Monday, January 31, 2011

Stopping at the Stop Signs

A few years ago, I was driving home from work within a residential area, before I got to the highway. Suddenly, I saw the dreaded lights flashing in my rearview mirror. And you know in a residential area, it's pretty much you they're stopping, not racing aside to get to someone else.

I pulled over, and an officer came over to my window.

"Did you know you just completely blew off that stop sign back there?" he asked.

"No, I didn't, I'm really sorry," I told him.

"I mean, you just blew through it," he said. "You didn't even slow down."

"I'm so, so sorry," I said again. "I honestly didn't see it." I was too ashamed and too smart to add that I had been driving through this residential area twice a day on work days for the past several years.

He looked in the back of my car where my two babies were and said, "I'll let you off this time, but try to watch what you're doing." He leaned his head in and said to Lucy, who was about 2, "Don't tell Daddy that Mommy got stopped by the policeman, OK?"

A couple of weeks ago, we started the spring semester women's Bible study at our church. Here's what we're doing:

The challenge for the next 9-10 weeks is to step up our faith, to not just believe in God, but flat out believe Him. Believe He is who He says He is and that He'll do what He says He'll do. In the first session, we learned that the Israelites were asked to wear blue tassels on their garments to set them apart and to show that they believed God. For at least the length of our study (I have a feeling I'll do it much longer), I'll be wearing this--a specially-made Believing God bracelet--as a reminder to me that I'm asking for my faith to be stretched and increased.

There is homework for each day during the week, and then there is one portion to save for the end of the day called "GodStops." This is a time to write down all the ways that day that, according to the book, "any means by which God seems to go out of His way during your day to make Himself known to you." Stop stands for "Savoring the Observable Presence."

The book goes on to say, "Don't be discouraged if you don't observe evidence of His presence every day. Some days are so hectic that we don't look up enough to notice that the world is still turning--let alone notice the One who is turning it!"

As soon as I read that, I sighed in relief. "That's me," I thought. "I know I really won't have many or any GodStops because I am just kind of freaking out right now. Every day I look at my calendar, and it's filled. All I want to do at the end of the day is turn out the light and fall asleep because I know I'm just back on the treadmill tomorrow. So...GodStops will just be off my radar for this study."

Fortunately, God stopped me right there and reminded me that this is exactly what the study is about. Increasing my faith. Believing Him. And maybe I'm cruising around so fast that there are GodStops all the time, and I'm just blowing through them without noticing. So, that became my prayer for this study: "God, show me the stop signs because I'm just not seeing them without you, and I know they're there."

All of a sudden, they're everywhere. They're in something I previously would have said was a coincidence. They're in something I previously would have taken credit for myself (ouch). They're in the birds that stop at the feeder outside my kitchen window or when I got up the other morning and stood outside Lucy and Elaine's bedroom door. Usually in the mornings they get along about as well as Sylvester and Tweety, but there they were, laying in bed in the dark and singing Chris Tomlin's "How Great is Our God" together.

Then last week the phone rang, and it was the hospital. Somehow when you see their name on the caller ID, it's never a good sign. Either you owe a big bill or you're going to owe one. They were calling because they found something in the mammogram I had done the week before, so I would need to come to the breast cancer center to get a more extensive mammogram and an ultrasound.

I'll tell you now that if you get that call, the majority of cases turn out to be nothing--overlapping tissue, a calcium deposit, whatever. But for me, it feels like my aggressive genetics are stopping by to say hello.

You know that poem, "Snake" by Emily Dickinson?

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

"Zero at the bone" about covers it.

So I drove the hour and a half to the breast cancer center, which was next door the building where I used to go so happily every month, then every week for my pre-natal appointments. I checked in and sat down and looked around. There were women of varying ages in the waiting room, no one spoke, and we were surrounded by pamphlets: pamphlets of information, pamphlets of smiling women in headscarves, and I kept thinking, "He knows how scary it is to be us."

I had my exam and then was moved to another waiting room. Time seemed to slow down to slow motion. I noticed everything around me: the stirrers at the coffee station. The box of Kleenex and the money plant on the table. The fact that the other woman in the waiting room was reading a David Baldacci book, but the dust jacket was upside down.

They called me in for the ultrasound and gave me a warm blanket because the room was so cold. The ultrasound took a long time. The technician and I were both quiet, intent on the images on the screen, until I said, "The last ultrasound I had was for my second daughter. It was two days before she was born, and all of a sudden, she gave us a big smile. The technician caught that shot, and we have that picture. She's been smiling at us ever since."

Finally she was done and left the room, telling me that eventually a doctor would come in to talk with me. I laid there in that cold room, the blanket no longer warm, and thought, "I will accept this God, without murmuring, if this is what You have for me to do." Then I tried to go through a mental list of my index cards with my verses on them. I fingered the blue beads on my bracelet. After awhile, and I'm not sure if it was a long time or if it just seemed like a long time, my mind fell back on the old standbys I know so well they're imprinted on my heart--the 23rd Psalm. The Lord's Prayer. The Apostles' Creed. And I was went through them, images kept clicking through my mind.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for Thou are with me...
...Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...

I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting...

Finally the door opened, and the doctor came in.

"Mrs. Daniels?" he said, with an Indian accent. "You are clear. I do not find anything. You are free to go until next year."

Heart stop.

You are free to go.


As I drove home (and you know I had the praise music cranked), my mind was full of the day and the verses and the thought of seeing my husband and my girls when I got home. I knew that though I was by myself in that hospital, I had never been alone, not even for a second. I knew that whatever the outcome had been, it still would have been a GodStop moment. I knew that at a different time in life, I might receive a different verdict. I knew that while I was on that exam table, I had savored the Observable Presence.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Land of Make Believe

Last week was a big black hole with regard to blogging, for me anyway. We had the holiday on Monday (hopefully more about that, with pictures, another day), I taught a workshop on Tuesday, my first class on Wednesday, tried to clean the house and do all the laundry and grocery shopping Thursday, started a new Bible study on Friday morning (more about that later), and then went to an all-afternoon series of doctor appointments, which Jennie calls "being violated in about fifteen different ways." Let's not speak of it anymore. On Friday evening, I came home and got into bed.

Saturday I needed to reconnect with my family again in some form, so I set out something that I got probably six years ago when Lucy was still a baby.

But...let me back up. Here's a dilemma I think a lot of parents are faced with. You want to encourage imaginative play with your kids, yet you don't want to a) lie to them and/or b) cause them not to be able to differentiate reality from fantasy. (Not that I personally think that's a big problem. I'll take fantasy any day. It pretty much works for me.)

Now the first problem that probably pops into all our minds is...Santa Claus. I'll just give you my personal take on Santa, and honestly, I don't care a whit about what other people do with their kids. Absolutely no judgement from me either way. But when my mom was a little girl, she believed in Santa until she was around 6 or so when the big girls on the school bus told her, "You know Santa's not real." She said she was shocked, and her first thought was, "Then I bet God's not real either."

So what we do at our house is tell Lucy and Elaine that Santa was a real person who lived long ago, but now he's just fun to pretend about. Lucy learned about Christmas around the world this year at school, and in Germany, in addition to Santa, there's a naughty elf named Hans. She came home and told us at dinner that "Even though Santa is pretend, Hans is definitely real because we saw a picture of him on our computers." Well, if it's on the Internet, it must be true.

Our big challenge is to impress on the girls that not everyone thinks the way we do, and it's incredibly rude to spoil anyone else's fun. So if you meet someone who believes in Santa, just go with it and don't tell him you think he's not real. That's easy for Lucy, who'd rather die than hurt anyone's feelings, but it's Elaine's personal mission to make sure truth is known so she's, as it's known at our house, a "blurter."

I guess she blurted out something about Santa to her cousins at Christmas (which Lucy valiantly tried to cover), so one night before lights out, I rerererere-had the discussion with them about not ruining things for people.

Lucy said, "Elaine, how would you feel if someone came up to you and said, 'The Naughty Leprechaun is not real!'"

Elaine sat bolt upright in bed and said, "That's different. The Naughty Leprechaun IS real! He messes up our kitchen and gives us gold coins and everything!" [Implied "duh" there.]

I'm still caught in the dilemma because I love make-believe, and that brings me back to this weekend (finally). When I was at my previous job, we created diagnostic tests for kids and some of them involved manipulatives. A few years ago, they were revamping the tests, and we could take our pick of the manipulatives from the old tests. As I perused the tables, something caught my eye--boxes of miniature people figures, the tallest about five inches high.

Do you remember that old show from the 70s on CBS--Captain Kangaroo? With Bob Keeshan? That is what I watched every single day when I was a little kid. I adored it. Forget Sesame Street or the Electric Company or anything else (if you decide to watch that linked clip above, I get the hugest wave of joy nostalgia when I see it). With the Captain, you didn't have to figure out problems or practice your alphabet or do anything overtly academic. It was just fun and using your imagination, and at the close of each show he would say, "Moms and dads, please read to your kids today!"

One of the features I loved on that show was called the People in the Bookcase. Behind the books on the Captain's bookshelf were little people who had adventures (do you see where this is going?) So when I saw those miniature people on the manipulatives table at work I thought, "People in the bookcase! Lucy will love it when she's older!" Then I stored them in the back of my closet and forgot about them...until Saturday.

I got the people out to see what I've got--a Caucasian family, an African American family, some elderly people, and a dog. I wish I had an Asian family too, bummer. Then while the girls were busy, I went to the basement to our large bookcase--sidenote: a sentimental piece of furniture for me because, while extremely ugly, it's the first piece of furniture I ever bought in my life, at Kohler's junkyard in Lombard, IL, which has since burned down due to all the junk stored there. I might have spent $15 on it. Anyway, it's a big, deep case, perfect for storing either multiple layers of books or one layer of books and some miniature people behind them.

At first I thought I should have furnishings to go with, but then I thought better of that and decided it would be much more fun for the girls to make their own.

So, on the ground floor I installed the Caucasian family, named the Thibedauds. On the second floor is the African American family, the Nelsons. On the third floor, I separated it (with books) into two apartments--one with Mr. Philips and his son Jed, and the second with two elderly ladies who are the Nachman sisters, Patricia Anne and Mary Alice.

Then I took Lucy and Elaine to the basement and showed them the people in the bookcase. They were thrilled.

"How could they move into this apartment building without any furniture?" Lucy asked.

"These are hard economic times," I said. "They knew this was a nice building with two girls who might help them furnish their apartments."

They spent all afternoon on Saturday and all afternoon on Sunday finding things to make beds and tables and chairs and bathtubs, etc. for the new families and also decided on more first names, since there were mothers and fathers and children in both the Thibedaud and Nelson families.

At night I went in to check on them; Elaine was already asleep, but Lucy was still awake.

"Mom, this was just the funnest time ever. I'm soooooo glad we have people in the bookcase. But...I have to tell you something horrible. I was looking at Mr. Philips and guess what it said on his leg?" She lowered her voice to a horrified whisper. "It said, 'Made in China.' It just ruined all my fun when I saw that. Did you put those people there?"

"Oh, Lucy," I said, sidestepping onto the parental slippery slope. "That probably just means his pants are made in China. I bet our pants are made in China, too. Pretty much everything is."

She looked relieved. "Good," she whispered, "because I tucked them all in bed tonight, but I think they're planning to have a party after we go to sleep to celebrate being in their new home."

I'd honestly love to know what other parents do in these kinds of situations. I feel that imaginative play is crucial to a child's development. I think if you don't allow kids to develop quality inner resources, they'll fill that space with meaningless junk instead. Plus, it's so much fun.

There you have it. People in the bookcase. Come over and play with us sometime. And don't let anyone tell you they're not real.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A New Experience

The January book for the book club I belong to was Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski. It's a memoir of two college guys who, with the support of their families and churches, became homeless for five months--in various cities--in order to get a close-up view of that world.

I began Under the Overpass one evening and put it down before I went to sleep; however, I woke up around 2 a.m. and knew I still had an appointment with that book. I went downstairs to the couch to read until I fell asleep again--I didn't until I had finished the entire book.

Before the book even begins, the forward is written by Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love, a book that swept the evangelical world a year or two ago. Darren just read it and said, "This is one of those books that I need to reread every month or so."

I wasn't too sure what to expect when I began Under the Overpass, but what I didn't expect was the quality writing, the humor, and the depth of spiritual insight these college kids had. Yankoski takes us through their world--the fear, discomfort, humiliation, anger, frustration, helplessness, yet peace and even joy that they experienced on the streets.

He dealt with the nitty-gritty (very gritty) details of how they found food and water, where they slept, how they went to the bathroom, and how they handled physical ailments. In the midst of all of it, he journaled their experience: all that they felt and thought, how they fought with each other, and what God was teaching them through all of this.

There were too many anecdotes and moments that staggered me in this book to write even a fraction of them here. Reading it was a powerful wake-up call to me personally that I have completely ignored this important people group, people who are image-bearers of God Himself: the homeless.

One of my favorite moments in the book was when Mike and his partner in this journey, Sam, went into a breakfast place to sit and rest. They sat on a couch while a couple at a table nearby received their breakfast: pancakes heaped with butter, syrup, Nutella, bananas, the works. The customers were so disturbed and disgusted that two homeless guys were sitting near them, that they took a bite or two of their food, then got up and left. Mike and Sam politely asked the restaurant server if they could have the abandoned food, which they did. As Mike said, they were the best pancakes they had ever eaten, and he immediately thought of Psalm 23:5 "You prepare a table [of pancakes!] before me in the presence of my enemies."

There were a couple of moments in the book where I felt the guys' passion got in the way of their clarity, and I don't feel that they dealt enough (they did discuss it some) with the fact that a high percentage of homeless people are mentally ill--and all of the additional complications that factor brings. There was also a time or two when they were a bit disingenuous--they were pretty hard on church people, and rightly so, but he pointed out at least once when they came to church, people left a pretty wide berth around them rather than sitting by them. Dude. It's because you hadn't showered for five weeks.

Overall though, it is an incredible memoir.

There's a song I currently hear on the radio a lot, by Matthew West called "My Own Little World." Each time it comes on, especially after reading this book, I listen carefully to the words.

In my own little world it hardly ever rains
I’ve never gone hungry, always felt safe
I got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet
In my own little world
Population: me

There were two key things that stuck out to me from the book, and that is the first one--how population: Me I can be most of the time. As I spent that night reading the book, I became acutely aware of soft my couch is. How at regular intervals, the heat kicked on. How, if I were thirsty, I could walk into the kitchen and pick from an array of beverages and not have to walk for two miles just to get some lukewarm water.

That is something I will change in my life. Instead of grumbling about my car, which each day seems to have some new malfunction light come on (Darren and I now joke about it--"Let's count all the things that are wrong with our car!"), I will appreciate that I have a (semi) reliable vehicle that gets me where I need to go, has heat, (even heated seats!), airbags, etc. Instead of inwardly groaning about the expense of taking Elaine to the doctor again--Lucy asked this morning, "Is every Friday now Elaine's ear doctor day?" Well, yes. It kind of is.--I will give thanks for medical insurance and good doctors who are trying to help us.

I will also stop praying the basic "rub-a-dub-dub-thanks-for-the-grub-yay-God" rattle-through prayers before I eat, and truly thank Him for the good food He's given me and that I haven't had to either a) dumpster dive for it, b) eat some stranger's leftovers, or c) stood for 2 hours outside a shelter only to be told they've run out of food.

As Mike Yankoski says in the one line that grabbed me more than all the others in the book (and there were many) "Be ever-suspicious of your comfortable lifestyle."

The other main takeaway from the book for me was: what does God want me to do about this?

I love these lines from the Matthew West song:

Father, break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
and put Your Light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me

So, last night, for the first time, I had the opportunity to go with a group from our church and serve dinner at the homeless women and children's shelter here in our city.

As I stood behind a long table, serving salad, I kept thinking about what Mike said in the book: "Look at people in the eye. Smile at them. Remind them (and you) that they are worth something in God's eyes." Looking at people in the eye and smiling at them is not always easy for this introvert to do. Some of the ladies looked back at me and smiled, but some hung their heads and never met my eyes. I prayed for them--that they would see their worth to Him; and I prayed for myself and my girls--that God will break our heart for what breaks His.

If you choose to read this book, no doubt it will change you, too, though maybe not in the same ways it has changed me. God doesn't aspire for all of us to be identical and do the same work. But both of these--the book and the song--have brought me to the verse that I'll be memorizing this second half of January:

Ephesians 5:10 "Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Second Chance

A number of years ago (like, maybe a decade now?) I was offered the opportunity to teach writing and literature in the adult studies program of a university. I was coming fresh out of graduate school, and I had a lot of leeway in designing and shaping the curriculum I taught. For the most part, I had good students who wanted to work and learn and came to class ready to discuss. There were a few bad apples, but overall, it was a great and positive experience.

I employed a fair bit of creativity in my classes, and my mantra to the students was that you'll never learn how to write unless you learn how to read--and read a lot. So, I assigned loads of extra reading, and I had students asking me to make up reading lists for them; one who wrote on my evaluation how much he enjoyed the close because he had "never read a hole [sic] book before;" another who wrote me a lovely recommendation and said that because of my class, he was going to start reading a book a month.

Eventually I stopped teaching because I was also working full-time in publishing and I had Lucy, but I was flushed with my success and had a good opinion of my own teaching skills. I knew how to teach, I knew how to write curriculum, students were was all just so awesome.

Oh Proverbs, why was I not reading you on a daily basis? Say it with me now, "Pride goes before a fall," or I absolutely love how the Message says it: "First, pride--then the crash."

In 2009, I decided that with the girls a little bit older, I was ready to get back into teaching again. I applied at our local community college, and they were happy to give me a class: Composition 101. I'd taught Comp 101 AND designed it, even though they hired me on Friday and the class started on Monday, why, what a walk in the park! Bring it! I could do this in my sleep!

As Louis the Alligator says succinctly in "The Princess and the Frog,": It didn't go well.

And for those of you who like visuals, here's basically what it looked like:

Do you need another one?
All of my creative ideas did not work. None of them. Not one. The students looked at me with blank faces. I couldn't figure them out--what made them tick, how to help them learn. I could tell from their papers that I wasn't doing an effective job. I had two learning disabled students in class, and I was not equipped to handle the one in particular. Not only was she learning disabled, she was socially disabled and she disrupted the class every single session (oh, and she never missed class either). I didn't know how to handle her outbursts and her needs vis a vis the rest of the class.

I remember trying to get the class to read a story, a funny story written on a 9th-grade level, out loud. It was so awful, I can't even begin to tell you how awful it was. It was one of those moments where you sit there, feeling the muscles in your neck tighten, the blood rush to your face, and your whole body become rigid with shame. And disgrace. The kind where you just imagine yourself as being anywhere but where you are right now: Hawaii. Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Whatever, as long as you're not here. Seriously. So. Bad.

After the seemingly never-ending semester was finally over, I vowed I would never do that again. I was resentful of the students and the school and teaching and everything about it. No way.

But now, here I am, a year and a half later, and circumstances have brought me both to a new university and...back to the community college, the scene of my epic fail.

At Thanksgiving, Darren and Joseph and I went to the movies, and here's a sampling of our dialog during the previews. A commercial came on for the DVD of that Julia Roberts' movie "Eat, Pray, Love." The voiceover said something like, "Do you have the courage to look in the mirror and face some hard truths about yourself?"

Joseph said, "I am so glad I escaped ever having to see this movie."

I said, "Why in the world would I want to do that? Isn't that what marriage is for--having someone else always pointing out hard truths about yourself? When's Harry Potter coming on anyway?"

Even though I didn't bother to rent that movie, it is time to look in the mirror and face some hard truths about myself. I've got so much to learn. I was way too confident in my abilities. I don't know even a tiny fraction of everything. I need to start from scratch and work from the ground up.

So for the past month or so, I've been working hard on two different curricula I'll be teaching--one starting in January, one in June. I looked at everything that went wrong before and designed things differently. Nothing fancy--just solid, basic elements they can hopefully use and remember. I talked to the director of the program at the community college so I could find out about the students there. She told me that they're coming from our pretty much awful public school system where they aren't even allowed to take their books home from school. They don't know how to write.

I attended a workshop on Saturday to learn how to be a writing coach in the writing center. There were a number of people a lot younger than I am with maybe fewer years of teaching, but I presented myself as a novice and asked for their help. They kindly gave it, and I got a lot of great tips--things I can use to actually help people. I've had to learn two new online systems, too.

I know things this second time around won't be perfect, but it has all been a great lesson in humility for me. I hope I'm becoming a better listener. I hope I'm becoming a better learner.

A good teacher should be a good student, too, I guess. And hopefully this time, instead of a Proverbs "first, pride--then the crash," experience, it will be a more James 4 experience: "God sets Himself against the proud, but He gives grace to the humble."

I need it!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

A New Look

The following pictures were taken by Lucy. She was so excited that I asked her to do this little photographic project, since she's not ever allowed to touch the camera.

"I can do this because Dad's working and Snoggy [one of Elaine's many nicknames] is too little. It's because I'm the OAFM."

"What's an O-A-F-M?" I asked.

"Oldest Available Family Member," she answered.

So, my dear little OAFM took this before picture of me. With starting a new job next week, I was sick of the hairstyle I've been wearing for at least the last four years. Here it is (on the particularly bad day you have when you visit the hairstylist in desperation).

Elaine wanted to be part of the picture taking, too, and started crying because I wouldn't let her. It was the type of crying for which Darren has coined the term "Wally Boolie." (If you need the exact pronunciation, just call him.) It means "fake crying." When it's especially ridiculous, he calls it "trumped-up wally boolie."

So, here we both are with our trumped-up wally boolie faces (she looks more satisfied that she weasled her way into the picture taking).

And now, ta da! My new cut and color. Now of course at some point in life I've had this haircut before. But it's been about 10 years. If you have short hair, you know you just shuffle through a handful of hairstyles every few years.
And here we are happy. No wally-boolie!

When I came home from the salon, the girls wanted to touch and smell my new haircut (they always do), and Lucy said, "Mom, you even look taller with your new hair!"

There you go--new look for a new year!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Why I Have the Praise Music Turned Up Loud Today

Remember my post on As Our Own from a couple weeks ago? Shortly before Christmas, they posted on facebook to please pray for two little girls they were attempting to rescue from India's red light district--hopefully to be done by the new year.

On December 29, they posted that one little girl had been rescued, and today they posted the second little girl was just rescued also.

Awesome. Just...awesome.

Happy tears.

God answers our prayers!

If you think of it, keep praying for these little girls as they adjust to their new life with As Our Own, and also those who risk great personal danger to retrieve them. know I've got Travis turned way up today--or this one, too!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Who Is Going to Watch This With Me?

I learned that this was upcoming last fall, and it is basically the only thing that can make January palatable for me.

The only little blot on my happiness is this article from The Daily Mail, which claims that two hours have been cut from the production because we Americans are too dumb to understand it in its entirety. Now, I am the first person to admit that 95% of American TV is trash, but that's just rood. AND, they negelected to add that the production is shown here on PBS, which has no ads, while it ran on ITV in Britain and had two hours of ads. And also that PBS viewers are SMART and can follow a British serial, no problemo.

Here's a rebuttal article.

Anyway, I hope you watch this too so it can be the bright spot in all of our January. "Downton Abbey" will air on Sunday nights--January 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th.

Monday, January 03, 2011


I like things that are old. I like old houses, old books, old clothes, old movies, old friends. I'm not crazy about new situations or meeting new people or trying new things. I'm not into spontaneity or stretching myself.

The new year is something I don't have much of a choice about though. Time is moving on, and I'm required to move with it. Most blogs are talking about new year's resolutions or goals for the new year. I'm tempted to find some really attainable goal for myself, something like, "I will not let it bother me when I don't tear off a big enough piece of dental floss and have to start over again."

I got my new calendar/planner the other day, and I sat down with my old calendar and the new one, side by side, to flip back through what had happened in 2010 and write down things for 2011. I wanted to see what date the girls had their pediatrician check-up so I would schedule it for the right time according to our insurance, and I saw that they had gone the morning of June 16, the day my mom died. I had written "Mom" on that date, and "Mom" on the date we buried her, and "Mom" on the date we had her memorial service, and as I read the dates I felt as I have felt so much of 2010--paralyzed.

Here's the thing--I know that losing your parents is the natural order of things. My mom lived a wonderful, beautiful long life, and I will always miss her--she's my mom. But she was so much more than a mom to me--she was my mentor, my spiritual director. When I needed help, when I needed clarity, when I needed direction, I could ask my mom. And now that she's gone, I feel unsure a lot of times; I try this tactic and that tactic, then, when clearly none of the tactics are working, I think, "How can I go on without her? What am I going to do? Help me, Jesus!"

Before Christmas I decided to bake, for the first time, my mom's secret recipe Christmas cookies. She had written out the recipe for me, and I followed it to the letter (I'm not very good at following directions to the letter, but I wanted these to be perfect--exactly like she would make them). Then next thing I knew, I had a lump of something that was harder and stronger than cement. I have no idea what went wrong, but it was awful and became a concrete-like metaphor for the missing ingredient in my life--Mom. I went down to the laundry room (because no one in our family goes to the laundry room--trust me on that), fell to my knees in the middle of the unfolded laundry, and cried and cried.

There's this poem that I memorized years ago that has somehow stayed etched in my memory--"Funeral Blues" by W H Auden--and the last stanza says:

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

That pretty much says it for me. I used the word "paralyzed" above, and that's how I have felt inside--while all of life has moved on, I'm still kneeling beside her grave, thinking, "How can I go on? What is there for me? I could have half my left life still, and what is the point of it all? Who will tell me where I belong and what I should be doing?"

But as I knelt down in the laundry and as I filled out this new year's calendar, I have heard His still, small voice saying, "It's time to get up now. I've got plans for a future and hope for you. I'm still here. I'm not leaving. The 'help me, Jesus' tactic is the best one, anyway."

Some people, instead of choosing resolutions or goals for the new year, choose a word. One word, something they focus on for the whole year in a variety of ways--once they choose the word it seems to permeate whatever they do. I didn't choose a word for myself this year, but it seems as though God has chosen one for me.


It's going to be a year of new experiences, new people, new things--that stretch me and challenge me and pull me up and cause me to call out, "Help me, Jesus!" I can dread them and I can fight them, I can stay curled up in the laundry room where no one wants to be, or I can consider Abraham, who didn't know the next direction his feet were supposed to step, but he kept stepping and believed the Lord so it was counted to him as righteousness.

My first new thing for the new year is to join the LPM blog's Scripture memory team. We learn two verses a month, of our choosing. We check in on the 1st and 15th with our name, city, and verse--and it is so phenomenal to see over 6,000 verses come streaming down through the comments. Beth's instructions are to keep it simple and keep it personal, or as she says, "try to refrain from memorizing Scriptures that you think your spouse or your children need to learn. Memorize what you need to learn. That means do your best to avoid jotting your verse on a stick note and planting it on your bathroom mirror where your man can see it and repent of his sins. He probably won’t because he’s got your game. I bet you can guess how I know that."

I know I'll have other new things this year to share with you--I've got some I already know about, but I know some will be complete surprises to me. Feel free to hold me accountable as to whether I'm dragging my feet on them or stepping like Abraham. I'll share my verses every two weeks here, too.

Here is mine for January 1, 2011:

Jeremiah 31:22b "God will create a new thing in this land: A transformed woman will embrace the transforming God!"