Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Sound of Music

I grew up listening to a rather eclectic mix of music. Started out with Barry Manilow's "Mandy" and Artie Shaw's "Begin the Beguine." Then, as Christian music filled our home, I listened to tons of Keith Green. And not before long, Amy Grant and Russ Taff took center stage. Actually, more like Amy Grant and Russ Taff mixed with a little Janet Jackson and that "Rock Me Amadeus" song.

Crazy, but I remember taping Janet Jackson's "Pleasure Principal" video on MTV and watching it over and over when my mom went to Lucky's. Looking back, who cares? My mom wouldn't have cared. Miss Jackson just danced in some warehouse, knocking down a few chairs in the process. Fully clothed, too.

So depending on your generation, we all have songs that have sorta stuck. For example, if you tell me to pack it up, I will say, "Pack it in, let me begin." If your name is Michelle, my parents might say, "Ma Belle." Or if you get a chenille blanket, my aunt will say, "Schlemiel, Schlemazel ('chenille,' shluh-mozzle)." 

At any rate, I love music. I think God likes to woo me with it. Like he's trying to captivate me. And lyrics aren't always necessary. I get woo'ed when I listen to the soundtrack of Pride and Prejudice. Even the music from that British rock group, Muse, does it for me. (Is it weird to like Muse?) And what I would give to be able to play an instrument or sing like my sister, Mary. But God knew I'd be a huge fan anyway. Guess I didn't need to both love it and get the goods.

What about worship at church? So great! Well, it depends on where, if I'm honest. (God is still working on me with this one. Do not judge. I love a good guitar.) Singing with others, joining in on what's already happening in heaven. Telling God how huge and amazing he is, yet personal and very real. It all makes me worship.

Sad thing, though, I can be standing in church - singing with all my heart - and in a split-micro-second think human things like, "I feel something in my teeth. Are my thighs touching? My toes look pretty."

But thankfully - apart from being "prone to wander" - according to Psalm 22:3, God inhabits our praises. He sits enthroned all around us when we worship Him. So when I sing along with David Crowder Band and Gungor - or simply give God due credit for the joy of music - he is making himself at home all around me.

Monday, May 28, 2012

One "Heck" of a Show

May has finally come and gone. Season finales. We love them. We hate them. And ever since the fall, I've curled up several nights a week with my cozy family on my section of the couch - sipping hot peach tea or caressing a Goldenspoon yogurt - ready for the magic to happen. The magic of our shows. The Mentalist, Once Upon a Time, Downton Abbey - to name a few.

And now we've got four months of humdrum TV viewing - four arduous months of House Hunter International re-runs. It's like all my friends are going away on a long vacation.  

I say "we" because it's more than just my husband and I involved. My kids, too. Is that bad? Family bonding over gripping television? Didn't it work for Al Bundy and Homer Simpson? Well maybe it didn't make Parenting Magazine's top-ten-list. Nonetheless, bond we do, and we get so comfy, giggly, and sometimes stinky while doing it. (My son is twelve.)

And I've heard it said that season finales are the Hollywood version of final exams. Does that mean Hollywood goes to Cabo now? What about me? All summer long - not in Cabo - still wondering who Red John is... whether Storybrooke will return to its original state... and will the pressures of Mary's bad rep put a wedge in her relationship with Matthew Crawley?

And sure, certain shows feel they need to shock and awe in order to lure viewers back in the fall. But that's not the case with my favorite show this season, The Middle.

Can I just say, quite seriously, that I prayed for a show like The Middle to come along? Being a (like-totally) 80's girl, I loved Growing Pains and Family Ties and The Cosby Show a lot. And up until a couple years ago, I got to thinking, "That's it! No more clean (clean-ish) family shows ever again."

But then God, in his unending patience and love for me - without a roll of the eyes or a tsk-tsk-tsk from heaven - answered my prayer. And about two weeks later, I happened upon The Middle and bam! I got hooked, along with 328 of my family members, last I counted.

And for the show's season finale, no juicy cliff-hanger needed, just a sweet reminder of how precious life is. You see, Mike Heck (the father) gave a speech at his brother's wedding - a speech I wish I had at my wedding - about how tombstones have dashes on them (e.g. 1973-2073), and how because of his family, that dash will have meant something.

My brain was all, "Ding ding ding!" It was so what I needed to hear. My family is the dash. My Family = My Dash. And what makes that dash everything is my love for them, which is only possible because God first loved me (1 John 4:19).

So not only was that Middle episode the season finale, but the grand finale to my year in TV.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Disneyland Ducks

Sometimes my brain goes on adventures. So if you catch my body buying dog food on a Tuesday, my mind might be treasure-hunting with pirates on a Saturday. (They say pirates live for the weekends.) Or I might be busy pondering up my dream home or dream career or dream era to live in.

And then yesterday it hit me: When I grow up, I'd like to be a Disneyland duck.

Just think, ducks have the entire park laid out before them - magical lands, free food, robot trash cans. And they can people-watch to their hearts' content. So to experience the wild west, the place to be is Thunder Mountain's copper-colored pond. But once they've had it with all the coins thrown at them, it's off to the Pooh ride for that hundred-acre-wood vibe. Or to Sleeping Beauty's castle to swim with the swans (say five times real fast).

And they have a choice in the matter, too. They know the grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence. Disneyland stops at the fence. They've flown around town and checked; I'm sure of it.

So it was my 15-year-old and I who figured all this out as we watched little ducklings cozy-up to their momma near the Tiki Room. We think alike. However, while I'm jealous of the ducks, my daughter will focus more on Mary Poppins as she passes by, and sigh, "If only I lived in that time period and talked like that, dressed like that, danced like that."

And being the amazing mother I am (amazing usually happens when I'm about to eat ice cream at Disneyland), I told her, "God has your time planned for you here. And now. Not in 19th-century England, but in 2012. Living in Orange County, California. At Disneyland with your family. Today. In your cute jean shorts (that may be a tad too short)."

Okay, okay. Actually, the first thing I said to her was, "People died from awful diseases back then. No Internet. Bad teeth." But the second thing I said was pretty good, I thought. Especially since it wasn't even my idea. Acts 17:26 says, "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live."

What a concept! So just when dreams of found pirate booty (which they stole from someone, but that's a story for another day) take up too much brain power, I tell myself, "Now now, Miss Molly, we'll have none of that. You were meant for where you are now." And that makes me one lucky duck.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Crazy Lady. Cranky Man.

(Image found on Google Images)

When standing in line at Wendy's, people usually order food, sit down, eat, listen to a little Elton John coming from the circle speaker in the ceiling, and then leave. But for my family, this time was different. Not really for our particular Wendy's routine, but for the crazy lady and her young son standing behind me - and for a cranky man.

There I was. Ordering the usual for my family. And this woman in line - frantic, spastic, fidgety - was on the phone, loudly saying things like, "I make scrambled eggs every morning. I do what I can. No one cares."

And I opened my eyes real big for the cashier. Like a, "Get a load of the crazy lady behind me" kind of look. I then proceeded to use my non-indoor-voice to get one of my kids to help with the trays. (Now which lady struggles with keeping it classy?)

As we sat down to eat, I forgot all about crazy lady. But then she reminded me (and the whole building) of her presence by standing up and yelling, "Sir, I told you I was sorry! What more can I do?" She was directing her angst at a cranky man sitting about 10 feet from her. Apparently he told her to get off the phone.

Crazy lady and cranky man, a perfect combo for drama. We were glued. But as things gradually heated between the two - with the use of expletives - my youngest said, "Mommy, I think I want to leave now." (Not my child using bad language, mind you. Cranky man.)

But before we could make a quick exit (this is the part of the story where my brother-in-law said, "Oh I've heard this one before," as if I were telling a joke), crazy lady threw her chili at cranky man.

The place was silent. Were we next?

As cranky man threatened to call the cops, she grabbed her stuff to leave. And before she walked out the door with her shy little boy in tow, she turned around and screamed to everyone present, "I said I was sorry! What else was I supposed to do?!" (Well for starters, get off the phone and not throw your chili. But that's me.)

Looking over at crazy lady's table, I saw that she left behind a book. It was a hard-back, too. And a library book at that. So having experience myself with losing expensive library books, I thought, "Should I grab it and go find her in the parking lot?"

So that's what I did. People soon caught on and said things like, "Uh, we're not on her side..." as if we're a team or something. Wendy's customers vs. crazy lady? Which I thought especially ridiculous when I looked over at cranky man, more like "pompous man" for just sitting there - covered in chili - still eating his lunch with a smug grin. (And I just know this is how it went with his wife later on, "It's about time someone threw their chili at you!")

I found her sobbing in her car and gave her the book. She said to me, "I can't believe I threw my chili at that poor man." And I had such compassion all of a sudden. Pretty sure she thought I was going to tell her off. But how could I when I also have it in me to totally freak out?

I wanted so badly to go there with her, and get all Jesussy - but she was still on the stupid phone. Instead I quickly asked if she's okay and told her I understood what it's like to get worked-up and for her to take it easy - maybe not drive off right away - stuff like that.

But I think God wanted me to use a less-means-more approach in caring for this woman and just show her that the love of Christ can still invade her messy situation. After all, nothing can remove her or me from the reaches of God's love (Romans 8:35-39). And by throwing a little grace back at her, not chili, I'd like to think God was paving the way to do even greater things in her heart at a later time.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Gym Life

Working 19 years in the fitness industry has not only given me free gym memberships and paid workouts, but extra calories earned on MFP (My Fitness Pal) and plenty of great stories. People are funny things. And once a diverse bunch of them gather together in a group exercise setting ("aerobic room" back-in-the-day), you never know what you’re going to get.

You’d think everyone would have health and fitness on their minds. And for the most part they do. But for some, it’s to gain a few new friends in place of a few unwanted pounds or to see if that cute guy shows up again. For others, it’s to show off their trendy, neon-shock-colored $100 Nikes or to flaunt the, uh-hem, "work" they had done. I'd like to think they come for my jokes and dizzying step choreography. But whatever the motivation, relationships start to develop.

On a side note, some people think because I’m the exercise lady, I’m also the food cop. I once happened upon one of my steppers from the gym biting into a big, juicy cheeseburger. She was all, "(Sigh) Hi Molly. Um, it’s my... birthday? So, celebrating?” If she only knew how many “birthdays” I celebrate weekly.

So I think I'm more of a corrupt food cop. A double agent of sorts, giving the illusion that I regularly juice together kale, chiles, and beets picked from my garden. But in truth, the only law I lay down is that my kids eat the equivalent of seven canned green beans and half a banana per day (and whole grains when on sale).

And on another side note, did you know that someone recently left a bag of marijuana in my aerobic room? I know, crazy. I picked it up all tough-like, trying not to have my shocked face on - acting as if I'm saving the world or something - and gave it to my manager. And that was that.

So where was I. Yes, relationships. People tend to hook up at the gym. Find amazing friends at the gym. Learn how to encourage one another at the gym. Yet oftentimes they fight for their slightly-to-the-right-of-the-center-of-the-fan-side-of-the-room "spot" on the gym floor. Once you become an addict, there's a tendency to protect your work-out domain. I mean, how dare a newbie invade a regular's space (directly behind high-kicking Sally, but not blocking stinky Joe)? It happens.

But for me, I've met so many fabulous people over the years. Women and men who have befriended me, mentored me, laughed with me when I've fallen, and cheered me on when the not-so-nice people have complained about me. I am thankful for them all. They are people who have found their way into my class and right into my heart.

One gal in particular walked up to me after class several years ago, and instead of grabbing a fistful of belly fat or thigh fat and asking the usual, "This! How do I get rid of THIS!?" she told me her name and asked if she could maybe go to church with me sometime. Kind of random, but I guess she overheard me talking about God stuff with another gym member and something we said must have caught her attention. We are both dear friends to this day.

So cool how that happens! Right there on the dance floor (cuz-dis-iz-how-we-doo in Molly's step class), God is faithful to bring kindred friends my way. And time and time again, even amidst pot-smoking "fit" individuals, I've seen him use the group exercise room as a venue for his amazing work.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I Heart Chocolate!

(Image found on Google Images)

I love chocolate. I've never met a chocolate I didn't like. Although quality dark chocolate is the best, Cocoa Puffs 100-Calorie Treats help me get my daily share without going haywire on me.

And speaking of the cocoa wonder drug, I have this journal with pictures of chocolate truffles all over the cover. Definitely not pictures of See's truffles; they have more of a Russel Stover look about them, but still accented with a swirl-ish drizzle. (I know, I sound like I'm talking about wine, but chocolate.) There's also a quote on the cover from Oscar Wilde that reads, “I can resist everything except temptation.”

And throughout the blank pages of this chocolate-lover’s journal – a journal where, despite its silly chocolate-worship implications, I ironically write some of my deepest spiritual thoughts – you’ll find a few more quotes:

“My best friends are the ones who bring me chocolate.”

“Chocolate is my mental health food.”

“I could give up chocolate, but I’m not a quitter.”

“If it’s not chocolate, why bother?” (That’s my motto as I look through my children’s Halloween candy.)

Then my mind settled on one that read, “Who needs love? Give me chocolate!”

Come on now, no need to take it that far. It's sad, really. Who would say that anyway, other than maybe my dog? But hold on. I do kinda sorta, occasionally, on a bad day omit the word “chocolate” and fill-in-the-blank with maybe: “Who needs love? Give me approval .. an amazing work-out .. a nice compliment .. a $5 bill found in my dirty jean's pocket .. or .. a massage with constant movement and without talking to me, please.'"

Okay, I do realize I may be over-thinking this whole concept of replacing love with other joy-fillers such as chocolate. But I know me and my tendency to be all, "God is so good and so great and ALL I need - blah blah blah," all the while not being joyful unless I either get my way in a situation, find a cute shirt at Target, or have a Fiber One Brownie in my purse.

What is my point? Because certainly nothing is wrong with enjoying life's simple pleasures. Maybe it's more of a matter of linking that good thing, whatever it is, to God taking pleasure in us? I know when my twelve-year-old son sits down to eat a slice of my famous chocolate cake - oh. my. gosh. - I cannot take my eyes off him and his unfiltered joy. He moans. He grunts. He makes weird little noises. It's like a two-fer. I get joy. He gets joy. Win win!

So don't you think God has a father's heart like that for us? Of course! James 1:17 says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." And I'm pretty sure the Greek translation of the word "gift" in that verse has its roots in... chocolate.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Covered, Part Two

One last wordy thing to say about being covered, and then I'll move on to talking about how much I love Cocoa Puffs 100-calorie treats and dislike that trendy, new shoulder peep-hole look (especially on little girls):

The more I ponder what it means to be covered in Christ -- protected, shielded, shaded, blanketed, clothed, secured, forgiven, accepted -- the more my brain's capacity seems to dwindle. As Aslan says to Lucy, "Every year you grow, you will find me bigger." God's like this majestic and mysterious Ruler of all the land. It's that classic Christian cliche scenario, "If he's small enough to understand, he's not big enough to worship."

Yet he personally speaks and relates to me through things like his Word, my friends, my morning coffee, and even the wind. (Weird, right?) And I imagine him one day saying, "Molly, before the creation of the universe, I've known all about you and your silly, silly school girl ways, and have loved you still - your lisp being my favorite part. So here is your mansion with garden lattices and crown moulding and new carpet!" (My earthly perspective really reaches for the moon.)

I suppose there are negative connotations to my word-of-the-day. One could say, "That mom's shirt was 'covered' in throw up." "The dog was 'covered' with ticks." (Or for my Alabama-born hound dog, "Dawg's covered'n tay-icks.") Or, "The cake was not 'covered' all the way with frosting." I mean, no one wins there.

But God's idea of being covered has a sense of eternal completion to it, an all-the-way-ness about it. As I've taken God more seriously over the years, I notice I've got a lot of sludge in my mindset and in the way I react to situations. Nothing major, but I imagine for some people it's like, "Yes! Once I kick this cocaine habit (thinking of something really bad here), I'll be perfect!" But then, as Pastor Jon Courson puts it, "As you draw nearer to God, you soon realize there are so many subtleties in your heart - motives, attitudes, perspectives - that are amiss."

The point being is that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20). Definitely not permission to sin, but a realization that the more I think I've got this God thing downtown-julie-brown, the more I realize how that much MORE I need his patience and to be (one more time for fun) covered by him.

Monday, May 14, 2012


(Image found on Google Images)
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
Psalm 91:4

I tossed and turned a lot last night. Sleep doesn't always come easy, especially after eating my brother-in-law's "hot hamburdogger" creation yesterday. It was Mother's Day and my newly-mommied sister hosted a BBQ. Or it could be the serving-or-two-or-three of Marie Callendar Pie - among other things - that did me in. (Three childbirths over with - one so painful, I still cry about it - is a cause for celebration.)

So, wide awake, I started doing a little self-inventory and began to pray. God, are you tracking with me? After all, I bought some ugly shoes that afternoon (not realizing their ugliness at the time of purchase)... which later turned me into an ugly person - all because of shoes. And I kind of teetered on almost-snapping, but then remembered it was Mothers' Day and quickly simmered down. It made me wonder:

-Does God listen to women who struggle with keeping it cool, calm, and collected over something as simple as a regretful purchase?

And as my prayer took on a request-in-nature form, mixed with a little "this is how I see it, Lord," I soon dabbled in self-loathing, worrying about my kids' safety, and pondering whether or not my husband thinks I'm truly outrageous. And somewhere between wondering when to add the garlic when browning ground beef (that's ground sirloin if you're fancy) and trying not to look at the clock for fear it's almost morning, I began to think:

-Does God listen to those who skip straight to the request section of the Lord's prayer model, adding an "about me" section and spending very little time on the acknowledging/honoring/ thanking/asking forgiveness parts, all the while throwing in random, unrelated thoughts for good measure?

Then the answer hit me - yes! Yes, he does listen. And in my bed I remembered something about how we are to go boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Fueled by that verse, God suddenly became more approachable. Really? I can go boldly before him? The thought made me giddy, so I prayed even more - amazed that God wants me to cling to him in whatever human, strange, flawed way that I do it. Shame on the enemy for making me think I had no business talking to my father.

As A.B. Simpson in "Streams of the Desert" so brilliantly puts it, "This is the deep mystery of prayer, that we can just pour out the fullness of our heart... and know that he hears, he loves, he understands, he receives; and he separates from our prayer all that is imperfect, ignorant, and wrong, and presents the rest, with the incense of the great High Priest, before the throne on high; and our prayer is heard, accepted, and answered in his name."

And in that rare moment of clarity - understanding more of the heart of God - the word "covered" came to mind. A realization that Jesus has my back. He's got me covered. He's got the cost of my guilt and shame - stuff that usually makes me clam up and shy away from him - all paid for so that I can hold my head high, knowing God delights in both me and the lame "about me" sections of my prayers. Just simply and sweetly covered.