Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Rick

2010 was a hard year for Rick. In the first third of the year, the unfortunate combination of working for a company that sold a very expensive product that might soon be made obsolete by the likes of Netflix and Comcast On-Demand and the poor economy created a perfect storm that ended in Rick losing his job. As we moved through the rest of the year, Hannah graduated from high school and got ready to embark on the next chapter of her life, Rick and his sister spent lots of time on the phone dealing with the realities of having elderly parents, and Rick started a new business venture with a colleague. All-in-all, a stressful year.

But in the midst of this, Rick took the time to tap into his creative side. He started a drawing, using the colored pencils that we had stashed around – Crayola and Rose Art pencils, mostly – none of those fancy high-end “Art” pencils. I think it started as a therapeutic endeavor. And it served its purpose. It ended up as a donation to the silent auction at church, benefitting the outreach efforts, and bringing in, I believe, the most money of any other item in the auction. Each year, everyone waits to see what Rick will create and donate. And this year, he really outdid himself. The photo below gives you an idea of how fabulous this piece is, but really doesn't do it justice. You'll have to visit the Maloney's to see the real one.

As I was considering what to write for his birthday blog, I thought of those things that I appreciate in Rick. I decided to do a “Top 5 Things I Like About Rick” list. I encourage those of you who know and love Rick to comment and let him know what you like best.

1. He’s a great father. No one loves their children more than Rick loves Hannah and Sara. He’s always been an involved. When moms of other babies my kids ages complained about their husbands not getting up with the kids, or not changing diapers, I couldn’t chime in because Rick always did those things. And I appreciated it. And it sealed a relationship with the girls that has remained close and loving ever since. They’re lucky to have him.

2. He’s a great cook. Really. Any of you who have had the opportunity to taste his cooking will agree. If you haven’t, I highly suggest that you try to weasel an invitation.

3. He’s an artist. As evidenced by the picture above, Rick has a creative streak a mile wide. I wish he had the time to indulge in this more. He builds furniture, he’s done stained glass, he takes great photographs. If you can weasel an invitation to dinner, I’ll show you all the pieces we have around the house.

4. He’s a musician. He plays the guitar and mandolin – and even when he’s noodling around, he plays well. That was one of the first things that attracted me to him, actually. I grew up in a family where, if you’re just sitting around, you’ve got a guitar or some other instrument in your lap and you’re noodling. He fit right in. After I’ve showed you the artwork, I’ll have him and Sara play you a duet.

5. He’s a really hard worker. This new business thing has great potential. After the music, you can have him tell you all about it. You’ll see how excited he is about it. And he’s been working his butt off – knowing that the monetary rewards are down the road a ways. Many, if not most of us would have given up and found something less personally rewarding that pays now. But Rick and his business partner have vision. And a great business model. And a work ethic that is hard to find these days.

So, it’s been a hard year, but Rick’s made the best of it, the best way he could. And I’m proud of him for not getting so frustrated that he gave up. And next year is going to be much better - I'm sure of it. Happy birthday, Rick. The girls and I love you.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

She's Her Mother's Daughter

When I get the urge to clean, admittedly not as often as I should, I am usually completely focused on the task and won’t stop until it is completely done. When I was in college, this urge would typically happen later in the evening. My senior year, I’d call my friend Michael and he’d come over and sit in the middle of my bed and keep me company until the wee hours of the night. When I was finished, the room would be spotless. Really.

Last night, starting at around 11:00, Sara got the cleaning bug. Her room had hit critical mass, and once she started cleaning, I’m not sure a nuclear attack would have stopped her. Understanding the compulsion to get it finished, I didn’t suggest that she go to bed and pick it back up in the morning. I didn’t suggest that she try to be a little bit quieter. I knew that it was now or never. Sometime around 3:00 am, she was done (except for the vacuuming, which would not have been a good middle-of-the-night activity in a house with others trying to sleep).

For better or for worse, Sara is MY daughter. But I think she’ll be better than I ever was or will be. I took violin for eight years when I was a kid. I was pretty good, if I do say so myself. Sara has been taking for 5 years now, and she will be better than I ever hoped to be. I’ll admit that she progressed more quickly when she started because I worked with her so it was like she had two teachers. She’s got an amazing ear, and genuinely loves playing, and if she decides to continue forever, she’ll be able to do whatever she wants with the music.

After I stopped playing violin, I started singing. Well, I think I actually started singing before I could talk, but I started taking voice lessons when I was fourteen. Sara started singing before she could talk too. And while she hasn’t taken voice lessons yet, I expect that’ll be on the schedule in the next year or so. I love hearing her sing. She has such a sweet voice and a dramatic flair that allows her to make every song her own – I know she’ll be better than I ever was.
On the “poor thing” side, she got a knack for disorganization from me. And a tendency towards procrastination. She was a head-banging temper tantrum queen when she was a toddler – another trait from me. But she’s always been the sweetest, most loving child anyone could ever meet. I don’t know where that came from, but what the heck? I’ll take credit for that too!

She’s one of the funniest people I know – a trait that certainly came from Rick’s side of the family, with a nod towards the politically incorrect tendencies of the Daves and Latane sides of my blood. And the beauty – well both of my children were lucky enough to get the best of both sides rather than the worst!

I can’t wait to see where she goes with all of this. I’m astounded and delighted every day watching her grow into the amazing woman she’ll be. And I’m so proud of her and needless to say, I love her with every fiber of my being.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The 2nd Sunday in Advent

In 2002, I embarked on a 4-year journey called EFM (Education for Ministry). This course was developed by the Episcopal Semenary at The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, and is designed to help lay people explore their own call to lay ministry in their own worlds.

Each year, during the last class before Christmas, we had a priest do a service for us, and each year, one of the students was tasked with the homily for that service. In 2003, I was the happy recipient of that honor. Copied below is the homily I gave.


Christmas is my favorite season. I love decorating the house, although I haven’t gotten it all done yet this year. I have a collection of those little Christmas houses that we put out every year – one year the village was invaded by toy soldiers that I gave Rick for Christmas as a joke – last year the people were knocked over by our cat, but every year we put it together again, and every year it looks beautiful.

I also love giving gifts to people. I love picking out just the right thing, and seeing joy on people’s faces if I actually got it right. But I’m not as good at receiving gifts – even the smallest extravagance that is aimed at me makes me feel uncomfortable –and a little undeserving. I’m trying very hard to teach my children to be gracious and thankful when they get gifts – even if those gifts aren’t exactly what they expected or wanted.

But as we all know, Christmas is more than decorations and gifts. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “miracle of Christmas”, and what it is exactly. Most people believe that the miracle is in the baby Jesus. But that is only part of the story for me.

Looking at the two Gospels that have the story of Jesus’ conception and birth, I am struck especially by the stories of Mary and Joseph – two young people caught in a potentially stressful and difficult situation.

Joseph had a lot to lose – especially in those days where wives were possessions and expected to obey and honor their husbands. When he found out Mary was pregnant, Matthew tells us that Joseph had it in his mind to divorce Mary quietly, without public disgrace (he must have been a pretty nice guy to not want to embarrass her publicly) – but once the Angel came to him and told him what was to happen, he simply accepted and did what the Lord commanded him to do.

The situation for Mary was even more difficult. Mary was a young teenager when she was betrothed to Joseph – probably not too much older than my daughter Sara, actually. Now, I know lots of teenagers, and if the angel were to come down today to any of them and tell them that they were going to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and be the mother of the Messiah, I’m sure he’d hear plenty of arguments and words of disbelief. “No way!” they’d say – “I won’t fit into my new jeans if I’m pregnant, and besides, I have to try out for cheerleading in the spring. My reputation will be ruined!” Mary, on the other hand, only asked “how will this be?” In spite of the potential for losing her fiancĂ©e, and the very real possibility of public disgrace for being pregnant out of wedlock, Mary only asked “how will this be?” She didn’t say “No way – I’m not risking my future happiness and reputation on something like this!” She didn’t complain and try to bargain with the angel. She only said “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.”

Mary recognized this challenge as the most wonderful of gifts, and accepts it gracefully and gratefully. In the Magnificat, she says “my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” She rejoices! The miracle of Christmas, to me, is these two young people’s ability to simply say “yes” to God.

How many times a day are we faced with moral decisions, some more difficult than others? Should I give the homeless man on the street a couple of dollars? Should I stop on the highway to help someone who has broken down, even if I’m a little late? Should I discipline my child, even if their grounding will be harder for me than for them because I’ll have to put up with their grousing for a week?

How many times a day do we feel a little tug from God to make changes in our lives – sometimes big changes, but sometimes just small ones? And how many times do we either ignore that tug, or say – “I know I need to do that, but it’ll be too hard today – maybe tomorrow – maybe next week – maybe that’ll be one of my New Year’s Resolutions.”

Mary and Joseph were humans just like us – and being human had the God-given benefit of free will. They could have said – “No way” or “Maybe next year” or even “Why me?” But they didn’t. God asked a huge sacrifice from each of them, and they both simply said “yes” because they knew that they were getting the greatest gift of all.

Sometimes it’s hard to see things as gifts, especially if we’re hurting or disappointed. Oftentimes it’s hard for me to believe that I deserve the bounteous gifts that God gives me every day and I’m sure others often feel the same way. I pray that we all are given the wisdom to gracefully accept the things in our lives as the gifts they are. My other prayer for myself and for all of us this Christmastime is to try to say “yes” to that little voice in our heads that is telling us the right thing to do – that is telling us what God would have us do. Even if it’s difficult.

And in the meantime, I hope we all take the time this Christmas to enjoy our families and friends, and to give thanks for the great gifts we have received this year. And to look forward to a year where we can simply say “yes” more frequently.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

The First Sunday in Advent

Yesterday I took some Turkey Tetrazzini and a salad to a dear friend from church who lost his wife this past fall. If you were to meet this gentleman, within the first twenty minutes of conversation you would know two important things about him. First is his incredible faith in God. Second, and as apparent as the first is his love for his wife. My friend and his wife had been married for over 40 years, and he still cherishes her as much today as he did the day they got married.

We visited for a while, and talked about all sorts of things, including, of course, his wife. She died suddenly, just like her mother did. She had told my friend many times that when it was time for her go too, that she prayed it would be quick and painless, just like her mother. My friend is relieved that her prayer was answered.

As I was getting ready to leave, he took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye, and told me he was doing well. He said that he was at peace with his wife's death, and that he was at peace with his life without her. I believe that he believes this is true.

But I am also anxious for him as we move into the holidays and beyond. The holidays can be difficult for any of us. We struggle with expectations, our own and those that others have of us. We struggle with how busy things are this time of year. As a Christian, I struggle with how to make sure the reason for the Christmas season shines through in the midst of the commercialization and greediness that is a poor substitute for worship and contemplation, and spending time with those people you love. This Christmas will be more difficult for him, his first one without his dear wife. But my friend has many people who love him, and who will take some extra time to make sure he's got company and attention (and food!).

There are many others who aren't that lucky. So, this Christmas season, pay attention to the people around you, and take some time to help those in need. People in need of money, but also people in need of conversation. People in need of a coat, but also people who just need a smile. Be aware of how your words and actions can affect people - those you love and those you happen upon in your day to day life. This holiday, give the gift of yourself and your time. The gift you get back will be better than any box under the tree.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Carole!

Today is my sister Carole’s birthday. Carole is way, way older than I am (well, 18 months older than I am so she’ll hit 50 before I do). She’s beautiful and smart and funny and just basically a great person.

Carole and I were fairly typical siblings as we were growing up. Because I was a little bit younger and more than a little bit annoying, I drove her crazy. My older brother Phillip and I did the real fighting, and Carole would sort of cower in the middle, trying to stay out of the fray. But we had fun too. Carole’s bed was two twins stuck together to make a king sized bed, and many nights she’d let me sleep with her. We’d pretend the bed was a boat, and that we were either stranded somewhere, or on a great adventure. The greatest adventure that happened in that bed was the night that Phillip hid under the covers at the end of the bed and waited quietly until we had settled down and turned off the light. Then he pounced out with a great growl and scared the you-know-what out of us. The other great adventure of our childhood was at St. George Island when I was about 5 and she was about 7 (I think this picture of her is from that particular trip). The grownups had a pot of boiling water in which to put a bunch of freshly caught crabs. The crabs didn't like the hot water, of course, and they frantically moved around enough to overturn the pot of water. Crabs were crawling all around the house, and Carole and I climbed on the dining room table and screamed.

As we got older, we got closer. From the time she left for college until now, she’s been my best friend, my confidant and great supporter. When Rick and I moved to Atlanta we moved into her neighborhood and Carole and I spent many hours together – walking in the morning, playing cards on the weekend, hanging out at the pool, camping with our families. What a gift for me, to be that close in proximity and in relationship to her. Now she and her family live in Cumming, and that’s still pretty close, but we don’t get to see nearly as much of each other and I miss her.
Carole is a fantastic mother. Just take one look at Kelsey and you’ll know that. Kelsey is brilliant, delightful and beautiful, and you can tell, just by looking at her and talking to her that she has great parents. Carole is a fantastic wife. Just look at how she interacts with Derek, and watch how he interacts with her, and you can see that they have a marriage that works. They’re friends, and they talk, and they have fun together. Carole is also a fantastic daughter. She’s thoughtful, caring and present. But for me, Carole is a fantastic sister. She’s been there for me when I needed anything – a sympathetic ear, a good talking to, a good laugh or even money (fortunately a long, long time ago). I cherish the times we get to spend together and wish it could be more frequent.

And so, on the anniversary of her birth, I say HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAROLE! I love you!

Monday, November 8, 2010


Readers of this blog who don’t know me well may think, based on my posts, that I’m always positive, happy and spiritual. While I am a “glass half-full” kind of gal, I am also plagued, like most people, by self-doubt, fears and anxiety. My experience in middle school and early high school did serious damage to my self-confidence for years, something that still afflicts me from time to time. I know now that my experience probably wasn’t much different than many other girls – it’s a hard age, and girls are especially tough on each other! But common or not, it made an impact on my psyche for years.

My Aunt Kate actually put a name to one of the things I struggle with – she calls it “The Imposter Syndrome.” Andrew Peterson, my favorite singer/songwriter, Christian or otherwise, wrote a song called “I’ve Got The News,” that has a line that describes it perfectly: “So you think…that you’re the only one who’s scared they’ll all forget you when you leave.” I’ve spent years re-introducing myself to people because I was sure there was no reason anyone would remember me from one meeting to the next.

I doubt. I doubt all the time. I doubt my abilities at work. I doubt my decisions. I doubt my choices in clothing. I doubt my cooking skills. I wonder if I really mean it when I say the prayers at Church and I sometimes wonder if they work anyway - if anyone’s really listening and cares about my little life. Why would they – I’m an imposter, right? I doubt, I doubt, I doubt.

I have anxiety and I’m lonely sometimes. I struggle with things that are too personal to post here in a public forum.

I’m not any different from anyone else.

That’s the thing - I’m just like just about everyone else. We all have fears and anxieties. We all wonder if we’re doing the right thing. I’d bet that most people who consider themselves at least spiritual, if not outright religious, struggle with doubt all the time. It’s easy to get bogged down with all this doubt. And what it can do to a person’s outlook can be isolating.

And so call me Pollyanna, but I try to see the silver lining and find joy wherever I can. Friday afternoon, in the midst of the grey clouds and cold I looked up into the sky and saw a small patch of blue sky. This reminded me of a grey summer day when I was a child, standing with a neighbor and looking up at the sky. “Look” she said delightedly, “there’s a patch of blue big enough to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.” Not a prophetic outburst, to be sure, but one that apparently made enough of an impact on me to allow me a smile on a grey day 40 years later. That was my silver lining – a childhood memory that gave me joy.

I get joy from a text, out of the blue, from one of my girls telling me that they love me. I get joy from my cat rubbing his face against mine as he tells me in his own way how happy he is to see me.

I try to balance out the doubt and disappointments of normal life by finding positives wherever and whenever I can. One of those positives is writing. The intense feeling of success when I hit “post” to this blog can keep me going for a good day or more. And Sara coming into my room last night to tell me what a great mom she thinks I am – well that’ll last a good long time!

So if I sound like one of those people who are always happy, please know that isn’t completely true, but also know that given time, I’ll find something good around me. And maybe my positive outlook can help someone else see good too.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


The Gospel reading at church this weekend was from Luke (19:1-10), and it was the story about the height-challenged tax collector Zaccheaus who had to climb a tree to see Jesus. Jesus sees Zaccheaus and says “Hey – get on down out of that tree. I’m coming to your house tonight.” (Of course I’m paraphrasing – he probably didn’t actually say “Hey.”) Imagine it, will you, as I did on Sunday morning You’re walking down the street, or wandering the halls of your office or the grocery store, and God comes up to you and says “Hey – let’s go to your house for a while.” How would you react? And in this day and age, would you actually believe that it really was God? I, for one, would love to be able to say “Yes – I’d recognize Him immediately. And, yes – my house is ready to have such a visitor.” But the reality is that I worry whether or not I WOULD recognize Him, and goodness knows we’d like to upgrade the kitchen or at least run the vacuum before He showed up!

Later on in the day, I went back to church to serve at the 5:30 service. As a Lay Eucharistic Minister, my duties for the later services include opening up the church and getting the altar ready. As I was walking through these things, alone in the church, I considered that I was getting another home ready for God and His followers. In the quiet, I carried out the silver tray that was prepared with the bread, wine and water, placed the chalice on the altar, bowed and lit the candles. I looked carefully over the readings that I’d be doing, aware that my “presentation” might be the only time the people in the congregation experienced the scripture that week. Just prior to the service, Father Burtenshaw and I shared a prayer and opened the door. For me, St. Martin’s is an extension of my home, and each time I serve, whether it’s as a Lay Eucharistic Minister or as a member of the Bell Choir, I’m coming down from my tree and inviting God in.

But it’s easier to do that in the Church than it is in the balcony where I live. Preparing my home or my heart for God’s visit needs to be an intentional thing. It takes work, just like preparing the church for a service takes work. And up here in the balcony, it’s hard to be intentional sometimes, isn’t it? I’ve got to take the dog out, get the kids to school, do my work, get some sleep… And in the midst of all of this noise, I neglect to make sure my home (heart) is ready for God, whenever He shows up – or more accurately, whenever I remember to look and see that He’s already there. This week, I’m going to try to get down out of the tree and work on my house, so that whenever I hear the call, I can say “here I am” and not “hold on a minute, I’ve got to mop the kitchen floor!”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Introducing Bella!

This weekend started like any other. Sara had her last football game, so we left early to go to the stadium. It was a beautiful morning – a little cool, but we were sitting on the sunny side of the stadium, so we warmed up very quickly. I love watching Sara cheer – she’s good at it, and always looks happy. The boys won the game, too, so that was a big plus!

After getting home, I told Sara that if she got her clothes put away, she could go with me to Petsmart. I needed to get kitty litter, and I also wanted to get a new water fountain for the cats. The last two we’ve had leaked quite a bit, so I wanted to see if I could find another design that might not be so leaky. Little did I know that we’d come back with much, much more.

A little bit of history: Sara’s been asking for a dog since she was about three. Rick has always said no way. In fact, when Sara was very small he said “If you get a dog, you’ll have to get rid of me.” One day in the car, Sara got very quiet. I could tell she was thinking very hard about something. Finally she says to me “Mommy, if we got rid of Daddy, then we could get a dog?” Trying not to laugh I told her that probably wasn’t in the cards, and silently hoped that she wouldn’t say something like that in front of Rick!

Back to Saturday…

I’ve been to PetSmart on a Saturday when the rescue organization had dogs and cats there. Up until Saturday, I’ve never seen a dog there that was “mine.” As Sara and I walked through the parking lot, we both caught sight of a small brown dog, and we both said “uh-oh.” She was cute. She was just the perfect size. And as we spent time with her, she had the perfect temperament. As Sara played with her, I spoke on the phone to the woman who was fostering her. I asked lots of questions, and got all the right answers. I went inside to get the things I needed for the cats, and left Sara outside to play some more. Before we left, I took a picture of Sara and her new friend.

When we got home, we showed the picture to Rick, and after a remarkably short conversation he said “Well, I guess you should go get her.” Sara and I didn’t look back - we literally ran to the car and took off. Sara was worried that the dog wouldn’t be there anymore. They had said that they would start packing up at 3:30, and it was 3:25. I told her that if we were supposed to have that dog, she’d be there. We were, and she was. After some paperwork and supplies, we were on our way back home with the dog, who they had named “Dora.”

Home again, I had to leave right away for church. Apparently, Rick fell in love with Bella while I was gone (we didn’t like the name Dora so we changed it). Later in the evening, while I was out again taking Hannah back to school, our friends Clay and Cathy came over. Cathy told me that when they came into the house, Rick was lying on the couch with the dog lying on his chest. He tried to put on a gruff face – he said that he hadn’t had a choice and that Sara and I had bullied him into letting us get Bella. Cathy told him that she might have believed him had she not seen him cuddling with her ten minutes before.

So now we have a dog, and she’s wonderful. I was immediately made aware that I know nothing about dogs, but she seems to know something about humans, so it seems to be working out okay. She sleeps with Sara, wants to play with Spike (he’s not having any of it), and interacts with our family as if she has been with us all of her life. I’m so thankful that caring people make it a point to rescue dogs and cats, and that many of these animals are able to find good, loving homes. I know that Bella has found one.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Hannah (Sept. 18)

If you know me, you know how much I love my kids. Someone shared a link today on Facebook that was a letter a mom wrote to her daughter about the student at Rutgers who committed suicide. It was a heartfelt note that encouraged her daughter to always know that nothing is bad forever and that her parents will love her NO MATTER WHAT. It encouraged me to post the note I wrote to Hannah the day before her 18th birthday. I just wanted to make sure the world knows how much these children mean to me! And just in case Sara reads this - I love you too, sweetie. I'm sure I'll be writing to you soon too!

18 years ago today, I was bummed because Dr. Littlejohn was going to be on vacation and probably wouldn't be in Baltimore to deliver my baby. 18 years ago, I worked a half day, went to the store to get the ingredients for the chicken stock that I just HAD to make before my mother got to Baltimore the next week. 18 years ago today, you were due in a week and everything was pretty much about me.

18 years ago tomorrow, you decided you'd had enough of preparing to come into the world and you made your appearance. Dr. Littlejohn delivered you and handed me the most beautiful baby I'd ever seen! 18 years ago tomorrow, it wasn't all about me any more - it was all about you.

I'm so blessed and thankful that God decided you were the baby for me. There couldn't have been a more perfect daughter for me. You have added so much joy and love into my life for the past 18 years. And I'm so proud of you - you've grown into a beautiful, talented, smart, sweet young woman. And I can't wait for the next 18 years to see how you grow. I loved being your mommy when you were a child - I'm going to love even more being your mommy as an adult!

I love you so much, Hannah. There's nothing that can describe the wonder of watching you grow up. You're amazing.


P.S. Happy Birthday tomorrow!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pondering History

I’m steeped in history right now. I’m reading Bill Bryson’s new book "At Home" which is an exploration of the history of homes. He states that he endeavored to "write a history of the world without leaving home." I’m also listening to Ken Follett’s "World Without End", which is a work of historical fiction set in the
1400s in England. While I’m only about three chapters into "At Home", these two books have dovetailed in an interesting way – Bryson details the evolution of the house, and some of the historical facts are specifically about the time in which "World Without End" is set.

Last night, as I was reading in my usual chair, I started thinking about history, and how it has been captured and reported throughout the years. Much of what we know about what happened in the world prior to the advent of the printed word is speculative at best. Stories are told from a specific point of view, and detail one person’s or one community’s experience. But even after the introduction of the printing press, history is generally still reported from a skewed point of view.
There are some events, the Holocaust, for example, that I believe are reported in a way that is pretty true and accurate. But smaller, less far-reaching events, are much more subject to individual interpretation and therefore it is much harder to determine the truth between the opinions expressed.

For example, if I were to write a history of what has happened with my company in the past year, I’d write about the mergers and having to recomplete for the account I work on (still undetermined at the moment, by the way), but mostly it would be a positive history. The mergers haven’t really affected me, I like my work and the people with whom I do it, I feel that I get paid fairly for my efforts and I have a pretty good balance of home versus work. Others who would write a history of the same company for the same time period might say something completely different. There are those who lost their jobs, those who may not like the new upper management for whatever reason, those who may be completely overworked due to unfilled positions in their departments, those who haven’t gotten a raise recently, and those who just don’t like what they do or who they do it with. Which history is true, from a JWT Atlanta perspective? Both accounts would be honest, presumably, but which would stand the test of time and in the future be considered the “definitive” history of JWT Atlanta during 2010?

The history of the United States, as taught to me and to my children, is full of triumphant victories, hard-working people and God-ordained rights. But as we all know, the history of the United States is also filled with people taking advantage of others, stealing land, murder in the name of God and Country and terrible injustice. The history of all other countries is probably the same, as is the history of the Church. I recognize that there are always at least two sides to every story, but who decides what makes the cut when it comes to reporting the historical “facts” of a time or place?

My sense is that it’s generally the most powerful people who decide; those who might be the ones with the most to lose if the negative truths come out. Those who are less powerful or ambitious are also those less likely to fight to get their side of the story told. Access to media and to an influential audience, the ability to articulate an opinion in a clear manner and the time and money to do so are all important to getting a story out, and the majority of people are probably lacking in at least one of these things, if not all of them. So we plod along, accepting what we deem to be the inevitable one-sided histories of our lives and times.

My children both had the opportunity to do a family history project in elementary school. This allowed them to explore the histories of their grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and to find similarities between themselves and those who went before. It was an opportunity for me to learn these things too, and it was the one project that I really enjoyed helping my children with. What a gift it would be if something like this were a regular part of school curriculum for every child. How much more empowered would our children be if they had the opportunity to talk to the patriarchs and matriarchs of their families? To learn the struggles and triumphs of regular life and to see that each age has its own interesting set of challenges and innovative solutions. Combine these individual histories with what they learn in school, and all of a sudden history is something that affects them in a real way. A great-grandparent who wasn’t allowed to sit at the diner counter, or in the front of the bus, puts the civil rights struggle in a completely different context for the young black child who wonders why racism still exists, and it hopefully gives him a sense of the hard work his ancestors did to make the world better for him. The young girl whose grandfather fled from a civil-war torn country can better understand the individual hardships the citizens endured to make a better life for their families. Spend some time telling your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews your own personal histories so that when they learn the “official” history of the country or the world, they have some context to make it personal and true.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Happy Birthday Dad!

Many who know me well have heard me say how blessed and thankful I am to have the family that I have. Last weekend, Rick and I had the opportunity to spend Saturday and Sunday morning with my older brother and sister and their spouses. As an anniversary present for my brother Phillip, my sister-in-law planned a day and evening in Chattanooga for the six of us. We broke bread, drank some wine, played bocce ball, sat around and talked, and just generally enjoyed each other’s company.

This weekend, we once again had the pleasure of spending time with family as we celebrated my father’s 75th birthday. But in addition to my wonderful family, we were blessed to spend the hours with truly wonderful friends as well.

My dad and my step-mother live in Sautee, Georgia, in the mountains near Helen. It was a beautiful afternoon and evening for a gathering. Cool and clear, the early October sunshine was beaming through the trees and warming rocks for the cats to lie on. When we got to my dad’s house, my older brother Phillip was there, my sister Carole, her husband Derek and daughter Kelsey were there, my mother, Susan and her boyfriend, Matthew were there. Good friends were there as well – Cindy and Ray, finally back in the south after living in the Northeast for a few years, and Doug, who drove up from the Atlanta area like we did. Not everyone came from far away though, also lighting up the afternoon were Don and Lila, from just next door.

As the day wore on, friends from near and far turned up to help celebrate with Dad. As I thought about this on the way home today, I am struck by the strength of the friendships Dad and Jeanie have. This is, of course, a testament to the type of friendship they give. Dad and Jeanie are open and loving, welcoming to anyone and everyone, funny and thoughtful, and just a blast to spend time with. And it seems that many people love to spend time with them. Good friends came from all over, and everyone had a great time.

No party at Jeanie’s house is complete without a smorgasbord of great food. Everyone pitches in, and yesterday’s party was no exception. And of course, there were plenty of libations to enjoy as well, but the best thing about a party at Dad and Jeanie’s house is the music… well the laughter AND the music. There are always equal parts laughter and music there. In the carport, and in the house, were groups of people communing over old-time tunes, with fiddles, banjos, guitar and an upright bass that split time between the two groups. People singing, harmonizing and strumming. In the kitchen and on the back porch, others were getting to know new friends, or getting back in touch with old ones, laughing and talking, telling jokes or stories. Looking around, I saw smiling faces and love. I saw God.

Matthew 18:20 says “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Even if we didn’t specifically say, “today we are gathered in His name.” we were, and He was there in the midst of us. Because it was a joyous celebration of my father’s life, because it was a celebration of relationship and love, we were gathered in His name, and He was there. Because we could celebrate a crisp, fall day in beautiful North Georgia, we were gathered in His name, and we could see the “invisible God” in the trees and flowers, and feel Him in the breeze.

God gave us each other. For that I am eternally thankful, because the “us” He gave me includes a loving family and friends who care for each other and for me. Today, on the 75th anniversary of your birth, I am especially thankful that He gave me you, Daddy. I love you!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Groundhog

When I worked in Baltimore, we took our clients on a white-water rafting outing. As preparation for the trip, we purchased large sub sandwiches and a cooler full of beer and sodas, loaded them in the back of my car and drove to Harper’s Ferry. When we got there, we were confronted with a large number of very hung-over clients who were happy to spend the day without the benefit of further alcohol. As a result, I returned to Baltimore with a full cooler of beer in my trunk. The next morning, my boss, Lana, said that she was having a party that weekend, and she’d like to take the beer off of my hands. “Of course” I said – and we went out to put the cooler in her car.

“Is that a cat under your car?” she asked.

“I don’t think so…maybe it’s a rabbit?” As we looked closer, I saw that it was a small groundhog. I figured it would run away when we opened the trunk, but it just stayed hunched up beside the front tire. At lunch, we went out in Lana’s car, and the groundhog was still there.

“Maybe it’s hurt or sick” I mused. I had visions of a rabid baby groundhog attacking me as I got in my car that afternoon, so I called animal control.

We had a conference call that afternoon – a really important conference call – and we all gathered in Lana’s office around the speaker phone to take it.

One of the wonders of modern technology is the invention of the mutable speaker phone. We could un-mute the phone if we needed to answer a question – otherwise, we usually had the phone on mute and joked around among ourselves. About 10 minutes into the call the animal control guy showed up so I ran out to show him where the rodent was – still hunched up by the tire. The AC guy – I’ll call him “Bubba” – got one of those poles with a loop on the end out of his truck, kneeled down beside my car and poked the groundhog with the pole. Now, Bubba had apparently forgotten to wear a belt that day, and we were treated to an alarming view of what I believe is commonly known as “the plumber syndrome”. Our friend the groundhog, however, was not happy with the poking and ran to the other side of the car – hunkering down beside the opposite tire. Bubba stood up, pulled up his jeans, walked to the other side of the car and began to poke again. Lil’ GH, again annoyed by the intrusion, ran back to his original position. Bubba stood up again, hiked his pants, stomped to the other side and poked. Lil’ GH moved. Hike pants, poke. Move. This went on for what seemed an eternity, and those of us in Lana’s office were now laughing so hysterically that we were all in tears. Finally, the groundhog got tired of this little game and ran out from under my car towards the next row of cars. Bubba looked under the car, looked again, stood up, hiked up his pants, and I guess assuming another job well done, drove away.

One of the women I work with had a fit saying “the groundhog ran under my car!”

“No it didn’t Lynn” I said, “Go back to work”.

An hour later, Lynn came into my office and said “I’m really sure that groundhog ran under my car. Will you go out with me to check?”

I rolled my eyes – “Sure I’ll go out with you – just to show you that darn thing isn’t under your car!” We walked out to her car – me thinking what a pain she was being and continuing to roll my eyes to show my annoyance – and looked under the car. Of course, the groundhog wasn’t there.

“Maybe it climbed in somehow” Lynn whined.

“How could it have climbed in your car?” I said “Get a grip on yourself!”

When she wouldn’t let up, I sighed and told her to open the door and see for herself.

Lynn gingerly unlocked the door and opened it – expecting, I’m sure, for the crazed groundhog to jump out and attack us. Of course, nothing was there.

“Maybe it’s under the hood?”

“For the love of Pete! Just pop the hood, Lynn!” I was really put out now.

Lynn popped the hood and I opened it, screamed and dropped it again with a bang. There was our friend the groundhog sitting on her engine block – probably finally happy that he could rest somewhere where people wouldn’t be poking him with a metal stick. Gingerly, I opened the hood again, hoping that I hadn’t smushed the poor thing into oblivion.

Now, while we were doing this outside, we had apparently attracted the attention of more than a few people in our office building with windows that looked over the back parking lot. Jim, the office maintenance man, came outside – laughing – and asked us what we were going to do now.

“I have no idea,” I said.

After some discussion, we decided that I should go inside and find something to entice/force the groundhog out of Lynn’s car. I went in, and came back outside with Lana for reinforcement. Between us we had a pitcher of water, a broom and a Little Debbie cupcake. The first idea was to put the Little Debbie down so the groundhog would know there was food about, and hopefully it would be so hungry that it would rush out of the engine. Unfortunately, groundhogs apparently have a more (or less?) sophisticated palate that we expected.

Next, we poured the pitcher of water onto the groundhog, but he just glared at us – as if to say “thanks for the bath – I’m not leaving!” Finally, we poked it with the broom, and he reluctantly climbed out of the engine. I shut the hood, and Lynn started stressing about how she would keep the thing from climbing in again.

“Just move your car,” I suggested. Lynn started her car and moved forward, very, VERY slowly. The groundhog, seeing that his shelter was in motion, started walking forward at about the same speed that Lynn was driving, and therefore, stayed under the car.

“Go faster, Lynn!” I yelled, and she punched the accelerator, squealing the tires, and leaving the poor little guy out in the open. He looked around for a minute, then turned, ran to the next line of cars and settled under yet another vehicle. This vehicle didn’t belong to anyone I knew, however, so I didn’t feel any responsibility to deal with the problem further. Sometime later that afternoon, I saw the poor thing running towards the woods – hopefully to find his mother and some food.

Isn’t life like that sometimes? All we’re looking for is a little quiet time in a safe place, and Bubba comes around and pokes at us with a broom handle. What the groundhog didn’t know was that the place he had chosen wasn’t really the safe place he had expected. The only true safe place for him was probably back in his hole, or wherever baby groundhogs live, with his mother to take care of him.

The only true safe place we have is in God’s care. We’re out in the great big world, making our way as best as we can, and we’re disappointed when things don’t turn out to be as great or as safe as we expected. Of course, this is bound to happen. But God’s love is a never-ending place of solace, if we are able to “let go and let God.” It’s had to relinquish control of our lives – and it’s hard for me to know sometimes what is the right kind of letting go and what is avoiding responsibility. So I keep plugging away, trying to “let go and let God” while trying to take care of the gifts He’s given me to take care of – my kids, my marriage, my job, just to name a few. Hopefully I will remember to run back to my safe place – in God’s care – when Bubba comes around.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Do I Believe?

These first few postings are things I've written in the past few years.

A good friend asked me once why I believe in God. It was a hard question to answer –harder than I would have expected to verbalize my reasons for belief to someone who didn’t believe that God is real. At the time, I hadn’t really had any life-changing events that I could detail, except for the miracle of my oldest daughter’s birth. After struggling to put my feelings into words, I finally sort of gave up. I said “you know, it would be a lot easier to explain if God would come down, right here and now, and sit with us in your living room and answer the question for Himself. For me, it’s a matter of faith – I believe, even though He isn’t visibly sitting with me.” It was a poor explanation, I admit, and we went on to some other topic of conversation.

These days, I can detail specific instances where God has changed my life, and when people ask me, I can give these examples that point me to the truth that He’s here. This still isn’t actually sufficient, I realize, but it’s the best I can do. My belief in God is sometimes incredibly strong, sometimes seemingly a matter of hedging my bets, sometimes incredibly weak. I hope that we all have these moments of weakness – I’d really feel inadequate if I was the only one in our community that doubted.

However strong or weak my belief is, I keep plodding away – trying to develop my spirituality, trying to teach my children to honor God, trying to honor God myself. And through this plodding, I continue to have moments of clarity when I can say “wow – God really is here – look at what He showed me today.” When I’ve been weak, God has given me someone strong to lead me. When I’ve been strong, God has given me someone to lead myself. When I pray, I have a hard time asking for things for myself. But, amazingly, the times that I’ve prayed most fervently for someone else I’ve gotten a gift myself. One time, I inadvertently betrayed the confidence of a dear friend, and although I desperately wanted my friend to forgive me, I prayed only that my betrayal to not lead to further hardship for her. When I went to my friend, told her what I had done (a very difficult thing to do I might add!), she forgave me in the most gracious of ways – telling me that she loved me and that she knew that I loved her – enough said.

It is extremely easy to lose sight of faith during weak times. I try to keep in mind those times when God has shown me His love in specific ways, so that I have something to get me through those weak days – those days in the balcony when the distractions are too numerous, or irritation or sadness are so overwhelming that I can’t see anything else.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Living in the balcony

When we started going to our church, my kids were both pretty young – 3 and 7. Our church has a balcony, and most of the people who sat up there were families like us – with young children who were restless during the long service. There is a children’s service that takes the kids out from the beginning of the service until after the sermon, but not all kids went. We also have these coloring packets for children that have a coloring page, crayons and two pipe cleaners – either for poking siblings, or for the parents to make flowers or crosses out of, depending on the mood of the child. Many times, the restlessness and accompanying noise made it hard to pay attention to the service – especially to the sermon. One day, in a fleeting moment of clarity, I realized that my whole life was “in the balcony”. Listening to God’s word was hard enough at church, but in the real word, it was even harder. There is always something to distract me from that small voice in my head – wrestling the kids out of bed, trying to force some nutrition into them before taking them wherever they had to go, homework, getting dinner on the table, baths, bedtime, late night calls for water or company. I actually probably heard more when we were sitting in the balcony because I really had to work at it.

I realized that I’d have to try harder to focus on that voice, and have had some success. But even though we’ve graduated out of the balcony to the front row of the church (my youngest daughter’s choice for seating), I still find that I allow myself to be too distracted, and don’t take enough time to just be still. My prayer time is limited to quick, if heartfelt, lines like “please make sure Hannah is safe on the road today” or “please let Sara not have strep throat again” or “please don’t let a tree fall on my house in the storm tonight.” Only once in a while do I actually stop and realize that I need to take more time to grow in my spirituality. And once I realize this, I generally get distracted by some other need, my own or my family’s, and so it goes.

But in spite of my seeming lack of attention, God still works in my life. It continues to amaze me that regardless of where I am at any given moment, God is right there whether or not I see Him. He certainly deserves more attention that I give Him, but He doesn’t sigh and give up, He still waits – and patiently at that. If I had to wait like that for my kids to pay attention to me, I’d probably throttle them, but God just waits. Every now and again, when I get a glimpse, it’s almost like He smiles and waves as if to say “yep, I’m still here…” and then, unfortunately, I allow the image to fade again.

As I write in this blog, I hope to allow myself to focus a bit more, and to see, in the day to day workings of my life, that God is working and present, and that He loves me regardless of my shortcomings. I may also write about things unrelated to spirituality, but ultimately, doesn’t it all come back to the blessings I have?