Thursday, November 24, 2016

This Post = Thankfulness Tenfold

'Tis the season for expressions of thankfulness!  In my house where three children have worn me down with continual requests to decorate for Christmas, 'tis also the season for resoluteness.  (I have a firm rule about Christmas decorating: I don't go there until Thanksgiving has run its course, but once we're eating leftovers, game on.  Time to jingle.)

Around the dinner table as we ask about each others' days (best parts, worst parts, most surprising parts, whether anyone at lunch laughed hard enough to make milk come out of their noses), this week I've asked my girls to name things they're thankful for.

Of course, they immediately offer the standard responses: food, our family, our house.  As we circle the table multiple times, however, the responses become more specific.  It's good to try to exhaust your list of things you're thankful for.  You realize, in your ability to go on and on, how blessed you are, how deep the gratefulness can go, how even the smallest pleasures can be magnified when you're thankful for them.

In this spirit, here is quirky list of specific things I'm thankful for today:

1) That Ugly Pies Still Taste Good.  They're not pretty, that's for certain, but they'll be delicious tonight.  Life is too short to worry if your pie crust isn't cooperative. 


2) Hot Cocoa with a Pinch of Cayenne Pepper.  Many years ago, in a former house, in a former life before kids, a former neighbor invited me over and served hot cocoa with a pinch of cayenne pepper.  I don't know why that memory resurfaced recently, but I made myself a steaming mug the other evening, and it was fabulous.

3) This Tree.  I took this picture days before a storm blew off most of its leaves, and I'm so glad I captured it in its flaming glory.  This tree is on fire!  (Bonus points for you if you read that last sentence as if it were being sung by Alicia Keys.)


4) These Shoeboxes.  Last week, I gathered the shoeboxes that our church collected for Operation Christmas Child and drove them to the drop-off center.  It's impossible not to have your heart swell when you think that these boxes, packed with love in Pennsylvania, will travel the globe and end up in a child's hands.


5) The Leaf-Sucking Truck.  One day you rake your leaves into a pile along the roadside, and then one day they're gone.  I never see the leaf-sucking truck make its rounds; I only know its presence due to the absence of leaves.  This magic never ceases to delight me.


6) Thanksgiving Break.  Thanksgiving week is a friendly ceasefire: I stop assigning work and students stop submitting work.  We recalibrate, get caught up, and mentally prepare for the final push of classes until finals week.  It's good for the soul.

7) Kids Who Call It Like It Is.  Yesterday as our oldest and youngest daughters wrestled on the floor and argued about who was better, Joel looked at our middle child and said, "Make a case for why you're the favorite kid today." She didn't even pause, just pointed to her sisters and said, "Because I'm not a part of that fight."  Yep, she was the day's winner.

8) Unexpected Visits from Old Friends.  I received a text message yesterday from dear friends who were driving from Boston to Pittsburgh with their four kids.  They were within 10 minutes of our exit, and they asked if they could stop by en route.  Our house was a mess, I was in the midst of grading, the pies weren't yet baked, and groceries still needed to be bought, but NO!  No, we wouldn't mind in the slightest!  Please come!  Please pile out of your minivan, dishelved and road-weary, and visit for an hour!  I treasure how friendships, even as they change with time and location, still flourish.

9) Middle School Morning Announcements.  I was listening to a particularly good 80's playlist on Pandora yesterday evening while baking pies, and my oldest daughter came into the kitchen in the middle of A Ha's Take On Me.  She immediately sang along, but then quickly broke off to ask, "Mom, how do you know this song?"

How do I know this song?  Child, in your eleven years of life, have you not picked up my impressive taste in music?  The better question is how do you know this song?

Turns out, her middle school plays it every morning during announcements.  I love her school even more.
 

10) Play-Doh Turkeys.  Sometimes, when you ask kids to make a turkey with Play-Doh, they'll make a turkey like this:


And other times, it'll be a turkey like this:


Even Play-Doh art mimics life, I guess.

11) Soul Stability.  Last week, I greeted a man at church.  He's endured family challenges and health problems, but when I asked how he was doing, he replied, "It is well."  It is well.  Praise God that we can say it is well in the face of any circumstance.  Jesus gives us stability in our souls, even if the world around us is in turmoil.

And that is something to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  May it be well with your souls today! 

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Heal the Land


Like millions of fellow Americans, I watched election results and listened to commentary until the early morning hours last Wednesday.  In the days that have followed, I've had many conversations with friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and students.  I've read dozens of articles by authors with multiple perspectives.

Only one thing is remarkably clear: our country needs healing.

This weekend, my head hurt from thinking about all the things that are grossly wrong in America: the racism, the discord, the aggression, the pride, the unproductive methods of problem-solving, the inability to listen, the entitlement, the divisiveness.  Collectively, we're not doing too well.

Acts of violence and hate-laced threats have been leveraged against minorities and underrepresented populations.  Tweets and social media posts have called for a presidential assassination and the razing of Trump's properties.  I don't care what candidate you favored: none of this demonstrates love trumping hate.

When I teach, I encourage my college students to write, speak, and think with precision.  Avoid sweeping generalizations, I say.  A wide brush will help you to paint a barn, not a masterpiece.

In this vein, when I hear rash generalizations categorizing all people who voted for a singular candidate, I balk.  We cannot distill every single person who voted for Trump as a hate-mongering racist, although some are.  (And, to be clear, racism, sexism, and too many other -isms are not dead in America.)  Neither can we assume that every person who voted for Hillary is an immoral liberal who condones late-term abortions or shady email servers.

It's not that simple, these broad strokes we use to paint ourselves a picture of humanity and understand others who don't think like us.  It's never that simple.

This morning, I volunteered in our church nursery and cared for six sweet babies: one black, three white, and two biracial.  These babies have no idea who the next president will be, but what happens in the years to come -- how we, as adults, will respond to these very circumstances -- will profoundly affect their lives.  As I spoke with the parents after service, I couldn't help but think that they and I, as fellow flawed humans, have more in common than what separates us.  Even if we stumble, we're striving toward a common goal: to serve God and love others as He loved us.

Due to my husband's position as the chaplain for Penn State football, each Monday we eat dinner with the team.  Weekly, I watch the interactions between black and white coaches, trainers, staff, and players.  They sit, eat, talk, joke, and laugh together.  They refer to others in the room as family.  They're working toward a common goal: to be the best football team possible.  That mission of greatness drives them forward together; they know they can't win if they're not united. 

These two scenarios -- my observations from a church nursery and a team dining hall -- remind me that now, more than ever, we must remember that common causes, whether serving God or winning football games, draws people together, even if those people might not look, think, or inherently be alike.

America, we must have a common cause to be a strong and decent country that honors and respects all people.  We can't forget that we're on the same team, and our team can't win if we're not united.  Of course, being united doesn't necessarily mean agreeing.  (Let's be real.  My family of five doesn't regularly agree on what we should eat for dinner, and we're not an entire nation comprised of vastly divergent ideologies deliberating over complex economic or legislative policies.)

But let's come together where we can.  If you're praying person, as I am, then pray with your whole heart, even if that prayer is as primal as, "Lord, help us."  Simple and raw prayers are valid, especially when it's hard to string together coherent words and thoughts, a position in which I've often found myself this past week while mulling over the election and our country's status.

I'm especially drawn to 2 Chronicles 7:14, which says: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Our land needs to be healed.  Nobody disagrees with that.  It starts with us.  We must humble ourselves.  We must turn from our wicked ways.  We, who call ourselves by His name, must seek God's face.

Lord, help us.

Image compliments of John M. Cropper 

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Whether you're genuniely dismayed about our country's future, or just tired of election commercials

Recently, I saw a post on Facebook asking people to describe the election using only a movie title.


The responses provided in the comments were clever.  And sad.  And, given the general vitriol and discouragement that's been spread across all forms of media during the past months, expected.  Here are a few:

Dumb and Dumber
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Road to Nowhere
The Sum of All Fears
Bonfire of the Vanities
American Horror Story
Mission Impossible
Liar Liar
Apocalypse Now

I momentarily considered chiming in with Titanic (it feels like the ship's going down), but I abstained.

In my history as a voter, I've never felt more disheartened on the eve of November's second Tuesday, and I wish that we could suggest titles equating our candidates with Sense and Sensibility, not Pride and Prejudice.  So many others have issued profound commentary on this year's election, and I have little to add, except for one thing:

"Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save." (Psalm 146:3).  Or, if I may revise for gender considerations: "Do not put your trust in rulers, in mortal humans, who cannot save."

I'm grateful for our country and our freedoms, but my ultimate hope isn't in our government.  I'm underwhelmed, to put it mildly, with our available candidates, but my hope isn't in our next president.  My help is in the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.

Regardless of your reactions to tomorrow's outcome  -- whether excitement, sorrow, fear, relief, or apathy -- pray for your new president.  Love your neighbors who display different signs in their yards, and be gracious to Facebook friends who express different views.  (Or temporarily hide them.  That might be useful, too.)

The ship's not going down, friends.  The Lord is bigger than the election.

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

When You Can't Adult Anymore

Sometimes, you reach the threshold of your adulting capacity.  I hit it on Thursday night.  All week long, I had adulted like a champion.  I woke early to exercise.  I taught my classes and graded 26 essays and 22 speeches.  I kept three children alive, fed, and homeworked.  I came up with creative strategies for Halloween costume malfunctions.  I served vegetables with dinner. 

Each evening when I went to bed, I felt chronically tired yet unmistakably wired.  This is a lethal combination, like when you observe a frenetic toddler who's missed his nap and is hyped up on sugar or the general thrill of toddler life, and you wait for the crash.  (The crash is never pretty.)

My crash occurred on Thursday evening when I announced to my children that they'd be in charge of making dinner.  They looked at me as if I had spoken in Serbo-Croation, and I, borrowing my father's strategy for communicating with non-native English speakers, repeated myself more slowly and loudly: "I am unable to function.  You will be responsible for preparing and cleaning up dinner tonight." 

Twenty minutes later my oldest daughter handed me a plate with a slice of lunch meat, half of a rolled up tortilla, and a small scoop of mashed avocado that had been heavily salted and squirted with lime juice.  "We made guacamole, but our recipe didn't go very far," she said.

I ate, dropped my plate into the crowd of dirty dishes in the sink, and then retreated to my bedroom to avoid listening to my kids argue over the division of cleaning responsibilities.  I didn't even make it onto my bed; I sank straight to the floor, where I spent the next two hours eating chocolate and grading more essays.


Of course, the funny thing about adulthood is that even if you fail at it one day, you get the chance to do it again the next, hopefully a little better.  And if that next day is equally trying, adulthood will still be waiting for you around the corner on the following day, too.

It's persistent like that.  Some days were just meant for survival, and eating chocolate, and lying despondently on your bedroom floor.  We live to adult another day.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Feeling Behind

Today is Wednesday, and I finally skimmed through Sunday's newspaper and clipped a few coupons.  These days, my criteria for coupon-clipping is relatively straightforward.  I ask myself, "Which coupons would I rather forget about, accidentally let expire in my little accordion pouch, and throw away six weeks from now?  Duracel batteries?  Definitely.  Dishwasher detergent?  That sounds entirely forgettable, too.  Let's do this."

Choose your metaphor: When you have too many spinning plates, or balls in the air, or irons in the fire, we're prone to forget some things, or, at the least, to fall behind on a few.

In addition to coupon-clipping, this afternoon I spent nearly an hour sorting mail, answering email, filling out permission forms, and completing paperwork for my daughters' school fundraisers.  I RSVP'd to the four baby and bridal showers that I've been invited to and marked them on my calendar.  (People within my social circle have conspired to simultaneously experience significant life events, apparently.)  I finally mailed a thank you note.  I made a grocery list.  The hour was productive -- these matters needed to be attended to, after all -- yet I felt like I was squandering my time.

Why?  Because on Monday I collected essays, and a pile of 40 sat in the other room, 32 of which are still ungraded.  I know this off-hand because I track my progress.


Yes, I make a schedule with daily goals, complete with a +/- column that indicates how far above or below I've come toward reaching that goal each day.  This system mimics how I play Yahtzee when I'm angling to reach 63 points in the upper section, just without the dice.  (And the fun.)

I've realized two things about this.  Keeping disciplined is a good thing.  Beating myself up that I've scored a "negative two" on essay-grading, however, is not.

So here's where I stand: although I still feel behind, I refuse to let this ruin my otherwise good day.  I feared that I was wasting time by attending to small tasks, but completing those tasks actually brought a semblance of order to my home.  As for carving out twenty minutes to write this blog post?  On the surface it seems frivolous, but over the years I've discovered that adding time for creative expression often helps me, especially on days that already seem excessively full.

The essays will get graded.  They always do.

This post simply is my way of reminding myself of that today.

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