Friday, December 24, 2010

December Birthdays

At the beginning of this month we celebrated Dan's 46th birthday. Its an age I've only ever attributed to his older brothers so it seems really odd that it applies to him this year. He's closer to 50 than 40 now and for whatever reason that makes me feel like we lost a decade somewhere when we weren't paying attention.

This past weekend we celebrated Caitlin's 14th birthday, along with Jaden Tabak's 9th birthday. I remember as if it were yesterday when my friend Beth told me she was pregnant again with him.

I still haven't gotten used to the fact that Caitlin is a teenager and now she's hit a whole new teenage number. She still doesn't act like one though, so no complaints here.

I've been reminiscing about birthdays past with Cait - how she could never come up with enough ideas for presents for both her birthday and Christmas for all those who wanted to buy for her. She still can't. And how since she was two years old if someone gave her a book she would stop opening any other presents to read it. She still does that.

We went downtown on her actual birthday to the Art Institute (her choice, but I was elated by it) and then to Marshall Fields (I refuse to call it anything else) to see the Walnut Room and then on to Christkindlemarket in Daley Plaza where we ordered real Bavarian pretzels. It was cold and crowded and we did a lot of walking, but the kids were great and we had a lot of fun. When we got home Cait told me she felt badly about all that she had gotten when there were so many other people with so little. There were quite a few homeless people out in the city that night and I'm sure their images stuck with her.

It got me thinking about the next birthday we're celebrating. We've had an advent calendar on the wall of the nativity and each day we read a little about the character we're about to hang up in the manger scene and talk about shepherds, wisemen and angels. I've explained how many of them had been long anticipating the coming of the promised Messiah while others just saw a star in the sky and somehow knew they had to follow it.

The young woman Mary, who had just given birth to the Son of God in a stable was probably no older than Caitlin is now.

I understand how Caitlin felt the night of her birthday. I have often wondered why God has saved me and given me so much when so many other people still don't know Him. When I consider that Jesus left heaven and all its glory to come to earth and take on human flesh knowing that He would ultimately die on a cross to pay the debt for my sins and reconcile me to His Father, I am stunned. The manger is just the beginning of the story.

It's good to remember on His birthday that He's both the Gift and the Gift Giver. It's better to remember it all year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

D.A.R.E. to be Different

It's time to put my daughter Maggie in the spotlight.

We have three kids. Ironically, it's not the twins that are very much alike, or even the two girls, but Caitlin and Ryan who seem to be cut, if not of the same mold, at least near the same kiln. I often remember writing down little notes in their early years of how Caitlin and Ryan did one thing, and Maggie did quite another. I was going to write a book titled "...And Then There's Maggie."

I'm still considering it. She gave me quite a lot of documented material.

See, Maggie is this interesting dichotomy of enormous talent and complete indifference. She has more natural athletic ability than the other four of us put together.

And absolutely no ambition.

Her "love language" is Quality Time. She has little interest in electronic gadgets, much preferring board games played with other living, breathing human beings. She's social, but not in the way of joining everything, pursuing popular programs or even having a wide group of friends.

Maggie likes one-on-one. And she doesn't easily tire of it. So when she finds something she's interested in, we get a little excited around here. Because as much as she likes the social interaction, she usually won't join anything that requires too much of her.

We haven't pushed her into sports or academics or park district courses. We're happy to save the money - and truth be told - the time and gas required to shlep another child to another destination on any given weekday/end. We've been content to have her participate in Girl Scouts which only meets about once a month after school. But something peaked Maggie's interest at school recently and the result was kind of amazing.

Maggie got totally into the D.A.R.E. program. You know the program...Officer Friendly on steroids. DRUG ABUSE RESISTANCE EDUCATION. DARE to say NO to drugs.

Maggie was all in.

She not only participated actively at school, she attended CSI-like presentations at the library and applied herself like superglue.

For her efforts she was recognized as one of two kids in the entire 6th grade (about 100 kids) as "DARE Student of the Year." There was a ceremony, a customized plaque, photos with the Chief of Police and more. We were so proud we totally let her blow off her small group at church to attend the award celebration.

At a time when kids are exposed to more dangerous vices at earlier ages in a culture that is increasingly tolerant of it, I am thrilled that the activity that finally warranted my daughters efforts and commitment was one that teaches her to go against the grain.

That's pretty much what the Christian life consists of in 21st century America. Going. Against. The. Grain.

It used to be when I came home as a kid and asked my mom to do something (or got caught doing something I shouldn't have been doing) and pleaded that "everyone else was doing it" that possibly two or three kids I knew were doing it. Now when my kids come home and talk about non-stop texting, or whatever the new must-have/must-see/must-do thing is and tell me "everyone else is doing it," literally, everyone else is doing it.

Makes me really grateful Maggie was honored for not doing something too many other kids are.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Whirlwind Weekend

This weekend wasn't non-stop activity but the activity was chock-full.

Friday night I went to a "Fall Fellowship" of over 30 women who will all be attending our church's newest campus in Itasca. We spent some time getting to know each other, eating (lots of eating), learning about women's ministry and praying for the campus. It was emotional for me because I was involved in the process of this location becoming another site of our church from the beginning. It was a very eclectic group of women ranging in age from 22 to 96! I stopped complaining about being tired after working all day and going out again past 9:00 pm when the 96 year old was making her way from room to room in her immaculate skirt and holding hands in circles of prayer to lift up the ministries of the church. I am ridiculously out of shape.

Saturday morning Ryan's football team played for the Championship in their division. I thought I might not make it there because my back was half out and I could barely drive to the field.

Best youth football game I've ever seen in my life.

Both teams played their hearts out and it could have gone either way. I actually experienced some of the devastation the other team must have felt coming so close while at the same time, being elated for my son, his dad (Dan is an assistant coach) and all these kids I've gotten to watch play all season. I think it was Ryan's first real taste of competition on a higher level. He made a great catch on 4th down with a defender all over him and I couldn't help but be proud. The celebration was immediate - it rivaled an NFL division win in enthusiasm. They drank heartily from bottles of sparkling grape juice (when they weren't dumping them over each other's heads). I asked Ryan to pass me his trophy so I could get a better look at it while we were in the car on the way home but he couldn't do it.

It was strapped into the seat with him.

One of the families on the team hosted a celebration party afterward that I am still hearing about. Cait and I stayed home for homework/backache reasons respectively, but the family was well represented by Maggie from what I hear.

Sunday morning was the "internal launch" of the Itasca Campus for church. The former congregation had dwindled down to about 30 people prior to joining The Orchard. There were well over 200 people there Sunday morning. It was such a gift to be part of a community of believers who had worked hard, prayed hard and put aside personal preferences for the greater good of reaching more people for Christ in this really special place.

Everything went fairly smoothly and I doubt most people were aware of what didn't go according to plan. Although most things went completely awry for the ministry I head up it ended up being okay. In fact, it was better than okay and I was blessed by the people who showed up and participated in it.

I was so thankful to have the extra hour of sleep - and the rest of Sunday afternoon to lay on the couch and watch the Bears win - added bonus! But I still feel like life is moving at a pace I will never adjust to.

So I'm working on not adjusting to it.

There's a verse from the Bible that keeps popping up in all my reading. Matthew 11:28, "Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."

It's my slow-down-even-if-no-one-else-is free card. Way better than getting out of jail in Monopoly.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Blow to the Head

The cover story of the Chicago Tribune today was titled "Friday Night Lights' Risk: 1800 hits to the head."

Mom Eder, if you're reading this - stop now. You don't want to know.

Recent studies have found hidden brain injuries in young football players who have been sacked/tackled repeatedly with hits to the head.

Kind of like Jay Cutler last Sunday night. The Giants set a new NFL record by sacking our Bears QB NINE TIMES in the first HALF. Cutler left the game after the last sack at the end of the half. That was the hit that we all thought caused his concussion. Turns out the concussion came much earlier in the game and that's what impaired his play to the extent that he was sacked an additional six or so times. Not that the offensive line provided any assistance.

Somehow this information was both comforting and disturbing. Comforting in that Cutler isn't a hack who can't throw the ball to save his life. Disturbing in that he was impaired to a degree that he couldn't find receivers visually let alone with the ball.

Disturbing because these injuries can have long-term repercussions - no win is worth sacrificing a player's future congnitive abilities.

Disturbing because it went undetected, the guy was put back out on the field, and we allowed him to get reinjured exponentially with greater enthusiasm from the opposing teams defense (since their offense was doing as little as ours to put points on the board).

Disturbing because I have a son who plays football.

I'm grateful that Dan is an assistant coach who is making sure they are learning proper safety procedures for tackling. But I'll tell you this stuff makes me run to God with prayers for protection.

I can handle the bruises all up and down his arms and the way he walks up the stairs like an 80 year old man after a game, but head injuries are deal breakers for continued play.

So if you have a kid in football (and you should know I consider college age "kids") - watch them carefully and be an advocate for conservative measures with those hard hits, would ya?

And pray.

Friday, October 1, 2010

But Wait! There's more....

So you read about my AT&T Uverse woes with the phone a couple of days ago. Turns out the Bears win on cable isn't a wash with the lack of phone reception after all.

I am now in my eleventh day of "new, improved digital phone service" except my phone continues to buzz loudly anywhere between 2 and 14 minutes into a call depending on it's mood. I finally got through on the automated system on Monday to schedule a service call to fix it (took three tries and LOTS of waiting) but on the bright side they all had real time evidence of my problem while they were recording the converation for "quality assurance."

The first time they could dispatch someone when I was home was allegedly last night between 4-8. I left work early to be home by 4. Of course, they never showed, but did call Dan's cell around 8 to say they were "running late." At nine pm they were still trying to dispatch someone. I told them not to send a technician to my home after 9 pm on a school night and we rescheduled for the next day. I insisted they come between 5-7 and they absolutely refused to commit to anything but a 4 hour window because they said it was what they needed. I reminded them they really needed a six hour window since it was now 9:30 pm and they hadn't shown up yet for that day's 4 hour window.

So their four hour blocks required a 4-8 pm for today. We told them I couldn't be home until 5 so to change it to 5-8. Again, the four hour window speech. So they made a note not to show up before 5 on the ticket and gave us 5-9.

So it was kind of funny when Dan got a call at 9 am from a technician in front of our house wanting to be let in to fix the phone. Dan let him know no one would be home before 5 pm. He got another call two hours later.

Same deal. Same response.

Another hour later...he got another call. He asked them why they kept showing up when the order clearly read 4-8 (but apparently didn't include the promised note of "don't show up before 5"). They said when they miss appointments the day before we go to the top of the order. Dan told them that's great, except as we've stated five times, we won't be home before five.

An hour later another technician calls.

So when I pull up at 4 pm in front of my house and see a service truck parked there I am overjoyed. Except the guy tells me he just spoke with my husband who told him I wouldn't be home before 5 and so now he's been dispatched to another home and has to leave. I tell him "no way" I'm home now and the whole saga.

He is not moved with compassion.

I make him stay for 10 minutes listening to our sob story, but he still leaves assuring me someone will be here between 5-8. Right. Because that's what the ticket says and it worked so well last night.

I ask him for a phone number for a manager/supervisor. "Sorry ma'am I don't have any phone numbers." There aren't any emails on their website either. Nor is there any contact information at all except for the automated system that has an average wait time of 10 minutes for a live human being. Remember...this is a phone company.

But there's lots of stuff that says "Dear valued customer."

It's 6 pm and no one else has showed up yet even though four of them were here today because I was at the top of the pecking order even though my ticket said 4-8 pm.

I just opened my mail and there was a letter from AT&T Uverse trying to sell me the bundled package I just bought for $12 less a month than I just bought it for.

I prayed so I wouldn't strangle someone.

I also had a glass of wine.

Then Caitlin reminded me that it was a U2 Friday Feature on WXRT. So I just listened to five consecutive U2 songs while sipping some wonderful Left Foot Charley Murmur and I'm not as livid as I was an hour ago.

But I will post on my web for all to see that AT&T appears to be competing for worst customer service satisfaction in the 21st century.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Phone Troubles

About two weeks ago, shortly after the cable companies switched every last station to digital delivery requiring a box for reception of any channel over 12, a nice man and woman came to the door trying to sell us an AT&T Uverse bundle of phone, internet and cable. I'm talking real cable with over 100 channels including high def ones (for the one TV in the house that has high def capability). For us it was all about price - we desperately wanted ESPN back as football season is well underway, but we weren't going to pay more for it.

Our Comcast bill had gone from $11.75 to almost $17 a month to get nothing but local network channels and when we combined that cost with our phone/internet already set up with AT&T it was only $6 less then what they were offering.

We decided football is worth the extra $6 a month. Plus they promised us faster internet (it's not) and better quality phone service on the new fiber optic spliced wires. Yeah. About that....

It's kind of disappointing that the phone has a buzzing sound that begins anytime between 2 and 7 minutes on every call we make with this fabulous new quality system.

It's even more disappointing that the automated phone system is like a cruel joke - with no option for a human being (until 15 minutes in you scream "GETMEAHUMANBEING" into the phone. By the way, when you select "phone" for the service you need help with, the automated voice instructs you how to buy additional channels for the cable.

It's super disappointing that you have to call three times before a technician gets dispatched (three days later when they have an opening when you are actually home).

And it's downright comical that the email confirmation for the service appointment says "do not respond to this email" and provides absolutely no links for a customer service rep to credit back all the minutes you've been using to call their service department while they explain to you how valuable your business is.

So I'm without a phone at the moment and that's really aggravating.

But the Bears beat the Packers on Monday Night Football last night and we watched the whole thing on high definition ESPN. So it's a wash. :-)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall Frenzy

I almost forgot I had a blog.

I've been writing a lot lately. The funny thing is I've been using a pen and paper to do it. Sooo old school.

It's been an eventful couple of months, so busy in fact, there's been little time to be on the computer (except of course for the six hours I spend on it each work day).

One of the blogs I try to read is called "22 Words" by Abraham Piper. Most of his posts are 22 words or less. In today's culture that's appealing. Who wants to read on and on? Be honest. You automatically delete those forwarded emails that require scrolling, right?

So in a nutshell...

Work/Church has been delightfully challenging. I know. That sounds like an oxymoron. We are opening two additional campuses before the end of the year, one is seven minutes from our home. In three short weeks we will begin attending Sunday worship there. Planning ministry across two additional locations with the same amount of staff is challenging. It's also delightful. Can't tell you how encouraging it is to watch people step up and how exciting it is to work on something that has the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it's goal. We also just began a new marriage study with our LIFE Group (small group) from church.

The kids are so good I feel ridiculously undeserving. Of course, I AM ridiculously undeserving. They help more around the house, have adjusted to the new school year, are learning to balance homework, football, band, academic clubs and more and are doing it all without complaining or falling behind. I see how their world becomes more and more challenging as we strive to live our lives in a manner that is so anti-culture and I cannot believe how mature they are. I am so grateful.

Our home has been through a lot in the past several months - a flood that officially changed the status of our basement from finished to UNfinished...a new roof...and a declining performance that has most of our 20 year old appliances threatening simultaneous mutiny. We keep thanking God for our new dishwasher, praying the fridge, washer, dryer, stove and microwave continue to work and wonder if we will ever be able to afford a snow blower.

Fall has FINALLY arrived with cooler temperatures and changing leaves and glorious football. We hope it lasts at least four weeks before winter arrives. The good part about winter looming is that the construction that is occuring on every single road we drive on should be over soon. We hope.

My husband is working hard, volunteering at church and serving as an assistant coach for Ryan's football team, but seems non-stressed and happy most of the time and is still the guy everyone wants to hang out with including me.

My mom had a brief hospital stay but is home and doing her very best to comply with the doctors orders that has her on three times the amount of medication she normally takes. Before you freak out, she had been on one and now she's on three. At 73 - that ain't bad.

The biggest heartbreak recently has been the loss of an aunt. My Dad's oldest sister, Tella passed away at 90 earlier this month. I've written a great deal about that on paper and eventually may post some of that onto the blog. When asked to talk about it I'm reminded of a line in "The Lord of the Rings; The Fellowship of the Ring" when they believe Gandalf has died and the elves sing a lament for his passing. The hobbits ask Legolas to interpret and he says, "I have not the heart to tell you. For me the grief is still too near."

So much more could be said about what's "going on" but you've probably already had to scroll on the page so I'll leave some thoughts for next time and try to write more often.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Countdown Begins

It's 10:14 and I've just instructed my kids to begin reading in bed so we can do lights out in the neighborhood of 10:30 and it's occuring to me these days of long light and late bedtimes are numbered.

August is here and back-to-school sales are in full force. It seems we just celebrated the 4th of July, but the calendar doesn't lie. Ryan began football practice on Monday much to my mother-in-law's dismay. I do have to admit I'm less excited than I thought I would be as I fully realize it's MY kid out there everyone will be trying to take down. But he's pretty scrappy and I trust God to protect him. He's awfully cute in that little uniform.

Of course, when we think of football we think of snow blowing off the lake at Soldier Field, but it was 88 degrees outside at 6:00 pm with 70% humidity and there wasn't a dry spot on that kid's body when he got home. Funny how it's 45 degrees when baseball starts and 90 when football begins. Gotta love Chicago.

The hard part with this new schedule is I'm still working till 5:00 pm three days a week and Dan commutes from Romeoville (like an hour away) so the family dinner has gone by the wayside until school starts. That's when my hours change back to a 3:00 pm leave time and practice goes down to three days a week. It's an incomprehensible five nights a week right now. I guess they told me that when I signed him up six months ago, but you know how we block those things out.

I am a little shell-shocked by it all. We've intentionally limited the kids activities and really preserved family time throughout the summer and weeknights. I can only say how glad I am we did and that I cannot imagine being on a schedule like this year round.

I spent my lunch hour finding a girdle that would fit him. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently all those big burly football players wear girdles with pads for extra protection underneath those clinging pants.

I already informed him that even with the hot days it's unlikely he will have a clean uniform every time he plays. I had a hard enough time getting his baseball outfit clean twice a week. I can't tell you how many times I pulled that thing out of the dryer fifteen minutes before practice began.

So my goal is to get a little more organized so we don't end up eating fast food for the next month (can't afford that financially or physically) - and so we can transition back to the school year schedule later this month. But, planning isn't really my strong suit - I can do it pretty well at work but I seem to get all loosey-goosey at home. So if we stay up a little later to get some quality family time in and we end up switching into school hours at the last minute like we usually do, I won't lose too much sleep over it. Well, not after the first night anyway.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Come Ye Back to RKD

I've returned from that little slice of heaven on earth where we vacation every year and the feel of it is still lingering in the atmosphere. I remember the first time I read that Arcadia means "paradise" and I thought, how fitting.

I can still close my eyes in the quiet and hear the waves. We were so fortunate this year to get the best room in the camp's Inn. It's the largest room they have with a private bath and it's a corner unit facing the lake so we had views of Lake Michigan from both windows. In fact, our bed was directly underneath one of the windows so I didn't even have to lift my head in the morning - I just opened my eyes and the first scene to greet me was the sun shining on the water. It's easier to remember scripture like "this is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it" when He wakes you up that way.

The weather for the most part was glorious - a little humid some days - okay a lot humid, but never without a nice breeze and the water temperature was in the mid-high
70's all week (practically unheard of for Lake Michigan) so you could always go for a swim to cool off - which I often did. A recent dredging of a nearby channel produced a vast sandbar and the best beach in front of the camp in my memory (which spans 30 years). Not only can I still hear the waves when I close my eyes, but I can picture the people playing in the water, darkened figures beneath the bright sun and almost feel the sand between my toes and the warmth of the rays on my skin. Did I mention I spent four hours a day, three days in a row on the beach? It helped me imbed the image.

It takes me about 15 minutes upon arriving to relax in Arcadia. It's the easiest place in the world to leave your worries behind. The pace can only be described as unplugged.

The kids reconnected with some old friends and made some new ones too. They are at the age where they have free reign of the place and only need to show up for meals on time to keep the privelege.

We really enjoyed spending time with some old friends too and laughed a lot together. I can't express how much it means to be able to return to this special place and pick up where we left off whether it's been six months, a year or ten years since we've seen them. I don't know anywhere else that happens, but again I suspect it's a glimpse of heaven.

Every time I'm in Arcadia I get the sense anything is possible - creativity abounds there both in the people and the place which is filled with music and prayer and encouragement. I always leave more focused on writing, more open to any changes God might have in store, more willing to take a risk on something meaningful.

I'm feeling really grateful for the retreat and looking to maximize the effect as long as I can before the "plugged in pace" pushes the sounds and sights too far into my memory banks.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Consolation Prize

After a rare quiet evening at home the kids asked about 8:30 pm if we could go to the library and check out some books, games and videos. Since it's summer and the library is open until 10 I said okay. I'm so glad I did, because on the way there I was skimming through radio stations and came across a live version of Sunday Bloody Sunday on the Drive (97.1 Classic Rock for you non-Chicagoans). As we neared the library another live song came on, and another one after that. I didn't want to get out of the car.

I did force myself to enter the library and was overjoyed when I got back in the car 20 minutes later and they were still playing live U2. Now, for those of you who know me, you know I'm an uberfan. So it should come as no surprised that I recognized many of the variations of the songs as being from different live concerts, not just one recording of the same concert. I knew this because I've been attending U2 shows for over 20 years. And tonight would have been my two dozenth show if Bono hadn't had to cancel for emergency back surgery last month.

So how great of "the Drive" to play two uninterrupted hours of U2 concert clips for those of us who had planned to be at Soldier Field tonight jumping up and down at the 360 tour. They finished the set with the most common encore the band plays..."40" - the tune that will sing me to sleep tonight.

"I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined and heard my cry, He lift me up out of the pit, out of the miry clay. I will sing, sing a new song. He sets my feet upon a rock and makes my footsteps firm. Many will see, many will see and fear. I will sing, sing a new song."

Not a bad consolation prize.

Monday, July 5, 2010

What Happened to June?

Well...let's face it, I'm a terrible blogger. I hardly ever write. I skipped the entire month of June, and I only posted something at the end of May because I felt badly about not writing anything that month either. Summer has not yet been that wonderful, lazy, lull of non-activity and so while we've been having fun, there's been no time or energy to write about it when the day is done.

I picked up a book the other day with a gift card to Barnes & Noble (seriously great gift) by one of my favorite authors of all time - Maeve Binchy. Only it's not her latest fiction release. It's a book about writing. She taught a class of would-be writers in Dublin a couple of years back and this book captures some of her instruction and several letters written to the students over the course of the class.

One of her first suggestions is to make a decision whether you want to tell everyone you are planning on actually writing a book or no one. She gives a great analogy with Weight Watchers - telling everyone you're on a diet or no one - if you tell everyone you have the accountability factor, people will be looking for your progress. If you tell no one people will be surprised and impressed if you lose weight. Of course, that's assuming you actually do lose weight.

So I'm going to write a book. And I've decided to tell everyone.

Or at least the half dozen or so family and friends who are kind enough to check this blog from time to time.

I'm not sure what kind of book I'm going to write and I'm pretty confident it will take a lot longer to accomplish than the 20 pounds I'd like to lose while I'm at it. But I'm inviting accountability - which is the only way you really get any. So feel free to ask me how the book is coming from time to time.

Maeve gives a lot of practical advice for getting started including a recommendation that aspiring writers spend a minimum of 5 hours a week actually writing. Another suggestion is to produce 10 pages a week. Instead of waiting to write these pages until I have a topic or theme I'm going to just write whatever comes to mind to get back into the habit of writing first.

I have another great new gift my niece made for me, a journal with scripture quotes and beautiful designed paper sewn together. It's the kind of present that inspires creativity. Some of my musings are bound to end up in there. Some will be on this blog. But the plan is to start and finish a book and I don't know if any of that material will end up anywhere someone else could read it in advance. It probably will. I'm terribly open with my own stuff. I can keep your secrets, but it's difficult to harbor my own.

I'm not even sure if it's going to be fiction or not. So for those that pray, please say one for me. Because this isn't about a mid-life crisis so much as my feeling like I don't want to waste any gifts God's given me. My only hope is that it brings Him glory and makes me more like Him in the process. I know. It's a big "only hope."

Monday, May 31, 2010

May Day

It occurred to me that I hadn't written on this blog in a month and I didn't want May to pass by without a single post.

Today was Memorial Day which is always something more than a picnic type of holiday for us as Dan spent 22 years in the National Guard and has many friends who have served or are serving overseas.

We were watching the Stanley Cup finals (Go Hawks!) getting emotional while they sang the Star Spangled Banner when the thought occurred to us that maybe four of the guys on the ice were actually American.

I get chills every time I hear that song while people remove their hats and cover their hearts or salute the flag. I love this country and I'm grateful for the freedoms we enjoy but each year this day becomes less about being American to me and more about celebrating those who sacrificed their lives to give me freedom. I will always appreciate that sacrifice from brave soldiers past, but I am most reminded of the ultimate sacrifice paid by my Lord Jesus Christ, and the ultimate freedom that comes from faith in Him...freedom from sin! Battles may still wage, but that war is won.

Happy Memorial Day and thanks to all you vets!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Back to Basics

T.S. Eliot said "April is the cruelest month." I'm beginning to agree with him. I think May used to be the most hectic because it was the end of the school year and therefore the end of all the programs that run along with the school year. It was the month of dance recitals, band concerts, and year-end parties for every club known to man. It was also the start of baseball (little league games anyway) and spring weather begging the kids to be outside after school and after dinner because it's lighter out longer so who wants to do homework - and between all those activities (spread across two adults and three kids) there was very little time to breathe in May. So people got wise and moved some of it to April - but then more people got wise and pretty soon ALL the year end competitions and club parties and concerts, etc. were backed up a month. In other words, April is the new May. And there's still no time to breathe.

Every weekend our oldest daughter has been competing in some type of academic event - first Science Olympiad, then the History Fair - the regionals were at IIT in the city a week ago Saturday and once again she advanced to state. We're really proud of her and she's so excited they get to go to Springfield on a school day in May (her father promptly signed up to be a chaperone) Caitlin + Springfield + History + Luxury Tour Bus = uber excited Dan.

Finally a Saturday rolled around with no competitions for Cait (only a baseball practice for Ryan) and so I was all set to head down to Atlanta for my aunt's 90th birthday celebration weekend leaving Dan to mind the homestead. I was looking forward to seeing her and some cousins I haven't seen in awhile (it's a BIG family). I was a little nervous because it occured to me that I hadn't flown post 9/11. The last plane I was on was from San Francisco to O'Hare in September of 1990 after our ten year anniversary. I felt like I should bring a sign with to security - "Warning: Do not follow." I would have been the equivalent of a Sunday driver, causing delays with my excessive creams, lotions and nail clippers.

Turns out no sign was needed. My back went out on Thursday afternoon and that was all she wrote. There was no plane ride on Friday morning, no folding chair on Friday night, no picnic bench on Saturday afternoon and no 12 hour car ride home in my parents' Civic on Sunday. Instead, there was five days of laying flat on my back at home. And you know what? It was kind of wonderful.

When was the last time you had five unscheduled days of laying around with nothing but books, a T.V. and a cordless phone to entertain you? I read Andre Agassi's autobiography in two days. I read a LOT of stuff. I watched a movie or two, but for the most part I left the T.V. off. I prayed a lot. I looked up words in the Bible in the original Greek (although that concordance was really heavy so I only did that a few times). I asked my kids all about their days and listened to every word they said with undivided attention. And I slept. A lot.

It's getting a lot better now - so much so that I can sit at a computer for an hour or two at a time and type without wincing. I'm easing in slowly - dishes but no laundry -stairs but no treadmill - driving but no go carts (aka any vehicle lower than a minivan). Basically bending is still out. So I tackle small projects and then lay back down again. So instead of going on vacation I stayed home on sick time a vacation.

Monday, April 12, 2010

She Blinded Me With Science

This weekend we took our oldest daughter Caitlin to the State Competition for Science Olympiad at the University of Illinois. Yeah, I didn't know there was any such thing either until my 7th grader came home one day wanting to sign up for some academic club. "Sure, honey, that sounds nice." I was clueless.

We've been secretly pretty happy that until this year; Ryan has only been involved in baseball, Maggie, while being extremely naturally atheletic, is also extremely unambitious and Caitlin, well...Cait's not into sports. So Saturdays have not been crazy busy and unlike most American parents we haven't been shuttling our kids back and forth to practices and games. Until now. Except the games are high level academic tests and you compete against 39 other schools when you make it to state.

So we trekked down to Champaign in central Illinois on Friday night - spent the night in a Drury Inn with 100's of other middle and high school kids-miraculously got a little bit of sleep and shlepped Caitlin to the campus by 8:30 am Saturday. Since this is our first year in the program we didn't know what to expect beyond what we'd seen at Regionals.

First off - U of I is HUGE. I mean it's one big sprawling campus for a 13 year old girl to navigate let alone her starry-eyed parents. She was equipped with a map to direct her to the different buildings she would be in throughout the day, and a lot of God given confidence. She had prepared to compete in three events; Ornithology (birds for you non-science types), Dynamic Planet (earthquakes and such) and Road Scholars (maps and more maps -my father-in-law would have loved this one).

She had plenty of time between events and spent most of that time off in their miniscule "homeroom" for the day in the English building playing DS and eating homemade snacks one of the veteran mom's had brought along for the day. It was 74 and sunny outside.

Dan and I and the twins hung out on the quad throwing around a football, occasionally walking the campus (until we all whined and complained about how our ankles/calves/legs hurt respectively) and people watching. People watching on a college campus on a warm spring day with special events is quite entertaining. There were cheerleaders and big burly co-eds throwing them up in the air like paper airplanes to inspire Maggie to clap and Dan and I to resolve to maybe start working out a little bit more. There were business men and women there for some expo looking stiff in suits that suited a snowy day more than the one they were stuck wearing them on. And of course there were a ton of undergrads lying around making the most of the summer-like weather.

But the Science Olympiad crew were by far the most entertaining. These kids are proud to be geeks and if you couldn't pick them out by their appearance (which you generally could) they wore shirts to tip you off that read things like; "If you can read this you're standing too close to my awesomeness", "Float Like A Lepidoptera, Sting Like A Apis mellifera." Or, my personal favorite, "The only thing we date is Carbon 14." If you've never seen the movie "Real Genius" with Val Kilmer from the 80's, rent it. Seriously. They were like that.

And then there were the parents. Oh the parents. They were hard core, tail-gaiting, matching-T-Shirt-wearing cheerleaders with signs, mascots and really bad jeans. Although I can honestly say that next to these parents, our school's were rock star cool.

So finally after several trips to the student union - where there is a bowling alley, billiards room, lots of flat screen T.V.'s and most importantly fast food, we made it to the awards ceremony. It began at 5:00 pm.

We were all corraled in the wrestling gym where it was about 92 degrees. There was some illustrious profressor who wanted to inspire the kids to pursue science both in college and as a career and he droned on for quite awhile. I'm sure certain people in the crowd were captivated, but not even the biggest self-professed nerds were interested after the sweat began flowing. Then the MC took over (who was movin' it along, thank God) but it still took almost two hours to distribute all the awards. Caitlin didn't place in any of her events, but four of her teammates did and the school got 6th overall place out of 39 so that was pretty impressive. By the end of the day she just wanted to eat and sit in a cool car instead of a hot gym.

We got home around 11:15 pm last night (Saturday) and were so exhausted we let the kids sleep in and skip church. Caitlin, such a trooper, spent her last day of the weekend doing homework and practicing the french horn and talking about how cool it will be next year when she's in 8th grade and Mead will make it Nationals.

Sure, honey, that sounds nice.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

It's the beginning of April and the past week we have seen warmer weather in Chicago than we had the majority of last summer. We broke a record one day last week when it was warmer here than in Hawaii. I remember two years ago when the kids and I built a snow bunny in the front yard after it snowed 8 inches on Good Friday. You just never know what you'll get in the way of weather in Chicago in April.

There was a hailstorm last night that was so loud I thought the house was coming down. I remember how my parents shook their heads sadly when we told them 11 years ago that the house we put a bid on wasn't brick. This morning I was in the shower when a thunderstorm broke out and when I opened the bathroom door there were my ten year old twins huddled together at the top of the stairs wide-eyed and hearts beating fast.

Later today after all that damage the sun came out and it hit 75 degrees. The climate can change on a dime around here and often does.

Have you seen those "get to know you" emails? They're like chain letters that go on and on but sometimes the questions are interesting and you play along. Like, "Storms: cool or scary"? I always answer "Yes."

We just finished celebrating Easter (or as some of my pastor friends like to call it, 'Resurrection Sunday') which is the perpetual annual reminder of the hope Christians have in Jesus. Church attendance always shoots up about 1000 people in our church on Easter. That tends to include a lot of folks who don't normally make their way into church. Some of them are experiencing circumstances that are as volatile as the weather.

In the midst of these storms, when we're whipped around by wind, pelted with hail and drenched in the outpouring from the gets scary. So it's kind of miraculous when we find ourselves on dry ground under partly sunny skies with a mild breeze so soon after. To be in the presence of something so powerful one minute, so gentle the next, without having any control over it is definitely scary. And cool.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week

Today is Palm Sunday and our church came up with a great little family devotional to do with the kids this week leading up to Easter. There are scripture readings, very brief questions for discussion, a verse to memorize and prayer suggestions.

And crafts. Yeah...we're skipping the crafts part.

So we had the kids take turns reading the verses and they were surprised to learn that the same story is recounted four separate times in the gospels. It was cute when one of them didn't know what a colt was and how the other two (who DID know) were probably thinking about Peyton Manning more than any triumphant processional with crowds crying out "Hosanna."

They got a big kick out of seeing the same words they were saying to Jesus as he rode past on said colt were prophesied about the Messiah to come in Zechariah 9:9. "So then, they knew Jesus was the Messiah after that, right?" They asked.

Maggie had made this neat little decorated prayer pocket stuffed with different suggestions for things to pray about and asked if that could be used for our prayer time instead. We said sure and each had to pick one and pray for that thing. Caitlin had to pray for someone else. She picked Antti Niemi, the goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks. He didn't have such a great outing tonight. First she prayed he would know Jesus as his savior, then she prayed for his hockey skills. Gotta love that kid.

Maggie was to pray for a bunch of things to be thankful for - totally up her alley, she has the most grateful heart, the list went on and on. Ryan had to say how God had protected someone in our family and said God has protected his Papa through many surgeries.

Dan was to pray for something that we need this week. Oh, the irony when I interrupted him to say "patience"! He prayed for God's grace to get us through a busy week with a holy attitude.

I then got to say something positive about everyone. Dan's humor & commitment to the family, Caitlin's sweet kindness, Maggie's thankful heart and Ryan's compassion were all on the list. When we were done, Maggie interjected with - "Wait Mommy, we have to say how generous you are!"

God's grace is amazing.

I'm looking pretty forward to doing this again tomorrow.

Friday, March 26, 2010

As Time Goes By

I was in Best Buy recently, against all my better judgement, on a Saturday at noon. I was there to assist my parents in selecting a new laptop since after the normal lifespan of laptops (three years)...their's died. I felt badly about their's dying since it was a gift for my Mom's 70th birthday from all us kids. The thought did occur to me that my mom is now 73. Still seems young in my mind the way she carries it.

So I've successfully avoided Best Buy for many years and had vowed not to return because of the repeated poor customer service experiences I had in the store the last few times I had dared to go in. My brother assured me that they were now providing excellent customer service, but I was still very skeptical (a sign of old age?).

But to Best Buy we went and I'm glad that we did. We were just going to window-shop, test out the demo's and then purchase another day, but tke kid helping us (yes, he was a kid - all of 21 - just turned it, in fact) was so knowledgable and helpful and generous and kind that we bought one on the spot. It helped that he was Jordanian so my mom and he had the whole shared Arab heritage going on. What was striking about him was how blue his eyes were (my grandfather eye's were blue like that - really light blue on a 100% Lebanese man). My dad said he looked like that actor - he couldn't recall his name - I immediately said "Paul Newman" and my dad nodded. The kid looked at us blankly. I said, "You've never heard of Paul Newman, have you?" He said, "No." Mind you, he was born and raised here and he works in a Best Buy where six rows over there's a whole section of DVD's with such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I asked him if he had heard of that film. Nope. Well, it seems...I'm getting old.

But we still left with some great technology for my 70+ parents who were very excited about the webcam feature. So, we're still learning new tricks.

Monday, March 15, 2010

How Do You Eat An Elephant?

Before I begin I have to say I've been trying to write this post for an hour. My hypersensitive keyboard reacted to some shortcut key I accidentally grazed (I type fairly quickly) and deleted the post about five paragraphs in. Three times in a row.

About a month ago I was having lunch with my mom and we were discussing a bad habit I have. I was expressing my frustration that I hadn't yet broken this particular habit after much prayer and time. I was waiting for the inside-out-180-degree-turn variety of overcoming the problem. One day I would just stop. Cold turkey. A new creation.

So far, that hasn't been the case.

My mom suggested I might try tackling it one little decision at a time. I was offended. Deeply.

In my Christian walk I have had this attitude from time to time that if I prayed hard enough and long enough and patiently enough eventually I would have the answer manifested in me. No disrespect to the power of prayer, but I'm starting to think I might have to actually work this behavior out a little bit at a time while I'm at it.

So the habit is impulse buys. And I'm really good at it. I'm also good at justifying it since they are usually less than $5 a pop. I decided maybe mom had a point and that I would try to make one decision on one occasion and put her method into action. I went into my favorite store (Gap) with a $25 gift card on a Saturday and I was alone.

But wait, there's was only.

Did I mention I was alone?

I tried on a lot of clothes, but in the end I left with four tops for which I paid $3.67 out of pocket. A small victory.

Just prior to entering Gap I had stopped in a bookstore and was browsing in the journal section. One of the covers read "You can cover great distances one step at a time." Okay God. I'll take your challenge.

Since then there have been no fewer than five more occasions when I have been reminded by various people in various settings of this one theme...when the mountain before you seems overwhelming, when the task ahead makes it a little hard to breathe...roll up your sleeves and take one step forward. That might be as far as you get that day.

I was sitting in a small group study recently with some other women and we were sharing some previous challenges and disappointments. We talked about our tendency to choose other people's approval over God's. And we all longed for the day we would never do that again. The day seemed a long way off. Then one of them said every time we choose God's approval over someone elses it pleases Him right then and makes us more like Him. So a couple of days later I remembered to please Him instead of the people in front of me. Another victory.

I look around this house and sometimes all I can see is everything that needs to be done. I sort through paperwork and I begin to feel more like I'm shuffling sheet metal. It's heavy stuff. But if I can take care of one piece instead of putting off all of it till I have time for them all, I have another victory. I did that this morning.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union

I watched most of the State of the Union last night and have to say it was one of the more enjoyable presidential speeches in terms of delivery. I do like President Obama's easy style and willingness to be casual at times for humanity's sake. I agreed wholeheartedly with several of his "plans" and objected vehemently to many others.

I don't know that these speeches actually ever give us a picture of the actual state of the union, rather they seem to indicate where we hope the union will eventually go. And that's always done with more eloquent and inspiritional wordsmithing than details of any kind.

I wonder what it would look like if all us bloggers had a state of the union address once a year. Can I claim my Christmas letter?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


You know how sometimes you run into the same theme everywhere you go for a week?

Dan and I lead a couples small group through church and one of the ways the church supports us in that effort is to arrange for us to meet with pastors who can encourage us in our role. They provide us with resources to help us better lead the people in our group. This month some of the reading materials they gave us was from a book called "Encouragement."

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a bible-study for mom's of middle school girls where we are following along with the book they are studying in their youth group. The current chapter was all about the story of how Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) encouraged Mary (the mother of Jesus) when she first found out she was pregnant. Can you imagine? Picture this - you're about a middle schooler's age, an angel tells you you're pregnant even though you've never been with a man, and that the baby is going to be the savior of the world. Then imagine trying to explain it to your fiance, who remember you have yet to "be" with and who has some serious doubts. So you make your way to visit an older, trusted relative and upon your arrival she totally encourages and affirms you without a shadow of doubt. You can check this remarkable scene out in Luke chapter one.

It was suggested we follow up with our daughters about what it means to encourage - so Caitlin and I looked up the definition in the dictionary and it says "to give courage to; to inspire with courage, spirit or confidence. To stimulate by guidance, approval, etc." Those are great talking points, because typically people define encouragement as helping someone feel better about themself or their situation. But it's a lot more than that - it's giving courage to someone who might not have enough of their own to carry on in a difficult circumstance. It has an element of hope in it - showing someone a promise or reminding them of one they may have forgotten.

Encouragement is considered a spiritual gift by many and can be demonstrated through something as simple as a handwritten note, a phone call, an email, some time together or a simple gesture - like a hug. But most often it includes words.

The reading materials from the Encouragement book stressed how all words that are spoken should be used to edify each other as part of a commitment to being God's instruments in each other's lives. There was a lot of emphasis on the words we used (and didn't use) to encourage others.

I like words. I like positive words in particular. I'm sure if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know I often have plenty to say. I'm seldom at a loss for words. Maybe sometimes I should be. All this reading has made me think more about the words I choose. Especially with my husband and kids.

So I was contemplating these thoughts on encouragement (and this is just a sampling of where it popped us this week - there were more in other books I'm reading where it wasn't so obviously presented, and on radio talk shows, etc.) and thinking about how I can be more encouraging to my family, friends and co-workers, when the very next morning I got some upsetting news. My agenda quickly changed from a desire to be an uber-encourager to attempting to produce some actual work without an emotional breakdown.

Guess what happened?

I received two separate emails and one handwritten note from people with deeply encouraging words. Two of them were about the same thing - and expressed such appreciation for something I did (which is actually a routine part of my job) I was overwhelmed by their response. The other - the handwritten note came from a guy whose PDA is like an extension of his hand. I mean I've never seen this guy use a pen and paper - he takes meeting notes on his blackberry. He can text faster than a 16 year old girl. But he took the time to write me a note thanking me for some help with something at work. I don't directly support any of these people and they didn't know anything about my bad news, but on the same day within hours of each other they managed to find the time and inclination to encourage me with words that inspired, stimulated and guided me.

Just another example of God's grace in action. Reminding me I need what I seek to give and making sure I got it. I hope the next time I encourage someone it's as well timed...and maybe even a little unexpected.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year!!

It's the night before the first Monday after New Years. All the resolutions start tomorrow if you do that sort of thing. I decided I would make a resolution this year, basically because the church sermon this morning asked me to and it was delivered by my boss.

The challenge was to become more like Jesus Christ.

That's a resolution I can get behind.

In his sermon he noted that recent research estimated about half the population make resolutions, but only about 8% keep them.

That sounds about right.

Especially when you consider that most people's resolutions have to do with their physical appearance. We all want to drop ten pounds, right? Or maybe 20-25. I'm going to shoot for that too, but it's not my priority. I think there can only be one at a time. So I'm not even going to bother making additional resolutions this year. Instead I'll concentrate on the one and know that if I make any progress at all it's bound to positively affect many other areas of my life.

It's been a fantastic Christmas break - the kids have been off for two weeks and I only worked four days during that time and Dan only worked two! We've had several wonderful, low-key celebrations during that time with family and friends. We didn't keep any kind of regular schedule so tomorrow morning might be a little dicey. It will probably take a few days to adjust to the old routine, but that's okay. So in the interest of not making the first morning "back" any more difficult, and with the intent to behave more like Jesus, I'm going to go to bed before midnight. Hey look. Twenty minutes to spare.