Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seeing Rightly: What I Learned from my Cleaning Lady Today

Might I ask you to pray for someone our family loves dearly?

Today was “Beata Day.” The day, every two weeks, that we all look forward to because we know that our dear Beata will come clean us up and put us all back together again.

Yes, I have a cleaning lady, but she’s much more than that to me. She’s a friend who has closely watched my kids grow up, patiently putting their shoes away when I’ve told them a hundred times that Beata’s coming and they need to put them away. She’s the one who knows where I keep the old rags—in a tattered cardboard box on a rickety gray shelf back in a corner of the basement. She’s the one who knows pretty much all about us and doesn’t judge. (I love her for that.)

Over the years she has shared bits and pieces of her life with me in her broken English. How she left her home country many years ago in order to come here, work hard, and make a better life for her family. How she waited four years for her husband to get a green card to come here too. How she left her teenage daughters (I can’t begin to imagine how painful that must have been!), now grown up and married and having babies of their own. How she has missed out on birthdays and weddings and births.

On Sunday, Beata’s parents flew to Chicago from their homeland to visit their daughter and son-in-law—what was supposed to be a fun two weeks. But while still in line for Passport Control in the airport (three hours, Beata said, with no water), her father collapsed and suffered a heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital where he died two days later.

And just two days after that, Beata came here—to work! (I sent her home.)

But we talked for a while before she left this morning, tears occasionally sliding down her cheeks, and you know what she told me? She told me about the plans her parents had for her and her husband. How her parents lived in a really big house, and how their dream was for Beata and her husband to return home in a few years to live with them. She told me that her parents had been married for 48 years and were already planning a trip for their 50th wedding anniversary. A trip that will never be taken. She told me that it had been seven years—seven years!—since she had seen her father.

I kept nodding my head, holding her hand, telling her how very sorry I was that this happened to her.

Then she told me something that I won’t soon forget: she said, “But I got to see my father.”

You see, rather than focus on all the bad that has happened to her in the past few days (oh, heck, the past few years), she chose to focus on the good: the fact that she got to SEE her father in his last few hours. She got to hold his hand (“He squeezed my hand so tight,” she told me) as his strength left him in the hospital. And although he couldn’t speak to her, his eyes fluttered open every now and then and she knew without a doubt that he saw her.

“I got to see my father.”

Tragedy has struck my friend—real tragedy. Not the kind of thing we think of as our everyday tragedy: our car broke down or my kid’s Homecoming dress didn’t get delivered in time or the grocery store was out of the specific kind of pasta I was looking for. We get frustrated, upset even, when the slightest little bit of our life doesn’t go as planned.

I think they call those First World Problems. They’re all around us.

And they drive us crazy and make us think we’re justified to get frustrated and upset. (We’re not, just in case you were wondering.) We act like our lives should be so easy—that we deserve easy. (We don’t, by the way.) And that these “problems” threaten our very sense of peace and security. (Ask a Christian living in the Middle East about peace and security.)

And when these little irritations happen, we complain. Loud and hard, boy do we complain. We let everyone around us know how bad we have it—so much worse than our neighbor down the street.

Can I tell you something? I get tired of the complaining. I just don’t want to hear about it until you have something worth complaining about.

Like how your father, whom you haven’t seen for seven years, traveled halfway around the world and collapsed before you even get to give him a hug.

That you could complain about.

But you see, the irony of this world seems to be, to me, that the people who deserve to complain never do.

They just look at the tiny bit of good in their bucketload of bad.

“I got to see my father.”


Linking to At the Picket Fence's Inspiration Friday, Serenity Now's Weekend Bloggy Reading, and Richella's Grace at Home party.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good Reads

Some of my favorite blog posts from the past couple of weeks. I'd love to know your favorite!

Encounter God in the Wal-Mart Checkout Line? Say What? :: Internet Cafe Devotions. What a great story! You'll remember this one for a while.

Miley Cyrus was wrong :: Jon Acuff. Want to change your life and the world? Here's one way.

What Women Need to Say to Each Other . . . because it's what every woman needs to hear :: Ann VosKamp. You are so beautiful.

Designer Babies, Designer God :: It's Almost Naptime! Missy pulled this one out of her archives this week, but oh my! what a powerful post. Reader, beware.

Oh Behave! Conduct Worthy of the Gospel in Corporate Worship :: The Gospel Coalition blog. Interesting thoughts about preparing for worship. Not what you might think.

Most of the Work of Ministry is done by Christians Who Work Secular Jobs :: Desiring God blog. Something I've been thinking about A LOT over the past couple of months. The "secular" workplace is not any less sacred than, well, the sacred. (More to come on this topic, I have a feeling.)

And finally, my absolutely MOST favorite blog post of the past week or two.

True Love Obeys: Why We Abstain from Premarital Sex :: her.menutics. "Although it certainly encourages me in the hard times to believe that God as my creator knows what’s best and is therefore a trustworthy master, I ultimately must obey because he is my master, period." Can I get a hearty "Amen" here? YES! Please share this with any young, single Christian person you know.

Now share. What was one of your favorite posts this week? Feel free to link up one of your own or someone else's in the Comments section.

Have a great weekend! 


Friday, September 21, 2012


Is it true that sometimes we stand together even when we stand apart?

 The days, they don’t always click. The mushy-gushy warmlove, unseen, unfelt.

Some days it’s the dog needs a bath or the furnace needs a filter.

Some days it’s the bills need to be paid and our calendar is out of control.

Some days it’s big decisions and small, all clambering for our attention like a newborn screaming for her mama’s breast.

It’s work and church and responsibilities and commitments.

No time to think or process or just be. Together.

And on those days, the days when we’re not together in mind or body or spirit, I wonder: are we really together?

At a gut-honest level, I do wonder. Some days.

And yet.

I hold the hand I’ve known forever while the pastor gives the benediction because I know more than anything that I need this. We need this.

Hope. Commitment. Love. Joy.

We stand together, comfortable in our stance, side by side, receiving a blessing, and in that moment I know that despite the differences and the schedule and the interruptions of our lives we are just that.



Thursday, September 20, 2012

Procrastination is Bad

Right now I’m trying to teach one of my girls an important life lesson, and the life lesson goes something like this: procrastination is bad.

Really, we might as well call it like it is: it’s bad. It’s bad to think we can “do it later” when right now is all we’ve got.
  • Procrastination is deceptive, making you think you have more time than you have. 

  • Procrastination makes a mess of your priorities.

  • Procrastination keeps you from being a productive citizen. (And good golly, don’t we need more productive citizens these days?)

My daughter keeps trying (and failing) to not procrastinate. She has every good intention of getting her homework done or doing her chores in a timely manner. But for some reason, she struggles still.

I’m trying to help her, to coach her in the fine art of productive citizenship, but I get frustrated with her actions (or lack thereof), not because I don’t understand, but because I understand oh-too-well this habit called procrastination

This bad habit.

Take my day, for instance. Today—today!—I had one priority: grade ten papers. I collected 40 papers from my students yesterday and brought them home from work thinking, ten papers is doable. I can manage to grade ten papers.

Especially since I had not one other thing on my calendar today.

But here’s the thing. I went for a walk this morning with a friend whom I haven’t seen in a while. Much needed—both the exercise and the time with my friend.

After that, I sorted laundry and took a shower. Seriously, both were also needed because have you seen my laundry pile?!
Suddenly, with those priorities out of the way (they really were priorities), I realized that I had to—HAD TO—get to Target. You see, we were completely out of trash bags. Not a trash bag to be had in our house this morning, and you know as well as I do that a household without trash bags is a household in mortal danger of crumbling completely.

So, to Target I ran.

But while I was walking out the front door, I realized that the mums I had purchased last Saturday still needed some attention. You know, black urns would really spruce up my front door. And some pumpkins!

I knew that just down the road from Target was my favorite nursery, so I took just a quick detour. It wouldn’t take long. Just to see how much the black urns would cost.

And the pumpkins.

(Can you believe that one of those urns, which isn’t even cast iron by the way, costs $129?? What a rip off!)

I sauntered over to their huge selection of pumpkins and gourds. Gourds? Why didn’t I think of that? I must take time to peruse their selection of gourds, you know, as long as I’m here.

Have you ever seen an apple gourd? They are so cool! Green, large, and looks like an apple. I considered for a few minutes whether I needed one of those next to my black urn.

I still hadn’t taken a gander at the pumpkins, but finally, a gorgeous display of “fairy tale” pumpkins caught my eye. These are the really cute, interesting-looking pumpkins that, apparently, look like Cinderella’s carriage. And cost as much, too!

Seriously? My favorite nursery just became my worst enemy. Might as well call them Shylock’s for the usury they’re charging.

I hightailed it out of there without buying a thing. But had a very pleasant half hour looking around.

Target was my destination today. Trash bags, remember?

Just get the bags and get home. You have papers to grade, Missy!

But the pumpkins had caught my imagination.

I knew that Trader Joe’s had sold them in the past, and for much less than the nursery, so I decided to head there just as soon as I finished at Target. Those pumpkins would sell out quickly, so I really, really needed to check today to see if they had them.

Priorities, remember?

I trekked to Trader Joe’s in the next town over, only to find that their fairy tale pumpkins had not come in yet. But, of course, I picked up a couple things I needed while I was in there.

After a morning of running around, I finally came home. First I unloaded my Target purchases—those groceries wouldn’t unload themselves, you know!

Next, I threw in another load of laundry.

Finally, I looked at my kitchen floor and decided that today—today!—was the day it needed to be cleaned. Which would involve, of course, moving all of the chairs and stools and rugs in order to sweep, then mop, the floors.

An hour later, my floors were shining like they did on the day they were put in!

It was 2:30 by this time, and the papers had not been touched.

Nor had I eaten any lunch yet. Lunch is important, right? Priorities. I couldn’t grade papers without a little sustenance.

I returned a phone call.

Julia called and needed a ride home from school.

And still, those papers sat, ungraded.

My day has now been wasted frittered away very productive. I have clean, shiny floors, and my daughter is safely home from school, working on her homework, trying hard not to procrastinate, because we all know that procrastination is bad.

Best of all, I now have trash bags.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Letter to my 16-year-old self

Emily at Chatting at the Sky released a new book this week titled Graceful. It’s a book for teenage girls (right up my alley!), and in honor of the new book she thought it might be neat for bloggers to write letters to their 16-year-old selves.

(Neat? Really? Who even says that any more?)

Anyway, it took a while to conjure up images of way back then, but once I got into it, this was really fun. Hope you enjoy this blast into my past!

Dear Me,

It’s hard to even remember you back then. Tall (you reached your full 5’ 9” height in 8th grade), lanky (check out those legs!), and feeling more insecure than pretty much anybody else around you.

These are some things I wish you had known back then. But then again, isn’t hindsight always 20/20?

1. Life isn't always easy, is it? Sorrow and loneliness seem to be your closest companions, but they don’t have to be. Stop relying on yourself so much and let others in. Stop fighting with your sisters and make friends with them instead. Life would be a whole lot easier with a couple of advocates on your side.

2. You feel like a fish out of water in high school. You wish you had more friends, but making friends is hard. Don’t worry. College is coming, and you’ll make the best friends of your life there.

3. You so want a boy to like you. Any boy. Don’t waste so much time and emotional energy on that—it really isn’t worth it. Besides, you won’t marry a boy from high school (thank goodness!). You’ll wait for the right one, and you won’t even recognize him when he’s right under your nose. (You’re kinda dumb about boys. Sorry.)

4. You really want to make people happy. This is a good thing and a bad thing. You’re going to have to try to figure out when it’s worth it and when it’s not.

5. Watch your parents carefully. They’ve been through a lot, and still, they really know how to love.

6. You’re really skinny—enjoy it while you can, but don’t make that your identity. It won’t last.

7. Keep reading. Keep dreaming. And talk to Grandpa Earl about his travels because some day soon you will go to England, and it will change your life forever.

 8. That one time? After a football game with your friends? Do. Not. Go. So not worth it.

9. Oh, and the hair? Just don’t ever go there again either.

10. You really love Jesus, but you feel like there’s something you should DO to make Him love you back. There isn’t. Not one thing. He already loves you more than you know. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a long time before you get that. I wish you could get that now and rest in it forever.

Despite all of this fairly harsh criticism of you, I have to say that you’ve turned out pretty well. You have learned a few things along the way, you’ve become friends with your sisters, and best of all, you’ve let God take over.

You're in for a lot of great adventures--you'll go places, meet people, and do things that you can't possibly dream about right now. 

You’ve had a good life, dear Me. A really, really blessed life.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Letters to My Daughters - Be a Giver

Dear Daughters,

I want to talk to you today about giving.

Not your money . . . yourself.

I had an interesting conversation with a college girl the other day, and she told me that since she has begun volunteering with a campus organization this year she has a new appreciation for those who serve. She's learning that serving is hard work! See, she’s having trouble getting people to help her with the events she’s planning. And when she plans an event, people inevitably complain.

My friend just can’t figure out why people her age (your age!) don’t want to get involved.

(Let me tell you, girls, people can be a royal pain.)

And so can serving. But I want to encourage you to keep doing it, keep serving, because it shapes the person you are becoming and the person you are going to be.

As my friend talked, she said, “I’ve realized that these people who won’t do anything—my generation—are also the people who someday will have to be involved in our communities . . . and in our churches! Who is going to do all the work if nobody wants to get involved?

Right on, Sister!

I told her that in this world there are givers and there are takers. (Again, I’m not talking about money—I’m talking about our time.) Sadly, it seems like today there are more takers in this society than givers.

So who will get involved? Who will be the givers of tomorrow?

I’ll tell you who—you will. Because you have, I hope, a sense of responsibility to the world around you. And because you understand that there are many people out there who, for some reason or another, just can’t do it, but you can. And you also know that sitting at home watching T.V. is no way to live a rich and fulfilling life.

I can't waste time or energy worrying about all those other people out there who aren’t getting involved in their communities and in their churches. (Those, by the way, are usually the people who complain the loudest when things don’t go quite according to their expectations. Be forewarned.) What I need to focus on is me. What am I doing to make my community and my church a better place?

I was raised with parents who were always involved in some aspect of community and church life. One time I asked my mom why they were always doing so much, and I’ll never forget my mom’s answer. She told me, “If there is a need, and I can fill it, I’ll do it.”

If there is a need . . . and I can fill it . . . I’ll do it.

How much better would our world be if more people had this philosophy of living and giving?

Sure, there are times when we are stretched so thin that we absolutely cannot fill a need. I get that. God understands. We all need healthy boundaries.

But when you see a need, I would hope that, rather than automatically dismissing it as someone else’s problem, you would at least take a moment to consider how and if you can help fill that need.

So far, girls, you are doing great. You’ve all been actively seeking ways to serve others. Keep it up and make it a lifelong habit.

Be a giver.


Linking this post to Richella's Grace at Home party and Amanda's Weekend Bloggy Link Up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

September Update

Sitting . . . on a sunny dock overlooking blue water and perfect sky.

Drinking . . . coffee. Strong and black in the early morning light.

Enjoying . . . warm sand on my toes and the company of life-long friends.

Hearing . . . happy squeals from children on the beach nearby. The clanging of sailboats in the harbor. Waves kissing the shore.

Talking . . . about washing machines the way we used to talk about boys.

Feeling . . . thankful . . . for friendships that have lasted long despite miles and experiences and paths unlikely.

Realizing . . . that life, maturity, and experience really do bring joy.

Wondering . . . why it has taken us 30 years to make this happen.