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?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Round Pond, Maine

Searching the house for birth certificates and medical records is #104 on my list of "Chores I Hate Doing." But today, it wasn't so bad. I found a very cool, archival-type story my mom wrote a while ago about our family's journey back east... and back west, and back east, then even more back east... then back west and then west-er-er. You'll get the picture. 

Enjoy! My mom's an excellent writer: 
So there we were. Living on Route 1 in Round Pond, Maine. It was a large “Cape Cod” house that we had rented. Your standard four bedrooms, hardwood floors, country kitchen, cellar, porch. It sat on thirty acres of land, mostly woods with a stream running somewhere deep into it. I had never seen this stream, as we had landed there in late fall, too late to go exploring. Besides, I was a pregnant, 29-year-old mother of four and trekking around the countryside was not high on my list of things to do.

How had we gotten to this place, this wondrous New England town with one country store, sitting half-way down a peninsula towards the lighthouse at the end? We were new there, having just moved from a trailer in New Castle. Residents of both towns shopped in Damariscotta, idyllic and picturesque, sitting on a tidal river. It was 1981 and the shrimp, dug up from the river bed when the tide went out, sold on the streets for a dollar a dozen. LaVerdiere's Drug Store was the hub of activity, as it had a new arcade. PacMan was all the rage.

My husband, Clay, worked in the lab at the local hospital. He considered this job a God-send, as we were at the end of our rope, financially, and Clay was so burdened with the care of our family. We had moved to Maine after a whirlwind tour of the country, trying to be Christian missionaries.

It started in another beautiful place, Solvang, California. Clay and I and our first two children, Jeff and Molly, had lived in the Santa Ynez Valley for a few months, when we met some wonderfully warm people who invited us to a prayer meeting. We were lonely and thought, “Why not?”

At first, we were taken aback by the group's devotion to God. One lady plopped herself down on the couch after the meeting and remarked, “Ain't God good?!” We weren't sure she was quite in her right mind, but, after time, we found out that she was right! We plunged into fellowship with these great believers and discovered the truths of the Bible. Oh, how glorious a time it was, to know that Jesus was really alive and truly loved us. That He, the Son of God, had actually lived on Earth for 33 years, then died in our place as payment for our sins, and rose to live forevermore. All we had to do was believe in Him.

Clay and I were so enthused with our new life that we decided to try to have another baby to see what it was like to raise a child from the beginning as Christians. Thus, Sheila was born. She added so much to our family and life was good!

We got involved with a missionary group, Youth With a Mission, also know as YWAM, and put our children in the school they provided for the community. YWAM is an international group, but their North American headquarters were based in Solvang. When they decided to move their base to Texas, we prayed about it and sold our house in order to go with them. Our plan was to use the equity from our house to fund a Discipleship Training School in Texas and then to be on staff to train others to be missionaries.

We bought a 22-foot travel trailer and station wagon and off we went with our three children. I was also pregnant again. Clay and I loved every minute of the school, even though it was hard living in the trailer park. Our kids were still in the same school, which moved with the base, and Sheila was in the daycare program. We had it all worked out how we were going to do this, even though lots of people thought we were crazy!

But then one day, I was sitting in the front row listening to a speaker from Holland tell us, “Love means doing what's best for the other person.” Immediately I knew that I could not continue on with plans to go deep into Mexico on the two-month outreach trip which followed the classroom training. We would possibly be sleeping in tents and I might have my baby in pretty poor conditions. We were to be four hours south of Brownsville, Texas, and our plan was to drive there when I went into labor. But, what if the roads were bad? What if the baby didn't cooperate by waiting to get to Brownsville?

So, we left Texas when the classroom training ended, with the intention of delivering the baby back home in California and finishing our school by meeting up with another outreach group in eastern Canada. All went well. We rented a house in Santa Paula, Clay got a lab job and sweet Mary was born. But, with four kids, it became clear that the eastern Canada trip was not going to happen.

So, we went to a Bible College in Omaha instead. I was getting very good at following Clay's U-Haul in the station wagon with Mary next to me in her old-fashion car seat that hooked over the bench seat, while the other kids rolled around and played in the back, with no seatbelt restraints.

We thought it would be good to get to Omaha early so Clay could get an afternoon job, as in two months we were to go to school in the morning. The college housed us in an old, old house in an alley. It was hot!

We lost two-year-old Sheila the second day we were there. Nobody from the school helped us look for her, but some little old ladies found her on a boulevard near our house and were driving around trying to find who she belonged to. We were so alone as we were the only family going to the school. It was hot! And then the ceiling fell in on us while we were sleeping. That was the end of Omaha.

We had already sold everything we could, so we cashed in our car for a less expensive one and used the rest of the money to get back with YWAM, this time in New Hampshire. But when we got there, there was some miscommunication and they weren't prepared to receive our large family. My aunt lived in Portland, Maine and had a cottage on a lake. She let us stay there while we regrouped. We had not a dime left and Clay was coming back from a disappointing job interview far to the north in Bar Harbor. He cried out to the Lord, pleading for Him to help him. He saw a sign on the road that said “Hospital." He stopped at a pay phone to call and asked if they needed a lab technologist. They did and had been looking for a Chief Tech for four months!

Needless to say, Clay got the job and we settled in Maine. We loved the culture. The people were so charming and quaint, and they sure loved their gardens. Our neighbor was a lobsterman and his traps were the “fence” between our houses. We rescued a wild cat from one of his traps and kept it as a pet...and one day it's ear fell off because of frostbite.

There are so many fond memories of Maine, from homemade ice cream stands in the summer to the kids ice skating on the puddles in our yard in the winter. But mostly, the people were what endeared us to Maine. One woman I will never forget was my neighbor, Gail. She knew my plight of being pregnant and sick, with four little kids, and she just pitched right in and helped me all she could.

Times were still tight and we just couldn't afford life in Maine. The heating bill alone was $1500 a year, and that was in 1982! Also, I was getting weary of being so isolated. I remember getting a Christmas box of gifts from my family in California. I just broke down and sobbed!

And so once again, we moved on, this time back to Texas, to try one last time to connect with YWAM. We so desperately wanted to be in full-time ministry. And by hook or by crook, with God's help, we were going to manage it! As one can well imagine, this move did not work out either. Darling Grace was born and I was tired. My children were attending their original YWAM school, but it was 32 miles away from the hospital where Clay found a job. It was exhausting trying to fit a square peg into a round hole! So we gave up and went back to California.

We have been in Orange County for 29 years now. Our children are grown and married. We have 9 grandchildren. They are all following the Lord. Three families are in some form of ministry, and our daughter, Grace, is in YWAM, serving in Taiwan with her husband and children.

Were we crazy to do what we did? You may think so, and sometimes I think so. But, I believe our hearts and motives were right, and that God was our covering through that period of our lives. And He still covers us, as we live, love and fellowship right here in suburbia. I do know that our children would not have the spouses they have and Clay and I would not have the grandchildren we have, had that season of our lives never happened. And we can still say, as that woman did years ago, “Ain't God good?!!”

And that, folks, was my life - age six through ten. Make anyone dizzy? So many things I could insert throughout each paragraph, but where to begin? I will point out, lightheartedly, that there must have been something about my older brother and I that made our parents want to start over... "Clay, I just don't know with these two, so let's try this again, and again and again!" And so very glad they did. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Oh, to be Twelve

Twelve. What a great age. That's my son. So very 12. He does stuff like... constantly changes the gears on his bike. All you hear is "tick, tsk-tsk, tick" as he rides by. And always jumps up to touch ceilings and shoot various "baskets" with who-knows-what - socks, trash, boogers.

And he just started boot camp for tackle football. Man, what a tough thing to watch. Whenever I hear the coach yell, "You think this is funny?! 20 push-ups, now!" I'm afraid it's my son giggling out there. Who is 12. Who rates his level of fitness exertion by how big his "sweat beard" gets on his t-shirt.

Twelve. What a stand-out age, too. For myself, I don't know how many times I've said, while being super sick, "I haven't been this sick since I was, like, 12." While staring at my messy room, "Looks like a 12-year-old lives here." While wearing a dorky outfit, "I wore a shirt like this when I was 12." While making a bad decision, "How old am I, twelve?"

Ah, but 12 comes and goes for all of us. At least I hope it does. I'd like to think I'm a moving-forward kind of gal. Self-focused one day, others-focused the next. No longer a people-avoider, but rather a how-may-I-assist-you-er. Out with uptight and moody, in with go-with-the-flowy.

But whether or not it's a three-cheers-for-Molly kind of day, I do know this:  he who began a good work in me will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). God has an expected end for me - for you - and it's a good one, too.

I see it this way... whenever crayons and blank paper and kids are in front of me, I'm tempted to draw my famous "house picture" - a colorful, cozy drawing of a house with polka-dotted window curtains, a smoking chimney, a lot of trees, and a tire swing.

And as I draw, I've got a smirk on my face. Why? Because I know what's coming next. Who knew, besides me, that my trees were going to become apple trees? Or a window or two would get a kid peeping out? Or that I'd draw a cat on the tire swing - a cat with long, fluttery eyelashes?

Makes me wonder if God smiles as he works on the canvas of my life. Or he could just get really bored, "There she goes. Buying another four-flavored frozen yogurt on a Wednesday night. Asking to sample a new flavor she knows she's not going to get. Again. So predictable."

Or could it be that each one of my days is like Christmas morning for him? (Using the word loosely, as a figure of speech. Because, well, he is Christmas.)

At any rate, God knows what he's doing. Knows what's coming. Sees the completed picture of me. And is excited about it. He loves me now and back then, at the awkward age of 12 - the age I remember well as I draw my house picture and say, "I've been drawing this same picture since I was, like, twelve."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Get My Massage On

What's with the 10-minute massage chairs at the mall? The ones where the therapist guys stand around, waiting. On one hand, I find it strange. I mean, right there in front of Macy's and Build-a-Bear... let's do this? But on the other hand, I'm tempted to plop myself down and have the guy massage it. I don't know, though. The whole face-in-the-hole thing stops me every time.

There's just no therapy like massage therapy. And it's always a treat for me because I get about one, maybe two a year. But we all have those fancy friends - where it's a lifestyle:

Mondays - tennis. Tuesdays - hot yoga. Wednesdays - hire personal shopper at Neiman Marcus. Thursdays - lunch date in Newport Beach. Fridays - massage in their home. Saturdays - massage at the spa. Sundays - massage under cabana rental. Repeat.

But I grew up old school style. My mom and I would watch Moonlighting while taking turns scratching each other's backs. Scratching... massaging... two different things. But wouldn't it be great if Glen Ivy added "back scratching" to their menu? I'm definitely onto something here.

So I recently got a professional massage - or as my little girl used to say, "fessional sammage." It was a good one, too. The lady was super natural and granola (modern hippy woman minus the drugs), so you just know she's in tune with my body and stuff.

And she'd soothingly say things like, "I'm reminding the muscles where they live." And my aunt, who also got one (and who has no business joking this way) said, "I wonder if she could remind other things where they live?" Mmm, gurrl.

However, on this day, this particular massage was like none other, for the therapist prayed before she began. Prayed? Yes. It was lovely. And it went a little something like this:

"God, thank you for Molly. Bless this time in which she gets to relax and zone out. Thank you for making our bodies so amazing. It's a miracle that they move and function the way they do - all the cells doing what they do so beautifully. And thank you for the gift of massage - a time of healing for our bodies. But you, Lord, are the healer of our soul. Amen."

She had me at "thank you for Molly," for I instantly relaxed and felt confident of this one thing:  that I was created wonderfully complex. And how God's workmanship is absolutely marvelous. (See Psalm 139:13-18.)

So what was that you said, Molly? You don't like your short forearms? Sick of the spider veins? Not a fan of your funky hair line? Lisp has got your tongue? All nonsense. I'm a working, breathing, exercising, laughing, shopping, eating (tripping, spilling, complaining, forgetting, sinning) creation of God's - a God who thinks precious thoughts about me. A lot of thoughts, too - more than the grains of sand in the sea.

As for the 10-minute massage chair guy? Not too sure I'll be taking him up on his offer to de-stress my shopping experience - prayer or no prayer. But as for the cabana-renting, glamourous friends out there? I can easily switch-out any of my days - either my Del Taco Thursdays or my two-minute-back-rub-by-husband-on-couch Sundays - to spend time with you.