7.25.2010

Dreaming on the Everlasting Arms


The number of friends I have who are gushing about the latest Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Inception, is approaching conspiracy levels. The movie is a psychological thriller about dreams. And either it’s really great, or a lot of people are drinking the same kool-aid.

I have never taken dreams seriously. Indigestion of the brain, I’ve always said. They are only the subconscious, attempting to work out challenges and fears, letting off steam. The fun dreams, I sometimes (but rarely) share with others. The disturbing ones, I don’t, so that I can forget them more easily. I generally do not ascribe any significant meaning to them, other than attempting to figure out what real life circumstances might have triggered them.

The most defining characteristic of a dream is that it is usually very easily forgotten. Just like the morning mist, it burns up by mid-day and becomes difficult to recall.

Unless you write it down.

But I’ve never been one to do that, either. I’ve heard some people say you should keep a “dream journal” and try to analyze them. Baloney. I don’t see much purpose in writing about the president of my alma mater randomly bursting into song in the middle of Pizza Hut. Or the dream I had a few nights ago, in which I was about to speak at a conference but realized I was dressed in 80’s clothes – a lemon-yellow Izod shirt, black acid-washed denim jeans, and slide-on Keds. I hurriedly rushed back to my dorm room to change, (never mind the fact that I graduated from college in 1998), but the desk assistant wouldn’t let me enter. It was true to her character. She was Angela from “The Office.”

In spite of my reluctance to chronicle dreams, I had one several years ago that was so vivid, so profound in its meaning, that I went against my principles and wrote it down when I woke up. I just had to. I did not want to allow it to pop like a glycerin bubble by noon, never to return to me. And so…I share it here.

It was a variation on a theme of a recurring dream that I had been having…what I call the “bridge is out” dream. (I never particularly liked having those. They tended to end rather badly.)

But this time, I saw an unidentified person running a race, and Jesus was running too. Up ahead, the pathway completely dropped off, like a cliff. (Note to self: have race officials address this glaring problem in next dream.) The path may have been a paved road or dirt road, or a long bridge. Dreams are always blurry. Unfortunately, for some reason, the runner couldn’t…or wouldn’t…stop.

Jesus, sounding like a leading man from some famous movie, called out authoritatively, “This is not the end of the road.”

At the last possible minute, he grabbed the runner, and the two of them took off flying over the edge, Jesus carrying the person in his arms. Glorious, triumphant music swirled around me.
At that moment, I became the person I saw. That perspective became my own – flying overhead, being carried by Jesus, and waving at all the people below who were covering the hillsides. They were all laughing and cheering and waving back at us, and I was filled to the brim with utter happiness…the kind that one does not want to forfeit by waking up. And that was the end of all my “bridge is out” dreams.

Jesus…my Savior, who carries me over the edges of cliffs…those I face in this life, and then the ultimate cliff between here and eternity. He doesn’t let me fall.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27)

7.19.2010

Squeak the Truth in Love


Fifth grade choir was kind of a big deal.

There was an “audition” of sorts. If you could sing the notes that the teacher played on the piano and were reasonably well-behaved, you were in. Choir members were permitted to get up out of their seats on Mondays when the clock hit 2:15 to go to the music room. I remember that part because I got out of my seat at 2:14 one time, and my science teacher scolded me.

That particular year, I learned a little lesson about assertiveness – one of those traits that rarely show up on my personality test results.

My music teacher was a tall, slim woman who had perfect posture. I admired her very much. She assigned me a place in the fifth grade choir next to a girl who I will never forget, not because of her looks or behavior, but because, sadly, she had the worst breath I have ever smelled in my entire life. I don’t know whatever became of her, but to this day, I can remember exactly what it smelled like, on the same level as decomposing fish. The music room was a small room, so everyone’s personal space overlapped. It was all a deadly combination of factors.

Every Monday, I wanted to look forward to 2:15. But I dreaded it. I knew that a green cloud of breath awaited me in that place. I would be forced to sit in the midst of that cloud, inhaling toxic fumes as the second hand inched toward 3:00, longing for the choir to reach its last Christmas song to rehearse. There would be no escape. Nowhere to run. No one to trade places with me. Seats were ASSIGNED. Of course, I couldn’t just turn to her and say, “Wow, your breath is HORRIBLE!” I didn’t want to embarrass her, and I didn’t want to tell anyone else about the problem. But every Monday after school, I came home feeling sick to my stomach, which had been churning for 45 minutes.

I began to weigh my options. Sneaking her a tic-tac was out of the question. Candy was prohibited. So there were only two possibilities that I could figure. I could either suffer in silence for the rest of the year, or I could take matters into my own hands and go to the teacher about it. Neither option was particularly appealing. If I chose to continue to sit in the toxic green cloud, my fifth grade choral experience would be nothing but grim. But if I went to the teacher, what would she say? What would she think of me? And would she even care?

After giving the issue as much thought as a 10-year-old possibly could, I settled on the latter option, willing to face whatever fallout might come for the chance of an escape. One Monday after choir practice was over and all the kids had filed out, I approached my music teacher and asked her if I could talk to her about something. She looked puzzled. I said, “I wanted to ask you if you could move me to a different spot.”

I prayed she wouldn’t ask why.

"Why?” she said.

“Because the girl who sits next to me has very bad breath,” I said quickly.

I remember the look on my teacher’s face and her body language. She did that thing people do when they hear something unexpected – head draws back sharply, lips turn down, eyebrows frown – all of which said to me, “You are a strange little child,” whether she meant to communicate that or not. I could tell she was taken aback, and I was drowning in embarrassment for having even brought it up.

"Well,” she said slowly, “I’ll see what I can do.”

I hurried away.

The following Monday, my teacher discretely showed me to a new place in the choir, a merciful action that I have always looked back on with gratitude. I felt sorry for the new victims of the green cloud. But then again, it was no longer my problem.

As difficult as it was to go to my teacher, I learned that day the truth in that old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” There are times when squeaking is absolutely necessary, though it may not come naturally. As I have gotten older, I’ve tried to learn how to squeak better when situations demand it. Not louder, really, just more tactfully and purposefully. At least, that is my intention.

Sometimes a persistent, intermittent squeak is required. Other times, a single, definitive noise is sufficient. Shrill and strident squeaks can be counterproductive. Ephesians 4:15 says to “Speak the truth in love.” But I am going so far as to say that we can also SQUEAK the truth in love. What I mean is, if you’ve got to speak up, there’s really just one way to do it – in love.

In this case, my “love” came from a feeling of protectiveness toward my classmate. I didn’t know Ephesians 4:15 back then, but I did know that I needed to squeak in a way that would do the least damage to her feelings in a “love always protects” (1 Corinthians 13) kind of way. Amazingly enough, it all worked out in the end.

The next time you feel a squeak coming on, even if it’s the truth, remember the love part, too. It just might be the critical factor in determining whether or not your squeaky wheel is going to get its shot of WD-40.

Until next time,

7.18.2010

Smile Sunday: Yoda and Me




A picture of Yoda and me this is.

Taken yesterday it was. At the Star Wars exhibit at the Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL.

7.12.2010

The Housework Litmus Test

"My theory on housework is, if the item does not multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares, why should you?" -- Erma Bombeck

In her tongue-in-cheek wisdom, Erma Bombeck set forth a mantra that everyone loves and no one implements. She prioritized those things that are of utmost importance and threw everything else under the bus. So if we do what she said, then from this day forth we will be set free from the bondage and the drudgery of chores. Well, most of them. Right?

Let’s dissect this theory a bit further.

If the item does not—

MULTIPLY. Bacteria. Germs. Flies. Mold. Gremlins. Immediately vanquish all of the above as soon as they rear their ugly little heads, or face dire consequences.

SMELL. Gym clothes. Old leftovers. Diaper pails. Garbage. Tuna. Deal with them.

CATCH FIRE. If you don’t know what does or what will, I suggest you brush up on your safety skills.

BLOCKING THE REFRIGERATOR DOOR. Hot wheels cars. Tonka trucks. Green army men. Magnetic letters of the alphabet. Various pieces of children’s furniture. Random pets. Two words for these things: Step aside. Otherwise, you risk destruction underneath the feet of my man and offspring who frequently chant, “Need. Food. Now.”

But on the heels of these four categories of the theory come those words that make me blissfully happy…. "LET IT BE."

This idea is groundbreaking, ladies and gentlemen. Mostly ladies. But I’m not stereotyping, of course. What this means is that we now have a litmus test for housework. If the chore does not fall into one of the above categories, then forget it. Clutter? Harmless. Home improvements? Lowe’s stock will just have to take a dive. Toys strewn from one end of the house to the other? Just think of them as happy little reminders of busy children at play. Organizing closets? As long as the door shuts, no worries.

Ms. Bombeck’s sentiment is ridiculously funny, one that I would be thrilled to adopt as my own.

Ah, if only reality would permit me to do so.

I’ve read plenty of articles and books that embody all of the old clichés…carpe diem, take time to smell the roses, enjoy the moments you are given because they are fleeting. Let the laundry sit, they say. Let the dishes collect. Let the house go to pot. It’s all okay, as long as you are enjoying your family. One day your children will be grown…and all that.

It’s well-intentioned advice, really. One day they will be grown and, as people are fond of saying, they will not remember if their beds were made or if the living room was uncluttered. They will remember whether or not their dad and I were available to them and were active participants in their lives. That is an indisputable fact. Erma Bombeck put her thoughts about housework in more cynical terms: “No one else cares, why should you?”

The fact is, they do care, though they may not express it. To frame it negatively, if the housework didn’t get done, then everyone would care. Just watch one episode of that pitiful show Hoarders if you don’t believe me. If we set the bar at only these four litmus-test categories, then Social Services would be paying us a visit. Every parent knows that running a household requires much more than determining what’s unsafe, stinky, or standing in the way of food.

The bottom line is, as nice as it is to minimize the mountain of tasks that every family faces, the mountain obviously remains. And the clock is always ticking, forcing us to find balance between what we must do and what we want to do. There is no easy fix, no brush to paint over our obligations with broad strokes.

But if you do decide to adopt Erma Bombeck’s litmus test, let me know. I’d like to know how that works out for you.

Assuming Social Services doesn’t get to you first.

7.06.2010

Why is the Gulf Cleanup So Slow?

Ferris wheels go up, and then they also come down. This is one of the down parts.

Today, a piece in the Wall Street Journal by Paul H. Rubin was the lever that got my wheel spinning...kind of like the one this guy is cranking.
Why is the Gulf cleanup so slow?

I am frustrated. I am just one voice out of millions who are. I used to think that stopping the leak should be priority, but I have given up hope for the spew to cease before this relief well is drilled in August. I suppose we all have to sit in our living rooms watching the gush continue in that little box on the corner of the screen on CNN until then. In the meantime, while we wait for August to get here, there's a huge black slick of oil floating off the shores of my state affecting livelihoods and ecosystems. Why are we on day 77?

Of course, this is a massive undertaking. A massive challenge that is sorely in need of top-down, command and control leadership. But that control should not prohibit local authorities from taking prudent measures to save their own coastlines. They are the foot-soldiers...the boots on the ground...the first line of defense. Receiving permission to act in the best interests of their regions should not require an act of Congress.

Rubin states, "Of the 2,000 skimmers in the U.S...only 400 have been sent to the Gulf. Federal barriers have kept the others on stations elsewhere in case of other oil spills, despite the magnitude of the current crisis. The Coast Guard and the EPA issued a joint temporary rule suspending the regulation on June 29—more than 70 days after the spill."

Well, it's about time.

That means we've been short 1,600 skimmers for 70 days. And plenty of offers of clean-up assistance from other countries that have been turned down based on the Jones Act, a 1920 law requiring that ships working in U.S. waters be operated by Americans. That law could be waived.

But it hasn't been.
(Ironically, it was just pointed out to me by one of my readers that the man in the ferris wheel picture above is wearing a hat called a "skimmer." I had no idea, but please pretend that I knew exactly what I was doing.)
My six-year-old daughter asked me, "Why can't everyone in the whole world go to clean up the oil? 'Cause then it would get done fast."

As sweet and naive as her thought is, she has a point. And if not everyone in the whole world, then how about just the folks (and countries) who are willing and able? Obviously, much more could be accomplished if hands were not tied for bureaucratic or political reasons.

NOW comes the part of the ride where the ferris wheel goes back up...

My dad recently took a trip to the Gulf and took this picture of an unusual cloud formation in the sky. Do you see what I (and many others) have seen?

It is the profile of a person praying. Head bowed, hands clasped, right shoulder and arm visible.

Praying over the Gulf...literally.

The picture speaks for itself.

Ride is over for today. Until next time,

7.03.2010

Dumbo, My Hat, and Me

Disneyworld, 1982. Mom and Dad buy six-year-old-me a stuffed Dumbo and a blue plastic Minnie Mouse wallet with red trim and photo display insert. Probably outrageously-priced by 80’s standards. This is a photo of me proudly displaying my new acquistions:


I am ecstatic. We sit down on a bench for a minute to rest, then get back up to continue trotting through the Magic Kingdom. Not too much later, I look around and ask my parents where my prized posssesions are. The horrible realization hits: Dumbo and Wallet didn’t make it off the bench with me. Tears. Buckets of them. Mournful tears. Dad takes off like a rocket in pursuit of the missing treasures, then comes back to report, sadly, that they’re gone. Gone with the wind, swiped from the bench by some punk kid (or worse, some thoughtless parent) who subscribed to the “Finders, Keepers” school of thought. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke…“How long can an abandoned stuffed Dumbo sit on a bench at Disneyworld?”

Additional mournful tears ensue.

Yes, I am an only child. No, I didn’t always get everything I wanted. In this particular situation, my parents made a decision that I suppose could be construed as giving in, but to this day, I have never forgotten that my daddy went and made things right for me. We were in Disneyworld, after all…the only time in my life I have ever been. The thunderclouds of that day faded when another (identical) Dumbo and Minnie Mouse wallet were plopped into my hands. I had never been more grateful in all my six years. It was just as if my old Dumbo, close friend of maybe 45 minutes, had been found. Duplicate Dumbo and I rejoiced together in our reunion.

Fast-forward to yesterday.

My three-year-old son asks if he can wear his Mickey Mouse hat to the mall. (Déjà vu…not only is it a Disney product, but it is actually my Mickey baseball cap from high school that he has commandeered.) I tell him sure, and after visiting several stores, we head to the cluster of 50-cent “baby rides” in the center of the mall. The children climb like monkeys over the rides (who needs quarters?), and then I usher them away from the area, out to the parking lot, and strap them into the van. I begin to pull out of the parking place.

“Momma?” comes a little anxious voice from the back seat. “Where’s my HAT?”

A wave of dread wells up within me.

“Look in our bags,” I tell his older sister.

“It’s not HERE!” she dramatically wails. Upon hearing this report, little brother erupts in…you guessed it…mournful tears.

My heart sinks. That hat is, after all, my hat. It has sentimental value, and I am not about to willfully surrender it to some “Finder Keeper” punk kid strolling through the mall. Disneyworld 1982 is not going to be repeated, and I am ready to fight.

The van screeches into the next available parking place. I throw it into park, unbuckling my seatbelt at the same time. “Get out, kids,” I bellow. “We’re going back in!”

I grab one child on either hand, and we take off running through the parking lot, down the sidewalk, weaving through hopelessly slow pedestrians blocking my pathway. I fling open the glass doors, dragging the kids behind me. We stop at a mall kiosk that we had visited earlier and ask the vendor if he has seen a Mickey hat. He shrugs and shakes his head. We careen around the corner, headed straight for the baby rides, and there, blessedly perched atop the green train engine, is my Mickey hat.


“I found it!” crows my daughter, while other mothers look on and smile. I smile back, silently grateful that they weren’t Finder Keeper moms. I plop the hat on the head of my relieved and happy little boy…and think back to 1982.

Luke 15:8 says, “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

Yes, I believe I would have swept the entire mall until I found that hat, if it had come to that. If he had to, my dad probably would have gone to the other end of the Magic Kingdom to replace Dumbo and Wallet. Those things had value – maybe not to the rest of the world, but to me.

Of course, people are worth a lot more than worn out baseball caps and stuffed animals. And if we, in our state of limited humanity, get excited over finding little lost things like hats, then heaven’s joy must be infinitely greater when a person who was once lost is found.

Sounds a lot like Amazing Grace.

Dumbo…my hat…and me.
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