Friday, May 19, 2017

Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another

I picked up this book by Donald McCullough, hoping it might list some of the rules of etiquette that have often puzzled me. Things like: do I hug or shake hands with older ladies that I haven't seen in a long time? Am I supposed to walk visitors out to their cars or wave from the porch? How bad is it to forget my sisters' birthdays? And must I always offer people something to drink when they come over?

This book did much more than answer those questions. It changed the questions that I ask.

When I was about halfway through the book, I took my car to the carwash. My 3-year-old Rose and I stood behind the big panels of glass to watch my CRV slowly drive through the gantlet of spinning wheels and power sprayers. An older man was watching his car go through as well. We chatted for a bit and then I asked him, "Do you usually tip the men who dry your car?"

"Yes," he replied.

"How much do you tip? I never know what I should give."

"Oh, I give $5 or so. I have a larger car . . . but I like to think about how much I would like to be tipped if I were the one drying the car," he smiled in a non-patronizing way and then moved on to the outdoor seating area.

It seemed so simple. Of course that's the way to think about it. It's not about what I should or shouldn't do. It's about considering others. How would I like to be treated?

Certainly the rules of etiquette are different among cultures, but this principal transcends all cultures and personalities: do as you would be done by. Think of others as more important than yourself. And love others as God loves us.

For those who would rather not read the book, here is a summary of each chapter. All quotes are taken from the book Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another.

1) Say Please: Respecting the Freedom of Others
"Please" said in earnest changes the tone of a question. It turns a command into an appeal. "Please" gives up the control to "guarantee the outcome of a situation [and] ensure another person's response." (McCullough, 13) It is a way of giving dignity and freedom to others.  It is what God has done for us in giving us freewill. And it is what we in turn must do for others. "Mystery withers at the touch of force. . . . When we treat other people as objects subordinate to our goals, their mystery has no effect on us. The larger mystery into which genuine personal encounter can lead us never becomes open to us" (McCullough as quoting Allen, 16).

2) Say Thank You: Acknowledging Dependence on Others
"When we express gratitude, we experience, however fleeting and brief, a moment of contentment" (McCullough, 19). "If I always move forward to the next task on my agenda without pausing to look back in gratitude to the good things I have been given, I allow my almighty self-importance to blind me to the truth of things: I am completely dependent on others, and every achievement of 'mine' has been won through a team effort" (McCullough, 18).

3) Tell White Lies (Occasionally): Protecting From Unnecessary Hurt
In a time when we have "elevated the personal confession to an art form," it's time to rethink what should and shouldn't be said (McCullough, 25). "Not every truth is [ours] to tell: a truth shared in confidence and a truth that would needlessly hurt another is not [ours] to tell" (McCullough, 27). Thus, before speaking, we must question our motives. Why do we wish to tell this "truth" at this time to this person? "Some motives for telling the truth are simply too destructive to deserve the respectability of being clothed in truth: some expression of 'honesty' are really attempts to demean and belittle another person" (McCullough, 27). If telling the truth will needlessly hurt another, find a way around telling it.

4) Don't Let Your Fingers Do the Talking: Curbing the Violence Within
"Getting through life with other people who never seem to have sufficient sensitivity and good sense can be like running through an obstacle course with constant provocation" (McCullough, 31-32). Thus, we've witnessed the creation of an "express-yourself-and-let-it-all-hang-out culture" (McCullough, 32). If someone angers us on the road or Facebook or in business, we express ourselves in rants or bumper stickers or posts. However, "each outburst of self-justified anger makes it easier for the next one and creates an addicting rush of adrenaline" (McCullough, 34). When we pass on our anger, we create more anger, but when we let other's anger pass us by and return love, we stop the cycle and soften other's hearts.

5) Don't Show Up at the Wedding in a Baseball Cap: Showing Respect in What You Wear
Dressing appropriately shows that you care about the people planned an event and those who attend it.

6) Don't Be Late: Guarding the Time of Others
Respect other's time and don't be late. And if you are late, don't make excuses. Just say sorry.

7) Repondez, S'il Vous Plait: Being Considerate of Others' Plans
"The self-centeredness in me, which creates more trouble than it's worth, makes me insensitive to another person's need to plan and make preparations for an event. If I don't take time to communicate my intentions, it's because I don't want to be bothered with an interruption in my plans for my day in my life. Besides, why get committed to something when I might get a better invitation to a more interesting event with more interesting people? To keep my options open in order to maximize my happiness, I make it difficult for someone else (McCullough, 55). Consider others more important than yourself. RSVP and don't procrastinate in doing it.

8) Wait Until Everyone Is Served Before Picking Up a Fork: Observing the Social Significance of Meals
Make space and time for sharing a meal with others.

9) Keep Your Feet Off the Coffee Table: Valuing the Property of Others
People's possessions are an expression of who they are. Respecting and taking care of others' things is a way of respecting them.

10) Keep Your Bumper Off My Tailpipe: Waiting Your Turn
"Some of the best things in life can be seized only when we relax into an observant idleness" (McCullough, 74). "If the coil of impatience is wound so tightly within me that I elbow my way towards my next goal, I will jab others in the ribs, and though I may be successful shoving them out of my way, I will also have shoved them out of my life and thus shut myself off from their mystery. The best things in life take time to experience; they cannot be seized with impatience but only received with patience" (McCullough, 74). "A pearl, as someone said, is a garment of patience enclosing an annoyance" (McCullough, 74).

11) Hold Your Wind: Trying Not to Offend with Bodily Grossness
Just that.

12) Pay What You Owe: Rendering Others Their Due
Pay what you owe on time.

13) Keep Your Hands to Yourself: Acknowledging Sexual Boundaries
"The best and most important things in life must be guarded from the fickleness of human appetites and moods" (McCullough, 88). Thus, draw up and stick to boundaries both in what you see, what you wear, and how you speak about sex.

14) Be Quiet In Church: Cultivating a Sense of Reverence
Be appropriately solemn and respectful in sacred places. It is a way of acknowledging that something greater than yourself is at work in the world. Do so even if you don't believe in that particular religion.

15) Don't Wear Red to a Chinese Funeral: Honoring Our Differences
"Learn to express our differences with respect for one another" (McCullough, 103). "Unless you're certain that your culture's way of going about life is superior in all ways and that your understanding of God is perfectly complete, you just might pick up something of value from the traditions and beliefs of others. Even from those with whom you will ultimately disagree. Given the immensity of truth and the limitations of the human mind, we all need a large measure of humility—the humility that opens our eyes and ears and even our hearts to others who, perhaps at first seem very different from us" (McCullough, 103).

16) Apologize When You've Blown It: Accepting Responsibility for Your Failures
"To say I'm sorry—and mean it—is an act of courage by which we hold ourselves accountable to the truth" (McCullough, 110). But don't over or under exaggerate your responsibility in a matter. "The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough (McCullough, 108). If you are going to apologize, first don't apologize too quickly. "A premature apology can be a cheap attempt to cut short the painful work of reconciliation with the person you've wounded" (McCullough, 110). Second, don't exaggerate the apology by treating yourself as mud. Third, back up your apology with actions. And lastly, once the apology is past, drop it. Saying "I'm sorry" is a "way of going forward into the rest of your life" (McCullough 112).

17) Use Nice Stationery: Attending to the Forms of Communications
"How we communicate influences what we communicate" (McCullough 115). Hand-written notes and letters require time and thought to write, and communicate more powerfully than a text or email. Learn to savor words and language by writing in a way that's worth remembering.

18) Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears: Learning to Be a Good Listener
Listening is a gift we give to others. It expresses to them that their "thoughts are worth something and that maybe, therefore, [they are] worth something [too]" (McCullough, 127). But listening can be very difficult when we're worrying constantly about "buffing the shine on our image and staying in control of the situation" (McCullough 122). "You can't be a self-important sovereign in your little world, pompously proclaiming your wisdom, and expect to hear the voices—from another person's soul or from the angels of heaven. It takes humble openness, careful attentiveness" (McCullough, 128).

19) Be First to Reach for the Tab: Developing a Generous Spirit
Don't wait until you're wealthy to practice generosity. Thank God that you are rich right now. And maybe someday you'll have money (McCullough 132).

20) Leave a Tip Worth Working For: Noticing Those Who Serve
Tip what you would like to be tipped even if your server or barber or car dryer person didn't perform an outstanding job. Consider how you would like to be treated if you'd had a bad day performing your own job. Tips can really say to someone, "I recognize that you have it hard. And I want you to know I value your work."

21) Go Home Before Your Host Falls Asleep: Not Abusing the Gift of Hospitality
Do not be so self-sufficient that you are stuck only giving and never receiving. "Generosity can subtly feed our hunger to dominate, and it can stroke our pride, giving us reasons, so we think, to offer ourselves hearty self-congratulations" (McCullough, 147). Thus, it is vitally important that we learn to receive gifts as well. Let others pay for your meal. Accept gifts and praise and invitations to dinner. It is a way of humbling yourself before others. Also, don't overstay your welcome. Most people won't tell a friend that they've eaten too much or overstayed their welcome. It is up to us to recognize when we've abused others gift of hospitality.

22) Hand Up the Phone During Dinner and at Bedtime: Avoiding Unnecessary Intrusions
Protect your own and others' times of private home life.

23) Kneel Down to Speak with Children: Meeting Others At Their Own Level
Assume a posture of sensitivity towards those who seem weaker than you. "Everyone is weaker than others in one way or other" (McCullough, 161)

24) Respect Your Elders: Honoring Those Who Nurture and Lead
J. Wesley Brown speaking about parents said, "That they did not have total wisdom when they raised us, that they did not always know exactly what to tell us, what to let us do and what to prevent us from doing, does not mean they did not love us and intend to do well by us. Perhaps the greatest honor we can do our parents is to let them down off the pedestal of our imagination, where we are inclined either to idolize them or to flog them as gods who failed (as indeed they must fail), and to accept them as people—people who need forgiveness as well as respect, who need honest relationships with their children perhaps more than anyone else" (McCullough as quoting Brown, 175).

25) Watch What You Say: Understanding the Power of Words
Words can never be taken back. Words play over and over again in our minds. They are powerful. If in doubt, don't say it. "Those who show respect for others are sensitive about these things. They don't take things that are deeply meaningful for others and stomp on them with big, ugly boot of careless language. They watch what they say. They remember words have power; words do things. They employ words for blessing not cursing, for encouragement not discouragement, for creation not destruction" (McCullough, 183).

26) Don't Leave a Messy Campsite: Cleaning Up After Yourself
Think of those who will come after you in this world.

27) Keep a Secret: Earning the Trust of Others
Don't pry for information and don't leak it. Acknowledge that you are not God and you have no need to know more than anyone else.

28) Don't Let Your Dog Romance My Leg: Remembering Not Everyone Shares Your Interests
Your hobbies might be fascinating to you, but they might not be to everyone.

29) Stop Drinking While You Can Still Remember Your Mother's Maiden Name: Bestowing the Benefits of Moderation
Enough said.

30) Stay Out of the Bay Until You Know the Difference Between a Starboard and a Port Tack: Learning and Obeying the Rules of the Road
Stop thinking that you're the one exception to rules and regulations. You are not above the law.

31) Don't Tell Joke at the Expense of Others: Forbearing Humor That Demeans
"By nothing do men show their character more than by the things they laugh at," (McCullough as quoting Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 225). "Laughter liberates us from the self-important delusion that we have everything under control; it puts everything in a more balanced perspective" (McCullough, 232). However, when we laugh at the expense of others, we make ourselves out to be better than them, which we are not.

32) Keep Card Companies in Business: Remembering Milestones
Remember and celebrate. It is a way of saying, "I value you and what you've done."

33) Tell Your Buddy His Fly is Open: Speaking the Truth in Love
Speak the truth to your fellow man when it is pertinent to the situation and when it will build up and not tear down.

34) Pretend You don't Notice When Your Dinner Partner Drools: Guarding the Dignity of Others
While we might be quite good at respecting others, we're bound to make mistakes: silly, careless mistakes. "Let's create between us an invisible buffer zone of grace, a shield mercifully protecting us from the negative judgements of one another" (McCullough, 257). "Yes, people do annoying things. They use obscene gestures, they show up late, they speak before thinking, they forget to say thanks, they spread discourtesy like a mean virus. Most of the time, though, it's because life is difficult for them, too, and they're having a hard time keeping themselves together; they often feel bedraggled and beat up, and for this reason, they've not always as sensitive as they ought to be. Just like you and me" (McCullough, 258-9). "Do your best to be courteous in all circumstances, by all means, but when you blow it, I'll do my best not to notice. And when I blow it, I'll count on your gift of merciful blindness" (McCullough, 259).

35) Wave to Motor Boaters: Strengthening the Bonds of Community
We all have our prejudices against particular groups of people: Harley Davidson bikers, youthful homeless men, insurance salesmen, JW's, Gluten-free dieters, etc. Giving others respect means not turning the cold shoulder to these kinds of people. Notice them as individuals not groups and don't purposefully exclude people from your own "group."

36) Once in Awhile, Be a Slob: Knowing When to Break the Rules
The rules of etiquette shouldn't be a checklist that we use to decide how good we're doing. Our worth rests on the one who gives us worth: God. "Not only are you a God-graced individual, so also is everyone else. The grace that pulled all things into being, also pulled into being the one who just cut you off in traffic, the one who waits on your table, the one who needs special assistance, the one you're tempted to laugh at, and even the one who prefers motor boats. These people, too, have a God-conferred worth, a glory that may be concealed but is nonetheless real. So out of gratitude for the grace offered us, we extend it to others, committing ourselves anew to the canons of courtesy; out of a desire to protect our own God-granted dignity, we act God-like, bestowing kindness on others as we offer the respect they deserve. 'Rules' of courtesy don't create human worth, but they bear witness to it and help protect it." (McCullough, 276).

Work Cited

Allen, Diogenes. Temptation. Cambridge: Cowley, 1986. 62-63

Brown, Wesley J. "Good News for Parents," Christian Century. May 6, 1981.

McCullough, Donald. Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another. Berkley Publishing Group. 1998

Saturday, May 13, 2017

5-Year-Old Car Racing Birthday Party

After scouring Pinterest for activities to use for Lee's birthday and finding little more than food table ideas, I decided to add our pictures to the melting pot.

Opening Activity: Painting Cars
Supplies: smocks, brushes, paint, wooden cars, bucket of water for washing hands at the end, rags to dry hands, covered table, two or three parents to supervise.

Transition Activity: Car Racing
Supplies: Match box cars, Vinyl gutter or carpet tube or board of wood.
Directions: Have kids race match box cars down a ramp. We used this activity to keep the children busy while we cleaned up the painting table. If you wanted to make this more of a game, you could have the children pick a car and see which one goes the farthest.

Featured Activity: Children's Race
Supplies: Side walk chalk and spray paint to outline the course on the cement and grass, starting and finishing line, cardboard boxes of various sizes, one large refrigerator box for the car wash. We had all the children bring their own vehicle. We also had a grand-parent play "cop" with a whistle and pool noodle. He threatened to thump any child who went too slow.
Course: We had the children race down a hill and crash into a giant pile of cardboard boxes, then they went through the car wash, around a tire, back through the carwash and across the finish line.
Car Wash: I punctured the top of the refrigerator box with holes and then secured old shredded T-shirts into the holes. I also tied several sponges to the end of the T-shirts and had a parent spraying children with a spray bottle as they went through.
Race: Each child completed the course on his or her own. Their parents were responsible for making sure their child stayed on course. We timed each contestant and wrote their time on a mini-trophy tied to a balloon. After cake and presents, we announced the times and passed out the trophies.

Photos taken by Luke Shackelford and Robin Cox.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Inept Mothers

Photo Credit: Luke Shackelford
Sometimes I feel like the imposter mom. Like I just walked into a fashion designer’s expo wearing my saggy-bottomed khakis. Or like I’m the one team player that keeps dropping the ball. 

I don’t think I belong here. I don’t think they chose the right person to mother these children. I hate telling people what to do. I’m terribly impatient. I have a hard time making decisions. I jumble my words. And I like being by myself and having all my ducks in a row. Besides, I don’t even like babies.

I’m surprised they haven’t developed a test to weed-out inept moms like me. It would be like that Jury Duty questionnaire that they send you in the mail with red boxes around all the right answers, except these questions would be like: Do you keep a clear head in stressful situations? Do you enjoy resolving conflicts in public? Do you have back, knee, or foot problems? Do you like to throw birthday parties? Is service one of your spiritual gifts?

Sure, I have strengths in other areas. I can teach my children to grow gardens and eat healthy and use their money wisely. I’m certain my love for literature will probably rub off on them as well as my adventure-some spirit and creativity. Yes, yes, yes, I’m not without strengths. But I could've just as easily been a mom who dances hip-hop and makes TV dinners every night. It doesn’t really matter.

What highlights my ineptitude the most is what I do when they disobey or backtalk, when they don’t succeed the way I wish, or how I react to their demands for independence. Those are the situations that make me wish these babies came with an owner's manual. 

I find it so difficult to love them when they shout NO in my face. It's so hard not to begrudge them the work they add to my regular responsibilities. And daily I'm keeping myself from shouting, “Would everyone just shut up and leave each other alone! I’m trying to make your food here, and you’re not making it any easier!”

It all comes down to loving them unconditionally. Doesn’t it? And that means not faulting them for being beginners at everything. Especially contentment and the exercise of independence.

“I don't want an apple for my snack.” 
“I don't want to wear my jacket.”
“I don't want to sit in my chair.”
“I don't want to say hello to the lady.”

More often than not, my response is, “Oh, well.” By which I mean, “Too bad. So sad. That’s life. Your complaining is hurting my ears. So get over it. After all, I have. After 33 years. You don’t hear me complaining about putting on my shoes or eating all my dinner or carrying my own stuff into the house. Sure, I complain about how difficult it is to be a mom and how some people are impossible to deal with and how house work is futile. But those are real problems.”

I’m reminded of those parents of teens who tell me, “You think raising toddlers is hard? That’s nothing compared to raising teens.” And I'm terribly offended because my troubles ARE hard. To me. They’re the biggest troubles in the world. They dominate my entire life! Have pity!

Have pity.

Somewhere in the noise, I forget that my children's troubles are huge to them too. I get caught up in the noise of their complaints and get frustrated because I can’t make them behave. I can't heal their pain. I can't fix all their problems. I can’t give them their hearts’ desires. I can’t even meet all their needs. And perhaps that’s the trouble. I'm not supposed to.

When they were infants and couldn't speak, it was my job to interpret their cries and keep them happy. But my role as mother is changing. My job is to step out of the line of fire and give guidance once they can speak semi-rationally again. 

Stepping out of the line of fire means to let them rage without becoming indignant myself. It means to stop taking offense at their misbehavior and to stop relying on my children’s goodness for my sense of stability. It means I don't use their public displays of obedience as my report card. 

It means that I'm getting my sense of power, worth, and stability elsewhere. From God. From daily immersion in the words that teach unconditional love and pity.

There is no better way to have pity on those little humans than to remember the great amount of pity had on me. Only then will I be a window in a dark room, a sprout of growth in the desert, a conqueror on the battlefield.

"If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desires of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong. And you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail." (Isaiah 58:10-11 ESV)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Equal Pay

The parable at the beginning of Matthew 20 is about a landowner hiring workers for his vineyard. It's a parable about how the landowner treats workers who come late in the day. The late comers are at a disadvantage because they get to the vineyard after everyone else, and thus they can't possibly earn what the early workers earn. It is impossible, but the landowner gives them a full day's pay anyway.

The point of the parable is not that the ones who worked the longest didn't get what they deserved. The point of the parable is that those who worked for a short time got more than what they deserved.

I've read this parable a dozen times and thought, "That's not fair! Those poor men who worked all day must feel cheated!" But that's only because I believed that those who worked all day earned their wages fair and square. And those who worked for only one hour didn't deserve what they got.

But the kingdom of heaven isn't like that. God gives everlasting life to all: those who believe in Christ from infancy and those who believe in Christ on their deathbeds, those who are born of respectable parents and those born of jailbirds. All are paid the same because of God's generosity. Not because they deserve what they get. We all actually deserve damnation.

The trap that Christ was trying to show his disciples was believing we deserve God's generosity more than others or expecting God to treat us with some sort of special attention because we've followed Him longer or held a special position in a church or haven't been as terrible as somebody else.

If we walk into heaven and see Stephen Hawkings or Harold Camping or that cheat that ran off with someone's wife or the black sheep of our own family, and we say, "You don't deserve to be here!" then we falsely believe that we do deserve to be there. And that is to misunderstand grace entirely.

It is just as remarkable that God gives grace to me as he gives to others.

And Now For Some Funny Bits

"Lee, we're in love," Rose told Lee, to which he replied, "No. I'm not!"

Rose slipping her shoulder through her shirt's neck hole: "You know ladies get married they have nakedness."

Lee to Rose who was decorating herself with fake beads: "You need a lot of jewelry to marry me, Rose."

Rose: "I'm a girl and I know how to do things."

Rose to Lee in their make-believe play: "It's so late, Honey. We missed all our friends."

Lee rifling through the Tupperware drawer: "Rosie has some spit in her mouth, so she needs a cup."
Lee's depictions of himself and Rose
Rose's report on how she behaved while I was out: "Mommy, I was not respecting your husband."
After my explanation to Lee of how he'd hurt Rose's feelings: "I don't want to hear about this. I'm going to my room."

Monday, April 24, 2017

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee

I came across these 12 painfully poignant steps to overcoming pride in my Matthew commentary the other day. They are from John Fischer's 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me) Minneapolis: Bethany, 2000. The following is not a direct quote. I have edited and changed the order of some of the steps.

In order to overcome pride . . .

1) We admit that our single most unmitigated pleasure is to judge other people.

2) We see that we have come to believe that our means of obtaining greatness is to make everyone lower than ourselves in our own mind.

3. We realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, don't deserve it and haven't worked for it.

4) We are ready to have God remove all these defects of attitude and character.

5) We don't want to get what we deserve after all, and we don't want anyone else to either.

6) We will cease all attempts to apply teaching and rebuke to anyone but ourselves.

7) We embrace the belief that we are, and will always be, experts at sinning.

8) We are looking closely at the lives of famous men and women of the Bible who turned out to be ordinary sinners like us.

9) We are seeking through prayer and meditation to make a conscious effort to consider others better than ourselves.

10) We embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent and glorious reality. ( I think you have to read the book to understand this step.)

11) We choose to rid ourselves of any attitude that is not bathed in gratitude.

12) Now having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we will try to carry this message to others who think that Christians are better than everyone else.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


I know about the body. I know about the smell and decay and worms and shredded clothes and the crazed look you get in your eyes. I know how your thoughts turn again and again to flesh. The cravings come over you without warning, and you find yourself stalking your fellow man again and again. I know.

And I know the prayers you say hoping that you’ll be better tomorrow, that somehow, maybe you can cover it all up with flowers in your hair or makeup over your pocked skin or new clothes that might hide the blood still dripping from your mouth. But it never works. Does it? So you think yourself a muddy footprint, a stupid sheep, a failed attempt, garbage.

But that is not how I see you. I never saw you that way, not when you were born and not ever. So stop looking at that.

Remember. You are alive. Inside that corpse of death, I have revived the cold, hard heart. It beats. It burns. It radiates. 

It was rotting but now it’s alive, and I have made you fully human again. I am not ashamed of you or that corpse that you must operate until the end of your days. I know its encumbrances. I do not hold it against you. It is not you anymore anyway. Once it was all you had, but now it brings you back here again and again. Back to remembering the beating, burning, radiating light inside you. That is me.

You are my masterpiece, my workmanship, my temple, and the praise of my glory. You are my body. My body, worthy and complete, the place where I myself live so you live too. Nothing can hinder my spreading that pulsing, beating, burning light to the rest of you. Yes, to all of you because you are worth saving. 

You are worth freewill gone awry in the garden. You are worth the rebels' deaths in a flood. You are worth the preservation of my wandering people. You are worth the wars made to clear a space. You are worth the death of my prophets and you are worth the spit in my face.

It was my choice. My choice to give up all to give you what I have. I want to see you there with me, so I am bringing you in.

Stop looking at that carcass. Stop thinking of all that you should be doing to make yourself right and loved and lovely. See. I have done it already. You are.

Now live as only a son or daughter of mine can. Live alive.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


It happens.

Like slavery happens.

However, you can't legally get away with owning slaves in the U.S. anymore, while divorce is readily acceptable both in and outside the church.

But so what if it's acceptable. Is it okay?

Perhaps God sees divorce and slavery similarly.

Slavery—some people owning others—was never what God wanted for his people. Certainly not. Slavery was what God rescued his people from in Egypt. And slavery is the image Paul used to speak of our bondage to hard-heartedness and sin and death. Certainly, it would seem odd for a Christian now-a-days to own slaves.

But it happened back then.

And divorce too—the dissolution of a marriage—was never what God wanted for his people. Of course not. Marriage was the symbol of Christ's union with the church. And God from the very beginning made us to be together, not lording over one another or breaking up the union.

But it happens.

And God knows it will happen.

He knows because he understands what sort of people we are. We are the hard-hearted sort who have the propensity to resist God and push away from those closest to us. We find comfort in hardening our hearts so no one can hurt us. We think it's a form of protection to "withdraw into one's own little world, recreating reality by rationalizing sinful activities and attitudes, casting blame on everyone else, and developing a veneer of bitterness that warps all relationships" (Wilkins, 653).

Left to ourselves, this is what we do. And it happens within the marriage long before couples ever sign any divorce papers. I suppose you could say, they divorce in their hearts before they divorce on paper. This heart-divorce is what God hates. The paper work is just a sign of what had already happened inside.

Similarly, murder is the proof of the hate within one's heart. Adultery is the proof of the lust. Boasting proof of the pride. And avoidance proof of the fear.

God cares about the heart. If there is to be made any improvement on our sorry condition, it must start in the heart. If any marriage is to be saved, if any relationship mended, or friends reconciled, it must start in the heart. And if the heart has not Jesus there, there is little hope.

Even if the heart has Christ, still is can remain hard and rely upon itself for protection and the pursuit of happiness. That is why God gave the Israelites—the people chosen to represent him to the world—some rules about divorce and how to treat slaves. The innocent had to be protected. The marriage, honored and respected.

One spouse may wish to work at the marriage while the other may be too hardened to try. One may be too hurt to give the marriage another try. Both may be shut off to each other. And that is not even mentioning adultery.

Two selfish beings trying to live together in love is bound to make trouble.

I suppose that is why Jesus' disciples said, "If this is the situation between a husband and a wife, then it is better not to marry" (Matt:19:10).

"Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given" Jesus replies (Matt 19:11).

Who has accepted this word? Who can continue in this way? Is it just the super-Christians? Jesus answers this question in the very next verse as he invites the children to come to him for the second time in the book of Matthew. Who can accept this word? Those who have child-like dependence on God.

"As weak, defenseless, vulnerable children, they must continue to maintain dependence on their heavenly Father for their purpose, power and significance of their life of discipleship" (Wilkins, 646).

It is only with this kind of dependence that we can become so secure in our identity as sons and daughters of God that we can give ourselves unreservedly in spite of our earthly circumstance, to serve others (Wilkins, 673). And it is in a marriage that serving and selflessness are most essential.

None of this competing for power or grappling for fulfillment. The hard-heart softens as this child-like dependency creates a heart that beats in sync with the Savior's.

Wilkins, Michael J. The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Born Deficient

We have been born deficient. Without the strength of unlimited power. Without the assurance of intrinsic value. Without the security of unconditional love. Without faith in an omniscient guide. Without the desire of real goodness. 

We have been born out of sorts. In need. Incomplete. With the best and worst of parents alike, we are deficient. And we are seeking to make-up for those deficiencies.

We seek it through positions that give us power. And relationships with people who appreciate us for who we are. And lovers that will never wound. And plans that will guarantee our future. And attempts at goodness that will erase our guilt.

But we are failing.

And it is easy to fail for we are looking for gold in the garbage and hoping to find pearls in the bowels of our prey. It’s no wonder that we’re wounded in the hunt. For we are asking our fathers to respect us when we are disrespectful. And asking our brothers to see our point of view when they are not in our heads. And asking our daughters to rise up and praise us when we are not the one to be praised.

When guilt and offense and fears and anger and hurt bubble up, it is not because those others have made us feel this way, but because this ugliness was inside us from the start. 

We have been born deficient. And it is only in Christ that our deficiencies are mended. In him only is the completion of power, worth, love, rest, and rightness. 

Then we will not take offense when they don’t treat us as we think they should. Because then will we see that it’s not against us that they fight but against their own deficiencies. 

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Innocent Woe

Often injury is where no harm was meant
Unlike Saul’s pursuit or God’s fiery judgements.
Without rulers to order earth’s wild filaments,
The world is amiss—apart from evil intent.

And had we kept faith with that power long ago,
Abided with Wisdom to learn how to grow,
We could tell the waters to stop their flow
And bid raging winds to cease their blow.

No fatal events would sweep life away.
No disease would waste nor animals prey,
And our babies alive in the womb would stay
As three within mine have not to this day.

Think not of what was or what could’ve been.
Nor cast it aside as common among women.
And to guess at the cause will wear a soul thin. 
The world is not right, and we are akin.

Liquid glass slipping through my fingers exhausts.
I have seen the unseen, the spiritual, the lost,
And trembled on footsteps of shadows and frost
For the world is amiss at heaven’s own cost.

So weep for the buds that dropped before bloom.
And weep for the ones without a marked tomb. 
And weep when another announces full womb,
When smarting words may ignorantly assume.

Then into Thy hands steadfast will I cast 
The heart that won’t rage as it beats downcast.
And again do I say farewell unembarrassed,
To the innocent woe in the fabric of my past.

“The time has come to say farewell;
And though my heart be heavy,
I promise still to remember ye
E’en though we say, ‘Farewell.’”

“The flow’rs that bloom’d in Summer’s sun
Have lost their fleeting glory,
And all but died in Winter’s chill;
And we must say, ‘Farewell.’”

“So brief a time has come and gone
Since first we sang together;
But bittersweet is that music now
That we must say, ‘Farewell.’”

by Charles Anthony Silvestri

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Snagging Details

A 24-hour-day is filled with details. Wondrously vivid details that liven this otherwise dull canvas.

The luster of chocolate glaze on Lee's mini donut at pre-school. The brown sleeves of mud that could be mistaken for boots and gloves on my children's hands and feet. The downy fluff of rabbit fur pressed into my face. The sticky dampness in the bathroom that drips down the walls and mirror after I run a hot water shower for breathing treatments. The tartness of my ginger-lemon tea sprinkled with Vitamin C powder. The blistering bubbles in the paint on the door of the children's closet because we've run the humidifier for five nights in a row. The fall of a misting rain on the rooftop that sounds so much like little feet creeping out of their rooms during quiet time. The stiff resistance of the Cotija cheese against my fingers as I crumble it over pasta shells for dinner. The shrill scream of three-year-old frustration that throws off my equilibrium. The ruffled over-licked edges on the envelopes of Lee's valentines for pre-school. The curl in the receipt that I sign for Lee's dentist check-up and x-rays.

Some of those details fade away into nothingness while others snag me as they pass by.

I am ensnared like trip-wire with the sight of those beautiful chocolate donuts in front of each pre-school child. I didn't send anything half so special when it was my day to bring snacks. Am I the boring mom? Or am I the kill-joy mom because my son has half a dozen cavities, and you're giving him chocolate donuts for snack!? And just like that I am stuck with the vision of chocolate donuts dancing in my head for several hours.

Or immaterial dollar signs. Going up in flames over my worrying mind. Up goes the money for the termite repair. Up goes the money for new windshield wipers for all the family cars. Up goes the money for ordering new documents because my organizing system for hiding important papers was too successful. It all goes up in a cloud of black ash that then hangs above my head until I can no longer remember what that cloud is made of. Wait, yes I can. It's made up of worry.

Then there's the neatly-printed writing in marker at the top of my son's preschool worksheets that come home every week. "With help." "Needs practice." "Practice letter sounds." And then I am snagged again. How can this be? We're in preschool and already behind?! Does Lee notice? Does he feel stupid?

How I wish those detail would fade away while the memory of the sweet things remains. Sometimes I jot down a lovely thing or something the children says so I can remember to tell Phil in the evenings. But so many more good and beautiful details are wasted on me because I am snagged by those worrisome things, which are not really worrisome at all, except that I'm in the thick of it. It's like a gauntlet of hooks and I'm wearing a baggy knitted sweater that's just waiting to be snagged by these worries. They catch me so easily.

And why? Have I not considered all the worlds Thy hands have made? Have I not seen the stars and heard the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed? Is this not the same God who is with me? Isn't the God who was with me yesterday, the same one that will take care of me today?

How quickly I look away and fall into a brier of thorns. How quickly my faith is questioned and tossed aside to dread the future. How will I make it now? How will I not ruin these little children? How will the house not fall to pieces? How will we pay for this? How will God take care of me, is what I'm really wondering as I bury my face in these details while the power that moves mountains stands beside me and in me and around me.

And says, "O you of little faith."
My life flows on in endless song; above earth's lamentation.
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing.
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing.
What though my joys and comforts die? The Lord my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round? Songs in the night he giveth.
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing.
All things are mine since I am his! How can I keep from singing!
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing. 
The roof-grit in the puddles of rainwater on our breakfast porch. The PIH envelope sitting in my desk's organizer. The waterfall of slime beneath my daughter's nose. The Saucer Magnolia leaf pressed into my hands. Yes, even the rare hug and kiss from my son. All of it must be taken. Not with an encompassing fear or an adoring worship but with assurance.

We are passersby here. And the details unfolding before our eyes should never snatch us up out of the Master's arms. Rather, we may take them in our hands to him and say, "And what of this, Lord? And what of this one? What will you do with this one?" Then we will rest and see what comes next.

Then I think we shall be clothed with strength and dignity and laugh at the time to come (Pr. 31:25).

Lowry, Robert Wadsworth,  "How Can I Keep from Singing".

Boberg, Carl Gustav, "How Great Thou Art" as translated by Stuart K. Hine.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Simpler Life

Over the last six months, routines have altered. And what once was an ordeal comes with ease. The children buckle their own seat belts and know that after errands, they're responsible to carry their own belongings inside. They take themselves to the restroom and sometimes wash their hands. They dress themselves in the morning, and Rose even puts on her own diaper at night. They bus their places after meals and put on their shoes for departure. And on laundry days they take their pile of clothes to their room, "fold" them, and put them in their drawers.

The physical strain of this job is decreasing as Rose can climb in and out of her own pack-and-play at nap time, and they both can crawl into their car seats unaided. Lee shuts the alley gate, and Rose empties the silverware drawer. In the evenings they pick up their toys to have dessert and they always seem happy to put on their pajamas at bedtime.

They play in relative peace while I take a shower, and eagerly set the table for breakfast on cereal days. When it's time to vacuum, Lee clears the floor for the roaring monster. And when it's time to scour, Rose finds her own sponges under the kitchen sink. They help bring in the groceries and hang up their jackets on the hooks. Sometimes they thank me for the meal. And they say "please" for about half of their requests.

Their play has become more sophisticated too. Together they build roads and houses in the backyard out of boards and rocks and dirt. They dig in the sandbox and laugh at the sight of each other spinning on the swings. They've learned how to tattle-tell and play hide-and-seek properly, though Rose always hide behind the curtains and laughs loudly while Daddy is seeking.

They surprise me. I hadn't taught complex games to Lee because I thought it would be too advanced for him, and I use smaller words for Rose because I don't think she'll understand the bigger ones. But they surprise me. Lee was fully capable of playing checkers. Losing half-a-dozen men in the process was difficult, but he understood the rules. And Rose spouts out the most complex sentences with multiple syllabic words and even corrects Lee on difficult words.

Lee: "Mommy, do you like Karacha?"
Rose: "Lee, SIRacha."

Lee has enjoyed listening to the first 13 chapters of the The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Rose carries on long conversations with Daddy on the phone during his lunch break. She's the reporter. She tells him all about our day rather accurately. Lee, on the rare moments that he does want to talk to Daddy on the phone, usually asks something like, "Daddy, what would happen in a waterfall fell on our house?" or "Daddy, when you coming home?"

Their physical feats have become more advanced too. I mean, climbing onto the counter to get us a drink of water from the reverse osmosis spigot! I was impressed in a scared sort of way. They both can climb over our backyard chainlink fence, and Lee can climb onto the roof of my car, just in case we ever need him to do that.


Lee has been at La Habra Hills Presbyterian Preschool for a month now, and while I don't think he'd admit it, I think he likes it. He's learned the Carden names of all the letters and points them out around the house.

"Mommy, there's I-love-to-dance-around-and-sing," which is the letter "s" or "There's the fish hook," the letter "f".

The other day he came home with a bandaid on his finger because he and another boy were sword fighting each other using their sand shovels. When I pick him up, he's eager to show me his crafts and worksheets. And Rose likes to talk about when she's four and can go to pre-school too. "Mommy, Rose can go to preschool now. There are little children in the classroom next to mine." Dang! He knows.

Yes, raising these two has become slightly easier and slightly more tricky.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Everything I Learned in 4 Weeks of Tae Kwon Do

The class was filled with teenagers—black-belt teenagers ranging from ages thirteen to eighteen—and one grandfather who also had a black belt. Then there was Phil and me in our stiff white belts that were trying to hold down our stiff white uniforms so that we didn't look like we came to class in giant folded sheets of origami.

I'm not sure why our uniforms felt like they were made of canvas tent while everyone else's looked like a black polyester-cotton blend. Oh well. The uniforms came free along with four weeks of classes at Victory Tae Kwon Do in Whittier.

This is where our four-year-old, Lee, started Tae Kwon Do in October. And after two months of classes, he was still cowering behind me as we entered the gym, and refusing to walk onto the mat at the start of class. Although, he had no problem instructing Rose in the moves at home.

One day he brought me the informational sheet for belt testing and a promotional coupon for someone to take a free month of Tae Kwon Do. And that is why Phil and I showed up one evening to work out with the teenagers. We figured that if Lee saw us working out on the mat, he'd be more eager to join his own Tiny Tigers class.

To be fair, a few more white belts joined our ranks over time. And yes, there were a number of orange, purple, and brown belts too. But when you're in white, everyone else looks like a ninja.

I'd forgotten what it feels like to know nothing while everyone else seems to know everything. Actually, correction. I feel like that quite frequently as a parent, but at least no black-belt parents are raising their children in the other room and occasionally peaking in at my progress.

It was a good place to learn to think a little less of myself. To bow to instructors and students alike. To take direction from sixteen-year-old assistants who called me "ma'am." To answer "Yes, sir!" when I really wanted to say, "But I'm just not that flexible," or "But my foot keeps wanting to turn this way," or "But I haven't done push-ups since High School," or "Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry for kicking your hand. You really should get a bigger clapper for me."

Enough excuses! This was not the place for glory. This was not the place for ego. This was the place to follow the leader. This was the place to find satisfaction when I simply didn't trip over my own feet. This was the place to kick and punch things after a day of provocations from little children. This was a place to give Phil a high five even when we lost the relay race and had to do push-ups. This was the place where we tried our hardest and then limped the next couple of days because of it.

I guess the mind is stronger than the body now.

Phil took Karate in middle school and at one point in my life I could do handstand push-ups. But I think we were fourteen then. That is to say that after our first class of push-ups, squats, splits, and sprints, I couldn't raise my arms above my head and Phil couldn't sit down without groaning. Really!? Was I really the only girl who had to resort to doing girl push-ups? Yup. I guess girls are at their physical peak at fourteen seeing as the girl opposite me was doing one-handed push-ups. It's all down hill from there, girl.

I suppose its time to accept some God-made limitations.  Nevertheless, I did catch myself day-dreaming about my instructors saying, "And now we will count our jumping-jacks in Greek," or "Everyone who doesn't know how to make chicken stock must do 50 pushups," or "Next week I expect a 500 word essay on what you think about Tae Kwon Do," or "If you think this is hard, try birthing a child."

Aside from the workout that made us sore for four weeks straight, we learned a few Korean words—which we regularly butchered between ourselves at home—, a choreographed sequence of moves called a Kata, and how to do a hammer punch. Phil already knew the punching bit, and they let him pound on the thicker boards. I was stuck punching foam boards in a slow haltingly way—Okay, I think I squeeze my fist like this. Yes. That looks right. Then I guess I need to pull my arm back. Yes. That's what the other guy did. And then I hit really hard while shouting KIHAP!

There's nothing quite like learning how to punch in front of a crowd. There's nothing quite like knowing where my husband has been because his feet leave sweaty footprints across the blue mats. And there's nothing quite like pulling my uniform pants out of the laundry only to discover a huge rip in the bottom. How long has that been there?!

It was the start of week four when I noticed the rip, and suddenly I remembered having gotten my pants stuck on a Tae Kwon Do trophy at the beginning of week two. I actually bent the engraving plate 90 degrees before realizing I was stuck. I turned red, bent the plate back, and asked Phil if my pants were ripped. He'd said no, so I'm hoping that that rip occurred in the laundry and not in the middle of class while we were doing push-ups. After all, I'd continually washed the heck out of those uniforms because Phil's pants were always dirty from wiping his feet on them throughout class.

Yes, I attended our last two classes with a sewn seam on my butt while being acutely aware of just how long my jacket hung down in the back.

I guess the experience has taught me how to be a beginner again. It's awkward and humbling and scary. And I don't blame Lee for hesitating to join Master Johnny and Master Michael on the mat. I'm proud to say that after all our labors, he now enters class with very little hesitation. Preschool is another story. But I don't think they offer preschool for adults.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Christmas Afterglow

Christmas feels like that time of year when so much of my work blooms. Even though the leaves on our Boston Ivy are falling and the Avocado is very confused about what season we're in, the children are stretching their minds and using their little voices in new ways. They fill my hands with colorful leaves on our walk and say, "Here Mommy-Bird, some pretty leaves to decorate." They squeal with excitement about the chance to stomp in the fuzzy-looking winter rye or the ankle-deep clover, and they race up and down the slopes of our neighbors' front yard. 

Everything is a treasure to them: the limes that fell off a neighbors' tree, the junk-mail in the mailbox, a handful of change in their stockings. I was inspired by Laura Ingles Wilder's Little House on the Prairie.

"And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny! They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny. There never had been such a Christmas." 

Inspired to not rush my children onto bigger and better things. Inspired to fill their miniature stocking with toothpaste and an automatic toothbrush and pennies. And to make them wait all through a candy cane making demonstration and dinner too before allowing them to eat their one individually wrapped candy bought for thirty cents at Logan's Candy shop in Ontario.

It's the thrill of saying yes after days upon days of saying no. Finally, the presents can be unwrapped. Finally the tape can be torn off and the paper crumbled and the box opened, not for the joy of the gift inside really, but the discovery of the hidden. Indeed the gifts that brought the biggest reaction were the used books that I bought off These were stories from the library that the children knew. 
And then there was the treasure hunt for Lee that lead him to his big wheel that we salvaged from the curbside in Friendly Hills. We were delighted to find that some of the buttons on the thing still work. And we were delighted when Lee without prompting handed the big wheel over to Rose to have a go after him.

They are asking for oatmeal for breakfast and tea when the rain falls and a blanket to play with during their quiet times. They think a box filled with sand is the next best thing and balloons and kitty shoes and an inflatable pink bed.

And the best of all are the grandmas and grandpas, uncles and aunts, great-grandmas and great-grandpas and the cousins and friends too, who have built the foundation of love and grace being passed down from generation to generation. Here grows little plants in rich soil.

And I too consider myself delighted when I delight in the simple things.