Cock-eyed Optimism

I'm not sure that I'm really an optimist by nature. At the heart I think I'm a tad cynical and slightly suspicious. Interestingly though, the older I get, the less I'm ruled by that side of my nature.

I think it has to do with my own achilles heel. The very WORST thing in the world to me is being misunderstood. We all desire to be known and accepted for who we truly are. I don't know about you, but worse than being rejected for who I really am is being rejected for something I'm not. It is extremely difficult for me to be misjudged due to a misunderstanding and to not have the opportunity (or the words) to set the situation right.

Unfortunately, it seems to have been my lot in life for as long as I can remember. I never felt really understood by my parents (although my grandfather seemed to "get me," so that helped some). We moved a lot when I was growing up, so I don't have the consistency of long-term relationships that lead to deep understanding.

I've had ministry positions and jobs where I was viewed with suspicion, or judgments were made based on misconstrued events and outright gossip. Too often, by the time the circumstances came to light, there was no correcting the false perceptions so I had to walk away from the situation knowing I'd been misunderstood once again.

I'd like to say that doesn't happen any more, but it seems that as long as I'm willing to put myself out there--to risk building friendships, try to serve in some capacity or another, even to offer encouragement to someone I know needs it--I run the risk of being misunderstood and misjudged. It still hurts.

There's a part of me that wants to shut down. Keep my overtures of friendship to myself. Limit my "service" to the people who live in my house. Withhold the words that I hope will be a healing salve because I don't want to run the risk of having someone take my heart, twist it and throw it back at me as something ugly.

And that's where God steps in. He takes the most elemental aspects of our character and turns them around in a way that goes completely against our nature. But that's the point--it's Super-natural.

I'm glad that despite the deep hurts, He's given me the grace to be able to assume the best even when the same isn't offered to me. While it's true that I'm not blind to the negative things that I encounter--or that are directed toward me--I don't have to respond or operate solely on that level. It is my aim to give others the same benefit of the doubt that He gives me; an awareness that they (and I) are not yet perfect, that He's still at work in me (and them) and that the best I can do is encourage the good and let Him deal with the rest.

Some people consider this an immature or shallow perspective--or worse, fake--but honestly, it's taken a great deal of maturing for me to reach this place. So rather than see each situation in a Hi-Def, warts and all manner, I'll stick with seeing through the filter of eyes that let in His light.

Matthew 6:22
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness."

Pretty Eyes
These cookies are called "Pretty Eyes." They are a reminder to me to look for the good and to overlook anything else. The result is a kind of cock-eyed optimism, but that sure beats the alternative.

Your favorite rolled shortbread or sugar cookie dough (packaged dough will work too).
Any jam you like

Preheat oven to recipe specifications.

Roll dough to about 1/4" thickness. With a 3" biscuit cutter or drinking glass, cut overlapping rounds so you get eye-shaped pieces. Gather scraps into a ball, re-roll and cut more eye-shapes until all of dough is used.

With a bottle cap or 1" round cookie cutter, cut a circle from the center of half the eye-shapes.

Place on cookie sheet and bake according to recipe instructions. Cool on wire rack.

When completely cooled, spread the whole cookies with jam and dust the cut-out cookies with confectioners sugar. Top jammy cookie with hole-y cookie.


To be, or not to be...

Before Bug was born, Hubs and I agreed that we hoped for a child who would bring laughter into our home. Hubs laughs at old Saturday Night Live sketches; I’m more amused by slapstick comedy. We have always stimulated one another to think and to try to be better people. We haven’t always made each other laugh. So in looking to add to our family, we hoped that we would be able to laugh with a new member.

Bug did bring a new degree of joy and laughter into our world. He was absolutely the smiliest baby ever born. We have almost no bad pictures of him from the very beginning because he always had a smile on his face. If anyone casually looked his direction, they were rewarded with a full-body grin they couldn’t help but return.

After he was maybe a year and a half old, he did develop a sense of caution that seemed completely appropriate. He still greeted all small people with “Hi friend,” but big people with beards or loud voices or an intimidating presence would have to wait until he warmed up a bit. Circumstances such as the birth of Boo and moving to a new state have also contributed to a more reserved nature.

He still runs and plays and laughs with abandon though, and I love to see and hear that. There is no sweeter sound than the unrestrained laughter of a child. I try not to be the one to squelch it.
I’m beginning to understand that a lot of it is up to me whether I have laughing children or not. It’s not always easy to laugh about the messes, the fights, the inconvenience of things not going MY way (and they’re supposed to aren’t they? I am the MOM after all).

But my children do delight me. I have been known to stop what I’m doing to roll around on the floor with them (literally) and to let them jump on my bed or wrestle with me just to hear them laugh.

I need to do it more.

Wherever and whatever it takes to hear them laugh with abandon, I want to make sure they've got plenty of opportunity to do so. I don't think it's possible to laugh with your children too much.

This realization got me to thinking, what else do I hope for them that’s up to me? How can I help them be the best of what God created them to be (maybe more importantly, what can I do to make sure I’m not interfering in that)?

Bug was a really easy-going, easy to manage baby/toddler. People always commented on how calm he was, how good natured, and complimented us on our parenting. I always knew that it had very little to do with our parenting and a lot to do with the nature he was born with. I often said “I can’t take credit for it; he was born with that temperament. We just have to be careful not to mess it up!” He's very sweet and kind and patient and is a very good friend. He even shows some promise in math and engineering-related pursuits. (Where did that come from?!)

Boo is more adventurous and one of those kids who always runs full-throttle. He’s had a fascination with motorcycles and skateboards since he was a year old—-despite some fairly active discouragement from us. He watches studies the big kids and practices their moves with or without something with wheels underfoot. (See goofy-foot Boo practicing his ollies on his air board!)He challenges the boundaries far more than his brother and is far less easy to distract or redirect. As much as those traits can frustrate or worry me, I can also see that guided the right way, they can become a very positive part of his character.

I know I need to be intentional with them. I need to laugh along with them if I want to see them laugh. I need to spend time both modeling the things I hope to see in them as they grow up, as well as nurturing the characteristics that they were born with.

I’m not sure how it will all play out over time, but I’m hoping that being mindful of the goal will help us stay on track.

I'll be back--I think there's a bed that needs to be jumped on!

In the meantime, tell me, what did/do you hope your children would bring into your life? What do you do to nurture that? Have you ever seen yourself doing anything that will stifle it? What do you do about that? Speak up!

Some like it hot...

…but that wouldn’t be me.

I spent most of my youth in California’s central valley where summer days average 90+ and a couple runs of in excess of 100 degrees is typical. We moved to the central coast when I was in high school and as soon as we hit the salt air I realized that I was a coastal person at the core.

I am perfectly content in a climate that seldom gets below 50 in the winter and is only occasionally over 85 in the summer. There was something cozy and comforting about the “June Gloom” that creeps in overnight, enticing one to sleep in until it burns off (around noon) and keeping the daytime temps from getting much above 80.

Now we live close enough to the coast to be taunted by their balmy temps as reported on the evening news, but inland far enough that for a good part of the year it’s just plain hot. Our 39-year-old air conditioning unit can’t keep up, even running from dawn until midnight.

To compensate, I’m becoming acquainted with local places that are heavy on the air conditioning (we made an unfortunate choice at lunch yesterday when the restaurant was having its door repaired so it was the same temperature indoors as out) and taking the kids to the pool. I’m not a water-person--never have been—so that doesn’t fix things for me, but it does keep them busy and tire them out so there’s not as much opportunity to notice just how cranky mom gets when she’s hot! I don’t cook unless it’s something that can be microwaved and we live like moles with the curtains and blinds drawn against the heat. And I’m not sure whether I torture myself or find some hope in scouring the weather reports for any sign of a “break.”

So, I’m sitting here in the dark, trying to figure out where to spend the day as it’s already 78 inside (at 11 am) and hoping the weather guy is right about it “dropping” into the high 80’s tomorrow.

What about you? Do you prefer hot or cold? How is it where you live? What’s your ideal climate. How do you adapt when it’s the opposite of what you like?

Sleep tight

I made what some would consider a parenting mistake of the highest order when I opted to nurse my kids to sleep at night. It wasn’t my original plan, but when our first son developed RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and was hospitalized at just 10 days old, my perspective on lots of things changed. Attaining his birth-weight was the most important consideration in getting him released from the hospital, so for that week I ended up feeding him whenever and for as long as he was willing to eat. That inevitably meant he’d fall asleep nursing.

Even after we left the hospital, I nursed “on demand” and felt I needed to keep him close at night to watch for further breathing difficulties. As time went on, Bug (like lots of babies) seemed only to fall asleep if he was being held. He would cry himself awake rather than cry himself to sleep, so we just stuck with what worked.

When I reached the point where he didn’t nurse any more, he’d become so accustomed to having me close by as he fell asleep, that it became our new routine for me to lay down until he was unconscious and then I’d sneak away to finally have a cup of tea that I could drink while it was still hot and talk to my husband or watch a TV show with real people in it.

When our second came along, we kept with the familiar routine. Boo is a bit more independent in the sleeping department though. He doesn’t wake with a start and a “please stay” if he notices the bed move when I’m getting up to leave. There've been many nights when it's taken a LOT longer than I wanted to get away, but I haven't been able to do the cold turkey "You're a big boy, go to sleep on your own" thing. Not only because I don't want to fight about it, but partly because I know the day is coming where they will expect me to leave so they can go to sleep and I will miss these moments where we both enjoy knowing they feel completely safe and secure.

Recently I decided to start trying to get Boo to go to sleep without really snuggling. I was on the bed next to him as he spun himself in circles until he was encased in the sheets like a larva in a cocoon. I moved away a bit to let him settle on his own. Unexpectedly, he reached for my arm and draped it over himself, and finally gave into sleep.

I thought, what a perfect picture of how we need to be with the Lord. At this point in my life it’s easy for me to fall asleep on my own and wake up on my own and go through my days maybe checking in with Him, but I’ve trained myself to “do it Bryself” as my little Boo says. But I know how much easier I relax, how much sooner I fall asleep, how much deeper my rest and better my dreams when I take a moment to wrap myself in the strong, protective arms of my Heavenly Father and rest in Him.

Tonight, be sure and say your bedtime prayers. Sweet dreams!

Psalm 4:8
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.


Seeing Clearly

While working in the yard one day, my mom turned at just the wrong moment and got poked in the eye with a peach branch. It took a doctor over an hour to remove all the debris, and she had to wear an eye patch for several days. Even after the patch was removed, the eye was bruised and sensitive for a long time and she had to take care not to get other irritants in it. In a very real sense, she learned what most of us will never know first hand about having a "log" in our eye.

Try this--get a needle and thread, close one eye and try to thread the needle while holding it at least a foot from your eye. How long does it take you? Do you find yourself moving it closer to your open eye?

The problem is, when you have only one good eye, depth perception is lost, so you can't see very far or very accurately. Imagine trying to detect something small in another person's eye when you only have one eye to use. To make it more challenging there is a large object protruding out of your eye that makes it impossible to get close enough to really see what you are doing.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

I think judging usually starts with looking to see where we stand in relation to other people. If we think we are ahead of the game, at least in our own estimation, we can justify backing off working on the areas where we fall short.

Oswald Chambers said, "Which of us would dare stand before God and say, "My God, judge me as I have judged my fellow men'?..The measure you mete out is measured to you again...If you have been shrewd in finding out the defects of others, that will be exactly the measure meted out to you; people will judge you in the same way."

It seems like the most often quoted passage of scripture these days is “Do not judge...” Of course, in the context it gets used, it usually means that someone is judging someone else for judging! I also know that sometimes “not judging” is kind of easier said than done.

Two things have helped me begin to overcome the critical spirit that seems to be part of my DNA. The first is realizing that when I look at the example I have in Christ and am working on the things I need to work on, I don't have time to worry about others' shortcomings. When I’m busy doing what God has given me to do, I’m not even aware of what someone else is or isn’t doing. Several times in the year+ since we moved here, God has very plainly showed me that my primary occupation for the moment is to help our family settle in and to create a supportive atmosphere for Hubs work. Sometimes I think I need to be more involved in the classroom or maybe leading something at church. But I’m only responsible for doing what God puts on my plate and for this season, with two pre-school aged kids, that keeps me pretty close to home. The day will come when they’ve got friends and activities of their own and I’ll branch into other things as well. I hope that I’ll remember this season in my life and be gracious with others who might not be in a position to take on what I think they should.

I’ve also learned that I don’t know what God is doing in someone else’s life; the things I think I see may not be the things he’s working on yet—and it’s none of my business! Years ago I saw the harm done when someone felt God had revealed some new truths in their life. That in itself is a great thing, but the spirit they demonstrated while expecting everyone else to get on board with them was anything but great. I remembered thinking how ironic it was that it took God 20+ years to bring these revelations to light in this person’s life, but they had no patience for anyone who wasn’t instantly on the same wavelength.

God works in each of us at his own pace to His glory. I think the best we can do if we see something that may seem to be a blindspot for someone is to pray first that we aren’t blind in that area. If there is anything to be done at that point it’s more likely to be to come alongside them and see how we can help rather than being critical and especially taking our “concerns” to anyone other than God. I have a feeling he doesn't need our help "fixing" people as often as we think he does!

These rich log cookies can be a reminder that it is more important for us to deal with our own flaws and shortcomings before we worry about those we think we see in others.

Date Planks
1 ½ cups flour
1 teasp. baking powder
1 teasp. salt
3 eggs
1 ½ cups lt brown sugar (packed)
1 ½ cups (8 oz.) pitted, chopped dates
¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add dates and toss gently to coat with flour mixture. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Beat in the brown sugar. Gradually mix in flour and dates. Fold in nuts.

Spread mixture into a greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until top is light brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Cool in pan for about 15 minutes, then cut into ½-inch by 3-inch “planks.” Cool on wire rack and store in airtight container.

Adapted from material previously published in A Tea for All Seasons, Mary Pielenz Hampton, 1997. All rights reserved.

Sights, sounds and scents of childhood

The rodeo is taking place this weekend and Hubs took Bug and Boo to the "Professional Slack" to see the horses and steers and other rodeo-style stuff. Hubs grew up around that sort of thing; his mom was a rodeo queen and champion jumper and they always had horses around when he was a kid. I'm not a horsey person (I'm allergic to nearly everything with any sort of fur), but we did go to a few rodeos when I was a kid. I wanted the boys to be able to go because I think it's good for them to see a little of how Hubs grew up and to have some of those memories for themselves.

When they got back Hubs said, "It was kind of like old home week. I love the smell." "Of horse poop?" I asked. He says horse poop smells like alfalfa. Our conversations about this kind of thing always remind me of the "Green Acres" couple, "I get allergic smelling hay."

I think it's interesting how the experiences we have when we're young seem to find their way into our DNA. No matter how long we're gone from them, we can be transported right back to our life as a 5 or 6 year old when the sun shines on the red dirt in a way that fills the air with the scent of warm dust, or the breeze rustles through the treetops punctuated by the staccato tapping of a woodpecker.

I remember being in high school and walking to the nearby grocery store. Even though the other grocery stores in town carried pretty much the same combination of products, none of them smelled just like that one. It occured to me that someone could blindfold me and take me to various places--the Yogurt Shoppe, Thrifty Drug (near the ice cream counter especially), Riley's Department Store, Hume Lake--and I would know exactly where I was just by the scent.

I'm thinking about retracing some of those steps this summer and taking the family with me; I could use a return to less complicated times.

What about you? Do you still live near where you spent your childhood? What are the experiences that can transport you back to a carefree summer day? Are you sharing those things with your children? Tell us about it!


"Stay with us always"

When I left for a 5-day conference not long ago, I gave the boys each a toy cell phone that I could record my voice on. It touched my heart to see how much they liked hearing my simple “I love you; be good for daddy; see you soon…” message.

The toy was too easy to erase though; the touch of a button and my voice was gone. When I got back from my trip 5 year old Bug asked “Mom, can you put your voice back on my phone?” He’s the same son who later asked when I was going to my conference again. “Do you want me to go again soon?” “No,” he said, “I want you to stay with us always.”

I may be all grown up, but sometimes I feel the same way, wanting to have a tangible reminder of God’s presence. I wish I could live in worship at church or the rich fellowship and teaching of a conference or immersed in the magnificence of mountains—anyplace his presence is so obvious and his voice seems so clear.

We have a loving Father who really does “stay with us always.” He never goes to a conference, takes a vacation and leaves me with Grandma, he's not even gone from me when he's "at work."

Instead of putting his voice on a toy that can be erased with the touch of a button, he’s given us his word that is filled with every word of encouragement, love, correction and instruction that we will ever need. When the days are long or the nights are scary, I can share my heart with him through my prayers and hear his heart by opening my Bible.

I hope to share with my son the comfort that comes from knowing that no matter who else may come and go, God is always with us.

Psalm 139:7-10

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.

Northern Exposure

Our house here is situated on the lot so the front of the house faces east and the rear (where the kitchen and family room are) faces west. I miss the wonderful southern exposure of our home in Portland; the main areas of the house were bright all the time, which was important to me when half the days were gray!

When we bought this house long-distance (after spending maybe 10 minutes in it) I thought the east/west thing would work out ok here though because there is so much more sunlight to begin with. What I didn’t take into account is between the porch overhang in the front and the patio in the back, there isn’t all that much natural light inside for most of the day. So here I am in a “sun-drenched” locale, with the lights on from breakfast to bedtime!

Even more strange though, is that the two rooms that should be the darkest are actually the brightest. The boys’ room and the spare room both face north. As far as I knew, that always meant they got the least amount of light. In fact, before we moved in I had those rooms painted yellow (one is called “Full Sun”) to make up for the external light I thought they’d be missing.

What I hadn’t noticed was that those rooms face the giant, new, two-story house on that side. And, it’s that house’s southern wall. And sand colored stucco is a great reflector of light. So all day long those two rooms bask in the reflected light from the house next door. Those are the only rooms that don’t need a lamp of some sort during the day; you can even see the glow all around the edges of the doors when they’re shut.

More than once I’ve felt like a Northern Exposure room. Unable to catch a ray of sunlight, needing artificial illumination all day long. Work pressures, friendships lost to distance or difference, family matters, financial troubles—all sorts of things can make me feel a bit internally gloomy.

It dawned on me (pardon the pun) that I need to be like north-facing rooms in my house. Even when my situation means I’m not getting a lot of direct sunlight; if I can reflect the Light that always shines on me, my otherwise dark passageways will be fully illuminated.

2 Corinthians 3:18
"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."
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