Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ugliness Before the Rain

If you’ve ever been around chickens for any length of time chances are you’ve seen them molt. It is not a pretty thing. Once beautiful birds lose clumps of feathers all over their body; exposing scrawny patches of pink skin. In particular their necks become barren leaving bulging heads on a fleshy stalk. Like I said, it’s not pretty.

During this process, if your chickens are hens, they will stop laying eggs. By this time, if you are a newbie backyard chicken farmer, you are quite distressed and scouring the internet to find what disease has befallen your birds. Not, of course, that I know this from personal experience. It’s just what I’ve heard some in-experienced people do.

Be at peace. This is no disease, just the natural process of life. Once it has run its course brand new glorious feathers will grow in, leaving your chickens beautiful again. They will also return to their egg production.
Every once in a while things have to turn quite ugly before they become beautiful.

How would we appreciate health without sickness? Joy if there were no sorrow. Could we recognize a miracle if we never saw a tragedy?

Some of the most beautiful blue sky days come after the harshest weather. Almost like we’re getting a reward for making it through, a gold star sticker for enduring through the trial.

Are we on this earth to gain promotions at work, decorate our homes with Pinterest crafts, and collect possessions? It’s what we do. We work, provide for our families, and enjoy hobbies. Though as a purpose for life, none of those things make much sense. I doubt the point of my being placed on this planet is to buy shoes and a write a book, as much as I enjoy those things.

When I was in college I always thought life would start after graduation, that was my someday. Shows how little I knew in college. Really, all of life is an education. We are here to learn from the journey, to grow from each new experience; whether good or bad. It is how we live through the day-to-day working, shopping and hobbies that matters

Sometimes it’s hard to look at an event in our life as part of the big picture. When someone tears us down, or a friend turns their back, how does that fit into the greater perspective of life and that someday after graduation? Is it worth holding a grudge? Do you really need to shout at that terrible driver? Whatever the problem is, does it warrant so much of your energy and emotion?

Another note about chickens, they like to roll in the dirt, a lot. They will roll in so much dirt you will actually start considering bathing your chickens, or at the very least hosing them off. Then the rain comes, and all that ugliness is washed away. You’re left with shining white chickens again, more beautiful than they were before.

For the people of Boston 2013 has been an emotional year. The bombing of the Boston Marathon on the city’s Patriot Day was a tragedy that rocked the people of the city to its very core. As a nation we mourned with Boston during those dark days.

It was beautiful to watch Boston celebrate when their Red Sox won the World Series at home in Fenway Park. The first time they’ve won the World Series at home in ninety-five years. Fans poured into to the streets, even to marathon finish line, shouting “Boston Strong”.

The rain had washed away the ugliness, and the sun was finally shining.

We all have trials to endure and learn from, sometimes individually, others as a community or a family. When we become battered and dirty there will be something beautiful for us on the other side. It’s just a matter of having the right perspective to see it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Our Fears Will Pass

Hopefully, everyone has now settled into the new school year. You've established your morning routines and, though they may not like it, children have adjusted to early bedtimes.
There's nothing quite like that first day, though. Kids in brightly colored outfits with shoes so new and clean it's hard to look directly at them. They're usually excited with just a slight side of nerves. Mostly harmless concerns plague them. Will I be the shortest one in class? Where is my bus room? How do I pay for ice cream? Ten minutes after school starts their jitters will be forgotten as they are immersed in learning the ropes of a new grade. 
Parents are a different story. Well, in my experience it has been mothers, but I won't stereotype. The first day of school many of us are a nervous wreck until those precious children stumble back off that big yellow bus in the afternoon.
It's not that I think it's going to be a horrible day. My kids go to a great school and have terrific teachers. There is just something about your children being completely out of your control that makes you feel a little helpless.
During the summer my kids stay with my sister-in-law. I knew where they were, what kind of environment and influence was around them, and I could call and check on them any time I wanted.
The school day is a giant blind spot. Just try to get a fifth grade boy to tell you what went on in his day. My girls are more forthcoming, but they have me cringing with tales of second grade drama.
I started thinking about all the difficulties yet to come; letting kids drive alone, sending them on mission trips, dropping them off at college. I'll stop there before I pass out.
If letting our children out of our sight can be difficult for us, what must it be like for heavenly father to send all of hs children to Earth?
How worrisome it must be to send children to Earth where they will be so tempted by horrible influences. He loves us so much, but we are born having forgotten him. We must re-learn the gospel and choose him.
Knowing how difficult it will be for His children, the Lord made a back-up plan, giving us a savior for our redemption. How agonizing it must be for the father to watch so many not choose freedom, but to fall.
Heavenly father has written down everything he wants us to know in the scriptures, and would love for us to call on Him any time, day or night. Like most children we never call home enough.
We often lament on how quickly our children grow up. One moment they're learning to tie their shoes, and the next they're learning to parallel park. What we forget is how swiftly the bad moments pass as well.
When our twin girls were born they needed to stay in the NICU for three weeks. The hospital was an hour from our home, and I visited every day. For the first week family members drove me as I recovered from surgery, after that I drove or waited for my husband in the evenings. At the time it felt like their stay lasted an eternity. Now looking back, that difficulty was just a brief moment that seems like a lifetime ago.
Several weeks have passed since that first day of school. All of those worries are now a distant memory. As my kids have become more confident in their classes, I too have become secure in their routines and safety.
At least as much as a mother ever does.
I will keep trying to get my kids to fill me in on the empty abyss I call the school day. In the meantime I think I'll check in with my heavenly father a little more often. As a parent I'm sure he'd like a little reassurance on how I'm doing through the day, and as a parent I could use the reassurance through the day.

Getting Press, Article in the Northern Virginia Daily!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hope and Hatred Among Human Suffering

In the last five months the people of this nation have been tested and tormented. Terrorists have brought fear and destruction. Evil posing as a troubled youth brought heart break to a small town school. Now a natural disaster has rocked the heartland.

This is not a particularly strong time for our country. The economy is poor, jobs are scarce and morale is low.

What is something that shines in these dark times? The human spirit. The decency and kindness that stops people in their tracks in the face of a tragedy, if for nothing else, but to hurt with those that are hurting.

That spirit is what drives volunteers and emergency workers to ease suffering and work through the night to do all they can. It’s what encourages children to send drawings to the wounded and adults to send checks. Because there is an outpouring of helping hands, I have hope for the human condition.

As long as we care more about easing the suffering of others than our own petty inconveniences, there is hope for this world as a whole.

If you are a thousand miles from a disaster and have no funds or supplies to donate, why not keep victims in your prayers? If you are a non-believer then you could keep them in your thoughts, if you prefer. What harm is there in thinking kind, sympathetic thoughts?

Is that not offering a kindness?

There has been some criticism, following the tornadoes in Oklahoma, scorning the offering of prayers as a way to support the victims. Some of the discussion has turned quite nasty.

Instead of real help we cling to our antiquated religion, praying for the effects of God’s work to be un-done.

No. I cling to the principle that most people are good and decent. That the human spirit will reach out to one another in times of need and lift each other up. I cling to the fact that most people will feel and empathize and send out hopeful thoughts for those in Oklahoma, Boston and Newtown. 

That they will wish for comfort and relief for the victims and the safety of all involved. I do it in prayer to my God. You do it anyway you see fit.

What I cannot wrap my head around is the wasted efforts, and breathe of tearing down people that are trying to offer hope. Why take the time to spill such hatred when there is so much suffering happening right now? Of all the things you could be doing with your time, why belittle those who are offering kindness and encouraging others to do the same?

The world suffers enough. You don’t need to add any extra hatred or pain to it. I’m sure there are many that could use donations of your time and money. Maybe, you could start with a kind thought.

I’ll offer one on your behalf, with those I send out for Oklahoma tonight.

I don’t apologize for my belief in God and you shouldn’t apologize for your beliefs, but this is not the conversation we should be having right now. Find a positive way to help, any way to help.

Do you want to be the person bringing hope or hatred in this time of suffering?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Loving Life's Roller Coasters

I love roller coasters, I really do. My husband and I have been sneaking away for grown-up amusement park weekends for years now. Old school wooden coasters, sleek steal rails, hanging suspension style we’ve done it all. We love the free-falling thrill of dropping, spinning and spiraling in a well controlled manner.

I have still not learned to appreciate these same feelings in the rest of my life.

Life is not spent at an even keel. There are good moments that take us on highs, low moments can drop us suddenly and flat stretches will sometimes drag on longer then we like.

The exciting moments always seem much too brief, and the spiraling drops sometimes feel endless. 

None of it feels very controlled or safe.

What if there were no drops? No loops, cork-screws or hills. Just a nice smooth ride. Then life wouldn’t be a roller coaster would it? It would be a train ride.

There’s nothing wrong with a train. I think they’re relaxing and the ride can be very scenic. But if the track stays flat forever won’t we tire of the ride? We wouldn’t learn very much from a smooth un-interrupted ride.

Would the blandness of the mundane overshadow our fears of the unknown?

Writing a novel has been its own kind of ride. There was the lengthy process of writing the book and editing it. Much like standing in line on a very busy Saturday in July at Disney World.

Then comes sending your manuscript out to the very first readers to see if you have a story. That’s chugging slowly up the first big hill of the coaster with your heart in your throat. You know what it feels like, you look out over the entire amusement park and think ‘what have I done’ but it’s way too late by that point, you’re already strapped in.

Once you hit the first loop that’s the equivalent of getting your first positive feedback. Next comes querying for agents. Will the terrifying corkscrew of death ever end? Yes, to send you hurtling towards the ground at the speed of sound.

You get the idea, writing a book has a lot of ups and downs.

So, why do I love roller coasters?

Honestly, the first one of the day I don’t. I’m always terrified to get on that first roller coaster every trip. Going up that hill is painful, but I grit my teeth and say a little prayer. Somewhere around the halfway point of the first drop, which coincidentally is when my scream runs of out of air, the fear turns into a thrill.

That’s when I can let go of the bar, put my hands in the air and fly in total freedom.

I just don’t think a flat track would have the same effect.

Without risks, trials and pain, all the lows of life, the highs would not be as sweet. If we had no sorrow to compare our happiness to, how would we indeed know we were happy? Mondays would not be the same if there weren’t a few loop de loops.

No one really enjoys the ups and downs and downs of life. Somewhere in the beginning we were terrified and now we’ve become so jaded we ride life’s amusement park like an elevator instead of a thrill ride.

Stop waiting for the destination and enjoy the ride, because pretty soon it will be time to get off.

Grit your teeth, say a prayer and let go, knowing that with every low another high will pop up.

You can’t fly on a flat track.

Are you going to love the roller coaster?  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What We Leave Behind

February is a month of anniversaries. It marks the celebration of love, presidents and even the birth of my beautiful twin daughters. For me it also brings memories of the brother I lost on February 22, 2008.

Each year I sort through a few more boxes of his stowed belongings and come out with some new surprises. This year I came upon a memory he had tucked away in his wallet.

You can tell a lot about a person by what ‘s in their wallet or purse.  For instance I have large quantities of receipts in my purse for my expense reports. Call it disorganization if you want, I prefer to think of it as a relaxed filing system. Look at the details of the receipts and you can figure out the entire layout of my sales territory. Keep digging in the depths of my handbag and you’ll find clip on sparkle earrings, paint swatches and fuzzy pom-poms. It would not take a detective to figure out I have little girls that are divas, am redecorating my kitchen, and use “warm fuzzies” as a reward for good behavior.

What kind of story are you carrying around with you?

In going through my brother’s wallet I found lot’s of telling tokens. There was a club card for his favorite Mexican restaurant that was so worn out he’d laminated the frayed pieces together. His collection of home grown hot peppers was represented by a pepper postage stamp. In the window where most people keep their drivers license he had a copy of the serenity prayer. It was there behind that printed prayer that I found something incredibly meaningful.

A faded year-old Wal-Mart receipt for $108.95.

At first I couldn’t see the relevance of this slip of paper. The purchases were t-shirts, shorts and socks, hardly high value purchases. Why had he kept it? More so, why was it so worn out? There were check marks by each item and the receipt had been creased and re-creased.

It wasn’t until I checked the date and location that I remembered the shopping trip. I had been with my brother that day. It was his final trip to rehab and I had come to visit him for the day. We had gone to lunch together, walked the Old Town Mall in Winchester and gone shopping. It was the first time in years we had spent time together just the two of us, it would be one of the last.

Did he keep the receipt because that day meant so much to him? I can’t say for sure. I know that the sword he bought in a specialty shop that day is on the wall of my craft room. Doesn’t everyone have a sword in their craft room? I also know that for some reason he believed I was miraculous. He would tell anyone that listened what a fantastic mother I was. Nothing I accomplished surprised him, because he expected me to fly.

I can’t count the things my brother left behind. We have an authentic light saber, every video gaming system known to man and Matrix action figures. Beyond that, he left me the belief in adventure, an irresistible desire to rescue the downtrodden, and the determination not to disappoint his memory.

Besides what’s in my purse, what would I be leaving behind if I suddenly left this world? I never let my family leave without saying I love you, but I want to do more for them. I want my daughters to know how to be strong women. I want my son to know how to treat his wife and family one day. They all need to know how to stand up for their values and be who they are. That I believe they are stronger and more wonderful than they can ever imagine.

In this day and age we need to try and leave the world a little better off for our time in it. I don’t just mean recycling, though that is a good thing. Leave people better off for having known you. Make an impact on your family and on your world. Leave someone smiling one day when they sort through your wallet.

What are you going to leave behind?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Families Are the Moral Compass of the Nation

Blame gets pointed in many directions for the shortcomings of our nation. Violent video games are rotting our children’s brains. Guns and grenade launchers need to be regulated out the hands of all criminals who would use them illegally. The mentally ill need to be cataloged and tracked to keep them from committing violent acts.

Once legitimate ideas soon spin out of control, becoming the twisted ridiculous rhetoric of political jockeys.

Really, if we sit back and look at the state of our country many of the problems come back to the same thing. The moral compass of society is off. You might say our due north is pointing a little crooked.

During the presidential election this year a dear friend of mine engaged in one of the many political polls that phoned her home. When asked what she thought the biggest issue of the election was, she hesitated. There were many topics she could have chosen, the economy and jobs were at the front of everyone’s minds, gas prices were soaring and our troops in Afghanistan were a daily concern.

Her answer of moral issues shocked the surveyor. I don’t think they had a check box for that on the questionnaire.

The explanation was really amazing. Without a simple backbone of moral stability how would the United States survive? Like the building blocks of a child learning to read, the nation must first remember its simple core values before it can begin to solve the larger issues at hand.

The keystone to values has been under attack for decades. The family is the strongest support for a true north on our moral compass.

I don’t speak of one individual family, but rather the concept of family as a whole. A broken home is not the cause of one shoot out, rampage or bank heist. It takes time for a society to break down.

The high cost of living has pushed both parents into the workforce for most families and the children into some kind of childcare. Demands for what our children must have to become competitive in the world overload our evenings with a multitude of scheduled activities. Electronic gadgets keep us tied to our work 24-hours a day and often segregate family members that are home together.

Gone are the days of sit down dinners seven days a week and discussing how everyone’s day was. Some families are lucky to all be under the same roof by nine o’clock at night.

Having less and less family influence and teachings has lowered the standards for what is considered acceptable. In turn movies and television have become increasingly disturbing. The pattern becomes set.

In the last year women have come into particular attack of this cycle. Movies about male strippers and erotic novels were some of the most touted entertainment of 2012. Chisel away at the standards of the wives and mothers one chip at a time and you break down the backbone of the family.

In 2013 I’m resolving to put my family first. It’s time for less over-scheduling and more family home evenings.

Instead of video game nights or crime investigation marathons, we could benefit from conversation and teaching moments.

It is impossible to lock down or eliminate everything we fear or dislike about this world. What is possible is changing the acceptance of those things.

I can’t change the values of an entire nation, but I can make my family strong. Maybe it’s time we over run this country with strong families and find a true north on that moral compass for the United States.

What direction is your family headed?