Thursday, December 20, 2012

Les Miser-sob

When going to the movies, what's better - the actual movie or all the movie trailers? Or all the stuff in between? Like maybe those Jordan Knight Old Navy commercials. For me, it's a toss-up. But throw in Jeff's strong, pillow-sized arm, the chocolate stashed somewhere in my purse, and the recent James Bond movie... combined with nobody eating popcorn around me... and Molly is all set.

But a few weeks ago, a couple movie trailers caught me off-guard. It wasn't so much that they were rough-and-tumble or caca-poopoo-peepee in nature, but that they were those things with the promise of "Christmas."

You know how it is with movie trailers, the voiceover guy pipes-in and describes each movie. Well this time, he said things like, "This Christmas... estranged by the only life he knows, a coffin-dragging gunslinger enters a town caught between two feuding factions."

Hmmm... guns, blood, coffins. And what are factions? Merry Christmas?

And then for the next trailer, "This Christmas... from the ones who brought you Knocked Up and The Hangover, so-and-so (fill in blank with B-actor) finally finds true love."

Oh, I see. Merry Christmas! (I think?)

But then the skies parted and a dove flitted-and-floated as sunbeams and waterfalls captivated the whole world, and here entered, before my very eyes... the Les Miserables trailer. More like Les Miser-sob, for I could not get through the trailer without crying.  

Here's the scoop: You've Hugh Jackman for the ladies. You've got Anne Hathaway for the guys (solely on the basis of her fine acting). And then the movie begins with this amazingly kind Bishop who forgives the sins of a thief, sending him on his way to hopefully make an honest man out of himself.

And that's just the beginning. There's so much more to the story: love, redemption, forgiveness, justice, mercy, compassion, hope. And probably British accents. All the things that are at the core of our very  soul. You will cry tears, I tell you. Or at least you'll get that old Hollywood misty-eyed glow.

Seems to me, humans are super cool. This unique ability we all have to feel deeply is no accident - it's the direct result of being created in the image of God. And I was quickly reminded of my God-created status while just sitting there, watching a two-minute Les Miserables movie trailer.

So this Christmas, the voiceover in my mind will not only be joy-to-the-world in nature, but also extremely pitchy as I sing the classic lyrics from Les Miserables: "I dreamed a dream in time gone by - when hope was high and life worth living."


Monday, December 17, 2012

"Blest" Friends

Life would be blah without friends. So it seems everywhere I've landed, God has provided big-time in the friendship department. Even the kooky ones were heaven-sent. And ever since I read Julie Ann Barnhill's Scandalous Grace, I am convinced that friendships are indeed God's "lily pads of grace." Although a bit deep and wordy, she writes:

"...they have saved me from the scorched places, expanded my oft protracted sense of self, and brought me across the swamp of fear and doubt...for it is through those girlfriends, who have often acted toward me as instruments of God's love and mercy, that I have been able to taste, touch, and feel more of God's scandalous grace."

Scorching places, oft-protractions, swamps? Too dramatic for my tastes. But the point is, whether a friend has been life-long or short-term, an encourager or secret-keeper, a shopping pal or Kindle Fire* book-sharer, a fellow coffee drinker (with cream, please) or ventee to my venting, God has used each one to direct me toward, as Barnhill puts it, "the next divinely-appointed woman in my life."

But what to make of the "cautionary" friends? The ones who've kept me in-the-know about the latest skin rash outbreaks? Or how Diet Coke kills? Or what about the ones who've sent me into a panic because after all these years of cutting my twelve-year-old's chicken, they've warned that I have not prepared him for dining with his future in-laws on that Alaskan cruise 14 years from now? 

On the other hand, what about the just-pick-it-up-and-eat-it friends? You know, the fun ones. The ones who casually say things like, "Sit at our table, Molly! We need more brains over here," or, "Well, Molly looks like she has small feet - have her try them on," or, "Pass it to Molly - she'll eat it." (Oh wait, that's...not a good example. True, but not proud.)

Every type is needed, right? So in the name of friendship - and in light of the Christmas season - I love reading about how Mary sought her cousin Elizabeth's friendship the moment she received the exciting, yet scary, news of being chosen to birth Jesus, the Son of God (Luke 1:26-56).

It was in the midst of such overwhelming knowledge where God met the personal needs of this young pregnant girl. She needed a friend - and pronto! Both Mary and Elizabeth were peculiarly and questionably pregnant. And how so-like-God it is for him to find another woman who can do more than just relate to the pregnancy (and when things get really-really-real down there), but also offer years of wisdom and faith to set the stage for much-needed encouragement and heart-to-heart chats.

It all reminds me of how our God is a God who sees, and on that day, he noticed two women who needed one another. Ah, with such assurance like this, I know I can hop right smack-dab into the middle of every friendship lily pad God faithfully places in Molly's pond. Ribbit!

*A little Christmas wish hint, El Jefe. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas with Pluto

I can always count on a certain radio station (which shall remain nameless) to play the same Christmas songs over and over, year after year. But it's not like anyone's putting a gun to my head. They're not all bad - the songs have become more of a seasonal expectation now. And my two favorites being George Michael's "Last Christmas" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You."

So as Mariah Carey sang her heart out in my car today, I explained to my youngest child that she was kind of a big thing when I was in high school. And much to my dismay, my daughter said, "Cool. Is she still alive?"

Wow, where did that come from? Am I really at that age where famous singers from "my day" may or may not be alive? Fine. I'll take it. Because the older I get, the more confidence I exude and uninhibited I become. Free to be me, that's what it is.

Take our most recent day at Disneyland, for example. My daughter, the same one who thinks it's perfectly natural for "my aged" people to start dying-off, wanted Pluto's autograph. But what to have him write it on? I wasn't ready for this, but Pluto was. He was just standing there. It was surprising how available he was.

So off I go, searching into the chaos that is my purse. You could practically hear the Flight of the Bumblebee tune in the background while I go digging. (And it's possible my trying-hard-to-look-for-something tongue was sticking out.) What's Molly going to find? A sock, a bag of almonds, a lipstick cap - and a pen cap. Oh, there's the pen!

Frantic that Pluto was about to move-on to a more prepared family, I pulled out an old ATM bank statement - aka: versateller statement. (Am I right or am I right?) Of course, it was crumpled. But once I smoothed it out on my leg, I said, "Here you go, PLUTO. Sign the back of this!"

Realizing how unconventional and "Frankie Heck" my display was, I felt a little judged by onlookers. "Oh dear, that poor woman has no filter." So I quickly called myself out and made a joke of it, telling Pluto to resist peeking at the other side and stuff. And Pluto did his whole hands-on-his-head-moving-back-and-forth thing. As in, "I can't believe I turned down a job at The Gap for this."

I went from carefree and confident to "oh my gosh, everyone thinks I live in a van down by the river" in 2.4 seconds. Good thing God didn't make fun of me. Or if he had, it'd be more of a laugh-with-me-not-at-me sort of thing. He knows I don't live down by the river - and wouldn't look down on me if I did.

And that's the thing: God doesn't look down on me. John 3:17 says, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Such a Christmassy verse, for it shows that Jesus came into the world to extend grace and mercy to us. What a confidence builder, too, despite my unsophisticated autograph-getting tactics.

Friday, November 30, 2012

RV Having Fun Yet?

"RV there yet?" my kids wondered last weekend. We didn't even go very far - just two hours or so. Nothing like the massive trip my parents took clear up to New York last month. But 6,000+ miles later, their RV still had enough gumption to take our family of five on our first RV excursion.

Actually, let me back up (which is hard to do when driving a 24-footer), I've been telling people it was my first time in an RV. However, I think I lied. Or forgot. Or just blocked it out of my mind all together. Because there was a time I lived in one for about four months at a KOA campground near Tyler, Texas. I was seven-years-old, and our family needed a temporary place to live while my mom and dad went to a Bible school.

Come to think of it, you know when you check into a hotel, and sometimes you discover not everyone there is vacation-minded? That for some hotel guests, the place is their home? And suddenly kids ride up on bikes to watch you unload your car, and you say to them, "Oh hey, how's it going. Yup, just going to Sea World tomorrow with the fam." And it makes the whole "We're in a hotel on vacation!" excitement diminish because, well, the people in the room next to you aren't going to Sea World tomorrow? And then you feel bad?

Well, it was kind of like that. Only we were the live-in "guests." And I was that kid. RV families would pull in and there I'd be, gap-toothed and wispy-haired. Riding up on my banana-seated bike with tasseled handlebars to watch vacationers hook-up their RV trailers. Make that standing up on my bike. I wanted everyone to see the big comb in my back pocket.

Now ditch the bike, gaping teeth, big comb, and interest in trailer hook-ups (but keep the wispy hair), and fast-forward to last weekend. It might as well have been my first time RVing, for it was my first time taking charge of what we're all going to eat, where to stuff the dirty clothes, and who-gets-which-blanket.

And I wasn't prepared. My coffee mug became a baked bean heater-upper and mixing bowl for eggs and pancake batter. And who knew how much I daily rely on the tip of a steak knife to open everything from a bag of chips to unclogging ketchup bottles. If only I brought one. (Children, do as I say, not as I do.)

And my husband soon learned the benefits of joining Boy Scouts as a young lad. That's had he joined Boy Scouts, our campfire may not have exploded. Oh, thanks to Bear Grylls, he got the fire-likes-oxygen thing down well enough. But where he went wrong (or not wrong - still not sure what happened exactly) was when he placed the firewood on top of a rock and a brick, thinking it'll promote more oxygen and make the fire happy. But it made it too happy.

So as little embers and sparks fell on my family, sending my son running straight into the night, it reminded my nine-year-old daughter of the end of the world. And through tears, she somehow connected explosion and "end of the world" with how we don't have a fire escape plan mapped-out for our real house. (Thank you, third grade, for teaching my daughter how out-of-your-mind scary it is to not have an upstairs window ladder.) So I told her, in the meantime, to just hang and drop.

Ah, but was the whole trip a disaster? Not even! We giggled over a couple games of Balderdash and how our RV was on a constant tilt (though that one was a forced giggle). And we even walked around the site, secretly giving awards to the coziest and most festive Thanksgiving-themed RV set-ups.

And it's true, Romans 12:18 is right-on by saying, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Because when you cram a cranky mom, a frazzled firewood-arranging dad, and three button-pushing kids into an RV for 48 hours, there just has to be a good God-given motto behind answering "Yes!" when asked, "RV having fun yet?"

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Neato Bandito

Have you ever had a conversation with someone where the only thing you blurt-out is "neato" - or some such nonsense word - every time you open your mouth? This happens on occasion, especially when I can't think of any other words to say to the "Thanksgiving Blessing" lady in frozen foods.

You see, I decided to go with frozen pearl onions this Thanksgiving. Maybe that's where I went wrong. Last year I made my Nana's creamed onions from scratch scratch - I got fancy and blanched the skins off. Did everything short of growing the onion stalks myself. (They are stalks, right?) But too much hassle this year, so off I went, down the frozen food aisle.

And as my onion hunt began, a lady over by the frozen fish kept eyeing me. The first time I walked by her (yes, there's a second time), she said to me, "Look at you. Good for you. Blessings to you." Good for me? Whatevs. But I'll take it.

However, I made the mistake of walking by her again. (Why can't frozen pearl onions be next to Ben and Jerry's? At least I know my way around ice cream.) And that's when she made a move and put her arm around me, saying, "You sure do light up this place. Can I give you a Thanksgiving blessing?"

And then all of my "neatos" came loose.

Well actually, my thoughts came loose first, "Okay, I guess a Thanksgiving blessing is fine. But will this take long? Could you make it short, lady? Because, uh... I have a plane to catch, a text to read. I'm running out of juice. I'm tired, hungry, sick. Swine flu. Bird flu. I don't speak English. Don't understand English."

And then out came my string of "neatos." I said "that's neato" and "okay, neato" and "oh wow, neato" and every variation thereof in between all her little bits of advice and blessings and warnings. My best one being: "Omigosh, that's super neato."

Somebody really needed to stop me. But this lady was so intense. One of those "big personality" types.  She left me practically speechless, sending my brain directly to my one default word - a word that never fails to leave me: neato. It's right up there with "thing" - as in, "please get my thing over by the thing."

And after all the well-wishes upon my life, she went on to tell me how I don't need to read any book but the Bible, but then suggested I buy this one book for $10 that talks about how the Bible is the only book I should read. (Hmmm. Sometimes I get confused about what irony means, but this lady cleared things up a bit.)

Which is funny because the Bible is my favorite book of all books. Oh I have my close seconds, but it's my "if-you-were-on-a-deserted-island-and-had-only-one-book" book. That, and chapstick.

So as things were finally wrapping-up between the two of us, I continued to smile and say neato. And just as I was about to formulate in my head that she may be a little nuts - despite her good heart and genuine concern - she beat me to it by saying, "And I'm not nuts like some people out there."

Whew, am I glad I let my words be few yesterday! Who knows the mess I could have made. Ecclesiastes 3:1&7 says, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven... a time to keep silent and a time to speak." And might I add, "A time to say... neato."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

More Whipped Cream, Please

My husband's sleepwalking adventures aren't what they used to be, for which I am thankful. He used to, quite regularly, join forces with G.I. Joe and rescue me from bad guys. Or he'd get busy turning lights on-and-off around the house. I even caught him in the hallway once, holding our firstborn baby upside down.

But he's been pretty tame lately. However, a few nights ago he sat straight up in bed and said, "There it is! It moved again!" And I'm all, "You're just dreaming." But he didn't believe me. He never believes me. So he continued, "You shh! Now listen... wait for it... (and then I repositioned my arm)... see, it just moved again!" Good grief, he was talking about my arm.

With that being said, I'm glad there are different types of dreams. Like real-life dreams. I wanna be a billionaire kind of dreams. I have them. You have them. And I'd like to say my dreams are always reaching for the stars or consist of goodwill for mankind. But I was reminded, yet again, how often my thoughts drift elsewhere.

It happened during worship in church last weekend. This is nothing new. Whether my singing is interrupted by the realization my thighs are touching in my new jeans - or wondering if the worship team will be passing out free CDs - I'm no stranger to having me-focused thoughts in church settings.

On this day, the worship leader asked everyone, "What dreams do you guys have? What is that one seemingly impossible thing you're believing God for?" And then she challenged each of us to hold out our hand and fill it with our dream. And when we get to the "nothing is impossible with God" part of the song, we open our hands and release that impossible thing.

I thought, "Yes, I'm doing this!" So while people were busy putting their dreams of good health and new jobs and restored relationships into their open hands, I put in my Nobel Peace Prize-winning dream of being a writer for Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer, a witty and quaint newsletter that provides info about the store's seasonal products.*

I'm serious. I think the writers over at corporate could be my best friends. As for the most recent Fearless Flyer - the Thanksgiving edition - it's a work of genius, for the Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls supposedly "cradle butter like none other." And the Cranberry Walnut Bread is "teeth-tuggingly tasty." They also tell me the Pecan Pie Ice Cream is so good it's "ridiculous." And not only that, but the Turkey Pot Pie is "belly-warming and hug-provoking."

Come on now, who uses the word "belly" when trying to sell a food product? Trader Joe's does. And how cool it'd be to one day brainstorm with TJ's best-of-the-best writers on how to whimsically describe their latest "This fruit walks into a bar..." cereal bar flavor - and to just let my words pour from my penny pencil with feverish fluidity.**

That's a good dream to have, right? Sure it's off-the-beaten-path, but why not trust God with it? After all, he does say that in everything, with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known to him. And since he didn't specify the type of request, Trader Joe's it is.

So this Thanksgiving, as I proudly wear the "More Whipped Cream, Please" sticker I got from a Trader Joe's cashier, my other dream is for everyone to cheesily and unashamedly thank God for all things - and in all things - and to share your dreams with him. (And the more absurd, the better.)

*Not to worry, Alabama friends. My dream for you is to get a Trader Joe's soon.

**Yes, I'm getting my "A Christmas Story" on as I prep for the holiday season.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

He Loves Me

My nine-year-old is wise to her mother's ways. She's got me figured out. When I tilt my head, she knows I'm annoyed by the extreme-couponer ahead of us in line. And when I clench my jaw, she knows it's because I just burned my waffle or botched my pedicure.

I don't even realize I'm showing frustration until I feel her little fingers massaging my arm or scratching my back. She's not much for drama - especially momma drama. So she puts it upon herself to settle me down by creating mini spa-like settings wherever we go.

But wait. Although her de-stressing tactics totally work (yes, my daughter is that good), do I really want her to feel responsible for easing me out of my first-world-problem pain? (See First World Problems.) Nice gesture, but shouldn't it be the other way around? Me being the main comforter and all? My love for her taking center-stage?

And speaking of comforting our kids, my aunt and uncle are dealing with bullies at their son's school. When my aunt told me about it, I thought, "I bet she wants to give them a knuckle sandwich, them bullies!" But instead she took the high road, noticing God using the experience to reveal his father's heart toward her. As if he said, "See that? See how passionate you are about keeping your son away from the dark, icky things of this world? That's how I feel about you every second of the day - only times infinity."

So if we as parents, with all of our imperfections, agonize when our kids experience everything from a little splinter to yellow-eyed bullies named Skut Farkus, could it be that God is that much more smitten with us? And even that much more heart-broken when we suffer?

John 16:33 says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

And just ask my nine-year-old massage therapist, I can go from happy to grouchy in the time it takes me to down a bottled water (that's very fast). But not my God. He doesn't have bad days. He doesn't react to me according to my "progress report" with him. He is faithful when I am faithless (2 Timothy 2:13).

So while God is unchanging and locked into his nature, I, on the other hand, am not. That is why when I pray, instead of saying "Dear Lord, I love you," I oftentimes say, "Dear Lord, you love me." Between the two of us, his love is the sustaining love. And with my daughter, I want my love to sustain her, not the other way around. (Oh, but please - keep the "sammage" parlors open, my sweet girl.)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Election

Chicken bowl lunches with my mom are always great. Chicken bowl lunches with my mom and my 10th grader... even better. Sure it was a school day, but I give my kids about two, maybe three "mental health" days per year. (Sometimes I'm cool like that.)

So there we were eating lunch last week, and in walked a handful of high school students. Being the forever-nosy mother, I asked my daughter, "Know any of 'em? What kind of kids are they?" And you know exactly what kind of info I was looking for. Everything from: "Which one thinks you're pretty?" to "That girl really shaved a boy's eyebrow off in math class?"

Yes, I didn't make the whole eyebrow thing up just now. It actually happened on my watch. I once subbed at a high school in a rough area. Bad idea. You send Molly - short, freckly, loves Barry Manilow and kittens, has a lisp ("Come on guy-th, thettle down!") - into a "yo yo, waddup sub" type of classroom, and the razor blades come out every time.

But on this day, the kids having lunch around us were sweet ASB kids, according to my daughter. And I got all excited because I know exactly what those are! That was me in high school. A sweet ASB kid. I was I.O.C. President my Senior year.

Too bad I was horrible at it. For starters, I don't even remember what "I.O.C." stood for. My duties had something to do with making sure the student body communicated with clubs around campus. (I'm guessing the C was for "clubs?") And also something to do with having really great hair and making sure each of my eyelashes were perfectly mascara'd.

Strange that it was an "elected" position. I didn't deserve to win. If I were to go back in time, I'd tell everyone to vote for me, not because I cared about campus clubs meshing together, but because I needed friends (my Junior year stunk) and thought ASB a good place to make them. Student body kids were generally nice and good.

So there ended my career in politics. Just a one-year term for me. But now there's an even bigger election - a huge election - ahead. How easy it is to get carried away with it all. To put all our hope in the outcome, thinking our joy is somehow linked to it.

I recently had the privilege of listening to Nick Vujucic - an armless and legless man - speak on the topic of hope and joy. He said he used to think, "If only I had arms and legs, then I'd... I'd be as happy as, uh... as all of you?" How profound! Puts the whole "all will be great if only so-and-so is President" into perspective.

The only election that ultimately matters is God's electing of me - of you - to be linked to him for eternity. Such freedom! Such peace! That's true joy - a joy that goes deep and is unshakable, through thick and thin, lasting for all time.

But as for my single unsuccessful year in politics, maybe I would have served my school better had the clubs not been so mathematical and athletic. Where was the "I Love Talking, So Let's Talk" club? Well, I kind of talked my way into each club regardless, making the friends I was hoping to make in the first place.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The New "First Base"

Interesting, the whole texting thing. My husband doesn't think it's going to last. "Too much of a manual task," he says.  Besides, texting can be so vague - not enough context and details. What does "5 min" really mean anyway? Arriving early? Still on freeway? You just now moved onto the massage part of your pedicure?     

But I do love texting. Although it makes me bump into people sometimes. So I'm working on texting safely. Oh, and texting considerately. When I hear that ringtone or buzz go off during coffee with a friend, I'm tempted to put our conversation on hold to see what I got. A rude thing to do?

So outwardly I remain attentive: "I'm very sorry to hear about your sore toe." But inside I'm giddy. Did Jeff get a raise? My daughter an A+? Sunset Magazine wants to send me on the road to write pieces for them? The possibilities are endless! Texts are like little presents throughout the day, just waiting to be opened.

But let's be honest - I'm not that naive. There are plenty of "bad news" texts out there. Like the "Call me now" texts. What did I do? Who died? It costs HOW much? A little anxiety gets thrown in once in awhile. Keeps things real.

Now what about texting and boy/girl relationships? It seems a whole new "step" - a texting step - has been added to the teen dating process these days. (Though, no dating allowed here yet - only "gentleman callers" can come sit and watch TV with our family.)

The thing is, teens just aren't talking on the phone until 2:00 in the morning anymore, saying things like:

"You hang up first."
"No, you hang up first." 
"No, you go."
"No, you go."

Instead they text:

"U stop txting 1st. Hahaha."
"No, u stop txting 1st. Hahaha, lol!" 
"Hahaha, lol!"
"Lol! hahaha."

So, since teens primarily connect via texting, could it be that talking on the phone is the new "first base?" At least my funny mother-in-law thinks so. That is, of course, keeping in mind the most wholesome sense of the phrase. (Gosh, what is first base now anyways? Don't think I want to know.)

What then to make of texting? Is this shortened and abbreviated mode of communication bad for us? Should we all go back to writing letters? Talking on the phone? Face to face? Time will tell.

But I sometimes wonder what it'd be like if God were a texting God. Although I'm sure he loves my lengthy, overly-worded prayer journal, my to-the-point prayers - or "texts" - get to him just the same.

Take a look at Nehemiah in the Old Testament. The king asked him a question, and Nehemiah was dreadfully afraid to answer. After all, the king could do whatever he wanted to him. So Nehemiah quickly and silently "prayed to the God of heaven" before he answered the king. What was that prayer exactly? What did he text to God? "Help me?" Who knows. Whatever it was, it was quick and did the trick, for the king showed him favor.

So omitting a few prayer details for the sake of brevity may not be so bad. Not to worry. God's got enough time for the entire universe - both our endless, sob-filled prayers and our "5 min" ones rise up to him. As for all the criticism texting gets, I'm not losing sleep over it yet - anything that slows down the first-to-second-to-third-base dating process is fine by me!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Recipe for Life

Ah, the old school days when kitchen decor consisted of wall-mounted wooden spoons and forks. Or amber-colored glass grape clusters. Or how about those decorative "Recipe for Kindness" plates. (What, your mom still has one? You still have one? Oh.)

Here are the ingredients:

1 cup of respect
2 cups friendliness
3 cups love
1/4 cup patience
1 tsp working together

After practicing everything, mix together and enjoy!

How sweet. But I think people prefer real food recipes. I know I do. It's like, "Yum, a new recipe! Wait. Hold on. One cup of respect? Oh, it's a recipe-for-life recipe. Lame."

But when I do happen upon a real recipe, I'll first comb through to see if it wants me to grind my own nutmeg or use a thermometer or blanche something. And what exactly is a cardamom pod? Hungarian paprika? My mind starts to drift at the mere mention of that stuff.

Although once I used "butcher's twine" (cooking string) to hold together a spinach-stuffed rolled-up meat thing. And it didn't turn everything greenish-blue like on Bridget Jones Diary. I actually made this recipe... not one, not two, but three times - rare moments of culinary genius.

But recipes that really suck me in are those requiring "one pot" and have the words "healthy" and "comfort food" magically thrown together somehow. And there are certain ingredients - oatmeal, buttermilk, cocoa, sour cream - that cause me to linger awhile, as in, "you had me at oatmeal."

Now, anyone hoping to get a real recipe out of this blog, today is your lucky day! And I'm pretty sure you already know the main ingredient. It's my mother-in-law's famous Oatmeal Cake, a.k.a. "Touchdown Cake" during my husband's high school football days. Simply amazing. Don't know why exactly. I guess it has all the right ratios. And it's a one-potter.

But real quick - back to "Recipes for Kindness." Can you imagine actually following one? If baked up just right, our social circles would be heaven on earth. But let's be honest, knowing me I'd end up replacing 1/4 cup of patience with 1/4 cup reality, and my party would fall flat or “taste” too salty or something. (Or just be really fun!)

At that point, I'd ask God to let His grace flow like the milk over a bowl of Reeses Puffs on a Saturday morning. That would more than make up for any ingredient shortage or mix-up. Maybe "unlimited cups of God's grace" should be added to all recipes-for-life?

At any rate, let's get down to business...

Karen's Oatmeal Cake:
1 cup oatmeal
1 1/4 cup water
--Microwave both together for 3 minutes.
Then add:
1 stick butter (Let butter sit in hot oatmeal a few minutes to soften before continuing.)
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
--Beat together one minute.
Then add:
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg (Previously ground nutmeg.)
--Mix together, and pour into greased 9-inch pan. Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes until done. Cool and sift (or sprinkle) powdered sugar over the top - be generous.

Oh, and don't forget to add a pinch of kindness. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Miserly Me

Ready or not, here comes Christmas. Only two-ish months away. And since Thanksgiving doesn't really have any "songs," there's not a smooth transition from Halloween's Monster Mash into Silent Night. So we get hit with Christmas music in stores starting November 1st, bright and early - if not already.

The season of generosity, that's what it is. And it's true what they say: It's better to give than to receive. Right? Well sadly, according to this past weekend, I have a long way to go.

So there we were at the Beth Moore women's conference in Long Beach - 9,000 of us. (I did the math, and that's 9,000 pairs of tall equestrian-style boots and brightly-colored skinny jeans that I saw.) The whole thing was amazing. The way that woman communicates the Word of God, bringing it to present-day life, in her Southern drawl. I'm pretty sure I'm wiser now - except for that one thing.

It was near the end. After the last song. The worship leader shared something with us. Something God put on his heart about his praise team becoming a gathering of givers. And I got so excited. What were we going to get exactly? Surely not a car. Too many of us. iPads? Of course not. Hmmm, what could it be? So excited. Just like on Ellen!  

And when he explained "gathering of givers," I've never been so happy that I kept my thoughts to myself. For what he meant was that we, the audience, are the givers. Oh man. How could I have missed something so obvious? "Me. Me. Me." that's all I heard.

As the worship leader began telling us about a giving opportunity through Samaritan's Purse - a Christmas shoe box ministry that blesses kids around the world - I felt ashamed. But right then and there, the whole theme to Beth Moore's message played-out in my heart.

She told us about King Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1. "Clamin' Naaman," she said. And how he was a great man in the sight of his master and a highly regarded man of valor, but - a big BUT - he was a leper. 

Now, fast forward to, well... ME. (Apparently my favorite subject.) What is my personal "leprosy?" My one blight? Am I afraid to be generous? Am I too thrifty, to the point of being stingy? Could be. I'm just glad God loves me enough to point all that out to me.

So as the Christmas season quickly approaches, I'd like to say goodbye to Miserly Molly and hello to... Moody Molly? Hope not. Magical Molly? Doesn't fit. Magnanimous Molly? Too big of a word. How about simple, yet festive, Merry Molly? Sure.

And what about filling Christmas shoe boxes with Bonne Bell lipgloss, fuzzy socks, and Play-doh? If it were up to me, I'd like this year's Samaritan's Purse shoe box to be big - tall equestrian boot-sized big - and filled to the brim.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Favorite Child

The question, "Do I have a favorite child?" came up this week. But my kids didn't even press me for an answer. Guess they assume I love them equally with infinity love. And I do! But it got me thinking... do I have a favorite?

My twelve-year-old had an accident recently that hiked-up my love level. (Injured kids do that to me.) Thinking a steak knife a good way to pry open a box, he sliced open his left hand. And out came my soothing mom chant: "It's okay. Just a cut. You're fine. Let's have a look. Honey, you're alright."

However, the chant I was thinking: "You're not okay. It's a bad cut. I don't want to have a look. Honey, we should go to urgent care." But once I got the bleeding to stop, we put off urgent care until the morning. Turns out you can't do that. Stitches need to go in within eight hours of injury. Oops.

The whole thing really scared him. I wish it happened to me instead. All the what-to-do? thoughts came to mind - apply pressure, elevate, don't say "gross." But the two things (the two people) that did not come to mind were my daughters. In that one moment, it was my son who took first place. He was my main focus. He was my favorite.

Oh, but how things get switched around. The very next day, the "texts" started coming in again. Thing is, my oldest daughter has no problem communicating to me - between Geometry and Choir, during lunch, and a sneak-text in English - that she's worried about something. And whether she gets a "snap out of it" text from me or an "all will be well, baby girl," she takes center stage in my thoughts regardless. She then becomes my main focus. My favorite.

I don't know, though - favorite? Maybe I'm confused about the meaning of the word. Because according to Julie Andrews, favorite things are raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, not cut-open and worried children.

But being the forever faith/life paralleler-er, I see an analogy of this "favorite child" thing in Matthew 18:12-14. It's about a shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 sheep - safe and sound sheep - to go searching for one who strayed away.

And when he finds the one lost sheep, did he spank its butt? No. Lecture it? No. Say, "Who do you think you are!?" No. Rather, did he love it deeply - individually - and rejoice because he found it? Yes and YES! Hmmm, could it be, in that moment, the lost little lamb was his favorite?

So sure, my son wasn't going "astray" or anything when he cut his hand. But he did become a quick favorite of mine. And having experience with my own daughter's neediness via texting, I think it's safe to say - if God were a texting God - I'd become a favorite of his as I send my needy-Molly texts heavenward.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Special-est of Special Agents

I wonder what a private investigator or special agent would deduce from looking around my house. (Heaven forbid we should ever need one, of course.) A sock in the kitchen sink? Blue glitter on the fireplace? Band-aids on a lamp? Hardly what you'd call obvious clues - no real, "Professor Plum in the library with a revolver" evidence to make a detective's job easier.
And speaking of libraries, when my kids were little, we used to do a little private eye work of our own when checking-out the book, Wacky Wednesday. With shoes on ceilings and trees growing out of chimneys, it's a book about a boy who sees odd things around his house and town.

Although I love this classic book, page four always stumped me, for the boy sees three wacky things. However, my youngest daughter would only count two. The one she missed was a broom in the hallway. It never seemed out of place to her. (That's because she has me for a mom, that's why; pardon the pun, but I don’t always do things by the book.)

And I know I'm not alone in this. A friend once shouted out in her house: "Someone please get me the toilet paper out of the dining room!" Apparently a detective would struggle at gathering evidence in her house, too.

So while detectives figure out crime scenes, I try to figure out people. But through much trial and error, I've learned that a Gucci handbag does not always equal a wealthy individual, nor does green hair equal an avid swimmer, nor do those skull/spider/unicorn/Bieber tattoo sleeves equal a wild night in Cancun. And likewise, a mean comment doesn't always come from a mean person (whew!), nor does a nice comment always come from a nice person.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, "For the Lord sees not as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

What a relief to know God skips past appearances and heads straight to a person's heart and motives, making our God the very specialest of special agents – an agent of mercy. After all, solving mysteries is one thing, solving people is a whole other thing. In fact, it’s an impossible thing.

So how about this: “I hereby commission you, commission me, to be agents of mercy for the kingdom of God. Now, Godspeed as you head-out to change your world, starting with your mother who might be the type to leave brooms in hallways.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Such a Bore

My T.V. shows start this week! The backdrop to which I process my life is finally up-and-running again. Crime-solving, romance, and far-far-away lands will suck me nightly at 8:00 PM, pacific time. But my favorite shows actually center around family dynamics, for they make me feel normal. (See "One 'Heck' of a Show.")

And lately, my mornings have played-out like a commercial-free episode of The Middle - this morning being no exception. Here's a sampling:

-We fought over Cocoa Pebbles and how I initially intended for them to be eaten as dessert, not for breakfast. (A poorly chosen battle on my part.)

-Then P.E. shorts went missing (along with my cool) 15 seconds before needing to leave in time so that kids in French class don't play the "How Late will Emma be Today?" game.

-And then we dodged maggots on the sidewalk while making our way to the car. (Yes, maggots. Something to do with it being trash day. Long story.)   

So when I finally landed at the gym, there was no zoning-out-on-the-treadmill waiting for me. Instead, I had 50 people waiting for me to creatively teach a step class with clarity and precision - and a smile. And I so wanted to "go there." You know, tell them my morning woes while I finished tying my shoes. But thanks to a quote I read earlier in the morning (before the chaos), I just couldn't: 

"The definition of a bore is someone who, when asked how they are feeling, will actually tell you." -Ruth Graham

Oh no! Could it be... I'm a bore? Sure I didn't end up spilling all to my class... that time. But what about the other times I went on and on and on - no filter, just endless sobbing about my tedious issues. Yes, some things do need venting, but Cocoa Pebbles?  

Really, who cares? Well, besides God. I can always lean into him -  he likes it. He especially likes it when I cry to him while throwing in bits of thanksgiving along the way. Helps with perspective, I guess. 

You say, "But Molly, seriously - gym shorts and maggots - that's all you've got?" Well, for today. But believe you me, I've had my days - days I've been maligned, misunderstood, and wronged. And those are the times I've let these words from author Nicole Johnson - words I've read over and over throughout the years - sink into my soul:

"There is freedom when you are not afraid to be wronged, not afraid to be misunderstood, not afraid to be forgotten for the moment. When your heart can trust that there is One defender of your reputation when you are maligned, One champion of your heart when you're misunderstood, One kinsman redeemer when you are wronged. That is true liberty and peace. Then you don't have to prove your point, constantly defend your actions, or demand your rights. You are free to quietly trust."

The "One" she's referring to is Jesus - our defender, champion, and redeemer. And in all my favorite shows (going for spiritual-corny here), I see him when the good guys win... when the boy gets the girl... when adventure awaits... and when Sue Heck from The Middle never quits (even when humanly-speaking, she should).  

Saturday, September 22, 2012


When casually comparing two people (or playing matchmaker), I sometimes play the "one-up" game. You know, "You are so one-up on him," or, "Seems to me she's a couple one-ups on you." I feel kind of bad because it implies better than. So maybe it's best I leave it at "an unlikely match."

Besides, aren't we are all one-up'd by someone in life? Great are the days I realize every single person - whether at the gym, around the neighborhood, and yes, even at Wal-Mart - is better than me in some way or another. Not-so-great are my fault-finding days.

And every so often when someone reveals their "fault" - or their "ignorance" over something petty - I'll feign cluelessness to hide my inner nerd. Not in an "oh, look at me, Miss Humble" sort of way, but to keep us on the same page.

For example, a friend might say, "I hate this weather - why is it so hot out?" And I'll say, "Who knows, right? It's awful." (But I really do know! It's those offshore winds and dominant high pressure system over the west!)

Or I have just the opposite problem. A ladylike, demure, disciplined (perfect) friend might one-up me (without even realizing it) by saying, "I'm so full. I can't eat another bite." So to keep us on the same one-up level, I'll say, "Meeee too. Completely stuffed." (But I'm really not stuffed! I want the rest on my plate, her plate, and dessert.)

So while most one-uppers are about intelligence or status or food-eating capabilities, I read a story about a girl named Mary who felt one-up'd by her classmates because of her cleft palate. She had a crooked nose, scarred lip, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech. And because of that, she thought no one could ever love her.

And when she was in the second grade, she had a teacher - joyful, fun, warm, cozy - who would check the children's hearing with a simple test. She'd have the kids stand on the other side of the room as she whispered a question to each one. "What did you do this weekend?" or "Are those new shoes?" And when it came to Mary's turn, it wasn't a question she heard. Instead, Mary heard something that changed her life forever: "I wish you were my little girl."

Imagine a teacher saying that to you? My heart would melt to pieces. I would never forget it. (But is it bad to secretly hope my classmates also heard it?) At any rate, that teacher - a person who really mattered - gave Mary hope by treating her as better than herself (Philippians 2:3).

I want to be like that. To love like that. After all, isn't everyone fighting something out there? So, here it goes: "Attention Wal-Mart shoppers and fellow people of the world. One-up me (or one-down me) all you want. It's all good." 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Enjoy Birth?

I've got my kids' school routes down pat. I know the way like the back of my hand. Monday through Friday, up-and-down the same streets we go. I know where all the cute houses are, where the cops hide, where that one cat crosses the street, and I know where "Vicky" - a woman we named - waits for the city bus.

And because I drop-off/pick-up from three different schools this year, it can get tricky. I think, "If I have to turn left... at that horribly-timed light... one more time... I'm going to burst!" So I keep from bursting by looking-out for new things of interest - helps ease the monotony. 

And then one day, a new thing. A bumper sticker on the back of a minivan: ENJOYBIRTH.COM. Enjoy birth? Isn't that like "Enjoy Colonoscopies" or "Enjoy Root Canals?"

I guess for some women, the whole birthing process is fabulous. One little Diet Coke "burp" and out pops baby. (Uh, I mean natural beverage.) But for my first experience, it was anything but fab. Believe me, I tried. Jeff and I took classes to educate ourselves. I went into it so "prepared." After all, I packed honey sticks for energy and brought vanilla-scented Glade candles to promote "calm" - you know, for when things got a little rough

And somewhere between saying no to the epidural and being told things are going to get really-really-real down there if I refuse an episiotomy, I decided I wasn't "cut" out for this and became "numb" to the whole idea of natural birth. (Ba-dum-bum!) Perhaps if I remembered the honey sticks and candles at the bottom of my duffel bag...

So through sweat and tears and some kind of medicine that made me loopy, my 8-pound-15-ounce baby girl was born. And three-ish years later, my five-foot-two-inch self pushed out a whopping 10-pound-4-ounce baby boy. (I was a birthing-floor celebrity that day!) And then my third baby - so sweet and light as a feather at 8-pounds-8-ounces - came another three-ish years after that.

Strange thing is, my heaviest baby was the easiest to birth. But I was for-reals prepared for him, for I said "yes, please!" to everything the doctors and nurses suggested. I finally felt peace when I eased-up a little on thinking there was a conspiracy theory behind doctors using epidurals and all-things unnatural. (I was weirder back then.)

And you know how they say in real estate, "Location, location, location?" Well my doctor says, "position, position, position," when it comes to easy vs. hard labors, and apparently my son was in textbook-perfect position. (But shhh, I'm "sticking" with epidural.)

Sure, women have naturally birthed babies for what now, a couple hundred years at least? :) I really admire them. It takes courage and lots of honey sticks and candles. But either way - natural or "traditional hospital" style - the Bible says to commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans (Proverbs 16:3).

So, Maybe for a brave, commendable few. What about 100% yes for everyone!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mean Girls

Let's be honest, we all have a mean streak - or at least a slight mean streak. (Please say yes, please say yes.) Just when I think I wouldn't hurt a fly, I end up hurting someone inside my mind. My silent observations of people aren't always bright and flowery.

And sadly, around my husband and kids (especially on days I've-had-it-up-to-here-for-crying-out-loud), mean thoughts will actually make their way out of my mind and then... out of my mouth. I don't get mean mean, just snippy and impatient. Why can't I zip it and be like Caroline Ingalls?  

Several years ago, one of my favorite Bible study teachers talked about this very thing. She said she asks God daily for help with self control. But admitted that non-nice words still "poked through" on occasion, leaving her kids saying, "Mom, you said you were going to be nicer." 

And she'd respond with, "If you kids only knew how nice that really was - and how it really was filtered by the Holy Spirit. Because I had so much more to say!" (I sat there and did my soundless "giggle shake" for a long time over that.)

But back to just thinking mean thoughts and not voicing them... recently, I quietly "took issue" with a woman.* Nothing major. She just has a very important role in leadership with a "company," more or less, that perhaps she shouldn't have at all. A position where she deals with humanity and holds people's hearts in her hands.

And I witnessed something about her. Although she was very wise and spoke tons of God's truth - truth we're all better off knowing than not knowing - there was no love, no compassion, and no grace in her delivery. She had lots of technical knowledge about God, but no life-changing joy to show for it.

Regrettably, mean-ish thoughts began to form in my head. Not very fair of me. After all, maybe I caught her having an "off day." But I soon imagined she'd be much more useful working in the company's basement - as a troll in a dungeon of sorts, a very responsible, organized, and efficient troll - doing important research or some such activity where she isn't the "face" of the establishment.

And as days went by after seeing her in action, I kept thinking and praying, "God, what was her deal? Am I wrong in this? Am I just jealous because she wore a really cute skirt? It's just... I can't seem to think a single, cozy thought about her. Lord, help me to love this prickly, condescending woman - and to extend grace, the kind of grace I always talk and write about."

John 1:14 says Jesus not only came in truth, but "in truth and in grace." So relieved about that! Because people whose mantra is "truth, or else!" make me feel guilty and blah. On the other hand, those who only think "grace for you, grace for me, lalalala!" are way fun to be around, but soon become flaky and undependable. But God has both traits going on - at the same time!

Understanding and just - that's Jesus. Merciful and true - that's Jesus. He is for me, not against me - "mean girl" and all.

*This "woman" will never be reading my blogs. In other words, relax! She can't be any of you! :)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Old Toes

I turn 39 this week. One more "she's-thirty-something" year left before I enter a new decade of increased wisdom and confidence. And sure it also comes with decreased muscle mass and skin elasticity - and according to my nine-year-old, "old toes." But still, I think I'll side with my grandmother when she says, "Time of ya life, Molly," in her unmistakable Boston accent.

Besides, I've got the Jennifers of this world to be thankful for - Anniston and Lopez. Beautiful, active, accomplished. Or is it the camera lighting? Or personal chefs and make-up artists? Either way, they make 25-year-olds only wish they were in their 40s.

Though I will say, with total assurance, I do not ever want to be 25 again. At the time, I had a two-year-old and a baby on the way, and was completely surrounded by seemingly perfect moms - here's a week-at-a-glance with their kids:

Monday: Fold towels and linens - correctly folding fitted sheets - while singing-along to "Praise Baby."

Tuesday: Write letters and draw pictures to send to our World Vision child(ren).

Wednesday: Babysitting swap, along with make-ahead-homemade-frozen-dinner swap.

Thursday: Backyard Science Morning: Insect or Arachnid? Fruit or vegetable?

Friday: Find household items that start with the letter "A."

Saturday: Bake "welcome" cookies for our foreign exchange student who arrives in the afternoon.

Sunday: Volunteer in childcare at church - both services.

And those were just morning plans. Afternoons (during nap-time) consisted of painting murals on bedroom walls and steaming peas from the garden to make baby food. And evenings turned into scrapbooking and girls-night-out adventures.

I felt so inadequate. I mean, I might have had two weeks per year like that, but my little ones mostly spent their mornings with my mom or mother-in-law (forever thankful!) while I finished college... or in the gym's childcare while I taught aerobics. Or at home watching Little Bear with a juice "ba ba" on the couch at age two-and-a-half (horrors)... while I sat next to them... talking on the phone... matching together socks before we headed off to the McDonalds' ball pit.

I did, however, make a pretty impressive "cantaloupe boat" when my kids were toddlers, cutting the fruit in such a way that resembled a boat. I would also go to the library and check out 25 books at a time. And once I made a Barbie cake. Oh, and painted a bedroom pink while breast feeding. (Figure that one out.)

Ah, those days are neither here nor there now. I'm 39 and my kids sleep in their own beds, eat salad, and know how to read - and also know how much I love them. But more importantly, they know how much God loves them.

Psalm 139:16-17 says, “…and in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, as yet there were none of them. How precious also Your thoughts to me, O God. How great is the sum of them!”

So what's that I said earlier about not having mad skillz as a mother? It's okay. God has only ever had precious thoughts about me; his love covers me in everything I do - now, at the age of 39... and back then, at the age of 25 - old toes and all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Brownies a la Mode

September is finally here. The "ber" months (my favorite months) have arrived at last - September, October, November, December. I'm a sucker for all things Fall - the fashion, the foliage, the festivites, and... the food. Love the stuff. Food just tastes better this time of year.

Last night my sister, Sheila, threw together the perfect pot of spaghetti - the best. And I think it tasted extra-specially-good because... she simmered the sauce for a long time? No. Because I had calories saved-up? Possibly. Or because it's September and the mornings are slightly cooler and I just saw the first-of-the-season Pumpkin Spice Latte advertisement at Starbucks this week? That's got to be it.

And sure, spaghetti is great and all, but I've got a thing for food that is dessert-in-nature. Chocolate chunk cookies, oatmeal cake, cinnamon rolls. Preferably homemade - Molly's homemade. I like to bake more often than "cook." And Fall kicks off my baking-more-than-necessary season.

A friend and I used to joke that baking is a form of therapy. We would say that if we ever catch each other in the kitchen, we'd have to ask what's wrong. "Molly, you're baking again. Is everything okay? Is their a deeper issue here?" Well, nothing that sour cream crumb cake and a cup of coffee can't cure.

But on occasion, I do put my baking to good use. I once made brownies for a... uh, challenging neighbor. You know, a peace offering. So I walked over, knocked on the door, smiled and said, "I made some brownies for you guys." And she looked at the plate, rolled her eyes, and said, "Are there nuts in those?" Like I was carrying a plate of baby rattlesnakes.

Now, doesn't she know she's supposed to hide her gut-reactions from people? Like maybe every morning in the mirror she should practice a face that says, "Look, brownies! With or without nuts! So excited!" But instead, she put me in a funk.

So I wonder sometimes, does what I do - big or small - make a difference? Even though appearances may show the recipient could care less, should I continue being nice? Did the Spirit of God use my brownie-gesture at all to soften my neighbor's heart? Or my heart?

He must have been up to something - or else I may not have played very nice. So the encounter wasn't meaningless and hopeless after all. Romans 5:5 says, "And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."

Come to think of it, brownies all by themselves are really good. But brownies topped with ice cream? Extraordinary. What ice cream is to brownies is what God is to my life - so to speak. And as I invite God into my comings-and-goings this Fall season, I trust he'll "top" my days with much-needed joy and purpose, and more often than not lately, ice cream.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

You Are Who You're With

When I was a kid, my mom had eyes on the back of her head. She also had a special power - a unique ability to always know who I was hanging out with. "You are who you're with," she'd say. It'd make me wonder, "What? How'd she know I was next door watching Dirty Dancing?"

Not sure how she did it. Did I give off a carnal vibe when I got home? Maybe I walked through the front door with a whatever-ness about me. Or with inch-thick black eyeliner. Or with a slight fluctuation to the way I pronounced certain words. From "Totally, Mom" to "Toad-lay, Mom," or some slight change that brought out my cool.

What about the way I influenced my friends? Picking out the perfect Michael Jackson poster or suggesting we talk to each other in fake languages are both pretty harmless activities. If only I didn't pass along my extremely limited (albeit scientific) knowledge of the birds-and-the-bees. Maybe that's where I went wrong.

As for my own kids, whose "influence" - good or bad -  is going to rub off on them this school year? I've already got an eye on a few negative influences, particularly that one "secret keeper/sharer" girl from last year. This girl tends to make my youngest daughter feel "privileged" when she lets her in on a secret. My heart breaks for both of them.

I hate it when my kids get caught up in all that. My prayer is for them to stand strong and be good, like Andy Griffith good or Hallmark movie good. And I want that for me, too. Not just for-goodness-sakes or "just because," but in a lasting way.

Romans 8:6 says, "For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." There's that word again, carnal. Sounds so sinister. And corny. Like God is overreacting a little bit.

But as life happens, it's actually a great verse to keep in mind. Because when I create my own three-step-program to being a "good" Molly, I last about a day - depending on my outfit. Even if I follow all the rules of the Bible, I'll still flake if I don't spend time being "spiritually minded" by relating to God throughout the day.

Pastor Jon Courson puts it this way, "You're missing out on what only I can produce as you spend time with me (Jesus). Even if you have the principles down and the theology right, without me there will be no self-control and peace, love and joy, gentleness and goodness, faith and meekness. Those only come from spending time with me."

What does that mean? Well, for example, I'd like to think that Anne Hathaway and I are BFFs because I know things about her: loves chocolate cake, almost a whole 10 years younger than me, and looks cute with short hair. But since Anne and I don't hang-out, no friendship (boo!) and no REAL "influencing" could ever take place.

So as school kicks into high gear, the super powers I inherited from my mother will be activated. My kids will hear me casually say in my sing-songy voice, "Honey, after all, you are who you're with." And I hope God says the same of me - in the best of ways - as I spend time with him and he with me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First World Problems

Why aren't people texting me back faster?  "That's a First World Problem, Mom," instructs my eldest daughter.

I hate it when empty water bottles fall out when I open the car door. It's so embarrassing.  "Again, a First World Problem."

These In-N-Out fries don't taste as good as last time.  "Mom, like I said..."

What's a "First World Problem?" I guess it's a complaint or nagging issue that privileged people in wealthier countries have. Not sure if it's an old or new saying. But apparently it's part of my daughter's Facebook and Tumblr Meme adventures. (Memes are kind of like witty pictures or sayings that depict our modern culture's thoughts and views.) For example:

Talk show hosts are really good at discussing their First World Problems. Just this morning, Kelly Rippa gabbed on and on about how junk drawers and cluttered desktops make her nervous. Seeing a messy environment is like watching a horror film to her. (And just when I thought she might be a kindred spirit...)

For most people in the world, the concept of "cluttered desktops" isn't even on their radar. Radars aren't even on their radar. But what about other tasks of cleanliness? Say, sweeping - a universal chore. Everyone knows about that one.

I remember reading a book awhile ago called "Safely Home" by Randy Alcorn - super deep and made me think a lot. The main character's father was a street sweeper in China. The kind that would make Kelly Rippa proud, for he lived-out Martin Luther King's motto:

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare composed poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper, who did his job well.'"

I could seriously go a billion places with that quote, but I remember thinking, "God, I'm a little embarrassed. Here I am. In America. Living in the 21st Century. Not sweeping the dusty streets of a poor Chinese village, but rather whining about sweeping my kitchen floor because of the big, sticky spot of Sierra Mist that attempted to dry, but only left a syrupy goop that I couldn't see because, well, Sierra Mist is clear, but then sure enough found it when I stepped in it - a week later - but was too tired to clean it, then forgot about it, but then remembered it again as the broom snagged a bit while going over it."

How's that for a First World Problem (and run-on sentence)?

But I also remember being sweetly covered by God in that moment. It was as if he was saying, "Thank you, Molly, for being aware of how blessed you are with where I decided to place you on this earth." And then I think he added a little, "Just stay reliant on ME, not on all the wealth you have."

And although new shampoo may make me super happy as I take a long, hot shower after working out in an air-conditioned gym (not one, not two, but three potential FWPs), my joy definitely shouldn't hinge on whether or not the shampoo made it to the shower.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

It's a Sign

We drove by a small sign on the side of the road yesterday. Someone just stuck it in the ground next to a freeway off-ramp. The kind of sign that usually says, "Christmas Light Installation" or "Earn 30K+ Working From Home." But this one read, "Infant Care," and a phone number was provided for anyone interested.

My husband and I thought a minute and wondered how that would play out... "Hi, I've got this baby and could use a little help, where are you guys located?" And the childcare provider would ask, "First, how did you hear about us? Was it our breakdancing sign spinner or the lone sign by the freeway?"

Strange. Aren't we talking about infant care? This is serious business. Advertising this way is kind of like tacking up an ad for gynecological services at a car wash. Likewise, a cardboard sign stuck in the ground, right where I sometimes see a man holding a "Hungry Hungry Hippie" sign, just doesn't mesh with professional childcare services.

The whole thing seemed a little shady. But also really funny. Oh, the blogging possibilities! I even said, "I feel a blog coming on." And of course, Jeff responded with, "Does it hurt?" Such sass.

And then my Pollyanna-minded teenager chimed in (her Pollyanna moments come in spurts), "Well, it does look like a quality sign - maybe it's a good childcare facility after all?"

And get this, she continued with, "Sure it's in an odd place, but God is found in odd places, right? Jesus hung out with all kinds of weird people. If there was a sign with an arrow that said, 'Losers, this way.' He'd be the first to follow it."

And I'm thinking, "What a profound thought. Out of the mouths of babes! My blog is coming together so quickly. I could add so much to this..."

Then, before I could get an original thought in, my husband redeemed his earlier comment and said, "People respond to all kinds of signs... glitzy-glam signs, food-related signs, fortune-promising signs. But doesn't the Bible say something about how God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things of this world to shame the strong?"

What's happening? This is amazing! Such good stuff. This is the easiest blog I've ever written!

And I couldn't have said it all better myself. How freeing to know that, whatever it is we're lacking in - sophistication, education, charm, swagger, and... uh-hem, "business know-how" for the childcare providers out there - Jesus is happily drawn to us. (And not to get all Colin Firthy, but God also likes us, "Just as we are.")

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Love, Not Like

You know what gets a bad rap these days? The word "love." There are those individuals who think it's disgraceful, the way it casually gets thrown around. "I love ranch dressing. I love new socks. I love Shark Week." Apparently these are things we're supposed to just "like."

I've heard it all before, parents who say, "Um, we teach our kids that 'hate' and 'love' are very strong words... and to never use hate... and to never use love for ordinary things." If you ask me, sounds kind of stale and boring. I just hate being told I can't love things. Makes my inner Anne-of-Green-Gables come out and respond with, "Oh, how much you miss."

I wonder if the creator of Facebook's "like" button is like that? A person dead-set on keeping love in its place - kept special for family, friends, spouse, and God. Oh, and maybe for a pet, as long as there's no funny business. (No pet rocks.) But definitely not for status updates, which are to be "liked" only.

And I bet this Facebook employee fought long and hard to keep it at "like," but then fell in like, then in love, with someone in marketing... and he calmed her down, "Honey, is it really worth it?" But the company went with "like" anyway. And there you go.

But what to do? For I just love Fall programming, green traffic lights, and Dove soap. When I was a teenager, I totally loved football games, Cover Girl's Shimmering Shell lipstick, and my Guess jeans. (All in the same night? Triple the love.) And when I was a kid, I loved candy cigarettes, rollie polies, and handball. So much so that I wanted to marry the stuff.

I don't know. Maybe the tightly-wound, Facebook-"like"-button-managers of this world are right. Perhaps I am too frivolous with what I deem as lovable. But because I've tasted and seen what real love is, God's love - a love that is slow to anger, bears all things, believes all things, endures all things, rejoices when others do amazing things, patient, kind, yielding, etc. etc. etc! - it's easier to lighten up a little in the day-to-day.

So take a load off and go for it! Enjoy the big things and the little things, and say "love."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Until 2016...

During our second round of intense lunge-jump-kick-outs (a move I stole from Jillian Michaels), I told my step class, "Look, after watching Olympic athletes compete all week, I've decided - We. Are. So. Out. Of. Shape." Even Jillian Michaels is so out of shape compared to those guys. (A little rumor I'm starting. Not sure it'll stick.)

Such athletic prowess! Amazing focus and determination! You just know each athlete had no problem passing their 6th grade Presidential Fitness Exams, probably preferring pull-ups over the flexed-arm hang. But I still don't know what impressed me most - the Olympic events or all the happenings surrounding the Olympic events?

So much went on, all at once. Incredible footage - high-tech and fancy. And the back-stories alone were captivating, which were like, "And so-and-so athlete, born with such-and-such disease, grew up in 14 different foster homes, a Harvard graduate and professional violinist, mother of two adopted children from Haiti, winner of four gold and three silver medals, likes banana bread, and enjoys walks on the beach."

And at this point my paranoia usually kicked in, as if the Olympic commentators pointed in my direction, saying, "And what did you do today, Molly?" (On a side note... is it just me, or did the commentators sometimes stand too close - kissing close - when reporting on stuff together?)

At any rate, I don't remember such detailed coverage during the 1984 Olympics, held here in Southern California. But then again, my 11-year-old brain seemed to only latch onto the promotional stuff at Mcdonald's, frizzy-perm-haired athletes, and perfecting Nadia Comaneci's cartwheels in my backyard.

And going way back, I wonder what type of coverage the 1924 Olympics had? What was the buzz, the hype? Did parents of athletes twitch, cringe, and duck in the stands? Was Béla Károlyi coaching gymnastics even back then? Was there a Ryan Lochte sensation?

I do know, however, that there was a 400 meter gold medalist, Eric Liddell - whose life was portrayed in the Oscar-Winning film, Chariots of Fire. As the story goes, his sister got upset at him once for missing a prayer meeting because of his running. And he reacted by saying, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."

Chills. That's what I get when I let my mind just sit on that quote. So much grace and gratitude and joy and confidence and God-honoring in that one statement of faith. Yet to-the-point and practical. God made him super fast. Eric Liddel knew it. And he felt God's pleasure because of it.

But as I wait four, long years for the next Summer Games (when I'll be 10-years-old in Olympic years), my mind will be thinking about a few other things, such as:  What's with the "muscle taping" patterns? Who was in charge of creating the 2012 logo? What kind of name is Destinee Hooker? Why do swimmers spit in the pool? Shouldn't they have skipped the whole Roman numeral thing - "XXX" - this year? And my forever question, why isn't step aerobics an Olympic sport?