Friday, December 16, 2011

A Christmas Case for Grace

Grace of God -(n) (Christian theology) the free and unmerited favor or beneficence of God; "God's grace is manifested in the salvation of sinners"; "there but for the grace of God go I..."

You hear the word bandied about all the time. Grace. It is a pretty popular word in the Christian vernacular. I've talked about it and sang about it all of my life but never really fully embraced the word or it's meaning until a few years ago. Looking back on my life now, I see grace not as a noun but as an active verb. A very present and absolutely incredible outpouring of God's perfect love at exactly the right time, almost always when I had nothing left to hang on to. Let me explain...

By now, everyone knows that my childhood was less than ideal. Join the club, right? Well, like a lot of other children in difficult family situations, fear was an oppressive and constant occupant of my thought life. I was always on alert for the winds of unrest to begin brewing and for the inevitable storms that almost always followed. Unfortunately, as a young adult, I began experiencing tempests of my own creation. History repeating itself, or something like that. I was a maker of messes in my own life and in the lives of others. Not something I'm particularly proud of. But, God, being God, had always had other plans for me. I was saved by grace. Again and again.

I didn't deserve it. None of us do. We pray for God to perform miracles and healing and to...well...perform. We go to Him in prayer with the words 'I want' or 'I need'. As if giving us life, a beautiful planet to sustain us and the ability to love one another were not enough. We want and need more. Much more. And He gives of Himself...endlessly pouring out more and more. Again...grace.

How does all of this relate to Christmas? Let me present my case...
When I was around eight or nine years old I truly believed that my mother hated me. Might have had something to do with the fact that she told me a moment of irrational, alcoholic anger...and she apologized later...but once those words are expelled it is nearly impossible to remove them from your mind. I felt hopeless and unloved a lot in those days. It was almost Christmas and one of my favorite pastimes was looking under the tree, counting my presents and shaking them, trying to figure out what was inside. That year? Nothing. Nada. It seemed to reinforce the fact that I was not loved or even thought of. And then Christmas finally arrived and after most of everyone's gifts were opened my mom got up and left the room. She returned, smiling mischievously, with a huge gift wrapped box. To my delight and amazement it was for me and inside were what seemed to be endless, individually wrapped presents my mother had selected just for me. As I opened each gift, each more thoughtful than the next, I had a revelation and I began to feel the love flowing back into me. I realized that day that though I sometimes felt broken and lost and my mom had her own issues and limitations, she truly loved me as best as she could. I know in my spirit that God spoke into my mother's heart by His grace and helped her to show her love for me in such a way that no matter how bad things got between us later, I never doubted her love for me again. Only God would know how important that would be to me as time passed and the stormy years appeared on the horizon. That's what is so beautiful about grace. It is applied as a balm to the past, a blessing in the present time or even as a buffer for future events as God sees the need. I love Him so much for that!

The other story involves our struggle with infertility. Every Christmas, for several years, I prayed that God would send us a Christmas miracle (I want, I need) and that we would have the baby we were dreaming of. Every year that passed I felt more resolved to pray harder and believe bigger. That is the grace of God in action. There is no other way to describe the feeling of certainty during very trying times that by faith, through God's grace, we would have the family we wanted so much. I just knew it would happen and never gave up hope. After seven years of heartbreak and loss, fertility treatment, a succession of incredible mini-miracles and a move across the country, our baby Patrick was born on December 13th just in time for Christmas. God's grace was there to see us through. Our marriage and relationship was strengthened through the process, and two and a half years later we welcomed beautiful, healthy twin babies into our family. An amazing miracle indeed. Only God could have pulled off something like that!
To read the full story, click here:

The most obvious story of Christmas grace is, of course, the original one. He gave His only son as a sacrifice to atone for the sins and transgressions of a fallen world. He  knew what the price would be before the foundations of the world but He was willing to pay it. He decided we were worth it. How is that for amazing? When there was nothing left to hang on to but fear, and the stormy mess created by sin and disobedience had left irreparable damage in its wake. When there was only an enduring desire for a love that was broken and lost. He saved the world with a gift of amazing grace that will never be surpassed. A baby that arrived just in time for Christmas. For God so loved the world that we once were lost but now are found. We were bound but now we're free. Jesus lives, He loves and He reigns, hallelujah!
I rest my case.

Merry Christmas,


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Minding My Own Business

You know, if you spend a lot of time online reading other peoples' Facebook posts and checking out their random musings and shared links, it can be pretty time consuming. I mean, following that train of thought, just reading my blog and my abundance of opinions and thoughts takes up your time, as well. Of course I may be a bit biased but I consider reading my blog to be time well spent. Still, the other day I was scrolling through Facebook status updates and was taken aback by how many were tirelessly posting heated opinions, both pro and con, about Kim Kardashian and that whole wedding fiasco thing. The other hot topic that folks seemed to be heated about is the Occupy Wall Street movement. People were taking it all really personally. That's what people do, I guess.

I'm not really all that into celebrities and their antics. I think I lost interest in keeping up with the lives of people I've never met and probably never will at about the same time that I had Patrick. Just got completely infatuated with my baby and didn't have time for much else. Anyway, my point is, I just don't normally get personally involved with the lives of strangers. Well, except for waking up at the crack of dawn to have a party with my kids and a friend for the Royal Wedding. I guess that would be considered personal involvement in the lives of total strangers, now wouldn't it? maybe I'm a bit interested in the lives of others but not that much. Ha!

Anyway, I guess the reason we get into the lives of others has to do with the whole "grass is greener on the other side of the fence" thing. Or in the case of the Kardashians, "the grass is way browner than mine on the other side of her fence even though her fence probably cost more than my actual house." It's fun to imagine what it must be like for others to have all of the stuff we wish we had. Then it becomes satisfying in a totally creepy way when we see that sometimes, even though others have the all the stuff we think we want, they appear to be just as miserable as we are without it. Funny how that works, isn't it? We humans are pretty silly sometimes.

Which put me in mind of this, and sorry to get all political here, but the other day while I was watching a video of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, I was trying to figure out what the message was that they were actually trying to convey and all I could come up with was this: 'They have what I don't, so I want what they have.' Sort of. I'm not sure what they are after exactly...It seems that collectively, they don't either. There were lots of issues floating around in the air along with some other things that shall remain nameless. Certainly, you can't ignore the fact that they are out there and they are not happy with the status quo. I know it's rough out there for a lot of folks. As for me? I guess I am the "1%" that they so despise. I'm in the one percent because my husband, who comes from a middle class family, went to college with money which came in part from family savings, but most of which he earned by working at Hardee's, having a newspaper route, and earning academic scholarships to the Colorado School of Mines. When I met him, he was working at his first job as a process chemical engineer at a dreaded, eee-vil corporation in Corpus Christi, Texas, which so happens to produce the materials for just about every item that you use in your daily life, including the car you drive and most likely the device on which you are reading this post.

At that time he had an old rust bucket Toyota Corolla which he had to start by spraying carburetor cleaner into the engine. It took some powerful persuasion from me to convince him to sell that car long after he could afford a new one but it was unarguably unsafe. Our first home together was a tiny little shoe box of a condo that had a small sink, a mini-fridge and a two burner cook-top. We were deliriously happy there. We had each other and big dreams. It was a humble beginning to say the least. We all have to start out at the beginning, don't we? To this day, I have never met anyone with the work ethic and determination that motivates my husband. He cares about people, his industry and the environment. He's a Godly man, a great father and loving husband. Almost 17 years later, he still unselfishly works his butt off to provide a pretty stellar life for his family. He is generous and charitable. He is the "1%." There are countless others like us out there. If you have a problem with that? Well...I hate that for ya. This may not be a popular point of view. I realize I am only scratching the surface of the issue, here but I only have so much space. I know some of you will not like me saying these things and I'm sorry for that...but they happen to be true. Do I think the US Government is all right? No. Do I think they are all wrong? No. Somewhere in the murky middle? Maybe. Still...I am proud to be an American and believe in this country and the American dream because we are living it.

Of course everyone has the right to express their views. I actually love that about this country. My view is  that maybe the best thing for us to do is to stop being so interested in minding the business of others and be about God's business, instead. We were never promised that life would be fair. No matter where we are in life, there will always be someone way worse off and way better off than we are. Maybe the best place to focus our energy is not being envious or angry at those who have more than we do but thinking of ways that we can use the things we do have to be a blessing in the lives of others. Believe me...I know what it is like to start out with NOTHING. I am also experiencing the shared journey of building a life out of hard work, determination, faith, hope and love with the man of my dreams and through the power and mercy of  our heavenly Father. Nice work if you can get it. And now, I will just be quiet and mind my own business. Until next time...:0)



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Your Mama's So Crazy...

This will be a quick post because A) My posts are too long anyway and B) It's all I have time for and C) My life is just CRAZY these days! I just got in from having breakfast at the book fair with Michael and Mattie. It was chaotic and fun and expensive but totally worth it. Today is grandparents day at the book fair. I was there because I totally spaced out with Monday being Halloween and missed 'Muffins with Mom'. This sent my little 7 year old drama queen into a full-on tailspin. "But Mah-aahm...(she pauses for dramatic effect) you HAVE to do it on Grand's day because Daddy has to be there for 'Donuts with Dad' and they DON'T ALLOW MOMS ON THAT DAY!" So, as penance for being a crazy-busy, forgetful mommy...there I was this morning at the book fair with all of the grandparents and other forgetful mommies. Being an older mom, I guess I fit right in anyway. Oh, the shame! Heehee...

I love my kids. After she got so upset this morning, I told her that of course I would go but I would have to hurry to get ready. She jumped into my arms and nuzzled my neck with her little tear-stained face and whispered into my ear " are my best treasure. I'll help you with whatever you need." WOW. I'm so grateful now that I didn't say 'no' to her. Big Bonus for me! All three of them pitched in without complaining and helped me get ready in time. Patrick was so sweet and funny and Michael even made it to the car without forgetting his socks or shoes or backpack or anything! Crazy? Maybe. Happy and grateful? You better believe it.

It's the little things, isn't it?



Friday, October 28, 2011

How May I Serve You?

These past few weeks have been plagued by a common theme that I have started to refer to as "You have GOT to be flippin' kidding me!!' Murphy's Law is reigning supreme here at the Kingsbury household. Here's a recap: (And no...I am not making this up). A few weeks ago, a kid accidentally backed into my (first new) car in the parking lot as my family and I looked on helplessly. His woofers or tweeters or subzeros or whatever you call them, were cranked up to the max and he couldn't hear us shouting for him to stop. I went to the auto body shop to get my car fixed. Then, my microwave started acting up. Soon thereafter, the refrigerator started leaking water out of the ice maker and into the freezer compartment creating a beautiful winter wonderland of giant icicles amid the fishsticks and Ore-Ida potatoes and whatnot. Two words: Major. Mess.

Is that all? Oh, noooo. I'm just getting warmed up, here. In the midst of it all I have been serving frequently on the worship team which means a lot of nights away from home. I'm also in the middle of planning a huge party for the beginning of November. So what happens next? The dishwasher started spitting little rust particles all over the clean dishes. Not good. Then the microwave finally bit the dust and that wouldn't be so bad if it were not permanently connected to the oven requiring both items to be replaced. Ugh! A few days later, we heard a loud bang coming from the laundry room and water had flooded the floor. Can ya belieeeve it? Just crazy. And overwhelming. And EXPENSIVE.

But that's not all, folks. Because I haven't shared with you the completely insane experience of venturing out into the wild and wonderful world of retail to find replacements for our broken appliances. I'm such a noodle-head, I actually thought this would be fun. Well, I was wrong. It has been anything but fun. I won't bore you with the details but I will say that this shopping expedition has been an epic comedy of errors from day one...but believe me, I'm not laughing.

This leads me to the subject of service and the miserable lack thereof in many businesses and establishments I have been dealing with lately. Many people seem to have zero concern about their customers and will only do the bare minimum required in order to 'seal the deal.' I have been lied to, talked down to, misled, and ignored by very nearly everyone I have dealt with. I was frustrated and discouraged and just about out of Christian patience...when along came Dan. My lifeline in a sea of aggravation. He is the appliance manager at a major appliance dealer and he has restored my faith that there are those (though they are few and far between) who will actually go out of their way to do what they are supposed to do in the first place. Namely, to serve their customers. I am grateful to Dan and people like him. He was in the middle of a family crisis (his daughter and son-in-law were in a bad accident) but still felt the responsibility to finish what he began when he returned to work. Admirable, to say the least.

Service. This subject has been popping up quite often in the last few weeks. Then, yesterday, I was led to examine the word in a different light. David and I have been reading A Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and it is taking a long time because we made an agreement that we would read each chapter and then wait for the other before proceeding. David is not as into reading as I am which explains why it's taking so long. Anyway, God's timing is perfect because the chapter I turned to yesterday was all about service. Christian service. With all of the complaining about service I've been doing made me squirm a little, and I'll tell you why.

I love serving others. I volunteer at my kids schools and I volunteer at church...I even love serving my family. But lately...I'm going to be honest, here...I've been going a bit overboard in the service department. With everything else that has been going on, I have been allowing myself to get exasperated by the things I have committed myself to doing in the next few weeks. I have insisted on trying to do everything perfectly and have not taken a pause to catch my breath. Because of this I have become tired and overwhelmed and allowed myself to get a little huffy and to feel put upon. That's dangerous territory, folks because I must not lose sight of the fact that I am in service not for myself, not for the schools, not for other people but for God, Himself. God owns it all. Therefore, as the song says, I should 'do every little thing for the glory of the one who made me' and not get tied up worrying about little details and things that will make me look good. Should I try to do things well? Of course. Should I concern myself with being on time? Sure, that's important, too. But I believe God is more interested in our heart and our intentions than He is in the details and execution of what we do. I forget that sometimes and needed to be reminded of why I am doing what I'm doing in the first place. Do you need reminding, too? Well, then consider it done! :0)

So, after reading these chapters on service I feel God has given me a little spiritual fanny-smack and I am re-focused on the upcoming challenges I'm facing. I am feeling more joy in the process and have thrown off the garment of indignation and am putting on the garment of gratitude and praise. Being able to serve others is a gift. Not a liability or a burden. Mission accomplished. Attitude adjustment complete. Whew!

To conclude, I will give you the good news first. My car was fixed and the whole thing was covered by insurance. Jimmy's Service King in Baytown does awesome work and they really, genuinely care about their customers. They even have this great guy on the premises from the rental car company. His name is Clint. He is another shining star I have come across lately. I found a body shop I can trust and that's a good thing because a week after I got hit, David's car got backed into in a parking lot as, once again, he stood by helplessly unable to prevent the accident. But the story doesn't end there. On Monday, I backed into my housekeeper's car and messed up both of our cars. Yes, again. More EXPENSIVENESS. *Sigh* So...Black Beauty is back in the shop and Clint had another opportunity to wow me with his customer service awesomeness. My faith is somewhat restored. My car, (and myself for that matter) are still in the restoration process. Have a wonderful weekend, my friends.



Monday, October 24, 2011

The Castle In The Trees - Part Two (Tree house pics!) seems like ages ago that I wrote part one of this post. Life has kicked into overdrive here at the Kingsburys'. I doubt that I will be able to blog with as much dedication as I did during the summer. My life is not really my own until after the holidays. I am having a blast volunteering at the schools and am planning a big party in a couple of weeks, not to mention that we are having to replace 5 major appliances all at the same time. Then...the Christmas Parade Float. Yikes!

And tie together the loose ends of this story. Let's see, where was I? Okay, after my GrandMattie passed away, I was pretty low. It felt like all of the women in my family were disappearing. It was the end of an era, so to speak. I hadn't really spent much time with her the last few years of her life because I was living far away and only came back to Dallas for holidays and such. Still there was this emptiness. You know what I mean.

Several months later I received a very official looking letter in the mail from an attorney. As it turned out, my Grandmother's nephew had been managing her estate and she had left all of her children and grandchildren a portion of it. I was NOT expecting that. I won't say how much but it was a generous amount of money and I was so emotional at how even in death, Mattie kept on giving. I started thinking about how much she loved kids and how she was never able to have children of her own (She was my step-grandmother) and how I empathized with her. Had it not been for modern medical technology, I would have probably been in the same boat. One day the kids saw a really cool tree house online and asked me if me if we could build them one. And then, an idea began to take shape...

I couldn't think of a better tribute to my sweet Mattie than to take a portion of the money she left me and pour it into something really fantastic for our kids! The neighbor kids were all in on the design process, too. They wanted it to look like a castle. (It does). They wanted it to have electricity. (It does). They wanted enough space to sleep in it so we added bunks into the design plans. They wanted it to have a ceiling fan. (It does). They wanted a mini-fridge (Okay, I'm not crazy...that request was met with a resounding 'NO')! But it does have a wrap around balcony for the grown ups to enjoy the view of the creek! One day, Patrick said "Mom, we have to walk all the way down to the river and then climb the ladder to get in the tree house." I said "So, what do you want me to do? Build you a zip line to get across the yard?" We both looked at each other, not saying a word and then a big grin spread across his face. "Mom? Can you?" he asked. I burst out laughing and said "Well, why not...let's look into it!" We found a willing contractor and we were off to the races!

And so, in the summer of 2010, a mini-monument was imagined and built in honor and on the foundation of a grandmother's love and generosity. We all had a hand in getting it done and every time I look in my back yard, it makes me smile. Sometimes it's with sadness but most of the time...simply thankfulness that God put my grandmother in my life to teach me in the way that I should go. I've made a few detours and sometimes taken the long road, even hit a few dead ends but I see my way clearly now. I know where I am headed and I'm looking forward to the journey.

Yes, I believe in fairy tales. Even if mine is not exactly conventional. Still, I do have my prince and our sweet kids. Now we even have a castle. It's more than I deserve and better than I ever imagined.



Zip line platform
Testing the zip line landing

Filling in nail holes
Michael is admiring his work

Two good looking guys hard at work
Painting in PJ's. That's how we roll!
One dedicated Daddy!

Painting 'bricks' for the castle
Note the heart rock in the upper right corner...
for GrandMattie with love.
Kingsbury Castle in the Trees Circa 2010

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Castle In The Trees - Part One

The world appears to have been washed clean by some desperately needed rain this morning. It is sunny and cool and I stopped to admire the view outside just in time to see my barefooted little girl sailing across the back yard with her head thrown back and a big grin on her face. She was on the zip line headed for the landing of our tree house which we lovingly refer to as 'The Castle in the Trees.' This sight brought me back to a special place in my memory. The place where the events that unfolded would result in loss, grief, hope and then eventually, the creation and construction of our beautiful little castle. Here's how it all started...

A couple of years ago, around this time of year, I received a phone call informing me that My grandmother, Mattie, (yes, my daughter is named after her) had suffered a major stroke and was in the hospital. This came on the heels of a devastating year in which our family had already lost my maternal grandmother, my mother and then my aunt all within months of one another. I was feeling fragile and overwhelmed to begin with and this news about my grandmother really hit me at the knees. I remember being told that Mattie (Grandmattie) was unconscious and was unlikely to wake up and that she could stay in that state indefinitely. I was at a loss as to what I should do. Part of me wanted to rush to her side and part of me wondered if I should wait to see how things were going to unfold.

That Friday night, after praying and tossing and turning I sat up in bed just somehow knowing exactly what I needed to do. I felt peace about my decision to go to Dallas right away and spend some time with her. I decided to go up on Sunday after church, spend the rest of the day with her, then drive home on Monday morning in time to pick up my kids from school. The drive to Dallas was routine and uneventful. When the familiar sight of the Dallas skyline came into view, it didn't bring its usual comfort and feeling of homecoming. As I passed the old Mercantile Bank building, with its blue and red neon clock and spire (where my grandmother had worked and eventually retired), I couldn't help feeling nostalgic as though it were the last time the Dallas skyline would represent something constant in my life.

When I walked into her hospital room and saw her lying there in that bed, my heart was overwhelmed and my mind was racing with memories of this amazing, faith-filled woman who was at the center of some of the few times I actually felt safe and loved as a little girl. I remembered the visits she and my Grandad made to see us at Thanksgiving. My parents generally behaved themselves when they were around. I remembered the time she refused to go with the rest of my family on a day trip to Reynosa, Mexico because I was grounded for losing a schoolbook. She drove me to the school and walked all over the place, even digging in a dirt pile where I had been playing until she found the book and I was ungrounded! She was loyal like that. She was a force of nature to be reckoned with and I know that her unceasing prayers and unwavering faith have a lot to do with why I am saved today and am seeking to continually strengthen my relationship with God. She was a spiritual dynamo! She was an inspiration to me and I hope someday people will be able to say the same thing about me, too.

My aunt and uncle had been there at the hospital for a while and they decided to go back home and get some rest. I leaned over and stroked my grandmother's beautiful white hair and sang hymns to her. There was no response from her at all. I sat with her and talked to her and held her hand. I called my sisters and held the phone to her ear so they could speak to her. Finally, I was all talked out and exhausted and tearfully said good-bye to her for the last time. I walked out of the hospital feeling unsettled and restless and profoundly sad. I drove to my aunt's house, chatted with them for awhile and then headed to bed still feeling empty inside and with no peace whatsoever. I planned to sleep in a little and then drive home after breakfast. But God.....

At the crack of dawn, my cell phone rang and it was my friend Michelle who NEVER calls me in the morning. To this day...I can't remember what it was she wanted but once I was awake I started feeling compelled to get up and go back to Mesquite to the hospital to see my grandmother one more time. I tried to talk myself out of it but there was this feeling that I knew it was right to go back. So, back I went and just happened to end up in the elevator of the hospital with my grandmother's doctor. He said his decision was that she would be released that day and be sent to the nursing home where she would probably remain until she passed. He said it could be days, weeks or (though unlikely) maybe even months. Right after he left her room and we were alone...the strangest thing happened. I felt peace come over me and I realized right in that moment why I was back and exactly what I had left unsaid the night before. I sat down next to her and whispered to her. I told her I loved her and that we were all proud of her for a job well done. I told her that I would take over in her place and pray daily for the salvation and protection of our family. I assured her that I was safe and that we would be together in heaven and that if she was tired, it was okay for her to go ahead and go to Jesus. That He was waiting for her with open arms. I cried all over her as she started making little grunting noises in the back of her throat for the first time since I had seen her and her eyelids were fluttering a little. I knew she was hearing me! So amazing. What a gift. I just can't even put it into words.

I left the hospital knowing I would never see her again but finally having peace about it. Driving home to Houston, I was singing praises out loud with the radio feeling such gratitude that God had led me back to her and given me the opportunity to say everything I needed to say. I was missing her and remembering her and then about an hour into my drive I received a phone call from my aunt. My sweet Grand Mattie had passed away a little over an hour after I left her side. Wow. Just...WOW.

The timing of those events was not a coincidence or an accident. It was simply a gift from God to both of us and he allowed us to fulfill a need in each other one last time. I know that my grandmother needed to hear that I would be praying without ceasing for my family's salvation and protection. I felt the baton was being passed and knew what God wanted me to do. My grandmother understood the power of prayer and in my mind, that was her most powerful and important legacy of all. Sharing her faith with everyone she met. She was an inspiration and example to many. I miss her so much.

Yes, I remember my grandmother often. I think of her with special fondness when I look outside and see my children squealing with delight on the zip line and watch them running around in their little Castle in the Trees. What does my grandmother's memory have to do with our kids' tree house? I'll tell you the rest of the story next time. Until then...



Thursday, October 6, 2011

Excuse Me, You Seem To Have Lost Your Manners...

Okay, everyone...I'm going to admit to you right up front that I shall we say it...a bit PERTURBED! I heard something earlier in the week and I can't seem to let it go. Before I head full on into what's on my mind, let me give you a little background. I am a Texan. In Texas, we have always done things a little differently than other folks. The advertising slogan for tourism in Texas is this: 'Texas...It's a whole 'nother country.' See? Texans think nothing of creating new words when the ones everyone else uses just don't apply to our particular situation. I love that about Texas. You know what else I've always been proud of about Texas? We are notoriously nicer than other people. It's true. I'm sure you can look that up somewhere to confirm what I'm saying, though I don't have any idea where that might be. How about you just take my word for it.

Anyway, I live in a little rural town outside of Houston. I'm not from here, mind you...I just live here. Yes, that does make a difference. Football and athletics and school spirit are a big deal around here. So is pride in our community. So is hunting and fishing and all kinds of other manly stuff like that. I'll admit it was a little bit of an adjustment moving here after living on the east coast for so many years. Okay, so it was a BIG adjustment but I absolutely love it here now and can't imagine raising my kids anywhere else. One reason I love it? People openly pray and talk about God around here and aren't concerned about possibly offending someone while doing so. People actually know each other and look after their neighbors. And last but not least...people here have GOOD MANNERS!!!

Our children address adults with respect. They say 'Yes, ma'am' and 'No, sir.' They do not refer to adults by their given name. It's 'Miss Susie' or 'Mr. Sam.' They are taught to be polite and respectful in school. I love that because it lines up perfectly with what I am trying to instill in them at home: To be kind and generous people of integrity. To be good Christians and good citizens. To do unto others as they would have others do unto them. To be mindful of the needs of others. Is everyone perfect around here? No, of course not but at least we are trying. I feel like I have a better chance of teaching them those values here than probably anywhere else.

So, imagine my surprise and utter astonishment when the other day, I heard a woman (who I barely know) say this: "I have just about had it with the way the schools around here are trying to indoctrinate our kids to have perfect manners and be polite little robots." I'm sorry, but WHAT in the H-E-double hockey sticks is that supposed to mean?! Ya'll, I was steaming. I was speechless. And you know I'm never speechless! I had to turn around and walk away without saying anything and I'm sure she thought I was incredibly rude but I can assure you she would have really thought I was rude if I had stayed there for another second. Wow. I hope she doesn't read this blog but then on the other hand...I kind of hope she does! :0)

This is my opinion which I know is completely right no matter what anyone else says. (Ha!) What our country needs now more than ever is to teach common courtesy and manners to ALL of our children. We have become a nation of impatient, self-centered, over-indulged, and thoughtless citizens who think nothing of cutting off, interrupting and pushing around others in order to do or say whatever we want. Yeah, I said it. I said it because it happens to be true. In our childish determination to prove that we are FREE, we have let the pendulum swing way over into the land of the rude and the home of the intolerant. Does it make you mad to hear me say that? Good. We should all be mad at ourselves for allowing things to get to this point. Enough already.

Hear me out. Life was not handed to me on a silver platter. I have had to struggle and fight and pray my way through some extremely difficult times to get where I am today. You want to know the real reason why I have gotten so many good breaks and met so many great people who have helped me along the way? What's my secret? Here it is: I try to live as Jesus commanded. I'm nice. I have good manners. I treat people with respect and dignity. I care about them and take time to get to know them for no other reason than I am actually interested in who they are. That's it. That's my secret to success. JUST. BE. NICE. It takes very little effort and the rewards are huge. Am I perfect? Of course not but at least I'm trying.

I know most of you already know this and practice good manners and courtesy. I know there are many other places all over the country where parents and teachers are concerned about values. It just really burns me up when I see parents being rude and disrespectful to their own children and then turn around and demand respect from them in return. That is an exercise in futility. It makes me so sad to see parents wasting the only opportunity they will ever have to teach their children in the way they should go. It baffles me why people choose to be ugly and nasty when it takes way less energy and feels so much better to just be kind. I don't get that and I never will.

So, what do I have to say to the lady who made that obnoxious remark the other day? Let me try to use my good manners..."Excuse me, Lady... Please stop being ridiculous and be grateful that your children have a shot at becoming nice people simply because others have the knowledge and the foresight to teach them what you obviously have not. Thank you and have a nice day."

Okay...I think I'm done here. Whew! I feel much better now. Thanks for listening.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Facing Fear: Fighting the Good Fight of Faith

I hate to be scared. I know some people enjoy horror movies and Halloween haunted houses, etc. but not me. I'm just not wired for it. Like I always say...I have a lot of courage and faith but unfortunately also have the nervous system of a Chihuahua. I love roller coasters and thrill rides but that's about it for me in the adrenaline seeking department. Otherwise I'm really just a big weenie.

Some of you may know that I had an unstable and sometimes violent childhood which involved (among other things): physical and verbal abuse, an airplane crash, a custodial kidnapping (we haven't gotten to that one yet!) and being released into the world at 16 years old as an emancipated minor. Quite a resume, huh? By God's grace and mercy, I am safe, healthy and whole. But...there are a few scars I've had to deal with. One of these is called PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Now, you all know I'm not a big fan of labels. I am NOT a victim and I certainly don't play the PTSD card to excuse me from doing things that make me uncomfortable because I love life and want to live it to the fullest. And yet...there is no denying that I am vulnerable to the symptoms. I startle easily at loud noises, people coming at me quickly, lights flashing on or off and even when my children cry or cough during the night. My fight or flight response kicks in and my heart starts pounding and it takes me a little while to chill out again.

My husband asked me once what PTSD felt like. This is the best explanation I could come up with on short notice: Let's say we all have a 'watchtower' in our brain. And say that the average person has a calm, brave, noble, and strong knight as the guardian of their watchtower to alert their body to any potential danger that may arise. Got that visual? Okay. So in my 'watchtower', there is also a guardian but instead of having the brave knight like everybody else...I have...(drumroll please) Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show.

(If you don't know who Barney Fife is, here's a video to give you an idea. Do yourself a favor and take a minute to watch this. If you don't laugh, you should be afraid because something is seriously wrong with you).

Okay, back to the subject at hand...After my twins were born, I began having episodes of unexplained anxiety. First, the Dr. said it was hormones. Then he said it might be caused by sleep deprivation. It started becoming a constant companion that I dealt with in various ways none of which were particularly effective or healthy. I had three babies under the age of 3 with no help and no family nearby. It was a joyful but very stressful time in my life. I prayed continually for the fear to go away. Gradually the anxiety faded and I thought it was gone for good. Unfortunately it came back when we moved to Houston in the form of a full blown panic attack. If this has never happened to you, then consider yourself blessed. You might be surprised to find that this happens to a lot of people but they hardly ever talk about it. It is a terrifying physical event brought on in my case by underlying stress and it was awful and eventually painfully embarrassing.

Many people have offered help and counsel by telling me to basically "Fear not." As if it were just that easy! I know the scriptures regarding fear and I have read and recited them and they help tremendously but this is the point I want to make here: I've actually been chastised and told I was acting sinfully by 'giving in to fear' by well-meaning Christians who just really didn't understand. This is so disappointing to me because there is a lot of guilt and shame associated with anxiety. It is humiliating and embarrassing and most people who deal with it will never tell you about it because they know they will be judged and found lacking by the majority of people who hear about it. This is something that should be handled with love, compassion and understanding. It is a chemical reaction in the brain and is difficult to get under control. I hope whoever reads this- whether you suffer with anxiety yourself or know someone who does, you will be comforted by the fact that I understand how scary and isolating it is but I also know it CAN be overcome.

Over the last several years, I have certainly been engaged in a battle of fear vs faith. I have overcome so much and I am no longer dealing with fear and anxiety on a regular basis, praise God. It shows up occasionally when I am near my cycle (sorry guys) and I have learned to pray my way through it. It didn't go away overnight. It has taken time, prayer and fighting the good fight of faith to get the tide of this particular battle to turn in my favor. God is so faithful but we must realize that when we ask God to change something that is rooted deep in the foundation of our lives, we sometimes have to be de-constructed in order to be re-constructed. I'm willing. Are you?

Fear is part of the human experience. It will not be removed completely but I know where to find peace that passes understanding. As far as the good fight of faith is concerned? Well, I'm finally learning that the battle was never actually mine to begin with. Surrender, believe, stay rooted in God's word and wait. You are safe...God is the guardian of your watchtower.

Say to those with fearful hearts,

“Be strong, and do not fear,

for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.

He is coming to save you.”

~Isaiah 35:4 (NLT)

Peace and Blessings,


Thursday, September 29, 2011

How To Never Miss An Appointment

There is this word I have always loved. Serendipity. Isn't that a cool word? Saying it makes me feel all intellectual and stuff. I looked it up and it means: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. Great word. Too bad I don't completely believe in it. What I mean to say is that I think it is a word that was made up to try to explain something that can't be logically explained. Well thankfully, dear readers, I am here to clear this up for you because I have figured out that serendipity is really what happens when God steps into your daily life and uses events and people to shake things up and answer prayers. I know what some of you are thinking. Here she goes again with the whole God and miracles and faith thing. That's okay, go ahead and roll your eyes and get it over with but stay with me for a minute while I give you some examples of what I'm talking about that are hard to argue with.

In a post last year, I explained about our struggles with infertility. Here's a recap. We lived in Corpus Christi, Tx and were trying to figure out how to finance and carry out an attempt at IVF (In vitro fertilization). Our insurance didn't cover the cost (about $20,000) and the closest clinic was in San Antonio. Late one night, I was messing around on the computer and discovered that only a handful of states had mandatory insurance coverage for IVF. I was bummed to say the least, but I never stopped praying for God to make a way. One day I randomly said to David "Hey, I know...we could just pack up and move to Massachusetts and then it would all be paid for! Hahahahaha!!" At that point moving to Massachusetts was about as likely a probability for us as moving to Mars. Seriously. No reason to even consider it. And yet...3 weeks later David got a totally random call (he was not looking to change jobs) from a headhunter who said he had thought of David for a potential job opportunity but thought he probably wouldn't be interested because it was in (you guessed it...) MASSACHUSETTS! David got the job and in an act of blind obedience and childlike faith, we moved to Massachusetts. Two cycles of IVF and 3 babies later we were convinced of the power of a 'divine appointment'. Not only that but David is still employed with that company 10 years later. Serendipity? I think not. (If you'd like, you can read the entire story here:

I could share countless other stories like this but one is fresh in my mind and is actually what inspired this post to begin with. It's on my mind because it just happened yesterday. What strikes me the most about what happened is how many weird mishaps had to come together with perfect precision in order for the divine appointment to take place and bear the unbelievable fruit that it did. I left this divine appointment forever changed and I'm thinking it might have been the same for the person with whom the appointment took place. First of all, yesterday was a typical blur of activity around here. Mattie and Michael were invited to participate in the "See you at the Pole" event at their school. Michael shared a statement of faith and Mattie recited a prayer. So precious. Right after that I had a volunteer meeting and then had to race home to meet the glass repair guys. As I walked over to the window to check out the repair, out of the corner of my eye, I 'happened' to notice a paper on the table that looked like an incomplete piece of homework that belonged to Michael. I was annoyed because Michael has a habit of forgetting things and I have to make a lot of trips up to the school to bail him out and besides, I had just left there!

I came so close to just blowing it off but something kept compelling me to take it up there. I was unaware of the time and just drove up to the school to tell the teacher to be sure he sat out at recess to get his work done. I walked down the hall to Michael's classroom only to find out that the paper in question was NOT homework and that I had accidentally arrived just in time for lunch. Both kids saw me in the hall and begged me to go to lunch with them. Not in my plans at all. Still, I was there and decided to have lunch with them even though I usually eat with them on Fridays. We picked a table we don't normally sit at and it was there that my attention was drawn to a striking woman at the end of the table and I started making conversation with her in the noisy cafeteria. After lunch was over and the kids went back to class, she and I were still talking and the conversation took a serious and very personal turn. I won't go into the details but we sat through 3 lunch periods in the corner of a noisy cafeteria; two women, virtual strangers brought together by shared experiences, and I poured into her and she blessed me and it was unbelievable the things we shared with one another. I was put in that lunchroom at exactly the right time and so was she. I walked away in a daze, my mind whirling with the transforming and healing power of God!

I know you must have had similar encounters and events in your own lives. We all do but I don't think for a minute that they are a random phenomenon or accident. Serendipity my foot! God is an on purpose God. If you are tuned in and are obedient to His directed whisperings into your spirit, you will never, ever have to miss an opportunity for a divine appointment. How cool is that?



Monday, September 26, 2011

Barefoot In The Park With a Princess

Being a mom is hard work. The hours are long. The duties are many. The pay is not that great but the benefits are beyond price. I love my job. It is my vocation to which I am ideally suited. There is really nothing I would rather do. Really, I mean that. After hearing that glowing review of life as a stay home mom, you would think I just contentedly cruise through life in my SUV aka 'mommy-mobile' bestowing knowing, happy smiles upon all of the other fulfilled and joyful mommies as we pass one another in the car rider lines and on our way to various sports practices and games. Yeah, well...think again.

My life is anything but glamorous. There are days when I am completely consumed with the needs of others and forget to brush my own hair before leaving the house. My calendar is full and I allow myself to become over-extended and over-committed. I tend to deprive myself of sleep and over-indulge myself with food. It should really be the other way around, wouldn't you agree?  I am plagued with an affliction my friend Carrie refers to as 'housecleaning ADD' which means that I can't clean one room without going somewhere else in the house to put something away and becoming distracted in that room and then repeating the process until I have wasted a big chunk of valuable time. Heck, while I'm being honest here, I might as well tell you that I secretly hate doing housework of every kind. Especially laundry. Problem is, I also can't stand a messy house, so I have to do it anyway. If it were up to me, I would employ a daily housekeeper that just did everything so I could be up at the school volunteering or be on my computer blogging or out running errands or whatever. Unfortunately, it is not up to me. I can't see hubby footing the bill for that. He loves me but there are limits.

Weekends can be pretty busy around here and it's going to be even more crazy in a few weeks when the boys start their football games. I will be doing what I call 'the gopher routine' where I have to keep popping up in various places at various times to be sure I can be there to support all of them. By the grace of God I will manage...I always do but it isn't easy and there will be tears (mine or theirs) because at some point I will inevitably fall short of someone's expectations and will disappoint them by not being there. Occupational hazard, I guess.

Knowing what is around the corner in the days to come makes the unexpected gift of this past Saturday even more of a blessing. I spent the day at the football field with my 7 year old daughter who is a mini-pom cheerleader for the TIFI football league. She LOVES cheerleading and I love watching her out there. We were having so much fun that I declared the rest of the day 'Mama and Mattie' day. We came home and got all dressed up, put on our high heels and went out to dinner at our favorite mexican food restaurant. As we were finishing dinner and having ice cream I looked across the table at her and just felt my heart swell. This beautiful miracle, my daughter, is such a precious little girl. She makes me so proud and in that moment I was overwhelmed with love and didn't want our special time together to come to an end just yet.

My Mattie girl at Iguana Joe's
for Girl's Night Out
And then I had an idea. It was almost sunset. I said "Mattie are you up for an adventure?" Eyes shining mischievously, she said "Yes, let's do it...where are we going?" I told her she would have to wait and see. As we drove along, she was excitedly peppering me with questions and guesses about where we were going. As we pulled into the big new city park she said "Mama, are you crazy? We can't play on the playground, we're in dresses and high heels!" My response? "Well I guess we'll just have to go barefoot, won't we?" Giggling, shoes in hand, we raced barefoot up the hill to the playground. We ran over the bridge across the stream holding hands. We skipped down the sidewalk (yes, you heard me right...I skipped!) singing the theme song to Barbie's Island Princess movie (which neither of us knew the real words to so we made up funny ones of our own) and we gave each other a private concert under the emerging stars as we danced together in the amphitheater. God masterfully painted the twilight sky with an amazing palette of lavender, orange and purple and we watched in wonder as it reflected off of the shimmering lake. We knew He had created this sunset especially for us. Mattie and I walked out onto the pier, bowed our heads, held hands and said a heartfelt prayer to God for our amazing day together and for the gift of each other. As we walked back to the car, the wind was blowing spray from the fountain and we took turns with our arms open wide

Princess Matelaine of Kingsbury
4am at our Party in honor of
The Royal Wedding of William and Kate
embracing the mist on the breeze and soaking up the the feeling of the night. It was one of those moments in life, captured forever in my heart, that was absolutely perfect in every way.

Heaven on earth is skipping barefoot in the park with my princess and countless other little adventures that are made merely from the magical elements of my precious children, a moment in time and a little imagination.

Yes, being a mom is hard work. The hours are long. The duties are many. The pay is not that great but the benefits are beyond price. I love my job.



Thursday, September 22, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: I Don't Want To Hear It

I don't care to watch the news anymore. I like Anderson Cooper 360 but I think that's mostly because of his 'Ridiculist.' He's cool and quirky and somehow the news, coming from him, doesn't seem quite so scary. Plus he has a great head of hair, as is required for all important TV news anchormen. I also occasionally watch The Daily Show with John Stewart. He's hilariously funny and technically he doesn't really report the actual news. (Naturally, he also has great hair). I don't watch the news because it is overwhelming and depressing. I hear a lot of arguing and posturing and I don't really trust any of them to help me understand the facts in any real way. And politics? Don't even get me started. The news media doesn't serve our government very effectively. Let's put it this way: My drivers license says I live in the State of Texas but I really reside in the great state of Denial. Do I seem socially irresponsible to you? Like the infamous ostrich with its head buried in the sand? Before you pass judgment on me, allow me to explain.

If you are a regular reader, you know that the beginning of my life was filled with drama, chaos and violence. I am completely and utterly turned off by all of those things. I make a concerted effort to create an atmosphere in my home of peace, stability and love. In order to be able to maintain that level of peace around here I have learned that my attitude and my emotional status seem to set the tone for the household as a whole. Translated: 'If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody gonna be happy.' If I am stressed and frustrated it tends to trickle down to everyone...even the dog. The same is true if I am positive and relaxed. It is in my best interests to keep my family on an even keel and so I have to find ways to keep my stress level under control. For me, this means less exposure to the message of gloom and doom being broadcast 24/7.

Sometimes, though...I get sucked in. Today, I saw a link on Facebook about a big controversy between Greta Van Susteren and Tucker Carleson (I have no idea if I spelled their names correctly or which network they are with and sorry...but I'm too lazy to check it out). Anyway, the brouhaha was over a radio interview on ESPN in which Mike Tyson was saying some incredibly degrading and disturbing things about Sarah Palin. I won't lower myself to repeat what Mike Tyson said. You can look it up if you want to. Why he has been invited to speak on the radio or anywhere else is completely beyond me. That's all I'm going to say about him. What interests me is that the argument between GVS and TC got completely derailed and they spent 5 minutes fighting over how the story broke and whether it should have come out at all, and how their respective networks handled the story, etc. Meanwhile, they seemed to be TOO BUSY ARGUING to report the real news; that Mike Tyson had gone way out of bounds and his behavior was a complete disgrace and why did the guys at ESPN even allow, much less laugh and go along with his vulgar nonsense? And why isn't the whole country completely outraged at a convicted rapist making these statements about ANY woman much less Sarah Palin? They made it all about themselves. This really got me wound up, ya'll.

I was sitting on the bed next to my son who is home sick with Strep and I was visibly annoyed. He knew something was up and asked me if I was okay. I shut off my computer and pulled him into my lap. As my mind cleared and peace returned, I had a little mini-revelation. The thing is, Mike Tyson and his obvious deep-rooted issues are really none of my business. I am not a person of authority or a lawmaker who has any influence on his behavior. I'm not a particular fan of Sarah Palin but I feel empathy for her and the members of her family. Still, she is none of my business, either. She has made a choice to maintain a strong presence in the public eye and has to deal with the perks and the problems that come with it. In the meantime, this family and everyone in it is my circle of influence. I have a son to keep occupied and dinner to plan and a lost library book to find and kids to pick up from school and a million other ordinary things that do fall under my jurisdiction.

"Wait just a minute," you might be saying..."we are a global community. What affects one of us affects us all." True. But let's throw the whole scenario into reverse, shall we? Let's say that I left my oven on while I ran out to pick up my kids from school and something went wrong and my house burned down. Say I left my dog in the house and he didn't make it out. This would be a tragedy of epic proportions to my family and I. We would be devastated. Wiped out. Uprooted and displaced. The community would most likely pull together to help us out. It would be big news around here. But it wouldn't be of any concern to Mike Tyson or Sarah Palin, would it? I wouldn't expect either of them to rush to our aid. Why? Because they don't even know me. I don't know them, either. I just know of them. The ripples in my little pond are not going to be noticeable on the shore of their lives. I'm okay with that.

Let me be clear...I care deeply for the hurting and the lost and there are things I can do. I can pray God's wisdom for that situation. I can send financial help and resources where they are needed in times of crisis. I can be a blessing to everyone that God puts in my path or within my reach...there is plenty to do right here in my own community. I can shine my light on situations that concern me right here in my little blog. I can be a conduit of peace and love for my family. I can pray for peace and unity in our country and the world. I know that God is in control and that nothing that happens in this world comes as a surprise to Him. Ultimately, I am called to do this: Trust in the Lord my God with all of my heart and lean not on my own understanding. I am to trust Him. Completely. This means I must concern myself with being about God's business in my daily life. He can handle the business of the world quite capably without my interference and when and if He needs my help, believe me...I'll know it. Until then...for me, NO news is good news.

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe. ~Psalm 4:8



Monday, September 19, 2011

Love The One You're With

It's Sunday night and I'm just sitting here thinking about what a great weekend it has been. We really needed it. It was a great ending to what had been a crazy week for all of us. Mattie has two different cheerleading teams that have practices on 3 different days. David is the head coach of Patrick's flag football team and Michael is playing flag football on another team that practices at a different time and location. I have worship team rehearsal on Tuesdays. David and I barely saw each other and when we did (and I'm going to be completely honest here) I was often a little bit grumpy and/or in a rush. I would blame my attitude on hormones or lack of sleep but that would be the easy way out and I'm sure nobody really wants to hear about my hormones anyway.

This weekend we reconnected and had some wonderful family time. As things began to slow down, I was reminded of what a great man I'm married to and what an awesome father he is and how blessed I am to have him in my life. I proceeded to tell him so at every available opportunity. I could tell he really needed to hear those words and I really needed to say them. I apologized to him for my grouchy and impatient moments and asked his forgiveness. He, being the gracious soul that he is, accepted my apology with open arms. I, being reasonably intelligent and grateful, ran into them immediately. Great weekend.

I wasn't always lucky in love. Remember that old song from the '80's called "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard On Me?" Well, I can certainly relate. Whether it is family relationships, friendships or romance, I'm one to give my heart completely and without much reservation. I don't seem to be able to do it any other way. What is given freely can sometimes be taken for granted, and sometimes at great emotional expense to everyone involved. Sometimes people grow apart. It just happens even though we wish it wouldn't. I have often been one to hold on and try to keep working at relationships that were long dead and deserved a decent burial. I'm working on that issue but being the optimist that I am...I can't seem to help but keep hope alive in the back of my mind that everything will work out in the end. That's just what I do. I hope. I'm a 'hoper.' Cool. I made a new word.

When David and I met and fell in love I knew way down deep that I was in it for life. It really was the first time I had ever felt that way. I just knew. He wasn't the most likely choice for me, or I for him for that matter, but we chose each other anyway. I am outgoing and outspoken and, well...'out there' while he is laid back, practical and even-keeled. We totally balance each other out. Once, one of our friends asked David why we worked so well as a couple. He said (I'll never forget this) "I give her structure and she gives me life." He says cool things like that. It is true, though. We compliment each other. Both figuratively and literally. We have both made it a practice in our marriage to be kind out loud. We are each other's best friend and biggest fan. I think he is the best thing going. He thinks the same about me.

For us, love is not just a feeling. It is a way of life. It is at the center of every interaction in our family. When we became 'we' I had to alter the idea of 'me.' When I became a wife and subsequently a mother I realized that life was not all about me anymore. To be frank, I wasn't doing all that great on my own anyway. I didn't like going it alone. So, now I'm not functioning in the role of an individual anymore. The needs of the team have to come first. That is what love really is, isn't it? Putting the needs and desires of others above your own.

Do I have 'poor me' moments? Sure I do. I had a few last week. That usually happens when I allow myself to become overwhelmed and convince myself that I am doing everything in my own strength. So silly of me because without the grace and mercy of God, I would have nothing. He always picks me up and places me back on solid ground. Then I remember that God gave me an amazing partner in life and I know I can do anything as long as I stick with him. The truth is, even if I did not have David in my life, I am secure in the fact that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. With that knowledge comes unsurpassed peace.

My challenge is this: Be mindful of those God has given you to love and do it openly with unbridled enthusiasm. Shower them with (sincere) compliments. Speak words of love and encouragement in place of judgement and criticism. Sow seeds of faith into them so they know you believe in them. Love freely and without the expectation that your actions will be returned exactly as they are given. Forgive and forget. Be generous and verbal with your applause for their accomplishments. Be kind out loud. Love. Really, actively love the ones you are with every day. I guarantee this will have a boomerang effect on your relationships. That's right...I said guaranteed. Or your money back.  (Minus shipping and handling, of course).



Friday, September 16, 2011

I'll Tell You Where You Can Stick Your Labels

I've got a question for you all. (Aren't ya'll proud I didn't say ya'll?) Why do you think people are so quick to label one another? Especially in a negative light. I can remember being labeled going all the way back to early childhood. My mother used to tell people "My oldest daughter is the smart one, my middle daughter is the artistic one and my youngest (me) is the funny one." See, I understand why she said it but looking is really interesting how I was convinced, early on, that being 'the funny one' in her eyes somehow disqualified me from being smart or artistic. I was labeled and that was that. I believed what she believed was true about me. I'm not picking on her...but now that I am a parent, I have a new perspective and I realize how important it is to be careful not to label my kids. Especially in their presence. They are who they are. They are complex little human beings and to label them is to confine them. I don't want to do that.

I was watching CNN the other day (I try not to make it a habit) and it was so wild to me how the various talking heads were telling all of us mush-brained zombies out in TV Land what to think and feel about this person and that person just because (now follow along closely here...) they said so. And I was going right along with it at first because that's what we mush-brained zombies do, occurred to me that I really had no earthly idea if they were right or wrong about the targets of their verbal slings and arrows. I never actually did any of my own fact finding about these individuals, I just 'read the labels' the media had slapped on them and didn't even think twice. Why do we do that? I don't know about you, but I'm going to make the effort to do more of my own research from now on.

It made me think: How many times a day do we make snap judgments according to the label someone has put on someone else? "She's a snob." "He's a cheater." "They are poor." " She's bossy and demanding." "Their kids are spoiled brats." "That kid has ADHD." "She's totally Schizo." And so on. All of these characterizations may be spot on. Or maybe they are not. But how often do we hear these things and just go along with it without allowing the person the courtesy of drawing our own conclusions and giving them the benefit of the doubt?  Probably too often. Have you ever gotten to know someone and thought to yourself "this person is nothing like I thought they would be. How did I misjudge them? " It is most likely because of blindly accepting the label someone else had stamped on them without giving yourself an opportunity to get to know them first. Preconceived notions can really get in the way of our relationships sometimes, can't they?

Not long ago, I was talking with someone close to me about this blog. She actually said this: "Why are you spending so much of your time doing that? You're not even a writer. You're a mom. Doesn't being a mom keep you busy enough?" I was floored. Yes, I'm a mom. I'm also a wife. I'm a writer. I'm a singer. I'm a decorator. I'm a school volunteer. I'm a pretty fair (completely unqualified) counselor when someone asks for my help. I'm a child of God. These things are not mutually exclusive. These are just some truths about me. Of course there are other truths about me that aren't as flattering. I'm a person with talents and flaws just like everyone else. I don't need labels. Neither do you. Neither does anyone else.

A famous person once said 'labels are for jars...not for people. Those are my sentiments exactly. In fact, I'll tell you where you can stick your label: how about on a can of Spam or any place else as long as it isn't on me. I'll try to return the favor and keep the labels off you, too. :o)

I'll leave you with this quote by one of my favorites:

“Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let man label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country- hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.”  ~Mark Twain

Yeah. What he said.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Heart Of Stone

I'll freely admit to you, right up front, that I believe in fairy tales. Sort of. What I mean is...I believe that two people in love can live happily ever after. I believe in the power of things unseen. I believe there is more to this world than just what we can pick up with our five senses. I believe in miracles. I have no choice in the matter. I have seen miracles, I have heard of miracles, My children are miracles, I, myself, am a miracle. Go me naive and gullible. (It's okay, I don't won't be the first). It won't faze me. I know what I know.

When my daddy died unexpectedly, I was devastated. Completely undone. We were close even though we didn't see each other very often. He was the only person I had known up to that time in my life to love me unconditionally. I felt my world had shifted on its axis. If you've ever lost a parent, you understand. We had made a promise to each other that if either of us 'went' first, we would send the other a sign. I looked around in the days and weeks following his death for something, anything to let me know he was okay. I got nothing. Nada. I was disappointed, to say the least.

Some of
Daddy's feathers
Some time passed and I went out on a date (can't remember the guy's name for some reason) and saw the movie Forrest Gump. During the scene at the end when Forrest is talking to Bubba at his grave site...I lost it. All of my pent up grief and loneliness came pouring out and I was blubbering inappropriately out loud in the theater. This probably explains why I don't remember my date's name. I'm sure he never called me again! At the end I finally collected myself and was able to see the part at the end with the little white feather floating in the air. It was night time as we left the theater and fairly windy. Right as I was opening the car door, something made me look down, and right by the toe of my shoe, were two perfect little white feathers. One was smaller than the other and I knew in that instant that my daddy had sent me my sign. Right on time and right at the moment I needed it most! Since that day, at almost every important moment of my life, there has been a perfect little white feather drifting near me, sitting beside me, falling on me or even in one case swimming in front of my eyes while I was snorkeling in Hawaii. I know it is him. Loving, encouraging and consoling me just like he always has. I still have every feather he's ever sent me, including the one I found ON MY PILLOW (no, we didn't have any feather pillows) the day after my surgery when the Dr. said we would not be able to have children. I saw that feather and I just knew we would receive a miracle and have the baby we were praying for.  How did I know? Because Daddy said so. Most of you know the rest of the story. If it is:

What does any of this have to do with a heart of stone? Well, I'm about to get to that. A few years ago after going through a difficult time, God sent me my first 'heart rock.' It was a stone in the shape of a heart. It came right after a very direct request to God that He show me a tangible sign of His love. Since that time, I have found some very special heart rocks and have a little collection. I have had opportunities to pass some of them along to certain people when I feel like they may need a sign of God's love the way I did that time when I prayed for one. Some of them are very special and I will always hold on to them. One in particular.

While on vacation in Maine recently, we were looking for heart rocks every day along the shore. Maine is a really rocky place so trying to find one shaped like a heart is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. We simply had no luck. We had been praying for God to send us one as a memento of our vacation but on the day before we left, Mattie came to me and said "Mama, our prayer didn't get answered." I explained to her that sometimes the answer to our prayers seems like a 'no' but is really just a 'not yet.' I told her we were still in Maine and basically, 'It ain't over 'til it's over.'

That afternoon, she and her older cousins left to gather blueberries up in the woods behind the house. The girls somehow lost their way and used the cell phone to call us and ask us to come and find them. At one point the girls were beside a big rock and David told them to stay put so we would not be chasing a moving target. They moved on eventually and we found them shaken and scared but none the worse for the wear. When we got back to the house there was chaos and noise as the girls settled back in and shared their adventure with everyone.

The following morning we were busy loading the car and getting ready to head to the airport. Mattie approached me and said "Mama...I forgot to give you something." She opened her little hand and sitting on her palm was the most perfectly formed heart rock I've seen yet. "It's for you, Mama," she said in her sweet little voice. I asked her where it came from and here is her story: When the girls were lost in the woods and David had told them to 'stay by the rock' (the symbolism of that is not lost on me, either), Mattie had put her feet on the ground and happened to look down and see the heart rock right beside the toe of her sneaker. She told me that when she saw it, it gave her hope and she knew in that moment that God would guide her Daddy right to her and they would be found. She remembered that God's answer was not 'no' it was 'not yet.' Mattie's 7 year old mind and spirit understood something we could all do to remember. That God's timing is perfect. It may not always feel like it but is is. Mattie pointed out that if we had found the heart rock earlier in the week, she wouldn't have been looking for another one and would have missed God's message of hope and encouragement to her right when she needed it the most.
Mattie and
Maine Heart

Yes, I believe in the signs and wonders of God's world. I see the beauty around me because that's what I'm looking for. I feel God's love because that's what I am seeking with all of my heart. I see the hearts of people because that is the part of them that appeals to me the most. I've learned that we are usually surrounded by that which we believe in the most. I believe in family. I believe in the power of love. I believe in miracles. Most importantly...I believe in the 'solid rock' whose unfailing love lives forever in my heart.

What do you believe in?



Thursday, September 8, 2011

It's Not Your Mama's Fault-Part 2

Okay, so where were we? Oh, that's right...I left off right at the point where I was officially 'emancipated' at the age of 16. Whew. Heavy. Just sitting here recalling and writing this stuff takes me back. My teenage life had been a whirlwind of changes; from living in a house with 9 bedrooms and six bathrooms with a swimming pool and a tennis court, to going through my mom and step-dad's divorce and moving into a mobile home, to getting thrown out in the middle of the night on my proverbial bum. I remember being outwardly full of bluster and bravado and scared witless on the inside.

There were angels along the way. My sister, Sarah tried to take me in a time or two. I was too much of a handful for a 21 year old girl who, for all her good intentions and maturity, just couldn't offer me the guidance and discipline I desperately needed. There were my friends' parents, even their siblings, who offered me shelter but it was always temporary and I knew I was a burden even though they tried to make me feel otherwise. The bottom line was...I was on my own. For a while there, I lived in my '71 Chevy Chevelle and ate a lot of Fritos and bologna sandwiches. I showered at a public shower in a trailer park down by the Rio Grande River. I was dead broke and had no financial support. I had to ask strangers to 'borrow' their shampoo. I got a job as a waitress at a coffee shop. Not exactly the glamorous life. I moved to Dallas and stayed with my sister for a while and then ended up landing a job leasing apartments where I was offered an on-site apartment as part of my salary. I was so young. Way too young to be unchaperoned, unattended and alone. Naturally, I made mistakes. Big Texas-sized mistakes.

I'm not going to bore you with the gory details. Let's suffice it to say that a teenage girl who feels lonely and unloved in a big scary world is in danger of herself and of predators. Praise God I am a tough little sailor and although I was tossed about in some ferocious waves, I miraculously weathered the storm a bit bruised and battered but with no permanent damage. When I look back on those days I see God's angels were furiously working overtime to keep me safe not only from others but honestly, mainly, from myself. To sum it up: I survived. And I've thrived. I live an amazing, blessed and prosperous life. How? Unfailing hope, faith, tenacity and God's unbelievable, endless love, grace and mercy. I just believed way down deep that I was created to do great things. No circumstance or setback ever seemed too great to overcome. I am (as someone once put it) annoyingly resilient. :0)

Was I ever discouraged, depressed, anxious, humiliated, despondent, embarrassed, rejected, or abandoned? Most definitely, yes. In my lifetime I have experienced all of those things and more. So what? Does that make me special? Do I deserve a free pass to the front of the lines at the rides at Disneyland? Of course not. We all have a story. Most of us have experienced pain, loss and consequences of poor choices. That's life. It's part of the deal. What we decide to do when we are at our lowest points in life will determine how we move forward. What do I choose to do when I'm at my lowest point? Go lower! I hit my knees. Or put my face on the ground and SURRENDER! I beg for God to forgive me. To empty me of myself and my pride and my foolish choices and to fill me up with Himself, instead. This is a NO FAIL solution to my life's most difficult tangles and trials. You may not believe but that doesn't matter. I know that I know what I know. Jesus is alive in me. And you. He is not a myth or a fantasy, He is a tangible, living, loving God who cares about the most intimate details of your life. Nothing is hidden from His view. Let Him in and you will be transformed. Alrighty, then...end of sermon.

Okay...let me catch my breath. Some of you probably read Part 1 and thought, that poor thing...her mother ruined her life. Her parents screwed up her life because they were selfish. She was abused and abandoned and rejected. Well, so was Jesus. So are many. So what? Listen to me closely, my beautiful friends: You may not like hearing this but it is true...if you are an adult or a young person making adult choices and you get off track...IT"S NOT YOUR MAMA'S FAULT. There, I said it.

Now don't get me wrong...parents have a profound obligation and responsibility to love, respect, protect and guide their children. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously as a parent. The problem is, not all parents do. They should...but they don't for whatever reason. My mother's parents failed her, too. Sometimes we have to grow up too fast. I can wish all day long that things had been different. (I have). I can sit around and wallow in the pit of my parents' poor decisions and choices. (I've done that, too). But at the end of the day, the responsibility for myself and my life and my choices are on ME and me alone. My mama and her messed up stuff are irrelevant now. I have a husband to love and a family to raise and a legacy of abuse and neglect and alcoholism to dismantle and destroy. I have decided...It ends with me. (In Jesus' name). Blaming and being a victim earns me NOTHING. Zip. Zero. It just perpetuates the cycle. I'm resolutely unwilling to do that. I'll say it again...It ends with ME. Period.

If I sound harsh, it is because I have seen so many creative, beautiful, talented people waste so much time of their lives being bitter, disappointed, and angry children living inside of their adult bodies. If you have trouble with unforgiveness and anger, find a trustworthy friend or counselor and unburden yourself. Lay it all out and deal with it once and for all. Most importantly, run with your arms outstretched toward the One who gave it all for you. Nobody understands your pain and suffering like He does. You can move out of darkness and resentment and brokenness toward healing, forgiveness, and wholeness. Listen...if I can do it, seriously, anyone can. You have nothing to lose and you'll gain your freedom in the process.

Take it easy on yourself. All it takes to get started is a desire to forgive. As I said before, it was a long process for me. The payoff? Ironically, I am finally, truly emancipated! I'm free to see my mother as she really was. A sick, sad, scared, confused and lonely woman who just did the best she could with what she had. She was dealing with the consequences of some poor choices. She wanted to be a good mother. She tried. She had some great shining moments that I will never forget. She loved me with all that she had. She just never could quite pull it together. I wish she was here now so I could pull her into my arms and hold her. I forgive her. I love her. Some sweet day I will look into her beautiful eyes and have that moment of reconciliation. But for now...all is well. Or as the song goes: It is well with my soul. Freedom feels good.

Be blessed,

Please take a moment to listen to this song that my mother, Jane, and I used to sit on her big bed and sing together. She meant every word she sang to me in those moments. I honor her memory with this post. I know she is proud of me for speaking out so that other people can see beyond the pain of the past and into their very own future full of promise and possibility.

I love you, Mommy.

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's Not Your Mama's Fault-Part 1

I never fully forgave my mother until after she passed away. I guess it happens that way sometimes. I had made attempts to forgive her and had told her she was forgiven but the pain and the scars ran deep and would resurface at the most inopportune times. The thing is...I had wanted to forgive her for a long time for both of our sake. I wanted to move on and forget and to have some semblance of a healthy relationship on an adult level. I wanted her to know her grandchildren. I wanted to love her and to be loved in return. The thing is, she just made it so hard.

Let me go back a little so I can catch you up. If you are a regular reader, you know my mom had a mental illness that held her fast with an iron grip. She was such a mess of contradictions. Stunningly beautiful but painfully insecure. Creative and talented but unmotivated and uninspired. Witty and mischievous but apathetic and bitingly sarcastic. Accepting and loving of others but easily irritated and annoyed by her own children. She was vigorously loving life one minute and then suicidal and despondent the next. She was relentlessly demanding of those closest to her but generous to a fault with strangers. She openly admitted to being resentful of the shackles of motherhood and told me quite often that she wished I would just 'disappear.'

Don't get me mother was a really unique and special woman. She truly and deeply loved me. That I know with absolute certainty. There weren't many things she couldn't do well. We had a lot of laughs and special moments that were ours alone. When we got together sometimes we could trade witty repartee that would leave us both joyfully weak with laughter. In a way, I think that was a blessing and a curse. If she had been hard and hateful and dismissive all of the time, it would have made her rejection less agonizing. I so desperately wanted my sparkling, witty, beautiful loving and affectionate mother all the time. Unfortunately that version of her was a fleeting visitation from what sometimes seemed to be a phantom figment of my imagination. Her illness was in control more often than not. She failed me in the most painful way imaginable. She chose to look the other way as my stepfather serially abused her little girls. She did not do what mothers have been created to do since the beginning of time: Simply, she failed to protect me. Epic fail.

When I was sixteen, my mother had since divorced my step dad, my sisters were grown and I was alone in the house with my mom. She was drinking way too much and was on some pretty heavy duty medications. She was trying to hold down a job as a secretary to the president of a bank. She was overwhelmed. She was not herself. She became unreasonable and violent and completely uninterested in being a mother anymore. How do I know this? Because she told me so quite often. I became rebellious and angry. I was scared to be alone with her and my schoolwork became completely unimportant to me as my home life was such a distraction. I was so ashamed of my situation. I began spinning tall tales to my friends to try to make my life seem normal or even glamorous. My school counselor actually suggested  to my mother that she should release me as an emancipated minor so that I could be free to make my own decisions for my life and could live full time with a friend and her parents. This made her furious, as she felt I had betrayed her by going to the counselor for help. A few nights later my mother was not in her right mind and after an argument, she handed me a $20 bill, pushed me out the front door in the dark of night, and instructed me to leave and never come back. Scared, angry, and heartbroken for the millionth time by her rejection I walked in the dark a few miles down a deserted country road and made it to a convenience store with a pay phone. I called my friend's mother to come and rescue me and thus ended the last day under the oppressive jurisdiction of my mother. I had imagined when that day came, I would feel liberated. I was not relieved. Just alone and broken.

Weeks later, without even speaking to me, my mother signed the papers and I was officially made an emancipated minor. I had no idea of the implications of that except that my mom was no longer responsible for me in any way. I was adrift with no rudder and headed for the rocks. I'd like to tell you that someone swooped in to save me but that was not to be. I ended up smashing into the rocks into a thousand pieces. It would take me many years of bad (and some good) choices, failed relationships, some seriously hard knocks, and a burning desire and determination to succeed and overcome plus the incredible power of the love of God to put this broken little girl back together again.

Reading this back to myself reminds me just what an absolute walking miracle I am. I also want to point out that I am nobody's victim and am not looking for sympathy here. Mine is a tale of victory. There is just a huge lesson to be learned by the telling of this story. I'll get around to that in my next post because I don't want to overwhelm you all at once so for now I'll just say:

To be continued.....