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.