Saturday, February 28, 2009

Driving Me Crazy

I like to drive. And if I'm honest, I like to drive pretty fast. It's become increasingly difficult to drive at the speed I prefer as my kids have become more and more aware of limits, laws and less than convincing justifications from me.

Around here everyone drives 70 in a 55 if you're on a highway. At least in the two left lanes they do. It's to the point, where no one even thinks about it anymore. Well no one in the front seat.

Frustration #1 - I can no longer rationalize driving 15 over the speed limit to my son. The whole "but everyone else is doing it" is what the kids say to the parents, not the other way around.

Frustration #2 - One of those kids isn't in the back seat anymore. Which means she can reach the radio. I never thought much about the day I would have to fight to keep my station on. Or any station on for more than 2 minutes before the seek button was hit yet again.

The upside is she's looking for band names she knows and since we got a new van around Thanksgiving we have that cool digital read out feature that tells you the song and band name for all stations that stream it. A lot of the bands she likes are bands I like (thanks to my ipod and Guitar Hero on her DS) - but there's still a lot of disagreement as to whether there might not be a better song on another station...

Frustration #3 - I can't spend any time negotiating with my kids in the car, because I have to pay more and more attention to all the other vehicles drifting into my lane as they incessantly dial their cell phones while driving 70 in a 55. I actually have to swerve to avoid a car hitting me in MY lane an average of 3-4 times a week. There are another dozen occasions when I don't actually have to swerve - breaking is sufficient.

You know U2's song "All I Want Is You?" I've always loved that line "You say you'll give me a highway with no one on it" - always thought of that as heavenly. Better than the treasures and riches in the lines that follow. They have a new album out on Tuesday. Dare I try to listen to it in the car?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spring Training

For the repeat readers, I was getting a little overwhelmed by the purple, I hope you like the blue.

I went away for the weekend with three girlfriends and remembered why God created a Sabbath day in the first place. We went with the intent of "scrapbooking" which we did a lot of, but we also watched a bunch of movies, read a lot of trivial magazines and ate several very low maintenance meals. On Saturday, three of us never got out of our pajamas. No alarm clocks, no grocery shopping, no cleaning up after anyone but ourselves, no driving anywhere. It was a sort of bliss.

On the way home one of my friends and I spontaneously stopped at Starbucks on the way out of town. We stayed for three hours. I cannot remember the last time I did anything spontaneously that lasted three hours. Probably because there isn't usually enough margin in my schedule for such behavior. Which makes me think I'm doing it wrong. And maybe not just wrong, but not-even-in-the-ballpark wrong.

We were talking about Weight Watchers a bit, because we had both lost a lot of weight on the program (I unfortunately have gained a good deal back). We both agreed that "journaling" points for the rest of our lives probably wasn't plausible, but it was a good jump start method because it made us so aware of our food intake. It's like a measurement of the distance between our driver's license weight reality and our scale reality. When I started logging all my points, the weight began to pour off and I wasn't even keeping to the assigned point total. In fact, I was quite a few points over it. Most of the time. And I still lost weight.

Stick with me here, because this is not an advertisement for Weight Watchers. I still lost weight, because I had been eating almost double (and if I'm really honest, sometimes more) of the points a person my age and height would be allowed if looking to lose weight. So just getting in the ballpark gave me immediate results.

It hit me as we kept talking that this applied to another area in my life. My marriage. Dan and I have both been receiving e-mails from an on-line newsletter called marriagevine. You can check it out at They hawk books which I never buy, because I own most of the ones that seem interesting already, but they also give a couple of excerpts from the books which are all geared toward maintaining and improving marriages from a Christian perspective. This is a great reminder of ways I can intentionally build up my husband on a regular basis. It's like an on-line accountability partner.

So a lot of these books really play up the amount of time you should spend with your spouse. And what they really emphasize is how much time you should spend with only your spouse. But wait, there's more. Shoulder-to-shoulder time doesn't count (aka watching TV or movies or sports). They are talking face-to-face time. And they say, the ideal is to follow the acronym for TIME:

TEN to twenty minutes to talk together alone every day. (Time in the car or at dinner with the kids listening doesn't count.)
INVEST in a weekly date night (or breakfast or lunch) together for at least four hours. (It takes a couple hours to emotionally connect.)
MAKE a monthly "day away" policy. At least once a month spend eight to twelve uninterrupted hours together to reconnect. You can spend the time doing things you both enjoy: errands, shopping, exercising, or a relaxing activity or hobby. I'm thinking if we both are supposed to enjoy it we can forget errands, exercising and shopping.
ESCAPE quarterly (or at least biannually) for a 48-hour weekend.

Are you laughing yet? Because I was. Kind of like when I looked up my height and saw a 22 point maximum in the Weight Watchers journal. I wasn't even in the ballpark.

So Dan and I are going away for two consecutive nights (yes, folks that qualifies as a 48 hour weekend) in less than three weeks. It will be the first time we have done it since the kids were born. Our oldest is twelve. In my defense, and as a tribute to my parents and sister, we have had many overnights! But I realize we have spent less than half the recommended time alone together for far too long.

And previous experience tells me there are great results when you get in the ballpark.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The shape of things

It hasn't been a particularly relaxing week. But there have been moments of pure joy in it. Like Tuesday night when it was Mom's night at AWANA. Though I couldn't participate in the game time because my back was out, I got a huge kick out of; 1) watching my husband help everyone line up for the three-legged race and relay races and try to create some semblance of order, 2) the look on my son's grimaced face rounding those corners, full of determination and desire to get that pin, and 3) watching some mom's HAUL like it was a high school track meet (one was even in a skirt). During large group time our son's wrote some "good words" about their mom's after hearing Ephe 4:29 and Prov. 16:24. The idea was to write it on a little cut out in the shape of a hand. So there's a word on each finger and the palm. Ryan wrote; "Christian", "Fun", "Kind", "Advice" (I asked him later what kind, because I know when I give it, he doesn't always think it's so good) "Loving" and the palm said "Football Wise". Because, what's better than a Mom who knows about football? That kid melts me.

Wednesday night was another highlight. Caitlin had a band concert and even though she's had a cough for almost two weeks, she did a tremendous job. There is something so precious about gathering in a room to listen to a bunch of kids make music together. She is terrific. I'm not just saying that because I'm her Mom, the kid can play. And I appreciate that there is still an activity that kids enjoy and are willing to work at that doesn't plug into an outlet.

Things have been extremely busy at work (I know this baffles people who know I work at a church, but have never been to the one I work at). We've all picked up some extra responsibilities as we're a little short-handed on staff with the economic situation. For the most part I've been happy to have a job I love and maintained a complete peace in the midst of the hectic schedules. Until today.

I just lost it today. Not so much outwardly (although my co-workers might disagree) but inwardly I was resentful and feeling very ill-equipped for the tasks set before me. I left for my lunch hour to run an errand and while I was gone I was listening to a radio program on WMBI in the car. Nancy Leigh DeMoss was talking about Joshua. My instinct was to turn on WXRT, but I listened instead. She was talking about the early days when Moses (on behalf of God) told Joshua to go fight the Amalekites (see Exodus 17) & the ridiculous odds he faced. First of all they were fighting on the Amalekites' home turf. Joseph had never been there before, didn't know that land at all. Secondly, Joshua was outnumbered. By a lot. Thirdly, he was out-ranked by the leader of the Amalekites who had been in battle at least three years with a well trained army. All the circumstances pointed to this endeavor being a suicide mission. But Joshua obeyed. And Joshua triumphed. God used that event to shape Joshua.

She related it to the battles in our own every day lives. How the odds seem to be so stacked against us some days, we have no idea what we're doing or even where we are. That's why it's so crucial we put on the armor of God (see Ephesians 6). Battles require warrior gear. But half the time we don't know the battle's coming. And usually our reaction (or at least mine) is to withdraw or not even engage in the first place. We're not big on messy.

Then she said something that really struck me - if you're a parent and your son or daughter is in the midst of a battle, consider what God may be doing before going in for the rescue. Because the truth is we're not their savior. And believe me I've tried to be my kids' savior. I was woefully incompetent. Our faith can't replace theirs. Our faith is just that...ours. It tends to deepen in the middle of battles. At some point their faith will become theirs and it will be stronger than anything they can inherit from us. God shapes us in these trials.

These long, cold, deadline-filled, illness-ridden days in a poor economy with unlimited expectations on our time and crazy drivers on cell phones are our battle field. And God is using them to shape us.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


It's Valentine's Day - even better it's Saturday which meant I got to sleep in this morning. That is something I am very grateful for because it's been a long and emotional week with a lot of activity, surprise events and difficult decisions...and that was just at work.

A friend of mine made the very generous offer to watch the kids today so Dan and I could go on a date and after a long leisurely dinner and coffee at Starbucks afterward, I feel reconnected and I'm grateful for that.

We were talking about all the activities we've faced the past month and all of those listed on the calendar for the next month and thought how often we would be back and forth in the car and were so glad gas is down to $2 a gallon and I'm grateful for that.

We decided to back out of a couple of the commitments that would have had us out in the evening for 14 consecutive nights and I'm grateful for that. It was a sanity break after a crazy week, as well as, a wise decision to prevent another crazy week.

I was talking with a friend today about some people we both knew who were so overextended and burned out that they were literally at their wits end - desperate for a vacation. And we were wondering what we could do or say to encourage one of them in particular to take some time off and rest. But then we wondered how much good it would do long-term, because however relaxing the break was, they were sure to return to their exact same lifestyle immediately afterward.

Why is it when we're driving so fast we have to slam on the breaks we are so quick to press the reset button on the cruise control?

I'm beginning to formulate a theory on this. It's probably not an original theory (see posting on original thought below), but it's probably true. Sustained periods of rest can so radically change your lifestyle that you get a little antsy with the extra time. You begin to wonder what to do with it. Because you can't just do nothing.

The friend I was talking to said people ask her every weekend what she has planned - what she's going to do and she almost always replies "nothing". That's the point of the weekend. She says this baffles them. I think that's because our culture equates rest with idleness and wears busyness like a badge of honor. Somehow our activities validate our value and our efforts beg accolades.

Rest provides lots of opportunity for reflection and even introspection. It allows time to notice things you normally miss and meet people you normally pass. I think at the surface we prefer the fast lane. We're too busy to stop. We believe everything would come crashing down around us.

The funny thing is we don't think driving 80 in the fast lane is risky. No potential to crash there.

At a time when so many people and places are moving so quickly, tonight I was really grateful to sit across a table from my husband for four hours and talk and laugh and cancel plans.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


When I walked into my therapist's office for the first time over 3 years ago and told her a little bit about myself, my life and my daily activities (which in comparison to a lot of people I knew were relatively manageable in my mind) - I was more than willing to acknowledge the panic attacks that had gotten me a referral there in the first place. So I thought I was pretty open minded when I asked for her help in discerning which activity (or commitment) I should back away from. I give her a lot of credit for not laughing. She smiled gently and said something along the lines of "oh no, honey, not which one do we get rid of - maybe which ONE we keep...but for now we're going to stop everything." I don't know how to describe my reaction other than "huh?"

When you're feeling overwhelmed (and some of us can function in that gear for years) it's a good idea to get a little dose of someone else's perspective. I have for the majority of my adult life cared a great deal about what other people thought of me - as a person, as a wife, as a mother, as a writer, as a speaker and trainer (as in work classes not workouts) a Christian. My sister pointed this out to me on several occassions but I denied it. That's what people in denial do.

I think I may have had a few reprieves in there when I was walking a little closer to the Lord. I remember a huge feeling of relief when I was reading Max Lucado's book "It's Not About Me" when I came upon his great piece of wisdom "the best thing about it not being about me was that it also wasn't up to me." Ahhh..liberation.

That's how I felt after several more therapy sessions as I completely shut down every commitment except Mom and Wife. Liberation. I stopped answering e-mails, stopped returning phone calls, stopped volunteering for school, stopped making lists of every house project I had to complete now that all the kids were in school full time, and took 10 steps back from my church commitments. I stopped everything. And I could breathe again.

You may have noticed these were all "good" activities I was involved in. But there is a huge difference between being called to something and having an opportunity to do something. Between "purpose" and "possible" there lie a lot of people who are increasingly short of breath.

My Mom has struggled (publicly or I wouldn't write about it) with what she calls "False Responsibility". If it was a gene I'd tell you I inherited it, but I know plenty of people whose parents were never like that who spend their lives trying to fix every problem, better every situation, fill every need and mend every broken heart. There's only one problem with that. It's not their job.

As a Christian, I believe we are called to things. Places and people God specifically wants us to encounter. Some are for a season (that's another thought for another day) and some are for longer. But they never leave you short of breath. Stretched a little, occasionally uncomfortable even, often challenged. But not gasping for breath.

And the kicker is, as much as I try to accomplish anything where I am NOT called, all I'm really doing is delaying someone else who IS called from arriving.

When you get the chance to start over with a clean slate - which is exactly the chance Christ gave us on the Cross - you can see so much clearer the place or relationship you are called to. And the God who is calling you there.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Men might want to skip this one

So I got my first mammogram today and it went surprisingly smooth. Those of you who know how old I am and are gasping at the thought of this being my first can put the judgement on hold and just go with it - it's done now.

I think the most difficult part of the whole event was finding a parking space next to Northwest Community Hospital. I got in right away, the paperwork was a snap, the technician an expert (been doing it 27 years, although she didn't look old enough to have that kind of experience) and the procedure was unexpectedly quick and painless.

Even better, the results came within 20 minutes afterward so I knew everything was all right immediately. This all occurred in under an hour. And then I was off to meet a friend for lunch and free to not think about it again for a year other than to thank God for answered prayer.

It did make me think however about why we put off the things we don't want to deal with, and how very often the fear of the unknown keeps us from....well just keeps us.

I understand why it's easier to go into something with your eyes open and an idea of what to expect, but I also kind of feel like we move on all sorts of false assurances. We usually have no idea what's going to happen and rarely experience anything the exact same way someone else went through it. The fact that we try anything new at all has to be partly based on some kind of faith. Especially if it's dangerous or scary or has the potential to really change things up.

And I realized how relaxed I was today, not nervous at all, and yes that could be due to a lot of things, but I attribute it where I place my faith. There's a peace that comes from knowing God is ever present and all the pain, procedures and positive results in the world don't take that hope away.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Original Thought

I've been reading a lot lately and honestly, I've been so impressed with some of the insight that's been offered to me through the words of others. Words about loss and pain, words of confession and submission, words about limits and boundaries...all calling me to various truths I've missed before.

I've been so moved by these authors' ability to articulate the deepest thoughts and feelings of their souls that I have been both motivated to write about my own experiences as well as to share these other written insights with almost everyone I know.

I remember something my mother said to me years ago about there basically being no such thing as original thought. I also remember being very indignant about her comment. It injured my pride. I had believed I was capable of original ideas, words and actions and had every intention of demonstrating them boldly and frequently so as to disprove her theory.

How much has changed over the years as my desire to share other people's wisdom often far supercedes my desire to share any of my own. That, too is a bit comical - that I should think I possess any wisdom that wasn't given to me as a gift.

My mom is always good for a humility check in that regard. The older I get the less I balk at it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Son is Shining

For the first time in a long time, the temperature in Chicago was well over 40 degrees today... AND the sun was shining. Both were a God-send as today had the potential to be very dreary and cold. More on that later.

The sunshine, which is so scarce in Chicago this time of year, was a welcome departure from the gray and brown hues that characterize February. I know it's not like this everywhere. My in-laws are in Florida for the winter - and often poolside this time of year - and my sister loves to call me from Denver and remind me I should seriously consider moving every day it's over 60 in January and February - which is pretty frequently. Although today she was getting kinda cold in the backyard, and needing to go in and put on a jacket since it was 52. It was 45 here and I was driving with my window down. It's all relative. So in the geography that is the midwest, any color, light or warmth are welcome this time of year.

Which is why I have to say a collective "thank you" to everyone who has encouraged me in this endeavor to write publicly. Some of my techie friends have even let me know they are subscribing to my rss feed. I have no idea what that means, but I'm grateful for the support. Your encouragement for me to continue writing is my daily dose of sunshine when the cloud cover reigns.

I took off work today to be with the kids who were off of school. Normally in the middle of winter I like to take them somewhere fun to break up the monotony but medical needs took precendence and we spent another day in and out of doctor's offices.

Ryan got two teeth pulled (long story) and was very courageous when we decided at the last minute to go the novacaine route instead of being sedated. Actually I would have preferred if we could have both been sedated, but God is all about building character and that's what happened in the oral surgeon's office today. It's hard to make decisions that you know are going to inflict pain on people you love, especially your children, even when you know it's a better option long term. It's even harder to stare into the face of the pain and not waiver. So I'm holding his hand and letting him squeeze as hard as he can and assuring him it's going to be okay which is exactly what God is doing for me at the same time because truth is I just want the kid to get some relief and I'm really not all that interested in building his character right now.

We get through it. They even give him his two baby teeth for the tooth fairy in a little container. We come home and relax for several hours before he finally feels good enough to force me to make good on my promise to buy him any set he wants in the LEGO store for being brave enough to forego the gas (which saved us a LOT of money).

799 lego pieces later we have a very happy boy.

So off to the other appointment to get Maggie's staples out. She was so busy consoling her twin up until that point, that it's only right before going into the room that she gets very nervous. We were thrilled that it was our favorite doctor in the practice who goes to our church and knows us so well (especially since we missed her the last two times). Maggie is by far my most fearless kid with this kind of stuff but even she is a little woozy when all is said and done. On the way home we stop at Target to get plenty of cold, soft food for Ry to eat and a new DVD for Maggie, who is so grateful for the gesture even knowing the price tag difference between her "compensation" and Ryan's. She decides to keep one of the staples which is in the shape of an "M" for Maggie, or "E" for Eder or "W" for Woozy or "3" depending on how you hold it. She considers bringing it to school on Monday to show all the kids.

So on a day of "extractions" I was reminded that these imperfect bodies we live in need all sorts of maintenance and I began to appreciate all the ways, God gets surgical on us and determines to remove all the debris that piles up in our mouths and heads. Sometimes its quick and gentle, other times it's painful and unexpected and takes a while to recover. But I know He's holding my hand and assuring me it's going to be alright. I think He might even be smiling and hinting at a reward for my troubles later on.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Groundhog Day

I woke up this morning and I didn't want to get out of bed. I don't want to get out of bed most mornings because a) I'm not a morning person, b) it's winter in Chicago, which equals warm in bed, cold everywhere else and c) I go to sleep too late and I'm tired when the alarm goes off.

I know people who have "body clocks" and they wake up by a certain time every day regardless of when they've gone to bed. I'm not equipped with this particular mechanism and have been known to sleep through alarms ringing next to my head if I know they're not for me.

I soon realized it was Tuesday and therefore a day when I had to get myself ready for work and three kids ready for school so in an effort to focus and encourage myself I said aloud "This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24) Off to the shower I went.

Things went fairly smoothly after that until Maggie woke up. Maggie, a chip off the old block, isn't a morning person either. And in her defense she's still recovering from the whole "staples in the head" deal, so I try to cut her some slack while making lunches. There's about 20 minutes left before the twins have to catch their bus and Maggie decides she wants to wear a certain outfit. She has the top, but the pants are in the washer, clean but not dried. I figure, I can throw them in on high heat with a towel and we should be golden - so I do. With 5 minutes to spare I give her the now dried pants and she asks where the matching vest is. I thought she had it on. It's still in the washer. I tell her "too late". She spills something on her top. Now I'm in rush mode - change the shirt, get on the 10,000 layers of clothing required to protect us from the ONE DEGREE temperature outside - make sure you have all your "Tuesday" stuff, i.e. gym shoes, etc. and LET'S GO! She emerges in a new shirt and gets her coat on. She says "I HATE this morning." I tell her "This is the day the Lord has made - we're supposed to be glad and rejoice in it." She gives me a look.

We cram into the car and I begin to back out and catch the bus in the rearview mirror so I get down the drive as quickly as possible, speed around the corner and pull up behind the bus. The 17 children who get on at our stop (I am not exaggerating) are still climbing on as Ryan and Maggie get out of the car and I notice she has no hat, no gloves, no scarf and no snowpants (although I asked her repeatedly to gather all these things while putting on makeup in another room). I am now extremely angry. I get out of the car, pull off my leather gloves run up to a neighbor who passes them on to her like some relay race hand-off and announce I would like to put her through a window. Nice Christian witness. So much for rejoicing in the Lord's day.

As I drive to work I put on WMBI - Moody Bible Institute's radio station and they're announcing the weather and the fact that Pauxatawny Phil (or whatever the gopher's name is) has just seen his shadow and we're in for 6 more weeks of winter. That's fabulous - more snow and frigid temperatures. I do smile as I think of Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day and then I laugh out loud as I imagine his reporting day after day on the extended winter news (it's really worth renting if you've never seen it). But it's Founder's Week at Moody, so as soon as the weather is over they have Dr. Michael Easley on the show and he's talking about how we fall into the trap of doing things because we think we should, and checking stuff off our lists and other sorts of "going through the motions" activities and how he recently heard something profound and quotes "Maturity is turning discipline into reflex".

I am stunned.

I start considering how my reflex with Maggie 10 minutes earlier was anger instead of compassion or patience.

From the moment the kids had gotten out of the car, I had been planning a conversation on responsibility when I got home. Originally it was only going to be about their need to accept more responsibility and that did end up being part of the talk when we all got home, but we also prayed together and I had to consider taking responsibility for my own behavior.

I talked to my neighbor before the bus got home and apologized for ranting and raving and badmouthing my child. I determined that we would all be more organized and make efforts to prepare better for the day. But mostly I decided to rejoice in this day the Lord made and thanked Him for a valuable lesson in a cold and weary season.