Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dwelling In Unity

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!   Psalm 133:1

     Although I tend to be an extreme advanced planner, the past few weeks have been so crazy that getting pumpkins for the pumpkin decorating contest at my boys' school just fell off my plate.  With a contest deadline of today, I finally got pumpkins yesterday.  The actual decorating didn't commence until last night.  With it being so last minute, and it being a no-carve contest, the options were limited:  If my boys painted the pumpkins, they wouldn't be dry until this morning.  Putting finishing touches on before school wasn't an option.  Also, if they made mistakes, there wasn't time to get new pumpkins and start all over again.  
     So we had to compromise and improvise: If Mason wanted to make a Minion pumpkin, instead of painting him yellow, he would have to be orange "because he drank a Halloween Elixir."  If Zack wanted to make a pumpkin ghost, he'd have to do everything at once, trying to work around wet paint, with the sole exception of the eyes that I conceded he could do before school this morning, if he agreed to get up early and work fast.
     Mason got started right away and was having a blast, his pumpkin coming out better than he expected.  Zack, however, was not as happy.  He couldn't make the pumpkin look like the vision he had in his head.  He kept getting frustrated, changing the plan, trying again, only to get frustrated and repeat the cycle over and over again.  By bed time, Mason was thrilled, and Zack was in tears.  We came up with the best plan we could to tweak Zack's pumpkin in the morning, but Zack still went to bed extremely sad.
     After pulling their bedroom door closed, I immediately got on the internet and scrolled through hundreds of images of no-carve ghost pumpkins to see if there was a way to salvage things.   I dug up more supplies and came up with a plan.
     This morning, I woke Zack at 6:30 a.m., hopeful that we could morph his pumpkin into a creepy ghost pumpkin that he'd be happy with.  Zack listened to the plan, tried to be optimistic, but then burst into tears saying, "I don't know about this."  He went on to explain, through his tears, that it's the kids who vote on the best pumpkin.  He confessed that although he had done his very best last year, not a single student had voted for his.  In fact, he himself hadn't either.  Then he ended with, "I wish we didn't get the pumpkins so late so I'd have more time."  The guilt was like a knife to my heart.  I apologized profusely as I hugged him, choking back my own tears.  And I prayed.  I prayed so hard for God to inspire me with some creative way to save the situation.  But absolutely nothing came.
     I know I shelter my kids too much from disappointment.  So I turned my focus towards praying for the right way and words to guide Zack through the difficult emotions he was experiencing.  The hardest part for me was that although Mason had knocked it out of the park with his pumpkin, gushing about that would further rub salt in Zack's wounds.  Mason intuitively knew to "hide his light under a bushel."  He just stood before his pumpkin, gazing at it, doing his best to repress his smile and pride.  I was so impressed with his consideration for his brother's feelings.
     That's when it hit me!  That's when my prayers were answered.  Mason is Zack's #1 fan.  They share everything: candy, toys, birthday gifts, even First Communion money.  They never say, "Look at what I got."  It is always, "Look at what we got!" 
     So I volleyed the idea: What if Zack morphed his ghost pumpkin into a Minion "who drank a ghost elixir?"  Immediately Mason jumped on board, convincing Zack that it was possible.  Zack felt his brother's love and support, and turned a corner.  The pumpkin remodeling turned into a family affair:  Zack worked on the eye, Mason worked on the arm, I fired up the glue gun, and Jocelyn danced and sang her encouragement in the background.  My husband further supported the cause by making breakfast, and agreeing to drive the boys to school to buy more time and help transport the pumpkins.
     The feeling in my house was more than "good and pleasant" like this scripture passage says.  It was grace-filled and magical.  Everyone was contributing; everyone was encouraging.  Glitches still arose here and there, but we problem solved together, with Zack commenting, "That's okay.  No one will notice."
     The crowning moment was when Zack said, "The day started out with me having the worst pumpkin ever.  Now it's the greatest!  But Mason, I still like yours even better."      
      Sure, my kids bicker and compete against each other, like all kids do.  But at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, they have a "best friends" love for each other that runs deep and true.  Although this mothering gig is challenging and exhausting, getting to witness this tangible love is the reward: it humbles me, makes it all worth it, and reminds me just how truly blessed I am.  "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!"

     Publishing this on the evening of contest day, I'm thrilled to report that Mason's pumpkin won first prize in his class today!  I cannot think of a more deserving winner than my sweet Mason!


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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Getting Back On Course

"Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." 
 Luke 13:30

     There's always a reason for kids to line-up: to go out for recess, to get ice cream, to have a turn on the swings, etc.  As a previous teacher, and now a mom, I've always tried to teach my students, and my kids, that you don't race, or push and shove to be first in line.  Instead, it's more polite, more noble, to let others go before you.  I've tried to role model this by letting other cars cut in front of me on the road, other customers in stores go through the check-out line before me.  I've always believed that that was the premise behind this scripture passage: that in order to be first in virtue, you let others go before you so you end up last.  I still see complete merit in this viewpoint, but I was recently taught a new way of looking at things by an eight year old I'll call Hannah.
     The two teen-aged daughters of my friend Jeanne ran a Princess Camp this summer where my daughter Jocelyn attended, and I volunteered.  This camp, and the teenage girls, Kate and Maggie, were amazing!  Each day they taught the little girls about virtues and the lives of female saints through the Disney Princesses.
     On the first day of camp, when Kate and Maggie asked who could explain what this scripture passage meant, Hannah raised her hand.  She marched right up to the front of the room with confidence and grace.  She asked if she could show what it meant with the help of some volunteers.  Hands flew into the air as the other little girls volunteered to help her.  She proceeded to line up three of them and had them face in one direction.  This amazing little eight year old then went on to explain that while facing in one direction there was a certain order, yet when the girls turned to face in the other direction, suddenly the first girl was last, and the last girl was first.  I was completely blown away that someone so young could be so centered and wise.  She stood before a room full of strangers and concretely demonstrated the true meaning of this scripture passage more clearly than any adult I've ever come across.
     That image has stayed with me: the three volunteers lined up in one direction to then pivot in the opposite direction, reversing their order.  Isn't that an incredible visual of today's culture versus what Jesus taught?  Advertisements and peer pressure have us all clamoring to line up, shoving our way to the front, convincing ourselves that we need whatever they're selling, despite it marching us off course, heading away from our real destination. 
     Once we wise up to how wrong that direction is, we pivot to reverse direction, only to find that not only are we now at the back of the line, but there is so much distance between us and our real destination.  
     Life is moving at a fast and furious pace.  Social media bombards us constantly with all that we should be doing, all that we're missing if we are not quick enough to jump on board.  But Hannah has me thinking now before I line up: Am I facing the right direction?  Is this line even going to lead me to where I want and need to go?  At the end of the day, more importantly, at the end of my life, whether I've kept up with fashion and social trends, or not, won't mean a thing.  What will matter is whether my choices have me facing towards God, or away from Him, and the distance I have to travel to get back on course.


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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Getting Behind God

Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."  Matthew 16:23

     At the end of the summer, friends of ours invited us to their cottages on Lake Winnipesaukee, along with another family, for an overnight.  Because my husband coaches my son's baseball team, he drove in his own car so that he and Mason could leave early the next day to get back for their game.  So I was in the mini-van with just the three kids and my GPS for the 80 mile trip north.
     Unfortunately, my GPS was acting funky.  It just had that red line of the highway I was traveling on, with the arrow moving as we progressed.  It wasn't displaying the usual screen that says how many miles until the exit or turn I needed to take.  Not knowing the next move, or when I needed to take it, made me very uncomfortable.  We were supposed to meet our friends at a certain time at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain to kick of the weekend with a nice hike.  If I got lost, I'd be inconveniencing two other families who would be waiting on us as I floundered around on the New Hampshire back roads.   
     Consequently, I became anxious, following my husband's car with a desperate need to keep him in my sight, relying on him to guide me and signal the next change.  Despite trying to glue my mini-van to the bumper of his car, other vehicles managed to cut in between us, raising my anxiety level and heightening my attentiveness to his every move.  
     Around mile sixty, my GPS suddenly changed and reverted back to what I was used to:  an overview of where I was, and the exact mileage to the next turn.  Suddenly I didn't care if I lost sight of my husband's car or not.  In fact, I was getting annoyed that he wasn't going fast enough to meet our friends on time.  I wanted to increase my speed and blow past him, blazing my own trail now that I knew where I was going.
     Talk about a metaphor for my faith life!  When times are tough, when I don't know where I'm going, or what the next move should be, I get behind God, relying on Him 100%.  I try so hard to not let anyone or anything come between us.  I try to focus on the things of God, not the things of men.  I do my best to keep Him in my sight at all times, relying on Him to guide me and signal the next change to keep me on the right path.
     However, once things settle down, once I have (or think I have) a clear idea of where I'm headed and how to get there, I blow past God.  I blaze my own trail, relying only on myself, thinking I've got it all covered.  
     In the verse before the scripture passage above, Peter is telling Jesus that he won't allow His crucifixion.  He loves Jesus too much to see Him suffer and die.  Like Peter, I know how I want things to play out.  I try to rewrite God's plan to suit my own wants and needs, especially the parts that include pain and suffering, wanting to deny that even those parts are critical to God's master plan for me.  So off I go on my own.
     Inevitably, I take a wrong turn, or lose my way.  Then I'm back at God's feet again, begging for direction, guidance and help.  It seems that no matter how many times I fall into this trap, I still try to blaze my own path.  Fortunately, no matter how many times I repeat this wrong pattern, God is always there, always willing to be my guide, and direct me again.
     That day, at mile sixty, I guess I was open to God's graciousness more than usual.  Just as I was about to put more pressure on the accelerator to speed past my husband, I heard God whisper more guidance and direction on my heart.  Suddenly I understood that meeting our friends on time was important, but the whole point of the trip was to journey together as a family.  So I listened to that whisper and stayed behind my husband, following him all the way.  Not only did we get there together, but, miracle upon miracle, for the first time ever, we were the first to arrive!


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Thursday, October 9, 2014

As If My Neighbors Were Listening

He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break.               Matthew 12:19-20

     Over the summer, I was hosting a barbecue for twenty-two people.  I had left everything until the last minute:  cleaning the house, setting up the yard, making the food, etc.  Every aspect of that list is the recipe that cooks me into a stress mess.  I could feel the usual symptoms:  pounding head, frantic motions, extreme impatience.  I could see the train wreck coming from a mile away and I was trying so hard to derail it.  My guests were people I love.  I was so excited to spend a beautiful summer evening with them.  I had a vision in my head of feeding the twelve kids first, then getting them settled in front of a movie inside while we adults all kicked back at the Italian style banquet tables I had set up on the lawn, complete with flowers in jelly jars for added beauty.  It was that image that was motivating me to get it all done so that I could be stress-free and present when my guests arrived, not distracted and still running around when they got here.
     So I was praying, praying hard.  I was asking God to help me do it differently this time, to not lose my cool as the clock ticked closer to company time.  But, despite the prayers, Mason approached me with some issue and I blew my lid!  Honestly, for the life of me, I can't remember what he said or did.  The real truth is, he was just the trigger that set off the explosion that was just waiting to happen.  And explode I did:  yelling at him at the top of my voice.  
     It was then that I realized that the windows over my kitchen sink were wide open, and I was just a foot away.  On the summer air, what I was screaming, and how I was screaming it, could probably be heard three houses away.
     What disappoints me most, and shames me to the core, is that I didn't care how my tone, volume and words affected my eight year old.  What I cared about was if my neighbors heard me.  That is what had me stopping in my tracks, lowering my volume, taking a gulp of air to restore my patience.
     Jesus had every reason to raise His voice, cry out in the streets, and quarrel with those who were committing injustices.  But other than His outburst in the Temple, when He was trying to restore respect and reverence to God's house, He was as gentle as a lamb, as peaceful as a dove.  He never screamed and yelled.  Screaming and yelling accomplished very little.  In fact, it closes people down, pushes them away.  Kids learn nothing from a mother who screams, except to copy her and scream at others.  That's a lesson I never want to teach my kids.
     I've put a lot of thought into that day, wondering why, if I was praying so hard to keep my patience, I couldn't.  I wondered if I wasn't praying hard enough, soon enough.  I started to question whether God was listening or not.
     Time has clarified for me that prayer, or being heard by God, was not the issue, my expectations were.  I had set the bar so high for myself that I had nowhere to go but down.  There was no reason why having a summer barbecue meant I had to clean all the bathrooms, dust every piece of furniture, vacuum every surface, and prepare an overabundance of food, especially when I was trying to do it all at the last minute.
     I truly believe that God did hear me, but He chose to answer my prayers differently than I was asking.  He knew that there was a bigger lesson that I needed to learn.  Had He smoothed things out and slowed down time so I could accomplish it all, He would have been enabling that obsessive over-achiever in me that thinks everything needs to be perfect, even at the last minute.  Had the preparations for that barbecue gone smoothly, I would continue on that path, always keeping the bar that high, always pushing and pushing, until I push myself over the edge.
     Instead, God taught me through my shame.  Although my shame didn't come from how I thought my son perceived me (unfortunately), my shame did come from how I thought my neighbors would perceive me.  Despite its source, shame is a wonderful teacher.  Once you feel that badly about yourself, you never want to put yourself back in that position again, if you can help it.  
     And help it I can!  I can lower the bar; good enough is good enough.  The point of the barbecue was to spend quality time with people I love, and to make memories with them.  It wasn't to impress them with how clean my toilets and floors were, or make myself crazy in the process, then take it all out on my children.
     I'm throwing another party next week: a Murder Mystery Dinner.  My goal is to limit my expectations of myself, focus on the fun we'll all have, and pray to God to be my pacesetter and partner.  He may not be here physically in my house to help me vacuum and scrub a toilet, but if I set my expectations appropriately, I'm positive He will take the pounding from my head, the frantic out of my actions, and the impatience out of my being.  Then there's no doubt that I'll keep my cool during the preparations, interacting with my kids the whole time with patience and love, as if my neighbors were listening.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Froggy Glasses

He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And He said:  "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven."  Matthew 18:2-3

     I form and facilitate groups of moms who meet monthly to delve deeper into their spirituality in motherhood in an environment of support and encouragement.  As the ice breaker for each groups' first gathering, I ask the moms to bring a "symbol of their motherhood:" something that represents who they are, or who they want to be.  As we go around the room, each mom explains why she brought what she did, then places her symbol on the "altar of motherhood" for the duration of the gathering.
     It's always fascinating to see what women bring:  a bottle of glue (she holds it all together in her family), a coupon book for kids' activities (she's the fun mom), a bag of Legos (she puts all the pieces together and her kids just undo it all), etc.  The symbol that has resonated with me the most is Kimberley's.
     Kimberley brought a pair of her son's sunglasses.  Each lense was in the shape of a frog.  She explained that she wants to be the kind of mother who always looks at life through her kids' eyes.  She wants to be mesmerized by an ant crawling up a blade of grass, and see all the joy and gift that every moment holds.  As she talked, I felt myself longing to share her perspective.  I wanted a pair of froggy glasses of my own!
     After saving for two years, my husband and I took our three kids to Smugglers' Notch in Vermont for an entire week this summer.  Smugglers' Notch is an incredible family resort with so much to do they have to print the two page calendar of events in eight point font so it doesn't spill over onto three and four pages.  
     The highlight for me was the Country Fair that they have every Thursday evening on the Village Green.  There is an outdoor BBQ, live performances by the kids who did Drama Camp that week, vendors selling fun stuff for kids, carnival type games that are free to play over and over until you win a prize, a rock climbing wall, etc.  But the greatest part is the Country Fair races.  By age group, there are wheelbarrow races, potato sack races, three-legged races, go-cart races, you name it.
     When I saw the races begin, I flashed back to being a kid hopping across a similar green in a potato sack at family reunions.  Those races were so much fun!  The memory of them had me pulling my kids along in my excitement.  But to my frustration, none of them wanted to participate!  They were actually poo-pooing the idea, and instead wanted to go buy useless plastic chachkie crap that was never going to last.
     Although I used to be a very adventurous person before kids, I'm a bit beaten down and tired now.  Somehow that has morphed into me being the stick-in-the-mud mom: waving from the ground instead of riding the roller coaster, filming video instead of riding the zip-line, taking pictures instead of jumping off of the pond raft.  
     But that evening, on that Village Green, I found my froggy glasses!  I saw all the joy and good, clean fun that was happening right before my eyes.  I knew it was my job to rise to the occasion, step out of the usual passive role, and open my kids' eyes to the enjoyment they were missing.  So I grabbed my daughter, and a potato sack, and went to the starting line.  After my boys saw how much fun we had, they each took turns grabbing my husband and doing the wheelbarrow races with him.  
     The peak of the experience was when my kids were the ones behind the camera taking pictures of my husband and me running the three-legged race together!  I truly felt like a kid again, and felt that kid-like excitement and joy.  I knew my kids felt it too because they were grinning from ear to ear.  Their smiles only got bigger when they received their Smugglers' Notch Resort fuzzy alien ribbons for First and Second Place that now adorn the family trophy shelf!
     Like I was astounded by my kids' inability to see the enjoyment right in front of them, how often is God looking down on me, shaking His head at how I am not seeing all the gifts and mesmerizing things of life that He is parading before me?  How frustrated He must be that I am too busy spending my allotted time on useless crap that is never going to last, instead of having the vision to see the real joys of life, what truly matters.  
     In this scripture passage, Jesus says that we have to change and become like little children to enter the kingdom of Heaven.  Moreover, I think God gives us glimpses of Heaven right here on earth, all the time, at random moments, and in the most random situations.  But it is only those with child-like vision who get to see them.  Being a grown-up doesn't mean growing out of that perspective.  If our grown-up eyes are too clouded by responsibility and "to do" lists, we need to change and become like little children again, not only in our hearts, but in our vision.
    The wonderful thing is God lets us play at this game of life over and over again, just like the carnival type games at the Country Fair.  Even better, when we finally see things the right way, the prize is our very own pair of froggy glasses!


For more information about MOSAIC Moms Groups (monthly spiritual reflection and discussion groups) in the Southern New Hampshire, Northern Massachusetts area, visit  


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