Sunday, December 19, 2010

Band of Brothers

I'm so happy right now. In the very next room (in my very small house) there are boys laughing and screaming and even wrestling a bit. I kind of feel like I've stepped back in time. It could be 10 years ago except the voices are deeper. The conversations - all wrapped around some ridiculous video game is so nonsensical its not worth repeating (or even deciphering). Probably if this were 10 years ago, I would be telling them to settle down, stop yelling so loud. In fact, at 10 minutes to 10 pm, I would have definitely been telling them that it's waaaaayyy past their bed time, so turn off the game and get into their jammies and GO TO BED.
Instead, I am reveling in the hilarious joy of their camaraderie. I am especially enjoying the fact that its Isaac who is teaching his older brothers how to play. The level playing field has arrived for Isaac: He is equal to his brothers for one of the first times in his life. So cool. The soldier, the auditor and the college student have warped BACKWARD into a band of boisterous brothers who could easily all be 13 instead of 18, 23 and 25.
There is something so spectacular for a parent to see her children growing into adulthood and remaining friends. They are related. They are brothers. But that does not guarantee that they will actually be friends. Daniel, the oldest, doesn't happen to be here right now but he would fit right in and he will be as much a part of the week long holiday festivities as the days unfold. Of all the Christmas gifts I could ever wish for, this is the best. I just want to wrap it all up in a big shiny red bow and keep it forever.
well, I've got to go - the boys want me to watch a movie with them! Its 10:30 and they're starting a movie and they want me to watch it with them. It doesn't get any better than this!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Little Slice of Heaven

It's the day before Thanksgiving and everyone in my immediate family can tell you exactly what I did today. Jordan is in Texas with Georgia's family, Daniel is in Northern California with Erin's family, Andrew worked and Isaac was kind of in and out before he drove to visit a college friend but every single one of my boys, if queried, could tell you what their mom was doing today.
If its the day before Thanksgiving, they know that I spent the entire day baking pies.
It's become a nearly 30 year tradition - although my love for baking pies goes back much further than that - but providing all the pies for the Monroe Thanksgiving dinner has become a tradition that is apparently set in stone.
I stay in my slippers, rarely put on make-up and cover my jeans and sweatshirt with an apron that will be completely covered in flour, custardy goop, cinnamon and nutmeg and a multitude of other spills by day's end. It is not pretty.
I make sure I have all my ingredients, my pastry sheet, my rolling pin, a hot cup of tea and THEN to complete my pre-baking prep, I pop in the first movie of the day. This is essential to the success of pie day. It is the first day I allow myself to watch my Christmas Themed movies and I have complete control over the TV the entire day. It is part of the recipe for me, as important as the Granny Smith apples or the vanilla extract. Yes, I know it's Thanksgiving and I am talking about Christmas movies but who said a time-honored tradition has to necessarily make any sense? Its a tradition, just go with it.
Today, as I started with pie #1 (Pecan) I watched Little Women. Though not "technically" a Christmas movie, it does begin with Christmas and has another wonderful Christmas scene when Beth is surprised by the new piano given to her by Laurie's Grandfather. I love that movie and I cry every time. Every single time. I know that Beth is going to die and I still cry when their Housekeeper, Hannah, is strewing rose petals on Beth's dolls. I had Pie #2 (Pumpkin) in the oven by the time Little Women ended and I had popped in The Family Stone. This is such a great movie with a wonderful ensemble cast: Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes, just to name a few. Its a movie that makes me laugh out loud and cry. While the family's make-up is very different than my own, there is still something so funny and familiar and awkward about families trying to stretch themselves to include the new loves of their adult children: to make them feel welcomed and an instant part of the fabric of a family that has been long together.
Next came Pie # 3 (Apple). I was peeling apples as I watched Sleepless in Seattle. Is there a better romantic comedy? The early 90's hairdos are classic, Rosie O'donnell is still an amusing "side kick" and Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are at their best. Tom and Meg were just getting on the elevator on the Empire State Building when I finished the pie crusts for the custard pies.
Today's finale film was one of my all-time favorites: White Christmas with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen and Bing Crosby. I can sing every song and say nearly all the dialogue but I still love it. I made pie #4 (Chocolate Cream), pie #5 (Banana Cream) and pie #6 (Coconut Cream) and had them all in the refrigerator by the time those four were singing the signature song at the end of the movie (decked out in their red velvet costumes, trimmed in white fur).
So now "Tomorrow" is here. It's 1:15 AM on Thanksgiving morning and the pies are ready for transport to the Monroe family gathering. It will be great to see all the family but, (and I feel kind of sheepish admitting all of this, really because everyone thinks I work so hard), to be honest, Thanksgiving Day has just become the excuse to spend the entire day before baking and watching movies. Its a labor of love I hope I never have to relinquish. Now, where is my copy of Elf????

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Scared.... And Not Afraid To Say It

It's the week before Halloween and everywhere I look there are scary things: Ghosts, skeletons, witches, gravestones, spiders and their webs. Can I just say right off the top, I don't really care for Halloween. There are two reasons really. The first is that, being in the theater business, I'm dealing with costumes and dressing in character all year round. There's nothing really enticing for me to get into some kind of character or costume. In fact, I find it kind of weird that adults get so excited about it. When I answer the door for the Trick-or-Treaters, its just as likely that the parents are as dressed up as the kids. "Whoo-hoo" for them (Darth Vader and Marge from the Simpsons) but there's always that awkward moment of whether I should throw a Snickers or Skittles into their bag too (and why do they have a bag anyway?)
The second (and main) reason I'm not a big fan of Halloween is because I don't like to be scared. My boys will attest to the fact. I DO NOT LIKE TO BE SCARED. I avoid scary movies. I hate it when someone sneaks up on me. I don't like being in scary situations. On Friday, I am putting myself in a very scary situation by going to a play that I already know is, as my son Daniel put it, the "scariest play I've ever seen." I'm already really scared and it's still 3 days away. The play, titled, Woman in Black, is a ghost story that requires only 2 actors assuming various roles. I asked Daniel to send me the synopsis of the play, thinking if I read the plot, I would know what to expect. Wrong. I read the synopsis and now I am more scared than I was before. Thankfully, Isaac and Andrew (who, oddly, LIKE scary things) are coming with me. Their hands will be crushed by the sheer transference of fear from my hands to theirs by the end, I am sure. (You may be wondering why I am going at all, if I am so afraid. Its a long story but the bottom line is, its something I want to do to support someone who showed me a great kindness recently).
The funny thing is that the traditional form of scary fears I am referring to doesn't hold a candle to the fear I felt today. I got myself so worked up with fear, I actually threw up. No kidding.
Why? What was I so afraid of? Well, I had to make a few cold calls. That's all. My non-profit, Christian Arts and Theatre, is in the first few days of our 50 Day Year-End Challenge to raise $50,000. The Lord laid it on my heart to launch this challenge and so we did 3 days ago. I'm praying every day that the Lord is going to find a way but the truth is that clearly it is for me to do the work. Man, it's so easy on paper or when I am talking to my staff or board members. It's even easy to write about it (See, I am NOT scared now!) But this afternoon, I needed to call a businessman I had met last week to see if he had made a decision whether or not he wanted to help with the challenge and I was paralyzed. I was so afraid. I called my friend, Mary, who had introduced me to this very nice man and told her I was afraid. "What's the worst that can happen", she asked? Of course, I knew the answer (all together now),"He could say 'no'". That's right. The worst thing that could happen is that he could say no. What is so scary about that? Well, it will mean that I have failed. That some how I didn't use the right words to convince him of the value of helping CAT or the very real need we have or how sure I am that God wants him to give us a donation. I just didn't want to blow it. And I didn't want him to say no. And he was just the first call I wanted to (theoretically) make.
1 Chronicles 28:20 says: "Then David continues, 'Be strong and courageous and DO THE WORK (emphasis mine) Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord God, my God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you." BOY! Now that's a fear-slayer of a verse, isn't it? Doesn't that make you feel confident? I have been given this task - this task of the 50 Day Challenge and I need to face my fear, pick up that phone and talk to everyone about it and leave the results to the Lord. I cannot control what Mr. Very Nice Businessman decides to do. I can only DO THE WORK.
[By the way, I did make the call and was sent through to his voice mail (maybe he was avoiding me, maybe he really was in a meeting....) and now I will need to call again tomorrow. So I get the chance to face my fear ALL over again. ]
What scares you besides the ghouls and goblins waiting behind every bush and tree this time of year? Hey, God's promise is for us all - he's with us and he won't fail or forsake us. So come on, join me in buckin' up on courage. I'll make more cold calls and you do your scary thing. I'll work on raising that $50,000 and you tell me what God helped you do: We've got 50 days to accomplish something big. I can't wait to hear your story and I can't wait to tell you the end of mine!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Time for Tea

Anyone who knows me even the slightest bit knows I love tea. From my youngest days my mom would fix me a hot cup of Lipton tea for breakfast or dinner. No sugar. No lemon. No milk. Tea the way God intended: Straight, strong and really hot. Of course, come summer, I switch to iced tea. "". My children order for me at restaurants. My staff, if they are picking up a drink for lunch for me, know. Clear, pure and refreshing.
Because I love tea, some people decided I should collect tea pots. I started receiving tea pots for birthdays, Christmas or just because. I never intentionally began collecting them and now I have dozens. Literally. Every shape, color, size and for any occasion. The very last gift my Grandma Mickey (my mom's mom) gave me before she headed off to heaven was a teapot shaped like a Christmas tree. It's one of my favorites. I also have a porcelain teapot and cups favored by Catherine the Great from the Lomonosov China Company in St Petersburg, Russia. My mother-in-law, Wanda, carried the set wrapped in the Russian newspaper, Pravda in a wobbly cardboard box tied with twine on her lap the entire flight from Moscow to Los Angeles without so much as a chip. An incredible feat to be sure! That teapot is also one of my favorites.
So where am I going with this teapot story? Well here it is. Talking about tea and a collection of teapots is safe. Friendly. Completely lacking in controversy. Now, what if I change directions just a tiny bit and talk about a tea party? Well, tea parties are for the most part non-controversial too. Lovely, dress up events that usually involve over-sized hats, cucumber sandwiches and scones served with devonshire cream and lemon curd. A yummy yawner of a blog.
No, I want to talk about THE Tea party movement and the incredible turn of events our country seems to be experiencing this fall. If any of my sons were reading over my shoulder right now, I know that a least one or two would be saying, "No, Mom, don't go there". So certain are they that I am going to offend someone with my wild conservative rantings. Yes, I rant at home and why not? You know what I think? (I get to say, its my blog). I think that for too long people (Women) who think like I do have behaved far too nicely. Nice girls keep their opinions to themselves, after all. When I was a young girl watching the students protests over the Viet Nam war or the bra-burning feminist movement, I was horrified. That's not how nice, Christian people behaved. I (literally) sang Kum Ba Yah around a church camp fire, volunteered at the Convalescent Hospital, and worked on the yearbook at school. My parents and their friends were all Republicans as far as I knew but they weren't passionate about politics. I don't think I heard my parents ever have a political discussion. They just worked hard, took nothing or expected anything from the government. The less intrusive, the better. I grew up with lots opinions about all sorts of things but never politics. Neither did any of my church friends. When I was a young wife and mother I was a speaker for an organization that held monthly luncheons all over the country. The clubs were cookie cutter alike and at each club luncheon they would remind the ladies that they only had three forbidden topics: We couldn't tell our real age, weight or talk politics. There it was again: Nice Christian women did NOT discuss or (gasp) offer an opinion about the political landscape.
It's one of the reasons (and a pretty valid one) that our country has slid down the slippery slope toward the massive mess we are in right now. We've gone to "heck" (children are reading this) because we've been too stinking nice.
Saturday Night Live has had a long run of making fun of conservatives like me. I have laughed while cringing. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin has gotten loud laughs from me. A writer I really love, Anne Lamott, wrote an editorial column in the L.A. Times (9/29/10), sarcastically ridiculing people I admire, musing that should conservatives win the majority in November, America will become an unrecognizable place of hatred, injustice, unbreathable air and a whole host of other terrors. I disagreed with her assessment 100% but does that mean I like her any less as a person, as a writer? Of course not.
But am I, a nice conservative Christian girl, allowed to express myself, to counter liberals like Anne with my own passionately-held opinions? Am I allowed, as the leader of a non-profit organization dependent on the kindness of grants and gifts from patrons and donors, to risk stepping up and out, lifting my voice for the things about this country that I hold dear? You bet! I am emboldened these days by the rise of a whole contingent of strong conservative women. Smart, secure, dedicated and passionate about our country and pressing the issues that I think are vital - a government that knows its place, protects the rights of ALL its citizens (including those yet to be born), and operates within its means, just for starters. There is a whole slate of them: Bachman, Palin, Fiorina, Angle, Malkin, Cupp, and on the list goes. What a turn around from my depths of despair just 10 months ago with the passage of the greatest boondoggle in America history, Obamacare.
A fire has been lit, we nice conservative girls have taken off our aprons, and stepped into the political arena. Things are going to get interesting!

Now, I'm certain that some reading this could not disagree with me more. That's ok. I'm all for the conversation. I love you as much as ever. Let's talk about it over a nice, hot cup of tea!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nothing Ordinary About Them

I've had the privilege of sitting across a table with some amazing women this week. None of them have had best sellers published or starred in a movie or television show. Outside of their own sphere of friends and family, you wouldn't even know any of these women but that doesn't change the fact that each of them is amazing.
First, on Monday morning I had breakfast with my friend, Denise. We get together infrequently to drink tea and share what's happening in our lives. Denise and I haven't known each other a real long time, but we share some things in common that draw us together and we are a good "listening ear" for one another.
The main thing that we share together is our faith walk. Denise loves the Lord with all her heart and has such a tender, sweet relationship with him that I love to be with her.
Over our meal of omelets and muffins, she told me a story that I simply have to share (with her permission) because it was so encouraging to me.
First let me say that when I look in the mirror, I see an ordinary woman. I mean it. Sometimes I look better than ordinary because I've won the "what do I do with my hair?" contest or I've dressed in a way that hides some of my flaws (a small miracle, to be honest) but by most accounts, I am ordinary at best. I would describe my friend, Denise, the same way. Neither of us has a face that would launch a 1,000 ships, if you know what I mean. We're just garden variety, "somewhere in the middle" age women.
BUT! Denise is a superwoman of faith. Humble. Loyal. Honest to a fault. And she has an incredible prayer life. Her life mirrors many of the people I know. She came to Christ as an adult. Her husband is still an unbeliever but she continues to pray for him daily. She has two teenage sons and a full-time job.
Denise works for a huge, world-wide, well recognized company that is in the business of making people happy. As is often the case, when you pull the curtain back from a place like that, you find that its a bit of smoke and mirrors. Denise works behind the scenes in an accounting capacity. She has worked for this company for nearly 25 years.
The short story is that one day, in the middle of her daily routine, she was told by her supervisor to come with him. She soon found herself in a very small room with an "interrogator" and three other people of in supervisory position. Denise realized almost immediately that she was being accused of stealing from her company. For four hours she was drilled, questioned and put on the defensive. Talk about terrifying!
She calmly walked through all her processes and procedures, showing the investigator exactly how she does her job. But as she was telling me this story, I kept thinking how scary it would be. She had no warning and she no chance to prepare herself for the meeting. I asked Denise if she had an advocate in that room with her during all the questioning. She smiled and said, "Only Jesus. He was in that room with me the whole time. He was standing behind my chair with his arms wrapped around me." Wow! That's a beautiful picture. When I asked her what her demeanor was, was she crying, etc. She said she was very matter of fact, she said, until one point in the conversation when she felt like the investigator was trying to get her to confess to something she would never do (embezzle funds). Denise said, "It was the only time I raised my voice. I shook my finger at the guy and said. 'I am a Christian. Jesus is my Lord and Savior and I would never do something like this.'"
After she was finished with the investigation, everyone left the little room except Denise. She was just sitting there all alone. She looked around the room, knowing she was probably still being taped or videoed, and she prayed aloud, "Jesus, please help me. I know I am innocent and you know I am innocent. Help me." What a great response. She placed all of her hope and trust in her Lord and Savior, knowing he was in the room with her. I would hope that I would have handled myself as well as Denise. Of course, she was completely cleared of ANY wrong doing and she is back at work, a bit wiser and more wary but more than anything grateful that God protected her, her integrity and her job. I thought as I drove away from our time together - that girl is something special. She's a warrior!
Then, on Tuesday night, I was invited to a home by my friend Fayanna along with 3 other women for dinner and prayer. All five of us have kids attending California Baptist University and all but Fayanna have a new freshmen there. She invited us to gather, get acquainted and then pray over our kiddos.
We all had a chance to tell our story around the dinner table. I was so impressed with these girls. All of us were mothers who had given their child over to God. All of us thrilled to have our "babies" at this great Christian school and thrilled that, from all initial indications, our kids were thriving at the school in just a short period of time.
Daphne, Cathy, Denise, Fayanna and Cyndi. Five women with very different backgrounds and stories, but linked by that immeasurably wonderful reality that we were all sisters in Christ. We talked and laughed, ate and talked some more. I am pretty sure Fayanna's sister Cora, who lived in the home where we were meeting wanted us to go home sometime before daybreak but it was just so lovely to be together: expressing fears and concerns, telling stories of God's incredible faithfulness and providence, discovering "small world" connections that drew us closer together. Finally, the joy of sitting around a quiet living room praying purposefully for our children as they begin their college adventure: What joy!
All these women, by the world's standard would be considered ordinary. Not worth a second glance and yet, to hear their stories and to sit at the very throne of God with them in prayer reminded me again that it doesn't matter at all what the world thinks of us. In God's eyes we are all anything but ordinary.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oh Boy! Here Come the Brides

I have happily been the mother of boys my whole "mother" career. I wouldn't have minded having girls back when I started this job but God knew what he was doing when he kept me clear of girls: Everyone who knows me, knows that I can't do hair.
So the boys came, one after the other. We had bunkbeds and baseballs, Tonka trucks and Ninja Turtles, Legos and Light Sabers. I loved my Super Hero boys with their towel capes and plastic Golf club "rifles". Rough and tumble was the norm, along with skinned knees and black eyes with a few stitches thrown in for good measure.
Every new era brought new joy for me. The "Toddler Years" were hilarious: Daniel was the certified leader of the pack: Jordan did what Daniel said and Andrew tried his best to imitate both of them. I really wished I had written down more of the things they said or did ("Oh, I'll never forget that", I would tell myself. Humpf. I can't remember breakfast) Elementary school days were precious. I remember thinking that 4, 6 and 8 were the perfect ages - they were a bit more self-reliant but still did everything I told them as "the Mommy". When Isaac arrived, all older three boys were thrilled - helpful to a fault.
The teen years were even better. All of the boys are funny - seeing them heading into adulthood with these great funny personalities and servant hearts, the love they all have for each other, their commitment to Christ and Family. I just thought it couldn't get any better!
Well, here come the Brides!
First, it was precious Erin. Poor thing - to be the first daughter in this family. Finding a place on the couch was a death defying feat: the boys were always diving on top of each other and wrestling away. Somehow she remained intact and, despite all the lurking physical danger of four Monroe brothers, she married Daniel in late December 2007. That is one brave girl!
She held her own for 2 years then Jordan met Georgia Anne Huckabee of San Angelo, Tx. Almost a whirlwind romance, darling Georgia Anne swept Jordan's heart into hers and they had a story-book perfect wedding just 2 months ago. Suddenly I've got two girls, girls that I love and am thrilled to call my daughters.
Now, this past weekend, with barely enough time to catch our breath from the June wedding, Andrew finally proposed to the "just this side of perfect", Ashley Geiger.
Ashley and Andrew met on their very first day of classes at Azusa Pacific University in September, 2005. They were in a racquet ball class that took place off campus. The teacher asked students who had cars to raise their hands (Ashley had a car). He then asked the students who needed rides to raise their hands. Andrew raised his hand. The teacher looked at him and said - "You, ride with her" and the rest is history. Almost five years to the day from that first uneventful meeting, Andrew proposed to Ashley at a beautiful park in San Diego county and we are all still reveling in the joy of it. A spring wedding in is the works.
Three girls. Three beautiful, special girls who are very different and yet have much in common. They all love Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They all come from great families with wonderful moms and dads who have welcomed my sons into their lives with open arms. They are all adventurous in their own ways: Creative, bold and full of curiosity for what life has to offer. They are all funny and smart and pretty.
Hands down, though, the best thing about each of these girls is that they each love their Monroe boy completely with true love AND they love their Monroe boy's brothers. That's a boatload of love.
I am blessed - which is a totally wimped out description of what I really feel. Fortunate beyond words. Richer in love than Solomon was in gold.
Now, Isaac has some living to do. Starting college is a whole 'nother blog and I hope that the girl God has specially picked out for him is far off in the hazy future. Still, it's not so bad to be loved by three big brothers and their adoring wives, all of whom think Isaac is the best brother ever.

It's been astonishing to watch them all grow up so fast. I love seeing their faces light up with a look that is now reserved for their beloved. Andrew was positively giddy when Ashley said "yes". It's the face of pure joy - a look I treasured when the boys were 3 (Look, Honey, I brought you a Popsicle) or 7 (Look, Honey, here's a new action figure for you) or 16 (Yes, you can use the car to drive to the beach) and now grown men in their 20's (She really loves you and wants to be your wife!). Oh Boy! I'm going to love this new era!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I've Picked Up My Stick

It's been a long time since I've written a blog. In the past 6 months I've been through a dark time and I've been through a time of extreme joy in my family. The dark time, though, was paralyzing and I found I just couldn't write anything personal. I still am not ready to write about it except to say it involved a man who I called a friend and a mentor to my sons who betrayed us so deeply that the wound will be long in healing. He is currently serving a sentence of 150 years (yes, 150) for child molestation.
I just have not been able to write here. I set aside my blog and my book. I wrote other stuff - camp skits, the adaptation of the Summer Theater Festival show script, The Emperor's New Clothes, the narration for our summer Ambassador's show, "Let Freedom Ring". I love to write but all those things were not personal. That writing was fun and silly and creative.
And even though I have had some wondrous, miraculous things happen that deserve to be shared, I haven't been able to write. Even though I have walked through amazing family events like the high school graduation of my son, Isaac and the storybook-perfect wedding of my son, Jordan, to the beautiful, Georgia Anne Huckabee, I just have not been able to sit down and put my feelings, emotions and thoughts into words.
I told a friend of mine that I feel like I've had this soggy wet, wool blanket laying on top of me: Heavy, cumbersome. Hard to breathe, hard to move, hard to think clearly. Now, one of the last things I want to have happen is for you to feel sorry for me or, conversely chide me for letting life get to me. It is what it is. But over the past 24 hours two things happened, two things that were seemingly unconnected.
First, last night I was checking my email account for mail that is exclusively for CAT business (Christian Arts and Theatre) and there was an email from someone I didn't know. He introduced himself and told me about a blog/review for a show we did to close out our annual summer festival. He thought I should see it so I wouldn't be blindsided if one of the cast members or patrons should stumble on to it. It was a really nice thing for this stranger to do for me. I thought, first, it was odd for a review to posted AFTER the show was closed. What would be the point of that? The review is terrible, written by someone I do not know. The guy hated our show but it went way beyond that. Before he even got to the review he mocked us for being Christian Arts and Theatre yet doing "Christ-less" shows. He accused us of hiding the fact that we were not politically correct as a Christian arts organization by using our "cute acronym, CAT" and criticized our youth education program about which he clearly knew nothing. The review is crushing and, strangely, very personal. He stepped way beyond the boundaries of a normal theater review to personally attack both me and other cast members. Weird. It felt like a personal vendetta. As I said, I don't know this person and don't understand his agenda. I have a saying at CAT that every child and every parent knows: "There's always another show." If you don't get cast in this show, there's always another show around the bend. If you don't do your best in this show, there's always another chance to do better. My point is that we don't really linger long after a show closes - we move on and get ready for the next one. The friendships and memories remain, of course, but ... there's always another show. I share this because all of us in the reviewed show have already moved on. It didn't really matter as far as this reviewer was concerned. His review was published after the fact (thankfully) but that just makes it seem petty and mean spirited. Still, it really hurt my feelings. All the standing ovations, applause, well wishes, notes of congratulations dimmed behind the crushing words of this man. Quoting from the movie, Pretty Woman, "It's easier to believe the bad stuff". I had a hard time sleeping last night: Second guessing, trying to wrap my mind around what he said about our director and our cast - and his special attention to me and another relative of mine in the cast. Boy, he really had his venomous fangs out.
Then the second thing happened this morning. Today, August 28, 2010, was the Restore Honor event in Washington DC. It was conceived and hosted by talk show host, Glenn Beck and held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Well over half a million people (maybe as many as a million) lined the steps, stretched down both sides of the Reflecting pool and stretched beyond the Washington Memorial. Not a political sign in sight. The whole event passed without a single mention of political agenda. The WHOLE 3 1/2 hours (which I watched, riveted, on C-SPAN) was dedicated to honoring our country, the military men and women who serve and have served and the God who has guided us through the past 240 years. The fact that our country is at a crossroads was reiterated over and over: A moral crossroads. The name of Jesus was spoken over and over: A call to humble ourselves and return to our faith. A call to lift our nation up to God, asking for forgiveness and seeking to renew the precepts that our country was founded upon. Men and women of all colors, faith and economic situations were there but it was definitely a call to Christ. It was amazing to hear numerous calls for to us to come to Christ, seek his salvation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Awards of Merit were given for Faith (a black pastor form Houston Texas), Hope (baseball player, Albert Pujols) and Charity (Jon Huntsman, a billionaire from Utah who has given multi-millions to charity). Stories of incredible military heroism were shared (with the opportunity to thank the ones who's stories were told as they came forward on the stage) Praises were sung. Prayers were raised. And the call was given to DO SOMETHING. Be the one who picks up the proverbial "stick" (referencing Moses) and do something. It was incredibly energizing and thrilling.
As I was sitting on my couch, cat stretched across my lap, tea cup in my hand, I felt this stirring in my heart that I haven't had for months. WRITE THIS DOWN.
And a connection was made. This man who wrote the hateful review doesn't know me or my heart or my motivation for doing what we do at CAT. But, it would be so easy to let him derail us, let his words and opinion suck the joy, the purpose of CAT out of me. Its not easy to keep this organization going. It's never been easy. The connection came, though, in watching this rally today. In my own very tiny, insignificant way, I have picked up the stick! I am doing something that has value and worth for our community and so have all the CAT staff, CAT board members, parent volunteers and donors.
If I do what I do for personal gain or recognition, I would be devastated by the review/blog. I would feel like a total failure and I, likely, would never ever want to step on to the stage again or think I could direct. That's not why I do it. It's a calling I can not deny. Its a gift from the Lord that wholly belongs to him and is in existence for his glory. I'm such a human. I make mistakes (daily), make wrong choices, get discouraged, stumble. I look up to the heavens and ask (out loud, a lot),"When is this going to get easier? When will CAT have enough money to meet all our obligations, when are we going to have enough students or patrons? When....? why...? how...? what....?"
You know what I learned today? God said to me, "All I ask you to do, Cyndi, is just pick the stick and I will do the rest. Trust me."
Easier said than done. But it feels so good to feel so good. The ice around my frozen heart is melting. The words are flowing again. There's a passel of backed-up blogs in my head still but this will suffice for now.
Thanks for your patience. Please pray for me. I mean it. Please pray for me and this organization every day. And if you are so inclined, there's stack of sticks just waiting to be picked up.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Street Light Kid

This is one of those, "When I was a kid..." blogs. I've been thinking about this a lot. In fact, I had a serious conversation with my 17 year old, Isaac, about this just the other day. The conversation came after an extended afternoon of me chatting with him while he had his head down and his thumbs flying over his phone. It began when I picked him up from school. He was texting before his butt was in the seat. He was still texting when we got home. He wasn't listening to me, he wasn't engaging in our conversation at all except to look up on occasion to answer a direct question. This isn't even remotely unusual and it certainly isn't limited to teens: 20 somethings up to grey haired adults have been lured and captured by an addiction with Instant Communication. Still it's the teens that I am concerned about: kids are texting their lives away, all the while, losing, I think, the art of conversation, leisure and camaraderie.
I have been writing a lot about my childhood lately (you know, for that unpublished book that's lurking in my head). I've been thinking about things I haven't thought about in a long time and when I lay my childhood up against what kids can accomplish today it's pretty amazing. I feel like the Ancient of Days. Yesterday my friend, Catherine, told me her daughter, Jenny, will be spending her summer as the videographer at a camp that teaches kids to swim with the dolphins somewhere in the Florida Keys. My friend, Aran, was also there. Her daughter, Jasmine, is currently in Barcelona. She traveled there from England where she is living and going to school for a year. I feel special when I make it to Bar-Stow. The opportunities our kids enjoy, the access to the world through the internet, the ease of travel, the vast sums of information our kids are confronted with on a daily basis. Incredible.
So here it comes... wait for it... "When I was a kid... my brother, Andy, and I would come home from school. I would change into play clothes and then we would go outside to play. We had a secret clubhouse behind our garage and we would collect things in jars to display like a huge bumble bee or a lizard. There were what felt like a zillion kids on our street and we would play every kind of game you could imagine: Kick the Can, Freeze tag, Hide and Seek. We'd have bike races and we'd have battles of various kinds. The rule, of course, was that the minute the first street light came on, Andy and I had to go in. We were the only ones who had to go in when the FIRST light came on which was completely demoralizing to us. The other kids got to stay out until ALL the lights came on. Some got to stay out as late as they wanted.
Lots of times we'd go to the local park which was about a mile away. We'd walk or ride bikes. If we wanted other kids to go, we'd go to their house, knock on their door and invite them along. Or we'd just wheel our bikes in front of their house and yell. "Hey, Billy! We're going to Neff Park. Grab your bike and come on." Billy or Jimmy or Tommy or Susan or Linda or Debbie (but NEVER an Ashley or Haley or Brittany or Michael or Josh) would come dashing out, yell back at his mom, "I'm goin' to the park" and off we'd go for 3 or 4 hours. Of course, Andy and I would need to gauge how late we could stay at the park and still be home by the time for first street light came on. There'd be heck to pay if we were late.
In the summertime, things were much freer, especially when we would go visit my grandparents in Sedona, Arizona. Before any harmonicas converged, or aliens landed or weirdos arrived in Sedona, it was a sweet, beautiful artist colony/retirement village of about 500 people. My grandparents retired to Sedona from Flagstaff in 1963. They had a mobile home in a neighborhood that backed up to the open red rock country. It was heaven on earth. After breakfast, Andy and I would say goodbye and head out to the rocks. My grandpa had only two rules. If it's cloudy, stay out of the natural washes in case of a flash flood and always look before you put your hand down in case of rattle snakes. That was it. Andy and I would scamper out in shorts and tennies. No sunscreen or hats, no forms of communication, no first aid kit, no bottled water. Just the two of us and the most gorgeous country in the world. We'd go hiking and climbing and exploring for hours on end. We'd climb so high up the rocks that the community (and my grandparents' home) looked like tiny miniatures below us.
But in today's world, if we forget our cell phone, even just to run to the market for some milk, we feel lost or naked. We text and Twitter all the time. But converse? Face to face? Or better, yet, leave the phones behind for some freedom from instant communication. That's become a rarity.
I think it's all good. I love that I can play (and beat) my brother in Scrabble in a constant on- going tournament even though he is in Reno and I am in Corona. I love that this morning my son, Jordan, sent me a picture text of the falling snow at Fort Hood where he is currently stationed. I love that long, long lost friends of mine have reconnected with me on Facebook.
But this is a cautionary tale: Good, meaningful conversation is at risk, I think, of becoming a lost art. Speaking or writing in full sentences is valuable and worthwhile. Looking someone in the eye while you converse instead of the constant "text glance" is respectful. And even more, adventures with someone you like or love, set free of phones or Blackberries or laptops or whatever other gizmos we have become addicted to is worth every minute you give it.
Nothing earth shattering in these thoughts. Just a wistful feeling that we are losing something precious. Will our kids ever experience the freedom of non-global communication? Here's a thought... How about creating a new policy at home: no more texting once the street lights come on!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Heart for God When It's Hard

I went to see an unusual movie today called "The Book of Eli". Denzel Washington and Gary Oldham lead an interesting, eclectic cast in this dark and violent film. It caught my curiosity because of the reviews and blogger comments on it being a "Christian" film in some respects although it was a very "R" movie. Some friends of mine had seen it and recommended it as well.
I am not interested in writing a movie review but I will say that the film has nicked me, meaning it will stay with me for a while and I want to talk about it a bit. First of all, when a movie gets under my skin and itches until I "scratch" it through contemplation or conversation (my favorite), that's when I know it was a good movie. Generally speaking, I come out of a theater (or turn off my tv/dvd player) and the first thought or words out of my mouth are, "that film could have been so much better - what a disappointment". Currently both film makers and we, the audience, have become so lazy in our expectations that we get what we deserve: Boring films with inane dialogue, tired out devices for humor or romance, obligatory sex and/or violence just to fill the minutes.
So when a film grabs me or, even better, surprises me, I really love to talk about it afterwards.
As I said, I don't want to review the film, I just want to zero in on this one moment that was like a laser of light in the bleakest backdrop I could have ever imagined. In a bombed out cement column (like you might see at a power plant), Denzel Washington's character and a young woman named Solara are hiding out from some very, very bad guys. The young woman cannot read and has never experienced anything but the darkest days of a destroyed world. She has never seen anything grow, never seen a blue sky, never heard music or witnessed the arts, never tasted anything fresh. She watches Denzel reading from a book, his very special book that he has protected at all costs. A book that has led them to being hunted down like animals. She asks him to read some of it to her.
Denzel looks up, closes the book and begins to quote Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me lie in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. They rod and they staff, they comfort me". And then he smiles.
As a believer and a lover of God's word, that moment was transforming for me. "Why", you ask (and thanks for asking). I can't tell you how many times I have heard the 23rd Psalm read or read it myself or quoted it or sung it. It's one of the MOST recognized passages in scripture. But, as I was drawn into the story and the bleak, hopelessness of that post-apocolyptic world, hearing God's word spoken, those words of comfort and hope and peacefulness created an absolute moment of TRUTH. God's word piercing the deepest darkness. The girl yearned to hear more. For the first time, she could glimpse why this book meant so much to him.
I came away thinking about my own walk with God. We have so much, so much to distract us from God. Though "just" a movie, Denzel's character clearly understood the value and importance of a close walk with the Lord and spending time in his word. I thought of the believers in Haiti who are living in the bleakest possible conditions, believers in China where many must share one Bible, in Africa where they could be arrested for their faith without a moment's notice... and I asked myself, "would I have the courage, the strength of faith to proclaim God when its so hard. Would I spend time in the word every day, resting in his truth if everything else was taken from me?
I had a thought tickling me... I knew I had read somewhere these thoughts put on paper much better than I am doing now. I finally remembered it was an e-mail that I read (and saved) which was part of the eulogy for NBC correspondent, David Bloom who died in Iraq in the early days of the war. He was there covering the invasion and, at the age of 39, died in April 2003. Before he left, he seemed to have a premonition that God might have greater plans for him. Following is an e-mail that he wrote to his wife, Melanie, before he left Kuwait City. This e-mail was read at his funeral service:

"You can't begin to fathom - cannot begin to even glimpse the enormity - of the changes I have and am continuing to undergo. God takes you to the depths of your being - until you are at rock bottom - and then, if you turn to him with utter and blind faith, and resolve in your heart and mind to walk only with him and toward him, picks you up by your bootstraps and leads you home. I hope and pray that all my guys get out of this in one piece. But I tell you, Mel, I am at peace. Deeply saddened by the glimpses of death and destruction I have seen, but at peace with my God and with you. I know only that my whole way of looking at life has turned upside down - here I am, supposedly at the peak of professional success, and I could frankly care less. Yes, I'm proud of the good job we've all been doing, but - in the scheme of things - it matters little compared to my relationship with you, and the girls, and Jesus. There is something far beyond my level of human understanding or comprehension going on here, some forging of metal through fire."

"...some forging of metal through fire". My friend, Luci Swindoll, calls it the "Alchemy of the Heart" - taking something corrupt and flawed and passing it through the fire, tempering it until it becomes as gold. The movie for me today was one big illustrated reminder that until I allow God to temper me and draw me fully to himself, I will never be strong enough or courageous enough to have a heart for God when it's really, really hard.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Of All the Blogs I've Ever Written, This Is The Most Recent!

Every family has a phrase, sometimes a series of phrases that become part of the family lore. A young child mispronounces a word and the family finds it charming or hilarious and from that moment on "interesting" becomes "instering". My niece, Ali, was the originator of that phrase when she was 3 and she has just turned 30 but we all still say things are "instering". Once, when my boys were in high school, we visited their grandparents at a time share in Palm Desert. We were at the pool and a volleyball net had been strung across. A very boisterous, dare I say, obnoxious family was playing a super competitive game of water volleyball. The dad was especially loud and bellicose and, every time his teenage son made a mistake with the volleyball, he would slap him upside the back of his head and say, "Way to go, Smoothie". Now, we don't even know those people, never saw them again after that one afternoon at the pool but to this day when one of the boys muffs something, especially an athletic endeavor (like badminton or ping pong), someone in the family will invariable utter those immortal words, "Way to go, Smoothie".
It's part of who we are. It's those private, quirky words and phrases, the "inside jokes" of a family that make us feel special and inclusive. An entire family can be mad at each other, sitting around the table in silence, almost daring someone to break the tension when one of them whispers the "magic" words like..... "ooops, my fart sneaked out" and WHAM! The explosion of laughter that follows along with the obligatory milk/nose squirt, the choking on a piece of potato and the "laugh tears" dripping uncontained down someone's cheeks completely wipes the memory of "mad" away. The phrase becomes part of the tapestry of the family and is whipped out whenever we need a good laugh or, unwittingly, when it's the appropriate thing to say (like in a packed car after a visit to say, Miguel Jr.'s for lunch).
This Christmas my son, Andrew, introduced our newest favorite family phrase. My dad, "Pa" , likes it so much he is using it for nearly every situation he encounters. We were sitting around the table after an incredible Christmas dinner. It was, I do believe, the best ever (or at least, at that moment it seemed like that but, in retrospect, I probably say that every year). Andrew, looking content beyond words, pushed himself back from the table (no small effort) and announced, "Of all the Christmas dinners I have ever had, THIS was the most recent". There was a beat of maybe 2 counts then a barrage of laughter that took some minutes to die down. Andrew gave credit where credit is due - his Musical Theater teacher at Azusa Pacific University, Bart McHenry used the phrase when the kids would perform for him ("Of all the songs I have heard performed this year, THAT was the most recent..."). Nevertheless, we thought Andrew to be the funniest, most clever boy and we laughed and laughed then used the phrase tirelessly the rest of the day:"Of all the gifts I have ever gotten for Christmas... ok, you get it, I know.
The worst thing is I get such a kick out of things like that... more than my family, certainly more normal, well-adjusted people. My family often look at me as I am laughing uncontrollably at something they don't even find mildly amusing, saying things like, "There she goes again. Let's just leave her alone until she gets over it." I had one of those moments last night. A friend of mine was doing me a great favor and we were in a time crunch to get this small project completed. He got a phone call and, while I was not trying to eavesdrop, the person on the other end of the line was agitated and talking quite loudly. I could hear both sides of the conversation clearly. My friend remained completely calm while the person on the other end was recounting a small calamity which she felt needed his immediate attention. While he explained that he was in the middle of something and couldn't help at just that moment, the other person proclaimed what I am sure she thought was the piece de resistance as far as an explanation, "The woman has a pacemaker!!"
Now, you, a perfectly nice, normal person do not think that is funny. You shouldn't. It's not really funny. But, the not normal me, found it so funny that I had to bite the inside of my cheeks and slap my hand over my mouth so I would not guffaw all over the place and insult the sincerely concerned person on the end of the line. There was something so funny to me about that phrase being the culmination of her argument when the conversation had never been about a woman but rather a young adult man who was involved in a minor fender bender.
I keep thinking that is the perfect thing so say in conversations that aren't going well. The ones where I find myself frustrated beyond words and need some levity to straighten things out, I will henceforth say, 'The woman has a pacemaker!!" It's just another phrase to add to my family's lore. And because we are told that laughter is good medicine, I'm praying that using phrases that make me laugh long and loud will keep me from being that woman who has a pacemaker for a long, long time!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winning The Resolutionary War!

Here it is, the first week of January: A brand new year. More than that: A brand new decade! Wow! Makes me all shivery! 2010: That's fun to say!
OK, so over the past few days my daily newspaper, the evening news, my internet provider, programs like Oprah, Ellen, Drs. Oz and Phil, Dateline and 20/20 plus any number of friends have been brimming over with advice on making and keeping New Year's resolutions: "Don't be unrealistic, just get started, accept your mistakes, count your successes" and on and on it goes. I can't turn in any direction without reading or hearing or seeing something about resolutions. I'd feel downright guilty if I didn't make at least one!
The thing is - this isn't the time we need the advice or encouragement. Heck, we all have tremendous resolve right now. It's a new year: everyone has a shiny, clean slate and success is just waiting to be claimed.
It reminds me of a scene from the Mel Gibson movie, The Patriot. [As a complete digression, I must say that I have always been a big Mel fan - the old Mel anyway, the "pre-weird rant, mid-life crisis, dump my wife of 30 years and my 7 kids for a newer model" Braveheart Mel. MAYBE he will make some resolutions to clean himself up and be the guy we all used to love and admire... but that's whole other blog]. But as I said, I digress. Back to the Patriot: Remember at the beginning of the movie when the South Carolina state congress, against Mel's objections, votes to declare war against England? The people are delirious with excitement. Fireworks are shot off, people are cheering and throwing their hats into the air. FREEDOM! (Oops, wrong Mel movie). Anyway, only Mel seems to know what lies ahead. He's battled before. He's a veteran.
Now fast forward to the scene where Mel's character and his oldest son, Gabriel, are watching out an upstairs window at a disastrous scene playing out before them in the open field below. The British are routing the patriots and the once idealistic, optimistic army of future Americans turn tail and run away as fast as they can in humiliating defeat. Mel puts his arm around his disheartened son and lets him know this is just one battle lost, not the whole war.
His timing is, of course, perfect (could the "old" Mel be anything less?) We don't need to be told what to do on December 31st or January 4th when our resolve and hopes are high. It's when the new bag of M&M's is suddenly, inexplicably 1/2 empty ("Melts in your mouth, not in your hands!" - obviously a brilliant scheme to hide all evidence) or an empty pint carton of Black Raspberry Avalanche Dreamery Ice Cream is found in your personal office trash can ("How in the world did that get in there?") Or when, despite every good intention, you forget to call your mother for three weeks or you accidentally nag your husband again (and again) about ________ (fill in blank).
It's losses in these individual battles that lead to complete defeat in the Resolutionary War. You see, it's in the middle of the campaign when hope for success dwindles. When the enthusiasm at the starting line is just a dim memory and victory is still too far off to seem attainable. Come January 27th or February 13th or March 6th I'll need my good, old friend Mel to put his arm around me (editorial pause as I close my eyes and imagine the old Mel, the "What Women Want" Mel, actually putting his arm around me) and tenderly encourage me that while I may have lost a battle or two, the Resolutionary War is still winnable. That's when Dr Oz and Phil, Dateline and my local newspaper should all run the articles we are reading this week!
Of course, it's also about making resolutions that both matter and are absolutely attainable. I made a list of a few resolutions that I intend to keep this year that aren't on the normal top 10 most common resolutions (you know the ones I'm talkingabout: lose weight, spend more time with family, get out of debt, stop smoking, stop drinking and whatever else).
For example: I resolve to:
1. Do a completely unexpected act of kindness for someone I absolutely loathe and despise. Really. First, it's Biblical - doing a kindness for your enemy will be like heaping burning coals on his head. Sounds totally worth it, doesn't it? (Of course, you cannot assume that if I happen to do something nice for you, I actually loathe you... I LOVE you!). Honestly, it's a great lesson in servanthood. The loath-ee might not even know... but I will know and it will be good for me.
2. Order something off a menu that I really don't like and eat it... it's probably going to be fishy... I hate to even think about it. BUT - I need to expand my horizons, open myself up to new experiences, and tastes.
3. Finish something: I know what that means to me - I will keep the "thing" to myself, but the point is, I've got some things in my life that I have had dangling in my head and heart for a long time and I aim to finish at least one of those "things" this year.
There are a few more, but you get the idea. Those are resolutions for me - just me - and they are completely attainable... at least it feels that way on January 6th.
So, are you with me? Let's all resolve to win the Resolutionary War this year! Hip, Hip Hooray! Hip, Hip Hooray! With a little help from the old Mel, how can we go wrong??