Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Right Side Out

"And as for you, brothers, 
never tire of doing what is right."
 2 Thessalonians 3: 13

It was Sunday evening. My family straightened up the house, transforming it from its weekend chaos to its weekday cleanliness (or some semblance thereof). As I sailed past the living room, my hands full of wayward dishes and newspapers, I noticed the afghan was folded across the back of the couch—which was a nice surprise. Yet there was something displeasing about the effect.  Then I realized the afghan was wrong side out.
     "Who folded this?" I asked.
     "I did," said 13-year-old Laurel.
     "It's wrong side out."
     "I didn't know there was a right and wrong side."
     I pointed out the subtle difference in the fabric weave. "There's a right and a wrong side to everything." 
     I sounded almost . . . eloquent.  Who knew?
     Laurel went back to her chores, I refolded the afghan, and that was that.
     Or so I thought.
     Later, Laurel showed me her history homework. I brought to her attention some spelling and fact errors.  She didn't like the idea of doing it over but I reminded her that just good enough is never good enough...
     There's a right and a wrong side to everything.
          The next morning, 17-year-old Carson pulled out of the driveway to take Laurel and himself to school. I noticed he made Laurel sit in the backseat. Obviously, he was embarrassed by her little sister status. After school I brought to his attention how a good deed can become tarnished by rudeness...

     There's a right and a wrong side to everything.
   Emily—who at twenty lived on her own—called to complain that her boss didn't give her enough to do. Yet in the next breath, she mentioned she hadn't finished a particularly tedious task she'd been assigned.  I pointed out that one task undone might affect the task yet to come...
     There's a right and a wrong side to everything.
     Being so wise was exhausting and I still had some work of my own to do. And . . . my daily Bible reading which I’d managed to put off all day.
     I opened the Good Book and began, but . . . my mind wandered. 

     I only had so much brainpower left, and I still had some writing to do.  Surely God would understand if I skipped the Bible reading and got my work done. Surely it would be all right to skip it just this once.
     While I argued with myself, I happened to read Genesis 4: 7: If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.
     Well then.
     As He is so adept at doing, God brought to my attention that doing the right thing was always the right thing to do—and my relationship with Him was more important than my work for Him . . .
     There's a right and a wrong side to everything.
     The afghan's lesson was following us around, stalking us. Our chores, school, work, and even God, were affected by our choosing the right or the wrong side of life to put on display. 
     Some choices were easy.  But some distinctions between right and wrong were subtle and needed to be brought to our attention by the One who wanted us to be the best we could be. 
      Appeasing that afghan continues to be a constant struggle. It's tough learning to live our lives with the right side out. 
      But the results can be very pleasing.
     To us, to each other, and to God. 


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Car-pooling Without a Life Jacket

Start children off on the way they should go, 
and even when they are old 
they will not turn from it.”
Proverbs 22: 6
      Please note these simple safety rules of life:  don't put marbles up your nose, don't gesture with a fork while you're talking, and wear a life jacket when you jump or are pushed into the carpool.
          Our family is fortunate.  We live close enough to school so the kids walk or ride their bikes.  Unless water is involved.  Rain, sleet, snow—or the imminent threat thereof.  Precipitation heralds the beginning of telephone negotiations worthy of any diplomat.  My youngest, Laurel, calls her best friend, Rae Chelle, and they try to remember whose turn it is to drive. Since mothers are only consulted as a last resort, the conversation usually goes something like this: 
         "Mom?  Can you drive us to school?"
         "Didn't I drive last Tuesday when it rained?"
         "You drove to but Rae Chelle's mom picked up after. Can you do it again 'cause Rae Chelle's mom has a doctor's appointment and her little brother's sick and they ran out of Rice Krispies so they're running late and she can't after."
         "So am I taking or picking up?" 
         A pause.  "Let me check."
         I realize it would be easier to speak directly to Rae Chelle's mom but I don't because there's a rule that says weekday mornings aren't supposed to be easy.  So I do my part.
        Because I work at home, I don't bother dressing up to do my car-pool duty.  In fact, I feel downright chic if I put on shoes.  To shoe, or not to shoe is determined in the final moments as I grab my keys.  If I feel brave, I scurry to the car shoeless and pray that I don't run out of gas, get rear-ended, or meet up with my own mother—who supposedly taught me common sense.  
       Remember that scene from Mr. Mom where Michael Keaton gets scolded for going the wrong way through the car-pool lane at school? It's true, all true. The way the elementary school has it's car-pool routine laid out is as complicated as a gold-medal figure skating program—the long program. By the time I escape back into street traffic I figure I've done a double axel, a flying camel and a sit spin. If it's a good day, the judges give me a 5.9 for my technical ability and a perfect 6.0 for my dazzling car-pool artistry.
        Our carpool usually includes food and drink.  Part of it's my fault.  I'm rarely seen without my trusty Diet Coke—inevitably bringing chants of "Don't drink   and drive, Mrs. Moser" from the car-poolees. Smart alecky kids.  The rest of the problem I blame on those handy cup holders cars have.  Talk about an invitation. After a trip through carpool-land those cup holders are full of jelly beans, used gum, crumpled Dorito bags and assorted ponytail bands—all of which are permanently adhered to the holder with the greatest glue ever invented:  dried apple juice.  

       If you have a keen interest in colds and allergies, you'll feel right at home in a carpool. It seems the only tissues ever found in a child's possession are those shredded and fossilized in their pockets after making the washer-dryer rounds. If a child does have a fresh tissue, it is of no use as it is buried beneath layers of jackets, backpacks and science projects.
       A nose is running. A sneeze is bursting. A cough is hacking. What's a poor child to do? I have a box of tissues in the car, just for the occasion. But what happens to the tissue when it's served its purpose? Since their pockets are already full of the day's earlier treasures (just waiting to be fossilized) the kids stuff the used tissues in between the seats or in a cup holder—if they can find one miraculously empty. Or they give it to the baby to chew on.
       Carpooling demands iron nerves, deaf ears, and eyes in the back of your head. If you somehow avoid drowning in the deep end of the carpool you'll deliver all the kids to the correct locations and make it back home yourself (if, after all this, you still remember where you live).  When you get there, shut the garage door on the world, toss your keys on the counter, and try a different pool—one that steams and makes your skin prune. Calgon, take me away.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

No Sweat

“Do you not know that your body 
is a temple of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you have received from God? 
You are not your own;
you were bought at a price. 
Therefore honor God with your body."
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

This is NOT me.

     Our bodies are a temple. We should treat them with respect; keep them healthy. Eat foods that aren't smothered in chocolate, drenched in fat, or covered with salt. And most importantly, ex. . . exer. . . I find it hard to say—and even harder to do. Exercise.
     I'll walk. I'll do sit-ups with the best of them. If it weren't for one thing.
     I know a sure-fire way to make a million bucks. Find a way to exercise and not sweat. No matter what you call it—sweat, perspiration, or that salty glow you get when your lungs are burning—it's annoying. It stings your eyes, melts your make-up, and leaves telltale half moons under your arms. It's . . . the pits.

This is also not me.

      I realize a sweaty brow is a trophy of sorts. It is proof (if accompanied by the appropriate ball, racket, or aerobic attire) that you are keeping the inner workings of your body healthy by achieving a certain measure of fitness. Exactly what measure can be determined by your posture. If you are in a prone position resembling a dead gingerbread man, your fitness quotient is low. If you are jogging in place with enough breath left in your lungs to recite the Declaration of Independence, I don't want to speak to you. Ever.     Some weekend warriors (like me) don't need a Boston marathon to break into a respectable sweat. Sorting seventeen white socks from the dryer, finding a parking place at the mall, or turning the channels manually on the TV when the remote gives out, can all create a respectable glow. When I attempt some real exercise like walking, tennis, or a game of H-O-R-S-E, my body calls out the National Guard. This is not a drill.

      There have been obvious improvements in the sweat department in the last hundred years. Before the advent of deodorant, daily showers, and washers that use electricity instead of the nearest rock, the aroma of mankind was an accepted part of everyday life. But considering lice, outdoor privies, and dirt floors were also de rigueur, it wasn't a point to brag about. The potpourri many of us have sitting in a pretty dish to freshen a room used to be a part of standard attire in the form of a pomander hanging from one's belt to cover up the aroma of one's toils. People died young, not from disease, but because their noses gave out. At least that’s my theory.

      Now we live in a perfumed society. There is no excuse for not smelling like roses, a newborn baby, musk, or a sea breeze. Personally, I don’t like smelling like food: no peaches, lemon, or vanilla for me. I think about food enough without smelling like it.
      Sweat discriminates. Baseball players, tennis stars, and figure skaters look great bathed in sweat. I, however, look wilted—my face gets red, my hair hangs like cold spaghetti, and my clothes stick to me in all the wrong places. Perhaps it has something to do with our respective earning capacities.
      I realize sweat has a purpose (as do rice cakes and Richard Simmons—or so they say) but certainly someone can design a pill that will cool our bodies without making them sticky and uncomfortable. Dogs pant. Humans . . . ?
      Let’s cut to the chase: Jesus said that “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10: 27). Therefore, I challenge mankind to find a way to stay slim, be trim, and worship Him while keeping our temples perspiration free.
     "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
      Hmm. What if we tackled a healthy diet and exercise not for ourselves, but “as working for the Lord”?
      Could we learn to view sweat as a virtue?

     I’ll add that to my list of questions to ask God when I’m spending eternity with Him. Surely in heaven I’ll be able to eat Big Macs and not do tummy crunches. Or . . . maybe in His presence, I’ll have other things on my mind.
     Maybe I need to tap into those “other things” right now, quit obsessing about my weight, put Him first, and let the food and exercise handle themselves. How about the “He First” diet? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6: 33-34) Trouble I make for myself?
     Perhaps this is the key: honor God with your body, work as if working for the Lord, seek Him, and don’t worry.
     No sweat.
     I feel better already.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Someone Has to Do It

“Consider now,
for the LORD has chosen you 
to build a temple as a sanctuary.
Be strong and do the work."
I Chronicles 28: 10
      Garage (g-raj'):  A building or wing of a building, in which to park a car or cars. 
      Oh, so that's what it's for.  I could have sworn it was for storing Notinheres. You know, those possessions that live in the house until someone asks the fateful question, "Where should I put this?"

      Out it goes to the garage where it begins its new life.
      It's not a bad fate being relegated to the garage. There's plenty of fresh air (except for the exhaust fumes), no one bothers you (except to shove you deeper in a corner), and with luck you can live to extreme old age (anyone care for a fossilized can of mauve paint?)
      The inhabitants of the garage could live a peaceful existence if it weren't for one thing. 
      Once a year I get the urge to do it. God nudges me out the door and reminds me that cleanliness is next to godliness, and He loves a cheerful giver.  So I give my all toward cleaning the garage. 
      This usually involves relocating the Notinheres from one shelf to another. However, this year, I'm determined to hold King Solomon as my role motto: Be strong and do the work.  I’m going to be brutal and actually give things away, and throw away even more.
      Toward this end, I don my grungiest sweat pants, a yellow tee-shirt that says: I got out of bed for this?, and cover my hair so I resemble a Russian peasant working in the fields of a Siberian commune. I grab a broom and present myself to my family.
      "Wish me luck," I tell them. "I'm going to clean the garage."
      "Knock yourself out, honey," says my husband.
      "No, you don't understand," I say. "This year I'm going to try something new. I'm going to throw things away."
      He snaps to attention. "Don't you dare touch Ed McMahon."
      This is not a joke. A life-sized cardboard cutout of Johnny Carson’s sidekick, Ed McMahon—a sales promotion for something or other, long forgotten—followed us during a move from Nebraska to Kansas. He comes to all our parties, his hands holding a "Happy New Year" or "Go Big Red" sign. 
      "But Ed's neck is broken. It's really time we got rid—
      "Not Ed!" he says.
      "And don't give away my Rainbow Brite skates," says our oldest daughter Emily, who’s brought our granddaughter over to visit.
      "Or my football that doesn't have any air," says middle child Carson, who’s come to borrow a hedge trimmer for his own to-do list, but has been delayed by a baseball game on TV.
      "Or my Boxcar Children books," says twenty-something Laurel who’s in town to visit us—and her friends (or is she here to visit her friends—and us?)
      I smile a sinister smile and point a finger at all of them. "’A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.’”
      My family stares at me, uncomprehending. In truth...
      I got nothing.
      I close the door on all witnesses, determined to begin. The cars sit in the driveway, daring me, pleading with me to make a place for them. I move a trash can to center-stage for the throwaways and a trash bag for the giveaways. I survey the Notinheres that line the perimeter like wallflowers at a middle school dance. I turn on some music: the theme from “Rocky” offers the perfect inspiration.
      As the music swells I gain new strength. "Ready or not..."
      With mad abandon, I make a beeline for Ed McMahon. His head droops. There are cobwebs strung between his ear and shoulder.
     "Sorry, Ed. Sacrifices have to be made."
      Next go the Rainbow Brite skates. I ignore the thought that if I keep them long enough they might be worth something on Ebay—even if they are missing a wheel. I toss the airless ball (with the slit in the side) in the trash. The kid books find a place in the giveaway bag.
      The pile in the middle of the garage grows as I cut a swath through the tangle of garden hoses, Christmas lights, and torn volleyball nets. My family peeks through the door, checking my progress.
      "Don't throw that—"
      "Back, I say!" I brandish a weed-eater that hasn't worked in four years. "No one comes out until I say it's safe!" They wisely retreat lest I quote another proverb about plowing and sluggards.
      I am merciless. I toss. I throw. I sweep. 
      And finally . . . I'm done. 
      I open the door and call, "All clear. Everybody out!"
      They file into the garage. Their "oohs" and "ahhs" are fitting payment for five hours work.
      I begin my "From now on" speech directed toward my husband. "From now on all the sports equipment goes here and the tools go over there . . . "
      I catch Mark staring wistfully toward the curb where the trash cans await pickup. Ed McMahon waves a farewell, his head bobbing in the breeze.
    "It'll be all right," I tell him. "It was simply . . . his time."
      The next day, when I get in my car to go on errands, I notice an addition to our freshly cleaned garage. It's Ed. He's waving hello from the corner behind the lawn mower with duct tape strengthening his neck muscles.
      I remind myself that God is all about second chances. 
      For garages.
      For Ed.
      And even for me.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Emotionally Speaking...

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
       Romans 5: 8

     Forget the dyed eggs, the bunnies, and the jelly beans of Easter. It's mere frosting on the carrot cake. Easter isn't sweets. Easter is bittersweet. Easter is emotion.
     No other time of year elicits such a smorgasbord of feelings. While Christmas calls up happiness, Thanksgiving, gratitude, and the Fourth of July, patriotism, Easter assails us with a barrage of sorrow, compassion, anger, and joy. These emotions roil and collide as we remember Christ's torment and revel in His victory over death.
     But more than the emotions we feel is the fact that He feels. Christ didn't cruise through the last few weeks of His life as befitted the Son of God, almighty and all-powerful. He experienced each moment of each day as a man. He felt what we would feel. And during Easter we feel what He felt; each and every emotion . . .
     We feel compassion: There is one line in the Bible that touches me every time I read it. It comes from John 11: 35 and its simplicity is perfection. "Jesus wept."
     These two words are the essence of Christ. They show His compassion. They show His humanity. They are proof He understands.
     Jesus said these words when he witnessed the distress of Mary and Martha upon the death of their brother, Lazarus. The women were angry, frustrated, and sad. "You could have saved him, Lord." But Jesus didn't get defensive and return their anger. He felt with them. Jesus wept with them as a man.
     And then raised Lazarus from the dead as the Son of God. 
     We feel respect: Think of the anguish Jesus endured when the same crowds who shouted, "Heal me!" turned on Him and yelled, "Crucify him!" (Matthew 27: 23)

     Add to that the burden of knowing that God's plan would involve great physical and mental suffering. Christ, in his human nature, was as reluctant as any man with this knowledge, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." The “cup” is beyond our comprehension. He, who was without sin, was about to be separated from the Father and bear the burden of the sins of all mankind—past, present, and future.  It’s horrible to imagine and nearly impossible to grasp.
     Yet within moments of acknowledging his fear, Christ said, "Not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26: 39) Since He submitted to the Father at such a time, Jesus deserves our respect. He earned it. 
     We feel anger: When I read about Jesus standing before the Jewish elders while they conjured up false charges, I yearn for Him to yell, "You want me to prove I'm King of the Jews? Do you really want to see? Get a load of this!" I want Him to zap Caiaphas and all the other hypocrites to a place befitting their arrogant doubt.
     But Jesus held His anger. He was silent and dignified. He was truly a King. (Matthew 26: 57-65)
     We feel humiliation: What humiliation do we bear in our daily lives? Having our teen paint their fingernails green and spray a pink streak in their hair? Coming out of a restroom with toilet paper stuck on our shoe? Or talking to the boss and only later realizing we had food in our teeth.
     How about having Roman soldiers publicly whip you and  taunt you with a crown of thorns? I can barely imagine the humiliation Jesus bore as he was paraded through Jerusalem carrying the cross upon which He would be nailed like a common criminal. And then the sign ordered by Pilate which was placed above His head there, mockingly proclaiming Him—in Hebrew, Greek and Latin so no one would miss the joke—"Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" (John 19: 19) Worst of all must have been the abandonment of His beloved disciples as they denied Him and scattered when He needed them most, leaving Him to suffer alone.
     Which of us would not strike back or be broken by half as much?
     But then, just when things were as bad as they could be; just as sorrow envelops us with the injustice, the pain, and the suffering, Christ took it all away. He wiped the slate clean by taking upon Himself all our sins and bearing the punishment we deserve, in our place. “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19: 30)
     Our sins were finished! But our eternal lives with Him were just beginning!
      We feel joy! Oh, to be one of the women who found His tomb empty. Talk about emotions! Fear, uncertainty, wonder, hope . . . Then Jesus appeared to them and spoke with them, and eventually rose to heaven for them. For us. "He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." (Acts 1: 9)  
      We feel awe. God knew what He was doing. There was no other way for us to receive forgiveness and eternal life than for His Son to die, just as He did. And so we bow our head and humbly accept His gift, knowing we are unworthy but for Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s love.
     Anger, humiliation, joy . . . sometimes society makes us ashamed to feel emotions. They are seen as a lack of self-control. But experiencing these emotions is not a sin. Christ felt them and He was without sin. The test is what we do with these feelings. Jesus showed us how emotions could be handled in their truest form:

     We would have turned the needy people away. He made time for them and loved them. 
     We would have lashed out in anger at the false accusations. He held his tongue.
     We would have panicked with sorrow and fear. He bore His cross and turned to His Father for comfort.
     The Easter season makes us try harder to be worthy of all Jesus did for us. Of all He was for us.
     Jesus wept. He rose. He lives on, in us. And that makes me glad.


Want more inspirational humor? Check out Save Me, God! I Fell in the Carpool: Help, Hope, and Humor for Drowning Moms

Sunday, February 3, 2013

One for All and All for One

"And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13

     Let us consider love. And marriage. The whole "Two shall become one" phenomenon. 
     Or is it more like one-and-a-half?  Or negative three?
When two people get engaged, love sounds easy. Idealistic.  As easy as I John 4:19:  "We love because he first loved us."  Two separate human beings will join lives and become this perfect single entity called a couple. No problem. It'll be a piece of cake.

     The trouble is, my cakes always come out lopsided. 
     Maybe that's why after years of marriage I still have to work at having this "oneness" happen on a regular basis.
     It's not that my husband and I don't have our moments of one for all and all for one, like when we both miraculously agree to watch a M.A.S.H. rerun or both order chicken fingers with mashed potatoes at our favorite restaurant.  On occasion we'll even join forces to say no to a child.  At the same time. In answer to the same question (generally in answer to any question that begins with "Can I . . .?")  And there are the romantic times . . .
     I suspect God had a more constant union in mind, one that is less hit-and-miss, something beyond couch- and mashed-potatoes.  A bonding.  A binding.  A mutual merging of mind and soul. 
     And check books.  And schedules.  And . . .
     There I go again, being practical. It's hard to think philosophically when the practical aspects of life continually raise their hands and demand our attention, thinking they know the answer to the question—
     What was the question again?
     Yet, in our quest to find the oneness of marital bliss, there's nothing wrong with being practical.  After all, life's rules, car pools, toilet stools, and garden tools take up ninety percent of our time.  We long for the extraordinary while knee-deep in the ordinary.  We want to embrace the high points because those are the times when we feel closest to our spouse. Even the low points draw us close. Our hearts bond and we need only look at each other for a thousand words to be spoken. We are of one mind and soul.
     But we can't stay on the mountaintop. The phone rings, a child cries, the schedule ticks on without mercy, and we are forced to leave the communion of oneness behind.
     So it is with our spiritual lives.  We feel closest to God during the high and low points. Even unbelievers find God at such times—and quickly forget Him in the times in between.
Our daughter Laurel and her husband Jake
     It is those times in between that challenge our marriages and our faith. When the rest of the world is pulling us six ways, that's when it takes concerted effort to make contact with our spouse and with our God; to find communion among the chaos.
     How special it is then, while knee-deep in those chaotic moments, when we suddenly remember: I love him or I love her. During that brief recognition of our love fresh thoughts of God break through, and for a moment, we forget our frenzied toils and think of Him. "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4: 18)
     The highs and lows of life are inevitable and thrust upon us. Yet with practice we can create special times of communion among the mundane moments: as we sit next to our spouse at our son's baseball game, we can reach for their hand; when we're busy working on the yard we can pour two lemonades, pull our spouse out of weeding the flower beds, and sit on the front step and talk; when the M.A.S.H. reruns come on we can turn the television off, snuggle on the couch, and wallow in the silence. 
     We can find the bond of oneness all around us if we search for it.  It's out there, like a firefly flitting past on the summer air.  For a split second we will see it.  We can let the chance for oneness fly by or with a little effort we can run after it, snatch it in our hands and carefully take a peek at its wonder; its beacon of light among the darkness.

     When we do, we will also find God. For He is there at the baseball game, among the flowerbeds, and in our silent home.  He is the firefly.  And His light glows for couples who've made a commitment to share a life.

     "And two shall become one" . . .  In His perfection, the "two" of a couple become one with the Lord. 
     Embrace the journey.
     And each other.


Want more inspirational humor? Check out