Saturday, December 13, 2014

Places Not to Shop (Unless Really Cute)

A friend of mine has daughters. I have daughters. And when it comes to Christmas lists - unless you ridiculously rock at parenthood by keeping the holidays focused on hand-knitted tea cozies, crockpot soups, and baby Jesus - your daughters might also make a list of places NOT to shop (unless really cute)... with an added *Don't be Cheap* for good measure.

Kind of like this:

It's one page out of my friend's twin sixteen-year-olds' Christmas list "packet." I think it's adorable. And when I showed it to my almost-eighteen-year-old, she couldn't agree more. Only she would've swapped out Target for Ross. ("Ross is so ghetto!")

Now, now. Easy on the "materialism - that's what's wrong with kids these days" spiel. Just think, what materialistic visions of sugar plums danced through your head when you were sixteen? For me, Christmas joy was dependent upon Lancome's $55 skincare line - big bucks for 1988. (Now it's Dove Soap and a jar of coconut oil.) 

But was fancy skincare really reaching for the stars? Sure, my mom got it for me. And sure, it was aMaZiNg... and to this very day, I still give Lancome props for getting that cute baseball player to remember my name and glance at me as we passed each other between 3rd and 4th period.

But what if my parents had something bigger in store? Why, it didn't even cross my mind. My Christmas wish lists always seemed to stay within the realm of reality. Wait, hold on... I think during my senior year in high school I asked for: "A rugged man who doesn't ask if he can wash his hands the second after petting my dog." Which actually (thank-you-Jesus!) became my reality a few years later. (Jeffrey Eugene, woot woot!)

**(Attention all sissy men! If you absolutely must - like, you're gonna DIE if you don't - wash your hands after petting a potential girlfriend's dog before leaving her house on a first date, do one of three things:  1. Don't ask for permission. Just march into the kitchen and do it. [There's just something weird about the asking.]  2. Wait until you use the restroom at the restaurant - but don't be in there forever.  3. Risk death! People all over the world cuddle and play and watch TV with their dogs - while snacking even - and die of something completely unrelated thirty, forty, SEVENTY years after the non-handwashing event occurred.)**

Now that I got that out of the way, where was I? Oh yes - what if I never "controlled" what I got for Christmas and instead TRUSTED my parents to give me something extraordinary?

Errr, scratch that. Still convinced they needed my help.

Okay then. What about... now that I'm a big girl... I start trusting God, a God who never needs my help, to give me something not only Christmas Day extraordinary, but everyday extraordinary?! 

You see, I've got these phenomenal hopes and dreams and longings - a wish list a mile long - awkwardly mixed with fear and worry and feelings of inadequacy. 

What's a girl to do? I know, go shopping! (Duh!) And at places I shouldn't be shopping at: TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Kohls, and Target. But before I do, I'll recite the following poem or "declaration" from author and speaker, Beth Moore:

I am not in control.
I cannot control all my people.
I cannot control my situation.
Even when I want what is best, I cannot control the outcome.
I cannot make people behave.
I cannot make people believe.
I cannot make people be strong because I am not God.
He alone knows the end from the beginning.
He alone knows how this thing will turn out.
I, hereby, fire myself from His job.
And, I agree to see my fight for control as what it really is...
A screaming testament to my distrust.

Merry Christmas! And by the grace of God, may all your hopes and dreams and longings come true in the New Year!

Monday, November 17, 2014

This "Walk" is NOT for the Birds

Birds - most seem so ordinary. Especially crows and pigeons. So what does it take to get a cool bird around here anyway? Apparently, not much... for we have an owl couple living in the palm trees high above our backyard. Two barn owls - Barny and Barnice.

How did we discover this cute duo? Well, we kept hearing loud, non-boring-bird screech sounds every night. Bird sounds you might hear in a zoo. Different. Distinguishable. Definitely cool bird. And after one little looksy with a flashlight, we saw two of the sweetest barn owl faces you ever did see. They look like this:

And their screeching got me thinking: I wish picking out "God sounds" was always as easy, as discernible, as picking out owl sounds. Perhaps I'm not tuned in all the time.

But then again, there are days God shows me things about himself, about myself, and about others - things that forever stick to my soul. And there are days he's the first one I talk to in the morning, the last one I talk to before I fall asleep. And I experience his joy.

But other days I'm confused by him. Or I forget he's there. Or I know he's there, but I'm too afraid, too ashamed, or too mad to talk to him. And I fail to remember his grace.

During those times, it's good to know I'm in a "walk" with God - just like Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac long ago. Not a giddy-up or a split leap or even a slow crawl, but a nicely paced, over-the-course-of-a-lifetime kind of walk. And since it's done by faith (which is hard to muster up sometimes), I'm glad it's a walk. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

It reminds me of the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye ponders his daughter's desire to marry for love instead of having an arranged marriage. And it brings him to ask his wife, Golde, "Do you love me?"

At first she's annoyed, but finally says: "Do I love you? For 25 years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow... why talk about love right now?"

Then she thinks to herself: "For 25 years I've lived with him, fought him, starved with him. For 25 years my bed is his... if that's not love, what is?"

Now if that's not a fabulous metaphor for "walking" with God, then what is?

And although walking solo seems easier, don't do it. Do life with God. He's a walking partner who will never tire of you, be annoyed by you, unlove you, misunderstand you, forget about you, or fall out of interest in you. And unlike the owls in my backyard, cool birds and all, God will never screech at you.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Garden Mom 101

I woke up one day and surprisingly said to myself, "How about I be the garden mom for my daughter's 5th grade class?" Besides knocking out a few plants, how hard can it be? My dad was a farmer; that must make me one, too.

After all, the smallish garden space assigned to the dear children and me had already been weeded and composted. ("Compost," a word I already knew about - this is going to be so awesome!) Everything else - planting, watering, weeding, waiting - will be basically downhill.

And I'll mix it up - plant some seeds, a few live plants. Not just veggies, but flowers. And bulbs for springtime. Ah, and cilantro! Why, I'm even envisioning a classroom taco day, a day we top tacos with cilantro from our very own garden!

But, little did I know, there was a hitch. An educational hitch. Who knew I was going to have to make the kids smarter? Dang it.

Okay, not a problem. I could start by teaching them what compost is made of and laugh about how gross it is (securing my rep as the cool garden mom). And I could show them how to carefully remove a plant from its plastic egg carton thingy. Then, I'd have them smell the plants, asking tough questions like, "If you were a bee, which plant would you land on?"

Nothing to worry about. I had it all under control, perfectly under control until... until I was handed THE BOOK, the 40 page three-ring binder created by last year's garden mom that oozed with education and had "Molly is a total loser" written all over it.

You see, this garden book has stuff about beets and phytonutrients. This book has garden lesson plans that correlate with classroom lesson plans. And this book has not one, not two, but 14 pages devoted to photosynthesis - plastic sleeve protected pages, mind you, should the garden mom's devotion take her straight through rain, shine, or meatball sandwich.

Tsk tsk, jealous of last year's garden mom, are we? Yes. Though, had I known a top-notch garden standard existed, I would've rather volunteered to tutor the kids in common core math. (Now obviously, that's a lie. I'm just painting a picture here.)

I mean, it's bad enough I already envy that guy's public speaking skills. And her ability to use power tools. And their knowledge of United States history. Do I really need to add "that lady's mad gardening skillz" to the list?

Mark Twain wouldn't think so, for he's written, "Comparison is the death of joy."

So maybe I can just admire the garden book without having to precisely follow it. Or without having to, uh... open it? Of course, I'll open it. Proverbs 3:13 does indeed say, "Joyful is the person who finds wisdom and gains understanding." Learning - being teachable - is always a good idea.

And should last year's garden mom (true story) ever walk up to me - in the flesh - and tell me I shouldn't have planted hyacinth bulbs near the cauliflower because hyacinth has "poisonous properties," I'll just smile and graciously thank her for creating such a wonderful resource for all future garden moms. Oh, and maybe try a little of the cauliflower before giving the kids a sample.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why, Thank You, Clash of Clans

Psst! I'm over here - hiding - eavesdropping on my two teenagers. Maybe I should move in closer. You know, "clean" something near them to see if it's true.

Well, I'll be - it IS true! They're communicating... nicely. They're responding to one another's advice... respectably. And either my eyes are playing tricks on me, or the fact that their shoulders just touched went completely unnoticed by both of them.

I haven't seen anything like this since my teens bonded over math. (Read "Bonding Over Triangles" HERE!) And that one was my doing. It was a "your brother is going to help you OR ELSE" scenario.

But I can't take credit this time. This shout-out goes to "The Clan" - that ever-popular gaming app, Clash of Clans.

What? I can't believe I just complimented a gaming app.

For one, gaming apps can be nerdy. They make my kids geek-out: "Once I morph myself into meeting the exact specifications of level five, an inverse reaction is highly probable which consequently makes me virtually unstoppable."

For two, it makes following closely to "our shows" more difficult: Will Sue Heck on The Middle get another magical trash can kiss? Will the cute main character guy on Forever EVER find a way to die for once and for all? Will Jill Duggard and fiance, Derrick, find a wedding venue to fit their 71,652 (and 26 on-the-way) family members? All life-altering information my kids MISS when glued to their games.

And for three... Well, hmmm... (There's gotta be a third reason I should NOT be giving props to a gaming app.) Oh, I know: it pulls my kids away from the REAL world, from their homework, and from making eye-contact with people - even with each other while playing. (Make those reasons three, four and five.)

And even though research says I should also say something about how gaming poorly affects communication and ability to compromise, I'm not going to. Because communication and compromise is on the rise in this house. (Still can't believe it - right in this very house!) As if my teens were the guys on The Property Brothers, working toward a goal.

Like in Ecclesiates 4:9: "Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed."

And sure, it'd be nice if the major players contributing to my teenagers' harmonious relationship had less to do with Clash of Clans and more to do with something hands-on, like playing frisbee or building bridges with popsicle sticks. Or how about maintaining public hiking trails together? (I swear, it's a thing.)

But knowing that God works outside my "just seems more Christian-like" box, I wouldn't be surprised if his grace reaches farther than I thought - even into the depths of "The Clan," where he creatively shapes my kids into the collaborative and good-natured siblings he intends for them to become.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Fall Remix

Every Fall, I can always count on a certain cluster of trees to turn bright orange-red for me. I love Fall colors; it's a wonder I live in Orange County where they are few and far between.

But something is amiss this year, for I walked by "my trees" the other day, and their leaves weren't bright green, waiting to turn lovely. They weren't much of anything. They had already fallen off! Just a few boring, brown, drab stragglers held on for dear life.

And out of nowhere, God interrupted my little huff by putting a thought into my head: "Just look to the next tree."

Well, alright. I can do that. Because there are others. Plenty of others. Trees even more glorious than my usual cluster. Not only around here, but perhaps on that Fall roadie we hope to take in November - crisp air, snug sweaters, pumpkin everything.

However, I'm pretty sure God had more than fall leaves in mind with his look-to-the-next-tree revelation, for my thoughts quickly jumped to other things: past neighborhoods we've lived in, schools my kids have gone to, jobs and careers we've had - even past wardrobes and hairdos.

You know, things we've had to, as author and speaker Beth Moore might suggest, "remix" in order to move onto the next great neighborhood, school, job, and (thank you, Jesus) wardrobe and hairdo.

Then my thoughts settled on my 17-year-old daughter. (Sigh...) Girls. Wouldn't you know? They sure do have a knack for getting into relational slumps, real or imagined.

So in my attempts to instill hope back into her kind heart, to prep her for a "remix," I'll blurt out stuff like, "You have a whole life of friendship-making ahead. God could be sending you a kindred spirit this very minute! (Now go put the dishes away!)"

And then a quote popped into my head from, you guessed it, Beth Moore. (I'm on a Beth Moore Bible Study kick.) A quote that must go directly into my how-else-can-I-possibly-word-it? mommy toolbox, for it says, "The next person we meet could become one of the dearest people in our lives."

So what about you? Can't get your sights off that one cluster of trees either? Need a new mix of tapes? A new frame of mind? Go ahead, look to the "next tree" with me, and let's trust God with life's remixes.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Slightly Trendy Oatmeal Cake

There are few shortcuts to happiness in life, and one of them happens to be my oatmeal cake - my slightly trendy oatmeal cake.

Oh, I can think of shorter cuts to happiness - new lipgloss, a kindly worded letter, a full tank of gas, and that Jimmy Fallon. But truth is, my oatmeal cake isn't the most instant of pleasures. For starters, you have to head into the kitchen and hunt for things like baking soda. But it is a one-bowler... actually two if you count the 9x9 pan.

I'm not quite sure what makes this cake so good. All the right ingredient ratios? The nutmeg? The little tune I lovingly hum while pouring the golden brown batter into the pan? Whatever it is, it's nom-nom-nom delicious every time.

And by "slightly trendy" I mean, let's face it - folks are thinking twice about what they eat these days.  So I felt I had to morph my cake into something more socially acceptable, something that most everyone will at least take ONE bite of - even the occasional gluten-phobe. And if people happen upon my cake between Thursday evenings around 4:00 and Sundays at bedtime - that stretch of time a person's willpower loosens up - I can usually talk them into an entire slice.

It's not that the original oatmeal cake recipe was super bad, as in Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte BAD (who knew?), with all its class IV caramel food coloring (not class I, II, nor III, but IV!!) and toxic levels of sugars - Britney toxic - and other poisons that will kill you if you drink ten gallons per day.

It's just, well, I think my Molly-modified version is more wholesome... ish. I use steel cut oatmeal, 100% whole wheat flour, all-natural eggs with no added hormones, rbst-free butter and milk, and organic cane sugar.

But what am I doing it for? For the health (hellth) of it? Or am I trying to make yet another area of my life more socially acceptable and "slightly trendy?" I mean, not food-related, but should I really jump on the lash extension bandwagon? Because I'm thinking I need to do that tomorrow. (But will they look tangled all the time? I'll do my research.)

And now look at me... trying to make my oatmeal cake all cool. And I'm not alone. I recently heard someone refer to their healthy eating as their "value system." Talk about cool - they even have lingo for it!

1 Thessalonians 2:4b says, "Our purpose is to please God, not people. He is the one who examines the motives of our hearts." So as long as their value system doesn't cut them off entirely from civilization in a big pile of locally-sourced, non-GMO hummus and kale, and they free themselves up to love others - even the ones who don't share in their value system - then I guess that's okay.

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

My Slightly Trendy Oatmeal Cake:

In a microwavable mixing bowl, stir together:

3/4 cup steel-cut oatmeal (Use 1 cup oatmeal if using old fashioned oats.)
1 1/4 cup water
--Microwave both together for 4 minutes.
Then add to the same bowl:
1 stick butter (Let butter sit in hot oatmeal for five minutes to soften before continuing.)
1 cup organic brown sugar
3/4 cup organic cane sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
--Beat together one minute.
Then add:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (Be even trendier, try gluten-free or coconut flour!)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg 
--Mix together, and pour into greased 9-inch pan. Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes until done. Cool, then  sift (or sprinkle) powdered sugar over the top - be generous.

Oh, and don't forget to hum in a pinch of love. Enjoy!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Do UFO Sightings Make YOU Think of "MORE?"

Over the summer, strange lights were spotted in the sky near my home. What was it, swamp gasses? A sign of the times? Greg Brady getting even with Peter and Bobby by faking a UFO?

I admit, it was kind of exciting. A little bit scary. Maybe even romantic? Okay, not romantic.

Oh, I know - "You talkin' all kinds of crazy, woman!" But the nerd in me wants it to be something truly out of this world. Something pointing to MORE. Like, a God more

Go ahead and say it - "UFOs are the work the Devil! Don't even go there!" Well, you're probably right. But even though the Bible neither confirms nor denies, we here on planet earth are UNIQUE creations of the one true God. (Genesis 1:21, Acts 17:24-26) A few aliens in long flowing robes wouldn't contradict our made-in-the-image-of-God status.

But that's not what I'm getting at. I'm talking about... in the vast scheme of things... I la-la-LOVE being reminded of how small I am and how huge the universe is. Mainly, how huge God is. And sometimes it's the freaky things on earth - or not on earth - that do the trick.

I mean, just a couple days ago, I got depressed - slumped into a funk - because I ate too much apple pie. Too much apple pie, people! Somethin' out there's gotta remind me there is more than all of this y'all!

And yes, we love getting busy at church with our mission-tripping, small-grouping, devotion-reading, accountability-holding, and worship-singing. Love that stuff - it's fantastic! Devotion-reading being right up there on my list!

But does God restrict himself to wooing me with his insane power and might only on Sunday mornings at 9:00, the mornings I bust out the hot rollers? The mornings I think I should, for some American church cultured reason, be nicer to my kids on the way to church than, say, on Tuesday mornings on the way to school?

Good heavens if God kept to MY spiritual schedulings. If that were the case, I'd go days/weeks/whole-routineless-summers without seeing evidence of him.

There's no taming God. Because he's huge - "majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing wonders" kind of huge. Yet he's personal - "the very hairs on my head have been counted" kind of personal.

And he's just - "bad deeds will not go unpunished" kind of just. Yet he's loving - "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us" kind of loving. Or as I tell my kids, "God got in trouble for us so we wouldn't have to." (I know, horrible awful theology with that one.)

And even if none of that were true about him - nothing huge, personal, just, and loving about the God of the universe, no amazing plan of redemption for mankind - with everything in my being, I'd sure wish it were true. (Good thing it is!)

C.S. Lewis is always spot on in describing this sort of thing: "There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else."

Perhaps it all boils down to heaven, and I'm looking for bits and pieces of it on earth. Well, if you, like me, also look for God in the strangest of places - desperate enough to consider the lamest of UFO sightings - he's going to surprise us time and time again.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

How to Handle "That One Kid"

My almost 11-year-old just told me: "I don't like my birthday month. All the weirdos at school have their birthdays in September."

Weirdos at school? Not very nice words coming from my darling sweetie pie honey bunch. Haven't I taught her anything?

Hmmm, let me think about that one...

"That new soft pants trend looks ridiculous on her."

"Let's hope Miss Stingy Sample Lady at Trader Joe's isn't working today."

"Look over there; it's that really annoying boy from church." 

Are those MY words? Gasp! Eek! No! I'm afraid so. And "from church" even! Doesn't matter that I whispered. My daughter has heard it all and is following suit. Shame shame know my name.

Okay, maybe it's not completely on me. Surely I didn't teach my kids all their sins. But this negative talk has got to stop. Or at least scale back. Especially with school starting on Thursday. And especially since SHE will be there. That one kid I wish would go away.

We all have one. Or two. You're lying if you say you don't. And this particular classmate - that one kid - decided she couldn't wait for school to start to wreak havoc, for she recently texted my 5th grade daughter:

--"Delete my number if it's in your phone because I want to surround myself with better people this year."

What does a number have to do with surrounding... oh, whatever. But this was it; our chance to scale back. A perfect opportunity to practice replacing negatives with positives, and choose kind words.

(So I advised my sweet girl.) "Tell her you are sorry if you've ever hurt her feelings, even though you obviously didn't, and that you look forward to the new school year."

(Quivering chin, tears are near.) "Buuuut mom, maybe I did hurt her feelings!"

(Serious?!? You're killing me!) "Okay, do you remember what you did?"

(Ugly cry sets in.) "Nooo-ho-ho-nooo..."

(At least she's repentant.) "Still tell her you're sorry, but say that maybe you were sick or something on the day you may or may not have hurt her feelings." (This is ridiculous.)

And this was her classmate's response:

--"Well then that means you were sick every day cuz you were rude to me every single day and I wanna know why!!"

(What! Where is this girl's mother?! Be calm, Molly... quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger... repeat.) "Honey, she's not having a good day. Tell her you don't know the reason why you were rude... every day, or not. Tell her sorry one more time and that you'll see her at school. Now turn off your phone."

Never before did I need to read the world's most perfect Jesus Calling devotion than I did that very day, August 3rd: "Words have such great power to bless or to wound; when you speak carelessly or negatively, you damage others as well as yourself. This ability to verbalize is an awesome privilege, granted only to those I created in my image... as positive speech patterns replace your negative ones, the increase in your joy will amaze you."

So as we enter the birthday month of school weirdos, I am determined to be a kinder me, which will help my daughter be a kinder her, which will help others be a kinder them. (Weirdos included.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What NOT to Search for on Youtube

Netflix, Youtube, Amazon Prime, Hulu - great ways to watch whatever suits your fancy. But, as with anything, one must proceed with caution. Especially if your spelling is off. Even a little off.

So there we were: a few sisters, a cluster of kids, my mom, and maybe a dad or two. And as the topic of "weird children's programming" came up, Teletubbies obviously came to mind.

We then reminisced about an even WEIRDER show - Boohbah. That is Boohbah with an H after the double O.  (See where this is going?)

Anyone remember Boohbah? Aired about 10 years ago... and how our now pre-teenish kids LOVED it? And to keep them entertained as toddlers, Boohbah worked better than lollipops. Better than letting them dump out our purses. Even better than toilet water adventures.

But here is where things went wrong, very wrong. My sister Sheila decided to do a search - a Boohbah search - to see if the show still held enough magic to captivate our two-year-old niece. Only she left out the very important H after the double O: "B-O-O-B..." And lo and behold, there "it"... uh hem, "they" were.

Now, far be it from me to be the family prude, but my protect-everyone-within-reach instinct - the kids, the husbands, my very own mother! - immediately kicked in, and I became the latest and greatest Octamom. My arms and legs quickly shot out; arms and legs I didn't even know I had! After all, this mom had some serious eyes to cover!

Whew, what a close one! But I think my attempts really worked. No burning eyeballs. No strange follow-up questions to answer later that day. I was lightening fast!

Me protecting my kids... does it ever end? Do I really know what I'm doing? Can I catch everything? Am I bad if I get lazy? Am I bad if I over-protect? Will I always have ninja speed?

No, no, no, no, and NO.

So what I do is remind myself that my kids are their own persons with their own personal connection to God - a connection that is theirs apart from me. And God is the ultimate protector, having all the healing, all the mercy, all the patience, and all the council they might one day need should something get past me... should something slip through my often inadequate attempts at protecting them. (I mean, come on, covering eyes was all I got?)

And last I checked, 2 Thessalonians 3:3, "But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one," doesn't include "but only with the help of your mom, of course, and as long as you're a good speller."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stunted in Suburbia

I've been in this phase lately, a phase that has me wondering, "Just how stunted really are my children for not having an 'explorable' backyard?" (Cement and dirt aren't cutting it.)

Like I wonder if psychological studies will one day reveal the travesty of it all. Children who have grown up in restricted environments - places where they have not been free to roam and poke sticks in murky ponds - will develop a disdain for the color green. Or some oddly correlated outcome, ranging from "so what, you don't like green things" to bigger stuff like robbing banks. (Bank robbery - my brain's default when I think of the atrocities of mankind.)

On the brighter side, this comedian on TV last night talked about growing up in the ghetto. He said, "Our basketball hoop was a rib cage, a RIB CAGE!" So, there's that. We've got that going for us - no rib cage basketball hoops around these parts.

But still, I find myself over-exaggerating things country folks might experience on a daily basis. Things in nature. Things that make you feel alive. Like somehow it's one of God's favorite ways of connecting with us, and we Parkers are missing out.

Take the beauty of a sunset... I'll force my kids to look: "See! See how the sky is super pretty over there behind the Chevron gas station, just above the strip mall?"

Or get extra giddy because a butterfly decided to land on something in OUR yard - the dog bowl, the trash can, the night blooming jasmine I hoped would make my patio smell like a fairyland, but hasn't yet.

Sure, there are wilderness vacations we can take (and DO take to the redwoods each year) to help offset any feelings of being too fenced-in. And go right ahead, remind me of our two years in Alabama where we had a backyard with deer and woods and trails. But is two years enough to keep my kids from someday seeking stunted-in-suburbia therapy?

It's all stuff that's been on my mind. And I can feel it wearing on me because, just this morning, I found myself encouraging my daughters over something they discovered, over something I would normally object to.

They found a mouse.

And it went from a simple "Hobo (the cat) has caught a mouse!" all the way to "We put it in a Nike shoe box with cotton balls and cantaloupe chunks and googled it and found out that boy mice have puffy butts and girl mice have skinny butts and since its butt is small we named her Charlotte."

As horrid as that may sound, did my daughters just have themselves a little adventure? Do mice count? Does that mean we have an explorable backyard after all? Are they suddenly connecting with God better? Has hope indeed sprung?

An old 17th century quote says: "You are seeking for secret ways of belonging to God, but there is only one: making use of whatever God offers you."

Turns out this is the life God has offered my family and me. And it's a good one. I mean, someone's gotta live in this house! And as Pastor Craig Barnes puts it, coveting a different life - no matter how many butterflies land in their yard - is like "living out of your neighbor's house." (But rib cage hoops I could always do without.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Let's Play the Glad Game!

Growing up in the 80s meant endless trips to the video store. Especially during the summer. We'd stick a hose in the 18-inch kiddie pool*, then head out to either return VHS videos or rent new ones - or do both. Of course this didn't happen until after Price is Right was over at 11:00 a.m. (We were a very structured family.)

Among our top picks: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Sound of Music, Meatballs, Funny Girl, Grease 2, Swiss Family Robinson, Girls Just Want to have Fun, Lucas, Back to the Future, and... my favorite... Pollyanna. 

Ah, Pollyanna. Makes me so happy. I just watched it with my 10-year-old for the very first time. And if you haven't seen it, this may be lost on you... but my daughter kept saying, "Who cares about the stupid doll! Just get into your bedroom!"

But the parts that have really stuck with us, the parts that have entered our ordinary conversations, were when Pollyanna played her glad game.

What's the glad game? Well, let's play a round! Although, keep in mind that the game often centers around our first world problems. Or seems shallow, as some would think. But all you need in order to play is the tiniest bit of anxiety... then slap a happy or praiseworthy thought onto it... and there you have it - you're playing the glad game! (Philippians 4:6-8)

Here goes: 

You're at Yogurtland and people actually think there's supposed to be a line. Ack! They have no idea they can pop in and out of toppings and yogurt flavors, squeezing in here and there. And you suddenly find yourself becoming undone (internally, of course). 

What to do? 

You try to think of something to be glad about. Any ideas? How about... you saved up enough calories to include a base-layer - a crust if you will - of reese's peanut butter cups. And tada! You just played the glad game. (And then it always helps to, very politely, with charm and grace, show everyone how the non-line thing is done. No harm there.)

What other situations can we be glad in? 

You slept horribly, afraid you've got the perimenopause. But wait, you have an unopened bag of $10.99 dark roast Peet's Coffee and it just so happens to be your favorite kind of California morning outside (doesn't have to be California, but helps) - cool and overcast, super marine-layery, pigeons are cooing. And once again, you just played the glad game!

Now back to my childhood at Video Max... what did I do if I couldn't find a single good movie, and Goonies wasn't available to rent for the 11th time? After wondering if Blockbuster might have it (being honest), I would think about the glad game and be glad about the pool we had waiting for us, all filled up and warmed by the sun.

Wanna play? 

*A pool that never ever ever EVER looked anything like the picture on the box. Oh but (I'm about to play the glad game), I sure did love smelling the plasticky rubberness of it when pulling it out of the box.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

You Just Got Juked

Ever hear of the word juke? Sure it's a term used in sports where a player might suddenly change directions or plans or whatever athletes do, as in, "He juked a couple of defenders and scored."

Well, turns out juking has grown wings and flown out of football stadiums and straight into our little worlds, bringing awkward, I'm-a-total-loser endings to conversations that had fun, lighthearted beginnings.

A few examples...

The DIET juke:

(Jen) "I just downed a Taco Bell Crunch Wrap Supreme, made extra supreme! Omigah!"

(Joe) "Oh, I've never had one of those. I only eat free-range beef."

The MOM juke:

(Kate) "Capri-suns are on sale at Ralph's this week. Six boxes for 10 bucks!"

(Susie) "My sweet Kayla only drinks water. And I haven't been to Ralph's in ages! Besides, Whole Foods is within walking distance from my house." 

The GIFT juke:

(Rachel) "I love giving gift cards as presents - it's fun! And nothing's easier!"

(Sally) "I love gifting my homemade candles. Talk about FUN! Pouring wax into cute jars I've salvaged from thrift store trash bins is a cinch! And green!" (A combo "gift" and "save-the-earth" juke.)


(Rick) "We need a new refrigerator - bad. Good thing we have room on our VISA card."

(Lisa) "Yeah, we needed a new refrigerator a few months ago and were so thankful we had enough cash in our 'appliance' envelope to cover it."


(Jeff) "I'm totally BRINGING IT this anniversary! The plans I've made! She's gonna die!"

(John) "That's really nice of you. But I made a commitment to treat my wife special every day."


(Michelle) "Here's what I'm thinking: I'm in need of a serious massage. Let's spend an entire day at the spa, drowning our sorrows from one specialty treatment to the next."

(Sarah) "That sounds refreshing. But I find real relaxation comes from a day spent at the food bank, serving the homeless in our community. That's where I really unwind." 

Darn jukes. Whether the juker or the jukee (I've been both), no one is exempt. And no one can say, "That is EXACTLY why we live off the grid in the country and NOT among the show-offs of suburbia." Because not only is that statement a juke in and of itself, they'll soon find themselves getting cow juked or farm equipment juked or we-only-drink-well-water juked.

And the worst of them all - the doozy of jukes - is the JESUS juke...

(Heather) "I finally gave in and downloaded PEOPLE Magazine - I'm tired of only reading it during my son's ortho appointments."

(Trish) "Well, I really like my new Bible App. Did you know the Bible is filled with famous people?"

Poor Heather. While Trish was trying to prove her Jesus-ness and her love for God, Heather got juked big time. Didn't see it coming. Welp, so much for entrusting Trish with her deepest darkest secrets. Not anytime soon, anyway.

Philippians 3:9 says we become right with God by our faith in Jesus, not by how many JPCs - Jesuses Per Conversation - we can squeeze into our casual discussions with people. Don't get me wrong, I love God talk - my favorite kind of talk. But I'd rather win at being kind than win at making my point. (Oops, I may or may not have juked you just now. Guilty.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Head Wound Jefe

During a non-routine family hike at the beach last week, Jeff walked into a large branch sticking out of a cliff and jabbed his head - hard. He seemed really hurt. The bad kind of hurt.

And my thoughts went like this:

"It's here. THE trial of our lives is here. So I must be strong. For the kids. And I must assess the wound. No. Yes. But what if I see brain matter? Would that mean a life of spoon feedings and sponge baths? Always knew I'd make a good nurse. Or maybe just temporary amnesia and slurred speech. As long as he can tell me he loves me with his eyes..."

And a short time later, after establishing that his brains were still nicely inside his head and a cliffside helicopter rescue was not necessary, I asked Jeff, "What was going through YOUR mind? Weren't you scared?"

And his thoughts, or thought, went like this:


So while I was thinking of ways to make our home wheelchair-friendly and vowing to never remarry should a coma set in, Jeff only thought of "ow."

Turns out it takes just one little boo boo on Jeff's beautiful head before Molly starts planning out her days! Starts writing a script! And starts freaking out!

Matthew 6:24 says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I'm not talking treasure as in the treasure trove of 12 glorious consecutive Monday nights of The Bachelorette beginning TONIGHT. I'm talking about the things in life I really treasure: feeling safe, secure, and being in control. And for a brief 32 seconds, I felt like I was losing all of that.

But what if... what if I treasured God's control over the whole ordeal instead of my own Frankie Heck attempts at control? And what if I treasured lasting things, like God's "I'm-right-here-with-you" whisper to me as I reluctantly peeked at Jeff's head wound? Surely THEN (most of) my mental script writing would be replaced by a heart more at rest.

Author Mike Erre puts it this way: "Even if the worst thing you can imagine comes to pass, (God's) kingdom is so big, vast, and good, you are still secure."

So sure, if the worst thing really did happen, a few plans would be in order. (Bad head wounds would need a good plan.) But overall, a sense of God's bigger plan would outshine any grand ideas of mine, especially the spoon feeding and sponge bath ones. (Though Jeff might disagree.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

How to be a Summer Mom ALL Year Long

It's almost time to get my summer mom ON. So glad! Because my school year mom is starting to grind her teeth daily now. Hourly even. And if it wasn't for the hope of summer, she'd probably bake one thing per day until school's out - cake therapy - then go hog wild with the biggest fork she could find.

But why the anxiety? Could it be the 458 knives I've licked after making 458 pb&j school lunch sandwiches? Or the endless taxiing of children in a squeaky, water-bottle-littered Tahoe? Or the countless floss betters! and try harders! and snap out of its! I've regrettably shouted across the house to non-listening ears?

Oh, did I mention the math? Especially the math. I'm pretty sure a mom can only explain how to find the area of a triangle so many times - and in so many creative ways - before her head falls off.

All of it can sure poop a mom out.

But why exactly? Because a little soul searching lately has me looking beyond mere mom duties and has me recalling recent conversations - mommy conversations - I've overheard:

"If it wasn't for the cash we had in our 'Broken Appliance' envelope, we would've had to charge the new refrigerator."

And more conversations: "We hired this amazing French tutor for Johnny."

And MORE conversations: "Going on week three of our family's sugar-detox. Everything tastes so much better now. And the kids think it's fun!" 

Such fervor is a little unexpected this time of year, don't you think? Don't get me wrong, back in September, my middle name was Fervor. I was ALL about getting my kids to eat kale chips and ALL about driving through car line in a squeaky clean automobile, making sure the broken weather stripping thingy on the back door wasn't hanging out like it did all summer long.

Wait a minute. All summer long. Did I really let that thing hang out all... summer... long? I did! And it was awesome!

But why during summer? Well, no school means no car line. Not as many people checking out my rear... of my car, rear of my car. Which also means not a lot of conversation-overhearing going on. Which goes right along with not being constantly reminded of all the "better ways" I could be doing things. Which equals a more care-free and confident Molly.

Now if only I could bag that summer Molly and carry her around all year. If only I could focus on one voice, one orchestrator of my days.

In 2 Peter 1:3, God wants us to know that his divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and goodness.

Could it be that my knowledge of God - his love, his power, his forgiveness - has more than equipped me to love and care for my family? Has God already given me all the intuition I need to raise my kids up into the people he's called them to be? Yep!

Turns out life's too complicated as is to equally rely on the envelope-system mom and God for inspiration. Same with the "I spend perfectly good money on French tutors" mom and the sugar-detoxed-and-proud mom.

I want just Him.

Happy Summering!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Nacho Libre Easters

The movie Nacho Libre has become an Easter tradition in our home, a tradition my sister and brother-in-law have also embraced - maybe even more so. (They own a mask. See above pic?)

I admit, I didn't get the movie at first. But isn't that the point? And with its classic line - "Don't you re-a-lize I have had diarrhea since Easters?" - how could it not become a yearly thing?

Sure it's not an obvious choice. Definitely not the most spiritual of movies to attach to a meaningful holiday. But then again I find that we don't always make obvious choices. (Rushing to Del Taco after church to make the 11:00 breakfast burrito cut-off time - on Easter Sunday - wasn't the most Eastery of choices today.)

But... perhaps there is something "spiritual" to take away. Something more to Nacho Libre besides the Lord's chips and dead guy duties and big hugs and little kisses. Now I know this might be a stretch - a stretchy pants kind of stretch - but I'm thinking YES.

There's this guy, Ignacio. A lowly friar at an orphanage who dreams of becoming a famous luchador (*insert mysteriously defiant eyebrow smolder here*). At first, he wants all the recognition and fame that comes along with being a pro wrestler, not to mention the fancy ladies and lotions and creams.

But when he comes to the conclusion that Ramses, his luchador idol, is a "real douche," Ignacio soon realizes it's not about him. Rather, it's about the orphans he loves. So he ends up fighting the seven strongest men in the town - maybe even the world! - in hopes of winning so he could better provide for them.

It's all good stuff. It's true religion is looking after orphans kind of stuff. (James 1:27)

And not only that, but Nacho Libre brings our family together... in the same room... teenagers and iphones... bad attitudes included... to laugh at all the same parts and recite word-for-word all the funny parts, adding new lines to our inside joke inventory each time we watch it: "Get that corn outta my face! My favorite color is light tan. And over there is a crazy lady." And my hubby's go-to: "Read some books!"


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Make a Statement

This Spring, get with the fashion lingo and make a statement with a statement necklace. Show your endless sense of style with an infinity scarf. Take your look to the max in a maxi skirt. And forget about caged animals, try a pair of caged sandals! 

Then follow up with bracelets. Lots of them. Layered up to your elbows, maybe even higher. Layer after clinking layer of chains, cuffs, bangles, beads, and Rainbow Loom. It's like a bracelet salad.

And maybe try denim on denim. No, pastel with denim. No, white with black. And make it a shirtdress. Or a frill hem skirt with a crop top. Or a crop top with trousers. No, with soft pants. Okay, absolutely no crop tops - boyfriend tee instead.

After ALL that - if you can still see through all those trendy layers - look for your coral lip stain at the bottom of your fringed cross body bag before walking out the door to go to... uh, to go to... give me a minute and I'll think of someplace to go besides staying home to take selfies.

Fashion lingo... who makes this stuff up? Back in the day I was wearing jellies, Swatch watches, and stretch-stirrup pants. My mom was wearing Go-Go boots with mini skirts and granny gowns with hippy beads. And my Nana wore sloppy joe sweaters with pleated skirts and saddle shoes.

And way back in time, Biblically-back in time, various groups of people were wearing ephods and simlahs and tunics and sashes. And some folks also "girded up their loins," which doesn't sound very cover-of-Vogue-ish, nor very sanitary. Moving on.

Another Biblical reference to clothes comes from Colossians 3:12: "As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience."

Who needs a statement necklace when you're wearing "clothes" like that? "I care for you, I'm here to comfort you, I've got all the time in the world for you" - talk about statement-making! And they're one-size-fits-all, too. Everybody wins!

So, demanding my way, being really mean, and eating too much cake - definitely clothes I want to take off. Compassion, kindness, and especially patience - most definitely clothes I want to put on.

Now, where did I put those rose gold baubles and chevron-print Tom's...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kingdom Savvy

A quick stroll through Bloomingdale's department store yesterday made me realize two things:

1.) The more luxurious and pricey the brands, not to mention difficult to pronounce, the more oddly eccentric the female models. Some had mustaches. Not the trendy, photo booth, at-the-end-of-a-stick mustaches. Rather, something Prince would have above his lip in Purple Rain. (Maybe I don't want to be a model when I grow up.)

2.) I have never been more thankful for Marshalls and TJ Maxx. Even Target. Or Ross on a good day. Or Macy's with my "Retail Me Not" app discount. Or Forever 21, size 40-year-old. I would be naked - literally, figuratively, metaphorically - without all those stores.

Actually, there's a third thing I realized while walking through Bloomingdale's in my Costco jeans: I kind of wished I knew more about all the fancy brands. Something culturally-indroctrinated within me made me think perhaps I should know.

For example, a sweet woman once told me about her fake handbag ministry. I told her, "Oh cool, I'll buy one! What is it, about 30 bucks? And for a good cause? Count me in!"

But after awkward silence, she patiently explained it involves preventing people from buying fake handbags. Something to do with how fake handbags are tied to the Mafia...or something super dramatic. Not quite sure. I just remember being embarrassed.

Embarrassed how? Well, she caught me off guard. I felt unsophisticated. And I felt naive, both to the evils lurking behind counterfeit handbags and to my lack of real vs. fake handbag knowledge. I mean, I've got Coach down because of the "C" and that horse and carriage thing, but that might be it.

Then the thought occurred to me: it's okay that I didn't fully understand the ethical and socioeconomic ramifications connected with black market handbags, let alone what the Mafia is up to (wet cement, brass knuckles, guys named Vinny and Rocko). I just need a place to stash my lip gloss and 3 p.m. piece of chocolate. Doesn't have to be a "bad" bag, just something cute and roomy.

However, what's NOT okay is this: wishing I possessed real and authentic handbag knowledge so that I could impress the anti-fake purse lady. Like maybe I could out-name-brand-drop her. Which is absurd. I have no such knowledge. And even if I did, why show it off?

The apostle Paul was right on when he said in Romans 7:15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do." (That's me.)

But Beth Moore profoundly writes, "God has assigned us to this world and Satan has assigned this world to us. Whose influence will win? Will our culture indoctrinate us or will we indoctrinate it?"

So while there is nothing wrong with being "name brand" savvy, I want to focus on becoming Kingdom savvy, having a heart that loves the things God loves and a heart that breaks for what breaks his. Nothing fake about that!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bonding Over Triangles

Getting my kids to like each other is no easy task. I'll tell my son, "Say at least one nice thing to your sister." And instead of a compliment, he'll make an observation: "Your shirt is finished that're in choir."

Son, that's not what I meant. Try again.

Then he'll ask me to give options of nice things to say. And to help him out, to help him stay within the coming from an almost-14-year-old believability bracket, I'll make a few vague suggestions and have him pick his favorite:

1. You don't wear too much makeup.
2. You drove home safely today.
3. You did good on your last vocab quiz.

(See how I threw in a little of what I EXPECT from her? A little trick of mine.)

But I'm sensing a change between my two teens. A real small, barely-even-there change. It seems as if a mutual respect and borderline admiration for each other is brewing. All thanks to..... math being HARD.

What? I can't believe I just complimented math. (See previous post.) But when it comes to the peace level of my home, I'll make exceptions.

You see, my 11th grade daughter is now simultaneously taking Algebra 2 and Geometry. Ew. And because she now realizes that waiting until the last month of the semester to get a grip on her grades is a very bad idea, she texted me: "I need a tutor in Geometry."

I wish I could say I immediately took care of things. But where to go? Who to call? How much is this going to cost? What if the tutor's a weirdo? So I stalled the first week, thinking, "Well, maybe it was just an off day and now she totally gets it."

But then she asked for a tutor AGAIN the following week. So I had an idea. Although it didn't fix the what if he's a weirdo? problem, my idea was very inexpensive and logistically-easy, and I put my 8th grade, Geometry-brained son straight to work.

Oh no, what was I thinking? This idea could totally turn on me. It could go either way! So I cleared off the kitchen table all nicey nice - lit a candle even - and sat on my couch and prayed while the tutoring session began:

Oh Lord, please help this to work! You know me and how I loathe doing stuff like finding professional tutors. (Not that it's all about me.) Just please help them be nice to each other. Help my daughter receive what she's being taught. Prevent them from commenting on each other's bad breath. And don't let a simple fart ruin the moment. AMEN. 

And guess what? My daughter texted me the next day: "I just helped 70% of my class figure out how to find the length of sides of triangles because our teacher explained it super lame."

It worked! The whole thing went down splendidly. My son's the Geometry Whisperer! But even more amazing, my daughter actually LET him whisper to her.

What could possibly be next? "The color red looks amazing on you?" "Your choir concert was awesome?" I highly doubt it. But I also doubted that God could use something as horrendous as math to make my teens kind-of-sort-of like each other a little more. So stay tuned! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

C Minuses in Algebra 2 ROCK

It's finals week for my high schooler. So out comes my amazing parenting skills: "You cannot search for cute hairstyles on your phone, watch The Bachelor, AND study for finals at the same time! Pick TWO and focus, woman!"

Okay, parenting skills aren't THAT bad around here. Obviously I made sure one of her picks was "study for finals." Gotta crack down!

Although I'm not too worried overall, there is one grade that has me a little on edge - her Algebra 2 grade. That horrible-awful class! I can't believe it still torments me, only now via my sweet 17-year-old. Probably because I skipped taking it in high school. I stupidly waited until college and didn't pass it until my THIRD attempt. Oh, the tears! Oh, the extra food I ate as a buffer in between each "odds only" problem!

So you can see why our house rules are: 1) Dishes with leftover food go into the right-side garbage disposal sink. 2) Don't forget to clean your nitty-gritties. 3) Thou shalt take a minimum of three years of high school math, finishing with at least Algebra 2.

But I think we're good. I just got a text from her: "Algebra went up to 74%." And that's pre final exam, which is tomorrow. So when I do-the-math, she could get a 66% on her final and end with a 70% for the semester?? I don't know where I got that. Point is, there's wiggle room! Praise-elujah, Halle-Lord!

Now with my 8th grade son...I don't think that boy has gotten under a 92% on a single test in HONORS GEOMETRY so far this year. What is wrong with him? He's a mystery to me. And to think his brain grew inside me! Inside a woman who feels like somethin' else when she casually uses the math term 'perpendicular' in a sentence - and uses it correctly. Pretty impressive.

So sure, my son is a genius. But I also think it helps to have super fantastic teachers. My daughters' teachers? For a public school, they are fabulous! But because my son goes to a private school (we do this "private school for junior high only" thing in our house - best parenting move we ever made), teachers get to send out emails like THIS from time to time:

"Please help your children relax this finals week. Let them know God is the God of their intellectual abilities and capacities. Encourage them to ask Him for help in every way. They are more than a single or collective grade. They are more than a GPA. They are treasures with strengths and weaknesses and a God who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that they (or their parents) can ask or imagine!" (Ephesians 3:20)

Anyone else with teens breathing easier all of a sudden? Good! Glad to help. You see, we have treasures living among us! And a C- doesn't make them anything less. (It just makes them sparkle more? NO! I didn't say that. Easier to be around? Not that either. More show-off-able? That either! Stop putting words in my mouth...)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Signed, Parched in SoCal

Not only is "It Never Rains in Southern California" my least-favorite R&B song from the early 90s - it's my reality. Our reality. And i
f I see one more warm-temp-flaunting Facebook post - #socaljanuary #ilivehere #suckstobeyoubackeast - I'll have no choice but to post a piece of my "tree vs. forest" lecture. 

Here's the thing: by "tree" I mean...YES, today is beautiful. All by its lonely self, today is basically beautiful. I'll give you that.

BUT by "forest" I mean...NO, today is not beautiful. Because everyday has been like today - rainless. And it's January, folks. We need snowpack in our Sierra Nevadas if we SoCalians want water to trickle down into our lakes. And water for our infinite number of landscaped hillsides and rose gardens and fruit trees. Oh, and to drink! Kind of important. Besides, do we really want to revisit the 80s drought slogan, "If it's yellow, let it mellow?"

Confused by my "tree vs. forest" analogy? Well at least CNN and FOX are catching on because all week they've been talking about our severe drought. Earlier this month it was kind of cute, us having sunny weather for the Rose Parade... again. And how the nation rolled their eyes at us... again. But now, I think we're gaining the country's sympathy. 

Okay, maybe not. 

But if I have to round-up compassion for California by taking myself straight into the Arctic Vortex's core, which I'm pretty sure is centered directly over an amazing Bed-and-Breakfast set among rolling acreage with covered bridges and acoustic sounds and fireplaces and scones with lemon curd (See Primitive Lifestyle Dreams), I WILL DO IT. I'll be super charming and prove to them that we Californians are, like totally, worthy of snow-which-equals-water-which-equals-not-dying, too. 

Now don't think for one second I'm ranting because I'm bitter about not being able to cozily wear those infinity scarves I got for Christmas. BECAUSE I AM. But I also think constant 84 degree weather in January is messing with my brain. To me, winter equals a high of 58 and a low of 37 (maybe I won't enter the eye of the Arctic Vortex), mixed with a rainy Alaskan front moving in overnight, snow levels dropping to 3,500 feet. 

So as I sit here and stew over this odd weather (in a very dry, brothless stew), I find comfort in knowing that our unseasonably BORING and potentially longterm-BAD weather hasn't escaped God's attention, for he is a God who sees both today (one tree) and all of our days (the forest) - and has everything under control. 

"And the Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." Isaiah 58:11