When You're Invited to a Classy Wedding

My husband and I attended a lovely wedding this past weekend.  The ceremony was touching, the exchange of personalized vows was heartfelt, the bride was stunning, and the groom was charming.  The color palate, which featured natural tones and a subtle blush for the bridesmaids' dresses, was refined and elegant.

In fact, the whole event was classy.  Undeniably classy.

The centerpieces, with pale roses and lush greenery, were refined and classy.

The ample menu, which featured four distinct culinary stations for global flair -- Latin, Italian, Southern, and Mediterranean -- was classy.

The dessert table, with its delicately piped icing on chocolate hazelnut, red velvet, and vanilla cupcakes, was classy.

Even the location itself, with its rustic farmhouse features, interesting architectural elements, beautiful grounds, and charming character, was classy.

And then you insert us into this classy environment and add music.

Go ahead and admit it.  Undeniable class.  We fit right in.


When Mama Snaps: The Story of a Broken Microwave, Great Chaos, and Surprising Redemption

It all started with a dozen eggs and a free helium balloon. 

One summer morning two years ago, I made a quick trip to the grocery store to buy a dozen eggs.  We had run out while making cookies for the bake sale that my three daughters and the neighbor kids hold during our annual garage sale, which was scheduled for the next day.

As I checked out, a kind grocery store clerk offered each of my kids a helium balloon.  The only problem was that the balloons were different sizes and colors, and my youngest daughter, who received the smallest and plainest one, felt shafted.  By the time I buckled her car seat, she was in full meltdown mode.  Over a complimentary balloon.

When we arrived home, I immediately took her to her room to calm down, but she continued to flail and seethe and steam.  As if on cue, downstairs in the kitchen my other daughters had spontaneously combusted into a fight about whose turn it was to crack the eggs.  Someone had spilled a box of cookie mix onto the counter and floor.  Raw egg dripped down the side of the island.

All three kids -- one upstairs, two downstairs -- were yelling simultaneously, creating a suffocating echo chamber of irrational chaos and distress.

For a moment, I remained calm and tried to create order.  I tried to diffuse the situation and separate them, but my youngest had freed herself from time-out and reinserted herself into the kitchen's fray, like an aggressive pro-wrestler who taps back into a Battle Royale.  Defying basic principles of acoustics, all three managed to be yelling louder than the others, each nonsensical in her own rage, each pushing every last button of my composure and good judgment.

And that's when I snapped.

I don't entirely remember why the microwave door was ajar (softening butter for the bake sale cookies, perhaps?), but for one moment, I fixated on that door.  Or, more aptly, on slamming that door with every ounce of strength I possessed, which, after the fourth slam, I discovered, was enough to short circuit and break my microwave.

My daughters were shocked into silence, looking at me as if I had finally lost my mind (which, for all extents and purposes, I had), and I spat out the words. "Go to your rooms. Now."

They mumbled and pushed their way down the hallway and up the stairs, still bickering.  I stood in the kitchen to survey the mess by myself.  Feebly, I opened and closed the microwave door, hoping to coax it back to life, but it was dead.  Clock-burned-out, no-buttons-working, no-hope-left, dead.

I fumed.  I fumed at the girls.  I fumed at myself.  I fumed because the average price of an over-the-range microwave is about $150, so I'd have to sell 300 stupid 50-cent garage sale items the next day just to dig myself out of the hole I'd dug.

I walked outside to clear my head and saw my neighbor.  "How's it going?" she called across the street.  I reached her driveway and said, "I just killed my microwave." I smiled weakly and wiped my eyes as the emotions surfaced, "It was either that or the kids."

She listened, hugged me when I finished, and said, "I'll send my husband over to look at it." 

A minute later he arrived to assess the damage.  He opened and closed the microwave door a few times, peered inside, pressed buttons, then unplugged and plugged it back in.  "Well," he said, "I don't see anything specifically wrong.  Seems like the problem is internal."

The problem is internal.  You got that right, buddy.  I had already reached that conclusion, in more ways that one.  Oh, I had plenty of internal problems under the surface.

The rest of the day I was off.  I finished baking the cookies.  I priced the remaining garage sale items.  I interacted with my kids.  But my equilibrium hadn't returned.  Each time I glanced at the microwave to check the time, a practice that I do far more often than I realized, the blank screen stared back as a reminder of my short temper and stupid reaction.

I had majorly screwed up in motherhood more than once before this microwave incident, of course, and I've screwed up plenty of times since, too.  When I've been pushed and stretched and tested, I've done and said things I wish I could take back, just like every other mother who's walked this earth.  But this particular time especially stung.

The broken microwave was a visible reminder of my shortcomings, as if my inability to control my own anger nullified any teaching I had done to help my kids handle their own.  More profoundly, the incident forced me to confront a latent (yet terribly incorrect) assumption I had been holding.  Subconsciously, I thought that if I lived a moral and godly life in front of my kids, that they'd grow up to be alright.  That if I set a good enough example as a Christian parent, then they'd grow up to be kind, rationale, and balanced humans who walk closely with God.  And, if I didn't do these things, then they'd essentially be screwed.

This is a foolish belief, though.  It doesn't work this way.  We don't draw our kids (or anyone else, for that matter) to Jesus just by living morally in front of them.  Raising godly kids is not about us being perfect parents.  It's about pointing our kids to a perfect God.

Raising godly kids is not about us being perfect parents.  It's about pointing our kids to a perfect God.

That night, after unsuccessfully attempting to reheat a plate of leftover Chinese food, and still more habitual glances toward the dead microwave to check the time, I tucked my kids into bed.  One by one, in the stillness and quietness of their darkened bedrooms, I apologized to my daughters.  Each apology broke the tension; each hug brought restoration.

My youngest daughter reached toward me, tenderly putting her small hand on my cheek, and said, "Mommy, it's okay.  I love you."  My middle daughter apologized in return, saying, "We were really, really bad.  We're sorry."  And my oldest, after hugging me, stopped me as left her room.  "Mom?" her voice spoke from the dark.  "This is just an idea, but you might want to keep the broken microwave in the garage.  You know, in case you get mad and really need to slam something again."

I told her that I'd keep the option open.

We live flawed lives in front of our kids, but thankfully, the flaws rarely are fatal.  We can model restoration and repentance for them.  Through our own mistakes, even the ones we're deeply ashamed of, we can teach our kids what it looks like to apologize.  We can teach them about the sweet and freeing reconciliation that comes when we take ownership of our wrongs and seek forgiveness -- both from God and from those we've hurt.

Our children will make plenty of mistakes in their own lives, after all.  What better way to show them how to make those wrong things right than to let God work his redemption through our very own failures?

Because maybe one summer morning 30 years from now, one of my daughters might be holding a garage sale and run out of eggs while baking cookies.  And she might break her own microwave when her own children have rubbed her last nerve raw.

And, at that point, she'll know just what to do.


Sometimes I Have These Random Thoughts and Experiences

Sometimes when I try to remember the spelling of a certain word, I look at it for so long that I'm convinced it's no longer a word.

Sometimes when I arrive at a destination, I don't remember certain parts of the trip, but I hope that I still obeyed traffic laws while getting there.

Sometimes when I eat a sandwich, the bread gets stuck to the roof of my mouth and I momentarily worry that it'll never get unstuck.

Sometimes when I take a shower, it all seems so familiar that I can't recall if I've washed and conditioned my hair, or just thought about washing and conditioning my hair.

Sometimes I suspect the one reason that most of us know the meaning of the word belated is because we live in a society where people periodically forget birthdays.

Sometimes when making very simple side dishes, like macaroni and cheese, I have to take the box out of the trash multiple times so I can re-read the directions.

Sometimes when I'm reading a book at night, I tell my husband that I'll come upstairs in just a minute, and he always wishes me good night because he knows better.

Sometimes when I experience a sudden sharp headache, I wonder if it's about to be a brain aneurysm, but so far, so good.

Sometimes when I see how many crumbs are in the drawer where we keep our silverware, I wonder if a member of my family actively shakes the toaster over it.

Sometimes I not only forget what day it is, but also what month, and for that weightless moment, I feel entirely unhinged, like I'm no longer tethered to time, responsibility, or real calendars.  Then, the sensation passes just as quickly as it arrived, and I'm like, "Oh, it's May. And Thursday."


Not Cashing In the Coupon Book

Many years ago when I visited my parents' house, I discovered a small coupon book that I must have made for my mother when I was a child.  In printed handwriting I didn't recognize as my own, I had offered my services to fold laundry, do dishes, vacuum the family room, and take out the trash.  From the looks of the booklet, my mom never had cashed in her coupons.

Back then, I didn't understand this.  Surely, she would have appreciated if my seven-year-old self had pitched in with a few extra household chores, right?

In my current stage of life, however, I've now received a few coupon books on Mother's Day like the one I once made, but I doubt that I'll ever cash in my own children's coupons, either.

These books document heartfelt and helpful intentions, even if they're misaligned and stapled crookedly.  They capture a time when my kids can't spell the word table, yet they confidently proclaim that I'm the World's Greatest Mom.

Obviously, this tender phase won't last forever.  (I mean, the World's Greatest Mom title clearly will stick, but at some point these kids are going to have to learn to spell.)

Mom, I get it now.  Years later, I understand not cashing in the coupon book.


Just Because You Have a Basement...

This is a particularly glorious week.  You see, last week I finished the spring semester, and next week I start the summer semester, which means that I'm off this week.  Officially off.  Like, just barely checking email off, or stopping by the office only once to sign some paperwork off, or not seeing any students, or teaching any classes, or grading any kind of anything off.

Let me say it again: it's glorious.

And, since I'm eternally ambitious, I decided to use the week to paint our basement, which, in retrospect, is a terrible way to spend your one week off when you're weary from the prior 16 weeks that have been entirely on.  It's like going out for a run after you've finished a marathon.

Right as I was putting my sixth grade algebra to good use by calculating the area of our basement ceiling and deciding how many gallons of paint to buy from Lowes, I spoke out loud, as if my heart knew something my mind hadn't grasped yet.

"You know, I don't want to paint the basement." 

My husband looked at me as if I were returning to the land of common sense and reasonable judgment.  "Good," he said.  "Just because we have a basement doesn't mean you have to paint it during your one week off."

Just because you have a basement doesn't mean you have to paint it.

Oh people, I've never been so happy to not paint a basement than I've been during this week of non-basement painting.  These past few days, instead of taping baseboards, I've read books and magazines.  Instead of spreading drop clothes, I've taken walks.  Instead of using my one-and-a-half inch angled brush to cut in edges, I've done little projects -- fun ones -- around the house that I've neglected over the past few months.

Instead of going, going, going, and doing, doing, doing, I've occasionally planted myself on my front porch and just stayed planted.  Because I could.  Because nothing else, not even a basement that's waiting to be painted, was truly vying for my attention.

Just because you have a basement doesn't mean you have to paint it, after all.


Since He Never Calls Attention to Himself, Today I'll Do It For Him

Today is my husband's birthday.  Joel is not a person who calls attention to himself.  No, he's more of a behind-the-scenes, down-to-earth kind of a guy.  Even when circumstances elevate him into the spotlight, he shrugs and remains cool.  Because he's cool like that. 

There's a slew of adjectives that could be applied to his temperament and character.  He's solid, stable, and steady.  He's grounded and consistent.  (These traits play well with my charming tendency to overanalyze and emote.) 

He loves golf, college football, landscaping, and growing things, even if he dislikes cutting the grass.  He's disarmingly funny.  He's quiet, yet personable.  He mentors people just by living life alongside of them.

And tonight, he's going to spend the evening of his birthday sitting on a metal folding chair in a warm elementary school auditorium to attend our middle daughter's fourth-grade band concert, an event that our oldest daughter has begged, on multiple occasions, to be exempt from with adolescent "please-don't-make me-sit-through-that" pleas.

And Joel smiles and says, "We're all going. Team Kramer."  (And when she groans because we won't budge on our insistence to cruelly expose her to a concert featuring undertrained nine-and-ten-year-old musicians, he whispers, "It's okay.  We're all taking one for the team with this.")

That's the kind of dad he is.  That's the kind of man he is.

Happy birthday, Joel Kramer.  You are the best.


"It Reminded Me Why I'm Doing This"

Last night I submitted final grades for the four classes I taught this semester.  Today I'm slowly decompressing.  There are still a few details to wrap up, of course, like debriefing meetings and clerical tasks.  And for the next few days I'll check email with slight hesitation because there might be a complaint from a student awaiting me. (So far, so good, though.)

But for all extents and purposes, the semester is finished.  It was a good one.

One the last day of class in one of my technical presentation courses, we finished with short professional talks where students presented key take-aways they've learned from their studies as engineering students.  One student said, "I'm glad we finished with these talks.  It reminded me why I'm doing this."

It reminded me why I'm doing this.

I loved that observation.  At the end of a semester, we all -- students and professors alike -- need a reminder about why we're doing what we're doing, no matter how our semester has gone.  (Don't we all need this periodically?  To step back from the grind to look at the bigger picture from an aerial view instead of from our typical vantage point, which is often right in the thick of it?)

For me, my reminder came when several students sent me exceptionally kind end-of-semester notes: notes expressing how they grew as a speaker or a writer more than they thought was possible, or notes that said I not only helped their academics, but also touched their lives.

As I read each one of these messages, it reminded me why I do this.  There are so many reasons why I do this job. 

It's good to end a semester with those reasons fresh in my thoughts.  We all need reminders, sometimes.

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