Monday, December 21, 2009

Not meaning to offend

I'm heading into politically incorrect waters with full knowledge that the way I feel about the current state of things is not necessarily shared. Still, I feel like I need to write some things down, because they are weighing so heavy on my heart right now.
I was driving to my office this morning when I heard on the radio that the 60 votes needed to pass the senate version of the Obama/Reid health care bill had been reached. A vote for cloture had occurred at 1:00 AM - the very dead of the night.
I burst into tears.
I feel the greatest sense of fear and loss and helplessness in a way that I have never experienced as an American before. I do not understand how elected senators can move ahead when a large majority of the country so clearly does not support government-run health care. I do not understand how so many people can stand by without a word of dissent as 1/6th of the American economy is poised to be taken over by the government. I wonder how they will feel when our taxes continue to rise, our health care is parsed out, we end up paying for the death of babies and old people are not considered valuable enough to provide proper health care for.
I love my young 20-something friends but I can clearly see that they have no real clue what this loss of liberty will mean. They are all about starting their careers, establishing themselves. They are not paying attention and it is at their own peril. Our freedoms, our constitution are being trampled on. We are becoming a society that wants to be taken care of instead of the country that grew to be great on the initiative, creativity, imagination and hard work of it's amazing people. My own boys would prefer that I not talk about the president, his policies, the health care debate or anything even remotely "political" around their friends for fear that I might offend. I try to play nice, I really do.
It reminds me about a group I used to speak for: Christian Women's Club - a national women's ministry that seeks to win women to the Lord through luncheons, fashion shows and a compelling speaker. There were "rules" about what the women were able to discuss - "age, weight, politics and religion" were forbidden table talk. The age and weight rules were inserted to lighten the load, so to speak. Let's be careful to not step on toes or question a contrary opinion.
But this is so much bigger than politeness and politics. I believe in this past year, America has moved at an incredible pace toward a country that, if unchecked, will become unrecognizable as the country our forefathers envisioned. I am fearful that every freedom that I hold true as an American citizen will continue to slip away. With the government monitoring health care - every aspect of our lives will come under their scrutiny: What we eat, what we wear, how we spend out leisure time, what kind of jobs we're allowed to have, how much we are allowed to earn. Couple health care with the new religion of the environment and I see a nightmare of unequaled magnitude: The government will also tell us what cars we can drive, what kind of televisions we are allowed to have in our homes (already happening in California), even something as benign as when and if we can barbecue: sounds pretty silly and petty, doesn't it? Wait until it happens.
Sometimes I feel like the crazy old man you always see in a horror or science fiction film. The one who warns of doom and gloom and yet, as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, the main characters will ignore as they blithely go on their merry way toward death and destruction.
I don't think things are perfect. I know some reform needs to happen. I know over the past 234 years some American leaders have made terrible mistakes: choices based on power plays, personal agendas, prejudices, weakness, on and on. But as a whole, America has survived the bad by staying true to the Constitution, the Bill of rights and the Amendments. For the first time, at least in my lifetime, all of that is being threatened.
Still, when I shake off the heavy-heartedness that blankets me and makes me feel like I can barely breathe, I find hope in a couple of things.
One: We can change things with the vote. There's a great line in the move Dave delivered when Kevin Kline, playing the presidential imposter, says to the country, "I forgot that this is just a 'temp' job and that you put me here for just a temporary piece of time". It's true. All the elected officials from the president to the senators to the congressmen who are pursuing this strangling, liberty-stealing health care bill are only there at the whim and will of the American people. There will, I pray, be a reckoning in November 0f 2010 and 2012 should it pass. I heard a senator say on the news today, "I know the Americans think they don't want this bill but once it's passed they will see how great it is". Great indeed. Everything else not withstanding, the truth that my my tax dollars will be used to kill innocent, unborn babies is devastating to me. The incredible conceit that an elected official thinks he knows better than his constituents is the worst kind of self-delusional buffoonery.
Second: As I know and experience with every other aspect of my life, prayer not only matters, it can change things. God has promised in 2 Chronicles 7: 14 "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
If you believe, as I do, that our nation is walking down the wrong path, won't you join me in prayer for our nation, and our leaders?
Lastly (and this is really important) I want to say a word for those of you who absolutely couldn't disagree with me anymore if you tried: you like the current administration and think we are heading in the right direction. If you know me at all, you know that I am a true student of the American Civil War. One of the things that has always intrigued me is the depth of faith on both sides of that war. The south had incredible men of faith fighting and praying, utterly convinced they were doing God's will by fighting for the south. Looking back now, 150 years later, that seems difficult - how could anyone who loved the Lord defend a nation that embraced slavery? Yet, from General Robert E. Lee to Stonewall Jackson to many, many others, their faith guided them, led them and kept them strong. Now don't misunderstand, I am not saying that if you disagree with me, I am comparing you to someone who supported slavery. I'm just saying that I don't think the conservatives hold the spiritual edge here (except in the case of abortion - there is no possible justification for the purposeful death of an innocent child).
The fact that I feel so strongly about this issue and this current government does not get in the way of my love or friendship for you. If you disagree with me - ok! In fact, I would love to talk about it with you - with all my politeness in place.
Now... I need to go pray.... there's still the tiniest piece of hope that we can stop this debacle before it goes any further.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tis A Miracle: The Monroe's Annual Christmas Letter

This is my annual Christmas letter. Some of you might have received a version of it through the mail but I decided to post it here for all to read. It's long, I know, so proceed at your own caution! For those who regularly read my blog, it is a compilation of some of the things I've written about but it never hurts to take a journey again if it was worthwhile the first time. (Wow! That almost sounded profound, didn't it? Honestly, I did not just read that on the back of the Celestial Seasonings tea box!). Here goes:
Daniel asked me the other day what the theme for this year’s letter was going to be. I had to admit then that I didn’t have a clue, I hadn’t begun to think about this letter (other than the normal, “YOU’VE GOT TO GET THAT LETTER WRITTEN” beating I give myself annually).
Last night, when normal people are sleeping, I let my mind meander throughout this year and one word (or its derivative) kept popping up: “Miraculous”. That’s an oft overused word but in the case of the Monroe Clan, it seems appropriate to describe 2009.
Mark, who usually gets a simple line at the end of the letter saying that he is in his umpteen year at Amerisource-Bergen, gets to go first. In October, Mark was laid off from the job he has held for 27 years. This was a stunning turn of events. Mark had warned me it was coming but I just really couldn’t believe it. When he walked in the door that Tuesday morning, as I was getting ready to head out to my CAT Office, and said, “It’s over!” I still asked, “What’s over?” Then Mark gently explained that he had been laid off. Once the initial shock sort of wore off, the next thing we did was pray together. Miraculously, through the blessings of our faithful God, many friends stepped forward with offers of help, job possibilities and all around support. Within three weeks, Mark was employed with a brand new job at a company here in Corona called Vantage Vehicle International. The company manufactures small electric cars. It’s a good place for Mark to be right now and although he doesn’t see it as a long term career stop, the Lord is using Mark in this place and we are very grateful!
Next comes our Jordan. Jordan is in the army, stationed in Texas. This year really has been one miraculous event after the next. First, last January Jordan was stationed at an air force base in the town of San Angelo, Texas. Leaving California and heading to Texas seemed like a huge turning point in his life – so many unknowns. Jordan and I prayed together that God would open new doors for him, new friendships, new challenges. Two days after arriving in San Angelo he visited a church and he called me as he walked back to his car, “Mom, I just visited the greatest church. I can’t believe how much I enjoyed it.” The very next week he was invited to attend a Sunday night college/career group Bible study that met in a private home. He called me to tell me about this great family that lived in this home and about all the new friends he was making. It seemed Miraculous that God had answered our prayer so quickly.
Over the next few months, Jordan continued to develop friendships in this group. He often mentioned the family that hosted the Bible study, especially the daughter who was a part of the group, Georgia Anne Huckabee. When Jordan came home for a visit in June, he was definitely a changed man: I knew the minute I saw him that this was a man in love! In August Jordan proposed, Georgia said, “yes” and Mark and I got to be with them and Georgia’s wonderful family in San Angelo for some Texas-style celebratin’. Their wedding is planned for June 26th here in Corona!
Jordan’s army journey continues to be mysterious. He was supposed to be deployed to Iraq in mid- August. As he waited with 102 other soldiers in the deployment area, packed and ready to go Jordan waited for his name to be called. When 100 soldiers were boarded on the plane and it was just Jordan and two officers left, he was told he wasn’t going. So he is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, safe from the battle field, or so we thought. On November 5 he called to tell me there was something going on at the base – they were all locked down and shots were being fired. Right across the street from Jordan’s building an Islamic terrorist was massacring 13 innocent people. We were blessed that Jordan was not harmed and our prayers remain with the families of those who died or were terribly injured.
Andrew, happily, graduated from Azusa Pacific University Summa Cum Laud in May along with his Best Girl of 4 years, Ashley Geiger. We celebrated in style and then sent Andrew back to the books to study for his 4 part CPA exam. Personally I would have rather pulled out my fingernails slowly but that’s just me. He spent the summer working as co-director of our CAT Summer Camps with his brother, Daniel. Then in late September ADULTHOOD arrived: Andrew began his career with Deloitte and Touche, one of the big 4 accounting firms in America. We found it miraculous that, despite the current economic climate, Andrew was able to find a wonderful job. He also found time to play the lead role in two major CAT productions this year: Benedick in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Robert Thorpe in the play I wrote, Star of Wonder. Contrary to any thought that I might be unreasonably prejudiced, I can say that he was fantastic in both roles. It was wonderful to see him on the stage! I especially enjoyed it when 12 of his Deloitte Management team came to see him in Star of Wonder: I’m certain they will NEVER view him as a typical accountant again! Would it be overkill to mention that Andrew completed his first (and according to him, "last") marathon. I think that's just weird. He refuses to be put in a box - an acting, running, accountant. Who ever heard of such a thing???
Isaac is, unbelievably, a senior this year. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that fact. He is the greatest kid whose performing talents have continued to blossom. This year alone he’s played roles from “Willie Wonka” to the “Genie” in Aladdin (which required specialty balding make-up and being painted totally blue, a 2 hour process every performance day for two weekends) to one of Captain Hook’s Pirates in Peter Pan to a crooked attorney in Annie Warbucks to the young “Robert Thorpe” in Star of Wonder. Miraculously, he does not have a multiple personality disorder, though it would not be all that surprising. Since Isaac was 6 he has participated in every CAT youth productions and most of the Community Theater productions in some way: That’s somewhere in the region of 45 major shows (along with 10 Summer Tour Groups). Talk about experience! Though CAT is the center of his universe, he has a life outside as well: Madrigal Choir at school, preparation for college (He is hoping to attend California Baptist University in Riverside), church and an exhausting self-driven exercise/weight lifting regimen. And did I mention "girls"? Yes, lots of those in Isaac's life in the healthiest way but currently no one in particular has wrapped him around her pretty little finger. I like it - for about 5 minutes, he's still mine!
Daniel and Erin are still in school! Erin is still teaching kindergarten and so far, miraculously, has survived the deep budget cuts the school district has been forced to make. We JUST celebrated with Daniel the completion of his Masters in Theater in Education from Cal-State San Bernardino. Now he is in the last lap of his education, working for his teaching credential from Cal-Baptist. He works as a long term sub at a school in the district and we are all praying that when he has his credential, God will open up a teaching job right here. The principals in Corona love Daniel and he is popular wherever he goes to substitute: We are very optimistic! Daniel directed our incredible production of Peter Pan last spring and is gearing up to direct our winter production of Cinderella. Erin works alongside Daniel in every way – they make an incredible duo that is serving the kids of CAT and the arts community in a powerful way.
Now for me, there’s too little room and too much to say. You can scroll back through these past blogs to catch up on the miraculous ways God has protected and sustained my our family and my arts organization, Christian Arts and Theatre. I’m drawn more and more to write and expect to be doing that a lot in 2010: hoping to finally get my book written (whether anyone reads it or not) My sweet dad has promised HE will read it: That’s what daddies are for! I’m as fully wrapped up in CAT as ever – a place God has firmly planted me and, as of right now, shows no signs of releasing me. It’s a ministry that has built me up and broken me, shoved me to my knees and lifted me up to the heights of glorious joy: Which is great fodder for a book – no coincidence there.
So, dear family and friends, you’ve had a glimpse of the Monroe year – more like a nano-glimpse. It’s hard to flesh it all out in just this short letter (“SHORT LETTER?” I just visualized several of you snorting egg nog out your nose).
I want to share the most tangible piece of hope that I can. In the middle of a terrible time in November: Mark’s job loss, Jordan’s near miss at Fort Hood and a desperate financial crunch at CAT, my new friend, Bonnie Huckabee, shared these verses with me from a difficult time in her own life. They have become such a constant comfort: 2 Chronicles 20: 12: The Israelites were facing a terrible enemy and their king prayed: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you.” Take out the words “Vast army” and insert your own issue or problem. “I have no power over my job loss, my marriage, my health problems - whatever is burdening you and continue the verse: We don’t know what to do but our eyes are on you. God is in control and he loves you. No matter what happens. Our job is to keep our eyes on him, trust him, give our hearts to him. 3 verses later, God answers, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” No matter what you are facing this Christmas season, put your trust in God. If it’s unbridled joy – thank Him for that gift, if it’s anything less then look to him.
Merry Christmas, Dear ones. Love, Cyndi for all the Monroes.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Things about which I'm Thankful

It's funny how Thanksgiving rolls around and it seems there is a nation-wide urge to suddenly become grateful or, at the very least, a willingness to publicly acknowledge "an attitude of gratitude". You know what I am talking about. Politicians and celebrities get their "God voice" on and, speaking in dulcet tones, inform us how thankful they are. Then to prove it, they spend four hours of one day serving at the homeless shelter (photo op nirvana). That makes me somehow want to NOT say anything, not jump on the band wagon, so to speak. I really am overwhelmingly grateful to my Lord for his constant, pervasive generosity that I find I don't want to get mixed up with the "fair weather" thankers (does that make sense?).
I tell people all the time how God sustains CAT every single day. He really does! I was talking to one of my sister-in-laws on Thanksgiving and I was telling her how incredible it is to be in the center of a miracle. [See my blog dated 11/11/09 for the story of the Miracle]. The idea that God is literally moving in our midst, bending people, places and events for His good purpose RIGHT NOW is hard for some people to wrap their minds around. Sure God parted the Red Sea, caused Jonah to be swallowed up then vomited out of a great fish and brought Lazarus back from the dead but that was a Loooooong time ago. The truth that He is (or wants to be) every bit as involved in our lives as He was in the lives of Moses or Jonah can just make your mind explode with that notion. God wants us to know him intimately, wants us to know he is RIGHT HERE, working all things together for His good. I think most of us are kind of sceptical about God's presence. I will bet I am not the only one who has asked (sometimes not in the nicest way) for God to just write the answer to some burning question or need clearly across the sky. Am I right? You have haven't you? "God, I don't know what to do. Tell me. Write it in BIG letters in the sky". Well sometimes he does that too.
About three weeks ago I was praying about Mark's job situation. He had just been laid off from the company he had worked for for 27 years. I was, to be honest, freaking out about it. Mark and I are, for all intents and purposes, just this side of old. (Is it true that 50 is the new 30?). I was laying on my bed, staring out my window as I talked to God about Mark's lack of a job ("...and God, did you know unemployment in Riverside County is over 15%... Did you know that, God?) I looked out my window and saw this unusual cloud formation and I thought : "Those look like fingers, fingers". I grabbed my camera and went into my back yard to snap a couple of shots. I was really thinking that it looked like a huge hand - "God's hand", I thought. It wasn't until I came back into the house and downloaded the pictures on to my computer that I noticed the other cloud in the shot. If you look closely, it appears to be an open hand releasing a bird (creatively speaking). I thought how lovely of God to create that picture for me! He hears us when we pray and, glory be, writes (or "paints") it across the sky now and then! I am so thankful for the way God works in and through my life every single day.
What else? Today I talked to my dad for about 20 minutes on the phone about football, his grandsons, my pies.. Just stuff that dads and daughters like to discuss. I'm so thankful that my parents are still here even though they've got glory waiting for them. My parents are heroes to me and I love that the Lord is still using them daily for his good purpose. My folks are caring for my Auntie Carol who had a devastating stroke 15 months ago. They love her so they don't think of it as anything except a joy but it's hard work and very stressful at times. Auntie Carol is the dearest person, practically an angel, but, even still, it's a lot for someone nearly 85 like my dad and in her mid-70's like my mom. I am thankful for the example they are to me as they serve the Lord at a time when some would say, "Hey Bob and Pat, you've done enough - take it easy." Nope. They are blessing us with their generosity of heart and spirit. I pray I can be just like them when I grow up.
So thank you, Lord for your presence and for my parents: I am one grateful girl!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

She Wasn't Supposed to be There

It was a simple invitation to speak at a Christmas Tea at a church in Prescott, Arizona. Over the years I have given my Christmas talk dozens of times and I thought it would be fun to go to Prescott. I'd drive to Phoenix, pick up my mom and then the two of us would zip up to the mountains for the weekend. What a delight! Of course, when the invitation to speak came 6 months ago, I didn't know then that it would opening weekend of our fall youth production of Annie Warbucks. In fact, there was a lot I didn't know would be happening in my life and, if I had, I probably would have turned the invitation down. Turns out, that would have been a terrible mistake. You see, I was supposed to be there.
So Friday morning, November 6th, I hopped into my rental car, made the drive to Phoenix and picked up my mom. It was already 4 o'clock AZ time when I got there and we still had the 2 hour drive north up White Spar mountain. I was a bit concerned because I hadn't spent enough time reviewing my talk for the next day. By the time we arrived at our hosts' home, had dinner with them and got settled it was after 9:00 PM and I needed some serious prep time for the 9:30 AM event.
One of the things I really love about my Christmas talk is that its funny and lighthearted. I get to sing and do some acting, share some funny memories. It's a blessing! As I was reading through the end of my talk, thinking about sharing God's plan of salvation, the Lord clearly spoke to me. Yes, he clearly spoke. He told me he wanted me to be more transparent with the women - share what is happening in my own life.
"No", I said (not out loud). "I don't want to - this is a fun, carefree day, I don't want to make it about me or bring them down" Besides, I have this patented talk I have been giving for years with a "tied up neat as a bow" salvation call and prayer at the end.
But I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking about that voice saying, "Be transparent".
You see, three weeks earlier, as I was preparing to head over to my office, my husband Mark, walked in the door. It was 9:00 in the morning.
"What are you doing home?", I asked.
"It's over", he calmly replied.
Clueless, I asked, "What's over?"
"My job. I've been laid off", he said.
After 27 years at the same company, Mark was laid off. And, even though Mark had been warning me of this possibility, I never really believed it would happen. "Devastating" was the first word that popped into my mind.
A week later, my office manager and I were looking at the completely dismal state of our current finances at CAT, my non-profit theater arts education program. This is not a good time to be non-profit, especially a Christian Theater Arts non-profit. Over the past 11 years, though, I have seen again and again the Lord work in marvelous ways to sustain CAT. It has been the greatest blessing to see his hand in everything we do. So it is embarrassing to admit that I was feeling panicked. With only a few days until the next payroll was due and all the expenses surrounding our current production, the word "bleak" leaped into my mind.
Devastating? Bleak? Those are the words I thought of first when faced with these truly difficult situations. And yet, honestly why? I hate it that its so typical of me to think that, although God has helped CAT so many times, in so many amazing ways, I am sure he MUST be thinking, "What? Again? Can't you CAT people take care of yourselves for once? There are LOTS of other things that need my immediate attention".
Then, this past Thursday, November 5th, I got a call from my son, Jordan, who is in the army. It was about 11:45 AM - very unusual for him to call in the middle of the day.
"Mom, there's something going on here at the base, something about a shooter. I'm fine, I'm locked down in my office. Could you check the news and let me know what's going on?" As my son was hunkered down in the Battalion headquarters building, right across the street an Islamic terrorist was gunning down 13 innocent soldiers and wounding 30 others. "Terrifying" seems like a good word.
I didn't want to be transparent about these things, this lack of trust in God. I wanted to be fun and perky and give these women a really enjoyable celebration of the season. But God reminded me something that happened later on Thursday night after the massacre at Ft. Hood.
I was talking to my friend, Bonnie Huckabee. Bonnie's daughter, Georgia, will soon be my new Daughter-in-law when she and Jordan marry this next June. I was sharing with Bonnie the weight of all the things going on in my life and she shared the greatest verse with me - a verse that had brought comfort when her family was facing some particularly tough times.
2 Chronicles 2:12 (not what you were expecting, right?) The situation in this chapter of 2 Chronicles is one where the Israelites, led by King Jehoshaphat, are facing a vast army bent on destroying them. Vs: 12b says: " We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you". I love that - it really hit home with me because that is exactly how I felt.
So here I was, late Friday night, trying to get to sleep but unable to because I knew God wanted me to take the risk of being transparent with the ladies at the event the next day. I got back up, rewrote the entire ending of my talk and then drifted off.
On Saturday my mom and I drove to the church - it was beautiful. The unusual aspect of the event was that I was to speak first then we'd all troop down to the fellowship center for lunch and the rest of the festivities.
I wound my way through my presentation and when I got to the end I took that God-inspired detour. I told the ladies that they might be thinking that since I was the "speaker" it must mean my life was perfect... that I didn't really know how tough things could be.
Here's my reality I said.... then I shared about Mark losing his job, Jordan's brush with terror and the current state of finances for CAT, the fact that I did not know how I was going to make payroll in 8 days and I did not know what to do.. but my eyes were on the Lord (citing 2 Chronicles).
I went on to share how the only gift that really mattered this season was Jesus and his salvation. "Do you really know how much our God loves us?", I asked. Ephesians 1: 7 & 8 tell us that "in Christ Jesus, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God's Grace that he LAVISHED on us with all wisdom and understanding". He has lavished us with his grace. Astounding truth. I may not know what to do but my eyes are on God who has Lavished his grace on me with all wisdom and understanding.
It was so freeing to share it all with these women. I mean, I was preachin' it and loving every minute because I was being obedient to my Lord - even if it was hard to be that transparent.
After I finished I had a wonderful opportunity to give and receive lots of encouragement. I knew I had made the right decision to make the trip - I knew I was supposed to be there.
As we all settled down for lunch, a beautiful young woman slipped into the seat next to me and asked me if she could speak to me privately outside. I had never seen her before and, since I was not wearing my glasses, I could only read her first name on her name tag: Angela.
We stepped outside into the hallway. I think the first thing she said to me was, "I was not supposed to be here."
She went on to explain that she hadn't bought a ticket to the sold-out event but the pastor's wife had called her that morning and said a ticket had been turned back in - would she like to come?
She went on to ask me a couple of questions about CAT and then she said, "I think I can help you".
I promptly burst into tears.
Angela explained that she and her husband had inherited some money. They had purposed to set aside a portion as a tithe and were waiting for the Lord to let them know what to do with the money.
Again Angela said to me, "I was not even supposed to be here but when I heard you share about your non-profit, the Lord spoke to me and said - this is it,this is who I want you to help."
I couldn't believe my ears. I thought I was going to faint. Then Angela asked, "How much money do you need?"
That brought me up straight. What a difficult question. Do I tell her the true amount? Will that make her think - WOW! If they need that much, I don't want to waste my money"? Do I make up a number? Do I tell her a low amount that I am pretty sure she will be able to give? I literally closed my eyes, prayed for God to say the number and the words, "$15,000" came out of my mouth. Angela's eyes flew open very wide and she actually took a step back. I grabbed her arm and with every ounce of true sincerity I had, I told her that ANY amount would be amazing and I would be very, very grateful.
Angela told me she needed to talk to her husband and she would get back to me.
I returned to the luncheon and didn't say a word to anyone. My mind was reeling at first and then, you know what, I just let it go. I relaxed and enjoyed myself.
About the time the dessert was being served, I glanced up and there was Angela, standing in the doorway back out to the hall way. She was gesturing to me to come and join her.
She started out, "Well, I called my husband." Let me say, I didn't realize she meant she was going to call her husband RIGHT THEN. She went on, "He was in complete agreement with me"
Then Angela reached out her hand and laid a check for $15,000 in my hand. $15,000. I didn't even know her last name. She knew virtually nothing about CAT. As I was stammering and blabbering "thank you" in every way I could, she said that sentence again, "I wasn't even supposed to be here."
But she was. She followed God's call to come to a Christmas Tea for no apparent reason.
I thought I shouldn't have come either. But I did. And I followed God's call to be obedient by sharing my own struggles with those women.
I asked Angela's permission to share with the ladies what had just transpired and she reluctantly agreed. As I was called up to close the event in a word of prayer, I asked the women to give me just three more minutes, to (as Paul Harvey would say) tell them the"rest of the story".
There was great cheering and applause as I shared how Angela's gift met all our needs for days ahead. Just enough.
As you read this, I hope you see how clearly impossible this whole story is. That only a Loving God could orchestrate it, knowing the outcome would be wholly glorifying to him. There is NO way this could have happened outside of God.
I really pray that you are touched in some way by this story: If you are in a dark place, trust that God is walking through it with you. If you don't know him, Oh, more than anything I hope this will entice you to seek a personal relationship with him. He wants to LAVISH you with the riches of his Grace with all wisdom and understanding.
I'm so glad I found myself in that place with Angela. We were both supposed to be there.
Post Script: Today, November 11, 2009, my husband Mark began his new full-time job with a company here in Corona. God is faithful beyond all measure!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Waking Up In Heaven

This has been a week of unexpected sorrow and yet of joyful rememberance. I lost two friends this week. Two men who each made an amazing mark on the earth while they were here. Two men who seemingly left us much too soon, for by my measure they were still young.
Frank Hollick was absolutely the life of any party. A big guy with twinkling eyes and a quick, booming laugh, Frank was loud and fun and absolutely everyone's "go to" guy if you needed anything done. I met Frank and Vicki Hollick when my son Jordan was in kindergarten with their oldest son, Greg. Jordan and Greg were friends from kindergarten all the way until they graduated from Santiago High School in 2003. It was Greg's younger brother, Ian, who really connected Frank with our family because Jordan and Ian played baseball together from the time Jordan was in the 8th grade through his high school graduation. Frank coached, along with my husband Mark, Jordan's travel ball team. Man, Frank loved baseball just like he loved everything else in his life. "Moderation" was not in his vocabulary when it came to doing whatever it took to help his kids succeed. And by, "His Kids", I mean anyone who was on the team whether their last name was "Hollick" or not. Frank was responsible for getting the brick team room built at Santiago for the varsity baseball team, he worked the booster events whether Bingo or cooking burgers at a tournament - always the first one there and the last one to leave. He loved to tease me about doing a musical together. Apparently Frank played "Frank Butler" from Annie Get Your Gun when he was in high school and he always told me he was going to audition for a role in one of our community theater productions so we could perform together. His heart was enormous. He loved his wife, Vicki and his incredible children: Greg, Ian, Natalie and Adam. He loved his work buddies and employees, his neighbors, his church community and anyone and everyone who crossed his path, especially in regards to his kids' wide ranging activities: Greg's soccer, Ian's baseball, Adam's football, Natalie's athletics and choirs. I can't figure out when he ever slept. He was like a superhero.
On Thursday, October 1, Frank was up at their cabin in Crestline, doing some renovations. Frank had worked in construction for his whole adult life. I can't begin to guess how many times in his life he had scaled a ladder and stood on a scaffolding. But on this day, something happened and Frank fell. He was airlifted by a Mercy helicopter to the hospital but there was nothing they could do. Frank was gone.

I met John Aeby in 1975 during the short time I lived in Eugene, Oregon. John's wife, Clarice, and I became fast friends and to this day, I count her as one of my dearest, sweetest friends. John was the most gentle, kind man I could ever imagine. Always soft spoken, he seemed at first desperately shy but as I grew to know and love him, I realized he was simply at peace with himself and didn't need to ever be the center of things. A deep thinker, I could ask John some ponderous question and I can still see him cock his head to one side, allow a smile to light up his eyes and then he would give the best possible answer. I took devilish delight in trying to make John "crack up". Really. I viewed it as a personal victory if I could make John laugh long and loudly. I was often successful.
For the past 30 years John has worked at Holt International, the largest adoption agency in the world. According to their website, Holt has helped 40,000 children from all over the world find loving homes. When I talked with Clarice just last night she told me that John's "fingerprints" are still all over the place: He wrote and edited their monthly magazine, took the photographs and the videos that are used in all of their outreach and publicity materials. John traveled all over the world with families to help smooth the path of placement for those families. He loved his work.
John also loved being outside, riding his bicylce. He really loved riding his bicycle. It took him to beautiful, quiet places in Oregon where he could sit in peace, soaking in the creation around him. Even more than his work and riding his bike, John loved Clarice and their three children: Erica, Ryan and Renee. When Ryan and Renee each got married and started their own families, John's heart expanded to his "in law" kids and his four grandkids. But even more than his wife and children, his job and his bike, John Aeby loved his Lord and Savior. Everything John did was motivated by his deep love for Jesus.
On Saturday, September 12 John set off on a nearly 500 mile, week long bike ride. It is an annual event called Cycle Oregon and there were 2,000 riders participating. Clarice told me that John had participated several other times and really loved this adventure. This year's ride started in Medford in southern Oregon and actually travelled down into Northern California and back. On the 6th day of the ride, September 17th, the bikers were given the option to spend the day lounging in Grants Pass in their campground or taking a short 43 mile ride. One of John's riding companions peeked into John's tent at 6:00 AM and saw he was sleeping. At 6:00 PM that night, the companions realized John had never come out of his tent the entire day. It was then they discovered that John had died in his sleep sometime during the night.
Frank was only 52 and John was only 59. On the surface, those two men could not have been any different if they had tried: Frank was loud and boisterous and John was soft spoken and tender. But when you look deeper, you find two men who were very much the same: They both had incredible servant hearts: either of them would do anything to help a friend or help a stranger. They had incredible work ethic: doing everything to the best of their abilities and then a bit more. They were devoted husbands and adored their wives. They were incredible fathers who raised remarkable children. All seven of these children call themsleves blessed to be the child of Frank Hollick and John Aeby. They were loved by their peers.
At Frank's memorial service, Greg, Frank's oldest child, spoke so beautifully and he brought up the question everyone was asking, "Why?" Why would God take Frank now, so suddenly and without any warning? The same could be asked for John. These were 2 REALLY good men in their best years. Psalms 139: 16 tells us that God knew us before we were even formed in our mothers' womb and that, before we were even born, God had ordained the number of days we would live. So while we may never know this side of heaven the answer to the "why", we do know that God knew. God knew it was time for these men to come home. He ordained the time and place. He didn't ask our permission (not one of us would have said, "Ok, God, sure thing"... or at lease that would not have been our initial gut response). But one of the last lessons we can learn from John and from Frank is this: Be ready. We don't know when our numbered days will end. Set your heart right before God. If you have never asked Him into your heart to be your Lord and Savior, don't wait another day, another minute. Star living your life in a way that honors God. Beside the fact that you will experience incredible joy and satisfaction for the rest of your life as His child, you just don't know if you are going to go to bed and wake up in Heaven.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Courage of a Sort

There are a many different examples of courage. Obvious ones like a fireman rushing into a burning building to save the inhabitants or a soldier protecting his comrades by putting himself in harm's way. The word "courage" evokes the picture of the young Chinese man standing in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square. I picture a schoolboy standing up to bullies or a young woman holding true to her beliefs against the onslaught of a cynical college professor. Wearing spandex.
I heard the absolutely best definition of courage by an elder at my church. He said, "Courage is the perfect balance between fear and recklessness". Think about it. We are apt to say that the opposite of fear is courage. But to not have any fear would encourage us to remove all the inhibitors and that could easily lead to recklessness - like those insane "extreme sport" guys who do quadruple flips on a motorcycle going 65 miles an hour and then, after the inevitable crash, looking slightly bemused, they pop their bones back into place and go again. Reck-less (dare I say, idiotic).
No, courage is doing a thing when you are truly afraid along with a measure of common sense thrown in to somehow keep you grounded and convinced that it's going to be all right.
I witnessed courage of a completely different sort this past weekend at our CAT auditions for our fall production of Annie Warbucks. "Auditions": the very word can cause your throat to tighten up, your heart to beat so fast you are certain it's going to push through your chest and bounce away and your knees to wobble to the point that you are certain that your legs will no longer hold you up and you are going to dissolve into a puddle of blubbering plasma. Not a pretty picture. For some people, just the thought of getting up in front a room full of strangers (or even friends) and singing is enough to induce a hurling response that would match the sort incurred when consuming a tuna and mayo sandwich that was left in the sun for 3 hours. (That's not a pretty picture either).
Last Friday night I watched 80 + kids get up in front of an auditioning panel and a roomful of parents and friends to sing their hearts out. They ran the gamut from laughable (with our responses hidden with monumental efforts behind a mask of tight smiles) to astonishment ("How did that incredible voice come out of that tiny body?") to pure mesmerizing joy: WOW!
Watching one child after the next pop out of their chair to stand in front of the panel of artistic team members to say, "My name is Susie Smith, I am 9 years old and I'll be singing, 'Part of Your World" today" or "Hi, my name is Jack Jones and I'm 8, I'm gonna sing 'Zippity Do Dah'" was amazing. Now I have been doing this for over 10 years and I can guarantee that it still holds tremendous entertainment value, palpable suspense and mystery, and pure, unadulterated courage. I love it.
It makes me wonder, though. At what point do kids lose that courage? I hear the parents every time talk about how they could no more get up and sing like their child just did than do brain surgery. Why? Why is it that an 8 year can screw up their courage and sing but that child's parent would rather pull out their fingernails than do the same?
It's one of those mysteries but I suspect that CAT is helping those kids, one audition at a time prepare themselves for adulthood. It's one of the intangibles that come with performance arts education. When these kids grow up and are confronted with a Job interview, a sales presentation, the management conference, they will, I fully believe, jump out of their seats and say, "Hi, my name is Susie Smith and here's what I have to offer your company...."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Last First Day

Earlier this week Isaac, my youngest, went back to school. He is a senior in high school this year. I realized as I dropped him off that this was the last "first day" of school I would experience with my boys. Whoa. My last first day. Now this doesn't seem even remotely possible especially with Isaac. You see, Isaac was born 2 weeks before his next oldest brother, Andrew, started kindergarten. When he was born and I was looking at five more years with another little guy at home before he even started school, I remember asking myself, "When am I ever going to experience going to the bathroom without someone walking in on me again?" But those five years flew by and suddenly the day arrived for Isaac to start kindergarten. It was a day I will never forget but not for the reason you might expect. I took Isaac to his classroom at Lincoln Alternative School just like all three of his older brothers and we walked around until we found his desk: A little gingerbread man name tag was waiting for him along with a new box of crayons, a pair of blunt-tipped scissors and 2 new, unsharpened pencils. Once Isaac was settled into his spot I started looking at the other children and parents in the room. The little girl right next to Isaac had her big sister with her and the sister was tenderly and sweetly consoling the child, encouraging her that everything would be fine and she will truly love kindergarten. I turned to away to glance at the scene around me. The same "happy", "mad" and "sad" teddy bear faces decorating the walls, the animal alphabet pictures all across the top of the chalkboard, the storybook shelf and paint easels all neatly set up just like like it was when Isaac's brothers were kindergarteners there. In the middle of the room there were lots of video cameras recording and cameras snapping. A few children were sort of whimpering, some were actually sobbing and others were already launched into high gear complete with shrieks and giggles. There were lots of even younger children and babies bumping into adult legs and chairs which was then followed by their immediate, inconsolable tears -in other words, it was mass hysteria. About this time I noticed how peculiar it was that so many of the children had been brought to school on this momentous first day by their older siblings: teenage brothers and sisters instead of their parents. I was really struck by this odd turn of events.

Even though this was my fourth child to begin kindergarten, I wouldn't have missed this day for anything.

Slowly the light of reality dawned on my thick skull and I began to feel really weird: like all the air was being sucked out of my lungs. All these youngsters I'd mistaken as older siblings were these kids' parents!!! I was still reeling from the shock of this realization when a girl came over to me (1 swear she could not have been old enough to vote) and introduced herself, "Hi, I'm Tiffany and this is, like, my daughter, Haley. Are you, like, her teacher?"

I pointed to Isaac and said, "Oh no, this is my son and he is starting school today too."

The look on Tiffany's face was priceless. Talk about the turn of the knife. I could just hear her saying to herself, "Poor child, he probably will be visiting his mother in the convalescent home about the time he starts college."

Now here it is, 13 years later and Isaac has reached his last year of high school (Wouldn't Tiffany be surprised that I'm actually still alive?) and I am filled this incredible bittersweetness that mothers have experienced for centuries. That moment of reality that this part of my life is quickly drawing to a close. I still make Isaac's school lunch every day and put it in a brown sack with his name and a smiley face drawn on it. When I was making four lunches every day, and helping with four different kinds of school projects (You know, a diarama, book report, science project and spelling test all due on the same day) I remember thinking, "I am not going to survive this". Not only did I survive, I thrived in it. I loved it.

I know there are still many, many "firsts' waiting for me in my life. I'm just getting started in some regards. Oh, but the "lasts" are hard to take. There will be many of these this year with Isaac. So I'm going to acknowledge them and celebrate them and then move on, looking for all those new "firsts" that I just know God has waiting for me to experience.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Battle of Epic Proportions

I think I am getting soft in my parenting "old age". Ask any of my three older sons how I feel about the beloved teenage prank of "toilet papering" and they will tell you that I hate it. Throughout their high school years I wouldn't give them permission to subject any of our friends with their "gift" of TP'ing. Mostly, I think, because it's destructive and messy and NO fun for the parents on the receiving end of the prank. And let's be honest, it's the parents who, for the most part, end up picking up the mess. The funny thing is that I usually don't get upset when our house gets TP'ed. 1. Because we don't have any big trees so it's pretty easy to clean up. 2. I make the boys do it.
So last night Isaac returned home from a birthday party where apparently 750 kids where in attendance (or 25 - I always get those two numbers mixed up) with two of his friends who were to spend the night. Sleep was certainly the last thing on their minds and they told me they had to defend their honor and our property by a preemptive strike on this house where all the girls were continuing the party by having a sleep over. I have no idea what was wrong with me but I simply said, "yes". The lack of massive interrogation tactics such as: "Where are you going?" "Who will be there?" "How long will you stay?" "What are you plans?" "Do you have a back up plan?" "IS that what you're going to wear?" prompted one of Isaac's friends to label me "the coolest mom ever" (which, honestly, is probably what prompted this blog - I really wanted to write that down...) He explained that his mom would be freaking out (which I don't really believe).
So off they went leaving only my 22 year old son, Andrew, to watch the fort. "Where was I?", you ask. I was going to bed - it was nearly midnight. Again - "cool mom" or "irresponsible mom" - you choose.
At 1:30 AM. I repeat, 1:30 AM I heard the sound of girls screaming - not like, "Help, help" screaming. More like, "This is the funnest thing that I ever done in my life at 1:30 in the morning" screaming. Our little dogs joined in the fray, howling to their hearts content. I am pretty sure that NONE of our neighbors were enjoying this adventure at all. Apparently, as the 20 or so girls (most of them named Haley or some derivative) quietly approached our house to do their worst, Andrew opened up with a Super Soaker and then, realizing the desperate odds, got out the garden hose, prepared to defend his "castle" to the death. Or at least until he scared the girls away. It apparently worked - hence the screaming - and happily the enemy scattered to the four winds.
Meanwhile, aided by the dad from the house all these girls were going to stay, Isaac and his friends were hiding in their house, waiting until they returned to scare them out of their wits.
This is of course, an incredibly condensed version of the all-night long adventure. By the time the boys were finally stretched out asleep on our living room floor at was after 3:00 AM. They didn't stir until about 11:00 the next morning.
Now, you might be thinking, why write about such a silly thing? Boys will be boys and girls will be girls and that is exactly my point! I know what can happen when boys and girls gather late at night. Usually its bad. Or it can be. Drugs and alcohol find their way into kids' hands, things get out of control. But here were something like 25 kids having a marvelous, innocent time. Everyone of these kids were involved in CAT and while, I don't take credit for their behavior, I do think it's telling that they all wanted to be together and the worst they could do was toilet paper someone's house, (Aided and abetted by the host mom). It's glorious to have an organization where the kids can grow up together, trust each other, and develop life-long friendships. I know these kids are going to be talking about this night for months to come. It will be one of the memories that will always come up when the have their reunions and gatherings. Its one of the fantastic "by products" of an organization that seeks to lift kids up. WOW! It's a good thing I said "yes"...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things I never thought I'd say

I was never really sure I wanted to be a mom. I wasn't enamored with children when I was young. I didn't really enjoy babysitting and I could see they were really, really messy. Now trust me, I am really messy myself and so that didn't seem like a good combination. I mean, I don't enjoy picking up after myself, why would I want to do it for a bunch of children too?
Nevertheless, I married Mark and now there are four grown Monroe boys: They survived me and I survived them. Better yet, I think they are the greatest gift to the world that has ever been given (OK, exaggeration alert: Christ is the greatest gift the world has ever known and then there's chocolate and Earl Grey tea but the Monroe boys are pretty darn fantastic). I digress....
When I started Christian Arts and Theatre (CAT) 10 years ago I noticed a trend in the things I would say to my boys. Honestly, I am sure if I could step outside myself and listen to my conversations with them, I would be shocked. For example, I never dreamed I would say to any of my sons, "Did you put on your eyeliner and mascara?" Or, "I think that lip color is too dark, lighten it up a bit." No kidding! This last show, Isaac played the Genie in Aladdin. We had a conversation about him shaving his armpits and arms. Those are not things I would have ever expected to discuss with my boys. But when you put it into the perspective of theater it makes a bit more sense. (Some of you are thinking, "No... I still think it's weird"... but that's ok too).
Two weeks ago, I said something else I never dreamed I would say: "My son is going to Iraq". Yep. That is a whole 'nother kind of sentence I would have truly prefered to stay away from. My army son is being deployed. Now, it would have been easier to talk about his deployment if it had gone as planned but now we find ourselves in this weird middle world of army-ness and it's hard to wrap my mind around this new turn of events: I mean, there are new moments in the middle of the night when the thought tiptoes across my brain that I actually want the army to take him. Without too much detail, I can say that despite being told that he was leaving on Saturday, August 15th, he didn't go and now it's all about waiting. Out of 103 troops waiting to deploy, the army took 100 and my son was one of three who were left behind. He is in a place of complete flux, just waiting.
My faith tells me that the Lord has some important, valuable reason he is still here. I have this incredible sense that God is bending the entire "whatever whatever" battalion to do HIS will, in HIS time, in HIS way. Why? For what purpose? The possibilities are endless.... maybe it's nothing more than to teach my son some additional patience. Maybe it's so he and his new fiance' can have more time together as they plan their future lives. Maybe there's a mission that only my son can accomplish and he can't do it if he's in Iraq. Maybe God wants me to learn to trust Him more and He is using my son as the illustration. Maybe there just wasn't enough room on the plane.
Whatever the purpose, it's hard not to wonder, asking the Lord frequently" What is going on? What are you doing with him." But the Lord just gently reminds me trust: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not on thy own understanding". So there it is. I want God to take my son to Iraq as long as it's what HE wants: That's something I never thought I'd say.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Life of a Lyric

Last night was the dress rehearsal for our Summer Festival show, Fresh Off Broadway: A Musical Revue. It is an amazing compilation of great talent and incredible music. Sitting in the darkened theater (one of the best places to be any time) I was struck again by the power of a well-written lyric set in just the right melody.
"Astonishing" from Little Women is so inspiring, so challenging: That moment when Jo March realizes her destiny is completely up to her and no other: Not a man, not her parents or sisters: It's up to her to grab the reigns of her life and DO SOMETHING!

Another song, "Bui Doi" from Miss Saigon, I had never heard before this show but it is one of the most moving pieces I have ever witnessed. In the musical, this song is sung by a Viet Nam Vet who is coming face to face with the responsibility of all the children fathered by soldiers who will be left behind and forgotten. "They're called Bui Doi, 'the dust of life', concieved in Hell and born in strife. They are the living reminders of all the good we've failed to do. Let's not forget, must not forget, they are all our children too." It pierces the heart.

The humor in a number from Spam-A-Lot: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" will have everyone busting up with laughter. What could be better than to have the comedic singing, dancing and acting of a large group of talented men? Everyone needs a great belly laugh right now.

It's the power of musical theater - if you have never experienced it you have missed out on an inexplicable joy. So I exhort thee - get thee to a... theater - not a movie theater with trailers, crackling candy wrappers, chatty audiences and explosions of unparalled noise. Come to a live theater performance where people of all ages, shapes and sizes have given their blood, sweat and tears to tell a story through lyric and melody, a well-written line and movement, with passion and commitment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who told you you could Blog?

I have a problem with follow-through that I tie directly to a lack of discipline. I know I should be blogging even if no one else reads this but me. In the past two days I have read about two bloggers who did amazing things and I feel as if God has slapped me upside the head and said, "See! I want you to blog". Is it hard to imagine God slapping anyone upside the head? I think he did it with Noah. How else could he have gotten him to build that huge boat. Problem for me is, Noah was the only one God asked to build that boat. There's a ka-jillion bloggers now - all writing the "most important" stuff. I don't want to be like everyone else. I want to be special and different.
Today, I sneaked away from my office and went to see the new Meryl Streep/Amy Adams movie: Julia & Julie (or is it, "Julie & Julia"). Anyway, it's great. Really great. I don't even know where to start with all the things I loved about this movie: Meryl Streep is INCREDIBLE and Stanley Tucci as her husband, Paul, is... perfect. The whole notion that Julia didn't know to do with herself, that she was grieving for the children she never got to have, that she was simply at loose ends and decided to go to Cooking School was such a revelation. Coupled with that the dual life of the adorable Amy Adams as Julie Powell: In a job she hated looking for a creative outlet and finds in cooking..and she blogs about working her way through Julia's cookbook. I loved it! The truth of it, the every day-ness of it. I am not that enamored with food (though I was starving by the time the film was over and rushed home to an apple and chips - Julia would have been aghast). But Julie Powell's blog had a purpose and made her different and special.
My "Stuff" is not important. I think I just need to write because God plants ideas in my head and they continually slip through the cracks. Or, I have insight into an experience that needs to be written down. I think that is the thing about blogging. Each blog doesn't have to be earth moving because tomorrow (or, more likely for me, Miss Lack of Discipline, the next day or so) I will write something new. Making it public keeps me accountable.
So I will be sharing about my life, what it's like to raise four boys, all about the joys of youth and community theater (Oh the stories I can tell), growing up (or not). Mostly things that may only be interesting to me and God (and God will be bored from time to time, I am afraid).
If you join in or tag along or stumble across my blog: Welcome.
There's much ahead for me:
My son, Jordan, leaves in 3 days for Iraq, my son, Isaac, is entering his last year of high school, my son, Andrew is starting his career after college as an accountant (I know you'll love hearing all about that), my son, Daniel and his wife, Erin, are getting used to me as a mother-in-law.
I'm writing and rewriting a play, producing and directing all the time. It's just my world.
Here I go.....