having a straightforward conversation about these things. Why do I shy away from anything that might seem confrontational? ...or that may render a response I won't be happy with? I'm almost 40 - why can't I do this??? Ugh.

Had a fun time talking with Mom about her days as a nun. Who knew she's kept a box of stuff related to that time in her life? I'm sure I've seen snippets - a photo of her in a habit, letters from a priest and a Mother Superior begging her not to leave the order. She's promised to bring the box the next time she visits - I can't wait to go through it with her!

I was also discussing Martin Luther with Mom. I was telling her about how the Catholic Church in Luther's time was making it's followers pay money for indulgences to keep themselves and their already passed on loved ones out of hell and/or purgatory. Then my Mom proceeds to tell me "Oh yeah, that was really wrong. You can't buy indulgences, you have to earn them". OH. MY. How to have the loving conversation with her that you can't possibly earn your way into Heaven, and no one even has to - THANK YOU GOD.

I am hungry. I can't really think of much other besides that at this point. I'm outta here, gonna get home and find something to eat.

Blessings until next time (which I hope will be a wonderful, meaningful blog.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In the Land of Women

Anyone who knows me knows that my family is a family of all women. Yes, men have married into it, but none have been born into it - a fact we're all rather proud of (in a fun sort of way - we do love men!). Some folks call their family their "clan", their "tribe" or the "fruits and nuts I'm related to". I call my family "The Land of Women". This weekend I was blessed with a visit from three of my favorite "Land of Women" females: My Mother, My neice - Meagan, and her daughter (my Great-neice) - Elise.

As with any out of town visitors, the visit never goes exactly as you imagine (read: perfect). The trip was delayed and therefore shortened by a day. We're not Hilton's or Kennedy's - so there's never enough money to do all the shopping we want to do when we're together. My house wasn't quite as organized or spic-n-span as I'd wanted it to be, and mexican dinner night turned out some too salty tacos (our final shared meal together). No matter these things - it was a wonderful weekend and visit regardless, three days I wouldn't trade for anything.

My friend LeAnne wrote and posted a blog discussing grace and seeing beauty. She ended her blog by asking the readers what beauty they'd seen that day. Here was my comment:

Yesterday, I saw beauty in the females that were all in my living room at one time: My Mother - 69 years old, Myself - 38 years old, My Neice - 23 years old, My Daughter - 14 years old in 2 days, and My Great Niece - 6 months old. To see all these generations in one place, at one time, with so many shared experiences and so many experiences we've witnessed the others go through - and we're all alive, and we're well, and we're basically happy, and we all just love each other so much. To see it and feel it and be quietly aware of it amidst the chaos of Grandma repeatedly saying "Huh?" because she can't hear, the baby crying to have her diaper changed, the teenager painting her nails while listening to her iPod, the new Mom cooing at her baby - it was the most beautiful thing to me.

That really got me thinking about my family of all women.

There are so many differences in each of the females mentioned. There's me and Mom who don't think you should have to press "1" for "English" in the Good Ol' USA, and then there's Rebecca who thinks informational signs in public places should be in more than one language so that everyone, even immigrants, can easily read them. Mom and Meagan - both women who really take pride in their careers and in doing a really great job... and then me - who would love nothing more than to stay at home, sit on the sofa and eat bon-bons...not really. (Actually, I'd love not working so that I could volunteer or do some form of mission work locally or even far away.) I could go on and on about all of our differences.

And so wasn't it just really comforting to realize last night that there is one thing that we could ALL unequivocally agree on....RICHARD GERE IS A HANDSOME MAN. (We'll wait to get Elise's opinion on this matter until she's older - still, I'm almost positive she'll agree.) (Oh, and see...I told you we love men!) We also all agreed that if any of us had birthed a boy, we'd have thrown him out with the bathwater (not really). And we all agreed that we LOVE cheesecake and wished we'd thought to stop at Cheesecake Factory to get some.

I can look at the females in my family and see bits of each us in all the faces, the expressions, physical movements, even sometimes in the choice of words. It's amazing and wonderful to look at Elise and see a reflection of Meagan some 23 years ago. I can look at a picture of my sister Lydia and see my Mother's exact smile. I can talk to or email my sister Emmy and hear the same love for her grandchildren - so much love that it's almost heartbreaking - that my own Mother feels for her granddaughters. I watch Meagan and her sisters - and I recognize the ferocity and depth of their emotions - the same ferocity their Mother and I have always had...and expressed, sometimes regardless of the consequences. I look in awe and astonishment into the face of my own Rebecca and see not only myself but also my Father - one of the only men we ever deemed worthy of being in our family. I watch Rebecca and see the artistic creativity she inherited - not from me - but from my Mother.

I see these lives and all that has occurred, all that is occurring, and all that will occur - and I know that we are blessed beyond anything we can possibly fathom. I'll never know what it is to have a big brother. I'll never know what it is to have a nephew or a son. I'm sure there are many valuable and wonderful things I'll never know by the lack of men in our family. But what I do know is this, women are tough and soft, loud and quiet, happy and sad, confused and clearheaded, affirming and confidence-building, independent and interdependent, complete and unfinished - we're a mess and masterpiece - all at the same wondrous time. There is no place like The Land of Women, and nothing I'd rather call "family".

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Freshman English and Happy Birthday Edgar Allen Poe!

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
'Tis some visitor' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door',
'Only this and nothing more.'"

Ah, The Raven. A popular and very long poem by Edgar Allen Poe. How I loved "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Talisman" and much of his macabre poetry. What I didn't like was Poe being used as my punishment for taking the easy way out!

I was a Freshman at Western Hills High School in Ft. Worth, Texas - and fortunate to have Mr. Williams as my English teacher. The man had a true love of all things literary, and although I was already an avid reader of Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Shel Silverstein. I feel I owe my love of real, solid, gotta think about it literature to Mr. Williams. It is Mr. Williams who gave me a small book of the poetry of Robert Frost that caused me to ponder which road I would take if faced with a fork in a yellow wood (25 years later, I can tell you that I'm almost certain I've taken the one less traveled). It was in his class that I read, with fervor, Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" - and cried openly in class as we read the end. It was Mr. Williams who stopped me after that class to say "If you thought that was good, you might want to check out 'Wuthering Heights' from the library." (Those who know me well, know my undying love and affection for this - my favorite tortured love story of all time - THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU MR. WILLIAMS!) And it was in Mr. Williams class that I was introduced to the literary works of the great Edgar Allen Poe.

So, it's with some amount of shame I tell you this: It was also in Mr. Williams class when I was assigned a poetry memorizing project - which counted for 1/2 of my grade one 6-week period - and I took the easy way out. The assignment was to memorize a poem of at least 100 lines in length. Ask me how smart I thought I was when I discovered and memorized a poem that was exactly 100 lines in length - each line containing merely two words! It was a child's poem, and it had something to do with a king - that's all I remember. The class had four weeks to memorize a poem, it took me all of four minutes.

Finally the day for me to recite my memorized poem had arrived! I couldn't wait to crack my friends up with my silly little poem that met, just barely, the requirements of the assignment. Oh, I wish you could've seen my cocky self-assuredness as I rose from my desk and made my way to the front of the classroom. In just under 30 seconds I recited my entire poem, bowed, grinned and began to head back to my seat. "Stop right there Miss Martin", Mr. Williams snarled (and yes, I believe there was visible smoke coming out of his ears). I turned to face my teacher (who was much too good to be teaching us miserable high school teen agers). He begins to tell me, in front of my classmates how disappointed he was in me, how he knew I was capable of much more and that my score on this very important assignment was a ZERO.

Any student who was ever blessed enough to land in one of Mr. Williams classes will tell you that he was a ruthless disciplinarian, overly strict, a stingy and unfair grader (read: you actually had to work hard and deserve a good grade to get one), and he was NOT friends with his students. I agree wholeheartedly with all of these statements. What I also know is that Mr. Williams was extremely merciful. I got the zero for my poem, and the grade stood. However, Mr. Williams assinged me mandatory extra-credit - just me, no one else - I had to memorize "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe and recite it for the class in two weeks time. If I recited it perfectly, he would give me 90% - not even an "A"!

Because of two things: 1) my respect for Mr. Williams, and 2) my fear of facing my parents with an "F" in English on my report card, I resigned myself to the grueling task of memorizing the creepy poem and reciting it - very well I might add - to an audience of less than interested classmates just 2 weeks later. My grade was saved, and more importantly my favorite teacher once again regarded me with some small measure of esteem.

Ask me what I would give to be back in that class today? Or to just see Mr. Williams one more time and tell him of the great impact he had on my love of all things with a binding and printed pages! I want to thank him for making me do "better" and requiring me to live up to his expectations. I learned a lot in my Freshman English class - how to diagram a sentence, how to make sense of Shakespeare plays, how to write a Haiku, and even how to write a decent short story. Oh, but it's the life lessons I learned in Mr. Williams' class (this "always do your best" lesson was just one) that have meant the most and which I return to time and time again.

To read "The Raven" in its entirety, click here: http://www.houseofusher.net/raven.html

Monday, January 4, 2010

Proof of Christ at work...My Christmas Angels

Because I love the question, "Can I get a witness", I want to share with anyone who cares to read it, what God did in my life this Christmas through his faithful followers, (also because I want a place to keep a record of it as a good reminder to myself) I wanted to share the letter below that I wrote for my friends and family who helped us "Make it through December" this year...

My Sweet, Precious and Dear Friends and family – truly Brothers and Sisters in our Wonderful Christ, how can I ever express my gratitude and thanks to you enough? I am humbled by the incredible expression of love that you all gave me and my Rebecca this Christmas. (this was my feeble attempt at beginning a letter as gracefully as Paul - impossible, I know, but my love for you insists I try)

Just a few weeks ago, I was feeling very bleak about the Christmas Holiday. We definitely try each year to make Christ the central focus of our Christmas celebration – but I’ll be honest and admit it’s been easier to do so in years past, when my thoughts weren’t clouded with worry over the possibility of not even one gift under the tree for my child. Why after all of these years of knowing Christ, did I worry for even a moment? So many areas I feel I lean on Him completely, yet in so many He continues to show me I still need to trust Him – I confess that I am often a “Doubting Thomas”. Thank you all for being the proof of Christ in my life, not only to me, but to everyone I can get to listen to me tell of the wonderful things He has done for us this Holiday Season through you my Christian family (and my ever faithful “family” family). I stand in awe of Jesus and of you in the full knowledge that I am truly and abundantly blessed.

The money (and the prayers that I know you put with it) meant so much – it meant that Rebecca would wake up on Christmas morning with several fun (and even a few necessary) gifts to unwrap, that I’d have the money required for the extra and special food items that make our Christmas traditions “ours”, that I wouldn’t give into my fears and spend money on gifts that was really needed to pay bills (yes, I’ll admit it, I was seriously considering robbing Peter to pay Paul – BLASPHEMY I tell you!). Thanks to your generous hearts, I was able to make Christmas “happen” and still pay all my bills on time. You guys just overwhelm me – I can’t say thank you often enough – and I want you to know how very much I love each and every one of you – you were all Christmas Angels to us this year and I will never forget it.

The whole experience brings to mind several passages from the Bible that I want to share with you. I will attempt to be wary of time for reading constraints and only share these few:

Because I did spend a few nights early in December crying myself to sleep with worry, I think of a portion of Revelation 21:4…”He will wipe away every tear from their eyes…” Thank you for giving me a reason to dry my tears and have joyful expectation of Christmas day.

Financially, this Christmas promised to be a burden, and my lack of funds was definitely a burden on my mind and in my heart, so Galatians 6:2 comes to mind… “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Thank you for helping to not just carry my burden, but for removing it!

I also think of Acts 4:32… “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” Thank you for sharing with me and Rebecca.

I love you all and am praying for a prosperous, happy, and Christ-filled 2010 for us all.

Merle Haggard singing "If We Make It Through December" here >>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-IJxTd8dCo