Thursday, December 22, 2016

Calling Time Out




Do you remember?

I do.

With Christmas only a few days away, I’ve been thinking back to sticky summer days filled with city streets and skinned knees.

If you grew up in the era of playing hide-and-go-seek in the streets until it grew dark enough to catch lightning bugs in old mayonnaise jars with a couple of holes poked in the lid, you will remember the power of calling “time out.” Whenever you needed a moment to tie your shoe or catch your breath or find out why your parents were calling your name, all you had to do was put your hands together in a “T” and shout, “Time out!”

By taking these simple steps, you invoked the mystical power of the “time-out.” Time instantly froze for you. Within its protective cover, you could take as much time as you needed to regroup. Everyone respected it. No one asked why you needed it, and no one kicked you out of the game for taking it. Unless you blatantly abused the privilege by repeatedly using “time-outs” to get out of being tagged “it,” your friends would not question your decision. In most cases, a “time-out” was honored by one and all, no questions asked.

Calling “time-out” worked great when we were 10.

These days, not so much.

It seems that everyone has forgotten about the power of a “time-out.” It has become a lost art, a mythical legend of old. Like unicorns and fairies and elves.

We’ve outgrown “time-outs” like we’ve outgrown so many other things that used to color our days with wonder and joy. It makes me wonder why any of us bothered to grow up at all.

We were so much wiser when we were 10.

I need those “time-outs” more now than ever, yet I feel too grown up to take one. I have this nagging fear that all of my old childhood friends, who wouldn’t have batted an eye at my calling “time out” on the streets of my old neighborhood, would only gasp and whisper among themselves if I were to admit I needed a break from the hectic pace of the game we are all rushing around so frantically to play.

But I don’t think I have anything to worry about.

I think most of us would be relieved to discover “time-outs” actually still exist, especially in these last crazy days before Christmas.

So here goes nothing.

“Time Out!”

I will not let the wonder of this season pass me by in a whirlwind of concerts, parties, gifts, and home-baked goodies. I will take time to fully experience every single minute. I will hold my husband’s hand while we watch our favorite Christmas movies. I will sip hot chocolate and listen to my children tell me what they hope to get this year. I will listen to the sound of my parents' laughter that has filled my years with warm memories and everything I've ever needed.

“Time Out!”

I will forgive myself in advance for buying the wrong size, spending too much, buying too little, burning the cookies, under cooking the potatoes, for not sending Christmas cards, and for the hot chocolate stain on my living room carpet.

“Time Out!”

I will stop everything around me long enough to tie my shoe, catch my breath, and find out why my kids are calling my name.

“Time Out!”

I think I could get used to this.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cue the heavenly hosts


Now that Thanksgiving is out of the way, I am really looking forward to Christmas.

Before you judge me, let me reassure you I do love Thanksgiving. I love having a quiet day filled with warm smells from the kitchen, family from near and far, and a chance to take stock of all my blessings.

But on Friday morning, with a credit card in one hand, my phone in the other, and nothing but a slice of leftover pie for breakfast, it starts getting real.

Shopping for deals, hauling tubs full of decorations out of the basement, finding the perfect tree, flinging net lights over my bushes out front (and then turning them around so the burnt-out side doesn't show from the street and we can squeeze one more year out of them), keeping the cats out of the tree, hanging the mistletoe (which I just remembered to take down last Easter) - all of this and more can be accomplished in those few extra days off work Thanksgiving provides.

This is what the holidays could mean to me.

If I stopped there.

But that's just the fluff. The fancy, shiny, sparkly fluff that gives me warm fuzzies when I drink my coffee in the mornings with only the Christmas tree plugged in for light.

If we have lived through at least 15 Christmases or so, we have learned that shiny, sparkly fluff doesn't pay our bills. It doesn't help us lose weight or heal broken relationships. It doesn't thicken our hair, and it doesn't cure cancer.

It's just fluff.

When life is pulling out all the stops and really letting us have it, "Merry Christmas" can feel like a slap in the face if we're only looking at the fluff.

I'm glad God didn't drop a lighted Santa statue, or a turkey with stuffing, or even a stocking full of chocolate, in that manger a couple thousand years ago.

Because that wouldn't have done much for me last year when my five-year old dog had just died from lymphoma and, while she was suffering, I had a suspicious mammogram and had to go back for another test. And another. And finally a biopsy. Then, to top it all off, I developed a case of shingles and had an itchy, painful rash on my face for weeks.

There was nothing merry about that Christmas season for me. At least, not when I focused on the fluff.

But every time I stopped to consider what was actually given to me in that manger so long ago, I was humbled and awed in a deeper way than ever before. Because there, in the midst of fear and doubt and tears and sadness and even a little anger, the beauty of what happened back then in Bethlehem shone brighter than all the fluff.

Even though this year has not brought me the same stress, I still need a fresh reminder of what's behind all the fluff. I'm another year older, my back hurts a little bit more, and the world has only gotten crazier.

Cue the heavenly hosts.

Hidden away in an unimportant town in front of a bunch of unremarkable guys, thousands of angels interrupted the tyranny, sickness, fear, and death that makes up this old world to announce a joy and peace so unbelievable, so all-encompassing, so unexplainable, they just could not keep silent.

I want them to come back.

On that very first Christmas, God became like us. He cried and needed his diaper changed. He tripped and skinned his knee. He thought his mother loved John more (well, maybe not). He was human right along with us, in this world full of beauty and tragedy, joy and pain, hope and despair.

Because of that manger and its eventual path to the cross, every day can offer a measure of Christmas joy. And I don't have to drag it out of the basement or replace any burnt bulbs.

And as for those heavenly hosts?

If I listen hard enough and sit still long enough, I think I can almost hear them. Reminding me. Encouraging me. Cheering me on.

And that won't fade away in January.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Life is Messy

I used to be such a good housekeeper. Before six kids and full-time job . . . before six kids and going back to school . . . before six kids and realizing life would go on if the oven wasn't scrubbed every week, my house was always spotless.

Even spontaneous, unannounced visitors would comment on how clean my house was and did I ever even use my oven and how did I manage to keep everything so organized?

Well, my friends, that was once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away.

As hard as it is to admit, I have fallen from grace. Life has gotten busier, crazier, and messier over the years.

Did I mention I have six kids?

However, if I were to be brutally honest, it's not all my kids' fault. Or my husband's. Or even my pets'. My less-than-stellar habits are the result of an ever-decreasing amount of free time mixed with an ever-increasing lack of interest.

Hence, my current state of disarray.

At least in those areas I can get by with ignoring.

My house is an older home with lots of character and charm that never quite reached the basement. It was built before my grandparents were born, and I guess people back then only wanted to store firewood and canned goods down there, so it didn't have to be all that pretty. These days, however, it looks less like a root cellar and more like a place you might see on one of those real-life crime dramas. I never go down there without a flashlight.

And my closets? Let's just say I'm hiding more than skeletons in there.

There is that pile of shoe boxes that would come in really handy for wrapping those oddly shaped Christmas gifts, if I could just remember they were in there when December rolls around. Unfortunately, the only time I think about them is when I drop a hanger way back in the nether-regions, and as I get down on my hands and knees to dig it out (inevitably toppling the stack of shoe boxes in the process), I think to myself, "Boy, those boxes will really come in handy for wrapping those oddly shaped Christmas gifts when December rolls around!"

And then December comes, and another layer of dust settles over the hush in the back of my closet.

My wedding dress is stored in there, too; which is where I'm sure it will stay and live out the rest of its days. When I was younger, I dreamt one of my daughters might actually wear my wedding dress, but that would have only worked if it had been out of style back when I got married, because then it may actually be in some kind of style now, and my daughters may have actually entertained the possibility of wearing it. (I understand their thinking, because I didn't want to wear my mother's wedding dress either. This is not because my mother did not have a beautiful wedding dress, because she did. It is because I got married in the 80s - the age of punk rock, big hair, and even bigger wedding dresses, and I had little interest in walking down the aisle dressed as Jackie Kennedy.)

And I won't even start on my garage. I stay out of there as much as possible. It is outside my area of responsibility, and with good reason. Too many strange tools and greasy cables and intimidating machinery. The garage took on a life of its own about five years ago, and I've been reluctant to enter it ever since.

I should take a moment here to reassure you that if you were ever to be invited over, you need not fear. Many people have come to our house and lived to tell the tale. It is not as far gone as I make it out to be. But for a recovering perfectionist, dust on the coffee table and backpacks dropped carelessly in the corner are difficult crosses to bear.

But therein lies the beauty of it all. Messy or not, this house is the place where we can keep all those things that make us feel like we are home. This house has heard us laugh, and it has heard us cry. It has seen our girls in prom dresses, caps and gowns, and even a (brand new) wedding dress. It has watched our boys climb the tree out front and play on the swing set out back. It has witnessed children moving out . . . and children moving back in.

We care for this house as best we can. Some things get fixed, while others get broken. Leaves are raked, gardens are planted, walls are painted, and stains are scrubbed. But no matter how much (or how little) we clean or replace, life goes on.

This house may not always sparkle and shine, but I am learning that doesn't matter nearly as much as I thought it did. We are way too busy making memories to worry about a little dust or out-of-date wallpaper. We are busy making memories that will echo in these rooms long after we have moved on.
 
Life is being lived here in this house, and it is wonderful and beautiful and gloriously . . . messy.



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Something Right



I did everything for these sunflowers. I sheltered them from storms, protected them from predators, exposed them to sunshine, fed and watered them, enjoyed them, loved them.

But, in the end, they still did their own thing.

Remind you of anyone?

I don't know about you, but my kids do not always make the choices I would make. They do not always process things the way I would process them. They care deeply about things I really don't care much about. We do not see eye-to-eye on several important issues.

So I must be doing something right.

I want my kids to struggle with life and figure out where and how they want to fit into this crazy world we live in. I want them to figure that out and then fight for it, reach for it, claim it, and own it. I want them to be happy. I want them to make others happy. I want them to make a difference.

I want them to realize they were uniquely designed by a loving heavenly father - not a mystical being, not a fairy tale, but a real and powerful God who created the galaxies in one breath and then formed each of their tiny fingernails in the next.

I want them to know that this God - the one God, the only God - loves them so much that he weeps when he sees the world they have to live in. He created this world just for them, and it was perfect, but we have messed it up for them in every possible way.

He has given them breath - his very breath -  so they can have a chance to make things a little bit better for themselves and their children.

I pray they don't waste it.

I would love for each of my kids to know lives of ease, happiness, security, and comfort. But I know that a truly good life, an intensely deep and meaningful life, rarely exhibits all of those characteristics. At least not all of the time.

So, as hard as it is for me to say the words, I hope they have just enough hardship so they never forget this is not all about them. They are here only to reflect His peace and light in a world that is a stranger to such things.

I want them to ask the hard questions, to entertain new ideas, to comfort Some who feel rejected by Many. Like their Father before them.

And if their light flickers and dims along the way, as I'm sure it will, I hope they will stop and reflect and change directions and do whatever it takes to make sure their flame starts blazing again. Because if their light is dim, how will those around them ever be able to come in from the cold and feel the warmth of their light?

More than anything, I want my kids to mirror their heavenly father who created them, loved them, and died for them. Not just because they were told it was the only way to live, but because they KNOW in their hearts it is the ONLY way to really live.

And then I'll know I'll have done something right.



Saturday, October 22, 2016

My husband gave me a great blog idea, but I bet he won't do THAT again.


I was sitting on the couch with my husband the other morning, having coffee as usual, when he came up with a really great topic for my next blog. It was such a great idea, I promised him I would take him up on it.

But then he got nervous and told me he wasn't seriously suggesting that I write about him.

But I can no longer be held responsible for my actions. The seed has been planted.

[Insert evil laugh.]

I know he might be getting worried about now, but there is no need. After all, this whole blog thing is really more about my journey away from the "house-gotta-be-spotless and kids-gotta-be-perfect" kind of thinking.

And marriage seems to fit right in with that theme.

We have been married now for 26 ... no, wait ... 27 years. If you think raising kids is a roller coaster, you should try marriage. (I know, I know ... I have that flipped around ... but you get my point.)

Marriage introduces you to all those secret flaws your significant other managed to keep hidden away while you were dating. My husband didn't walk up to me one day and say, "Hi, I'm Dan, and I like to throw my dirty socks on the floor. Want to go out sometime?" Of course not! He saved that one for later, when there was no backing out of the deal.

Nor did I go up to him and say, "Hi, I'm Beth, and I am a compulsive cleaner. If you leave important documents lying around, I will throw them away with the junk mail without taking time to sort through them. What time will you pick me up?" No, I didn't! I chose to wait and surprise him with that one when he was least expecting it. To keep life interesting.

And those are just the little things. For every little thing, there's a bigger thing waiting for the chance to make itself known.

We don't do it on purpose. We both have a lot of really great personality traits that drew us to each other in the first place. I like his laid-back attitude; he likes my sense of humor. But neither of us has ever been perfect, and once we signed the marriage license and the lease on our first apartment, we could no longer pretend we were.

But this is not a bad thing.

In fact, it's one of the most powerful tools God has used to shape us into better people.

Every marriage experiences it, to some degree. The best marriages embrace it and let themselves be chiseled and refined. They become a little bit like the other person over the years, and they are all the wiser for it.

For instance, I have learned that a couple of rogue socks every now and then is a small price to pay for a man that will hold my hand while I wait for biopsy results.

And I have learned things about myself I didn't know I needed to learn. Dan compares me to our cat because sometimes Nico wants our attention . . . and sometimes he bites our hand because we got too close. (There may be some truth to that. Personally, I'm convinced Dan is more like our dog, who is totally happy as long as there's food in his bowl and plenty of squirrels in the backyard.)

The point is, we wouldn't have even realized we needed work if there hadn't been a little friction, sanding away some of our rougher edges.

Dan likes to say he married up. But I know that's not true. One of us is not better than the other. We are just two different people who decided to build a life together and who will spend the rest of their lives trying to figure each other out, for better or for worse.

And we are both becoming better in the process.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Paying off my kids (and other levels to which I have sunk)


What I'm about to tell you is not exactly earth-shattering.

But money talks.

Even to preschoolers.

See, the thing is, co-sleeping seemed like such a good idea at the time. The babies were happy. I was happy. My husband was (a little less) happy after being repeatedly chased onto the couch; but there were no midnight tears, no struggles to get those little ones to stay in their cribs. And we didn't really mind being extra crowded because they were so darn sweet and soft and snugly and they even smelled precious. Life was nearly perfect.

For a time.

But then our littles started getting bigger and bigger and taking up more room in the bed.  Things needed to change, but what to do? We would try to take them back to their own beds - stumbling to the next room with a sleeping child draped over our shoulder - careful not to wake them, so we wouldn't make a peep, even if we stubbed our toe - but they would just appear back in our room anyway, like adorable apparitions. We would stare at them in disbelief, wondering what we had done to summon them.

Finally, we got desperate. "Look," we told them. "We'll give you a quarter for every night you stay in your own beds."

Their eyes lit up. A quarter? A twenty? A gold brick? It didn't matter what it was actually worth. It was money, and they were already old enough to know money could get them places.

"If you save up enough quarters," we continued, sensing real progress, "we'll take you to the toy store."

Little blue eyes rounded in delight. Little blond heads bobbed up and down excitedly.

I swear to you, within a week those kids were cured.

Now, I would like to say this is the only time we resorted to such low-ball tactics to shape our children's character, but I don't want to add dishonesty to our list of parenting fails.

Oh, we have taken several parenting classes and read volumes of parenting books and applied all of the principles the best we possibly could - and I would like to think we have been largely successful in seeing half of our children safely into responsible adulthood. But as the years go by, we have learned one of the most important parenting principles of all.

PARENTING IS NOT ALWAYS PRETTY

This is the single biggest breakthrough we have had as parents. When we brought our first baby home from the hospital in her fuzzy yellow snowsuit to ward off the December chill - in CALIFORNIA!!! - and drove about 15 miles per hour down the street to our apartment, we were clueless. While we were fully aware of the gravity of the situation we had gotten ourselves into and the weight of the responsibility resting in that Graco car seat in the backseat of our car, we had no idea what was in store for us as that little baby girl grew up and was joined by several younger siblings.

We thought if we kept them clean and safe and on a schedule, if we kept the cat out of the baby's room and the baby monitor plugged in, if we took them to their well-baby checkups and bought them new clothes when they outgrew their old ones, then all would be well and they would always be happy and love us and worship us for all the rest of our livelong days.

Okay, all of you seasoned parents out there, you can quit laughing now.

We have since learned our lesson.

We have learned that parenting does mean bedtime kisses and early morning snuggles. It does mean piano recitals and soccer games and homecoming dances. It does mean letting them add the chocolate chips to the cookie batter and sitting beside them in the family car - in the passenger seat, with your foot on the dashboard, just in case there's a secret brake up there.

All of these wonderful things make parenting one of life's greatest joys, and we treasure those moments and don't let any of them go to waste.

But now we know there's more to the story.

Parenting is also worrying they aren’t eating healthy enough, dressing for the weather, getting good grades, or going where they said they would be going. It is temper tantrums (sometimes theirs, sometimes yours), arguments, teachable moments, lectures, messing up, getting it right, and lots and lots of “I’m sorrys” along the way.

Being a parent means knowing your life would fall apart if anything ever happened to those precious little people and that you would give anything – you would pay any price – to make sure they are safe, happy, and loved.

It means learning you’re kids aren't perfect.

And that makes them a lot like you.

And, once in a while, it even means that a quarter is worth every penny.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

50 dollars will buy you a heck of a lot of apples and one unforgettable afternoon


They wanted to stay home last Saturday.

After all, it was Saturday, and so many other things cried out for their attention. And, really, what teenage boy gets excited at the prospect of driving out to the country to pick his own apples when he could be lounging in his pjs in front of some sort of mind-numbing electronic device with a bag of chips or fruit snacks in his hand? (Don't judge me, there will be more on this later.)

Now, my older son Zach is usually pretty mellow, and he will go along with pretty much anything. But my younger son Sam has a stubborn streak, and he was trying his best to come up with a reason we shouldn't spend half our Saturday picking apples.

But I was determined. And if there's one thing that's true about me, it's that nothing deters me when I'm determined. Just ask anyone who's been anywhere near me when I've decided it was time to clean the garage or assemble furniture or paint the spare bedroom. 

I cannot be stopped.

And I was not taking no for an answer this time, either.

It was the first weekend in September, and we were going to pick apples . . . and have fun in the process . . . if it was the last thing we did.

My boys caught on to my mood, or at least they got tired enough to give up, because they finally slipped some shoes on and climbed into the backseat of my car.

The ride to the apple orchard was pleasant enough. Having long since discarded any notion of getting out of this venture, the boys settled into their seats to await their fate.

As we pulled into the parking lot, they perked up a little, craning their necks to see what lay in store for them.

And here's what they saw, the reason I had pulled them away from their computer and Xbox and friends and pajamas . . . 

Goats. 

Trees.

Chickens.

And . . . drumroll, please . . . more trees.

Zach looked at me like he was dying inside and asked me if this was all there was.

I rolled my eyes (only in my mind, though - I  have learned enough about parenting over the years to realize somebody has to be the adult at all times, and - guess what? - that somebody has to me because they sure aren't able to pull it off) and I told him to give it a chance. We were just getting started.

Being the mellow kid that he is, he just looked at me like I had told him getting a cavity filled would be fun, and he slumped over to look at some goats.

My daughter Rachel and I decided to check out the little store before heading out to the orchard, so I called the boys over and we headed inside. We walked around and sampled apples and looked around at homemade preserves and bags of freshly-picked produce. We bought caramel apples and a little basket to carry our crop of apples home. Everything about the store was charming in the way that only country can be charming.

Rachel and I were in hog heaven (which is a phrase that may not entirely fit this situation; but as there were goats and chickens aplenty, I feel it serves a purpose here).

Once again, Zach asked me if this was all there was.

This time, I groaned. (Again, only in my mind . . . although it came close to slipping out.)

Meanwhile, Sam had already left the store and discovered the joy of feeding his apple cores to the goats. He was thoroughly entertained.  He asked if he could go eat more apples so he could feed more cores to more goats, but we had come with a mission in mind to pick our own, so we said bye to the goats and moved on (but not before getting a picture of strange, three-horned goat that looked like the kind that would start talking to us if we had been in Narnia).

Before we reached the orchard, however, we passed a tent where a lady was making kettle corn the good old-fashioned way. She was stirring it up in huge black kettles that could pass as cauldrons (at least, that was my first thought, but then, I happen to know a few people who could use a good cauldron, if you know what I mean). 

How could we not stop to buy a bag of that salty-sweet goodness? What God-fearing, warm-blooded American has that kind of self-control?

Let's just say we are a very warm and God-fearing people.

Half a bag of kettle corn later - and I'm not talking about a little Baggie; I'm talking about a bag about as long as my right leg - we finally made it over to the orchard.

That is where it got real. The nice lady in the industrial apron handed us a couple of paper grocery bags and gave us the run-down on orchard etiquette: taste what you want, pick what you want, bring everything back here to be weighed when you're done. 

Got it.

Minimum of 20 pounds.

What?

For $30.

Say again?

Well, okay, that was a really good price for that many apples, and that was actually what we came out here for, so, although that was a LOT more apples than we had intended to pick, we agreed to the price, took the bags, and marched on toward the rows and rows of trees.

At the risk of being overly sappy, the rest of the afternoon was magical. It was a beautiful time of walking together, finding the best apples together, tasting new kinds of apples together, and having plain and simple fun together.

The kind that doesn't need plugged in.

We talked, tasted, laughed, and picked the afternoon away until we guessed we had about 20 pounds of apples, and then we headed back to the tent to pay.

I should mention here that I have never been very good at math.

Thirty-five pounds and fifty dollars later, we walked back to our car. Our arms were full of apples, and we were high on sunshine, goats, kettle corn, and fall.

The drive home was beautiful, and I hoped the boys had enjoyed the experience as much I as had. But they're teenagers, and they're boys, so sometimes it's hard to tell.

When we got home, Rachel and I got busy stuffing apples into every available space in the fridge and on the counter. Over the sounds of the Xbox already coming from the living room, we could hear Sam telling my other daughter (who had to work and couldn't go with us) about the apple orchard.

"It was amazing," we heard him say, loud and clear.

Amazing?

I had only hoped for "okay," or "not bad," or maybe even an "all right."

But amazing?

Rachel and I just looked at each other and smiled.

I may be eating apples until St. Patrick's Day, but I would gladly spend $100 and fill my basement with apples to create another memory like the one we created last Saturday.

Because good memories don't grow on trees, you know.








Thursday, September 8, 2016

Midwest or Bust


I will always be a Midwesterner at heart.

How do I know this, you ask?

Because when I saw a couple of John Deere tractors drive by in the recent Labor Day parade, my heart skipped a beat.

Because county roads that take time to warn of potential deer crossing but then don't bother to illuminate said deer with street lights are not uncommon for me.

Because I consider eating funnel cakes at county fairs to be my birthright.

Because, if you were to cut me, I'm pretty sure I would bleed John Deere green.

I can't change where I'm from, regardless of what my return-address labels may say.

I have lived in many places. From my golden years playing on the beaches of Southern California, to the year spent holding my breath near the breweries of Milwaukee, and eventually to the memorable chunk of my life devoted to that dusty village in Thailand, I have been around. But, no matter where I have lived, I have never been able to change the fact that I am a Midwestern girl.

Not that I would want to.

When you are from a place, you're not just from that place. You are that place. You take it with you wherever you go.

And Illinois follows me around like a lost puppy.

Whether it's my flattened vowels ("What is that thang?") or my strong sense of community ("That's my favorite restaurant because I grew up eating there on Sundays"), the Midwest courses through my veins.

Here in the Midwest, we talk to the people behind the counter at CVS. If we shop there often enough, we know how many kids they have, and they know when our dad had his knee surgery. We can get the best sweet corn you have ever tasted (before we ship it out to the rest of you), but we'll have to wait 'til next year before our stores will carry the fashions you're already getting tired of.

Most of us have never seen a beach. Not a real one, anyway. With an ocean. We console ourselves with the Great Lakes, which do a nice job of pretending to be "a beach," but just cannot compare to "the beach" on either coast that so few of us have managed to visit.

And when summer finally decides to make its way into our neighborhoods, we run around like crack addicts in need of a fix. We are fueled by the sense of desperation that comes from knowing summer won't last as long as our favorite TV series. So we run off to barbecues, block parties, farmer's markets, county fairs, live music at the band shells, picnics, boating, swimming, and walking our dogs (who have a worse case of cabin fever than we do).

By the time September rolls around, we are so exhausted that we are actually a little relieved when it starts getting dark by 7:00 again (although we would never admit it). We love our summer, but we secretly love our hibernation too.

For six long months we stay locked up in our houses and stare out our windows at a cold, lifeless world. Once in a while, when the skies soften enough to shed a little snow on us, we get excited. Then we bundle up and head outside, thankful for the change of seasons our counterparts in California and Florida know nothing about. But all too soon the snow melts down into a dreary-colored slush, and we retreat back into our houses wrapped in quilts, drinking hot cocoa, and waiting for April.

In the spring you can find us hiding in our basements from the constant threat of tornadoes. We will be busy in the summer catching lightning bugs. The day after Labor Day, we will be in a tizzy over pumpkin everything. And I do mean everything. When winter rears its ugly head, we will once again resign ourselves to scraping ice off our windshields whenever we are forced to leave our homes.

This is the life that is lived out somewhere in between New York and Los Angeles. The center of the central time zone that produces the majority of the food for the rest of the nation.

This is me.

When I introduce myself and say, "Hi, I'm Beth," the Midwest is the punctuation surrounding that simple phrase, clarifying who I claim to be.

This is where I'm from. This who I am, and who I will always be.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.










Thursday, August 18, 2016

Just an Ordinary Masterpiece


Do you love your body? 

Anybody? 

No one?

Good. We're not alone.

We've actually come a long way, my body and me. We 're on pretty good terms today, and that's a lot more than I can say for our relationship back in the 80s.

Back then, we really couldn't stand each other. I was always mad at my body for not looking like I thought it should, and it was always mad at me for trying to force it into something it was never meant to be.

It wasn't my really body's fault at all. I realize that now. My body was trying its best to comply with my all-over-the-board demands. It always responded appropriately based on the input it received from me. 

When I ran, it got stronger.

When I ate less, it got thinner.

When I ate too much, it used up everything it possibly could and then hung onto the rest for dear life. 

But then my body would get bigger . . . and I would get madder.

I'm sure my body was thoroughly confused by this. I'm sure it wanted to say, "Look, what do you want from me here? I told you we had room for, like, a carrot or something, and you sent me an entire funnel cake? What did you think was going to happen?"

I guess I thought my body would have some respect and work with me to stay swimsuit-ready all year long. No matter what.

But my body always reminded me that wasn't the case by letting my clothes get too tight or making the numbers on the scale reach new heights (even first thing in the morning!). Then I would embark on some crazy new diet plan that was sure to work - and by work, I mean it would magically keep me thin and fit through no effort of my own.

Right. Sure.

But the more I tried to keep up with my latest dieting tactics, the more I would think about food. 

There were times when the last thing in the world I wanted was to put one more bite of cake in my mouth, yet I would find myself having seconds, thirds, sometimes more. I was like Godzilla on a rampage. I couldn't stop, so I would get even madder and blame my diet, my body, or the cake. 

I wanted to be thin, but I couldn't seem to pull it off.

(Because I already was.)

I was out of control, and I knew it.

(I was beautiful.)

I felt like it was all God's fault because he had made me this way, hadn't he?

(I was His masterpiece.)

It was okay, though, because when the diets didn't "work," there were always laxitives and water pills and gag reflexes and running suits waiting to comfort me. 

(I deserved better.)

When I got married, I went into high gear to get my body in tip-top shape for my wedding dress. 

(But I was already good enough.)

Then married life and military moves added more stress. The cycle of binging, purging, and dieting continued. 

But when I discovered I was expecting our first child, I knew the craziness had to stop.

So I waited . . . and I watched. 

I watched as my body grew into a miracle. I watched it grow bigger and bigger until I didn't recognize it anymore.

And I was genuinely surprised to find I was still the same person inside.

There was intense healing in that discovery. It gave me my first taste of freedom. Freedom from the burden of having to look a certain way and weigh a certain weight.

Now, years later, I have found some more healing through yoga. Yoga has shown me how my body can hold me up and move me where I want to go. It has shown me my body is capable of powerful things as it grows stronger with every class. It has reminded me my body is nothing more than a home for The Real Me. 

The me that matters.

The struggle isn't completely over, but these days it's just a shadow of what it once was. I am slowly winning the struggle to love myself just as I am, and not as I think I should be. Inside and out. That's not to say there isn't always room for improvement, or that I don't still try to eat healthy or exercise. In fact, it's just the opposite. This body has served me well so far, and I want to take good care of it so I can get the most out of the years I've been given.

Freedom.

It's been a long time coming, but I am finally learning what God has been trying to teach me all along.

My body was carefully and lovingly crafted by the creator of the universe and 

 I

am


work of art.











Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The View from Up Here


Sometimes it's good to feel insignificant.

Not all of the time, of course. But every now and then, it's a healthy thing for us to be put in our place.

Most of the time, we tend to feel fairly big and awfully important.  Like our own life takes up more space in the universe than it actually does.

But then there are those moments, those tiny epiphanies that descend from nowhere to remind us we are merely pieces of a puzzle far greater than ourselves.

I just experienced a moment like that this morning. I am sitting on a plane for a 26-minute flight from a fairly obscure Midwestern cornfield toward the famous skyline of Chicago. It's early, and the sky is still striped with pink like a scene out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I half expect an oompa-loompa to skip down the aisle and offer me a lollipop.

(Instead, the toddler in front of me just spilled an entire bag of goldfish crackers all over her lap, the floor, and my bags that are stowed neatly under her seat.)

But that sky.

It's so brilliant.

Literally brilliant.

And all the miniature houses and tiny ribbons of highways stretched so far below the pink streaks and fluffy clouds I am flying through look just like the town in my sons' old train set. The entire Illinois half of the Quad Cities is displayed down there, still sleepy in the early-morning dusk, and yet it looks like nothing more than a child's playset. A lifelike model of an honest-to-goodness town.

But there is a family filling up the beds in each of those tiny houses, and an individual sitting behind the wheel of each of those tiny cars driving down those tiny, winding roads.

I can't look away, and I'm suddenly struck by the thought that all those tiny people down there are about to be consumed by whatever this new day has in store for them. I find myself wondering what each family will be facing.

Maybe that family in that house right down there is preparing to head to the hospital to have their first baby and be initiated into the life-altering experience called parenting.

Maybe the family next door will soon be waking up to catch a plane themselves, heading off to a vacation they've been planning for months.

Maybe the family in the house across the street will wake up to realize their son or daughter didn't come home last night, and the beauty of their pink-tinged morning will be overshadowed by dark clouds of worry.

Or maybe today is the day that family in the house with the pool will get dreaded test results, or a notice of a reduction-in-force, or a letter from an attorney specializing in family law.

I hope not.

I hope they all wake up to whatever news they've been hoping for; but the thing is, none of us really ever knows, do we?

But one thing is clear. From up here, none of that matters as much as it does down there. From up here, every single person is just another tiny little person on an earth full of tiny little people, and the grand sum of all their hopes and dreams and fears are really just like everyone else's.

And nothing down there - good or bad - can even compare to the splendor that is going on up here.

I want to hang onto that.

When I land in Chicago later today, and in Los Angeles after that, when I'm standing in line for my rental car and then checking into my hotel and later registering for my conference, I don't want to lose sight of the view I had this morning. I want to remember the pink clouds and the tiny houses and the narrow ribbons of highways.

Because the view from up here changes everything.






Friday, July 15, 2016

My Life as a Dog


Okay, so I'm not actually a dog. But I live with one, and that should count for something.

Besides, I feel like maybe I would do a much better job of being a human if I took a few lessons from my dog.

Allow me to introduce Max.

Max is a beagle who doesn't believe in hiding his feelings. He never worries about being the first one to say "I love you" because his dangling tongue and wagging tail give him away right from the start. Every single time.

Max is the best. He doesn't care what I look like, what color I am, how much money I have, where I bought my clothes, or how much baby weight I'm still carrying around (even though my baby is in middle school now). He doesn't care what I got on my ACT and he doesn't notice when I'm having a bad hair day. He doesn't care what kind of car I drive, what neighborhood I live in, or what candidate I'm going to vote for (or NOT).

Max just knows I give him food and love when I get up in the morning and again when I get home from work at night . . . and that's all he needs to know.

Can you imagine what a great employee I would be if I were more like Max? I'd bound out of bed in the morning and practically prance out the door toward my office. Once I got to work, I'd follow my boss around all day, eager to please.

Sure, I might stick my head out of the car window during my morning commute, and I might also feel the need to - er - water the office plants on occasion; but what's that in the face of such unabashed loyalty and dedication?

And the best part?

I wouldn't notice any of the office gossip or petty disagreements because I'd be too busy chasing my own darn tail to worry about sticking my wet nose into anyone else's business.

And what about my home life?

Sure, my kids might get home from school to find I had gotten into the trash again, or chewed up their shin guards, or kept the cats trapped up on the kitchen counters just for kicks; but in the absence of my usual nagging, would they really even care?

I mean, if I were more like Max, I would come through that door at the end of the day - no matter what kind of day it had been - and I would greet them like they were the best things since Beggin' Strips. Instead of going through the house asking who had left their backpack on the sofa or why the trash hadn't been taken out, I would just smile and want to be with them more than anything else in the world.

In fact, I wouldn't have any other thoughts at that moment except them and how happy I am when I'm with them.

When Max meets other dogs, he doesn't care if they are purebreeds or mutts. They all make him equally nervous at first (stranger danger, you know), but once he meets them and knows they mean him no harm, they will be the best of friends.

(Now I admit I would have to draw the line here because when Max makes friends, it inevitably involves some kind of butt-sniffing . . . and . . . I'm sorry. I'm not gonna lie. Not gonna happen.)

But you get what I'm saying. Maybe living with the benefits of inductive reasoning and posable thumbs tends to make us forget we are really all the same at our core. We all want the same things, and we all know what really matters in life - even though we generally push all that aside in favor of the thousands of more pressing, less significant things that eat up our time and our thoughts.

So maybe we should all think of Max today and what he would do if he were in our shoes.

And if I see you sticking your head out the car window, I'll understand.

 Mine will be out there too.








Sunday, June 26, 2016

Need to Get Away


I am so stressed out. Too much work, not enough play, not enough sleep.

I need a vacation.

Wait a minute . . . I am going on vacation. That's why I'm so stressed out.

Oh, great. I'll never get anywhere with this kind of circular reasoning!

But it's true. There are so many things to think about, so many things to plan for, so many things to stress over.

Will my cats be too lonely? Will my plants survive without me? Will I survive six hours in a small car with my youngest children?

What if I forget to leave a light on? What if I accidentally turn on the stove? What if a window gets left open? What if I forget to empty the trash? What if I leave clothes in the dryer to get all wrinkly? What if I forget to pack my swimsuit?

I could go on.

The point is, getting away from it all is not all that easy. There are last-minute purchases to buy. Final plans to make. Bags to pack. Loose ends to tie up at work. The entire process is really quite daunting. How much easier it would be to stay at home, stuck in the same-old-same-old, following my ordinary routines.

But then I would never feel that beautiful, freeing feeling of having just a little bit of time away from all that work . . . all that sameness . . . all that . . . NORMAL.

And that is what it's really all about. Getting to see different places and meet different people. Eat different food. Maybe try something new.

And that feeling is so light and fresh and wonderful, I know I will forget about all that stuff I worked so hard to worry about before I left. After all, that stuff will not go anywhere while I'm away. It will be right where I left it when I get back home - untouched, unphased, unmoved.

No amount of stress or worry will change any of it.

So I will let go of all that stuff and enjoy every minute of my vacation - even those hours spent in the car listening to my sons fighting over whether the bag of snacks is too far over on their side of the seat, handing my husband fruit snacks and granola bars and water bottles while I'm trying to write my blog (!), and being reacquainted with every annoying road trip song I ever sang as a child.

Because when I finally let go of everything that has been weighing me down, I will truly be on vacation. Then I will be building memories that will live forever in my memory as a precious portion of my life that I may never get back.

But I will never forget.


Friday, June 10, 2016

These Feet Were Made for Walking



I'm not really a pedicure kind of gal, as you may have surmised from my previous posts. I have subjected my feet to hard labor most of my life, and it's not uncommon to find me running around weeding my garden or taking out trash without the benefit of shoes.

So imagine my surprise when I recently found myself scheduling an appointment for my first pedicure EVER. And I didn't make the appointment just anywhere, but at an upscale salon that I heard brings you free drinks while you're being serviced. (This may be more urban legend than stone-cold fact; but, hey, it’s still a nice thought.)

Wait a minute. Serviced? Is that the right word for this type of situation? Like when I take my minivan in for an oil change?

Close enough, I guess!

I had been planning to make this call for weeks. I received a gift card a while back and thought, why not? I'm going to waste it - I mean use it - on myself for a change.

But for weeks, I hadn’t been able to do it. I just couldn't bring myself to make the call. I kept getting cold feet (pardon my expression).

I almost gave the card away to one of my daughters like I usually do, but then I realized my name was actually written right on it.

Sigh.

I wasn’t getting out of it this time. I was actually going to be stuck using it for myself. Darn!

So that’s when I finally called the salon. As soon as I said, "I'd like to make an appointment for a pedicure," the lady responded with, "Is this your first appointment here?"

How did she know??? This wasn’t a face-time call. How could she tell I have poor, neglected feet over the phone? Was it evident from the tone of my voice??

Oh, brother. I hope they let me in with my poor, untreated feet.

Anyway, I managed to get the appointment scheduled and ended the call.

And I felt better already.

Imagine . . . me . . . going to a full-service spa.

My adventures in advanced podiatry have begun.

My feet may be just another pair of ordinary working feet, but they have suffered in silence for far too long. Their day in the sun is coming!

And I think I may even enjoy myself.