Monday, April 30, 2012

I Can Do Brave All By Myself. Kinda. Sorta. Not Really. (Pt. 2)

Courtesy T. Parker
I almost got home unscathed. You know what 'they' say: you can take the bumpkin out of the country, but you just can't take the country out of the bumpkin. Ok. They didn't say it. I did. Once I tell you my sad tale, you'll cross-stitch it on pillows and send it to me. You had to see it coming. I heard you laughing as soon as the plane wheels left the ground taking me to DC. Oh the agony.

But, I'm letting you get ahead of me. Let's go back and start at the beginning. When last we assembled at the altar of fear, your hero in fear fighting escapades was winging her way to the center of our nation's government just in time for two announcements. 1) The terror watch was on higher alert because the anniversary of OBL's death. 2) Some plane had been quarantined for hours on end because of a suspected outbreak of 'Monkeypox'.

Courtesy D. Scott
Now, if it was YOUR weekend to fly, your skies would have been so friendly that United would have called you to be their mascot. Me? I pick a weekend like that to take my 2nd flight since 9/11. And, I'm smart enough to fly to Washington Dc. I might as well have painted a bull's eye on my back. It was God's good grace that I didn't hear about the Monkeypox scare until it was time to come back. Otherwise, they would have had to sedate me and send me back Fed Ex express.

As it was, I arrived in DC oblivious and pretty darn proud of myself. I threaded my way thru Dulles which involves going up and down and around escalators. Just when you think you are going to drop from exhaustion, you hop a train so you can ride more escalators. 

I was ok with that. In another life, I might make escalator riding a hobby. My rolling duffel was cooperating enabling me  to hide my country bumpkin status pretty well, I thought. I managed to make small talk with folks around me. Wonder of wonders, they didn't need a translator to convert my Southern-ese to the local dialect. All in all, it was pretty pleasant if I have to tell the truth. And, I do.

All of the sudden, signs changed. I know what a 'gate' is. I know what a 'concourse' is. In the middle of nowhere (and if you've ever been to Dulles you know you can be in the middle of nowhere in that place), signs suddenly stopped referring to 'concourses' and started just saying 'gate'. Not only that, the reassuring presence of fellow travelers started to thin out. Hallways narrowed, and people disappeared. I was alone,and I was  not in Kansas anymore, Toto. It seemed I had descended into the bowels of what well might have been the gates of hell. 
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The world started to spin, and so did I. I turned 'round and 'round like a dog getting ready to settle down for the night trying to get my bearings. Finally, a lady pushing what I thought was probably a crash cart headed my way. I realized she wasn't really coming to give me CPR when I had a falling out spell (bumpkin-speak for fainting). It was a cleaning cart. A-HA! If she cleaned the place, she must know her way around.

Soon enough, she confirmed that, altho' I was on a straight and narrow path resembling the Biblical place where a camel goes thru the eye of a needle, I was, in fact, headed toward civilization again. I had seen Tom Hank's life in The Terminal and had been convinced I was about to live the sequel. God bless airport cleaning crews! They are around to point bumpkins in the right direction and to alert us to the fact that, at least at Dulles, 'gate' and 'concourse' can mean the exact same thing.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Having survived a close call, I strode out the airport door and into the last gasp of a DC winter. The hotel had assured me the shuttle ran continuous loops, and my wait would not last long. They did not tell me to prepare myself for potential flash freeze conditions while I waited. Nor did they tell me the shuttle that would pick me up would NOT bear the name of my hotel of residence. It would take a while for me to solve that mystery.(Cue ominous organ crescendo.)

Looking back, that delay would result in a happy, accidental meeting. One that serves to illustrate this truism: it takes a village to raise a bumpkin. If you don't come back tomorrow to find out how I almost brought Delta to its knees, I'll never forgive you! Bring a friend. Everyone needs a laugh. As long as you do, it might as well be at me and my foolishness!

Courtesy B. Creasy
Love you long and strong. See you soon?

Proverbs 17:22 (Message Bible)
A cheerful disposition is good for your health;
gloom and doom leave you bone-tired. 


Friday, April 27, 2012

I Can Do Brave All By Myself. Kinda. Sorta. Not Really. (Pt. 1)

Courtesy D. Scott
I should not be left alone without my minder. My friends will testify if you ask them. I've been seized up by wanderlust about half my life but too scared and too fiscally conservative to do much about it. That $$ thing made it easy to give in to my inner fraidy cat and avoid the new and novel. Till about a year ago.

Last year this time, my counselor told me she had 2 objectives for me. 1) Conquer the cat. 2) Write. With regards to the latter, she had some experience. She was a former English teacher whose students won some pretty big awards under her mentoring. The next time I saw her, she handed me a slip of paper. “This conference is coming up. They have scholarships. Apply. Don't plan to see me again till you do.”

Kinda uppity for someone that I'm paying to work for me, doncha think? She's tiny and soft spoken. She wields that sugar-melting-voice with cunning and mesmerizing power. I broke out in a sweat because I couldn't have my next counseling fix till I made her command my wish. About that time in my life, my only wish was to hibernate for the rest of my natural born days.

Courtesy and In Loving Memory of Christina Jones Hooker
I did what little sisters do. I called my brother expecting him to help me figure a way out of the deal. I think she got to him first. About 30” after I told him I had worked up the gumption to apply purely because I knew I wouldn't actually earn a scholarship or have to follow thru on my application, my phone rang. conference

In short order, he told me not to worry about the scholarship committee's decision. My registration was booked: lock, stock, and barrel. He had done what honorable big brothers, who can and will, do. He had become my patron. I felt like Michelangelo living on the good will of Lorenzo de Medici.

Give a man an inch with that patron thing, and he'll take a mile. He'll do so by enlisting the help of your husband, sons, sister, and father. The next thing you know, you'll be at your third writing related conference in less than a year, two of which required plane rides.

Courtesy A. Hughes
Last night, I did what fraidy cats do. I panicked in rare form. The southern term 'hissy fit' describes how I felt on the inside. What was I thinking? Why do I DO this to myself? Why do I keep putting me out there to scare myself to death all over again. Ya'll think I'm kidding. I'm not. You can ask my three testosterone units.

I've developed a certain comfort level with the writing community I've navigated this last year. So, I got too big for my britches and decided to entertain my wanderlust. Expand my wandering horizons you might say. Meet new people. Networking is the name of the game, you know. I should be careful what I think about when I'm left to my own devices. My minder had the day off. That's how I got in this mess.

I saw a conference that catered to homeschool bloggers and thought, “Hmmm...,I wonder.” Then I realized I would be spittin' close to another Aspie mom I've known via the net, for most of 14 years. I've only spoken with her once: on 9/11. Despite that, we've stayed in touch for all this time thru thick, thin, and thinnest. So, I found myself thinking, “Oh...I wonder...what if...?”

My patron took my entertaining idea and decided daydreams should become reality. He enlisted the troops. Again. The rest is history. Or will be on Sunday when my plane wheels hit terra firma again. At which time I will promise me (and anyone else who might be listening as I get down and kiss the good old red southern clay), I won't do “that” again.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I'm here in one piece. I didn't lock the keys to my life in the hotel shuttle. My room key is safely in a pouch I had a plastic surgeon craft on my hip, so I couldn't loose it. Yea. I know. If I wasn't a fraidy cat, I woulda spent that money on liposuction and rid myself of a school bus sized load of cellulite. But, beggars can't be choosers. I've learned about me and keys when I'm let loose to run amok.

In just a little while, my Aspie mom friend and I are gonna lay eyes on each other for the first time in all these years. I'm gonna probably get teary-eyed thinking about what a difference a year makes. We'll raise a toast to the troops back home. When I lay down tonight, I think I'm gonna know how Michelangelo must of felt when he got to do what he loved because someone believed in him.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Well, fraidy cat, what about you? Can you do brave all by yourself? Yea, I thought not. That's why I am trying to create this little pocket of cyberspace for all of us to come home to. It might not be the Sistine Chapel, but I hope you will come and go and feel a little more inspired than you did when you got here. Truth is, you inspired me this year more than you'll ever know. I kept writing because you kept coming...even when I had to take some time off to deal with life. Love you long and strong. We'll get thru this fraidy cat world together. See you soon? 

Ecclesiastes 4: 9,10
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thumped Right Over the Edge By Spiritual Cliches

Courtesy Mad Penguin Crea
If I had to live through one more person telling me about gold being refined by fire or saying, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” I think I'd be behind bars right now. I woke up every morning, and my first thought was, “No matter what I have to face or endure today, someone else out there is having to gut out something a whole lot tougher. Don't whine.”

That thought was quickly followed by, “Oh, God, can I live through this? How much longer? Will there ever be an end to it?” I'd love to tell you that I always got a gentle answer telling me not to despair. The truth is: a lot of days, there was total silence. Echoing silence. So, I'd recount my list. “We aren't under a bridge. No one is dying. There is a roof over our head and food on the table even if neither are ours. We are all together. This is not permanent.” Every day for over three years, I said those words to myself. 

Harder than the loss of things was the loss of people. I don't know what it is about humans, but we have a hard time going the distance with anyone who struggles for any extended length of time. I think its a rule or something. The person in crisis has about 3.4 months to 'let go and let God' and get on with life. After that, you know you are living on borrowed time. Spiritually speaking, Christians have itchy trigger fingers. If you've been reading long, you know that I think we excel at metaphorical/spiritual firing squads. I should know.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I've done a lot of thinking since last night's blog, and I think the 2 phenomenons are connected. The inability to go the distance with the hurting masses around us (and I am referring to the kind of 'go the distance' that involves more than financial benevolence) couples right up with the inability to do the hard work required to mature beyond the need for milk and pre-chewed spiritual food.

If we have to endure suffering, or walk with someone who is, longer than our comfort zone allows, we have to chew on some hard spiritual truths. They aren't milk, and they aren't pre-masticated for our convenience. We have to make a choice. Do we hunker down and face the fact that some spiritual truths and levels of maturity are hard fought? Or, do we flinch and run to the feel good gospel that assures us life is gonna be great if we just conquer all our negativity and speak only about blessings as if there is no such thing as suffering.

As I mowed grass today, I thought about all those things. I thought about the deep, dark days my family has lived thru. I remembered the story of Gracia Burnham. Her nightmare began just about the time mine began. She and her husband, Mark, were missionaries on an overnight anniversary trip when kidnapped by members of Abu Sayyef in the Phillipines. (Gracia's You Tube link is at the end of this article.)

In those days, I thought of her and wondered what her day was like as mine dragged on toward what would become the loss of our home and our sense of community. I kept thinking, “If she can endure what she is enduring, I can do this.” My nightmare ended long after Gracia's captivity was over. Sadly, the end of her captivity was not the end of her nightmare. Mark was killed during the rescue raid.

If you've never heard of a hard spiritual truth before, chew on the ones Gracia must have had to grapple with when she came home to the US to raise the three children alone. If I did not identify with her enough, I caught a glimpse of her reuniting with her children on a news clip. One of her sons was about the age of mine, and he wore a shirt identical to one my son wore all the time. Oh my fraidy cats.

Gracia has moved on in life as have I. No doubt, we both carry grief and scars with us as we go forward. If I had to guess, I'd say hers are much more resolved than mine because I am, after all, the fraidy cat here. Sometimes I embarrass myself because I am still wrestling with God after all these years. I wonder about her. Is she like me at all?

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Before today's mowing got so hard that I thought I was having a heart attack, I found myself humming a hymn. In the midst of all my thoughts of loss and rejection and spiritual maturity, it was as if God whispered a post card in my ear. He is the fount of every blessing. Only God can bring blessing in the midst of and as a result of searing pain.

As I look back over my life, and here in my mid-50's I have enough age on me to comment, I can see the hulks of many a spiritual shipwreck. In lots of cases, the folks eschewed suffering for a Jesus that is like Santa Claus and ended up losing their soul in pursuit of gaining the whole world. Thinking of that reality, another song rang through my soul.


Oh, fraidy cat, I don't know what your searing pain or how you're coping. I just know the world is one big oozing wound about right now. We are often far from family and don't know our neighbors. There's no one to turn to for reassurance that our pain is seen and heard and that we matter. This little spot in cyberspace is, I hope, a respite for all the fraidy cats waiting to come in from the cold. Welcome home. I missed you while you were gone. Love you long and strong. See you soon?                                

                                                         Romans 12: 12 (NIV)
Courtesy B. Creasy

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Hebrews 10: 36 (NIV)
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

Dear God, May I Have the Pre-Chewed Food?

Courtesy T. Parker
When I first saw the video, I sat and stared waiting for someone to tell me it was an April Fool's joke. In fact, for a news cycle or two, I was not alone. Alicia Silverstone's practice of pre-masticating her toddler's food set the talking heads of cable news channels abuzz.

I didn't have to do any sociological queries for historical relevance to figure out that the practice made me wince. I can imagine a day when it might have been down right necessary for a mom to chew her baby's food. Like maybe when the westward bound pioneers had to navigate the Donner Pass in the dead of winter. Thankfully, today we can utilize handy dandy tools like the Ninja blender to save ourselves some time and public ridicule.

I saw myself in the mirror today. I realized that Ms. Silverstone's toddler and I have much more in common than I could have ever believed. It ain't purdy, let me tell you. I'm hoping I'm not alone in my misery. Since misery loves company, I'm gonna clue you in.

Courtesy D. Scott
I was wrestling with God as usual this morning. “I want my best life now, and it's no where in sight.” I shook my head at the me in the mirror staring back. “Why is it that one group tells me I can have abundant blessings of health, wealth, and happiness while another tells me that the path to righteousness includes entering into the fellowship of Christ's sufferings? If the former is true, why is there so much of the latter?” I groaned and shook my hairbrush at the mirror-me. “I really want an answer, God. These are not rhetorical questions.”

Over the course of the day, my mind flooded with snippets of other people's lives:
  • 2 families in crises with children for whom there seems no right answer
  • 2 family members who've undergone major surgery
  • a close friend whose future sits perched in the hands of others
  • 2 families who are about to lose their homes because of this wretched economy
  • 2 families dealing with the realities of mental illness
The list doesn't have an end. I just stopped for your sakes. You get the picture. Behind brave smiles, courageous effort, and profound faith, there is pain, suffering, and fear.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I know very few folks who hit the heavenly lottery and got to be one of the beautiful people with health, wealth, and happiness in abundance. I could be downright irked if not outright jealous that those folks got a deal that wasn't offered to me.

Know what I've figured out? The few I have known who got that health, wealth, and happiness deal seem to struggle as much as I do behind the closed doors of their perfect Barbie and Ken spiritual lives. They just don't tell you their pain hurts as much as yours.

I sat in the quiet tonight waiting for an answer I wasn't sure was coming. This is what I heard:

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Spiritual 'chewing' is hard work. To seek after spiritual food that produces growth takes commitment and tenacity. It means you keep persevering even when there is no health, wealth, or happiness. Like wrestling, it's sweaty, unflattering, and costly. That's why so many remain so immature in their faith. They wait for me to chew up their spiritual food and 'kiss feed' them because everyone wants an easy path to faith. I did my part. I died on the cross. The chewing is up to you.

The truth hurts when you know you've heard it, and it applies to you. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Give me faith that enables me to chew real food not the milk of infants nor the pre-chewed food of trendy spiritual toddlers. You did your part. Help me do mine.

I Corinthians 3: 1-3a (ESV)
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.

                                   Ephesians 4: 14 (NIV)
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
 Jeremiah 8: 9 (ESV)
The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them? 


Sunday, April 22, 2012

All That Glitters...May Be Counterfeit

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I was easing the car down the street so that my best friend could walk along beside me. Reality was closing in around us. We were sobbing. I was moving far away. It just wasn't fair. We had so much left to do and say.

You know when you meet someone and have the feeling that they've always been, and will always be, with you? We laughed at each other without needing a punch line. All I had to do was see her eyes shift in a new direction. I'd follow the silent signal and know without asking what I was supposed to see and why. Most times, it meant one of two things: “Day-LAW! Can you believe what I just saw?” or “Wait! Don't laugh till it's safe!” That's the kind of friends we were. It took less than a year which is all we had.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Fourteen years later, I feel the rupture that tore through my heart as I watched her disappear in the rear view mirror. When I think of her last gift, my tears do just what they did then. They mingle with laughter that overwhelms the tears.

That curtain-of-time lifting breeze brushes across my neck. I feel the car stop one last time. She steps up, lays her hand on the window, and leans in as if daring me to roll it up and drive away. Her 'evil' grin is alight with mischief. “Do me one favor, ya hear? Find that first friend. Make it. Get it over with and move on. 'Cause you and me both know that first friend is gonna be a weirdo you need to get shed of quick as you can!” (In case you wonder, she had been friend #2 that year.)

Pain gave way to momentary glee as we both doubled over in laughter. She had traced my tendency to make fast, first friends with folks who turned out to be rather less than dependable. Double-minded you might say. I was stunned. From the outside looking in, it was as plain as day. Ignorance is bliss till fast made friendships come to disappointing conclusions.

So it was that the phone rang over the next few months, and I would hear the giggle that matched the evil grin. “Made that first friend yet and moved on to number two?” I don't think either of us knew how helpful that insight would be as time moved on. Now that I think of it, she and God both look out for me when it comes to relationships.

In the intervening years, I have sometimes been perplexed by God's soft but insistent tap upon my shoulder. It was if he'd say, “That one there...beware. As good as things look on the outside, not all is as it seems. Beware. Do not pursue that friendship no matter how inviting nor how Godly it may appear. Beware.”

Friady cats do not often 'beware' very well. In fact, when given a choice, we will decide that any social disconnect is because of our own inadequacies. We will deny evidence to the contrary, including the voice of God whispering in our ears. Especially if the social connection represented seems to glitter like gold.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I heard the cautions when they came. Yet, I was loathe to hear and OBEY. In each case, everyone LIKED the person about whom I sensed the caution. I was the only one who seemed to be getting the memo from God. It was high school all over again. I was watching the popular girl who served as the linchpin of the popular crowd. I was not in her crowd. Nothing I could do would get me there either...especially if I obeyed God's quiet voice saying, “Beware.”

If I could just squirm my way into the the fray, my life would glitter like gold as well. If I couldn't, I told myself it was me. I did not glitter nor was I gold. I was a misfit destined to stand on the outside looking in. The only one left to sit and wonder why there was no place for me in that inner circle of fun.

Courtesy M. Horrocks
His caution was never as funny, and always lonelier, than the one my laughter loving friend spoke over me as I left town. With each occasion, the choice to ignore the warning brought pain and confusion because all that glitter was counterfeit. I should have listened. Instead, I hedged my bets and kept on trying to be the girl that glittered just enough to be one of the in-crowd.

It's happened again just recently. This time, however, I did a better job of stepping away in time. Oh, yea. The voice in my head told me what a loser I was and how everyone else but me was having fun. I guess I'm getting older and wiser because I refused to yield to my own insecurities. I put up wobbly boundaries and decided to listen AND obey. The loneliness was razor sharp and never went away.

God doesn't always confirm our decisions – even the hard ones. This time, in his mercy, he did. He let me stumble upon a situation that unveiled my longed for counterfeit glitter in all its cunning, deceptive glory. He reassured me that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways including the ways of friendship.

Courtesy M. Horrocks
What about you, fraidy cat? Does that same voice caution you? Some call it conscience; others call it intuition. Do you discount the voice and choose to believe you are the misfit? Would you sacrifice your soul to fit in even when God's quiet voice says, “Run?” Oh, fraidy cat, may the day come when we hear his voice and understand his caution as easily as we understand the friend who can communicate volumes without ever uttering a word of explanation.

Love you long and strong. Come again soon. All fraidy cats are welcome here, especially those who believe they are the misfits always destined to be on the outside looking in. Welcome home. What took you so long?

Proverbs 23: 6-8 (ESV)
Courtesy B. Creasy
Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words.

Proverbs 26: 24 (NIV)
A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. 


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lock and Load, Boys, There's Wounded Amongst Us

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My spirit is hot and sweaty, and my muscles ache from effort. I am always a child in search of my good God. We are wrestling again, he and I. Not that the match is ever really over even tho' there are times when my heart is more at peace than others.

I have been the good girl, the head Heavenly cheerleader-in-waiting. And yet, there seems no end in sight as my battle wages on. Despite, or maybe because of, my willingness to admit spiritual frailty, this week has been a busy one. Other fraidy cats lifted Sunday-go-to-meeting masks, revealed hidden pain, and said, “I wrestle too. Can you help me?”

How is it, I wonder, that I can feel this undone only to have others share personal pain and heartache. Why is it I ask myself, that despite my own long battle, I never stop pointing others to the good God with whom I always wrestle? Is that faith? Is that stubborn determination? It it pride, or is it only folly? In the end, will it really matter?

Courtesy and in Loving Memory of Christina Jones Hooker
I do not wear pain as a badge on my sleeve. I'm pretty sure this statement is true. My friends often say they check my Facebook status first every day. They stop for a visit hoping to start the day off with a laugh. If I accomplish that goal, I am a happy, happy girl. I laugh so that you will like me. I laugh to hide my pain.

Oh, there are times when my fingers twitch above the keyboard begging me to let the unvarnished truth rip. I suppose there is still too much genteel Southern belle left in me to succumb to that temptation. Instead, I practice the art of witty repartee – or at least what I hope suffices for it in the eyes of my friends.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I fought a solitary battle this week. The kind that cried out to be heard and validated. I did what I have done so often in my life. I made an unpopular decision. In another place and time, I would have put on my Sunday-go-to-meeting mask. For the sake of appearances, I would have carried on as if life was good and all was well. What no one else knew would not embarrass or isolate me, right? I could pull it off if only I would. Surely I could do so one more time. That's what head cheerleaders do, right? 
In this late round of my wrestling match, I have no stomach for that pretense. So, I made the choice to absent myself from a special event. I knew I would be conspicuous by my absence. It was a lonely, hard decision that left me feeling vulnerable and exposed.

As if on cue, a voice boomed over the phone so that, even without the speaker phone engaged, one could hear the caller's agitated excitement. In fact, his demeanor led one to wonder what kind and how much of a 'refreshing beverage' he had just enjoyed.

I felt the room grow smaller as I wrestled again with the decision I had made. I was not to get by unscathed. Unaware of my proximity, the caller had no reason to mince words. I heard the biting sarcasm. It was tinged with an impatient desire for me to get with 'the program', I think. My already bruised and battered spirited wilted even more.

Lock and Load, Boys
I winced and wondered why we Christians cannot help ourselves. In those moments when compassion is required, we lock and load and shoot our own wounded. I think masks come in handy for occasions such as those. If you have denied your own pain and ignored your own fraidy cat, it is so much easier to fire upon the hurting among us. In fact, it's a downright antiseptic experience, or we would not excel in marksmanship the way we do.

Later, when the new and oozing wound had crusted over, I began to work my way through emails awaiting my attention. The words reached up off the page and grasped at me. Another fraidy cat had come in from the cold. I had a choice. I decided to lock and load. I opened my online Bible and began to copy and paste scripture links that might soothe and quiet her anxious soul.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I have looked in the mirror and seen a fraidy cat staring back. My pain resonates with hers. She has trusted me enough to lift her mask and allow me to enter into battle with her. Who am I that she would turn to me?

I am the fraidy cat on the wrestling mat of life who is looking for my good God. When I lock and load, I hope you walk away feeling stronger, less alone, and more determined to continue your journey with me. Love you long and strong. All fraidy cats are welcome here. You know that by now, right? See you soon? 

Courtesy B. Creasy

Psalm 34: 15. (King James) The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kamikaze Parenting - Responsibility is Not a 4-Letter Word

Courtesy A. Squires
Chores Won't Break a Kid Nor Do Chores Shorten Life Spans

Her eyes widened as she fought to hide a rising sense of indignation. She harrumphed just a bit. “I do NOT believe in child labor.” I stepped back as if to to avoid the impact of her words. My blinks matched hers. Were there more words coming behind this opening salvo?

She continued to stare as if to stare me down. I shook my head a bit trying to get my bearings and searched for words. “Wait? Aren't you a juvenile parole officer? Your job is to baby sit youthful offenders that have run afoul of the law, right? Did it ever occur to you that if some of your clients had more with which to fill their time, like chores to develop a sense of self worth and responsibility, you might have a reasonable case load you could actually handle?”

Her case load was, in fact, enough to keep 3 officers busy and growing by the week. “I still don't think child labor is right. My daughter doesn't have any chores. Never will.” Her implied rebuke might have stung if I had been in the mood to let it. All these years later, I look back and wonder if she was just trying to see what reaction she could get out of me.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I remembered our conversation some 14 years later. A salesman listened as my husband excused himself and took a phone call from our 20-year-old son. I could see a look of amazement spread across his face as realization dawned on him. Son #1 had called to tell his dad about progress on the yard work underway.

How old is he?” the salesman's voice rose an octave signaling his incredulity. “He's doing yard work? How much are you paying him?”

Paying him,” my husband replied. “What do you mean paying him?”

You don't pay him?” Then, the salesman went on to tell us how his own son wouldn't lift a hand around the house unless he got paid for it. Even then, he would often leave the requested chore half done. “He takes the money and runs,” he explained leaving me to wonder why he'd pay for a job left half done.

We reverted to our oft told explanation, “Son #1 makes us look like better parents than we are. He's just a good kid.” In a lot of ways, that is true. In other ways, we are now reaping the benefit of a lifestyle set in motion many years ago. Do I still have to ask for chores to be completed. Sure I do. Sometimes I have to ask more than once. ;-) Sometimes, I get right testy when I ask...again!

Both my fellas will tell you that while I am patient, if I ask, I don't give up and do it myself just because I have to ask more than once. After 20+ years of parenting experience, I think I can draw some pretty reasonable conclusions:
  1. Family chores are a dying art in our modern, gadget oriented, extra-curricular oriented society.

  2. If parents have to choose, they will defer chores to make room in over-scheduled lives for the “must do” activities that fill our time. 
  3. As a society, we preach a lot about self-esteem but fail to realize that healthy self-esteem grows out of a sense of mastery and accomplishment as we develop skills that will serve us for a lifetime.
    3 Generations

  4. An easy way to build self-esteem early on is to give children a sense of ownership in the family dynamic. As they succeed in being successful citizens at home, they see themselves as empowered to function outside the home as successful citizens.

  5. Action that involves skill building will build self-esteem a lot faster than words and programs to build self-esteem. 
  6. I'd even hazard a guess that children, in whom a responsible work ethic is instilled, will have a lot less time to engage in bullying – social media or otherwise.
Wedding Day
I have to admit that, all these years later, I laugh at my friend's definition of 'child labor'. In my Dad's day, child labor was a 12-hour shift in a southern cotton mill. In my day, some folks defined it as keeping a bedroom clean and tidy. Go figure.

It is a FRAIDY cat world, I'm tellin' ya. You know it's true. College-aged kids riot and destroy property after a WINNING basketball season. Children commit suicide because of relentless bullying. Cheating scandals have rocked the 'sanctity' of College Board testing scores. And on and on it goes. It seems like the world spins more out of control every day.

Schools have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop curricula to address the flagging self-esteem of our nation's students. Yet, depression is rampant among the same students for whom those programs were designed. You have to wonder if we are living life upside down. I know I sure do.

Courtesy B. Creasy
Thanks for dropping by. I missed you while I was gone. I really do hope you'll find a friend or 2 and invite them in from out of the cold. Tell them all fraidy cats, especially weary, over-wrought parents, are welcome here! Love you long and strong. See you tomorrow?

Proverbs 12: 11 (Amplified Bible) He who tills his land shall be satisfied with bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits is lacking in sense and is without understanding.

Proverbs 14: 23 (Amplified Bible) In all labor there is profit, but idle talk leads only to poverty.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In Service to Humankind - an Almost True Tale

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I knew we'd done hit the jackpot just as soon as we rounded the corner and caught sight of her standing by her Mercedes sedan. I let out a little chuckle and elbowed Bobbie Jean whilst winking at Charlene's reflection in the rear view mirror. “We gonna eat good tonight, girls,” I say. “Poof up your hair some. Higher the hair, closer to Heaven,” I added reminding my apprentices that we was on pious ground and needed to look the part.

Nothing I liked better than gettin' a call to come to the grounds of this here conference center to rescue some tourist in distress. Rescuing was my specialty. I had recently rescued my apprentices from the drudgery of waiting tables where it was a known fact that sinners was preferred over saints as customers because of the chintzy way the latter tipped.

Up here at the resort they called a conference center, they was most too polite to cough, much less offer a strenuous objection, when we popped them with the bill for popping the lock on their car. Given the circumstance, they couldn't plop down a few dollars and slink on out of the place when they thought we wasn't looking. No sirree. Truth be told, most time when they heard the ransom, I mean fee for services rendered, they felt like they been popped too hard to breathe much less object.

Once I know'd she seen us, I slowed down the van to draw out her agonized expectation long as I could. Ain't nothing gonna grease the palm of some city slickin', out-of-towner than coolin' they heels in ninety degree heat and humidity. Allowing for my calculated approach, I hit the speed bump between us as hard as I could, so my rattletrap van would let out some extra pitiful squeaks and moans.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I know'd what I was doin'. This ole van and me knows how to work a captive audience. It ain't hard to do neither since there's more duct tape and wire holding it together than original bolts. The look of horror on Miss High-and-Mighty's face woulda made me roll on outta the van laughin', but I had to present that I was concerned in a kind and dignified sorta way. I'd save the laughin' till we was on the way back down the mountain with her cash in my grubby hand.

I pulled up just a little bit short of where she was a-standin'. I know'd I'd worked her right when she came stumblin' over her own feet in a rush to the van. I thought she had to restrain herself to keep from yankin' the door open. She caught herself, tho', and took a step back remembering how repulsed she was at the sight of us when it dawned on her we was, in fact, her knights in shining armor.

Right on cue my rig backfired when I switched off the engine. I choked back another laugh when Miss Lady 'near bout jumped outta her skin. I could tell she was worked up the appropriate amount when she went to twistin' the diamond danglin' at the end of a gold chain hanging 'round her neck. Ha. She keep wringin' it like a wet rag, we gonna be down on all fours looking for it before we can even start to unlock the door of her fancy MerSAYdeez.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Well, good afternoon, Miss. Sorry you had to wait so long. (I tried not to laugh up my sleeve on that one.) Been a right busy day in these parts. Lawd, it's hot! Sorry you had to stand out here in the heat. You up here on business? Well, don't you worry. We'll have you opened up and on your way in just a second. What brings you to these parts?”

I kept up the chatter not givin' her a chance to answer one question before I posed another. It helped keep her off kilter. You talk fast enough, they get so overwhelmed trying to keep up that they can't concentrate on what you doin', or NOT doin', on they behalf.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Oh! I'm so glad you're here. Yes, I'm here on business. My meeting starts in just under an hour, and all my files are locked in the car. Thank you so much for coming. I got here early thinking I could ease into the day. I guess I blew that plan to bits. Do you really think you'll be done in a few minutes?”

Awww, now, don't you worry.” I was making a big show of going through an industrial sized ring of keys as if any minute the next one was gonna be the right one. Truth be told, which I don't make a habit of doin', this operation was gonna eat up every little minute to spare between Miss Lady and her meeting. What she didn't know wasn't gonna hurt me and was only gonna make her more willing to pay. And by pay – I mean till it hurts.

These nice ladies are my apprentices. Between the three of us, we'll have you fixed up in no time. Charlene, hand me that other ring of keys. I don't know what in the world it is with this one. Don't seem to have the right one on it.”

Charlene had apprenticed right nice in the short time since I'd delivered her from slinging hash to ungrateful tourists. She already know'd to pull out the ring of keys that was big enough to choke a prize winning wild hog.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Miss Lady's eyes grew wide with realization as she noted this ring was even bigger than the first. She paced a little bit and went to worrying on that necklace again. I wished her on just a hoping she'd pop that chain in two and send that diamond a-flying. It'd take us forever to find it, and I'd charge her for that time too. I tried not to hum, “I'm in the money....” and forced a hymn in its place.

Sweat had begun to bead up on her lip which was a sure sign her anxiety was rising right long with her body temperature. She checked the time on her cell phone. I took my cue. “Blessed Jesus, help us, Lord. Help us get this nice lady on to her meetin' in time. Help us, Lord.”

Oh my. I guess I'll miss the first meeting,” her forehead wrinkled up with worry just enough to show she hadn't had no Botox injections. Huh. You'd think with this fancy car and them fancy diamonds and clothes, she'd be just a little more concerned about the crow's feet walking across her face.

Courtesy A. Hughes
She stepped away and pulled out her phone to call her boss and advise him of her idea that I might not have this situation under control. I expect Hollywood to come callin' any day now, I do. If I don't deserve an Oscar statue, I don't know who does. Her idea of 'under control' and mine was two direct opposites. Believe you me, me and the girls had things under control, if you know what I mean.

I gave her a wink and nod and hummed the first line of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as if to assure her that we was all on the same team. Bobbie Jean and Charlene chatted her up as they swung into action with my excuse for a Slim Jim. Far be it from me to invest in professional grade tools of the trade when I can make do with something that's gonna make gaining entry into your car look just a little harder than you thought it ought to.

Between the three of us, we fussed and fumed and sweated enough that I thought Miss Lady might just offer to lend a hand. She looked like that take charge kinda person. You know. The kind what if you can't git it done fast enough to suit 'em, they'll just go on and do it for you rather than wait on you.

Bobbie Jean patted Miss Lady on the arm in a motherly sort of way. “Don't you fret now. We gonna have you in there any minute. That's some unusual lock you got there. I can't remember when it took us this long to pop a lock like this here one.” Of course, Bobbie Jean's history with me went back all of two weeks, but she sure was convincing. I know how to pick 'em.

I raised things to the fevered finale when we went to trying to pry the door open just a bit. The trick here was to do it just enough to suggest the imminent danger of the window popping right out of the door without actually breaking it. Miss Lady, she start to pace with her back to us because it was all too much for her to bear if we did bust that window.

Courtesy J. Swett
I glanced down at my watch, Timex not Rolex mind you, and figured we'd milked Miss Lady just about dry. Time is money, you know. The girls were watching for my high sign, so it didn't take much of a nod for them to see it. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Miss Lady chewing on her thumbnail looking like she done missed Jesus on Resurrection Day. Just when it looked like all hope was lost, I did what I coulda done did at least fourty-five minutes ago.

POP. At the sound of that lock opening up, Miss Lady jumped clear of the earth by about two feet. “Oh, thank you!” she rejoiced. “Thank you! I can't believe it. I was afraid you weren't going to get it open. I have just enough time to get to my meeting if I run! I don't know how to thank you.” Lucky for her, I had the answer to that uncertainty.

Me and the girls exchanged a look and, with what might have seemed like rehearsed precision, we each threw our arms up in the air. “Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Lord. Praise you, Jesus! Thank you for helping us get this lady on about her business.”

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
How much do I owe you?” Miss Lady asks. The look in her eyes tells me she hopes she don't see what's coming like she thinks she does. I name my price and see fire start to flicker in her eyes. But, I got her right where I want her...right here on the grounds of this here religious retreat where she gotta be on her best spiritual behavior. Shooting fish in a barrel ain't no easier if you ask me.

No ma'am. I'm sorry ma'am. I don't take credit or out-of-town checks. I tell you what most people do, they make a cash withdrawal from a bank. I can lead you down the mountain into town to the closest one if you want.” I meet her eye to eye even tho' the intensity of the fire in hers is ramping up by the second.

She lets out a resignated sigh. She opens the car door, unlocks the glove compartment, and pulls out a little folder. Even tho' her back is to me, I can tell by the motion of her elbows that she's counting out cold hard cash. She turns around and counts four crisp bills into my palm with tight little snaps. The kinda snaps that tell you she's clinching her teeth so hard they might break in half.

The girls have already jumped in the van. Charlene done cranked it and revs it so that blue smoke coughs out the tailpipe giving the suggestion that we might not make it all the way down the mountain. I turn and hop aboard. As we pull away, I wave out the window. “Thank you, ma'am. You have a blessed day, you hear?” 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creavtive
I wink at the girls as Miss Lady fades outta sight in the side view mirror. “I tell you: nothing I love better than being of service to humankind. Sweeter than honey. Yes sir. Ain't that right, girls?”