Friday, September 30, 2016

Two Months Down, and I'm Already Loving This Life

Month Two recap . . . I didn't journal until midway through the month, because everything was working so wonderfully.  I wasn't asleep every night by 10:30 as I'd hoped, but I was up and showered and ready or nearly so every school day by the time the girls were dressed.  Then . . .

Day 17 - Alarms stink!  Today's alarm was Addie.  Saturdays are often light days for us, so everyone sort of wakes up whenever.  I figured that meant I was good to do the same.  Then the tooth fairy forgot to show up, so I was awakened by a crying girl around 7:00 a.m.  Stinking fairy!

Day 18 - And today I was awakened at the same time by the tooth fairy's letter one inch from my nose and a search for two missing gold coins.  Argh.  So much for sleeping in!

Day 21 - Finally got to bed on time last night and feel rested today.  I've been awake (after several snoozes), showered, and ready nearly every morning before or just after the girls' alarms.  Still, I really need to work it earlier.  It would be helpful to have actual morning time and use it well.

Day 22 - Up too late last night AND this morning.  Now remembering how important that early rising is for my family and how essential that early bedtime is for me.  Of course it didn't help any to have such a deeply painful conversation with someone I respected and thought I knew and then to quickly after learn that my childhood friend Tyler died during the night.  I cried for the better part of four hours today.  Now I have tired eyes and puffy face and grieving heart.  Let sleep come early tonight.

Day 30 - This was an important experiment.  It is so much easier to love my life when I can see it (yay, Month One!) and be ready for it.  I still want (need) to get better at turning off earlier so I can get out of bed earlier enough to actually have time before the girls are up and going.  Still, the days I was ready or nearly so and could help them get out of bed and ready were so much better than the others.  Definitely worth continuing.

               Through this I have realized the power I have to make or break the day for my entire family.  Must use it for good in order to love this life.

How I did:
* Woke up before the rest of my house every weekday!
* Was ready for the day most days right around 7:00/7:10.  By the time the girls got downstairs anyway.
* Did not do well getting to sleep by 10:30 OR prepping my day the night before.

What I'll continue:
* Rising before the others (attempting to have at least 15 minutes to myself before the family is up)
* Ready by 7:00 a.m. on weekdays
* Prep the girls' breakfast/lunch/clothes the night before (this is the last remaining consistent morning battle!)

Month Three - QUIET
Boy do I need this one!

What I'll do:
Build QUIET into my day by:
* Breathing - mindfully three times a day
* Minimizing Facebook - checking in only once per day from the computer only--limited to my accountability group, messages, and tags.  If I see a political post while I'm there I will QUIET my fingers to refrain from the battles that are starting to negatively affect my mental health.
* Turning the radio off - to spend at least one car ride a day (when I'm there by myself) in silence.

Want to join me in loving my actual life?  Here's your chance.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

G: for Game Plan

Month one is in the books!  And I did it!  Mostly.

A few excerpts from my journal:

Day One - Breakfast done.  Dishes washed.  Sinks and cupboards scrubbed.  Dishwasher running.  Blog post written . . . Boy can I start strong, though!

Day Two - . . . Kids may hate me when this is done, but I love our clean house.

Day Four - This project would likely be easier without a family to mess up my hard work behind me.  It tuns out I can be quite the screaming lunatic as I remind myself this is my experiment not theirs.  Still, cleaning up after their smoothie making is on them, right?

Day Eleven - And . . . stalled.  Bee guy came out and porch is un-usable.  Plus it's 8,000 degrees, so there is no painting or organizing happening . . . It turns out this keeping things clean is tricky when I'm barely home.  And when it is so hot.  I've also noticed the key really is cleaning every room as I move through it.  If only I could convince my kids to do the same.

Day Nineteen - Oh my.  Full confession time.  Not only has my room not been clean at bedtime every night, but it isn't even clean at all.  Like, not a single time . . . I'm not going to get all of these projects done this month.  But I'm loving the satisfaction of finishing up.

Day Thirty-one - I did it!  It was rough by the end, but I think I have a handle on the schedule I need.  Got our room clean and love keeping it that way.  We have also spent the day(s) fighting with the girls to get their rooms clean.  Now to get them to school and get their "back to school" stuff cleaned up and out of here.

How I did: I got the projects done (plus two)!  Cleaning each room as I walk through it is the key to this whole puzzle.  As is a schedule for deeper cleaning (so many spiders in this house!).  Also, family is unwilling to be enlisted to empty their laundry baskets.

What I'll continue:At least two projects completed per month.  Clean rooms as I walk through. Keep trying to enlist family. Create monthly and yearly schedule for cleaning.

Now on to month two!  I like this game plan bit with the goals as I try to continue this experiment of loving my actual life . . . by first getting to know my actual life and sorting it all enough that I can actually see it.

Month Two is "First Things First -- Mornings."  I used to be a morning person, but somewhere along the way I started staying up too late and barely functioning before 8:00 a.m.  Last school year that left us frantically running to beat the bus on our best mornings and arguing and crying on our worst (that would be me and at least one child crying).  Something's got to give if I'm going to love this actual life . . . and be a bringer of peace in the morning instead of a creator of chaos.

So, first things first.  Mornings.  We camped for Labor Day weekend, so I actually started today, Day Six.  The first day of school.

What I Will Actually Do:
* Wake up before the rest of my house.
* Be dressed and ready for the day by 7:00 a.m.
* Prep breakfast and leaving the house the night before (as much as possible).
* Go to sleep by 10:30 so all those things can happen.

What I Will Always Remember:

His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.

                                                                                                        {Lamentations 3:22-23}

Every. Single. One.

{Have you checked out this book yet?  Go get it now.  You'll thank me.}

Monday, August 01, 2016

F: for Following Through

I met a goal!

Yeah.  Probably not something to brag about (and likely a bit embarrassing to make note of), but this is what we've come to, people.  It is, indeed, noteworthy for me to say I met a goal.

It was at the eleventh hour (actually just into the tenth), but I made it!

A few months ago I received this wonderful book from a friend of mine.  I read the introduction and cried my way through it.  I felt like the author, Alexandra Kuykendall, was speaking to me.  To me.  And why Baker would publish a book written expressly for me I didn't know, but I was so grateful they had.

Then I put the book on my shelf.  I didn't have time for its experiments and its challenges and its hardness.  I always intended to pick it back up, because I intended to do the experiments myself.  I intended to dedicate these next nine months of the school year to loving my actual life.  So, knowing how quickly I get distracted, I figured I should pick it back up.  I wanted to read through it all once before school starts the day after Labor Day and then go through it again, chapter by chapter, month by month.

Once I got started a week or so ago, I realized I needed to start my months a bit sooner.  So I revised my goal to finish the book before the end of July so I could get started on August 1.  Reasons to come in a minute.

It may sound silly, but I had to work to get this finished by July 31.  When the vacations end and the realities of being a work-at-home mom and a work-from-home mom set in, my reading time is relegated to the quickly fleeting hour between when my oldest is tucked in bed and when I should be tucked in bed.  That's also my "catch up on a TV show," "check Pinterest," "write," "tidy up the house," and "figure out the plans for tomorrow" time.  (See why I need this book?)  But this was important to me, and I was going to make it happen.

And I did!

I entitled this post "Following Through" not because I needed an F (though I did), but because that is one of my greatest challenges in life.  I am a fantastic starter.  There are very few people who can prepare and begin as well as me.  That said, most of the projects in my house are still unfinished, I have four started novels that dream of being submitted for publication and an additional five stories I've started for my sisters and friends which are still half untold, my Bible through the year plan has 1/4 of the check boxes empty, I keep gaining and losing the same ten pounds, my tennis shoes and running clothes are still stacked next to my bed, and the majority of the laundry in our house is washed and dried but unfolded in baskets in the basement and laundry room.

I'm a goal setter.  I'm a dreamer.  I'm not a doer.  I'm not a follow-througher.

Until last night.  Now I did it.  I set a goal for myself, I decided to bump it to a shorter time frame, and I did it!  I FOLLOWED THROUGH ON SOMETHING!


So now what?  Now I can do it in other things.  That's what I've shown myself.  And I'm going to need that this year.  There have been many books I've thought, "Ooh, I'd like to work my way through this over the next month."  Those books are now dusty on my shelf, most of them more than half unread.  But this one is different.  This one needs to be different.  I feel like my life depends on this one.  At least loving it does.

Alexandra Kuykendall set out on a 9-month experiment to love her actual life, in its chaos and mundaneness and mess and joys.  And she laid out the plan for us to follow.  So I'm going to.  This is the life God gave me, and I think he meant for me to love it . . . not just tolerate it.

She started out with "embracing quiet."  I can see that, and I need to do that.  I need to do all the things, but this is a 9-month experiment.  And I'm going to start where I need to.  With following through.

Month 6 for Alex was Home Organization, but that's Month 1 for me.  There are a few reasons for that.  One is to show myself that I can follow through.  We moved into our house just over a year ago (like the end of the July), and I have several started projects to decorate and organize that I have planned or even begun (is a can of paint still good after one year if I never even opened it?) that are now shoved in a drawer or used as a door stop to keep the cat out of our bedroom (that can of paint is good for something at least!).  So I want to follow through with those, and I want to see progress.  Beautiful progress.  On my walls.  Another reason is because school starts next month.  This is my last month of summer, and I still haven't organized the papers and projects from last school year.  Before I bring the chaos of 2nd, 3rd, and 6th grades into my house I need to get rid of the chaos of 1st, 2nd, and 5th.  Finally, this is where I want to start.  So I might as well make it fun, right?

Month 1: Home Organization

What I will actually do:
Finish two house projects a week.  (Even if I have to hire them done.  Then I need to work that into the budget.)
Pick up items to put away as I walk through a room.
Make sure my bedroom is cleaned before I go to sleep.
Enlist the family's help in folding and putting away laundry so baskets are empty in the laundry room by Monday morning.
Clean up breakfast and lunch before dinner every day--including the dishes (don't judge; I'm bad at follow through remember?).

I'm going to journal my successes and failures like Alex did, and I'll even share some of what I learn here.  Then I'll list out Month 2 as well.  Because half of follow through is knowing someone will check in with you to see how you did.

Monday, July 25, 2016

E: for Entering In (also, for Enough)

I work in a trauma-rich environment.  That's the actual phrase they use to describe my workplace.  My work is not specifically "trauma-rich"--I'm the Business Manager.  I handle Human Resources and budgeting and accounts payable and such.  So it's not my job per se that is trauma-rich.  It's the place where I work.

We provide services for children who have been sexually abused.

And here's the thing.  Nationally, over 90% of children are sexually abused by someone they know, love, or trust.  In my county, in the nearly 10 years I've tracked these stats, it's closer to 99%.  Think on that for a minute.  Ninety-nine percent of children are sexually abused by someone they know.  Someone they trust.  Someone they love.  It might be a family member or a family friend, but it isn't a stranger hiding behind a bush to nab them.  It's someone their parents have let into their lives.  Or it's the parent him or herself.

That's trauma-rich for you.

Because of the nature of our workplace, and the space our therapists and interviewers and family advocate and intake coordinator hold for our children to tell their stories, we've been talking about self care.  Self care really looks different for everyone . . . and most of us are better at declaring what it's not.  At a recent staff meeting, we talked about how proper self care is built on a foundation of entering in.  It's a foundation of feeling what there is to feel and then handling it appropriately (i.e. not drinking too much, swearing, yelling at everyone around you, or eating.  I know, right?).

Entering in.

Experiencing the feelings.

Not numbing them.

Because numbing them means you aren't feeling them. And the drinking, swearing, yelling, eating, and escaping is all about numbing.

Well, great. Now what? Entering in feels very, very scary. And very painful. And the opposite of what I really want to do.

So I eat too much, or I yell, or I swear. And then I feel a bit better for a while. And then I go back to work or I have to "Mom" again or I somehow start to feel . . . and then I eat too much, or I yell, or I swear.  And then the whole cycle starts over again.

And none of that is real or right or healthy or even all that helpful.

But there's a bigger problem.  And the bigger problem is that when you numb what hurts you also numb what heals.  Because numbing isn't self selective. You can't numb the bad without numbing the good.  You can't escape the pain without also escaping the pleasure.  At least that's what this TEDTalk lady said.  She says humanity is about allowing yourself to be vulnerable.  It's about entering in and sitting in the hurt and being honest about it.  And she says it's impossible to connect without that.

As I sat there in our staff meeting and thinking about what she said (and how much I really wished someone had brought doughnuts to that staff meeting), I realized something.  In the past I've written about my sensory processing disorder, and I've talked often about my own journey through postpartum depression and the meds and therapy that got me through that.  What I maybe haven't mentioned is that for over a year I also took an antidepressant prescribed by my doctor simply because my sensory issues don't really lend themselves to having children and momming. Nice, right?  So I dutifully took those pills, and I could make it through my days with work and kids and school and schedules.

And I made it through.  And I didn't cry so much.  And then I realized I didn't cry at all.  And I didn't really laugh that much either. And I didn't really have a desire to write anymore or even the words to write.  And I panicked when I realized I couldn't even really daydream.  So I quit taking them.  In my head I said, "Well, most writers are crazy. I'd rather have that crazy if it means I can create."  But the truth was that I just wanted to cry again.  I wanted to feel.

{Now I'm in no way advocating that everyone should get off their medication for depression or anxiety. I'm not even positive it was the right decision for me--and I definitely gained about 20 pounds, so one could argue I'm just doing a different kind of medicating--but it is something I needed to do.  I needed to feel.  BUT if you can't make it through your day and you can't enter in because you can't get out of bed, then you need to take something.  If you can't enter in because all you can think about is hurting yourself or total escape, then you need to take something.  If you can't enter in because you can't quiet your mind down enough to focus and breathe, then you need to take something.  Please keep taking your something, but do it under a doctor's care and with a therapist who can help you safely enter in.  And don't take yourself off your something without your doctor and your partner or close friends.  Please.}

Our pastor is currently preaching through a series on The Lord's Prayer.  A couple of weeks ago his message was on "Give us this day our daily bread."  Our daily bread.  What we need for today.  He read Exodus 16 to us and preached about that manna.  That "what is it?"  That literal daily bread.  Just enough for the one day.

I have so, so much.  And I still want more.  But He gave me Enough.  Because that's who He is.


Not more than I need.  Not less than I need.  Enough.

During the message, our pastor asked, "What do you complain about the most?  What do you ask God for?  A life of ease?  A life of plenty?  Or for your daily needs to be met?"

That really hit me.

Do I complain about not having enough?  Do I complain about disappointment?  Do I complain about discomfort?  Or do I ask for my daily bread?  Do I ask for justice?  Do I ask for God's will?  Do I simply ask for more God?

Do I ask for Ease?

Or do I ask for Enough?

When I ask for enough rather than ease or escape then I find that I had enough to begin with.  That God, in His wisdom and knowing-all about my life, has already given me everything I need to enter in and rest in His enough.

Oh, it won't be easy.  And I'll have to stop overeating or self medicating in whatever way is right in front of me.  There will be pain, because that's what it means to be human.  There will be vulnerability, and there will be times when it is so awful I want to stop.  But when I enter in I will find that I have everything I need to make it through that day.

And I will laugh.

And I will cry.

And I will write.

And I will live.

(And hopefully I'll lose those 20 pounds.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

D: for Democracy, Diversity, and He Who Will Not Be Named

I've had this blog post written in my head several times since July 3.  Each time I thought I would sit down and write it, I didn't for whatever reason.  And then the middle and end of last week happened, and I thought, "Well, maybe it's not done yet; that's why I didn't write it."

And then I thought, "It's all been said.  Why would I say it?"

And then I thought, "It's the one thing I have.  It's the voice I have.  Start writing."

So here I am.

I know everyone is tired of this conversation.  Either you are tired because you've been living it your whole life and now you're seeing it bigger and louder in front of you, and you're worried people will fall asleep again tomorrow.  Or maybe you're tired because you see it and you haven't said anything and now you are saying things, and you're losing family members and friends and being verbally attacked by them for saying something.  Or maybe you're tired because you think the conversation itself is the problem or at least is making it bigger, and you just want an ideal world where all people matter.

(Note: I ignored the "tired of having to consider that people other than your own race matter in the world or should have anything" because I'm really and sincerely hoping I don't have any relationships with people who would dare say that out loud or even think it in their soul.  Most of my friends and acquaintances have seen my evil eyes and don't want to again.)

Let's start with the tired.  Let's agree that we all feel that way.  And then let's end with the "want an ideal world where all people matter" and where we all have the same opportunities.  Because we also agree on that.

We all do.

And that world is coming.  (It's called A New Heaven and a New Earth.  It's gonna be so great, you guys.)

But for now, we live in between the nobody matters and the everybody matters, and that makes us all tired.

So what do we do?  We discuss.  We debate.  We dialogue with kind words and express our opinions.  We definitely do not dismiss.  We don't dismiss people or their experiences, just because we didn't experience them ourselves or because we don't want them to be true or because we don't believe them to be true.  We don't dismiss people or their experiences.

I'm white.  I'm middle class.  I am told that when I was young my family didn't have a lot.  We lived in government housing, so I'm pretty certain that is true.  I don't remember ever not eating enough, though, or even missing a snack in the day let alone not eating three meals.  But my mom tells me of a time when she and my dad had a can of corn to split between them for dinner.

Still, I'm white.

And that is the phrase, the descriptor, that meant the world.  We may not have had much (and then later we had plenty and then now we have more than enough), but no one assumed it was because we were lazy.  Or because we were criminals.  Or that we should have stayed wherever it is we came from.

The simple fact is that there are rich people and there are poor people.  Most of the rich people are white.  Most of the poor people are black.  There are people who go to colleges and to good high schools and there are people who are stuck in failing schools.  Most of the colleges and the good high schools are filled with white students.  Most of the failing schools are filled with black students.  There are people who get pulled over for breaking laws or for speeding and there are people who get pulled over because they are on certain roads or in certain neighborhoods.  You guessed it, the first are mostly white.  The second are mostly black.

When a crime has been committed, and you hear about it on the news, what color is the "bad guy"?  Think about it.  Before you see a picture or before you hear a description, what does the guy look like in your head?  Do you have to change that image when you hear it was a white guy?  (Insert uncomfortable chuckle and an "Oh God" here.  I know, because I have.  And I do.  And I hate that about myself.)

When you hear about someone doing something amazing or a researcher discovering a cure for something, what color is the "good guy"?  The genius?

When you picture Jesus.  Does he have flowing dark blond/light brown hair and blue eyes?  Because, you know, Middle Eastern.

We are a whitewashed society.  We are not a color blind society.  We are a whitewashed society where the good guys are white and the bad guys are black or brown.  There are very few facts to back up that notion, but still we roll with it.

Now, I know what you're thinking (because I've thought it):

What about black on black crime?

If only the black people would try harder, then maybe they'd be successful.

Why can't they just act more like me?  Then cops would know they respect them and would respect them back.

I remember working at an inner-city school years ago.  Two students walked in the door one morning where the superintendent was high fiving and shaking hands with everyone.  One boy called another boy (affectionately, I think) a dog.  The superintendent pulled the boy aside and asked, "How is he supposed to feel good about himself if you are referring to him as a dog?"

That stuck with me.  Because it's true.  If I look in the mirror and call myself fat, how do you think I'm going to eat that day?  If I hear myself in the shower and say I can't sing, why would I be willing to join a choir?  If I tell myself time and time again that I'm a crappy writer who has nothing to say, how many blog posts do you think I'll write? (Answer: see the last few years of this blog.)

My achievements or lack thereof are directly related to what I tell myself is true about myself--and what others believe is true about me.

If the entire population of people who look like you can look back at government documents of this country and see, see with your actual eyes, words written down and laws written down stating you are worth less than one white person, how do you think you'll feel about yourself?

Not good.  I guarantee it.

Stack on top of that fewer educational opportunities for generations and less income and "affordable" housing that looks like the Projects where people are stacked on top of each other and more pushing down and fewer expectations for greatness . . . and what you have is a people who feel like they are worth less than if they'd simply been born white.

That makes people angry.  And that makes people act out.  And heck yeah (you white gun owners who own your assault rifles to protect yourselves from the bears or the government) you're going to carry a weapon wherever you go.  Because you have to protect yourself--from other people who are angry and frustrated and believe that's all they're worth . . . and white people who believe all those same things.

Okay, but . . .

What about so-and-so black guy who is a leading heart surgeon?

What about that white guy I saw who eats only one meal a day and it's one someone else gave him?

Yep.  There are always exceptions.  On both ends.  And if you want to hold on to those exceptions and expect everyone to rise above their life circumstances to be amazing, if that's what you want to point to all the time, then be the Saturday-morning jogger who wins Olympic gold or the shower-singer turned Tony-award-winning actress.  We don't all achieve those levels of greatness.  Even if we try really, really hard, we just don't.

Most of the time we need help.

Most of the time we need extra attention.

Most of the time we're winning if we just keep running on Saturday mornings or singing and dancing in the shower.

Most of the time we're winning if we just survive.

Fine.  But Beka, all lives matter.  Jesus died for everyone.

Yes.  He did.  Remember that New Heaven and New Earth where it's all gonna be so great you can hardly stand waiting to get there?  That's when it's all made right again.

But while we live here, in the in between, Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me."

So was He saying no adults should come?

No.  He was saying, "To you, in this world, children don't matter as much.  You are pushing them aside and shushing them.  Well, I'm telling you they matter to me."

So, Jesus.  Are you saying the Pharisees and the Tax Collectors and even your disciples don't matter?

"No.  They do.  That's why I came.  To give them worth and make them matter.  But right now you are treating them as if they don't."

All lives matter.  Blue lives matter.  "Red, green, purple, and blue" lives matter.  (Yes, I actually saw that somewhere on Facebook this past week.  I don't know any purple people except those who are choking, and yes even they matter.  But they need different attention.)

All lives do matter, but our society has made it clear that they aren't all treated as if they matter.  To say one life matters to me isn't to say no other lives matter.  It just says, "I see you.  And I want to make it better."

Racism is alive and thriving in this country.  And it isn't just thriving in the people who put on pointy white hats and carry burning stakes looking for people to kill.  It isn't just thriving in Hate.  Sometimes it's thriving in what more closely resembles love.  Sometimes it's thriving in higher-than-possible expectations or guilt-ridden handouts or refusing to acknowledge there could be a problem or in keeping our mouth shut when something happens or in making someone else's experience about you.  Sometimes it is thriving in our churches.

"Oh, but our church welcomes all people."

Does it?  Does it welcome them even if they dress wrong or worship wrong or have a different scope of time than you?  Does it seek them out and embrace them?  Or does it just accept them?

Because just accepting them if they happen by makes it clear they don't matter all that much to you.

And your "helping."  Does it come with conditions or out of pity, or does it come from a desire to come alongside and really help?  Does it come with advice or a "well if you would just," or does it come with listening and empathy and a "how can I make this more equitable for you"?

Does it come with you being vocal and saying, "This matters to me.  You matter to me.  You matter so much that I will take my eyes off myself and the hard life I have lived and the challenges I have overcome to just sit and listen to you.  And then when I have listened to you, and I have believed what you are telling me, I will speak.  I will stand in front of you to protect you from the people who don't get it.  I will stand next to you and march with you.  I will say all I can until I can't say anymore so that you are not the only one fighting this battle."

Or does it come with you saying, "All lives matter.  And by pointing out color or by continuing to focus on diversity you are continuing to perpetuate the problem."

Because there is a difference there.

My family and I went to western South Dakota this summer.  I haven't been there for probably 29 years, and so much has changed.  Oh, the Badlands are still there, but the walkouts and the trails have changed.  Wall Drug has grown and collected more crap.  Even Mount Rushmore has a new movie and an entirely different viewing platform--and the parking!  So different.

You know what hasn't changed?  In nearly three decades, the only thing that is the exact same is the trailer park east of Rapid City.  I think even some of the trailers there are the same.  You know who lives there? Native Americans.  In the United States, the top three poorest counties are in South Dakota.  And they are comprised almost entirely of reservation land.

We did that.  That's what the white people settling here in this country did.  Because white lives matter more.

They always have.  And they will, until we, the white lives, speak up.  Until we recognize that in order for all lives to matter, black lives and Native lives and Muslim lives need to be our priority.

We live in one of the best countries in the world.  I love our freedoms and our democracy and our entertainment (though I do NOT get this Pokemon GO thing).  I love this country.  But for more than 120,000,000 (that's 120 million) people, this country has never been Great.  Just because it has for you doesn't mean it has for everyone.  And it doesn't mean we don't have a problem.

We can't continue to go around saying "Make America GREAT Again" when to more than 100 million people that means "Make America WHITE Again" and when it has never actually been truly great.

We can't continue to go around saying "But I like how he speaks his mind and is feared by the establishment" when what he is saying is we should round up all the people who look Muslim and interrogate them to make sure we're safe.

We can't continue to go around saying "Let's just stop seeing and labeling color" when millions and millions of people know every day their color is what limits them or makes people think they're criminals.

We can't continue to say "But law enforcement is a hard profession and it's really dangerous and they just want to get home to their families at the end of the day and not all cops are racist or power hungry" when black people are pulled over at higher rates than white people and treated more aggressively--whether they have committed a crime or not.

I love this country.

I love law enforcement.

I love my family.

I love my church.

Let me never tire of trying to make any of those things their best selves.

On 4th of July weekend I sang on the worship team at church.  The pianist and her violin-playing grandson played a beautiful version of "America the Beautiful" during the prelude.  Bill, who was singing too, and I sang the first two verses with them.  The first one is all purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain lovely.  The second one stopped me in my tracks:

O beautiful for Pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw.
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

Can you imagine?  What if the thoroughfare built across the wilderness of this country and of this conversation was one beat for freedom--by our impassioned stress and efforts.  Oh, God.  That is the America I want.  That is the America that is great.  That is the America people can be proud to call home.  That is the America where all lives matter.

But to get there . . . God, mend our every flaw.

I know it's hard.  Healing and wholeness and justice is never painless.  But there are a group of people who have been shouldering all that pain on their own, and it's time we bear it with them.

Friday, July 01, 2016

B: for Blessing; C: for Car

Admittedly, those are strange words to put together.  But "B" and "C" come right by each other, and both played key roles in our last two weeks.

A few weeks ago Meg, who sits in the far back corner of our van on the passenger side, told me she would prefer not to ride in our car anymore if the tires were going to make so much squeaking noise every time we stopped--and she certainly wouldn't be going on our vacation with that racket.  So I took the hint and brought the van in to the shop.

B is also for Brakes, and that was the problem.  I needed new calipers.  And, because I told the mechanic we were going on an Out West Trip and asked him to "kick the tires" to see if there were any problems, I also needed a new intake manifold gasket.  Whatever that thing is.  I authorized him to fix the calipers right away and set the intake thingy appointment.  He fixed the van while I was at work, I picked the van back up, and I went on my merry way.

That was Tuesday.  Friday I was in Traverse City with the ladies in my family, and I got a text message from my husband:

What did they do to your van?

Um . . . they fixed it.  Why?

Nope.  The front tires smelled of burning rubber, and smoke was billowing from the front passenger tire.  Oi.

That Monday the van was back in the shop.  The caliper had seized up--bad from the box--and would be replaced.  The next day I walked back into the shop and picked up my van, with a fresh new caliper and that new intake thingy.  And then three days later we were off.

My husband and I took our three girls on a week long vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota and then to visit "family" on the East side of South Dakota--with an overnight at a covered wagon on the Ingalls family homestead in De Smet in between.  Everything went well for the first hour.  Then we had our first potty break.  This was going to be a long trip, we could feel it.

Our first night we made it to Cedar Falls, IA.  I totally screwed up on a non-refundable Orbitz room reservation for the Super 8 that night (turns out it was the 17th, not the 24th), but the staff at the Super 8 went above and beyond their jobs and settled it all.  And took another $10 off our bill for good measure.  Apparently everything is refundable if you have a tired face, cute kids, and an apologetic attitude.  We slept well and were off on another day of making sandwiches in rest areas, searching for radio stations amidst the static, and playing the alphabet game.

An hour down the road Addie realized she left her blanket, "Dottie," behind at the hotel.

I called, they didn't find it, Addie cried then and again at bedtime that night.  We were tucked into our little cabin at Mystery Mountain Resort in Rapid City, SD, by then.  We decided she probably left Dottie at home and talked her into sleeping while snuggling my soft body pillow.  I'll be honest.  It didn't really work.  Not that night or the next three.

The next two days were filled with the beauty of God's creation.  We kept our Sabbath that day celebrating Daddy Beau with a hike through Wind Cave and a ride from Hill City to Keystone aboard the 10-mile-per-hour 1880's train.  We saw prairie dogs and deer and Crazy Horse and craned our necks for a glimpse of a bighorn sheep like the crossing signs promised.  The pool at our resort was lovely for the girls, and the tow truck driver who let Beau back in the keys-locked-inside van at the local Walmart was quite friendly.  Monday was a trip to Wall Drug (have you dug it?), a journey through the Badlands National Park with several stops for hiking and "I think I heard a rattle snake" (and a big horn sheep sighting!), and a S-L-O-O-O-W van ride through Custer State Park. Our animal count increased to several antelope, a mama burro who scratched her neck on our side mirror (my window was definitely rolled up) while her baby nursed, 300 buffalo grazing in a field, and a million more prairie dogs.  The hairpin turns and uphill climbs up Iron Mountain Road to Mt. Rushmore led us around a blind curve and apparent traffic jam . . . a herd of buffalo--papas, mamas, and babies.  It was so cool.  We made it to Mt. Rushmore for the very impressive lighting ceremony and back to bed by midnight "home" time.

Our last day there was meant to be a rest day.  We talked about eating at a favorite restaurant, maybe taking in a few shops, and swimming a lot.  Once we'd woken up though, Beau said, "Hey, do you want to take a quick drive on the Needles Highway through Custer?"

Yes. Yes, I do.

So we did. And it was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. The hairpin turns and narrow tunnels through rocks and views were some of the most amazing things God has created. And right up until we coasted into the town of Custer, it was a perfect morning.

We first smelled the burning rubber when we stopped at the public restroom for one of the girls. Still, we thought, "Eh, that was hilly.  It's fine."  It wasn't fine.  Beau switched with me to see if I noticed anything, and I couldn't get the van to go over 5 MPH. When I took my foot off the gas, we immediately stopped.  

"This isn't fine," I said. Beau Googled repair shops, and we limped our way the two blocks back to the station.  Where we learned that not only had the calipers seized up (again!), the tires were locked up too.  Forty miles from all of our things.  We went to Subway with a list of potential car rental places and sick stomachs.  Nobody answered their phones except those who had nothing good to tell us . . . and the car place reported the tires had unlocked but the heat was so bad that the rotors had turned blue so we'd need new calipers again, new rotors again, and new pads again.  Oh, and the outstanding news was that the calipers wouldn't be in until noon the next day.  Two hours after we were supposed to check out and leave Rapid City.  And the repairs wouldn't be done for two hours after that.

But wait.  How were we even going to get back to Rapid City?  There were no cars to rent in Custer.  The cars to rent in Rapid City weren't going to get us from Custer to Rapid. We were stuck. My sandwich sat untouched on the table as I frantically texted my family and dear friends back home and on the East side of SD--Pray. Please pray.

"I didn't mean to overhear you," the man said as he sat down next to me.  "But my wife and I were talking--it sounds like you need to get the five of you from here to Rapid City?"

I nodded, because it's all I had.

"We're headed there.  We'd like to take you, if you'll let us."

I burst into tears, because it's all I had.

We rode back to Rapid City with perfect strangers, because sometimes God's blessings come in the form of angels embodying South Dakota hospitality.  So the girls spent the afternoon in the pool at the resort, and we found a rental car, and we packed up our cabin ready to leave in the morning . . . still praying our van would be fixed on time, and we would get to our covered wagon five hours and one earlier time zone away before everyone fell asleep.

God works, friends.  In real life.  His blessings come in strangers and in resort owners who say, "take a late checkout--and feel free to leave here in storage whatever you can't fit in the car, pick it up whenever," and in car shops where parts arrive on time and the work gets completed on schedule.  And then He even sends blessings in children not arguing or needing to stop for bathroom breaks and a 5 hour drive taking only fifteen minutes longer (because we had to get gas). He also sends blessings in a beautiful sunset over a corn field just before we pulled in to the Homestead and found our covered wagon before the light was gone.  And then His blessings appear in stars visible in 360 degrees around us and a full fire moon and shooting stars above our heads and peaceful time enjoying it all.

We had a lovely visit with our dear South Dakota family where we were reminded that friends who became family 30 years ago are one of God's greatest blessings.  Our time there was too short and will happen again many, many times over the years to come.  Our Des Moines visit with our friends and former seminarian and his wife was treasured time as well, and our trip home involved two brief stops, and then home, sweet, home. Because time away is always blessed by returning home and sleeping in your own bed.

Two days ago, I pulled into the garage at our house, and I smelled burning rubber.  And the tires were burning hot.  One more trip to Chuck's Auto, and today I have a new master cylinder in my van. And a mechanic who is making sure the repairs in Custer are fully covered under warranty and that we are taken care of.  Because sometimes God's blessings come through car repairs and mechanics who go the extra mile.

Our vacation was wonderful.  And memorable.  And we saw God's blessings in our every mile.

Oh! And the highlight started on the sofa at the farm, just a bit past bedtime, nearly a week after we left Cedar Falls.

"I left Dottie in the drawer under the TV," a sweet and tired little voice said.  So I called the Super 8.  And yesterday a box arrived for the sweet and still tired little girl.  She ripped it open just enough to pull Dottie out, and she sniffed Dottie--"It's even washed, Mommy!"--and she draped Dottie over her head and spent the day snuggling the blanket she'd slept with every night of her life up until that night after Cedar Falls.

Because sometimes God's blessings are found in quick mail service and a thoughtful hotel . . . and a pink fuzzy blanket with brown polka dots.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reviewing: Murder Comes by Mail

Murder Comes by Mail
by A.H. Gabhart

The second installment of A Hidden Springs Mystery series is much like the first.  Gabhart excels at character development, continuing to build on characters introduced in her earlier book while drawing in the quirks of additional minor town members.  She also raises a decent plot with interesting crimes and murders and just enough action to raise the stakes.  Where she falls short is in hiding clues and creating mystery.  Once again I knew the murderer and the twists much earlier than I wanted to, Gabhart’s foreshadowing seems forced, and her clues are laying right out in the open. 

I am drawn to Gabhart’s small-town writing and character development, but I don’t go to Hidden Springs for a mystery I can’t solve.  Still, it’s a fun ride to take, and I recommend reading the series if you like sleuthing along and gathering the clues in a quick read.  I will likely check out the third book—in the hopes that I will be wrong and will find myself surprised at the end—to see where the characters end up.

I received this book from Revell through the Revell Reads Blog Tour Program in exchange for my honest review.  All thoughts shared are my own, and I was under no obligation to right a positive review.  This is disclosed according to requirements from the FTC.