I Can’t Sell Enough Dishcloths for a New Roof

In 1999 the company I worked for closed the location I worked at, moving our jobs to another location, and I chose not to go with them. Instead, I had kids. I spent the next 23 years raising and educating three of the most amazing human beings I know. When the youngest graduated it was time to go back to work to bring in the money we will eventually need to replace our roof and 20-year-old minivan and take care of a few other things. As I began looking for part-time opportunities that would be a good fit for me, I was discouraged that for someone with a college degree but no “real world” experience for the past 23 years (as if raising kids isn’t real world experience) my options were fast food, retail, childcare, or elder care—none of which are a good fit for me personality-wise. My oldest suggested opening an Etsy shop to sell the things I make as my hobbies. I told her there was no way I was going to sell enough dishcloths to be able to afford a new roof. She rolled her eyes. So…allow me to present Flowerkraut Collective.

Only Human on the Inside

I know I’m about 48 hours late to the party here. By now the whole Will slapping Chris fiasco at the Oscars is old news and just a shrug on most peoples’ shoulders. Honestly, it was probably just a shrug on most peoples’ shoulders when it happened and that’s a problem. I’ll preface this with the fact that I didn’t watch the Oscars and don’t really care about the Academy Awards at all. Everything I know about what transpired between Chris Rock and Will Smith I have read about second-hand in the news so I only have the basic gist of what happened.

While playing pseudo-Uber driver last week taking my sister to the airport, my daughter noticed the billboards that proclaim, “If you see something, say something,” in an effort to communicate that it’s up to each of us to stand up and say something when we notice suspicious happenings. I don’t know that what transpired at the Oscars Sunday evening qualifies as suspicious but something does need to be said about it—and something more than “violence of any kind is not tolerated.” Both Chris and Will were in the right and in the wrong; here’s why and what we can learn from it.

Everyone is dogging on Will right now but let’s back up to Chris for just a minute since his remarks started it.

What Chris Did Wrong: He made a very personal derogatory joke about someone he clearly does not know well enough to determine how he/she would feel about it and/or did not vet the comments with him/her beforehand.

Why This Was Wrong: That I even need to try to explain why this was wrong is concerning. How do you feel when others make fun of you? We teach kids the rhyme, ”Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The reality is though that words do far more damage than sticks and stones ever do. Words, once spoken or written, cannot be taken back no matter how many “I’m sorry”s we utter. And the irony is that we teach kids that rhyme at the same time we are teaching them not to call each other names. Now, before you go thinking I’m someone with no sense of humor or “can’t take a joke” let me tell you, I have a serious problem remaining on my feet. Coordination is not my strong suit. I have landed on my face just walking down the street. I make fun of myself for it. My family and friends make fun of me for it. And I’m okay with that. I’d even be okay with someone I don’t really know making fun of me from a stage in front of an international audience for it. On the other hand, I also have a mild-to-moderate hearing loss that oddly enough includes frequencies that are in the range my husband’s voice lands in. (I’m not making this up. I have audiogram results to prove it.) I have to ask him to repeat himself a lot. When he makes fun of me for it, I’m not nearly as willing to roll with it as I am with jokes about my face plants. I don’t know why. Neither of these issues is within my control but one is comedy fodder and the other is a sore spot. If you are going to go comedy with someone else’s issues, you need to know what’s fair game and what isn’t. If you don’t know, don’t say it. And this is what is really so disturbing about the whole incident. If Will had done nothing, no one would have thought there was anything wrong with Chris’ remarks. 

What Chris Did Right: He did not escalate the situation by striking back or pressing charges; he just kept moving and, as far as I can tell, hasn’t made many, if any, public comments about it. Not that there aren’t times where striking back or pressing charges would be appropriate but it seems like Chris saw it for what it was, a spur of the moment reaction that wasn’t really about him.

Now for Will.

What Will Did Wrong: Do I even need to go here?

Why This Was Wrong: See ‘What Will did wrong’ above. But let’s give Will a bit of a break too. Have you ever had someone make fun of someone you love—your spouse, your child, your siblings? His actions were wrong but understandable when you put yourself in his shoes.

What Will Did Right: He stood up for his wife. That doesn’t make the physical violence of it right. There were better ways he could have stood up for Jada. I’m also going to include Will’s apology here with qualifications. First, Will’s apology to Chris should have been done in private between the two of them. It may have been but, if it was only a public apology in a very well crafted statement, it is concerning. And the other qualification is that Will is an actor with a career to think about. He works in an industry that will blacklist people if they don’t have the “correct” political affiliations and is very built on networking with the right people and having the right image. It is conceivable to think that Will could never work in Hollywood again because of this incident. Therefore, it is also reasonable to suspect that his apology was borne more out of the threat of that potential reality than genuine sorrow and repentance. Let me be clear, I have no reason to believe he is not genuinely sorry. I don’t know the guy. But with celebrity comes a cut-throat world of agents and publicists and public image and persona that can lead to a lot of apologies where the only thing that people are really sorry for is being caught.

What is the actual bottom line here? Both Will and Chris are only human. Our culture elevates people with public faces—politicians, actors, comedians, musicians, religious leaders, and the like—to a higher standard, and not just a higher standard but a standard of perfection. The problem with this is people are not perfect and when we expect them to be they will always disappoint. Were Chris’ remarks wrong? Yes, since he obviously didn’t vet them with those who they were most likely to impact. But which of us hasn’t said something stupid and insensitive to others? Were Will’s actions wrong? Yes. But which of us hasn’t done something stupid in the heat of the moment? Understand me, I am not advocating we just look the other way when others make mistakes as if it is no big deal. But, we also need to extend the grace and mercy we seem to expect be extended to us when we screw up, particularly when we don’t actually know the people and are in no position to counsel them on their behavior. That’s a role for close friends and family, not the viewing public.

A Mob at the Manger

Our Fisher Price Little People Nativity set comes out only during the Christmas season. It is a toy, but a toy with meaning. Our kids are too old for it now, though they still insist we get it out every year in addition to our fancy, hand-painted ceramic set. When they were small it was something we hoped that, by playing with it, would make the Christmas story more treasured in their hearts. One morning in the weeks before Christmas, I entered the kitchen looking for breakfast and glanced into the living room to see evidence that this simple toy was indeed making its mark.

Crowded around the stable, visitors had come to see the little plastic baby Jesus. Two by two they came with Noah and Mrs. Noah from the ark. Zebras, alligators (or are they crocodiles?), giraffes, peacocks, pandas, hippos, jaguars, lions, and tropical birds joined the traditional Wise Men, camels, shepherds, cattle, donkeys, and sheep. Upon closer inspection, a few more special visitors were noted—the garbage man (the modern-day equivalent of a shepherd in Bible times), a baby and her parents (Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me…”), and a dog (a mutt, I’m sure). Upon first sight of this mob around the manger, my orderly self wanted to separate the ark play pieces from the Nativity ones and restore the toys to their right roles. But then I stopped to “ponder all these things in [my] heart” and thought better of myself. The child who claimed responsibility for the scene said, “It just seems like everyone [from the Little People world] would want to come to see Jesus.”

Just as in the Bible, there were no kings or queens, no rabbis or priests. Of course, in the Bible, there were only Wise Men and shepherds. There was no crowd. That first Christmas no one else cared too much about a little Baby born in a stable in a little town to a couple of teenagers—save a murderous king who was alarmed that it was rumored there was another King in town. But there will come a day when everyone, from the garbage man to the zebras, and even those in power, will have to acknowledge that who that Baby became is Lord of all. I think our kids got the the point.

O, Christmas Tree!

I put up our Christmas tree today. I realize that puts me a week late on the official Christmas tree display date of the weekend after Thanksgiving and a good month to six weeks late judging by peering into the front windows of neighbors adorned with lighted trees on dark evening dog walks through our neighborhood. It’s a cheap 3-foot artificial tree we purchased at WalMart over 20 years ago for our first Christmas together back in our apartment living days when there was little room and even less storage space for a “full size” tree. I’ll take heat from family members for only putting up the small tree. For years, most of my life actually, they have called me Scrooge, a Grinch, and Charlie Brown. I’ll proudly own Charlie Brown but Scrooge or Grinch I am not.

The Grinch and Scrooge were cantankerous beings who wanted everyone else to be as miserable as they were. But Charlie Brown just felt like there was something missing. Despite all the festive happenings he realized that there was something not reaching the heart of the celebrations. I’m not opposed to genuine joy, cheer, and happiness, but don’t give me the fake versions. What is so hard for me is that people will spend time and money decorating to the hilt and buy more presents than they can afford to make things special for their friends and families and claim it brings them joy but if you asked them to be honest they would talk about the stress of it all. And then the day after Christmas they are back to living like nothing special happened the day before. Genuine joy is relaxing and life-giving yet after just a short time fake joy drains us and those around us. Joy has little to do with how beautiful the decorations, how much and how delicious the food, and how many and how extravagant the gifts. Joy can’t be manufactured. Joy is not in the size of the tree. I’ll admit that part of what brings me joy about the small tree is that it is easy and I’m lazy. Its lives 11 months of the year in our storeroom with its single string of lights on it, ready to just be set on the end table and plugged in. We have a large tree but it involves unboxing, matching color-coded branches to sketchy instructions that were translated into English by Google translate. This involves a lot of snipping and snarling between humans during the setup process. And then several strings of lights have to be added, half of which probably won’t work, causing more snipping and snarling between humans and a trip to Target for new lights. A month later the whole process is reversed to get it back into storage with the added tradition of just shoving stuff wherever to get it done with, guaranteeing that next year will have the appropriate amount of snipping and snarling over broken lights and missing parts. Snipping and snarling between humans is something I just can’t tolerate, even if it results in a 7-foot lighted Christmas tree. I know I could go out and get a pre-lit tree to avoid much of this but ultimately, for me, there is just something so joyful about the simple little tree. I don’t expect that to be the case for everyone. My wish would be twofold. First, may you find true joy in the things you claim make you joyful. And, may we all extend respect and grace to those who find joy in different ways than we do.

The Last of Her Stuff

My oldest child just graduated from college and landed her first big-girl job. Of course, this meant she had to move. I had been waiting for this day for three years. The day when she would have a place big enough for long enough that we could purge our house of the remainder of her detritus. I know that probably sounds harsh but this child has a lifelong history of leaving stuff in a trail behind her. We call it her trail of slime. You can tell where she’s been just by following the breadcrumbs of shoes, dirty socks, book bags, etc. On visits home from college she’d come in the door, take her shoes off, walk six feet and drop her dirty laundry bag, walk another five feet and drop her coat and backpack, walk down the hall to her room and deposit her duffle bag, come back down the hall and scatter her toiletries in the bathroom, and then return to unpack the backpack a few feet from where she dropped it. And all the stuff would stay where she had dropped it until she would leave two days later when she followed the trail back out the door.

I’m married to a pack rat, who incidentally also tends to leave a trail of slime despite him being one of the loudest critics of the child’s trail. It’s not his fault. His father is a pack rat. I’d be tempted to say it’s a flaw on the Y chromosome  but none of my offspring have a Y chromosome and two-thirds of my children have inherited the pack rat DNA. My oldest is one of the afflicted. The closet in her former bedroom was packed floor to ceiling with boxes of stuff that did not go to college with her. She had boxes in our storeroom. She had a cedar-lined trunk in the bedroom of one of her siblings, a source of great tension as that child is also one of the pack rats and has some relational difficulties with the older sibling. I’ve spent three years hearing about the mental distress caused by this item’s physical footprint and its impact on the sibling having enough space for her own junk—ahem, belongings.

To be fair, I have had some degree of pack rat tendencies at times in my life. I also have a degree of genetic causation for this from my mother and grandmother. I, however, have outgrown it a bit with age and maturity. Somewhere along the way, over the last 25 years, I have become very in-tune with how negatively “collecting” stuff is for my mental health and have really been on a mission to separate myself from stuff that serves no purpose in my life other than to take up space. I am not always successful at this but I’m trying. And here is where eldest child’s moving collides with my former pack rat days. I moved out of my parents’ house 25-ish years ago. I have lived in 7 different dwellings since leaving their house. And each time I have moved over the past 25 years my parents have shown up at my new dwelling with a pickup truck full of things claiming it’s “the last of [my] stuff from [their] house.” Just this past Christmas they showed up with a pickup truck of more of my stuff. What didn’t add up about this was they told me that the previous truckload they brought for Thanksgiving five years ago was “the last of [my] stuff at [their] house.”

I was not going to let this become a family tradition. The remainder of her stuff at our house was loaded into our 19-year-old minivan for moving day. And I happily told her, “This is the last of your stuff at our house.”

Vax or No Vax, That Is The Question

So I had my second dose of the vax this week. Now in two more weeks I’ll be added to the ranks of the fully vaccinated. I have many mixed feelings about this.

Do I think the vax is dangerous to my health or a left-wing conspiracy to control us all (a.k.a. do I believe the far-right alternative news nutjobs)? No. My understanding of the medication development process is that what usually holds things up is lack of funding, not piles of regulations. Because of the public health nature of COVID, funding was no problem in this case and that is why it was done so fast, not because regulations and safety protocols were ignored or loosened. Vaccinations for all kinds of things have saved thousands, if not millions, of people around the world despite what anti-vaxers would want you to believe. I am old enough to have known relatives who had polio during the nearly annual polio epidemics of the early to mid 1900s. Now, polio is considered a thing of the past due to mass vaccination for it. Would I say vaccines are absolutely safe? No. Everything has risks. Driving or riding in a motor vehicle is the most dangerous thing almost anyone does on a daily basis, far more likely to injure or kill you than a vaccination but no one is shouting for a ban on cars, trucks, and buses or saying people are crazy for putting their kids in them. I don’t think vaxes are as dangerous as some think they are.

Do I think the vax is the “answer” to the pandemic (a.k.a. do I believe the mainstream media propaganda that once 70+% of us are vaxed—herd immunity reached—that all the restrictions will be a distant memory)? No. I think the new strains we are seeing are giving us a clear message about how effective vaxing will be. I think we are trying to outrun an avalanche. Like the common cold, I think it will mutate too fast for vaxing to be super effective. Best case, we’ll need annual COVID shots much like we are encouraged to get annual flu shots. Worst case, new strains will be resistant to current vaxes and we’ll be stuck in a cycle of pandemic shut downs periodically.

Do I think the vax will put an end to all the changes that have happened in the past year due to COVID-19? No. I have pretty much lost any hope of life ever being the way it was before March 2020. Life changes and you just have to roll with it. These changes have happened at a speed that required us to adjust faster than we would have liked and it has left us cranky. I honestly don’t think I am ever going to be able to sit in a coffee shop in the evenings (and some of them not at any time of day) to work again (a home office does NOT work for me for writing and studying). I just don’t think they will ever be open again past 7:00pm because the forced closures have left places with staffing problems, financial problems, and lack of customers. I spend hours every week sitting in my minivan studying by headlamp and streetlight with blue toes and no bathroom while my daughter is at various evening activities because there is no where else to go to wait. I am tired of having to eat McDonald’s cheeseburgers and fries precariously balanced on my lap in my van. However, I don’t see these things changing any day soon, vax or no vax.

I’m not pinning my hopes on it, but I don’t think it is total B.S. either, so I got the vax.

Making 2021 The Year of 21 Miles

The photo on our Christmas card for 2020 did not turn out the way I envisioned it in my head. Things rarely do. Almost nothing in 2020 turned out the way any of us envisioned it in our heads either. We all expected normal—graduations, weddings, fairs, vacations—and what we got was a pandemic with a side of partisan politics—complete with catch-phrase cliches we’d all rather forget. Anyone else sick of hearing, “We’re all in this together?” It has been a year of mourning—mourning the loss of loves ones, the loss of beloved events and groups that can’t happen, the loss of “normal.” And, let’s be honest, it is wearing us all quite thin as we head into the holiday season.

The bright spot of Christmas is that Hope is among us. In 2021, let’s take hold of the Hope that can override sickness, poverty, politics, race, and division. Back in January I declared 2020 The Year of the Completed Project at our house. Now I’m encouraging everyone to make 2021 The Year of 21 Miles. Plot a circle with a radius of 10½  miles from your home and ask yourself what you can do to make your 21-mile “bubble” a better place. Buy a bag of groceries for the local food shelf each week. Mow the lawn of the neighbor who is having a hard time getting things done. Pay for the gas of the car next to you at the pump. Give a mom who’s at the end of her rope a couple kid-free hours and babysit her children for an afternoon. Don’t judge who deserves your help, just give. Maybe the guy driving the BMW doesn’t NEED you to pay for his coffee but doing it anyway will send a message to him that might fix something he does need. Not all needs are visible, and it’s not our job to determine who is deserving of assistance; we should just make a practice of thinking at any given moment, “What is the maximum amount of good I can do right now?” The more overlapping “bubbles” we have of people doing their maximum amount of good at each moment the greater the results. So for 2021, just worry about your 21 miles and the rest of your state, country, and world will likely “magically” sort itself out.

Okay, This Just Needs to Be Said

I am calling on my fellow Christians to WAKE UP! 2000 years ago the religious establishment was looking for Jesus to be a political savior and that is not nor was it ever God’s intention. It is not God’s intention for us to have a political savior today either. America is NOT and never has been God’s chosen nation. How have so many of us forgotten this and effectively become no better than the population of Jesus’ day, who expected Him to be their political savior, by throwing our blind support behind political candidates who say the things our itching ears want to hear? There was no major-party “Christian” candidate in last week’s election. And I don’t believe either of them has the best interests of any American, except themselves, at heart. They are concerned with power and getting/remaining in power. Therefore they will say and do whatever they need to and court whatever group it seems will help get them that power. We (as in all Americans) are being used. What disturbs me most is that as many of my fellow Christians who were so sold out for Donald Trump watched the election results come in, and it was clear that things were not going the way they had hoped, they started saying/posting things like, “God’s going to do great things!” and “We need to rely on God,” as if this was Gideon’s midnight battle with the Midianites. Now in the aftermath, they are raising the battle cry that leaving the “biased” social media with its “fake news” is the answer that will somehow accomplish something. Here’s the truth:

  1. God has already done His great thing for us in Jesus Christ and the sooner those of us who believe that disentangle ourselves from politics and get to following His command to care for the poor, disenfranchised, voiceless, and marginalized (the modern version of widows and orphans) the better as the marriage with politics is seriously hurting our witness to those in desperate need of what God has to offer.
  2. As for fleeing to “better” social media and news platforms, any other social media site you would join would have just as much “fake news” and questionable fact checking as the current ones. These days everyone (“left” AND “right”) reports only the “facts” that suit their agenda. Just because something is saying what you agree with or want to hear doesn’t mean it’s true. “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, NLT) Notice that Paul doesn’t say only non-believers will do this. In fact, I’m pretty sure he was primarily concerned with fellow believers falling victim to false teachers, not what the non-believing masses were doing.
  3. God is at work today just as He is everyday and He is using all things for His glory—even the politicians we don’t like. It is also possible that He has brought into place powers we don’t like, who do evil things, and who may treat us badly to accomplish His purposes. And in this case, that purpose may be that He Himself is sending us a wake up call that we need to cut the political crap, give ourselves a good heart check, and focus on what He told us to do. I don’t know for sure. I am not a prophet. But a good reading of the book of Isaiah shows that He has done such things in the past (think Babylon and Assyria); I wouldn’t be surprised if He chose to do similar things now.

It’s time we stopped looking for a political savior (something we were never told to do) and quit using social media as a way to get our “news” and “facts” and shout our opinions to the masses.

As Christians we were told to love God and love people. Get out there and make relationships with people—even people who may not look like or believe the same things you do. You don’t have to bend your convictions to be a descent human being to someone who doesn’t share your socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, or skin color. Don’t have an ulterior motive to try to win them to Christ. Just be a genuine friend and let God take care of what He wants to do with that friendship. I believe that our current circumstances, both political and COVID, should be a big wake up call to us that politics is not where effective witness is at. Making Christian laws are not going to win people over. God wants relationships. Christians need to get about the business God has commanded in Scripture we do, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-38, NLT). Those words are in red, by the way.

Halloween Doesn’t Scare Me

For the first Halloween in probably ten years, I decided to do something other than just open the door and drop a few pieces of candy in the bags of the kids on the other side. I’m just not a big holiday celebrator (if that’s even a word) and, once my kids were past the age when we had to accompany them trick-or-treating, we just resorted to grabbing a bag or two of candy to hand out and, once that was gone, turning off the porch light and retreating to the basement for a family movie night. But this year we adopted a dog. And our dog is super chill.

A few years ago a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend on social media shared this pet costume idea with Great Danes dressed up as spiders using pool noodles that I thought was super cute and, even though our dog is not a Great Dane, I wanted to do this with her. At 8 years old, she’s considered a senior dog so I didn’t want to waste a Halloween saying we’d do it next year because one never knows with dogs that age. So, I snagged a pathetic pre-made pet spider costume and four clearance pool noodles at WalMart, took our 20-year-old insanely large container of cable ties and some industrial strength glue, and got to work. This then led to me having to figure out a costume for myself since I can’t be walking a giant spider around the ‘hood in street clothes on Halloween. Thankfully my parents had brought me the “last” of my childhood stuff from their house a couple years ago (there’ll be a post about this in a few weeks) and it happened to include my 30-year-old prom dress that could pass as a getup for Little Miss Muffet. My husband said I had to have blonde curly hair to be Little Miss Muffet so off to Target I went. Of course, spiders need webs so I had to get a 10-foot spider web while I was there. Then with COVID-19 everyone has been going around and around about how to hand out candy safely. That left me on the eve of Halloween trying to figure out how to hang said web sturdy enough so I could clothespin snack-size baggies of candy to it for kids to take so we can maintain social distancing. Like many of my projects, this has snowballed.

LIttle Miss Muffet and her spooder
Little Miss Muffet and her giant spider having a dress rehearsal Halloween Eve.

And while gluing and cable-tying and bagging candy, I got to thinking. (This right here should scare you a bit because you never know what’s coming when I get to thinking. See Why No One Asks Me What I’m Thinking if you need to verify that.)

I found myself wondering if pagans feel like everyone has ruined the true meaning of their big holiday, like Christians complain that secularism and materialism have ruined the true meaning of Christmas. Let me explain.

I’m a Christian. Christians are kind of all over the map about Halloween. Those who are more liberal throw Halloween parties and go trick-or-treating with everyone else and don’t pay any mind. Believers who lean very conservative are convinced Halloween is the devil’s holiday and to even hand out candy is a sin and wag their fingers at the liberal believers who participate. Though these same conservatives will throw “harvest festivals” on or near Halloween and you’ll see in a minute why this is somewhat ironic. I personally don’t have a moral opposition to Halloween, and here is why. 

Halloween is not Satan’s holiday. Many historical cultures had some form of Halloween that celebrated the fall harvest and the pagan gods of their culture that were thought to be responsible for that harvest or as festivals that honored the dead—this would be that irony with Christian harvest festivals I was mentioning above. Halloween as it is known in America largely originated from the United Kingdom tradition of the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (meaning “summer’s end”) that marked the beginning of winter—a season of cold, darkness, and death—and honored Saman, the lord of death. This was eventually combined with two Roman festivals honoring other pagan gods when the Romans invaded the U.K. in the first century A.D. So in reality, it is the holiday of pagan gods, not Satan (there is a difference). To be certain, Christians shouldn’t be honoring pagan gods even if they are not Satan but what Halloween has become in the modern-day, mainstream way most people celebrate it isn’t even remotely honoring the pagan gods of harvest or the dead. It is kids dressing up in costumes to extort candy from their neighbors. Much like Christmas has become so secularized in its modern form it has little, if anything, to do with celebrating the birth of the world’s Savior. So, if anything, me and my dog dressing up to handout Halloween candy has helped contribute to the cheapening of the true meaning of Halloween by not actually celebrating the pagan gods of the harvest and/or of the dead.

Giant spider

Not that Satan isn’t found lurking about on Halloween but he’s lurking about every day. And honestly, it is his lurking about on the rest of the days that is most dangerous. On Halloween everyone is looking for him but he’s really all about flying under the radar. Yes, some people will willingly sign up to follow him, but what he’s really interested in is getting those of us who know his days are numbered to become ineffective at fighting his schemes. He knows we’re not going to willingly do that so his major tactic is to lull us into living our day-to-day lives in self-serving ways as if there is no God besides when we’re sitting in the pew on Sunday morning. He doesn’t really care if we’re on high alert for him one night a year (Halloween) if he can get us to be complacent the other 364. And this is why Halloween doesn’t scare me. I take it for what it is in its modern sense—kids enjoying getting dressed up and asking for candy. 

Toilet handle picture

Why No One Asks Me, “What Are You Thinking?”

I notice weird things. I notice illogical things. I have deep, philosophical life questions. Here are just a few of them.

Why are toilet handles always silver?

Toilet handle picture

And, why are they almost always on the left side of the tank (as you are facing it)?  The only right-side ones I’ve seen are at Caribou Coffee shops.

Why isn’t women’s underwear sized the same as jeans/pants?

Sizing label on underwear package picture

Is this a holdover from days when women went by dress sizes so underwear sizes were really different? I just find it goofy that shopping for two items of clothing that go on the same part of my body don’t use the same sizing scale.

Is eating an egg the same as eating chicken?

This is one of those philosophical “If a tree falls in the forest…” or “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” questions, but it sparked quite a controversy with my family, and I am now forbidden to even bring it up. If I even mention chickens and eggs in the same sentence I am given warning glares with, “Noooooo!” Here’s the deal: I love to eat eggs; I do not love to eat chicken, and I remarked one evening that the only way I liked to eat chicken was as an egg. My know-it-all, animal-science-majoring daughter said they were not equivalent on the grounds of nutritional content and that an unfertilized egg contains only half of the genetic material required to make a chicken. Said daughter even consulted a fellow animal science student who specializes in poultry to back her up, which he did. The rest of my kids agreed with her. (My husband, quite wisely, kept his mouth shut.) However, I still maintain that eating an egg is essentially eating chicken because the only thing a chicken egg is capable of becoming is a chicken.

How can you not use lip balm on damaged or broken skin?

Chapstick label warnings

I realize that this is a CYA move on the part of lawyers for the chapstick company but just take a minute to really think about it. Chapped lips are damaged and broken skin…

Why don’t laundry labels match laundry machine settings?

I have owned fancy dryers with more options than colors of the rainbow and my current dryer is a bare-bones model; none of them has settings that match laundry labels. This is the laundry label on my dog’s couch blanket.

Laundry label on blanket image

These are the temperature setting options on my dryer.

Dryer temperature settings image

And before you suggest it, Fluff (No Heat) is not the same as Low. Fluff won’t dry anything. I know. I’ve tried. It comes out just as wet as it went in 80 minutes earlier. Everything in our house gets dried on Wrinkle Free (Medium) though “wrinkle free” is also a misnomer. And while we’re talking about laundry equipment. When did Colors become a temperature?

Washing machine temperature dial image

Multi-purpose Aim’n Flame? What else does it do?

Multi-purpose lighter picture

Um, Aim’n Flames have one purpose—to start fires. Again, I get what they’re hinting at. You can light a candle with it, light the grill with it, start a fire in the fire pit with it, light a cigarette with it, etc. But all of those things are the same thing really. It is no more multi-purpose than say a match. You use it for one thing only, to start a fire.

Is there a full Nelson?

There’s a wrestling move called a half Nelson. It just begged the question: Is there a full Nelson?

What other kinds of weapons are there?

Dangerous weapons ban sign

This sign causes all sorts of problems for me. First, show me a weapon that is not dangerous and it’s not a weapon. Danger is just part of the definition of being a weapon. I’m sure that referring to dangerous weapons is an attempt to clarify things like guns and knives from everyday things that you may need to use as a weapon in a threatening situation like, say, car keys. But like the cracked and broken skin for lip balm, when you really think about this one something seems off.

Then if you notice the fine print, this ban does not apply to people lawfully carrying dangerous weapons, really making it pointless. It’s not like someone illegally carrying a weapon is going to say, “Hold on a minute. Let me just put my illegal weapon back in the car before we go in here.” If you’re lawfully carrying dangerous weapons chances are you’re not intending to do anything illegal with them. And, if you were intending to commit a crime with them, legally carrying or not, someone banning them from the premises wouldn’t stop you from doing it. Think of school shootings. Back when schools didn’t have bans on weapons being on school campuses it was rare for a school shooting to happen. Once shootings started becoming a thing, schools banned weapons. Weapons on campus didn’t result in shootings. People not being taught to respect human life and the law resulted in shootings. Those intent on harming people don’t care what laws you enact or what is banned.

Why would I want more of something I don’t like?

Aldi twice as nice guarantee label image

Let me just say, I love Aldi. I buy a good 90% of my groceries there. I appreciate that they want me to love their products so much that they are willing to give me my money back if I don’t like them. But, if I don’t like the product, why on earth would I want them to give me another container of the product (i.e. replace it)?

How many steps are there really?

1-step buttonhole instructions image

I was making a duvet cover the other night and needed to put some buttonholes in it. I very rarely make buttonholes so I had to consult the manual for my sewing machine on how to use its buttonhole feature. It touted a 1-step buttonhole feature and then proceeded to explain how to use it in eight steps. I kind of felt lied to.

So now you know the kinds of things that run through my head on a fairly frequent basis. Occasionally, I have some deep, profound, potentially life-impacting thought that might change the course of someone’s life but for the most part I’m on a level only slightly higher than a squirrel. That leaves me wondering, is everybody like this or is it just me?

White Privilege, Social Media, & Me

Let me start by saying I’ve been debating on even posting this. It is very much raw thoughts and reflections I have had on the racial tensions in the United States over the past month in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Because it’s a hot-button issue, anything that I or anyone else says is usually taken the wrong way by someone. And, because I’m Minnesotan, I hate ruffling feathers. However, I’ve decided to put it out there. I simply ask that you read with an open mind. Listen to my heart here.

I am unable to find where this diagram came from originally but it describes where I sit fairly accurately.

On Memorial Day 2020, George Floyd was killed. Suddenly, the COVID catchphrases of “we’re all in this together,” “social distancing,” and “flattening the curve” were replaced with “black lives matter,” “white privilege,” “take a knee,” “racial profiling,” and “police brutality.”

In case you have no idea what happened to George Floyd, here’s the abstract: The Minneapolis police were called to a business on an attempted forgery. When they arrived, they saw George Floyd sitting in a car nearby and discovered he was the man they were looking for as he had a counterfeit $20 bill in his possession. In the process of arresting him, two cops held him down while a third knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over 7 minutes, claiming he was resisting arrest. A fourth officer stood and watched the incident, keeping the gathering crowd from getting too close. Mr. Floyd was heard saying several times that he was not resisting and could not breathe. Several bystanders witnessed the whole thing and indicated he was not resisting. Security camera footage from a nearby business showed he was not resisting. One of the bystanders recorded it on a mobile phone and posted the video to social media. This set off a wave of protests in the Downtown Minneapolis community that resulted in rioting, looting, and the burning of many businesses and vehicles over several days. The National Guard and military were called in to get things under control.

The death of George Floyd due to police brutality isn’t the first and, sadly, won’t be the last. Incidents like this one have been occurring since settlers put feet on American soil. For me, this one was a bigger deal simply because it hit geographically close to home—roughly 30 miles from where I live. It has weighed very heavily on me and resulted in me acknowledging some truths I’d rather ignore.

To be perfectly honest, for a person who grew up in rural America, in a basically exclusively white community, and has lived in predominantly white communities since, I have no understanding of racial relations. When almost all the people you encounter in your normal day-to-day living are the same race as you, and that race is white, you really never think about race. Because I grew up never having to think about race, when I encounter people of different races it never really crosses my mind that a) they are of a different race, and b) that their experiences in life may be impacted by their race. I just assume they are like me since we’re shopping at the same Target. I’ve always kind of thought this attitude, that I didn’t really notice race, was a good thing. It meant I wasn’t racist. It meant I was seeing all people as humans. After all, that was an anthem in the 1990s of my college years—be “colorblind” as the EnVogue tune “Free Your Mind” encouraged. It meant that I wasn’t part of the problem. Or so I thought.

I read an article a couple of years ago by a person of color that mentioned being “colorblind” wasn’t a good way to deal with racial disparity and thought, “We just can’t win. If white people bring the topic of race up, we’re considered racist. If we are ‘colorblind,’ we’re insensitive. What are we supposed to do?” I was frustrated.

Taking the “colorblind” route does mean I’m not racist in the traditional sense of the term; I don’t allow the color of your skin determine if I like you or how I treat you. However, it does mean that I’m racially ignorant or, to use some of my expensive but largely useless sociology degree, ethnocentric, and that is not good. Because I have always lived in areas with low crime rates, low non-white populations, and many times non-existent police forces, I don’t see the few non-white neighbors I do have being treated unjustly because of their skin color. And, like most people, I tend to think if I don’t see it happening it must not be happening. From my perspective, “playing the race card” just seemed to be a way to try to gain attention, receive special treatment, or play the victim.

What my reflection on George Floyd’s death did was hit me with the stark reality that I have been guilty of assuming all people are living experiences similar to mine. I think most of us in middle-class and affluent America are guilty of this and not just in terms of race. Everything we see is geared towards us. We have the disposable income to afford the gadgets in ads and the free time to have the hobbies pictured on Pinterest. There is no reason for us to not be ethnocentric because we live in a bubble that largely shields us from the parts of society we don’t want to think about. Being racially ignorant is part of the problem. What the solution is is another matter.

After thinking about all of this stuff for weeks now, I am finding myself with a very heavy heart. This is 2020–more than 150 years after the conclusion of the Civil War and 50-ish years after the Civil Rights movement. It seems like we should be a lot further along in the process of racial equality by now. I suspect some of the reason why we’re not is that racial equality isn’t really a legislative or legal issue but a heart one. And, in our American way of trying to find quick solutions for problems, we have failed to address the heart issue and have opted for just passing laws. Anti-discrimination laws don’t end the use of skin color or race as factors but just twist that use to be acceptable. They still draw attention to it and, by making it illegal to refuse employment or services based on someone’s race, they cause things to swing the other way where a minority’s race makes them favored for fear of breaking the law. To put that sociology degree to use again, it is known as reverse discrimination. It is just as much using race as a criterion where it shouldn’t be, only it is acceptable because it favors non-whites. It breeds a low-level resentment that continues to allow true racists to feel vindicated in their attitudes and perpetuate them to future generations. Legislation does not work; it covers up the problem and allows us to turn a blind eye to it. If it did work, we wouldn’t still be having these problems.

Education about racial disparity is good, but ultimately heart change doesn’t come through education but through relationships. Relationships can’t be forced or legislated. Relationships take time, patience, and work on both sides. It is hard to accept that we will likely not see huge strides in racial equality in our own lifetimes because of this. We want it fixed, and we want it fixed now. But the quick solutions aren’t going to bring true or lasting change. It’s discouraging and somewhat hopeless. Culture-wide change will take much prayer and individual change. Prayer, while always appropriate and very powerful, cannot be the only weapon here. We must start by changing ourselves. Perhaps Michael Jackson said it best in his song, “Man in the Mirror.” “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.” From here on out, I have to be vigilant about listening to the experiences of others so I can try to understand their world and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

And this is where I’m going to say some stuff that will really get folks riled up and will likely be misunderstood as me not caring that people of color often face difficulties because of their skin color, but here it goes. Even after the above realization of my own failure to recognize the reality of white privilege, I still wonder, is it possible that police officers like those in the George Floyd case are sometimes simply abusing their power, period? Could it be that some of these incidents have nothing to do with skin color or ethnicity but are just because some people will abuse whoever is in a position of weakness? Given that half of the officers involved in this particular incident where minorities themselves it does seem somewhat presumptuous to assume that George Floyd was brutalized solely because of his skin color. And, as of this writing, I have not heard that there is any evidence from witnesses or body cameras that indicates his race was a factor. Again, I’m not saying racial tensions and abuse don’t exist, but labeling every bad thing done between two people with different skin colors as being racially motivated is doing more harm than good. It is polarizing us and further widening a gap that is not good for humanity. Yes, when it’s a hate crime, call it a hate crime. However, don’t assume it’s a hate crime automatically.

Don’t misunderstand me. No one should be treated the way George Floyd was, especially if it was the result of his skin color. And sadly, it took his death to reveal to me an understanding of my own ethnocentricity. But in it, and the resulting media fallout, I also see a big problem, that of championing Us vs. Them by the “news” media of this country. There is an undertone that you have to be at one extreme or the other about almost everything—Republican vs. Democrat, white vs. black, Black Lives Matter vs. law enforcement, man vs. woman, believer vs. unbeliever, citizen vs. immigrant, masks vs. no masks to slow COVID spread. This has got to stop or we’re going to end up in a very bad place if we aren’t already there. And, social media is a HUGE part of the problem. Almost everything shared on it is fake. I mean, you do realize that almost nothing that appears to look like a screenshot of a post or text from someone’s phone is actually real, or “organic” in social media speak, right? It is all created to “go viral.” The goal is to get it shared as many times as possible to take potshots at those who don’t agree with you. And those “news” videos with “experts” are just as fake. Yes, they may be from an actual news source, but it all has a slant. Just because the slant agrees with your opinion on the matter doesn’t mean it is the “real” news. It is so easy to tear each other down when we don’t have to look each other in the eye, see others as humans, and have actual conversations about things we disagree on. It feels so much better in the moment to hide behind a screen armed with “news” that appears to give legitimacy to our opinion, but the long-term effects of such behavior are going to destroy us. I have seen friends and relatives very publicly roast each other on social media over mask-wearing, each side posting fake news to back up their claim, ruining relationships.

I would encourage everyone to ask themselves the following questions that I have been asking myself. Take them to God in prayer and let Him shine the light of truth on your answers. Because the human mind and heart are very deceitful, it is easy to fool yourself that your answers are honest and your behavior is right. Be willing to hear the truth about your own part in all of this so we can all become part of the solution.

  • Am I assuming that my experience is the same as that of others? Have I been ethnocentric, assumed everyone has the same socioeconomic status as me, or think everyone shares my worldview?
  • Have I made an effort to actually talk in-person to those who don’t share my views to try to understand where they are coming from, even if I think they are wrong or don’t share their opinions, beliefs, or ideals? Have I done so or can I do so without trying to change their mind or prove I’m right?
  • Am I believing things I see on social media without verifying their authenticity? Do I think they are true just because they agree with what I already believe? Just to put that sociology degree to use again, this is known as confirmation bias.
  • Am I sharing and posting things just to be “right” or prove others are “wrong”?
  • Are the comments I am making being made in love or are they being used to tear others down, prove I am “right”, or be snarky?
  • Would I say in person, if I had to look them in the eye, the things I am posting or commenting?
  • Is this a foolish and stupid argument? Many things on social media are. Often, people don’t want to discuss, they want to argue. Arguing for the sake of argument or just to be “right” is a foolish and stupid reason to argue.
  • How am I acting in ways that are being part of the solution? Things like buying food for a food shelf, offering to mow a neighbor’s lawn, picking up litter in the park, or volunteering are actions that are going to build the relationships that will help solve things. Change involves action. People’s hearts and minds are not changed by seeing some meme on Facebook. They are changed by seeing people’s actions done in love and having honest discussions in love. “Yelling” (in the form of memes, snarky comments, and fake news shares) at others on social media is not acting but arguing.

Make no mistake, I am not claiming I am perfect on these points. I’m not even close. There are times I just want to prove I’m right. I can get sucked into foolish and stupid arguments in a heartbeat. Like most people, I tend to be a lot of talk and very little action. However, I have taken an honest look at what these questions mean in my life; the answers aren’t pretty. But, I refuse to remain part of the problem.

The Truth Behind My Mask

Me with my mask

This morning I donned my mask and headed to the grocery store. For me, wearing a mask isn’t a simple straight forward thing of the CDC recommends it to help protect against spreading COVID-19 so I do it. No, with me, many things often involve a lot more psychological wrestling than they should.

You see, deciding to wear a mask or not exposes deeply rooted tendencies I’d rather not have. In particular, I want people to not judge me. Therefore, I want to know how many other people are going to be wearing masks so I can make the choice that will put me in the majority so I don’t look like the odd man out. I’m the odd man out enough as it is; I don’t need to be deliberately doing things that will make it worse. The problem with mask-wearing is I really can’t win. I live in exurbia, close enough to a major metropolitan area for commuting to work there but out past the immediate suburbs, where the culture is smalltown. This means mask-wearing is about 50/50—half of the people do and half don’t. So, if I opt to wear a mask, I’m going to have about half of the people I see at the store looking at me and thinking, “Oh, you’re one of those paranoid people.” But, if I don’t wear a mask, the other half of the people I encounter are going to be thinking, “How can you be so irresponsible!?!? You’re endangering us all!” I can’t win.

I wouldn’t have this problem if I didn’t have mixed feelings about the mask recommendation myself. If I firmly believed masks were going to be a major game changer in this pandemic, it wouldn’t bother me to wear one, even if it made people think I’m paranoid. If I firmly believed masks were worthless as a prevention strategy, it wouldn’t bother me to go without one, even if it made people think I’m a public health menace. However, I don’t believe either of those things wholeheartedly. Yes, masks probably make us somewhat safER, particularly if the majority of people use them. But, they don’t make us safe. Life is not safe. On the other hand, I understand the fear of getting sick many are experiencing right now, even if I don’t share that fear myself. For me, if I get sick, I get sick. It’s just not a worry I have. It’s okay if you do worry about getting sick and I don’t; I’m not right and you’re not wrong. It’s just a different perspective. I don’t want to increase your worry for yourself and your family though by refusing to do something simple that is not risking harm to me just because I don’t have the same concerns.

Automobile Mishaps & The True Meaning of Christmas

Each year with our annual Christmas card, we send a recap of highlights from the past year. It started out as a newsletter of sorts but over the last couple of years morphed into more non-traditional outtakes that would fit on the back of a 5×7 card. A couple years ago it was an infograph relating some of our stats for the year (like how many miles we drove in a circle running kids to various activities and jobs). Last year it was screenshots of interesting text messages between the parents and teens in our house. But this year’s news from our place ended up a little deeper than usual.

As we tossed around what to share, we settled on the year’s automobile mishaps, of which there were three. In June, a semi kicked up a rock smashing the sunroof on one car. Then in July, there was a parking lot paint exchange with our minivan. And in mid-November, our youngest and I were hit by a drunk driver. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the car did not fare so well.

The set of circumstances surrounding this last incident brought on some pondering. We often hear people grumble that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost and how we need to “put Christ back in Christmas,” but it seems the grumblers stop at grumbling. In a world where many people have never known the true meaning of Christmas, let alone that it’s lost, or who this Christ is that is supposed to be in Christmas, it seems that just grumbling about it only alienates and divides. And, slapping a Bible verse on your Christmas card does nothing to help those who are lost see the real meaning. So, I opted to step out on a limb with my family and friends to be the very light I’m called to be with four truths about the meaning of Christmas. They got an edited version because it had to fit on a 5×7 card, but you get the whole enchilada.

1. Believer or unbeliever, saved or unsaved, drunk or sober, God cares about you. There are lots of people who don’t want to believe this and lots of people who don’t want you to believe this, but it’s true. God cares about every human being on this planet–even the people you don’t like, the people who are different from you, and, yes, you. God cares just as much about the drunk young man who hit us as He does about me. He cares about your homosexual co-worker. He cares about Muslims and atheists. This is a truth that is often distorted. Well-meaning people sometimes give the impression that God only cares about the people who believe in Him or who behave “correctly” or who have accepted salvation through Jesus Christ. But the fact of the matter is He does care about everyone.

2. Even crunched up parts that seem proportionally small can render an entire object useless. Most of our wrecked car is fine, but the part that isn’t fine means we can’t use it. Engine’s great. Transmission’s great. The majority of the body is great. However, a smashed rear quarter panel, no left rear brake light, no left rear turn signal, and lack of access to the fuel tank make it unsafe and soon out of gas. Similarly, even those tiny little sins (i.e. gossip) that don’t seem so bad compared to the big sins of others (i.e. murder) are a big problem when it comes to having a relationship with God. To God, sin is sin. All sin means a relationship with Him is out of the question unless somehow we can be made free of sin, even the tiny little sins.

3. Our car was diagnosed as unfixable by three body shops. There was just no way they could put it together, even just together enough to make it safe. And there is nothing you can do to fix all the crunched-up parts of your life on your own. You just get one sin under control and another one pops up to take its place. Stamp that one out and here comes another. Think you got them all? What about that juicy tidbit of “news” you shared with co-workers over lunch? Or that neighbor you complain about to anyone who will listen? The truth is, no matter how hard we try not to, we will always sin.

4. God will take the crunched-up parts of your life and make them new when you put your faith and trust in Jesus. We didn’t get a brand new Tesla (or F-150 or Jeep Wrangler as some family members wanted) to replace our 21-year-old Accord. But, our needs were met with a 19-year-old Civic that’s at least as good as the Accord despite having crank windows. You won’t be perfect. Life won’t be problem-free. But you will be able to have peace that something good will be accomplished through the crunching. And that is the ultimate blessing of Christmas!

Faith & Prayer

Faith is not believing that God can; it is knowing that God will.

As I completed the homework for my small group Bible study this week I finally admitted something to myself and to God (not that He didn’t already know, obviously) that I’ve sensed the Holy Spirit’s conviction on for quite some time. I pray with doubt. This is not good. Jesus Himself specifically cautioned against this (Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23) and James, Jesus’ brother, boldly states that doubters shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:5-8). Though James’ statement is somewhat absurd as, by definition, doubters don’t expect to receive anything from God or they wouldn’t be doubters. Anyway… In my mind, I resisted acknowledging my doubt in prayer because, well, to do so would prove I’m not a “real” Christian. Of course, this is also absurd and a trap of the Enemy. The Bible gives us accounts of Peter doubting (the walking on water incident in Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21), Thomas doubting (the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in John 20:24-31), and even the Twelve as a group doubting (Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 22-25 and the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Mark 16:14). Not once did Jesus say or imply that these doubts made them any less real followers of His. He simply encouraged them to remain close to Him.

Like most humans in their human nature, I tend toward putting God in a box. We like to figure things out, have things under control, know what to expect, and it bothers us that with God we just can’t. But it doesn’t stop us from trying. For some people, this looks like legalism–rule-keeping. Others become ritualistic–keeping a religious superstitious OCD routine. Me, I pray with doubt. It sounds something like this, “God, please cure Diane’s cancer. I know you can. Amen.” Sounds good. It even sounds like I’m trusting in God and believing Him to cure her. But in my heart, I’m thinking it’s really unlikely to happen and preparing myself to be told that Diane has passed away. I’m doubting. I try to disguise the doubt by labeling it as “being realistic.” Obviously, God doesn’t physically cure every person or even the majority of people who suffer physical ailments and are prayed for with genuinely faithful prayers. For someone who has been constantly disappointed by her hopes in life, I find I want to protect myself by preparing for the worst and/or most humanly likely scenario. I want to go with the odds rather than “gamble” on God and have to deal with the emotional fallout when what I believed He should and would do doesn’t happen. And so now I find myself with the prayer of Mark 9:24, “The father instantly cried out, ‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!'”

Be Careful What You Chase

A few years ago, I took up jogging. I’m not a serious runner. Two 3-mile runs a week and a handful of 5ks a year are the extent of my commitment. It’s what my schedule comfortably allows. I mean, I like jogging but I’m not willing to get up before 7:30 to do it, and if I don’t do it first thing in the day, it doesn’t get done.

Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line.

Running is a dangerous hobby for me—and not just because I managed to fall flat on my face (literally) during my cool down walk one morning. It gives me time to think of all kinds of things that are way deeper or way weirder (or both) than I normally come up with. Somehow, these deep, weird thoughts usually revolve around what tracks are on my running playlist. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was bopping along to The Tractors Baby Likes to Rock It. Yes, I know that dates me. Anyway, they get to the line, “She said her name was ’emergency’ and asked to see my gun / Said her telephone number was 911,” and I wondered if my friend who is a 9-1-1 dispatcher had ever told someone that in a social situation. Weird. (I asked her, and she said she hadn’t but that now she was going to have too. Also weird, but we’re friends for a reason.) The other day, I was jogging along to another oldie-but-goodie, End of the Line by the Traveling Wilburys, and found it somewhat poetic that I was making my way down an old railroad grade turned rec trail and not getting any younger. See what I mean? Weird and deep. Somewhat unsettling for someone not accustomed to deep.

Several months ago, I signed up to run a Ragnar Sunset Relay with my sister and a couple friends. A team of four people divides a marathon into 6.5-mile legs. Each person runs one leg to finish the marathon before the sun sets. It would be over twice as far as I had ever gone, but a girl needs a good challenge once in a while, and a full Ragnar isn’t going to happen for me. I trained hard. Up hills. In the blazing hot sun. And, I threw some worship music on the end of my race-day playlist. I knew by mile 5 I was going to need Jesus.

Right around mile 6 this <ahem> very nice looking <ahem> young man comes up on my left and lops easily past me. Maybe 25-ish, no shirt, lean, toned muscles, tan, glistening with sweat—not real sweat, the kind like a magazine ad for running shoes. My sorry, old-enough-to-be-this-guy’s-mother, 46-year-old, vertically-challenged self was drenched with enough sweat (and not the pretty glistening kind) to fill a pool. Struggling to breathe (I may be exaggerating a bit on the breathing), I was wondering how a half-mile could seem so impossibly long. The first thought through my head was, “How is it that he looks so good in sweat?” Followed by, “How in the world can he make this look so easy?” And then I catch a glimpse of the cross necklace flipped to his back for the race. It wasn’t just a small cross either—probably a good 4” tall. So I think, “Just follow the cross,” as I turn up Hillsong’s No Other Name on my phone coupled with a quick prayer of, “Jesus, just let me finish—soon.” Never mind that within 15 feet he’s so far ahead of me I can’t even see him or the cross anymore. Then the deep thoughts kick in.

Just because this guy is wearing a cross necklace doesn’t mean he’s actually a Christian. There are plenty of people running around that wear crosses as a fashion statement or because their grandmother gave them one as a present. And there is the possibility that he says he’s a Christian but really isn’t. Plenty of people think they are Christians but aren’t exactly in a relationship with Christ. Sometimes we are lured into following after something or someone appealing just because they are sporting a cross. Thinking we are chasing Christ, we discover much later that we weren’t chasing Christ at all. We find ourselves following after the human being delivering the message rather than the Giver of the message, the worship song or artist rather than the One worthy of worship, the image of the cross rather than The Cross. Okay, God, I got the point. And the distraction of this little self-sermon gets me far enough to see the hand-off tent where my teammate is waiting to grab our team bib from me and make up for the time I’ve delayed us. Jesus had taken me to the finish line with a message. Deep.

First-World Problems: A Minor Rant

Yesterday, our internet went out. I knew instantly what the problem was. In an attempt to save a few bucks, we had decided to port our landline (yes, we still had one) to cellular phone service. It seemed kind of silly to pay $30 per month for telemarketers and scammers to be able to call us, but we didn’t want to lose the number because some places like our doctors’ offices do use it. For $15 a month we could add it to our cell phone plan, which was more reasonable. The port had been scheduled to happen overnight the night before, and I knew that in porting the number the telecommunications company had also disconnected our internet service. I didn’t think it was that big of a problem. After all, if they can just flip a switch to turn it off, they should just be able to flip a switch and turn it back on. So I called the technical support number.
I managed to remain calm and pleasant while they ignored everything I told them about the circumstances. They just walked through their checklist flowchart of what could be causing me to have no internet service. Never mind that everything they were having me do I had done already (and had told them as much). They finally decided, after forty-five minutes, that it wasn’t a technical support problem but a customer service one. Again, I had tried to tell them that from the beginning and was mystified because the number I had called was customer service but whatever. The people who answer the phones are programmed to go through a specific sequence no matter what you say so you just have to play along… They transferred me to a “customer service” rep, who assured me they just needed to create a new account for us to attach internet service to and put me on hold. After twenty minutes on hold, he came back and said it’s a little bit complicated but they were working on it. He gave me an order ticket number, a partial new account number, and said they would call me later in the day when everything was done. No problem. I had a dentist appointment and some errands to run anyway. Six hours later, I had heard nothing from them. So I called to see how things were going, only to be told that there was no available bandwidth in our area. Because of this, they couldn’t create new internet service connections until there was, and they had no idea when bandwidth would free up.
“But,” I argued, “this isn’t new service; you just turned off our service by mistake; all you have to do is flip the switch back on. They told me this morning they were going to create a new account for us and restart service.”
“It doesn’t work that way, ma’am. Since the infrastructure in your area is copper, once your service is turned off the port is closed and can’t be used again. The sales system doesn’t sync in real-time with the engineering system so the salespeople didn’t know that engineering couldn’t set it up for you when you talked to them.”
And then, I lost it. First, I wasn’t sure how calling “customer service” resulted in me talking to technical support to start with. Then, how was “customer service” actually a code name for sales? Next, how was it that sales could basically sell something that doesn’t exist? And, why didn’t anyone call me to tell me this when it was discovered? I don’t typically yell, but I do have this tone of voice that, in my mind, is equivalent to yelling. I don’t like it when I use that tone of voice because I know that, even though the other person hears a firm, slightly sarcastic, bordering on rude tone, in my spirit, I am yelling.
“What do you mean no bandwidth?!?” In my head, I knew exactly what it meant; I used to work in IT. “So if I were a new customer and called you for internet service, what would you do?”
“We can’t create new internet accounts at all until bandwidth in your area frees up, so even new customers can’t get internet service.”
I was approaching livid. There are two telecommunications providers in our area, and one of them was telling me they couldn’t provide service to me until God only knows when.
“So what am I supposed to do?!? Get service from your competitor?”
“You can keep checking back to see if ports have become available.” This lady has got to be kidding.
No, I couldn’t. My husband needs an internet connection for his job. My children and I need one for homeschool since I put the assignments they are to work on every day in an online assignment app. Now I’m basically forced to change providers because I can’t sit around waiting for bandwidth from this company that may or may not free up at some point. Sigh. I called the other company available to me. They’d be able to set up my new service–next Tuesday. I called them on Tuesday, meaning it would be a week before my internet service is restored. And even then, I wasn’t confident it would be done simply and without headache, or without costing me a small fortune. I would have to go buy a new modem that was compatible with this company’s system in addition to installation charges that had a footnote next to them saying they could be higher than the stated amount if the installation is “complex.” There was no way our installation will not be complex; we’re not that lucky. So much for trimming our budget. It would now be a couple of months before we would see any savings because of the upfront costs of switching services.
As the day went on, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow our original internet service provider was lurking out there with an order that was going to come back to haunt me. I called them again to make sure the order had been canceled. This was now the fourth person I had talked to at this company. I gave her the order number. She couldn’t find it in their system.
“Was it for new or existing service?” she asked.
I sighed, “Well, both.” I explained the whole convoluted story to her.
“Let me look it up by address,” she said. She still couldn’t find it. “It’s not in our system, so it has been canceled and deleted from the system. Have a great day.”
I found it hard to believe the order had been deleted out of the system. Companies don’t work that way. It would be canceled and marked as such but not deleted. The nagging feeling persisted, and I told my husband that I was just waiting for a call from them in a couple of weeks saying they could now hook up our service. He did the correct husband thing—nodded and grunted all the while thinking his wife was bordering on becoming her mother. I didn’t even have to wait a couple of weeks. The next day, I got a call from a mysterious number.
“This is Suzy. I’m calling to schedule the connection for your internet service.”
You have got to be kidding!
“That order should have been canceled. In fact, when I called to make sure it had been canceled they told me they couldn’t even find it in the system,” I was really trying to be nice.
“Wow, that’s odd. It just popped up on my screen this morning.”
“Well, you’re going to have to cancel it because I already have service from another company.”
All of this is beyond frustrating for me and spirals me into tears. It seems like my life is littered with stories like this. Simple things, small things—like changing phone companies—that shouldn’t be life-disrupting go sideways about six different ways and throw my life into chaos. I’m the embodiment of Murphy’s Law. If there is a way for something to be complicated, it will be so for me. If there is a way to screw something up, I seem to find it. By nature I am anxious, a worrier. I know I’m not supposed to be.1 But as superstitious as it may sound, and probably is, I have learned that if I don’t worry about things, all kinds of stuff goes wrong and I end up in a mess. That’s what happened here. I had wondered how the phone porting would affect our internet access but told myself not to worry about it. Phone companies do this kind of thing all the time. They would realize that I only wanted my phone number ported and that the internet access should stay on the account, I reasoned with my “worry wart” self. Obviously, I was wrong. I should have worried. I should have called them and specifically told them not to cancel the internet service, effectively closing our account. I should have overthought it and micromanaged it. I can’t seem to find a balance between overthinking things and bumbling into messes because I didn’t think things through.
Of course, I realize in this entire mess, and most of my messes, that what I am dealing with is a first-world problem. Let’s be perfectly honest, it’s a suburban, middle-class problem. Do I really NEED internet access? I mean, at one time all of us over the age of thirty lived without it. It’s not like one of my kids was diagnosed with a terminal illness, or we lost our sole source of income and are facing foreclosure and shopping at the food pantry. A week without the information superhighway isn’t going to hurt us. And then there is that “yelling” I did with the customer service rep. Taking out my frustration on her, no matter that I didn’t outright yell at her, was not acceptable. How I actually behaved is not as big of deal as what the attitude of my heart was.2 She’s just some person trying to earn a living. I had been so proud of how I handled the first couple guys I had talked to without getting unpleasant, despite being on the phone with them for over an hour. That pride is probably what lead to my downfall.3 I could spin all kinds of Christian sermons/devotional readings out of this about pride, treating others as we’d like to be treated (a.k.a. The Golden Rule)4, displaying Christ-like behavior5, and acting out of the Spirit rather than trying to police our behavior in our own strength and will.6 I’ll save those for another day. I’ve given them to myself, and that’s enough, never mind that you can probably see them without any further elaboration on my part.

1 Matthew 6:8, 25-34; Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 Timothy 6:6-8
2 Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 5:21-22; 15:8; Mark 7:15; Luke 6:45
3 Proverbs 16:18
4 Matthew 7:2, 12; Luke 6:31
5 Philippians 2:3-4
6 2 Corinthians 12:9; Galatians 5:22-23; aw never mind, just read the entire New Testament…

Patience Is a Virtue: Tragedy and Success Are Not Opposites

This week marked an anniversary I haven’t recognized in a long time. Twenty-one years ago, my husband (then fiancée) and I were in a serious car accident with a friend of ours. It feels overly dramatic to say it was a near-fatal accident because all of us are walking around living pretty typical suburban lives with jobs and kids and lawn mowing. But, the reality is, it was nearly fatal. This year, it suddenly jumped into my mind while I was out for a run one morning. The whole thought spiral went like this: I was jogging along, pondering why, after three years of running for exercise, I can go only three miles at my natural pace. Then I remembered that two years ago I wasn’t even able to run one mile. Four years ago, I wasn’t able to spend a day walking at the zoo without being in pain for days afterward because I was bordering on morbidly obese. I had to admit I was making progress, albeit slowly. The old joke, “How do you eat an elephant?” came to mind. And then it hit me. Twenty-one years ago, I was using a walker—talk about making 3 miles look like a marathon.

When life goes south, it seems to do so all at once. One minute you’re on your way to the lake for an afternoon of fishing, the next you’re being cut out of a wrecked car and your fiancée is being airlifted to a trauma hospital. But life seems like it takes a long time to go “right” when all you want to do is run five miles instead of three. I have yet to wake up suddenly richer, thinner, or more fit, while there have been several times where things have gone from everyday to tragic in the space between breaths. Oddly enough, both situations—life going wrong in a heartbeat and life going right being a process—serve the same purpose. They make us who we are. They teach us perseverance. They show us that right now is not all there is.

No matter what your pain is right now, today, it won’t be there forever. Not all pain is equal. Some pain goes away completely. Like an everyday headache, the devastating breakup with your high school sweetheart will hurt for a time, but one day you’ll look back and wonder what you were so upset about. Other pain leaves scars. Our accident left physical scars and emotional marks, but as time has passed, it is no longer painful. Severe pain may be sore, to some degree, forever. Like an arthritic hand, there will be some days where the pain from a tragic event is so excruciating it is impossible to believe life can go on, while other days will be stiff and sore but manageable.

No matter what your success is right now, today, it won’t be there forever. The thing about success is that what is success today becomes ordinary tomorrow. As I mentioned, two years ago I couldn’t even run a mile. Today, a mile is warm up. Success is like a drug. It feels good in the moment, but once that feeling wears off, we find ourselves chasing the next success to get that feeling back. We need to run more miles, earn more money, get the job on the next rung. And while success in itself is not a bad thing, we can find ourselves addicted to it. Chasing success can consume us, until one day we suddenly realize that, while we were chasing the next thing, life has passed us by.

Whether in the midst of success or trial, take the time to really be present in it. No, you don’t have to enjoy the difficulties, nor do you need to stop reaching for success. But wishing you’d get out of the painful parts, or to the goals, faster will rob you of important lessons to learn in the “getting there” process. Be patient in the processes.

Magic Doesn’t Just Happen

In November 2010, our family took our first major vacation.  We embarked on a Quest for Magic to Walt Disney World.  Since then, I’ve been asked for advice on planning a Disney trip by a few people. But somehow, I manage to lose the information I emailed to the last person before I get asked again and end up recreating everything each time.  So, with the most recent request, I decided to put what I’ve got here.

Magic doesn’t just happen, regardless of what Disney would have you believe.  Planning a Disney vacation is work–albeit fun work–but the end result will be worth it.  I’m going to divide the info into sections as best I can because there is going to be a lot of stuff.  Don’t panic.  There are a lot of great resources to help sort everything out.


I’m going to give you some brief biographical info to help you understand what I was working with as far as family members and our goals to give you a frame of reference as you read.  This will help you take what you can use and leave what might not apply to your situation.



  • 2 adults
  • 3 children ages 10, 8, and 5.75 years old

The 5.75 year old was (and still is) small for her age.  At 5.75 years old she was probably the size of a 4 year old.  This is important to consider because height can limit ride choices.  She barely met the 42″ height limit for Test Track at EPCOT.

Time Frame: Vacation – 1 week (8 days)

Budget: $5,000

Geographical Origin: South Dakota


  • MagicKingdom
  • Epcot
  • Animal Kingdom
  • SeaWorld
  • Kennedy Space Center
  • Atlantic Ocean



The Unofficial Walt Disney World Guide and TouringPlans.com

The fist thing I did was ask my friends what their experiences were and what they would recommend for planning and info.  My friends live in various places around the U.S. and Canada, including central Florida.  That led me to this book The Unofficial Walt Disney World Guide.

I used this book to help determine what time of year to visit Disney, what parks to see, what days to visit each park, and compare pros and cons for various options like the Park Hopper option on the Disney tickets and Disney Dining Plans.  It was also helpful for ratings of both on-Disney and off-Disney hotels.  The book has checklists of how far out you should be doing things like making airline and hotel reservations and purchasing tickets.

The book’s related website touringplans.com came in handy for deciding what parks to visit when and creating custom plans for our days.  Disney has 4 parks, 2 water parks, and other attractions such as ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, so each family is going to be different in what their goals are, what parks they want to visit, and how comfortable they are with crowds and waiting.  I would highly recommend getting a subscription to touringplans.com for the year prior to your visit to take advantage of all their planning tools.  It is totally worth it!

As someone who does not have “backyard” access to a major US airport, making airline reservations so far out was not easy. The discount carrier from our regional airport only scheduled flights 4 months out and only had service to the Orlando area two days a week.  Since it was recommended to make airline reservations a year in advance, this became a problem.  We waited until 6 months out and then decided to fly in/out of the nearest major airport, which also added a 4 hour drive on each end of the trip and a night in a hotel when we left.  However, the extra expense was worth it to have a guarantee that we’d actually have a flight to/from Orlando rather than waiting for the discount carrier to get their act together.  They could have very well decided to cancel service to that airport, and then we’d have ended up paying astronomical fees to get “last minute” flights out of the larger airport anyway.  If you have more ready access to a major airport (like within a 2 hour drive), you’ll have more options.

Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World for Kids

We splurged and purchased one of these books for each of our kids.  We gave them to the girls about a year before our trip and told them to study them.  At a family meeting a couple months later, each child got to report on what parks she wanted to visit and three particular rides they wanted to go on.  This enabled me to what they wanted to do in our planning so everyone got to do at least some of the stuff they wanted to do.

I took the girls’ lists and what DH and I were interested in and compiled a schedule for our trip.  We planned to visit one park or attraction each day and then listed the “must dos” for each day.  TouringPlans.com then let me customize our days to know when to do certain popular rides to help avoid wait times.  Our main schedule looked like this:


Day 1 – travel to Florida
Day 2 – Epcot
Day 3 – Kennedy Space Center/Cocoa Beach
Day 4 – SeaWorld
Day 5 – Magic Kingdom
Day 6 – Downtown Disney
Day 7 – Animal Kingdom
Day 8 – travel home


Pace yourself.  You could easily spend 2 days each at EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, and SeaWorld.  Unless you have 2 full weeks, you likely won’t be able to see and do everything you would like.  I should have planned two days for Kennedy Space Center and Cocoa Beach and rented a hotel for a night in Cocoa Beach.  We didn’t get to spend nearly enough time at the ocean.

I purchased a poly multiple pocket folder like this and each day of the trip was a pocket.

I put all the printouts and info for that day in the pocket.  It went with us on the trip and before we left the hotel for the day I took what we needed for that day from the folder and put it in my shoulder bag.  This bag was big enough to hold my camera, credit card wallet holding credit cards and park tickets, Dramamine, and folded papers needed for the day (basically just our touring plan printout).  I could wear is diagonally and for all but a few rides I could keep it on and fasten the safety system (belt or bar) over the shoulder strap while still wearing it to prevent it from flying around.


Park and Attraction Tickets

Read Mouse Savers Advice, Tips, and Tricks for Walt Disney World Tickets and Passes.  Pay special attention to the first 2 sections: Very Important Tip! and Where NOT to Buy Disney World Tickets

Disney tickets are complicated, IMHO, and offer more options than a Swiss Army Knife.  Read carefully to make sure you don’t select (and pay for) things you don’t need/won’t use and that you have the stuff you do need.  This chart helps break down the prices fairly well.  Warning:  You may end up spending more on park/attraction tickets than you do on airfare to get there or hotel for the entire trip.  Just want to give you a heads up so you’re not too shocked.

We didn’t get Park Hopper because we knew we’d not do more than one park per day.  We also didn’t get the Water Park & More option because 1) we were going to be there in November and 70 degrees isn’t warm enough for even South Dakotans to visit to an outdoor water park and 2) our schedule was FULL.  We did purchase a ticket for one more day than we were planning on being at Disney parks.  We needed 3 days but purchased a 4-day ticket. For the extra $25 or so per person it gave us the option to do one more Disney in case something else didn’t work out.

Special Events, Character Dining, and Character Meetings

We didn’t do any Disney character dining or special events, but I’m told that to get character dining reservations you need to call at the absolute first day reservations are allowed for your selected date (180 days prior, if I remember correctly) and then pray that the phase of the moon is right and that you’re in the favor of the Disney gods.  Princess dining is especially hard to get.

Our special event for the vacation was a luau (meal and show) at SeaWorld and a Behind the Scenes tour of the sea lions.  The reservations were easier to make, and they were more reasonably priced than Disney–but still not cheap.  I think we had just as good of time, if not better, than we would have had at a Disney event.

It is insanely easy to meet the characters at the parks to get autographs.  We managed to meet most of the princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Aurora), Mickey and Minnie, Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Daisy Duck, Donald Duck, Stitch, Marie from Aristocats and Goofy–and we weren’t even trying.


Hotel and Dining Plans and Auto Rentals…Oh My!

Our time was roughly spent half in Disney parks and half at non-Disney stuff in the Orlando area.  Because we were spending significant amounts of time at non-Disney venues, we rented a vehicle and opted for a non-Disney hotel at Marriott Village.  If you’re only doing Disney stuff, you can save the car rental expense by staying at a Disney hotel and using their transportation to/from the parks and airport.  However, make sure the extra cost of a Disney hotel will be less than doing non-Disney and renting a car.

This is also the logic we applied to the Disney Dining Plan.  We opted to not do the dining plan because half our days wouldn’t even be at Disney parks so we’d still have to pay for the food on those days.  However, our neighbors, who have 5 children, swear by the Disney Dining Plan because they do mostly Disney stuff while there.

A general dining warning: I know I’m in the minority on this because I have what I call “reverse picky” kids when it comes to eating (i.e. they WANT to eat veggies and fruit and have something with flavor), but the kids menus, at not only Disney venues but everywhere, sucked.  If your kids want something other than cheese pizza, chicken nuggets, or mac and cheese to eat they are going to have to order off the “adult” menu at most places.

A key site to check out for discounts on many things for Disney vacations is MouseSavers.  They offer discount codes for everything from park tickets to hotels and rental cars.  Some discounts, like the Undercover Tourist for discount tickets, require you to sign up for their newsletter (free).  This is worth the one email newsletter you’ll get per month.

Another place to look for discounts on hotels and rental cars is AAA if you’re a member.


Auto Travel Tips

Check out the seat belt/child car seat laws for any states you’ll be traveling through (FL for sure and any other states you may pass through if you are driving to Florida rather than flying).

Current (Jan. 2013) FL law is pretty slack on child passenger safety.  Only children 3 and under are required to be in a car seat or booster seat.  However, as a parent you should be thinking of safety first and the laws of physics have been shown in crash test after crash test to be quite harsh to children under 4’9″ and 80-90# who use only an adult seat belt.  Have a look.

If you are renting a car in FL, make sure to take a low-back booster seat for children 5-8 yo and a car seat for children under 4 yo.  DO NOT rent a car seat or booster seat from the car rental agency.  You do not know the history or age of the seat, and cleanliness is not guaranteed. I’ve heard reports of severely dated seats (i.e. 10+ years old; most seats are considered expired after 7 years) that are big on the eeeeeewwwwww factor being rented out.

Check out cell phone/texting laws for any states you’ll be traveling through (FL for sure and any other states you may pass through if you are driving to Florida rather than flying).


Other Miscellaneous Tips

Use your “smart” phone to your advantage

  • Take a “mugshot” photo of your child/children each day when you arrive at your first destination.  This will be a big help if you should become separated from your child as it will be the most current photo you have of him/her and he/she will be in the clothes that you’ll be looking for or need to describe.
  • Take pictures of other important things too.  Like the row marker in parking lots.  Our kids and I still remember where we parked in the airport parking garage because we made a point of taking a picture of it.
  • Consider purchasing cheap pre-paid cell phone(s) for older children to carry.  Even if the kids have their own regular cell phones they use at home.  Better to leave the expensive or everyday ones at home and use a temporary one on the trip than risk the “real” one getting lost/stolen.  This will give you a way to stay in touch with older children if separated (by chance or by choice).

If you have multiple children, consider a family “uniform”, especially if you have young-ish children (under 10).  We purchased inexpensive t-shirts for the girls in bright colors.  They all wore the same color on the same day.  That way I knew at a glance which kids were mine.  It sounds silly but is very handy.  Also, if one wanders off, you can tell those helping to look for him/her that he/she is wearing a shirt exactly like this (while pointing to one of your other children).  It also helps the kids know what to look for.  They can keep an eye out for the same color to find someone they know (i.e. a sibling).

If you have a child under the age of 6, I would strongly suggest renting a stroller.  Disney strollers are HUGE, and even if you don’t use it for a child, they come in handy for tossing purchases and tote bags in.  If you have a child less than 4 yo, I’d look into Magic Strollers through the Mouse Savers website as they look to be more comfy for a child that will be spending a good deal of time in it.

We gave each of the kids a souvenir allowance.  They had a set amount they could spend.  I got some play money and put that amount in an envelope for each of them.  When they wanted to buy something they had to take the amount out of their envelope (I paid for the actual purchase with a credit card).  It helped them budget their money and avoided me buying a ton of stuff and going over budget without the risk of carrying around real money.

Keep a travel blog or written journal.  It doesn’t have to be public (in the case of a blog) or fancy (a spiral notebook will do).  Write notes in it each night about what you did that day and funny things that happened.  I scrapbook so this was valuable when I went back to make a book about the trip (I’m still not done with that book now, over two years later).  Even if you don’t do anything as formal as a scrapbook, it will be a treasure from your trip.


Summary Website Listing

Here are links to all the sites I referenced above (and some I didn’t).

Rudely Guilty

Making our what seems like daily trek to WalMart, the beggar is hard at work on the corner. I don’t know if he’s there everyday (because, contrary to what it seems like, I do not really go to WalMart everyday), but a lot of the days I do go, he’s there. I’m not even sure it is just one guy. I think there are a few who take turns. Can’t be sure though because I never look close enough for long enough to be certain. Prolonged looking would be staring and that’s rude. It would also make the chances of making eye contact greater, and then I’d have to feel guilty that 1) I got caught staring, which is rude, and 2) that I didn’t give him something. Of course, I don’t really need to make eye contact with him to feel guilty. That’s what I have my 10-year-old for.

My children are not accustomed to seeing this type of thing.  We live in a rural area with extreme seasons (read 90º+ with 80% humidity in the summer and -20º for days, and sometimes weeks, at a time in the winter).  My husband says it keeps the riffraff out, and honestly, he’s probably right.  Not that there aren’t homeless/jobless/hungry here, but they are largely hidden.  So much so, that when we visited Orlando a couple years ago I took this picture along the freeway because it was something we don’t see everyday–or at least we didn’t until recently.

So, she sees this guy on the corner while we’re heading to the store and begins asking questions about why he always stands at that corner. I tell her it is because that corner is really busy and that increases the chances that he will get something. She says she feels sorry for him. And there lies the difficulty. I’m jaded, and she’s not, and I don’t want her to be.

She learns in school about the love of Jesus and helping those less fortunate and loving the least of these and knows nothing of the messy issues that make it so hard for many of us, even Christ-professing Christians who read the Bible and desire to imitate Him, to be able to extend ourselves to the guy begging on the corner. I don’t want to shatter her beliefs by telling her how he should get a job like the rest of us, get off drugs/alcohol, that the money he gets probably goes to things that aren’t good for him, and thereby imply that she shouldn’t feel bad for him because his own bad choices put him there (or more correctly, because I think his bad choices put him there–when it comes down to it, I don’t really know what put him there). I don’t want to tell her these things because the world needs people like her who take the message of Christ into the world no matter what the circumstances of those in need.

And, then there is the denial factor.  I do know that some people genuinely fall on hard times. But, none of us wants to believe we could be the one standing on the corner near WalMart with a cardboard sign and a bedroll waiting for strangers to slip us a buck. We want to believe they’ve done it to themselves, that they deserve to be there because of bad choices, and that helping them isn’t really helping but enabling. If we can convince ourselves of those things, then we can never end up there. Or that’s what we want to believe.

As we pass him again on the way home, I’m left wondering how to balance it all.  How do I extend help to those less fortunate without encouraging irresponsibility?  How do I teach my children about the very real evils of the world without making them jaded and unwilling to help?  Because the last thing this world needs is more people like me who look the other way.

Oh Crap, I Have to Take the Cat Back

Not even a week ago, I was joyously telling you about Sophie the Cat’s entry into our lives. Today, sadly, I will be sharing her exit.

Let me start by saying that I really, really wanted this to work. Even though I’m not a cat person I wanted to be able to give my children their hearts’ desire and really did feel that this was God’s leading. Things started out well. She was using the litter box, followed us around, and seemed like a very reasonable cat. Then Saturday came.

Saturday night after the girls went to bed, Sophie started going from window to window yowling wanting to go outside. This got progressively worse over the next two nights until Monday night-Tuesday morning when she decided to climb the screen of our bedroom window at 3:00 a.m. Being we have Andersen windows, the screens are on the insides of the windows, which is NOT conducive to owning a cat. My husband marched her to the basement and closed her in the bathroom with her litter box. Tuesday morning when he let her out, she promptly came upstairs, went in my closet, and peed on my jeans. Not scoring points here.

I spent Tuesday in a tizzy. I already had problems with the fact that cats, and Sophie is no exception, walk all over everything–the kitchen table, the kitchen counter, the bookshelves, my desk, my lap, the window sills. And, while I am not a neat freak by any stretch of the imagination, there is just something that grosses me out about four little feet that have been scratching around in a mini sandbox with urine and feces walking around on the surfaces I use to prepare and consume food. Add to that her little pee-on-the-jeans trick, and I was freaking out.

Last night, same thing. Attempting to get out of every window in the house and mewing/yowling constantly. My husband again shut her up in the bathroom in the basement. She literally bounced off the walls attempting to get to the small window at the top of the wall in there. This morning, when he let her out, she followed him upstairs to our bathroom, found a pile of dirty clothes, and peed on them.

The desperation to get outside and the peeing on the clothes might mean that she is in “heat”, which would mean it is temporary. But, there are the other matters I noted above that I would still have problems with, and they are present all the time with cats.

Granted, I knew all this about cats going into this. I had hoped that since it seemed rather like God had answered a prayer here that He would also have changed my heart, toward this particular cat if nothing else. He didn’t. I guess He did change it a bit in that I was willing to do something I had never considered before to give my children something they so desperately wanted. But, I would think if He truly wanted me to have a cat He would also make me at peace with it, and I’m just not. Even before the bad behavior started I was on edge with her around.

So, this morning we had a little cat meeting with the girls to break the news that Sophie will need to go back to the shelter so she can find a new home that is right for her. I expected the middle one to take it hard since she was the one who “found” Sophie. She took it okay. The oldest one, however, was devastated. She understands the reasons, but reasons don’t make things hurt any less. We want to think they will, but they don’t. And, we’ve always had the suspicion that the oldest was part cat anyway. Those of you that know her will understand. She, however, can be trained to not walk on the counters and to wash her hands after using the bathroom.

There. Tell me I’m a bad mother, even though this provides a good teachable moment for practical life skills on making responsible choices (by showing what happens when Mom didn’t make one), dealing with emotions, and knowing when you’ve gotten yourself in too deep. Call me lazy, a quitter, a fool, or any other bad name you want to give me. I can take it, I’ve already called myself all of them and maybe even a few you haven’t thought of. I have learned my lesson. We are a NO PET family. The business manager of the school I work at told me you get the perfect pet for you only once in your lifetime. And, we had ours in Helga.

Oh crap. I Have a Cat

Pardon the title.  It’s just that I am not a “cat person”.  I come from a family of cat haters.  I know that “hate” is a strong word, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if my mother refuses to visit my house anymore because we now have a cat.  So for us to have a cat is big, I mean BIG, news.  Why then, you ask, do we have a cat?  The thing is, it is quite possible God sent us the cat.

Just over three years ago, we had to have our beloved German Shorthaired Pointer put to sleep.  Helga had been with us just about 10 years, and she was getting old.  Then one day shortly after Christmas she started having seizures.  We spent two weeks trying to control seizures we didn’t know the cause of, and came to the realization we were not doing her or ourselves any favors.  Our kids, however, had always had Helga.  She was our first born, and the girls knew nothing of life without her.

So, last summer the kids started the quest for a dog.  They begged and pleaded.  My husband, however, still had a broken heart from Helga, and there was also the matter of dog poo.  He just couldn’t bring himself to say yes to the girls.  But he did tell them they could pray for a dog, and that if God sent one to our doorstep then we would have a dog.  I warned him about this.  I had read a book where the author had told his kids the very same thing and two days later he came home to find a stray had wandered onto their property.  I told my husband to be prepared.  You never know what God will do.

Yep, you never know what God will do.

About 10 days ago, the middle child was playing outside and informed us there was a cat in our back yard.  We assured her it probably belonged to one of the neighbors and that it would wander home.  It was still sitting at our back door mewing the next morning.  And that afternoon.  And the next morning.  And the next afternoon.  I told the kids no way, no how were we keeping this cat.  I don’t like cats.  Uh uh.

And then, as I waited for animal control to come and get the cat, I watched it follow my girls around the yard and lay close by them in the shade of their playhouse as they played in the sandbox. (Yes, I know what cats use sandboxes for.  Our neighbor has a cat that frequents our yard.)  I realized that this was no ordinary cat and that my girls needed a pet.  So, I told the kids that if the cat’s owner didn’t claim it from the shelter, we would consider adopting her.  A week went by and sure enough, the cat was still at the shelter.  By that time, my husband had caved on his “No Pets” policy, and I was dispatched to the shelter first thing on the morning of my day off.  Fifteen minutes later, I was back in my minivan with a borrowed pet taxi and a cat, whose name, I decided, was Sophie.

The thing about this whole story is that, while you may think I’m being dramatic saying God sent us this cat, I’m pretty convinced He did just that.  There were too many “coincidences” to ignore that very real possibility.

While I was sitting in the shelter office finalizing our adoption, the shelter director mentioned a refund we would be able to get once we had the cat spayed.  I told her I was going to make sure the cat saw the veterinarian for a checkup in the next few days, and the director said, “Say, someone donated this certificate for a pet exam at a local vet.  Why don’t you take it and use it.”  She handed me an envelope from the vet we used to take our dog to and intended to use for the cat as well.  I opened it to find a certificate for not only an annual pet exam but about $150 worth of other services like blood tests  and vaccinations.  When the math of certificate value minus adoption fees and pet supplies was all said and done, we basically ended up being paid $50 to take this cat.

Being a “stray”, it was likely Sophie would have fleas so I stopped at the local farm supply store and picked up a supply of Frontline.  I put a dose on her before I let her loose in the house.  Later that same afternoon, when I took her for her vet appointment, the vet combed her to check for fleas and didn’t find any.  The next day I dropped off a “poo” sample to check for parasites.  None of those either.

Sophie found the litter box with no problems.  I know that cats just kind of come programmed to use a litter box, but I expected a little bit of an adjustment to its location if nothing else.

She is very much a “people cat” and prefers to be where we are so she follows us around like a faithful dog.  Even the vet commented on how “personable” she is.  If I have to have a cat, this is the kind I want.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like cats.  And if it were up to me, we wouldn’t have one.  But, when God sends you a miracle it’s best not to ignore it.  The girls love Sophie.  Sophie loves the girls.  And, I love the girls, so when their prayers are answered, I’d be a fool to stand in the way.