Monday, September 30, 2013

The Dynamic Duo of Destruction

Everybody knows that kids can be a handful. Even just one kid can have enough entropy-loaded oomph to make a mama weep . . . or want to rip her hair out . . . or both. But every so often, God puts together a rather adorable, yet lethal, combination of little darlings and you can be left to pick up the pieces and, much like after a nuclear blast, never quite know exactly what hit you.

We called them Thing One and Thing Two. Partners in Crime. The Dynamic Duo of Destruction.

Thing One was a destroyer from the start. His first word was "apart" because, yes, he had indeed taken apart whatever he had gotten his hands on. It was quite fascinating, actually, and I wondered if this was a marketable skill. I considered hiring him out to Consumer Reports for durability testing, but decided that there were likely child labor laws against such things.

Thing One was a week shy of 21 months old when Thing Two crashed onto the scene. When she was only 6 months old she managed to eat enough of the text of one page of a really, REALLY nice library book that the Powers That Be declared it a total loss. (Did you know that at our library in 1996 you never had to pay more than $50 for a damaged library book, no matter what the actual cost?)

I will never forget the first time I knew that, together, they were trouble. Thing One was at the bottom of the back steps. Three steps up was a dead plant still in its pot of dirt (I'm not good with living things). Thing Two, at that time rather new at locomotion, crawled up the stairs, grabbed a handful of the dirt and slung it at Thing One. Fits of laughter followed—and more dirt slinging. I knew from that day that I was indeed doomed.

There wasn't anything that they wouldn't tackle together. And they were quite creative, really. I never knew where any given household item was because, more than likely, it had been put to some new and unusual use. Nothing was sacred. Some of you may cluck your tongues and shake your heads and say that I clearly did not have control over my household and, truth is, you are probably right. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I must have been on potty break when God was handing out managerial skills. I got none.

Most memorable though, of all their antics, was The Plump. They loved to make The Plump and they did so quite often. To make The Plump they would empty the entire contents of the linen closet and, if need be, strip down all the beds. Then pile the whole mess together in one big lump. Then they'd play King of the Plump or bury each other deep inside the bowels of The Plump (much to the horror of this highly claustrophobic mother). Sometimes they would use The Plump as a landing pad after sledding headfirst down the stairs inside a pillowcase or sleeping bag. It was all great fun until bedtime when someone—that would be me—had to sort through mounds of bedding to find her favorite pillow.

Eventually the Dynamic Duo of Destruction morphed into what I called the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, as, thanks to raging hormones, they transitioned from destroying the house to destroying each other. I used to ask other moms, while desperately seeking camaraderie, if their kids fought. My question would often be met with a quizzical look and a, "Why no. Not at all." Sometimes it was worse and Perfect Mother Of Non-Warring Children would use uber sweet and syrupy language like "cherish" and "adore" in reference to sibling relations. (Seriously? Just shoot me now.)

Thing One and Thing Two are older now and, amazingly enough, only fight on occasion, usually over the condition of the bathroom they share or the volume of the music. Strangely enough, I actually miss the little terrors they used to be. But time passes on and my granddaughter who, according to developmental psychology is in the Little Scientist phase (as in "Let's experiment with gravity!", Let's experiment with liquids!", "Let's see what happens when we put gravity and liquids together!"), is wreaking her own havoc on the household. It won't be long before Thing One and Thing Two can teach her how to make The Plump. I can't wait.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I. Am. a. Grandma

I. am. a. grandma.

That seems so . . . not right. Not that I don't like being a grandma. I do. I really, really do. (And it is true what they say. Grandkids ARE indeed the reward you get for not killing your children.) I never knew I could love a little thing so much.

It is just that, no matter what way I turn it, I don't FEEL like a grandma.

When I think of what a grandma is, I think of MY grandma. We called her Grandmama and she lived next door. She was only 61 when I was born but, in 1963, 61 was OLD.

She was tall and skinny and frail, with a gray poodle-puff hairdo that had to be set by the lady at the beauty parlor every Friday morning. She wore stockings and a girdle and skirts and dresses and pumps and hairspray. Every day. Her nails were perfectly manicured and polished. She drove a big, fancy Cadillac and drove it very carefully. She had a pink bathroom and she always smelled of roses. She had to eat delicately, owing to a troubled digestion, and always drank her iced tea half-strength. She was cold, all the time, and thus made me wear a sweater. Even in July. Even if I wasn't cold.

I, on the other hand, am far from frail. I must admit that without the help of Lady Clairol I would sport a disturbingly large mop of gray but it would be far from a poodle-puff. I don't think my hair would puff. Ever. I can't even bring myself to cut it short, like my mother said all women over thirty should do. I've never worn a girdle. I hate panty hose. I don't own a pair of pumps.

I eat anything I jolly well please (minus shrimp and peanuts, due to allergies, and weird animals, because that is just gross). I like my tea strong and my coffee stronger. I prefer a 5-speed vehicle of any kind but my dream ride is an old truck. I do a cartwheel every year on my birthday, just to prove I can.

I spend my time on the floor with my granddaughter or outside pushing her in the swing or around in the wheelbarrow or carrying her around the neighborhood in a backpack. I've taken her to show houses and attend home inspections. Next week she will go to her first, but likely not last, real estate closing.

She has taken to wanting to stand on the dining room table. You can't blame her. She's short. One day I decided to see what the big deal was and determined that standing on a table does have a certain level of appeal. She may be on to something. I have trouble picturing my grandmother standing on a table just for fun.

Several years ago I had the habit of, when typing my name, of getting my right hand off a bit. On several occasions I looked down to see my name not as Ginny, but Gubby. It wasn't long before that became a nickname of sorts and it was determined that this is what our grandchildren would call me—light years in the future, of course. Those light years didn't last too long and I became Gubby at 48.

Of course, little 15-month-old Bundle of Wonderfulness can't say Gubby. She calls me Bubba, or some variation thereof, which I guess fits well with my overall-clad, hillbilly persona. But she knows I will answer to whatever she calls me.

So the next time you see me, don't ask how I like being a grandma. Ask how I like being a Gubby. I will answer that I wouldn't trade it for the world.

To What End?

A few days ago I read an article about some of the lesser known dangers of CrossFit. In case you are not familiar with it, CrossFit is a physical training program that is something along the lines of a boot camp for those who are really serious about fitness. Well, apparently there are people who take the training a bit too far (exactly where the blame falls is up for debate), which can result in rhabdomyolysis, a condition where your muscle breaks down, flooding your blood with muscle cells that then jam up your kidneys, leading to kidney failure and sometimes even death. All because you pushed yourself too hard.

I could so see how that could happen. I see it all the time. A little is good. More is better. Push yourself to the limit. Show that you have what it takes. I would imagine it being not all that different from any extreme sport or high risk activity. Young people, in particular, consider themselves invincible and limits are made to be pushed. Weakness is a sin. The body is to be trained and molded and beat into submission. The sky is the limit.

But to what end?

I know that being in shape is important. But fitness, like any good thing, can become a mini-god, an idol. And idols are evil taskmasters. They require total allegiance and cause you to lose sight of the goal. So, I have discovered that the little phrase, "To what end?" can give me an entire shift in perspective.

Whenever I feel enormous amounts of guilt because I see friends spending hours a day in physical training and running marathons and biking across the state and such and I feel like I am a total wimp for not joining in, I have to ask myself, "To what end?" Would doing these things enable me to better love God and my neighbor? No.

Whenever I am frustrated about my appearance and long to be young and beautiful, I have to stop and ask myself, "To what end?" Would being attractive in any way change my purpose in this life? No.

Whenever I start letting the lust of my eyes get the best of me and I begin drooling over photos of charming old houses or gleaming hardwood floors, I have to stop and ask, "To what end?" Would my quality of life really be enhanced by having such temporary goodies. Probably not.

Whenever I look at the list of real estate agents in the region and see that I am way down the list in sales production for the year and I feel bad that I don't do more business and it must mean that I suck at what I do, I have to ask myself, "To what end?" It is just a number.

And whenever somebody else writes a wonderful blog post that gets shared all over Facebook and my latest post got only 10 "likes" and I feel a mix of discouragement and envy because I want to write good things, too, I have to ask myself, "To what end?" Does that change one iota my value in God's sight? Absolutely not.

If indeed "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever" (Westminster Shorter Catechism), then the other things in life must take a back seat and a smaller portion of my time and attention. It isn't that fitness or beauty or success is wrong in and of itself, it is only wrong when it takes up most of your life instead of just a small piece of it.

So the next time you get wrapped around the axle about a certain pursuit, go ahead and try it. Ask yourself, "To what end?" The change in perspective does a body good.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Children of the Church

It seems that of late there are an awful lot of articles out there about the large number of young people leaving the church and everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon of why this is happening. Most people tend to blame and demonize the things they want to blame and demonize, be it Sunday School (the horrors!), youth groups that are too much fun, or wimpy and shallow worship.

I have no doubt that there are perhaps valid points to some of these ideas, but I think the problem goes much deeper than that. I think the problem has more to due with the fact that, more often than we want to believe or ever admit, the church isn't acting like Christ.

It seems that within so many churches children are written off as unwieldy Tasmanian devils, whose intents are forever evil and who just need a healthy case of discipline and a good and swift wallop on the backside, to bring them in line and mold them into fine upstanding citizens. The problem is, with the exception of the most compliant of children, every child is, at one point or another, going to act like a child, which isn't always pleasant. Growing up is a confusing and bizarre process in and of itself. Life is hard enough.

But some children, an alarmingly larger number than we ever care to consider, are going to struggle with so much more. Let's take the 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males who are sexually abused in some way before they are 18 (and that number is NOT smaller in the church) and add to it all the children who face an entire host of other challenges, either through nature and nurture, and you have a lot of kids who are going to struggle with life and it may not be pretty. They need a refuge. They need to be met with the compassion of Christ, not avoidance, indifference, impatience, or only exhortation.

No amount of discipline or catechism ever mended the broken heart of a child who just saw his father walk out the door or his mother beaten. Who has had to endure soul-crushing abuse of many kinds. Who has struggled but never fit in anywhere he went. Who can never live up to the performance of an older sibling or the expectations of a driven parent. Children feel pain just as adults do, only moreso, and what they experience can have a lifetime of consequences.

I know I sound so critical of the church, and I must admit that there are times I get terribly frustrated. I know we, as the body, are not perfect. We won't be in this life. But we can set aside our own agenda, our predisposition to be neat and tidy, our desire to see everyone pull themselves together and hit one for the team, and be what we are called to be, the eyes and mouths and arms and feet of Jesus.

Somewhere along the line the church got sidetracked. The tools that were used to train our kids became an end unto themselves so that value of a child was measured by his ability to sit still, or answer the right questions or memorize scripture or, better yet the catechism, or perform service projects or dress nicely or speak intelligently to the elderly . . . in essence, to be good little boys and girls.

But if you learn, as a child, that the church is for "good" people and that your behavior matters more than your pain, sure, it makes total sense to me that you are going to leave and never look back.

Somewhere along the line the church became about doing and not about being. About programs and not about relationships. About exhortation and not about Good News. About behavior and not about hearts. What children learn about church tells them a lot about God. Heaven forbid we ever give them reason to think God doesn't care.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I have been struck in the past few years that it seems that just about everything is now an "issue". It is hard to make even the smallest of talk without somebody, somewhere twisting it into some sort of a political pretzel or moral ticking time bomb. The polarization of just about everything is staggering. People believe more passionately and defend more fiercely, it seems, than ever before....or at least that I can remember (my limited recall being under 50 years).

It really is a jungle out there. And because of that, I think that people have come to expect the church to be a refuge, which it should be. The church SHOULD be a refuge for weak and weary sinners in need of grace. The church SHOULD be a refuge for the poor and the oppressed, the widow and the orphan. The church SHOULD be a refuge for the brokenhearted, the downtrodden, the Misfit Toys of this world.

But it seems like lately I am hearing more and more people express the desire that the church remain or become a refuge from anybody who thinks differently. I'm not saying anybody who BELIEVES differently, as in the basics of the gospel and orthodox Christianity and all that. I mean some seem to want the church to be a refuge from those whose faith in God plays out differently in their life. And I am just not so sure that is the role of the church.

Take politics, for example. Should the church be a refuge from those who have different political views? Should the church be the place you can run to and everybody thinks like you and debates like you and votes like you? 

Should the church be a refuge from those who have a different take on social responsibility  or environmental action?

Should the church be a refuge from those who have an "inferior" worship style or those who prefer a different translation of the Bible?

Should the church be a refuge from those who raise their children differently? Discipline their children differently? Educate their children differently? Even FEED their children differently?

I think we have gotten it all mixed up. Last I checked there were 10 Commandments and Jesus summed them up like this:

"Love The Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." — Matthew 22:37-39

It is only natural that God, in all of his creativity, placed a variety of people in his church. People who are wired differently and think differently and come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences and these very well may result is a huge variation on just how people choose to put loving God and loving their neighbor into practice.

I think that the problem here is that we are mixing up preferences with principles and elevating our preferences, our personal practical applications, into some form of law in and of itself. And we not only use that law to define our faith, but we use that law to measure the faith of the person sitting next to us. And we push . . . push . . . PUSH that law onto our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, is there anything wrong with wanting to be with like-minded folks? Not at all. Is there anything wrong with expecting everybody in your church to think and talk and look and live and love exactly like you do? Yes, I think there might be. Aside from being unrealistic, a place like that would be downright creepy in a robotic, Clone-A-Matic, Stepford Christians sort of way.

I find it fascinating that Revelation 7:9 speaks of "every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb." We are going to be spending eternity with a whole host of people who may be different from us in almost every way but one: We are washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Oh, I know that it is inevitable, while here on earth, that we are going to join together based on some common ideals and convictions and preferences, but, ultimately, those should not be the things that bind us together, because those are not the things that bind us to Christ. And he is our refuge.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My Answer to the Modesty Mafia

Almost a month ago I got my panties in a wad over all these modesty posts and sat down and cranked out my own thoughts, but never posted them. I knew that I would receive a lot of pushback and, at the time, there were so many other things going on in my life that I just wasn't up to the task. But the wheels have been turning.

Then, last night, my friend, Rebecca, posted her own thoughts, which sparked my thinking again. You can read it here. I really appreciate the idea of not thinking so much about yourself, period. And that is part of the problem with this Modesty Crusade. One of many problems.

Most modesty articles are pretty much the same. Shock and horror at the immodest dress of teenage girls and even more shock and horror at her parents for letting her out the door dressed in so very little. "Where are her parents?" these people rage. The assumption seems to be that either her parents are asleep at the wheel or complete tramps themselves. Well, I can guarantee that this is not always the case, because I am one of those parents.

Part of the modesty problem is that there is no set-in-stone rule out there for where modesty stops and too much skin starts. But when you start defining modesty by inches of skirt or exposure of shoulder, then you start down a road that can, at the very least, SEEM rather legalistic.

Then there is the practical aspect. My youngest daughter (Daughter #3) works with horses and in the summer she gets beastly hot. The less she has on her body, the better, in her mind. Imposing a specific standard of modesty might not only seem silly and legalistic to her, it can be downright uncomfortable.

Before people jump all over me about this, let me state that I know . . . I KNOW the arguments for modesty. And I am not in disagreement with them. I have also, in the past, added my own concerns, including the need for safety, to these reasons as I have talked to my daughters. But knowing this and even teaching this are very different from enforcing it. And one has to ask at what point and at what age should a parent even attempt to enforce it?

If you have never had teenage daughters or if you have had them but they were super compliant (Daughter #2, for a time) or totally disinterested in fashion and fitting in (Daughter #1), you may not understand just how hard this is for parents. But if you look around at the girls at church and huff and puff about their state of dress or, quite possibly, undress, then I challenge you to take a teenage girl shopping.

Go right ahead, waltz in to Target with a hormonally challenged, star crossed adolescent female who wants nothing more to fit in and try, just try, to find her a dress that fits that arbitrary definition of "modest." Better yet, I challenge you to do so without at least one of you bursting into tears and with your relationship still intact when you walk out the door. It is just plain hard. I know how young women dress is important. But even that does not define them.

Teenage girls, especially, are living through a hormonal hell while trying to find their own identity, outside of their parents. They long to belong. Life is very fragile. We parents know that. Some of us may opt to handle with care and pick our fights.

I am perfectly aware that there are some people that may look at the length of my daughter's dress and, from that, make a full-on judgment about my success as a parent. You know what? I don't care. There comes a point that I have to leave certain issues up to God. And the very last thing I want is an outward compliance without a change in the heart. The last thing I want is for my daughter to believe that she is only acceptable to God if she is wearing the right clothing.

When I was a kid the most awful thing I could hear from my mother was "I'm so ashamed" when it came to something I did or something I was. I refuse to be ashamed of my children. Any of them. For any decision they may make. I may not agree with it or condone it but I refuse to be ashamed. I refuse to be ashamed of my daughter for what she may wear. Sure, I have taught and explained and encouraged, but at some point she has to make the decision herself. Compliance to my standards just to keep me off her back isn't going to be sustainable in the long run. At some point, these convictions have to be between her and God.

People are more than clothing, be it how much or how little that they have on. Modest in other contexts usually means meeting needs without all the extras. When I sell a modest house to my clients, it is one that provides shelter and the comforts of home without all the glitz, without calling attention to itself, and without breaking the bank. If we translated that to clothing, I could say that there is plenty of clothing out there that covers plenty of skin, but is not modest at all. And vice versa.

So the next time you see a young woman whose short shorts are short on material and whose tank top has too much tank and not enough top, don't assume that, in some way, she is the enemy, a tramp to be scorned for her choices. Look beneath the little clothing she may have on and see what she is, a young woman created in the image of God. And don't assume that her parents are unaware. They may be like me, stepping back and letting her work it out with God for herself.