I have a problem embracing the earth—dirt in particular. And I passed this problem on to my son. From the moment he opened his eyes, he learned to stay within the borders of a multi-colored patchwork quilt. The quilt was his world and I kept it cleaner than a surgeon’s prepped hands. Every time Jez slithered to the edge, I’d say “No” and put him back in the middle of the quilt. The quilt was his sanitary universe. Outside of the quilt, I was always armed with wet tissues and disinfectant spray. So there never was a smudge of dirt on my firstborn. The patchwork quilt continued to be his world even at almost 6 feet and 12 years of age. He could never spread out on the carpet and watch TV—unless the quilt was under him.
Unfortunately, my idiosyncrasy became his paranoia. On picnics he refused to sit on the grass. At dinnertime, he never let his hands touch anything but his fork. Swings on playgrounds had to be wiped down before his turn. He even refused to the brown M &M’s because he associated the color brown with dirt—He would carefully open a pack of the candy and separate the browns from the other colors. Kenny seeing this as an opportunity of a lifetime to have twice the amount of M & M’s, explained to Jez that if brown meant dirt, then chocolate in all form was banned. Chocolate was brown. Break open a yellow M & M and it is brown on the inside!
Somewhere along the way, Jez realized his need for chocolate exceeded his bias towards the color brown. Or it may have been the pain of handing it all to his brother who made a big production of enjoying ALL the M & M’s. I don’t know.
Today, Jez loves chocolate, still has an anxiety attack when he comes in contact with dirt, and regrets all the extra chocolate he missed out on during his partial to brown days.
Partiality almost always results in loss, don’t you think?
Journal entry from several years ago:
The message read: “Attention—Betty is retiring. Farewell lunch next week.”
I’ve known Betty for five years. She works two cubicles and a corridor from me. If there were a prize for motivation, Betty would win the gold. Velcro’ed on her cubicle wall is a saying every day. Today it’s a serious one, “Do not ask for tasks that equal your powers. Instead ask for powers that equal your tasks.” The other day it said “Life is too short—eat dessert first.”
The angry, the weary, the disheartened, and the temporarily insane—they all stop at Betty’s. One day, when I was both weary and insane, I stopped at Betty’s. “I need to get away from this crazy place. Maybe move to some place quiet. Quit my job. Live on less.” Betty, I’m sure, knew this was just craziness talking. But she did more than listen. The next day she brought me brochures and real estate magazines from tranquil West Virginia. She even brought train schedules and maps to show me how I could keep my job in Maryland and still move. All this she did knowing that a few rational weeks later I would come to my senses and the literature would end up in the trash.
What have I done for Betty in five years? There’s nothing I have that she needs—except perhaps my cooking. Betty loves Indian food. Neither fancy nor picky, she is delighted with a reused yogurt container filled with my leftovers. But I’m full of excuses—too late to pack the leftovers; forgot to bring it in the mad morning rush; the leftovers are just enough to stretch for dinner; too many things to carry today.
For as long as I’ve known Betty, I’ve taken her for granted. In a couple of weeks Betty will be gone. There’s little I can do to fix the past five years. But there’s plenty I can do about today and all the tomorrows.
I found this old journal entry today. It says a lot about how I’ve managed to stay married for so long.
What girl has not dreamt of one day meeting the perfect man, the one especially created for you, the husband with whom you will live happily ever after.
I was no different from any other girl. I wanted a Good-Morning-I-love-you-Honey Rockwellian life. Instead I got a husband whose most affectionate term of endearment is “Yo.” Yes, I got myself a man who uses a variation of the dog whistle to get my attention in public; who takes hours to teach our children the art of burping the alphabet; who scratches himself in inappropriate places at inappropriate times. And I am latched to him for the rest of my life in spite of his crass jokes and well-bitten finger nails that grate me like chalk on a writing board.
At night I close my eyes shut while he snorts in my ears and straddles his heavy leg around my waist—and I dream of a Good-Morning-I-Love-you-Honey life that passed me by. And it takes a day like today to realize just how lucky I am.
Well actually it started yesterday. The house was a big mess and needed a thorough cleaning. My mother-in-law was coming to spend a couple of days with us. I was too tired to do much. My back was sore. By 9 pm I could do no more. And the house was still a mess. That’s when he stepped in and cleaned and cleaned to the music of the Fifth Dimension, the Bee Gees, and several others. He whistled, he sang along, cracking a few of his prized off-colored jokes in between. Never complained, never threw a fit. Never said, “What’s this doing here?” or “If only everybody would put things back where they belong!” or any of the other stuff I often say when I clean. He went on till one in the morning. When I woke at 6 today, he was already up putting on some final touches.
I took his nail-bitten hands and kissed them. Life has not passed me by after all. It’s there—all of it. I just have to read between the lines.
I have a sweet tooth. Actually I have a whole set of sweet teeth.
I had just had a heavy lunch, topped off three large pieces of European chocolate. Armed with more than the recommended daily sugar intake, I was set for the second half of the workday. But that was until I stopped at Sheri’s desk. Sitting on the counter was a see-through, smell-through bag of Snickerdoodles. Mmmm–memories of baking with my dad wafted cinnamon aromas into my brain cells.
“You must have some,” urged my evil dessert twin who lives between the folds of my middle-aged belly.
“Maybe just one,” I responded. It was going to be a memorable moment—just me and my Snickerdoodle. I resolved to eat it slowly, relishing each little bite. Instead, like a dog head to head with a pound of meat, I snarled and stuffed the cookie into my drooling mouth. It was quite an indecent spectacle—right there in the office hallway! I didn’t stop to appreciate the snickerdoodly lightness or enjoy the cinnamony sugar granules. It was just a greedy, self-serving, three-step process: gnaw, drool, and swallow. I didn’t even chew that worthy Snickerdoodle.
And before it could get down my throat—I wanted more. I turned around and went back. Complimenting Sheri on her baking skills, I apologetically said, “I have to have another.” She graciously encouraged me to take a handful.
“I’m going to enjoy these,” I said to myself, truly believing that I had total self-control. But just as the cookie got closer to my mouth, it was another gnaw, drool and swallow.
Five minutes and several cookies later I felt the thick, sweet, nasty aftertaste of Snickerdoodles. Funny, how I had forgotten that nasty aftertaste. Somehow I remembered only the initial joy of biting into one.
Life has many Snickerdoodles. Like a bottle of whiskey in the evening that combines the fellowship of friends with the sensation of well-being. But then comes the nasty hangover the morning after!
What are we to do about with our Snickerdoodles?!
Roy and I are as mismatched and dissimilar a couple you can find. We neither share interests nor agree on anything. And the almost 20 years of marriage have failed to make any progress towards compatibility.
Roy’s the guy on the very tip of the farthest end from the other guy who remembers his lady’s favorite restaurant and color and ends phone conversations with “Love you.” While most men gush out “honey” every few sentences, Roy yells “Yo” or lets out a dog whistle.
I could list 100 annoying things about him in 5 minutes flat. Yet there are about 10 other things he does as father and husband that totally tip the scale.
1. Assigns himself all poop jobs that gross me out–diapers, litter box, vomit, etc.
2. Creates rituals that breed warm-fuzzy feelings–makes his special stash of coffee, just for Jez, every weekend; places a bar of dark Godiva on my pillow on random evenings; gives Sky no occasion gifts of antique knick-knacks.
3. Talks to the pets in a silly baby voice that turns them into Jello creatures.
4. Covers and tucks me in throughout the night. (I kick the sheets off and then curl up feeling cold.)
5. Calls my mother every Thursday.
6. Keeps my kitchen sink and counters free of dirty dishes. (He’s quite OCD with this one. The moment an empty cup hits the counter, it’s gone without the slightest chance of being reused. But, enough said; this is not the list of annoying habits.)
7. Saves every piece of ____–all my published work, the children’s school crafts and even an antler the dog brought home 15 years ago. (I, on the other hand, have yet to work on my firstborn’s baby book. He turned 25 this year.)
8. Fills my car with gas. (Like a ninja he disappears every now and then, and my car is magically never on empty.)
9. Makes a signature peanut butter sandwich. (He can’t heat leftovers, but the ritual and memories associated his peanut butter sandwiches have earned him a trophy from the kids. Even as adults, they rave about his sandwiches and ask him to fix them some.)
10. Trusts me completely. (If we were millionaires, I could easily take all the money and elope with the driver I’d have if I were a millionaire, and he wouldn’t have seen it coming.)
Every serendipitous moment in my life has been a result taking the time to give in–Giving in to a task when I didn’t have the time, giving in to plans without an end in sight, giving in to a need when I didn’t have the resources, giving in to an intuition that didn’t make sense. As a result, I’ve met some extraordinary people and been a part of some incredible experiences–Finding homes for abandoned babies, organizing a country’s first marathon, buying cows for milk in a pediatric ward, starting an underground Christian school where proselytizing was prohibited, infusing indifferent teenagers with a spirit of community service, helping a stranger who would later be a government minister.
Meeting Michael Daube and David Driver was one of those random encounters. But it took just one conversation over coffee to realize that here was someone who also believed in the purpose of serendipitous moments. He believed, like I did, that everything happens for a specific reason. There are no coincidences or accidents; only opportunities. When we give in to these opportunities, we become part of something bigger than we can ever imagine. And in that something, we find our purpose in life.
Michael’s story is an example of this. My opportunity to work with Michael lasted just a few months, before another random event had me changing directions and moving to the other side of the world. Yet that short period of time has had a profound effect on so many things in my life. Interra Foundation is an example.
Michael’s story is told in David Driver’s documentary Way of Life. I’m very excited–not just because the film showcases the life of a true philanthropist but because of its potential to call many more into an exciting life of giving.
Here’s the trailer. (You’ll find me thrice: one is just my voice and the other two are very plump me!)
When Sky came along, it was Roy’s turn to play stay-at-home parent. Every day, they spent time in anticipation of mommy coming home (which made me feel very special). Every day, there’d be a card or a handmade trinket waiting for me. But once in a while, they’d surprise me and personally deliver my gift. A visit to mommy’s office was always very exciting, but Sky would get impatient during the trip.
It was only 11 miles to the office, but distance and time are, of course, are beyond a toddler’s comprehension. One day, Roy came up with a clever way to address Sky’s impatience. He said, “Mommy’s office is five red lights away. You can count them and know when we’re there.”
Sky looked at him, “You are wrong, Daddy.”
Trying to explain, he said, “I have driven on that road many times and I have counted the number of traffic lights. You just trust Daddy, count the five times you see a red light and we’ll be there.”
Sky, narrowed her eyes, gave out a big sigh, emphasizing each word, “You. Are. Still. Wrong. You can’t drive through red lights to get anywhere. You have to wait till it is green. So there are five green lights to get to Mommy’s office.”
That conversation told us a lot about the person Sky was going to grow up to be. And she has reinforced in us the lesson of positive perspective over and over again. You can spend your life seeing red, the stuff that slows your pace, that cramps your style. Or you can live in anticipation of the green, the things that herald new opportunities and exciting options.
Right now I feel like God’s step child. And here’s the why behind it.
About a month ago, I wrote this review of Tyndale’s new devotional Bible, In His Image. Outrightly blunt, I pretty much told all my readers not to buy the devotional Bible. Worse yet, I strongly implied that they should instead purchase Zondervan’s far superior Life Application Bible.
Tyndale, being a large, well-established publisher, probably has several options when dealing with a small-time blogger like me. In fact, ignoring one negative review out of hundreds of positive ones would probably have been their easiest course of action.
But here’s what happened: First, the week I posted my review, Adam Sabados (@AdamSab), Tyndale’s Digital Media Coordinator tweeted: “I’m really liking your reviews, thank you!” Notice how it’s a compliment without any but’s or excepts’s tacked on to it?
Feeling quite the heel, I replied: “Aw, thanks. Didn’t want to dis on Tyndale in the last one, but personal opinion prevailed.” Notice how I continued to cling to my personal opinion without giving room for anything else?
Adam simply said,”Honestly is the best policy. :)”
Then, this week, a long time after I quickly got over feeling like a heel, I received, in the mail, an award certificate for Tyndale’s Life Application Bible. It was an oops moment; Until then, I didn’t know Tyndale published a Life Application Bible! In the envelope was just the certificate—-no letter pointing out that my comparison was as fair as the one of apples and oranges. All Tyndale did was give me an opportunity to try their application Bible. Of all the options a giant like Tyndale has, they chose to turn the other cheek and simply let their work speak for them.
When one of God’s children, a brother or sister, reaches out to me with the graciousness I don’t deserve, I can’t help but feel somewhat less of a sibling in Christ.
Yeah, I kinda feel like God’s step child right now.
Towering above the grassy clearing, sat the stone mansion. Garish, neon “Estate Sale” signs flaunted the driveway up the hill like floosies in a lady’s parlor.
I stepped across the threshold, feeling like a stranger at another’s wake. I felt awkward invading the privacy of this home, rifling through their belongings in pursuit of a bargain. Yet the lure of vintage linen and antique furniture moved me from room to room–caressing a stack of carefully pressed handkerchiefs, testing a well-worn rocker, measuring Victorian drapes, speed-reading old books. An old organ with carved mahogany legs told stories of many nights when one played for another. A stack of mystery books by the fireplace described the listener.
The large trash can in the corner caught my eye. Things of importance only to the dead had found their way there—like the 1918 and 1920 Maryland University yearbooks. Memories don’t belong in a trash can. Retrieving the yearbooks and other knickknacks from the trash, I sat in the old rocker. Buyers scrambled past me in search of treasures while I turned the brittle pages, trying to piece their life together: Mary and Bob met in college, married right after graduation, and shared a life together for 75 years.
Here, in this beautiful, 250-year-old home they created memories through laughter and tears. Bob was in a barber shop quartet, and collected sheet music that strangers were now buying for a dollar a piece. Should he come walking through the parlor, he’d say, “Hey, that’s not for sale, buddy!” Mary loved Christmas. She loved Christmas so much she left behind a room full of decorations to fit every possible Christmas theme–traditional red and green; soft pink Victorian, all white and silver. What would she say to the fat woman in the blue sweater who was mixing the pink angel with the red reindeer! How they must have loved their grandchildren!–the basement was reserved especially for their visits–stuffed bears, board games and a big basket of toys.
I must have sat in that rocking chair for a very long time. While I was piecing together Bob and Mary’s life, I missed out on the bargains. So I left with my hands empty but my heart full of appreciation for a life spent so well together