Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Dad


I work hard . . . ish. I bet if I tallied it all up, all the physical, mental, and emotional effort it takes to keep this house spinning and my family in orbit about town, I'd rack-up some serious steps on one of those fitness trackers. But compared to my dad, it'll take me a lifetime to even come close to the amount of work he had already put in by age 18.

For the longest time, I thought his childhood on an old farm in upstate New York consisted of only two things: avoiding creepy cellar doors and dropping cats from barn windows. But several years ago, upon hearing a Paul Harvey spiel"God looked down on his planned paradise, and said, 'I need a caretaker,' So God made a farmer"—I got nosy and sat my dad down. Turns out he was a real-deal farmer!

So what did farmers do in the 1950s-60s anyway? Well my dad and his father grew wheat, corn, and oats. They also grew black beans called "Turtle Soups" and shipped them off to a country in South America. Apparently the beans were loved down there and not much up here.

And holy cow, for there were six! And they'd milk each one every morning like clockworkwith their hands. No fancy machinery. And if they did have machinery of any kind, tractors and whatnot, they'd fix it themselves. Mechanics from John Deere didn't make house calls. 

And what did they do with milk from six cows? They hauled it into their kitchen where it got poured into a cream separator. And the people who actually did make house calls were the Land-o-Lake guys. They came out once a week to buy and pick up the cream for butter-making back at their factory. (Forget making money, I'd be all, "It's human interaction DAY! Someone is coming to my farm! Special occasions call for pearls and stockings.")

Now what about the strength needed to move hay bales around hay lofts that were over 100 degrees? A lot of back-breaking and finger-blistering work, yet the sense of accomplishment from a job well done would make it all worthwhileor at least make lemonade taste like heaven. And to think each bale of hay weighed more than my dad. Hard work, that's what.

Now scale way, way back in the blood-sweat-and-tears department and fast forward to present-day life in my kitchen, where the sense of accomplishment doesn't come from separating cream from milk that I "hand got" from cows in my backyard. Rather, my proud moment came the day I made something extraordinary . . .

Shrimp linguine. From scratch.

It was restaurant quality. We would have paid money for it. Like $18, and that's without the add-on salad. In fact, the best compliment I could ever get is my husband saying, "Mol, I would put down some cash for this." But even better, "I would put down some cash for this and did you just do something with your hair? 'Cause you look hot."

Proverbs 12:14 says, ". . . the work of their hands brings them reward." What is that reward exactly? The possibilities are endless! And even though my dad hung up his rugged cow-poop-stomping workboots many years ago, God gave him an amazing work ethic and desire to provide and care for his family of seven. Besides, he just knows things now that are cool to know.

As for me, although making boss shrimp linguini does not compare to a day in the life of a farmer, it did bring a sense of accomplishment because it was a job well done. God must have looked down on my family and said, "They need a break from turkey burgers." So God made a really, really good recipe that was easy to follow and didn't ask me to emulsify anything or grate ginger root . . . or milk a cow.

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Dog Blog You Should Read Anyway

That-them-there hound dawg. It's just Hudson, that's all. Our 90-pound, horse-ish Basset Hound. A blog about him? Thought you were more of a cat person, Molly? I am. But he's pretty funny.

We drove out to middle-of-nowhere Jasper, Alabama, to get him almost 10 years ago when we lived near Birmingham. Found him in a red barn at the end of a gravel road; he was one of two dozen ready for adoption. That means there were a bunch of baby Bassets not ready. Hound dogs everywhere. (I know, I know . . . he's not a "rescue" dog.)

When we brought him home, we had an underground electric fence installed around our property. (Sigh, property.) And he wore this collar that beeped a warning if he got too close, and then shocked him if he got too too close. And when desperate to follow me on a walk or to steal a neighbor's Alabama football garden gnomeor some such thinghe'd often charge right through it, howling in pain. Dumb dog. 

Too bad the fence didn't keep deer out. Once Hudson got hoofed by a crazed deer. It was a showdown between long, elegant deer legs and short, uh, well . . . these legs:


Fast forward to present-day life in California, and nothing much has changed. He's still escaping. At times I feel like a cowgirl, "herding" him back into the house. That's when we know he got out. Otherwise we get a late-night knock on the door. "This your dog?" (Um, no?)

That Hudson. Eats entire loaves of bread in a single bound. His body elongates like Gumby to reach stuff on counters. For those lost on the Gumby reference, how about See's Candies? Once I found an empty box of See's upstairs. And if anything is sadder than an empty box of chocolates, it's watching a dog go through the "shakes" as he recovers from having emptied the boxgobbled-up both the chocolate and the little brown paper cups each heavenly morsel sat in. It's no surprise our backyard is like a dragon's lair, but instead of skeletal remains, we find pizza boxes, banana peels, and chewed-on cat food cans.

So not only does Hudson love eating our food, he loves our couch. Even if every seat is takendoesn't matter. He'll stand there and stare down a two-inch section of open space until someone lets him up. And then he gets all psyched-up for "the jump," which he doesn't always make. Same thing with getting down. We often find him in half-on-half-off limbo.

And when we take Hudson places, we become instant celebrities. So droopy and pathetic, people eat him up. And his massive front paws—standing at "first position"—get tons of attention. Folks are forever mimicking his stance with their own arms and hands. Sometimes passers-by suggest he needs surgery.

And when Hudson meets a fellow canine at the park, it's always a little awkward. Dog owners get kind of weird and say things like, "My dog's name is Henry, what's your dog's name?" You can forget about meeting the fellow human attached to the dog. (Though nice when I'm not much for social interaction.) Or a person will speak for their dog: "I'm Fifi. Wanna be my friend?" At this point I feel like I'm playing make-believe. What's next, we have them push each other on the swings?

I could go on and on about Hudson's dream sequences and cranky-old-man noises and how we tie his ears together when he eats. And the whole stick of butter I once found in his mouth and how he smells like corn chips. But I'll stop for now and think about which animal oddity God enjoyed creating most—my Cornish Rex cats (R.I.P. Willaby and Zaldamo) . . . or Hudson the hound dog?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Marital Bliss of Faith & Action

Certain things in life go great together: peanut butter and chocolate, shorts and flip-flops, Halo Top ice cream and Netflix, and milk and cookies. Such delightful pairings have compelled the world's most reserved people to break out in song; milk and cookies sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.

Sadly, life's perfect duos don't last. Peanut butter runs out. Flip-flops break. Netflix gets old. Cookies crumble. But there's a marriage of spiritual proportions that has staying power - faith and action. Since faith without action is useless, and action without faith is powerless, they're a match made in heaven!

But according to author Priscilla Shirer, we must be "willing to marry faith with our actions" in order to reap the benefits of our relationship with God, for "the act of faith is what becomes a shield of protection [that] guards against the enemy's attacks."

Take Peter, who struggled with linking faith to action when he denied Jesus three times, among other crazy and reckless, eye-rolling mishaps. But does his story end there? Thankfully, no. By the grace of God, who remains faithful when we are unfaithful (2 Timothy 2:13), Peter went on to train and encourage others in Jesus.

So to effectively put off our enemy, we must actively put on our shield of faith by joining together our faith and action in holy matrimony, so to speak. After all, as with milk and cookies, our snickerdoodles aren't going to dunk themselves.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

REAL LIVING


According to Martha Stewart, adding coriander to meatballs will give them a delicious North African taste. But that's if you're into that sort of thing. She also says guest rooms should be decorated with fresh, neutral colors. But again, advice you can take or leave. 

However, it is Martha Stewart's advice. Not just anyone's. She knows her way around a lemon zester and how to get your sheets smelling like lavender. Just look at Martha Stewart Living magazine's cover this month. If I were an Easter egg, I'd want to look like one of those.


The big wide world of decor, food, gardens, and crafts - Martha's specialty. But what about funny things? Not her specialty. The perfect smoky eye? No bueno. Maximizing your calorie burn on that power walk? Not even close. But what about choosing the perfect table centerpiece for your Easter celebration? Well by all means, let Martha Stewart take the reins. It is her specialty.


Digging deeper into the realm of specialties - a lot deeper - who or what to turn to when my heart is falling apart? Food might help about 8 minutes. A new blouse might get me through the afternoon. A friend might stick around a few days, but I'd be turning to someone whose heart is every bit as complicated as mine. 


So who's the keeper of all-things heart related?

That would be Jesus, the One who "knows how we are formed" and "remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14). The One who keeps "track of all my sorrows" and has "collected all my tears in [His] bottle," recording "each one in [His] book" (Psalm 56:8). 

But at Easter we're reminded of His greatest specialty: raising things from the dead. He rose Himself from the dead and has been raising all sorts of things ever since - breathing life back into places we thought could never be revived again. Because no other god is alive like Jesus, no other god has power like Jesus.

Want to know more? Here's a list I've kept over the years:

- Jesus is so gentle that little children flocked to Him (Matthew 19:14), y
et so authoritative that fierce storms would be quieted by His word (Mark 4:39).


- Jesus is so tender that He stopped the criticism of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:11), yet so commanding that a single look from Him parted an angry crowd intent on doing Him in (Luke 4:29-30).

- Jesus is so embracive (not abrasive) that sinners called him friend (Matthew 11:19), yet so righteous that His blood could wash away the sin of the entire world (1 John 2:2).


It's true; Jesus has an extra amount of specialties. But since it's Easter, let's call them eggstra-specialties.

Happy Easter!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Rules Shmules

According to WebMD, Americans are "catching on" to hand washing. Their website provides detailed written instructions and gripping video tutorials for those on the fence about the pros and...pros. But if you're like me, somewhere between the suggestions "turn on faucet" and "rub hands together for 20 seconds," your brain will wander to the unopened bag of black pepper and sea salt potato chips in the kitchen.

Truth is, I don't like being told how to do things. (But I like telling people how to do things, but that's a confession for another day.) Petty rules bring out my sass; Oh no, I rubbed my hands together for a non-recommended 12.4 seconds. And there was no soap. Or water. And it was a port-a-potty. At a circus. In a mall parking lot. Will I be okay?

And what would happen if, for example, I went swimming right after eating, with food still in my mouth? Or I didn't alternately add milk to the batter? And what if I never use a top sheet? Or accidentally put Magic Shell in the fridge? Will it explode? Will I explode? (*Tip* Magic Shell will unharden itself.) 

I understand. Boundaries and guidelines are important. But some rules are unnecessary or too obvious. You can find them in sports, schools, churches - probably in my home, too. You name the place, I'll show you the eye-rolling rule. 

But what about the biggies? The more serious rules? Like, how a person shouldn't lie or be a prostitute - or both?

Take a look at Rahab. What does God want us to learn from this prostitute who lied to protect the spies of Israel? That lying is super naughty? That being a harlot is a huge no-no? That sexy is of the Devil? Or would God rather have us focus on Rahab's desire to honor him and his people despite her very human and imperfect way of doing so?

What's more amazing is God chose to list Rahab in the genealogy of Jesus, along with other notorious people of the Old Testament who broke a ton of rules, in really horrible and shocking ways. Without condoning sin, why would God purposely include law-breakers in his royal lineage? I think it's because he focused on their faith, their attempt at faith, their wanting so desperately to have faith, and on his unparalleled ability to redeem anyone, anywhere, anyhow he wants. 

If God focused on my shortcomings, I'm certain my latest one - stealing Stevia packets at Starbucks to replenish my stash at home - would be the last straw. But instead, his love and kindness compels him to focus on my daughterness, for my faith in what he personally did for me on the cross has made me his girl. A glorious truth that makes me think twice about hoarding more Starbucks goods.

So if you get rule-weary like me, and you're questioning things like, "Is God's endgame really about getting us to abide by a list of dos-and-don'ts?" Be encouraged, for the God of the universe is much more interested in adopting us as sons and daughters, washing us clean from our past, present, and future rule-breakings. And it's a sparkly kind of clean, too, one that has power to change us, lasting longer and reaching deeper than any 20-second hand wash routine could ever do.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Jesus Line


I adore British period dramas. I could fill a scullery maid’s pantry with the amount of Masterpiece Theater I’ve seen. The costumes, use of language, genteel ways, and pastoral settings have always captivated me, according to Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, “mind, body and soul.” And don’t get me started on the castles.

Majestic and beautiful, castles often housed royalty. Which made entering one rather difficult. After all, not just anybody was allowed to go before the king; a person had to first be approved.

I once imagined a large circular castle, with dozens of drawbridges reaching over the surrounding moat, connecting the castle’s many entry gates to dry land. And at each gate, a long line of people waited to get inside to see the king. Not just any king, but the King of Kings, Jesus.

And among the dozens of lines, only one line was moving, and moving fast! The other lines had various checkpoints, such as the “pray out loud in front of everybody” checkpoint, the “memorize Proverbs” checkpoint, the “sign-up HERE” checkpoint, and the “no tight yoga pants” checkpoint.

But the super speedy line had Jesus - the very King they all came to see - standing at the gate, excitedly waving people in, calling them by name, “I am the gate: whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:9a, NIV)

As I recall my “circular castle” daydream (with complete sobriety, I promise), I realize how often I’m the one standing in the wrong line, where I end up feeling hopeless, frazzled, and simply not cute. The Jesus line is the only way to go, for it grants direct access to himself, the one who longs to lavish his people with approval before doling out a hearty welcome into his forever home. No one but Jesus - not even the dashing Mr. Darcy - could ever come close to captivating us “mind, body, and soul.”

Monday, January 23, 2017

Rain Rain Go My Way


Southern California sure got dumped on yesterday. It rained and poured. It poured and rained. It never does this! It kept us indoors. It canceled our plans. It forced us to slow down. It turned our Sunday - a day of "rest" - into an actual day of rest. Unless, of course, you were filling sandbags.

I'm not overreacting, either. I drove and couldn't see. My daughter drove and hydroplaned. Rain went sideways! The baseball field down the street used to have pitching cages, but I couldn't see them - they were under water!

It was good for us, I think. Weather, forcing us to slow down, acting as a temporary "force quit" to our lives. Sure we didn't get snowed-in or anything. But still. We needed this.

During a recent, non-rainy-day drive to the gym, I stopped at a red light and looked around: to my left, folks were signing up for one of those fun runs, everyone wearing the same orange shirt, fighting for some cause. To my right, Boy Scouts were doing community service, picking up trash and planting flowers. And in the park behind them, soccer games were going on and dogs were pooping. There were shirtless dads pushing jogging strollers and cute moms walking with their Starbucks and workers trimming trees and a helicopter was overhead...and, and, and! (And don't forget me, going to the gym!)

My eyes beheld a vast labyrinth of human activity all in one concentrated area, at a single intersection in Mission Viejo, California, on a Saturday - the end of the "work" week. And it hit me: we all look so tired; we need a good rain to keep us home in our jammies. After all, it's been cheesily said that we are human beings, not human doings. When do we ever carve out time to "just be?"

So it's a good thing God nudged us in the direction of being-not-doing by sending us this rain. He longs for us to rest more, produce less. I mean, the guy didn't create wintry seasons for nothing, for he often uses them as a reminder to "come away by yourselves to a secluded place - put that sandbag down - and rest awhile." (Mark 6:31)


  

Friday, January 13, 2017

Part Two - CASUAL REFLECTIONS ON GROWING UP CHURCHED: "When Christians Cuss"


Growing up churched in the 80s, I was under the impression that people who cussed were "backslidden" in their faith - at best. At worst, well, they were probably not...(whisper)...not even Christian. But that was my experience. Not every churched kid grew up with the same impression, an impression I'm happy to report I've 98% moved-on from (I still blush on occasion), for I've seen God loving people in the midst of cuss words slipping out right and left.

Take my husband, Jeff. When he was in the seventh grade, he committed his first swearing felony, not on a playground or at the mall, but at a church youth group. And his naughty word of choice wasn't said out of habit or anger or because he stubbed his toe, rather he was going for cool-factor, similar to "smoking" candy cigarettes. He went around calling kids dildos. (I admit, that was difficult to type out.)

"Stop being a dildo, dude," he'd joke.

His youth pastor could have gone any number of corny and ridiculous directions. Thankfully he chose the way of grace and truth, for he casually said, "Hey buddy, do you know what that word means?" 'Yeah, it means dork!' "Actually, no it doesn't. And actually, it's super inappropriate. So how about we not say that anymore?"

The youth pastor didn't freak out, didn't shame him, yet still managed to give instructions on how to best proceed. He even called Jeff "buddy" before sending him on his way to "not say that anymore." Not too different from the way Jesus dealt with the woman caught in adultery: "...neither do I condemn you, now go your way and sin no more." (John 8:11)


My youngest sister, on the other hand, went around calling kids bastards in her youth group. Sadly, she got a completely different reaction from her leader. I don't know the exact details, but reinforcement was called in and she got removed from the youth room. Funny, she also seemed to think bastard was just another way of saying dork. (We kids should've stuck with boring, socially-acceptable "dork.")

Now, I'm not sure how proper it is for a churched girl, such as myself, to have a favorite cussing-in-church encounter, but I do. It happened at a women's Bible study ten years ago. It was the very last meeting of an eight-month-long study. About 300 of us were gathered in a large tent-like room, that's 300 "intergenerational" ladies - a buzzwordy term used when you've got 90-year-old great grandmas mixed with 27-year-old millennials. So you can imagine the varying degrees of shock levels represented should someone happen to swear into a microphone.

She was probably the hottest girl in the room. Who knew hot girls did Bible study? And as the morning's facilitator moved about the room with a mic, asking women to raise their hands and share what God had done in their lives, hot girl raised her hand. And in a sea of church-speak - "God proved himself mighty on my behalf this past year" - only one testimony stood out as genuine, unrehearsed, and heartfelt: hot girl's. Although she struggled putting words together (who wouldn't following such declarations of religiosity?), she clearly remembered what life had been like before putting her faith in a loving and compassionate God. In fact, she flat out told us what her life was like: "My life was shit.

Oh, the gasps for air heard throughout the room, the shifting in seats, the nervous sips of coffee - all so fantastic! I mean, I usually hate awkward moments, but not this time. Sure hot girl's testimony would've been sincere without the cuss word, but not only did it give us self-righteous types a little somethin' to work on internally, it also helped drive home the fact that God is faithful to produce change in a person's heart, starting heart first, not foul language first, and in his own timing. Profanity was obviously the least of God's worries that day. 

I'm so thankful God is patient with my faults. He seems to work on them in batches and from the root on up. And when I quickly string together my famous three craps in a row - crap, crap, crap - as I spill coffee on myself, I know God sees my frustration and has a non-shocked, "hey buddy, how about we not say that" way of handling things, always with the perfect amount of truth and grace.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

Part One - CASUAL REFLECTIONS ON GROWING UP CHURCHED: "Bathrooms To the Left, Decision Room To the Right"


Growing up "churched" can be a strange thing. On one hand, there's a whole lot of corny attached to it. A wide array of corny. It happens when humans attempt to make sense of their church's doctrines, policies, and traditions, and it often comes across as formulaic, robotic and sometimes, well, silly. Leaving the awe and wonder and unpredictability of God to lose some of its flavor.

On the other hand, being churched is the best thing that's ever happened to me, for I've seen God love me through his people, not their methods and techniques - however oft they were. Even if they had self-serving motives, God loved me through them, without them even knowing! He does that, you know. He can shine and sparkle through anyone and anything he wants, however flawed.

And I think we can all agree: not everybody sitting in a church is interested in following Jesus. But God used my choppy and very church hoppy experiences to not only show his love for me through his people, but also expose me to: 1) Cute boys, which led me down the aisle with cutest one. 2) Churchiness, which both perplexed and entertained me. 3) Scripture, which hasn't ceased to reveal God's precious thoughts toward me. Thoughts that outnumber the sands of the sea. Thoughts that have wooed me to him all these years.

Yes, I've seen God's hand over and over and over again in church. (See? I just used the phrase "God's hand" - how churched am I?) And I've seen this great big hand of his at churches I've grown up in...in America, of all places, where churches lately accuse each other of being too legalistic, too liberal, too western thinking, too judgy, too watered down, too in-depth, or too loud. There is no end to the many "toos" behind churches getting a bad rap. Ah-ha, maybe that's it! Could it possibly be the bad rap? I have a new favorite "too" now. (Christian rap is on my list of things-that-should-go-away.)

So without going into a super serious, theological, seminary-student discussion over why our American churched culture is getting eyes rolled at them - partly because I hope to write stories about how God met me and others in the midst of human-filled churches and partly because I'm just not that well-rounded of a thinker - I'm going to stick to the idea that started off this introduction, the idea that God uses a whole lot of corny sometimes.

Attending Christian churches most of my life (or should I say "communities" instead of churches to stay relevant?), I've always had a hunch that something was up, that something hysterical was going on. But until about eight years ago (I am now 43), when our family of five moved from Orange County, California to Birmingham, Alabama, I had difficulty gathering together my church-is-corny thoughts. However, there's nothing like a move to the Bible belt - to the very buckle of the Bible belt - to help a gal sort through her churchy observations.

I was simply mesmerized by the way some of the people "did church" over there. Not in a better-or-worse sort of way, just different. Although the area was more denomination and "church membership" focused than what I was used to - like the transferring of church memberships from one church to another, certificates of transfer, inactive vs. active memberships, and so on (all funny stuff) - I found the people of Alabama lovely, and I got involved regardless.

One night I volunteered as a greeter for a Christmas outreach at a local church. People from miles around showed up to collect toys for their children. My job was to mingle with families as they waited for instruction in the main sanctuary (aka: worship center, gathering room, big people church). There was a guy singing Christmas songs to the strum of his guitar on stage. There was a refreshment table. It was very pleasant.

Then the coordinator gal got behind the mic to welcome everybody and make a few announcements. She said, "Now, this is how tonight is going to work: when you see your number on the screen, your children will be escorted to the craft room while you head through these doors to meet up with one of our volunteers." Everything seemed normal and non-corny.

Then, out it came: "And help yourselves to brownies and sweet tea, and please read one of the Billy Graham tracks in the center of the tables. Oh, and down the hallway are the bathrooms to the left, decision room to the right."

"...bathrooms to the left, decision room to the right." The quote of the night.

I knew right then and there I had myself a title for a book one day (or blogpost). But please keep in mind: the "decision room" to which I'm referring has nothing to do with transgender this or that, rather it's where folks might go in certain church buildings to say the "sinner's prayer" (yet another churchy saying).

At any rate, it was church corniness at its best, and it was perfect...affectionately speaking, of course. After all, Billy Graham tracks are awesome, bathrooms are necessary, and decisions for Christ must be made. Sure the outreach coordinator didn't say what kind of decision must be made in the "decision room." But I guess if you read a Billy Graham track, it was assumed. However, I did wonder if anyone struggled with which sense of urgency to give priority. I mean, when you gotta go you gotta go. Or what if the bathroom served as both bathroom and decision room? Can a person pray to the sound of flushing toilets, while the cross-shaped silk flower arrangement on the wall tickles the back of her arm? Absolutely.

Looking back, imagining if I were in charge that night, I would have shared something heartfelt about my days knowing Jesus, with a sincere "and you can know him, too" finish. But that wasn't how God wanted things to play out that night. He took the cheesy route. For all we know, it was the love of the volunteer who helped put toys in trunks that caused someone to think twice about the promises of God they read about in that-them-there Billy Graham track. Thus prompting a non-decision-room decision for Christ at a later date, which could very well fall on a Tuesday morning in the sock section at Target. You know what they say, stranger things.

So as you eagerly await subsequent blogs on the topic of growing up churched, and in light of the fact that corny is in the eye of the beholder, please extend grace to me, taking off the white glove you planned on using to test the dust of the thought processes behind each story, and put on something that makes you your chillest you. Because there's a lot of corny ahead...