Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Rear View Mirror

My favorite comic in this morning's newspaper was Fox Trot. The dad asks if there are any rice cakes in the house in order to deal with his new year resolution of losing weight. The mom says "no" but reminds him he has a couple of days until the new year and he can wait to buy them. Then he explains he's talking about 2012's resolution to lose 15 pounds. She says she thought his resolution was to lose 5 pounds in 2012. He says, it was...turns out he gained ten. The last caption is the mom saying, "How very, very, very sad."

I found it both funny and sad mostly because I can relate to it. There's a lot of truth in that comic. It's ironic how very unresolved most of us are about our resolutions. I don't bother making them anymore. If there's something worth changing I best get about it right then and there. Problem is it's very tempting to give myself a couple more days before embarking on that diet.

Thinking back over this year, some of our experiences seem like ages ago and others feel as fresh as if they'd happened yesterday. It's often true that objects in the rear view mirror are closer than they appear.

Then again, so are the things to come.

Before I know it I'll have a daughter driving, then away at college. There are two more right behind her. There's bound to be more weddings, babies and funerals in the years to come. I think the more I realize this the more I have this twofold reaction.

The first is to slow down and enjoy the moments.

The second is to hold them loosely.

This life is most assuredly fleeting. I don't find many people to argue that point that aren't stay-at-home moms with multiple kids under three. Even they will admit the days drag, but the years fly. The Bible says in James 4:14 that we don't know what tomorrow will bring and our lives are but a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

That's some serious time perspective.

Like the mom in the comic this morning, I'd find that very, very, very sad if there wasn't more to it than this life. So less than a week after Christmas I find myself thinking less about the new year and more about the centuries to come on a new earth with the Savior who promised to come again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

T'was the Night Before Christmas 2012

T'was the night before Christmas and all through our home
There are little clues hidden, one or two are in poems
They will guide our sweet children to their one Christmas Gift
Carefully chosen to give their hearts lift

There's some trinkets in stockings but that's about it
This year we cut down on the merchandise blitz
Instead we were focused on the present of old
Each day during advent a story was told

Of a God who left heaven and took on our flesh
As the babe in the manger you see in the creche
Though seemingly helpless He had all the power
And chose not to wield it until the right hour

His purpose in coming is hard to concieve
He came to pay ransom for all who believe
He lived His life sinless yet died on a cross
So sinners like me would no longer be lost

The treasures we'd valued are shadows for sure
Next to God's Gift they have lost all their lure
The life He has offered is bright and unending
My prayer is more open the Gift He is sending.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sweet Sixteen



Sixteen years ago at this time I was lying in a hospital bed amazed at the miracle God had just worked. Lying next to me was a brand new person - I remember thinking she was the longest baby I'd ever seen (23 inches) - one that had been entrusted to our care and for whom we were tremendously grateful.

She was by all accounts a very low maintenance baby. She slept well, rarely cried and was very content doing the same thing for long periods of time. She had big eyes and no hair (oh the irony, her hair is EVERYWHERE now).

She was adored by all who knew her.

Sixteen years later she is still very low maintenance. She has managed to be the exception to nearly every rule for girls her age, abstaining from all the popular activities including; rolling her eyes at her parents, texting non-stop (or in her case at all), slacking on homework, swearing, shopping for increasingly low tops/high bottoms and begging to drive. She does none of these things.

She is, in fact, the anti-teenager.

She still sleeps well, once her overactive, creative mind allows her to fall asleep, still rarely cries, and we often find her in the same place for hours on end. A book or computer is usually involved.

She is still adored by all who know her.

Tonight we were treated to a wonderful display of just a few of the gifts God has blessed her with from her animated song introduction (wonder where she gets that public speaking thing from?) to her exceptional muscianship on the French Horn during the concert band's winter performance.

What a blessing Caitlin Camille is to me. She puts the "Sweet" in Sixteen.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent

How is it that a month has passed since my last post? The days are flying and I hear cries of "Slow down," "I need more time," and "There aren't enough hours in the day."

I wonder what the Israelites felt like while waiting centuries for the promised Messiah. I bet they were eager to have a few months pass by in a flurry.

As Christmas approaches I'm determined to concentrate on one day at a time and spend as much time reflecting as looking ahead. It's easy to get caught up in the culture's priorities. There were 178 emails in my inbox on Black Friday. About 25 of them were not from a retailer. I deleted them all without even opening them. By God's grace I exercised enormous restraint and ignored the many ads of promised value and urgent deals. It's helpful to worship (and work) at a church that is preaching eternal treasures over the temporal prized possessions of this world. I keep hearing the hymnal lyrics "Come quickly Lord Jesus" in my head.

I find that having made the decision to purchase much fewer gifts this year is allowing me to feel increasingly relaxed about "preparations" for the season. Spending time walking through an Advent devotional each day with the kids has become more important than decorating, making cookies, addressing cards, buying gifts or finding outfits to wear this season. Though admittedly there's few outfits that fit anymore and that's making the selection process much less time consuming.

Last night we read Mary's Magnificat (see Luke 1:46-55) her song/prayer of response after an Angel of the Lord told her she'd conceive a child as a virgin and that child would be the Son of God. Personally I'd have been completely freaked out if I were a young teenager who had been visited by God's messenger with the daunting news and responsibility of giving birth to the Savior. Mary rejoiced and glorified God.

It's good for me to watch the days leading up to Christmas with my eyes focused on the Scriptures instead of the advertisements. It enables me to give better gifts to those I love.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hindsite

I made a conscious decision today not to look at anything on Facebook. M,y but how the politically inclined love to publicly gloat or lament the day after an election. Granted, the postings I'd see would be few. I don't have a FB of my own and my husband's database of friends is a fraction of some of our nieces and nephews. Who is "friends" with a 1000 people?

I'm sure the newspapers are all offering their wise perceptions too, but I went right for the A&E and Sports sections of the Tribune this morning.

Truth is, no one can predict an outcome with certainty and it seems like a waste of time to ponder "the signs" after the fact. I'm not really interested in analyzing what went right or wrong in anyone's campaign. The stage is set and my plan is to pray for every leader whether local, state or federal, and whether or not I connected a black line by their name (there was a 15 minute wait for the electronic voting).

Yesterday's news, is just that, yesterday's news. I'm much more concerned about the next four years. Or to be honest - the next four days. Because I am keenly aware that time is both fleeting and indefinite.

A friend of mine was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She will have surgery tomorrow and then likely chemo. She's in her early 50's. She has no idea what to expect the next four days, let alone years.

But here's the beautiful thing about my friend. Her hope isn't in the doctor's or the tests, or the treatment. Her hope is in the Lord. And that's precisely why there IS hope.

I read something today on Randy Alcorn's blog "Eternal Perspectives" and posted an excerpt below along with a link to the page if you want to read the rest of the story.

I hope I vote wisely tomorrow.

"The election is over, but the truth is that every season of our lives is election season. Voting isn’t something you do just every few years. We cast multiple votes each day. We cast votes for Heaven or Hell, for grace or truth. For self-control or self-indulgence. For the Spirit or the flesh. For abiding in Christ, or independence from Christ. For wisdom or foolishness, and blessing or curse. We can’t solve all our nation’s problems, but we can address the issues of our own hearts. Our next chance to vote is right here and right now, whether we spend time with God, pray for His help, read His Word, serve our family, help the poor, dying and needy, entertain this thought, speak these words, watch this television program, or click on this Internet site. (You already vote often; vote wisely.) The key to change and influence in this world is not, and never has been, politics. It is faithfulness to Jesus." To keep reading, use this link; http://www.epm.org/blog/2012/Nov/7/dont-stop-voting

Friday, November 2, 2012

Merciful Suffering

I had a moment this week - well actually it was more like an hour - when a dark and overwhelming feeling came over me. That hadn't happened in awhile so it took me a little by surprise. Generally speaking it wasn't one of the more difficult days I'd ever experienced so I felt kind of pathetic about my state. That wasn't necessarily helping.

The good thing was my instinct was to pray. Or at least one of my instincts was to pray. I had another to call someone in hopes of getting either some encouragement or some pity. I think I was craving the latter just a bit more. I managed to follow the prayer instinct which in my experience has always been the best first course of action.

It's interesting to me how quickly my view of my circumstances can change. The circumstances themselves don't vary much - the house has some significant unattended projects, I need to lose thirty pounds, my daughter's been sick for almost two weeks, money's been tight for a lot longer than that and so on. What I think happened in that hour was a perspective change.

I was much more consumed with my temporary situation than the eternal truths that God has so graciously shown me.

And I grossly misinterpreted my condition. It's not like I live on the Jersy shore in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, right? I'm sure a lot of people on the east coast are feeling a lot more overwhelmed today.

But here's what I think the thing is - God allows suffering. In fact, I would go so far as to say He sends it. I mean if He's sovereign and totally in control (and I believe He is) than nothing that happens can be outside of His providential will. So why does a good God send suffering?

I don't have all the answers to that one, but I think part of it has to do with His mercy. I may have just lost a few of you. But I honestly believe it's an act of mercy to show us how desparately we need Him. Because I can be living in the best circumstances in the world with a self-absorbed heart and a dying soul. If I don't think I need God, I"m certainly not going to pursue a relationship with Him, but if that's what He desires (a relationship with me) then He will use wisdom beyond my limited knowledge to bring it about.

That sort of stuns me. That the God who made the universe would first desire a relationship with me, and then care enough to make it happen to orchestrate events in my life that keep me close to Him.

And it's not like he's callous or unacquainted with suffering. It's the opposite - no one suffered on this earth more than Jesus. I would do well to consider the amount of suffering I avoid because He took it on Himself. And I would do better to remember that I have an advocate who can comfort me better because He suffered first and worst. Hebrews 4:15 says He sympathizes with my weaknesses. Astounding.

So I got discouraged and overwhelmed this week. But I prayed and cried for help. And God in his faithfulness reminded me to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2

I find that merciful.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Columbus Day


Pretend with me for a moment that Columbus really did discover America. Even though there were plenty of other explorers here first, including Leif Erickson some alleged 500 years prior. I know I misspelled his name, but if you google him they spell it with a "c" on some sites and a "k" on some others so I just used both. None of those sites mention the thousands of Native Americans that were lodging in the undiscovered land.

Not every state celebrates Columbus Day, but Illinois does. We close the schools and the banks and use it as an excuse to play in the beautiful fall leaves. This year even Dan took off work and we decided to take a drive up to Lake Geneva. We had thought about going on Saturday because it was Octoberfest up there but when the temperatures plummeted and the rain came we adjusted our plans. Bonus - Wisconsin doesn't close the schools for this particular "holiday" and so the downtown streets weren't nearly as crowded as we'd expected them to be on the sunny and 62 degree Monday afternoon.

We went first to the place my son had been dreaming about since the last time we were in Lake Geneva...the comic book store. The owner is almost as entertaining as the merchandise. I dare you to stump him on a character or plotline. He makes the Big Bang Theory actors look like actors.

After carefully perusing the myriad shelves of Marvel, D.C., X-Men and other assorted hereos and villains, Ryan selected his five Heroclix figures and laid out his remaining stash of babysitting money. Or he would have had he remembered his wallet. I floated him the loan. That took about an hour.

We walked up and down the cute shops and looked around before ducking into the Caribou ordering one smoothie and one coffee for the five of us and played a board game for another hour. It was glorious.

After our considerable warm up and relaxation we ventured to the beach where the wind was whipping full force off the lake. We let the kids run up and down the docks, take pictures by the fountain in front of the Riveria and pet the horse sadly bridled to the costly carriage ride before making our way to everyone else's favorite store...Kilwins. If you don't know Kilwin's I'm very sorry for you. It's the candy, fudge and ice cream parlor of yore where they make it fresh in front of you, sell it by the weight and you know your purchase will never make it back to the car.

We took a ride through the rustic drive that spans 2.6 miles just west of the town where it winds past the estates that used to belong to the Chicago Wrigley family (yes, THAT Wrigley) and other well-to-do types. We'd be happy to set up camp in any of their gatehouses or servants quarters among the splendor of the autumn trees.

We parked by the Convenant Harbor Christian Camp which has some of the most breathtaking foliage surrounding the lake for the photo op. The state of my hair in the above photo can attest to the velocity of the wind coming off the lake. That or a small dog jumped onto my head at the last minute.

We headed back to town and ate dinner at the famous Popeye's where they were serving a seasonal Octoberfest menu including locally made Bratwurst. Oh. Man.

We left just before sunset and watched the sky turn all shades of pink and orange on the way home. We were back in our driveway at 7pm.

Columbus may not have had much of anything to do with "discovering" America, but I was more than happy to use a holiday in his honor to celebrate the country we live in during my favorite season with my four favorite traveling buddies.



Monday, October 1, 2012

Ryder Cup


So the Ryder Cup is over and sadly the U.S. lost after blowing a tremendous lead through Saturday. But I have to say it didn't keep me from being happy for the Europeans who never gave up even though they were written off by the majority of the commentators and dealing with a crowd that never let them forget they were most certainly not the home team.

Welcome to Chicago.

It took place a mere three miles from my house which definitely amped up the traffic, though there was more action in the sky than on the ground on Saturday with helicopters, blimps (Go Snoopy 2) and the mischieveous skywriting planes puffing out their messages of hope (one of which is shown above).

They also wrote "We Believe" - "Paddy Power" and "Where's the Love" while we watched from below on a perfect fall day.

My husband went and watched one of the practice rounds, but honestly it was more fun to be near, but not there for the actual rounds.

I love golf and not just because it was a pre-requisite for being my Gramps' granddaughter, but that probably helped. Almost as soon as we could walk he was teaching us to golf at a little park district course in Barrington near his home. It was only five holes and there was a locked box at the first one where you'd put your $2 fee per round (over time it went up to $5). I don't think the honor system was working too well because they eventually got a paid staff person to sit there and collect the fee.

We were so young our bags were one leg of an old pair of jeans cut off and sewn at the bottom with a stick attached so you could carry it. My gramps would put a six iron and a putter in it and send us on our way. His instruction mostly consisted of telling us to hit all the cigarette butts, leaves and broken tees on the course for practice and the constant mantra "Keep your eye on the ball!"

He golfed that course over 300 days a year up until the day he died at 89. In his latter years he stopped bothering with a bag and just brought the trusty six iron. He'd turn it backwards to putt. The staffers called him "One-Club Charlie." He also used to sneak on the second hole so he wouldn't have to pay the fee. That's the depression era mentality for you.

I love that my beginnings in golf were humble and that I didn't become acquainted with the sport through the ranks of a Medinah Club membership (though the course is gorgeous). I love that my kids love to go to a driving range and smack the balls over a lake while celebrating height and splash effect as much as distance.

I've never watched much golf on T.V. and I probably won't start now, but it was fun for a few days to have such a prominent event down the street. And I'm grateful for the lesson my son took away: you can be down without being out.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Finally Fall

Okay, we made it through our final Back-to-School curriculum night last Thursday, registered the kids for their respective clubs, sports and band and even turned the heat on last week.

It's finally fall.

This is my favorite season. I love summer, it's a close second, but by the end of August I'm eager for some routine and the joy of wearing a sweatshirt and pair of jeans. Too bad fall doesn't last four months like summer does or, dare I say, the five months that winter hangs on. In Chicago, fall is fleeting, about two months of mild, crisp temperatures and colorful trees. So I always feel the urgency to get outside and enjoy it before it's gone.

Today I was able to take a long walk. I did it quickly so I could count it as exercise, though I must admit my plan of losing 30 pounds by walking once a week is inherently flawed. I pray while I walk and find I pray differently when surrounded by God's creation than I do when I'm alone in my living room. Not that He didn't create my living room in a sense, but the trees, ducks, lake and babies in strollers at the park are a little livlier. It was chilly when I left, but the sun (and my heartrate) soon eliminated the need for a jacket.

The sky seems bluer to me in the fall for some reason. Like God changes the backdrop so the canvas becomes part of the color palette.

This was the most relaxing weekend we've had in some time. The football team had an away game this Friday which I was grateful for since it meant Caitlin didn't have marching band and it rained most of the night. Saturday I was able to do some decent cleaning before heading up to a friend's house for a lovely no-occasion party. Sunday after church we got to watch the Bears win and play outside ourselves.

It's always a bonus when I start the week with a day off and the laundry is already done because we weren't running around non-stop all weekend. I had time to linger in God's Word this morning before sorting through the pile of paperwork and getting the grocery shopping in. I even had time to take the kids to the library tonight and sit on the couch and talk to my husband for an hour!

The calendar is quickly filling with plans for fall fun; the pumpkin patch (you're never too old), a drive up to Lake Geneva for Oktoberfest, a trip to Notre Dame to see the parade before the game and cheer on the Irish with Dan's cousins.

As Ferris Bueller says, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

And they're already putting up Christmas cards in Target.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Next Thing You Know




Not too long ago a very sweet girl down the block became the first and only non-family babysitter my children ever experienced. She wasn't often called upon what with both grandmas living less than ten minutes away, but it was so good to know she was there.

One of the first things that impressed me with the set up was that even though we knew each other her mother wanted to come in and sort of tour the house before she came on her own. That is exactly the kind of thing I would do for my daughter - a reconnaissance mission of love.

It's good to know the environment you ship your kids off to when they start working.

We didn't have a lot of money at the time so it should have been even harder to part with for something we normally got for free, but that was never the case. It wasn't easy to leave our kids for the first time with someone other than family, but then again, it wasn't that hard either.

Every once in awhile you come across a gem of God's kindness. Amanda was one of those rare people who cared for and nurtured the children as if they were family (without ever growing impatient with them as we do with family). It feels like only a handful of years ago that she was looking after my kids, but more than a decade has passed and now she's using her gifts to teach special needs students.

Her parents generously included the neighborhood kids she used to babysit in both the wedding and reception. My daughter Maggie posted a message on Instagram that night with a self-photo taken on the dance floor, "Cannot even explain how great this night has been."

Now it's my kids who are babysitting the younger boys across the street after school. It's just one more indication of how very quickly this time goes by and how much we have to be grateful for in getting this far.

Next thing you know I'll be dancing at their weddings.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Back to School




So obviously this title is beyond fashionably late, but if you're the parent of a middle or high school student, it takes awhile to fully adjust to back to school mode. These first few weeks are filled with curriculum nights, expectations for advanced math, open houses, band rehearsals, informational meetings for sports and clubs, etc., etc.

Raise your hand if you haven't had two consecutive weeknights to yourself since early August.

Tonight's obligation turned out to be a very pleasant and emotional surprise. It was the Academic Letter Awards Program to observe academic excellence achieved by students in the previous school year. Anyone with a 3.5 or better Grade Point Average (out of four) received the award. There were 350 students recognized! Our oldest daughter Caitlin was among them. Her GPA is 4.66. I know. I'm bragging. How do you get .66 higher than the highest average? Honors classes. Lots of them.

Conant High School is the only one in the district to recognize academic excellence in an awards ceremony. I am so grateful it does.

Dan and I arrived an uncharacteristic 25 minutes before the start of the ceremony, naively thinking we were early and proceeded to make our way to the last two seats in the middle of the last row in the theater to watch our sophmore cross the stage when her name was called.

The first thing we noticed was how underdressed she appeared next to 97% of the girls (and keep in mind, these are the honor roll girls) who wore a runway-worthy buffet of stylish - and mostly extremely short - dresses. Caitlin was one of five girls wearing pants, but she looked beautiful.

The dressed-to-the-nines army did not go unnoticed by the principal who is the proud father of three girls himself. His youngest is a senior in college. He opened the evening with a short personal story of their family tradition of taking a picture of the girls on their first day of school, because it was always about the back to school outfit. He was full of wit and charm while he remembered the scene occuring across so many of our homes from kindergarten to college of frantically looking for the camera, posing in front of trees outside, almost missing the bus in the process and capturing the outfit - and with it the moment - that began each school year.

This week he received a text and instagram from his youngest daughter about three weeks into her final year of college with a photo of her back to school outfit and a message, "Thought I forgot, didn't you?" He said he was happy that she remembered and sad that it was the last back-to-school outfit he would see. I nearly cried.

That was the second time this week it hit me how fast this is all going and how very little of these school days we have left. How many times did you hear growing up, "Blink and it's over?" I certainly heard it a lot, but it turns out time picks up speed with each passing year.

After the principal's moving introduction the favorite teacher of the year gave an even shorter speech about making and achieving goals that stretch you out of your comfort zone.

The third speaker had the dubious task of pronouning the names of the 350 students from all ethnic backgrounds and earned at least an A- for his efforts.

Start to finish this program ran 35 minutes.

I was stunned. They should train graduation program coordinators how to do this.

After the ceremony there was a reception (basically cookies in a tremendously overcrowed foyer outside the theater) which we passed on in favor of a strawberry-banana smoothie from the McDonald's drive-through.

Because the really smart kids get out of the parking lot first on a school night.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Holy Matrimony


Twenty two years ago I married a man I had known for seven years, dated for six and been engaged to for one. I knew very little about marriage at the time. But I knew the one who designed marriage and committed to put Jesus Christ at the center of mine. I don't think I knew what that meant either then, but grace is a beautiful thing and as the Bible says, love covers a multitude of sins.

Now two decades have passed, three children have come and grown into teenagers and I'm still in awe of this "one flesh" union.

Thankfully, it's not really the big moments when the decisions are most important (like choosing fabric bells to cascade down the side of your head on your wedding day) rather it's the million little day-to-day decisions you make to love, respect, repent, forgive, encourage and submit.

I think I'm starting to get the hang of it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Post Labor Day


A bit of wordplay for you as this is a post and it is in fact Labor Day. But as the day comes to a close my thoughts are jumping ahead to the horizon of fall that is looming even if it did hit 90 degrees today and I have the sunburn to prove it.

This wasn't exactly the long Labor Day weekend I expected - it started slow with two sick kids home from school on Friday and a forced 48 hour recovery plan with no activity so they could recoup before the firmer plans made for Sunday and today. As much as I hate to see my kids suffer, I was grateful for the rest and for their excellent attitudes in the midst of congestion and uncontrollable coughing. It's like our house becomes a time machine whenever a couple of us are down for the count. Or at least we trade in a lot of the technology for a bunch of board games and books.

By God's grace they mended quickly and we were able to relax and spend some time with my husband's family on Sunday. Then today it was off to the annual Labor Day Parade at Schaumburg's Septemberfest.

I LOVE parades. Love them. Especially the ones that include veterans, boy & girl scout troops and special olympics participants. This is one of the better suburban parades and I was so glad to be there for it after missing the 4th of July parade this year when it was over 100 degrees and we had three separate places to go. Best bonus: my oldest daughter was in it.

Caitlin persevered with the Conant Marching Band through the 90 degree heat while keeping her line and time in the required wool uniform. Why we haven't come up with a material that breathes and performs while looking cool in a day and age that produces so many fashion reality shows is beyond me.

I was pleasantly surprised to run into several neighbors (we couldn't have planned it if we tried) and find some shade to hang out in while watching. My husband Dan, God bless him, volunteered to march alongside the band on hydration detail. I heard they ran out of water twice in the two not-so-short miles and were happy to accept garden hoses offered at parade route homes to refill their buckets!

After we dumped our loads of Smarties, Bulls-Eyes and Tootsie Rolls in the car, Maggie and Ryan toughed it out a bit longer to indulge me at the craft show. Though, I can honestly say it was more of a fly over, only stopping at the 3-4 booths I specifically thought would have the planned gifts I hoped to purchase. That was good because Maggie has an issue with heat exhaustion and was dangerously close to passing out as the magenta hues overtook her sweet face.

Now they are all getting ready for bed and MAP testing at school tomorrow while their father is drafting his Fantasy Football team. And so fall has arrived in our routine if not yet on the calendar.

Tomorrow I start a new schedule at work moving from 24-30 hours a week. I'm glad about it even while I'm wondering how the house and homework will be affected. I'm also thinking about what to wear and considering my white capris now that those fashion shows I mentioned tell us we can wear white after Labor Day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Distracted Much?

Well it's been awhile since my last post and it seems the best explanation for that is better noted in another blog...Desiring God. One of my favorite bloggers on that site is Jon Bloom who recently wrote an article titled "Fight the Poverty of Attention." http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/fight-the-poverty-of-attention

The first line in his post was "Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information." I had to read it three times before it sank in. He cited some stats taken from recent studies that concluded; 1) "Humans create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003" and 2)"The average adult in the West wades through the equivalent of 174 newspapers worth of information a day."

I can't get through more than two sections of the Sunday Trib in a week. Arts & Entertainment and Sports if you're wondering. In that order.

It seems as a nation we've been reduced to the attention span of a fruit fly. Case in point: People magazine. One of the few printed publications still managing a decent subscription base. Perhaps because you can read it cover to cover in twelve minutes. Don't even get me started on social media.

Bloom's point was that because we increasingly consume information in bites and not meals, a "poverty of attention" is created. We are conditioned to process more, faster and likely multi-tasking while we do it.

Have you seen that T-Shirt in the tourist town shops? ADD: Attention - Deficit - Oh Look! A Butterfly!

Bloom included this kicker, "research shows our fragmented concentration makes us 30% slower and doubles our mistakes." So much for making up time.

And so I think the reason why I haven't posted in so long is because when I write I want to be free of interruptions and completely focused on the thoughts I put on the page. I want to attend to a particular item of information. Deeply. Thoughtfully. And without being rushed.

Undivided attention has been a little hard to come by this month. The kids are back in school so we've been preparing for that and the necessary change in routine. Work has been intensely busy - in a very good but also very mind-consuming sort of way. My husband has been on three business trips in as many weeks. There has not been a great deal of singular tasking.

Here's the bigger kicker - the bankrupt attention span is spiritually dangerous. Like Bloom, I'll quote Hebrews 2:1 "Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." This morning while I was reading in Deuteronomy I was struck by these verses: "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." Duet. 6:6-7

Teach them diligently? At home and when I'm out? Morning and night? This goes beyond the casual tidbit of information that flies through phones, computers and tablets in 40 characters or less every minute of every hour of every day.

I smiled at Bloom's conclusion that there is no shortcut to paying closer attention, because isn't that our first tendency? Okay, got it - the goal is closer attention, I'm on it - let's find a way to do that quicker. Evelyn Wood comes to mind. Not everyone will get that cultural reference. Then again, you've probably already googled it.

So today, God in His mercy and grace gave me the first day I've had off in a long time where the house was empty and the sun was shining. I sat outside on my patio and spent quite some time focusing on His Word. I read and pondered and marveled and understood.

And for the first time in weeks I managed to sit at the computer and write about one idea I read about two weeks ago. I hope you found it was worth sharing.

Or maybe you're texting someone by now.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Come to Me All You Who Are Weary


In Matthew 11:28 Jesus beckons all those who are weary and heavy burdened and promises rest. This past week he made good on His promise in a delightful little camp nestled next to Lake Michigan.

It had been a long two years since we last stepped foot on the grounds of Camp RKD. I have learned that you can make idols of people and places as easily as you can things, and so I scarcely allowed myself to imagine how it was going to be when we returned to this haven on the shore.

My expectations were high. I made a concerted effort to lower them. I needn't have bothered.

It should not surprise me that the place I first saw true glimpses of God is where He would offer such deep rest and refreshment after a challenging year.

Sometimes you don't know how empty you are until the fullness takes over.

This past week we were blessed with lingering conversations with friends old and new. It never ceases to amaze me that on any given day or night you can encounter another person you've never spoken to before and find youself in a kind and warm extended family. Those who know I have quite a bit of extended family in this area should know I'm talking about the non-relations. Though it was also special to catch up with several of my cousins and their extended families, which span generations not easily explained without a very large tree graphic.

There aren't many times in my calendar year that the pace slows to the time kept in Arcadia, Michigan. I had no cell reception, no TV, no wi-fi and no worries. I watched my oldest daughter put together a 1000 piece puzzle and take second place in an archery tournament. I enjoyed seeing my twins reunite with summer friends and make new ones, including many offspring of the teenagers I knocked around camp with some 30 years ago.

I went to the beach every day. We looked for Petosky stones (and found some!) and played in the water that was almost 80 degrees. That doesn't often happen in a great lake.

We ate ice cream in the old fashioned parlor, played cards and read books. We saw shooting stars and the moon up close through the brand new, donated telescope. We gazed at countless shining stars strewn across a velvety black sky that never grows so dark above the bright lights of Chicago. We square danced (though it was often in a circle) and jumped in the lake afterwards.

We sang and prayed and wept a little and laughed a lot. We were reminded about God's grace and filled with gratitude. We capped the week off with the very first service in the brand new Chapel on the Beach - an outdoor sanctuary that has been years in the making which now provides the heavenly view depicted in the photo above. We took our weary souls up north and laid our burdens on the Lord.

And He gave us peaceful rest.



Friday, July 13, 2012

Legacy


About 24 hours after my last post we said goodbye to my father-in-law. Charlie Eder was one of seven boys who grew up in Chicago, moved out to the suburbs around 1960 with his lovely wife and produced four boys of his own, the youngest of which I am blessed to call my husband.

Four months shy of his 82nd birthday seems too soon to take leave. But it was a long nine months for Charlie after a second brain surgery in less than a year and a series of setbacks and complications. On Tuesday evening I sat alone with him for a brief time in what were to be the final hours of his life and read Scripture. It was one of the greatest blessings and honors of my life. I read Psalms 70 & 71, some verses from Romans and Ephesians and I prayed for this man whom I've known and loved for 28 years. He waited for his family to return to the room before passing on and went peacefully and gracefully, as was his way.

There are many things said at wakes to offer comfort to the mourning, but what a joy it was this evening to hear so many echo the virtue of this man and the legacy he has left behind.

One of the first passages in the Bible my kids became familiar with is found in Galatians Chapter Five, verses 22-23. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

I've heard many sermons preached on this passage. Most will agree that while those who have the Holy Spirit have at least some measure of each of these fruits, you will find some more pronounced than others.

Charlie exhibited them all.

He loved his family, especially his bride, who after 54 years of marriage he still thought of as his bride, often boasting he married the best girl in the whole world. And he loved his sons, and their wives and oh my, did he love his grandchildren. He traipsed around to ball games and recitals, birthday parties and concerts, communions and graduations. I remember when Ryan was playing baseball and the kids had just started pitching. It was a walkfest. There was one game when the score was 24-22 in the fourth and Charlie started offering $5 bills for strikes. But he stayed and watched the rest of the game.

He took great joy in the simple things. He loved maps. Dilly Bars from DQ brought him tremendous pleasure and one of his granddaughters who worked there was happy to oblige. He had a silly sense of humor that made even the bad jokes seem entertaining. He smiled and laughed often.

As far as it depended on him, to the best of his ability, he lived at peace with others (Romans 12:18) and by God's grace he died peacefully in a room surrounded by family.

His patience had no rival. I know no one who persevered, held his tongue, or put away anger better or longer than Charlie.

His kindness and his goodness were so consistent and so widespread that I don't think we will ever stop hearing stories of them.

The faithful are a dying breed in our age and society. Few are loyal to much of anything anymore. Charlie worked for Motorola for 35 years, resided in one home in Elk Grove Village and served in his local parish for more than 50 years, cherished Bernie well over five decades of marriage, and rooted for the White Sox and Notre Dame till his final days.

The opening lines of his obituary were borrowed, but every bit descriptive of Charlie: He was a gentle man and a gentleman... No word was used more frequently to describe him than gentle. Which is not to say he wasn't strong, but like Christ, one who used his strength to serve.

He had a great deal of self-control. In a culture of self-indulgence he was willing to sacrifice. In a room of rash words, he often wisely remained silent.

What a legacy he has left behind to the many friends and family who will miss him deeply.

"The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever;"
Psalm 37:18



Monday, July 9, 2012

Sabbath



In a couple of weeks my family will be vacationing at my favorite spot on earth, a little camp called RKD where I have been spending summers since 1979. It's a throwback in time in that they serve up refreshment the old fashioned way...through fellowship, communal meals, sports, play, beach, an ice cream parlor and a game room with no outlets (except for the one T.V. on the premises used soley to check scores and weather).

Cell phones are not allowed in the public areas of the camp. The aformentioned game room? Wooden bowling, indoor shuffleboard, ping pong, fuseball, a variety of board games and puzzles. There's a craft shop. And the ice cream parlor's most expensive menu item will run you about $5.

They have miles of beachfront property. The moment I arrive I am at peace. I am rested. It's like my whole family does a collective sigh when we step foot on the walkway that parallels Lake Michigan to the front door of the Inn.

And you should see the sunsets. They easily match any Carribean five star hotel view. You can feel the stress melt off your shoulders. There is rest there. We didn't go last year. It was the first time I skipped a year in three decades. I missed it.

A lot.

My kids can't stop talking about it and it seems everything we encounter these days reminds us of it, so we are all the more eager to arrive in twelve days for our scheduled vacation week. I think missing last year is only half the reason we are twice as excited about it this time. The other contributing factor has to be the pace we've been keeping for the past nine months. We've been busier than any other time in our lives. And it's taken a toll.

My husband used to have a wonderful rule of thumb: we will not be out two consecutive weeknights in a row. I cannot remember the last time we were all IN for two consecutive weeknights in a row.

Part of that has to do with the long term health issues of his father and we understand it's a season in time and one that merits exceptions to our rule, but even without those visits our schedule has been incredibly full - and our kids activities are much more limited than most of their friends!

So it begs the question; How do you keep the Sabbath in this day and age?

Because I don't think that command is antiquated - I think it still applies and that it's for our good and God's glory to have a day of rest every week.

My mom says American's wear business on their sleeves like a badge. We use it as bragging rights over our peers - "You think your busy, well wait till you hear my schedule..."

I like having plenty to do. I'd rather have way too much on my plate than be bored. I find it can be easier to plan my day by the tyranny of the urgent than to have several less pressing demands none of which are truly vying for my attention. When the pressure is off the decisions can be harder to make. But when the pressure is off the decisions are made in a different frame of mind. A mind more like Christ's in my case.

I like living near a big city and I like vacationing in a small town. I'm always wondering how to bring more of the small town rest to the big city living without waiting another 360 days to do it.

For the first time in ages, by God's mercy, we've had a couple of days in a row where the pressure has been off schedule wise. So we swam in the pool in our back yard. We watched a PG movie together. We sat around the fire pit. We read books and played board games. We ate outside and laughed at funny stories. We slept in.

We rested.

And you know what? It felt a lot like Camp Arcadia.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hundreds of Degrees & My Declaration of Dependence

Okay so the greater Chicagoland area is in it's third straight 100+ degree day. That doesn't count last Thursday when it was 103, or factor in the heat index, which adds the 70-90% humidity we enjoy here in the midwest.

The A/C went out in my husband's car two days ago and the poor man has been commuting 60 miles round trip every day with the windows down. When he gets home we hand him a beach towel.

This is abnormal hot. It feels, in a word...oppressive.

I looked up the definition of oppressive to see if I'm describing it fairly.

op·pres·sive/əˈpresiv/
Adjective:

1.Unjustly inflicting hardship and constraint.
2.Weighing heavily on the mind or spirits; causing depression or discomfort.

Yeah, that seems about right.

I wondered when the oppression would lift (ironically I was wondering this on the 4th of July). For the first time in I-can't-remember-when we did not go to a parade. My daughter Maggie gets seriously flushed anytime it's in the high 80's or hotter, so between that, being invited to two other places, wanting to see Dan's dad at Rehab and the village not funding the parade because everyone and their brother owes millions of dollars in pension money, we decided to skip it. But it was still hard not to go.

Because I love parades and the 4th of July is my favorite holiday. My husband was in the National Guard for 22 years and I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the men and women who have fought for our freedom. I love that this holiday falls early in July when it's full-fledged summer and families get together for BBQ's, picnics and firework displays. I know there are worthier holidays for glorifying Christ but I can honestly say I am reminded of many Biblical truths on Independence Day.

Freedom is the obvious one. And that's a biggie. The sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross freed those who place their faith in Him from the power and slavery of sin. That isn't to say those who believe in Him don't sin anymore, but it is very good news to know we are free from it's shackles (Romans 6 & 8).

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

But paradoxically, what I am reminded of even more than my freedom is the exact opposite of the name of the day.

I am reminded of my complete and utter dependence on God.

My daughter's first concert was at one of our church's campuses - the band was called Starfield and they have a song that's lyrics are stamped on a t-shirt she bought that night. It's called "Declaration of Dependence."



This is my heart’s condition
This world has ammunition
To tear me down
And steal my life away

I know there’s more than this
More than temptations kiss
So lift me up
And give me strength to stand

I will live
I will live for you

I’ve had a revelation
This is my declaration
More of You, oh God, and less of me

‘Cause You are my new existence
I offer no resistance
I’m running to the One I know I need

How could I walk away
How could I walk away
How could I walk away

I’ll never walk away from You





Monday, July 2, 2012

Alright Cubs Fans, Let Me Hear Ya!



In years past we often went to a Cubs game the week of my birthday which just happened to coincide with the week of a good friend/family member's birthday whose lovely wife would spend hours at the computer the day tickets went on sale to procure seats for our celebration. I was never that dedicated in the ticket department, but always grateful she was. In more recent years it's been harder to coordinate so it's been awhile since I celebrated my birthday with a trip to the friendly confines.

Until this year.

Neighbors of ours share season tickets with a group of folks and often attend the games with their two young boys. They are wonderfully generous people who had already been to the game once this week and decided to go up to a family lakehouse instead for the day. Oh, what to do with the box seats behind home plate with no time to put them on Craig's List? We gladly solved their dilemma. But it almost didn't happen.

When they first offered them to us Dan thought she said "Rush" tickets. So he hesitated. For quite awhile. He assumed she was talking about the Chicago Rush, the indoor football arena team whose quarterback used to live down the street from us. I thought that was odd because I didn't think it was Arena Football season.

Our daughter Caitlin thought she meant the band Rush and was very excited. They are among her top three favorite bands. I am not making this up. Today's Tom Sawyer's mean, mean pride...

Turns out they were both wrong and almost passed on four prime seats for a Marquee game on a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon.

Our neighbor didn't know who either Rush was. Hilarious.

We've been blessed to attend Cubs games at least a couple of times a year through the generosity of friends and family as well as Dan's work's tickets. Ryan has been more avid a fan than the girls, those Caitlin's interest increases with games won. Which is to say, it's been waning this year. However she decided she really wanted to go and so she packed her journal (in case she got bored) and we made arrangements for Maggie to "do something fun while we went to a baseball game" and headed down.

We made it to the Irving Park exit in 40 minutes. It took another 50 to go the four miles to the ball park. Good thing we left early and those wonderful neighbors had free parking in the green lot one block from the park! We missed the National Anthem and the first pitch, but saw most of the first inning and stayed through the ninth with a bonus 7th inning stretch rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game compliments of former "Red Baron" pitcher Rick Sutcliffe.

We limited our ball park food intake to hot dogs, peanuts and a couple of pops (I brought a bunch of waters with) despite Ryan's fervent attempts to sample the full menu of mobile goodies passing by.

We were playing the worst team in the league. But that didn't offer a lot in the way of a promised victory since we are the second worst team in the league. All Ryan wanted was to see a home run, I should clarify - by the Cubs - and a win so that he could sing the ridiculous song at the end of the game that has to be the worst combination of melody and lyrics in the National League...yet insanely catchy. It had been a long time since he or I had seen either a run or a win at Wrigley Field. I prayed that if it was God's will we'd see both, knowing full well those kinds of prayers are stupid. I also sent up several prayers of thanksgiving for being there on a beautiful day and knew a loss would be just one more opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ. Sort of.

Though faith in things unseen is probably better understood at Sheffield & Addison than a lot of other places on the map.

The Cubs recently called up a kid from the farm team called Rizzo whose been getting a lot of buzz for his performance in the minor league Iowa Cubs. Dan said, "Wouldn't it be cool if this kid socked one out of the park?" about a minute before the kid socked one out of the park to take the lead 3-2. Witnessed home run. Check.

That ended up being the final score. And so we also witnessed the win AND got to sing the silly song. "Go Cubs go, go Cubs go, hey Chicago, whaddya say, the Cubs are gonna win today...." We sang it loudly and passionately while waving our big white "W" sign up to the camera pointed directly at Ryan but no one recorded the game so who knows if they showed him or not. Other than Ryan, who is quite sure they did, for the record.

Afterwards we met my nephew who recently moved to Chicago for some snacks at a kid friendly establishment right under the "L" tracks. We all got a kick out of being in that environment - part of the whole experience. And killing time in Wrigleyville is always a good idea when you have to drive back to the suburbs. We made it home in less than half the time it took to get out there.

So after a long reprieve the Cubs won a game while I was at the ball park.

It's been a pretty great birthday week.



Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hottest. Birthday. Ever.

So my oldest siblings kindly called me today to remind me I am now closer to 50 than 40. Charming.

It topped out over triple digits in Chicago today. The heat index was 105 when I left work. You know the kind of heat, where you step out of the air conditioning and abruptly gasp as the humidity steals your breath away.

But it was still a very good day. I was off to an early start with a rare Caribou coffee treat on the way into work. It was a relatively calm day allowing me a chance to begin to catch up on two weeks worth of unexecuted action points. My lovely mother took me out for lunch at Corner Bakery where I ate an entire chopped salad and sampled the lemonade, strawberry banana smoothie, chocolate brownie and cinnammon cream cake.

And they didn't even know it was my birthday.

I was equally spoiled for dinner at Lou Malnati's. A family favorite and a key reason why I have a family, as it's where I met Dan. Later, at home, my adorable family sang Happy Birthday to me while I blew out a single candle in the midst of five peanut butter cookies. Dan also brought me a shake from Steak-n-Shake. Miraculously it didn't melt on the way home.

I received a multitude of cards, texts, and phone messages from those I love dearly and felt very blessed. There was also a wonderful present waiting from U2.com containing the member's only release of a new double CD set of 22 live tracks from their most recent tour. Fifteen years ago today they were singing "Happy Birthday" to me at Soldier Field on my 30th. Okay, so the birthday song was just in my head, but "All I Want is You" was pretty amazing.

But the best present today was the ladderlike welcome I got from my three teenage children when I arrived home from work and they ran to hug me while staggered on the stairs, leaning forward one at a time to embrace me (and consequently whoever was between them and me), eventually forming one side (and the filling) of a double-stuffed oreo with me on the other end.

God is good and continually increases my joy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Feast and Famine

My husband and I are fortunate that a good chunk of both our immediate families live within a ten minute drive of our home. By the way, if you're not from Chicago, you should know we measure everything in terms of time, not distance. Because the 30 miles to downtown Chicago can take anywhere from 30-90 minutes depending on a lot of things, not the least of which is whether or not they've closed the Kennedy for the President's motorcade on his third visit in as many weeks. Yeesh.

But I digress.

When we were first looking at houses in Elk Grove, I thought this was a bad thing, being so close to 80% of Dan's family - his parents and one brother were in Elk Grove, another brother just over the border in Schaumburg. The first time I went to pick up a prescription at Osco they tried to give me various remedies meant for other family members. Walmart's photo shop was always giving me my sister-in-law's pictures. I quickly learned to screen before paying. My complaining stopped when I realized two weeks after we moved in that I was pregnant with twins and had extremely accessible back-up in the wings.

My parents are a quick jaunt down the expressway, halfway between our house and where I work. My brother is less than an hour away. So we all get to see each other a decent amount. The other members of the family are much farther away.

Dan has a brother in Florida and I have one sister in Colorado and another in Sydney, Australia. Literally the other side of the world. So we don't see much of them. But when they come, it's non-stop.

Non. Stop.

Last week was one of those visits. Ironically, both Dan's Florida brother and my Colorado sister came the same week to visit. It ended up working out very well in that we got to spend a lot of time with both of them. They each had lots of other people to visit and often did that when we were spending time with the other one. We were grateful for that. The hard part was the week also included two baseball playoff games for Dan and Ryan (not to mention All Star weekend), our participation in a neighborhood garage sale, the launch of a summer Bible study at church where I lead a group, and a very busy work week with no vacation time.

Except for the day I hosted a dinner for 16 and the garage sale day, I was leaving the house by 7:30am and not returning until between 9:30-11pm. We packed a lot in. We feasted on both food and company and enjoyed the time, the conversation and yes...all the stuff we ate!

In the past a week like this would have sent me right over the edge, stressing me out and keeping me so busy preparing for the mini celebrations that I wouldn't have stopped to enjoy them much. Last week, that wasn't the case. It's true I was completely exhausted at the end of each day but that just made the pillow all the sweeter.

The experience reminded me a little of Joseph (for the non-Bible readers think Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). Joseph suffered a great deal, but God had a profound purpose for him. After faithful service, wrongful accusations, a prison term, several dream interpretations and the gained trust of Pharaoh, God used Joseph to save up seven years worth of plenty to sustain the people during the seven years of famine that followed. Joseph, full of wisdom and discernment, sought God out, listened to His voice and gave credit to God alone for the favor shown. (Genesis 41:16, 39)

I guess the principle is kind of the same. To store up all the time we can with our loved ones while they are here to carry us through the drought when we lack their company. Last week was a feast.

I'm still pretty full.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Our Father

Here in the final minutes of Father's Day I find myself reflecting on all the things it has meant to me this year.

When I woke up early today before anyone else began to stir, it was a quiet time to collect my thoughts and write in the card I'd bought for my husband. This being his 15th Father's Day I was wondering how much I've repeated myself over the years with words of appreciation and affection for the Dad he has been. This year was no different, except that time deepens the memories that come to mind of board games played in the middle of the living room floor, baseball games coached to both victory and defeat, and pool babies hanging on his shoulders.

I am increasingly grateful with each new phase for the husband and father he has been.

At church I sat next to my dad and laid my hand on his shoulder while we prayed for all the men carrying the privelege and burden of fatherhood. I knew how fortunate I was in that moment to be sitting with him, in church, worshipping our heavenly Father.

Later in the day we visited Dan's dad in the hospital. He's been in some medical facility or another for eight months now and still has the courtesy, patience and kindness to thank every person who walks into his room for whatever little favor they may have done. That includes taking his blood pressure, suctioning his treach or making funny faces at him while wishing him a "happy" Father's Day.

I thought today of friends who are celebrating their first Father's Day without their Dad, including three brothers aged 12-16, two of whom have been on Ryan's baseball team for three years running. That's too young to stop having a father around.

I thought of a young couple at church who recently suffered a miscarriage and how that young man's longing must have been heightened while so many other men were wished a good Father's Day.

More pondering brought to mind others in my life who have shared stories of dads who abused or abandoned and find little reason to celebrate them on this "Hallmark" holiday.

I am painfully aware of how quickly time passes and that there is no guarantee both our fathers will still be with us this time next year. For that reason I celebrate them all the more today.

But tonight, I'm most thankful for our heavenly Father. The Father who fearfully and wonderfully knit all those other father's together in their mother's womb's and then created their children to make them fathers. I'm so grateful for those precious lives, but I'm so much more grateful for the life He's given beyond that first birth. The eternal life promised through faith in His Son and His work on the cross. That is what reconciles us to Him so that we may be adopted into His family as sons and daughters of God.

Our Father is in heaven, but He's also with us who believe in Him.
His name is greatly to be praised.
His kingdom will come and His will certainly done. I invite them to come quickly.
I trust Him to give me everything I need, including my deepest need for forgiveness.
I must forgive those who've offended me before asking God to forgive my offenses.
I know when I follow Him, He is faithful to lead me beside still waters, away from all temptation and evil.
He reigns with all power - and is due all glory - forever.

Monday, June 11, 2012

School's Out

It's officially the first full week of summer vacation for my kids (though poor Caitlin starts summer school on Wednesday).

Sigh.

I let them sleep in today (some later than others) after a long weekend of activities including a final regular season baseball game, the family birthday party for the twins and a gathering of our small group from church at our house. I think I've cleaned my kitchen eight times in the past three days.

It was hot and humid today and perfect weather to use the new pool, which they happily did. The upside of the muggy weather is that the pool temperature went up at least ten degrees in the past couple of days. I was so glad to have it for the party. We ended up with almost 40 people here. It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun. There were many times I found myself consciously struggling between the Mary & Martha tendencies. I'm referring to the passage in Luke when Martha is distracted with much serving and none too happy with her sister Mary, who was parked at the Lord's feet captivated by his teaching.

I don't know why it's still such a temptation to spend more time and energy preparing and serving people than sitting down and fellowshipping with them - enjoying the conversation - engaged in the celebration. I actually struggle with the serving part less than a lot of women I know, but there is always this hostess pressure lurking about.

I did manage to spend a decent amount of time sitting among the "guests." I use the term loosely because on Saturday it was all family. It's not lost on me how blessed we are to have such wonderful family and friends who could seriously care less what my house looks like or how clean it is (aside from a clean toilet or two).

God provided in so many ways throughout the weekend. On Sunday I was reminded of how Jesus miraculously fed thousands by multiplying a couple of fish and loaves of bread as one of the couples in our LIFE Group brought over the leftovers from their Saturday party and supplied enough food to feed more than a dozen of us! Which was a good thing because we were short on leftovers ourselves and I was awfully close to calling Jimmy Johns for that freaky fast delivery.

The celebrations were great and after today we are fully recovered. But I'm also ruminating a bit and wondering how I can move further from the anxiety and trouble of the Martha approach and closer to the good portion that Mary pursued this summer.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10: 38-42

Monday, June 4, 2012




teen·ag·er (tnjr) n.

"A person between the ages of 13 and 19; an adolescent." That's the definition of teenager on thefreedictionary.com.

There are now three of them in my house.

Thirteen years ago today God brought two new lives into my world. One of them was pink and small with a perfectly shaped little head. The other was purple and large and made quite a few grunting noises.

Little has changed.

But then again, so much has changed. The 2 & 1/2 year old big sister is now 15 & 1/2 and finishing her freshman year of high school. The girl twin - who arrived first and never lets her brother forget it - is now two inches taller than him and thrilled she is just hours away from summer break. The boy twin has not yet outgrown action figures or superhereos (can you blame him with The Avengers movie?) and would live outside if possible. The mom and dad are a little grayer, a little heavier and a lot wiser.

We think.

We are beyond the days when we choose their friends, their clothes or even their activities. And yet these two kids are in no hurry to be counted as independent, young adults. It seems the time is going by a little too fast even for them and they wouldn't mind a few more years of what is often referred to as "innocence."

They are by far the most counter-cultural kids in our neighborhood and quite possibly their school. All three teenagers share one cell phone with limited texting. They don't go to dances, they've never driven a vehicle (not even for a couple of blocks in Arcadia) and they don't date. They have never, not once, said they hate me, that I'm stupid or they wished they lived somewhere else. At least not to my face.

So they are already much better teenagers than I was.

I know the reason they are so amazing has very little to do with me and very much to do with the abundant grace of God. I am so ridiculously grateful for the genuine faith they have and the fruit of the Spirit I see in their lives. And I know there is so much more to come. I do sometimes wonder who they will become as adults. What will they do for professions? Pet shop owner and professional ball player are still at the top of their lists. Who will they marry? I can hear, the "Ewww, gross, Mom." Ryan, typical Eder, can't be bothered with girls at this young age and Maggie only smiles when certain celebrity heartthrobs are mentioned. Caitlin prefers not to discuss it at all.

There are many decisions in front of these children and my hope and prayer is they will make those decisions with humility and complete trust in the Lord. Come to think of it, that's my hope and prayer for Dan and me too. O Lord, equip us to equip them!

Tonight we will celebrate all three of our teenagers, though we'll put more emphasis on the newest arrivals to the teen years. I would not exchange a moment spent with any one of them for anything. I know there are many more challenges to come, but I wouldn't trade those experiences either. I do not wish to ever get a little time off from being their mom. I cannot imagine my life without the wonderful blessings that are Caitlin, Maggie and Ryan.





Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bandos, Baseball and Booths - Oh My!

The school year is winding down, but it always feels like a ramp up to me.

In the past week we watched Caitlin's final concert of the year during which she had a wonderful solo that lasted a full two and half measures. She nailed it. I really appreciate these concerts because: a) The high school auditorium is soooo much nicer than the bleachers/folding chairs in the junior high gym; b) I love classical music/orchestras and I don't often get to attend such events anymore as our cultural entertainment budget has dwindled to zero and c) I love to watch my daughter's joy as she taps her feet and bobs her head to the music.

Two different bands performed a total of nine songs. This particular event lasted over two hours so that dozens of graduating seniors could be showcased on slides, and they could break for not one, not two, but three separate awards ceremonies with speeches, hand-shaking and some hugging for juniors, seniors, band directors and parent volunteers. I'm sure in three years, I'll be content to sit for three plus hours when it's my kids' last high school concert.

Maybe.

Last night Ryan and his fabulous coach (aka my husband) doubled their wins with their second victory of the season. It was a really nice night (albeit a bit windy) and so good to see the boys bounce back again after being down 9-3 in the third. They won 13-11. Even better - they cheered each other on with real enthusiasm (or real enough to convince me and the other "sportmanship police" parents).

I didn't get to see the actual victory since I left a little early to pick Caitlin up from a Gifted Expo at another local high school. When I dropped her off (fifteen minutes late) all our frustration melted away as just 25 feet into the hallway we bumped into Caitlin's favorite former classmate from Magnet standing ready next to her display booth. A little ways further down the path led us to two more students who had been with Caitlin from third through eighth grade - at which point Magnet ended and all the gifted students from around the district landed at their respective high schools. Very few landed with Cait. Their reunion was sweet. The icing on the cake was getting to hear about the new student Caitlin met just before I picked her up. Another young lady with Asperger's Syndrome whose project was all about the condition and what it was like to live with it. Apparently, they really hit it off. I wish I had seen that.

I spent a lot of time the past couple of days driving back and forth to the same destinations for drop off and pick up wondering if it would be better to kill an hour or two and stay put with gas at four bucks a gallon - OR - catch the next kid at the next thing while sacrificing some transit time.

Today I got home at 2:35pm. Maggie and Ryan had already been home almost a half hour. They were lounging around, unmotivated, no homework to speak of (they are officially done "learning" for the year with a mere two and half days of school left) and hungrily looking for snacks. It occurred to me this is a preview of my home for the next ten or so weeks.

I'm looking forward to summer, but I can honestly say, the concerts, games and expos will be missed.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Self Control

It's a Monday, which means it's my day off. Typically on my day off I tend to the household chores - like laundry and grocery shopping and balancing the checkbook. Today is no exception. Though today I also met some friends for lunch and took Maggie to the doctor for a follow-up appointment since she was diagnosed with walking pneumonia last week. Today was her first day back at school. I pulled her from gym which is her last class for the day. They are currently engaged in the one activity she enjoys - ultimate frisbee. Unfortunately, her doctor told her no exertion until she got cleared. While she is much improved, both the doctor and the PE teacher agreed she's done with gym for the year. If her last period of the day were science, she'd have been way more thrilled I came early to get her.

I washed three loads, balanced the checkbook (not pretty, but balanced), ran the dishwasher and made out the grocery list. And the common thread/theme in all my thoughts and activities which began over the weekend and is continuing today is "rein it in."

It started Friday. I had worked half a day and came home to be with Maggie who was coughing up a right lung (ironically, her left lung is clear). My back was still ailing from the week before and my boss had called in sick for the first time in forever. So instead of continuing the work at home, I gratefully logged out and ended my productivity for the week - both at work and at home. I laid on my back and did pretty much nothing the rest of the day. Dan took Caitlin and Ryan to my mother-in-law's where they were sort of celebrating her 55th wedding anniversary (my father-in-law, unfortunately, is still in the rehab center). Maggie and I watched the new Muppets movie. It was adorable and a fun trip down memory lane for me.

Saturday, Ryan had a double header - or a header and a half if we're being literal - he and Dan had to be at the ballfield at 9am to finish a rain delay from Thursday and then play their 11am scheduled game. It was 90 degrees by the time the second game started. We had the field by the creek. None of the fields have shade. There was an intermittant cloud or two and the breeze was blowing now and again, thank God, but other than that little relief from the heat. So, as you might imagine, moods became increasingly irritable as the game went on and we continued to lose. The first game was no better. The crankiness multiplied exponentially with every comment that proceeded out of the mouth of the very vocal opposing coach. Like several of the parents who sat just feet away from where he was perpetually coaching 1st base - they tended to be at bat for much lengthier times than we were - I was ready to take action to silence the man. I can be vocal, too. My friends and family will tell you I pretty much have one volume...it's not quiet. The responses that kept floating around in my head were itching to get out but I was well aware that they would serve no good purpose if they did. I didn't manage to keep them unspoken but by God's grace I did manage to only whisper them to my husband who wisely gave me a cautionary look and refrained from dropping to that level with me.

Later that evening we headed to my brother-in-law's house to see a visiting nephew. Which meant lots of appetizers and drinks. I'm not much of a drinker but I must admit that summer weather and relaxing decks tend to entice me to partake. I abstained. More because I was on meds and driving than any worthier conviction, but they were effective deterrants. I also stuck to the veggie platter. Until I saw the guacamole. Fortunately it was almost gone when I did.

Sunday had me at church twice, first for services and then for our annual business meeting. The morning was wonderful and I enjoyed the last meeting of our post service discussion group before breaking for the summer. I even managed to listen more than I spoke. Before the business meeting, I took Maggie and Ryan to Kohl's because I had tons of coupons and he needed sandals and she needed a bathing suit. We were unsuccessful in the swimsuit department, but did find a decent pair of sandals at the last minute when looking at sunglasses (which truly are helpful for baseball when trying to catch those pop-ups). I promptly put the more expensive pair back and was able to use all three of my coupons and pay only $10 for both items. Instead of hitting a drive-through on a busy day, we ate leftovers. Then I made my way to the business meeting.

It was good to hear all the ministry reports. Though I tend to have the inside scoop, there are always "God at work" stories I haven't heard yet and this meeting didn't disappoint. There were plenty of inspiring testimonies. I was especially encouraged by the report from the treasurer oddly enough. Being on staff, I'm pretty familiar with most of the content of these meetings ahead of time, but seeing the Lord's provision through the generosity and faithfulness of the congregation was amazing. Especially because there was a real concern we wouldn't meet all our expenses for the first time in the church's history. We ended up with a surplus. My instinct would be to allocate that to any number of staffing needs, but our board isn't so rash. Their temperament allows for both faith and wise stewardship.

So today, when I thought of all the things there were to do and how many of them I could reasonably get done I decided almost immediately to stop and ask God what was on his agenda for me. Because He never overschedules. I spent a good amount of time in His Word before moving on to the other tasks and found myself much more able to "rein it in" when I was tempted to step out of bounds. I drove a little slower on the highway. I gave my back a break and carried fewer clothes up and down the stairs at one time. I even left half of my french fries in the basket at lunch. And I didn't blow a gasket when my daughter called and asked to stay after school for a spur of the moment band project and then called back ten minutes later and said "False alarm - Could you pick me up now cause I missed the bus?"

Galatians 5:22-23 tells us self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. I often think I should be bearing much more of that kind of fruit. I'm grateful for all the reminders I was given these past few days to do just that.



Thursday, May 17, 2012

Baseball Rally

Tonight I went to watch my son's team play baseball. They were 0 and 4 going into tonight's game and were up against an undefeated team with a couple of pitchers who looked like they were in the majors instead of 7th or 8th grade. I arrived at the bottom of the second inning and we were down seven nothing.

By the bottom of the 4th we were down twelve nothing and the parents began to discuss what the current slaughter rule was. For the record, it's up by 15 in the 5th. We weren't far off. The boys looked lifeless out on the field and honestly that was more disturbing than the score. They seemed resigned to their impending defeat. I thought about going home to play board games with my daughters. But I prayed and I stayed.

There are a lot of engaged parents on this team which is nice. Many of them make an effort to watch every game, or at least a few innings since they may have other kids on other fields. So we did our part to call our boys over and give them pep talks which consisted mostly of encouraging them not to give up, to have some fun, but above all to be a team - we pleaded with them to talk to each other, to pep each other up, to rally.

ral·ly 1 (rl)
v. ral·lied, ral·ly·ing, ral·lies
v.tr.
1. To call together for a common purpose; assemble: rally troops at a parade ground.
2. To reassemble and restore to order: rally scattered forces.
3. To rouse or revive from inactivity or decline: paused to refresh themselves and rally their strength.
v.intr.
4. To recover abruptly from a setback or disadvantage: The stock market declined, then rallied. The home team rallied in the ninth inning to win the game.

One of the kids took our urging to heart and even though he began the next inning on the bench, he called out encouragement to each of his teammates. We quickly named him our new favorite player. Even over our own sons. Next thing you know, we're at bat again and we bring one in. Phew it's not a shut-out. Then another two cross the plate before the third out. Okay. That's better. Our guys take the field and next thing you know, three up, three down and we're back to the plate.

Soon two more of our kids start chattering to each other and then a third. One at a time we get on base, steal a couple and bring some more across home plate. Now it's a game - we're only down three, then two, then one. My son is 3 for 4 - his best game ever for hitting. I tell him at his last at bat if he gets on base we're going to Dairy Queen for sure, but the truth is he's going to DQ either way because he's got so much heart right now and has given it his all and I am so proud of all of them for not playing dead.

Our boys revive, and look alert. We see their posture change as they realize they have a shot at winning. Their confidence is contagious and they start making plays they had been missing all night. The other team puts another one on the board but we're still only down two.

We tie it.

Then we go ahead.

Then we get an insurance run.

Then it's all up to the defense. And they are baseball ready , focused, everyone's cheering on the pitcher who's dominating the plate. Only one kid gets on, but he steals and we're not out of it yet. But we don't give up and we don't give in. It's down to the last out and this great hitter on the other team who represents the tying run is up - he hits a high pop up behind 3rd plate and one of our smaller kids is running backwards to get underneath it and makes a spectacular catch on his back to win the game.

I wish I had my camera for what happened next. Our whole team running to third base, the first one there lifts the kid in the air and hugs him as if they'd won the pennant and soon a huddle of yellow jerseys are circled around jumping and cheering after winning their first game. But it doesn't last long, because they quickly come in and line up for the high-five procession with the other team, congratulating them on a great game, patting former teammates on the back like great sportsmen and smiling ear to ear.

I ran to give the coach a big kiss (it's okay, I'm married to him) for never losing his cool and finding something positive to say to each and every kid on the team. We circled around for the post game speech and listened as it was explained there couldn't possibly be one game ball given for what the whole team accomplished tonight in the best rally we've seen in little league.

Then we went to Dairy Queen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day Momentos



Another Mother's Day has come and gone. Sometimes it feels a little like my wedding day...I anticipate it for months and it's over in the blink of an eye.

The best part about Mother's Day is the cards my kids still make me. Although not having to plan for or prepare a meal is a close second.

This year my kids did not disappoint...

Ryan made me a hot pink card with lots of hearts in art class at school. He's not much of a writer but he made up for it by reading Scripture in our church service Sunday morning. Watching him get up in front of everyone and read from 1 Kings 17 was a gift to me. He spoke clearly and loudly and most surprisingly, slowly from the passage about the widow and son that the prophet Elijah stays with when he first begins his ministry. The son has a severe illness and dies, but Elijah pleads with God to restore his life and God answers his prayer, raising the boy from the dead. I am so grateful for the life of my son and for the faith he shares in our Lord.

Maggie bypassed the card idea and made me a Mother's Day book, which she illustrated and stapled together herself. She listed many reasons why she loves me and included a Twix bar with a purple (my favorite color) bow on top that she paid for with her own money. She also spent most of the day with me, when the other two kids were tired and didn't want to do anything, Maggie happily joined me for some much needed shoe shopping (and shared my excitement in being able to use our big coupon on the day it expired). I also bought her a belt at the resale shop. She reacted as if I'd gotten her a Coach purse. I truly appreciate her grateful heart and thoroughly enjoy her company.

Caitlin made me a two-page spread full of her impeccable cartoon drawings comparing all the "best" relatives in the comic world with the best mom of the real world (in her opinion that was me). And she surrendered one of her own Barnes & Noble gift cards as a present for the Mom who rivals her love of books. She's been emptying the dishwasher without being asked all week and making a conscious effort to pitch in more around the house. Her unique outlook, sense of humor and enthusiasm bring joy to my life.

My amazing husband who has been picking up the slack for more than a week while I've been down for the count with a bad back, continued the laundry, mowed the lawn, brought me flowers and arranged for Chinese dinner from our favorite takeout place!

I know how blessed I am to have the husband and children God has mercifully given me. Sitting on the brink of having three teenagers in the house I am also struck by the fact that I have not once heard one of my kids tell me they hate me, that I don't know anything or that they wished they lived somewhere else! I'm not taking credit for that achievement, I think that's God's grace too, but I can tell you I am certainly thankful for it and for a day that "rewards" me for having a role I adore.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Avengers

This past weekend I took Ryan and one of his buddies to see The Avengers. Truth be told I think I was looking as forward to this film as they were, although I didn't count down the hours and minutes to movietime like Ry did.

I had joked with him about going to the midnight show when it was released because we were anticipating it so much. Well, half joked - I was the only middle aged woman without a tween in the theater at midnight when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King came out. That was a 3+ hour movie and morning came quick the next day. But this release was a school night so they had to wait till Friday. I did buy the tickets online in advance and we showed up 45 minutes early which was a good thing because we were about 40th in line at that time (and that was the 2D screen)!

The Avengers did not disappoint. It was seriously spectacular and accomplished the rare feat of not just meeting, but exceeding my expectations, which were in fact, pretty high. It's not easy to develop a variety of characters in any story and the more characters you have the greater the challenge. I'm not sure how they managed to give equal time and attention to so many big personalities without sacrificing the dialogue or the plot, but I'm glad they figured it out.

I can't explain my appreciation for superheros or fantasy film, and it doesn't all appeal to me. I'm eager to see the next Batman film, but not Spiderman. I love X-Men. Fantastic Four wasn't even a blip on my radar. I'm not a comic-con purist who knows how far the movies stray from the original characters, I would never dress up for opening night as a character and I don't have a preference for Marvel over D.C. or vice-versa.

You could just chalk it up to entertaining action heroes with good acting, good directing and amazing special effects. But I guess what really appeals to me is a group of people (or I guess in some cases, otherworldly people) sacrificing for others. Yeah I'm sure there's a bit of an ego trip bonus for some heroes (yes, I mean you Iron Man) but ultimately they are people who use special gifts to benefit the underdogs. They defend the downtrodden, fight for the marginalized and often take the place of those who can't stand up for themselves.

There's something Christlike about that.

And when there's a whole team of them it's a little bit like displaying the body of Christ - many members of one family all with different functions and all serving a purpose.

Maybe that's why I like Superheroes.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Consultation

I've often wondered how many people make their living as consultants, and of those who do, how effective and/or successful they have been. Consulting implies expertise in a given field.

Today I drove up to a church in Racine, Wisconsin to meet with eight women who serve as administrative professionals at a large church there. The purpose of my going (in theory) was to advise them on how to best support their pastors while maintaining healthy boundaries. Effective time management was a universal concern. I have not been pursuing any type of consultant work and this invite came as a great surprise, but after much prayerful consideration I decided to give it a shot.

I'm glad I didn't rush into it. We've been corresponding back and forth for several months which has allowed me valuable time to both prepare and consider what I'd be bringing to the table. It's always good to know what someone's objectives are before you go trying to meet them.

Because our work is in essence ministry, I decided to start with a devotion that I "borrowed" from one of our pastors from Exodus Chapters 3 & 4 when God tells Moses he's the chosen leader who gets to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. Those who know the story remember Moses was less than thrilled. In fact his first response was "Who am I that I should go?" I personally think that's a very healthy perspective. I thought about that myself when considering if I would use my only day off this week and have these nice folks pay my mileage to come and hold a workshop for them. I mean, "Who am I that I should go?"

I thought long and hard about what I had to offer and reminded myself I may end up learning as much as I "taught" before I got in the car. Turns out that several of them found at least part of what I shared very helpful. And it did end up being a good learning experience for me. I'm not sure that anyone was convinced I was an expert in my field, least of all me, but maybe that wasn't the point. Maybe it's enough to provide a little insight, simplify a thing or two and extend some relief.

I don't think I'll be rushing into the consulting business anytime soon, but I'm glad for the opportunity to wade in those waters.

Next up...I think I may have to consult someone about my back pain....