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, www.enjoybirth.com? Maybe for a brave, commendable few. What about www.enjoy-the-second-your-beautiful-baby-enters-the-world.com? 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.