They Keep Taking Away All My Fun :(

So, I live in Kansas.  I was born and raised in Kansas.  I have heard ALL of the Dorothy jokes.  I like the movie, so what?  I have been teased about the Wizard of Oz in every other state that I’ve lived in.  And I still get teased whenever we travel.  I’m okay with all of it…really, but it wasn’t until today that I realized that maybe, just maybe, I might be as naive as the girl in the ruby-red slippers.

Where do I begin?  I grew up in a small town.  I’m pretty trusting, but I never considered myself gullible.  I dreamed of living in a big city and most of my wardrobe is black, the standard “big city uniform.”  I enjoy wearing oversized, Hollywood-style sunglasses.  I was under the impression that I talked a pretty good game.  I thought that I could reasonably hang in any city, look the part and everything.  But apparently, you can’t cover naiveté with a trench coat.  Because over the last few months I have been slowly finding out that all of my favorite things aren’t what they seem and it’s starting to take the wind out of my sails.  BTW, Google and metrolyrics are no longer my friends.

First, my husband tells me that “Hotel California” by the Eagles is a song about Satanism.  What?????  I thought it was about an old hotel on the West Coast.  I could picture it in my mind’s eye.  Some weary traveler happens across what he/she thinks is an oasis hotel right on the beach…and sure it isn’t picture perfect (I sort of thought the service there sounded kinda bad), but the person checked in any way and wrote a song about their stay.  Right?  Wrong.  Song ruined.  How can I listen to it without thinking that a horrible evil is slowly penetrating my soul with each guitar chord.  Uuuggghhh!  There’s a whole section of my mp3 player that is no longer usable.

Oh, the bubble-busting didn’t end there.  Next, I find out that one of my favorite songs from the nineties is about being addicted to meth.  What??????  Semi-Charmed Kind of Life (Third Eye Blind) is about drugs!  I let my kids listen to that song!!!!  That was “my song” the year it came out.  I practically wore that single out when I moved two states away to start a new job right after college graduation.  That’s supposed to be a “coming of age” song.  That’s supposed to be an upbeat, positive song about life.  But, no–it’s not.  It’s about drugs and drug addiction.  How is a girl who once yelled at a guy for offering her pot at a party (I believe my exact words were, “Do I look like someone who does drugs to you?”) end up liking a song like that?  Answers, I want answers.

My mother used to tell me to listen carefully to songs that I liked…especially if I planned to sing them aloud at some point.  I thought I had learned my lesson when she about drove our car off the road after I started singing Bel Biv DeVoe’s “Do Me” (I was in high school at the time.)  In fact, I so thought that I had learned that lesson that I frequently read my kid’s the riot act over some of their favorite songs.  So now on top of having all my fun ruined, I’m a hypocrite, too.  Thank you, Pop Culture for making me out to be a complete dork.

My trusting nature isn’t limited to just music.  I couldn’t be that lucky.  Apparently, I am naive in the television and movie arena as well.  One of my all-time favorite movies is Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Yep, I thought it was a sweet, little love story, with a hilarious upstairs neighbor and a super-cool party scene…but, turns out it’s the story of a high-price escort in New York who hooks up with a “kept” man.  I can’t write that under my list of favorite movies at the next church mixer, can I?  Nor can I tell you how often I have come to adore some actor/actress on TV only to find out that they’re VERY good at their job and their real life personas will quickly make your jaw drop.

This morning I read that the Ukraine is banning SpongeBob SquarePants and the Teletubbies.  According to them, SpongeBob is gay (aren’t sponges supposed to be asexual?) and the Teletubbies model a “loser” mentality.  I was beside myself.  I’m a SpongeBob fan.  “Pizza Delivery” is my favorite episode.  Besides, I thought that Sandy Cheeks was SpongeBob’s girlfriend!  To top it all off, my daughter LOVES the Teletubbies…now I have to deal with the guilt of exposing her to “loserness.”  Great.

So this is me, admitting it.  Struggling to become one with my obvious simplemindedness.  I am naive…and no amount of red shoe clicking is going to undo what I now know.  The great and powerful Oz has been revealed.  Look for my picture in the dictionary under

naive:  1.having or showing unaffected simplicity; unsophisticated; ingenuous.2.having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous: She’s so naive she believes everything. 
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You’ve Heard of Christmas in July, Right?

“You’re cheating!”  my husband said as he turned the corner.  “So, what,” I half-heartedly mumbled as I brushed past him in the hallway.  The window on my computer screen was open and there it was…all exposed for the world to see (and hear.)  I WAS BUSTED.

There was no denying it and if you know me, I wouldn’t bother with trying to make excuses.  It felt good, so I threw commonsense out the window and continued to listen to Christmas music a mere two days after the Fourth of July. 

It was not my intention to get into a full Christmas groove.  In fact, I was listening to Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” for the 80th time with my seven-year old daughter when I caught a glimpse of Michael Buble’s Christmas CD icon out of the corner of my eye.  The snowy scene, the gift-bearing crooner, the joyful feeling that conjures up the holidays.  So before Bieber could promise his girlfriend more fondue I double clicked and the familiar melody began…it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….  I had only intended to hear the first song, a Christmas-junkie’s first mistake. 

I truly love Christmas.  And I’m going to say it (though many of you will not believe me) I truly love Christmas and it has NOTHING to do with the presents.  Trying to pinpoint what I love most about the Christmas holiday is difficult.  I love the cooler weather (correction, “colder” temps…I live in the Midwest), the decorations, the busyness (although I regularly complain about that part), the shopping, the planning, the cookie baking and especially the music.  It’s the music that really sets the tone, puts that special something in the atmosphere and makes many of the awful parts of the holiday season (and we know there are some truly awful parts) much more festive!  Of course, these are just the secular part of the holiday…when I start thinking about the birth of our Savior, well it just makes the season so much more meaningful and special…but that’s another blog.

So back to my kitchen and Christmas music in July….  Somewhere in the middle of song two (Santa Claus is Coming to Town) I started daydreaming about putting up the Santa collection and wondering  if I should continue to make it the focal point of the living room.  Then, early into song three (Jingle Bells) I began thinking about my son’s winter coat and how he’s growing like a weed and whether or not we need to plan to buy him a new one.  Next, White Christmas turned my thoughts to looking at the calendar and finding out what day of the week Christmas was on this year.  By the time I hit the chorus of All I Want for Christmas is You I started thinking that I should start my shopping early this year, like maybe in August or September…no wait, we have school shopping to do… my thoughts started racing.  Several songs later I ended up at Blue Christmas and began to realize that I wasn’t really enjoying the music any more, instead I had actually started a mental list of all the things that I had to get done before Christmas.  My mind was a blur of plans and preparations…a “to do” list was starting to form.  I was already wondering how we were going to balance church programs and school holiday events… and basketball practice?  YIKES!  Believe it or not, but Christmas panic was actually attacking me in JULY.  Breathe, breathe, breathe…. 

Michael Buble’s personal Christmas greeting belted out from the computer speakers.  My Christmas daze was over.  Although I played the whole CD, I’m fairly certain that I only heard half the songs.  And it dawned on me…there is a defined Christmas season and there’s no way it can begin as early as July!  I don’t think I could handle it if it did.  Suddenly, the warm July temps seemed a lot more appropriate, a schedule jam-packed with little league baseball sounded just right, and a couple more months of wearing flip-flops and sandals seemed to fit me to a tee.  No sense in rushing a good thing.  Christmas could wait. 

I shut down the computer for the evening with only the faintest brainworm of I’ll Be Home for Christmas running through my head.  I still have to get through all the summer birthdays, the first day of school, Labor Day, and finally Halloween…the official start of the holiday season, right?

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Hey Jude is Still the Best Way to Close Down a Bar

I won’t claim to be a big time Beatles fan.  Don’t get me wrong.  They’re GREAT!  I love a lot of their songs and if I was around during their heyday, I would probably be among the throngs of screaming girls hanging on their every word, buying posters and otherwise going ga-ga for them.  So, obviously, I think a lot of the Beatles.  Still, I don’t own any of their albums or CDs and I don’t know all the lyrics to any one of their songs.  But, there is one ditty that I just adore–Hey Jude!

I probably first heard the song as a kid in passing.  I imagine that I came across it in somebody’s parent’s album stash.  Still, not much of a blip on my music radar.  My next encounter with the Beatles was fleeting.  I’m sure I saw someone on campus wearing a t-shirt and thought to myself, “Oh, yeah.  I like the Beatles…cool.”  I’d hum a few songs here and there.  And at one point I thought about buying one of their CD’s at the local music store, but the new SneakerPimps release won out…a consequence of being a broke college kid and having to make tough financial choices.  So the Beatles went by the wayside and I moved on with my life, but this was college and some things never die.

The Beatles resurfaced again a little later when I became acquainted with college radio.  You know how it goes, one DJ likes 80s Punk, someone else likes Big Band, there’s always a girl whose show revolves around man-hating, angsty girl bands (one of my faves), and the list goes on and on.  Basically, anyone can get a show.  Thus one mild-manner fellow played the Beatles and I loved it.  For the most part it had loads of elements to it—fun and poppy early stuff, catchy numbers that quickly become brainworms, ridiculous karaoke-type songs (Yellow Submarine anyone?), and later more thoughtful ballads.  Who couldn’t find something to love in such a varied set!

All of this brings me to Hey Jude.

Senior year in college.  Just when you’ve gotten used to the college lifestyle (and all the perks that come with it), you suddenly realize that all good things come to an end.  As the cliché goes, “there’s a reason and season for everything under the sun.”  It was inevitable.  And while most of my crew would extend their college plan an extra semester or go on to work on a master’s degree, I was on course to graduate in the spring.  It was all part of my super strict, no room for errors, by the book, four-year college plan.  Sure, many tried to get me to stay in our little bubble…”Go an extra semester, minor in Spanish, go to grad school,” they all said.  But as much as I loved them and loved that life, I knew my time was done.  So in January while celebrating a birthday at our favorite hangout, Louise’s Bar Downtown, I strolled over to the jukebox to pick out the last song of the night.  I had stood at this jukebox before.  I knew the song choices and for nearly two years I had always picked the same song, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka…well worth the quarters I sunk into the machine.  (SIDEBAR:  I really do like that song.  It reminds me of peanut butter milk shakes, holding hands, and simpler times.  However, amongst a college crowd, it always garnered groans and head turns…which made the song extra fun for me!)  But this song was going to be THE last song of the night.  It had to be special.  We were here to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday, the start of my last semester in college and CLOSE DOWN THE BAR.  Obviously, the pressure was on!  So I dropped two quarters and selected Hey Jude and never looked back.

That semester whenever we all got together, it had to be Louise’s, we had to CLOSE DOWN THE BAR, and we had to listen to Hey Jude.  It became for us the exclamation point at the end the evening.  It had to be the song we sang or hummed walking out the door.  It had to carry us home.  And it always did.

On graduation night we ended up at Louise’s–where else, right?  My dear friend (and roommate) had a roll of quarters and waltzed me over to the jukebox.  She said that tonight we were CLOSING DOWN THE BAR with $10 worth of Hey Jude.  I couldn’t think of a better parting gift.  We made the selections and walked away.  About an hour into the repetitive Hey Jude track, the bartender kicked us out.  Apparently, the crowd was a little upset at what they considered our buzz kill music.  We were escorted out that night (the first and last time that has ever happened to me), but we had the biggest grins on our faces.

My Son as John Lennon 2012

My son as John Lennon (2012)

I left town two days later to a new job, a new town and a new state.  There I found new friends, my future husband, and a reawakening to faith.  Hey Jude and I would occasionally cross paths during the years and my mind would wander back to those days.  But recently my ten-year old son came home from school with a project that brought the Beatles back into focus.  Together we researched the band, their history, their ride to fame, and their music.  Hey Jude walked back into my life.  After a particularly long day, with the kids finally in bed and a disastrous kitchen mess waiting for me, I searched YouTube for Hey Jude.  I  played it over and over!  In the quiet of that night, as I was getting ready to CLOSE DOWN my kitchen, I played it just one more time–for me.  It is the perfect way to cap off an evening and I finally know why…Hey Jude is soothing enough to change the course of a night, thoughtful enough to make you appreciate everything going on around you, profound enough to wake you up to life’s blessings, and long enough (7 minutes) that when it’s finally done, you’re really ready to say goodnight.

Take a sad song and make it better.  –Hey Jude by the Beatles

BFF BDAY XOXO

Angels

“Angels” in the school Christmas program 🙂

Most friendships don’t span a decade, let alone three and counting.  Some can’t believe it when I tell them, others say we’re lucky, and still some might wonder how we’ve managed to stay in touch for so long.  All I really know is that I couldn’t ask for a better friend.  We’re truly blessed to have each other!

Today is Amy’s birthday.  I can’t really remember the exact circumstances that brought us together.  We met in kindergarten and the way we tell the story is that we were the two shyest girls in the class and that was a good enough reason to start up a friendship.  I remember Amy’s long blonde hair and her quiet voice.  Her mother managed to snap a photo of the two of us side by side in the Christmas program…and we’ve probably taken hundreds of photos together (sans the angel outfits) since then.

The details escape me, but I image we had a funny little friendship in the beginning…if you’re the shy type, this might resonate with you.  I have grade school memories of sitting next to each other (not really talking, we were shy remember), softly laughing together and of course, playing “mystery” on the playground… but not much else.  Fortunately, our friendship became a lot more animated in junior high–passing notes, trying to arrange classes together, going to the movies, dreaming about driving and staying over at each other’s houses.  Eventually, her family became my family and vice versa.  Thinking about afternoons at her house reminds me of putting Chex mix inside sandwiches, munching Cool Ranch Doritos, avoiding her cat (my parents were dog people so cats were totally new to me) and the awesomest (is that a word?) phone in the world–it was CLEAR!  Amy was so cool!

1604724_599952203427286_991753879_n

Today…solving the world’s problems over coffee!

Back in those days we talked about boys, rattled on and on about teachers, and took several classes together.  We were partners whenever a school project came along.  And when we couldn’t be paired up, we  took our show on the road to the public library and managed to do our school work there together (with lemons in tow!) I can remember going to football/basketball games and school dances, all the typical things that fill up a tween’s life.  Along side that, I remember jumping out of Mr. Sherwood’s classroom window, the 9th grade water balloon fight (poor Mr. Adams) and telling Amy’s mom that she just might need glasses (poor thing couldn’t read the blackboard–does that date us or what?)

High school was much more fun, so much that I can share very little about our adventures 🙂  Let’s just say that we managed to have plenty of good times and maintain straight A’s…oh wait, there was that B in geometry.  Nevertheless, it was all basically harmless and good-natured and thank God no one ever got hurt!  We spent countless hours driving around in her little blue Dodge Shadow, stopping daily by Sonic, and making plans for the weekend.  Amy is the reason why  I agreed to go  to the prom, the ONE person I would go watch in the school plays, and the only reason I got through speech class without getting sent to the principal (“You want me to squawk?” You must be kidding me!)

And alas, we graduated high school and moved away to college.  We chose two different universities (approximately an hour away from one another) and the fun continued, but on a less frequent basis unfortunately.  I loved visiting Amy and she likewise.  We maintained communication via phone (no cell phones or text messages back in those stone ages!)  Her friends became my friends and my friends hers.  And the discussions continued… about boys, teachers, classes and now–OUR FUTURES.  Amy had big plans for us to study in Europe–her in France, me in Spain.  I on the other hand wanted to adhere to a four-year college schedule and find a job ASAP!  We both stuck to our plans and still managed to stay connected despite being an ocean apart.

I loved hearing about her adventures overseas.  Her new friends, college life abroad, and the French lifestyle.  Amy traveled and in some ways I felt like I was going along for the ride.  A terrific pen pal, I received loads of postcards and photos.  Through it all our tiny, Kansas hometown remained our connecting point.  When we couldn’t see each other during visits home, we often ran into each other’s parents or siblings.  One of my brothers would tell me that they saw her with her sister and that she hadn’t changed a bit.  I, likewise, loved running into her family and asking how she was doing and when her next visit would be.

Our friendship eventually moved bi-coastal with me on the west coast and her living on the east.  Still, she made the trip out to San Francisco to be the maid of honor in my wedding and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

As I write this I can’t help but smile.  There’s so many stories I could relay, so many memories that I wish I could share and there just aren’t enough pages for me to tell you all the things I love about Amy.  Her kind heart, her loyalty, her fun-loving nature, her sharp mind, her perspective, her ambition, her courage, her faith and the list goes on.  I know that I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t met my yellow-haired friend all those years ago.  Amy always says that we live parallel lives, and it’s my favorite phrase to describe our friendship–and “Amyism” if you will.

Today we still live hours apart (but both in the Midwest) and visit each other whenever we can.  Our life paths have crossed, intersected, gone off in different directions and yet, whenever we get together it’s like no time has passed at all.  I LOVE that!  In many ways, life has changed and moved in directions that neither of us ever would have (could have) anticipated.  And in other ways, we’re the same little girls who met all those years ago in kindergarten.  Except that now, while we both maintain our “shyness,” if and when we get the chance to sit together, we can easily talk to each other for hours and hours… only the laughter between us today is much, much louder!  Happy birthday to my dearest friend, YOU ARE LOVED!

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. 

Proverbs 27:17 NIV

The Tribe Jayhawk

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud Jayhawk!

The Kansas Jayhawks lost the 2012 NCAA Championship game 67-59 on Monday night, but for so many the sting of defeat is already gone.  Maybe I’m speaking for myself, but I sense something different in the Jayhawk nation…something that I hope lasts for a really long time.  I’m talking about gratitude.  You see my alma mater has had a little problem in the past.  Believe it or not, people actually think KU fans are “arrogant” and “haughty”.  Some have even called us “snobby” (and these are the so-called nice comments from people I know and like–you can imagine some of the other names that get bounced around in less polite company!)

I’ll admit, we’ve been spoiled in the past.  Filled with expectations and on occasion, “hard” on our team.  However, this year fans watched, rallied and cheered on a team that was highly questionable compared to past teams and the season was initially dubbed a “rebuilding” year.  Nevertheless, the Jayhawk faithful rearranged their schedules to watch games, purchased additional cable/satellite packages to see them play on networks like ESPNU and donned their KU garb to support the team.  And something wonderful happened…we WON!  And we kept winning–games that polls, commentators, and basketball insiders said the Jayhawks couldn’t win.  That’s when the fun really started!  Around town, at work, in schools, and even before morning worship on Sundays, fans were talking about this unbelievable team.  We were bonding over the near heart attacks and close calls.  We were beaming at Thomas Robinson’s amazing season.  We were marveling at the transformed Jeff Withey who showed up to play this year (thank you Danny Manning and Andrea Hudy!)  We were developing an affection for Tyshawn Taylor during BOTH his ups and his downs.  KU fans were making room in their hearts for less familiar faces on the court–Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Kevin Young and many others.  Basketball fans were (re)discovering this team.  We were falling in love all over again with the Jayhawks…and isn’t that how love happens…when you least expect it!

The thing I have enjoyed the most has been the “love fest” we saw among fans during the NCAA tournament.  In some ways, the tournament was like undertaking a strenuous new exercise program.  There were heart bursting moments, heart attack inducing first halves, heart warming game finishes and ultimately a heartbreaking loss.  It was a real workout!  And post game, the sentiment that ran through everyone from the coach and players, to alumni and fans was true gratitude.  Coach Self gushed about his team and the love he has for each member.  The players spoke of each other like family (not just family, but a family that actually loves each other.)  Sports writers went on and on about how this season exceeded the expectations of so many.  And everybody talked about gratitude.  Gratitude for the effort the team put into the game, gratitude for the talent of the coach and coaching staff and gratitude for the overall “ride.”  This is not a “cinderella” story, the history of the KU basketball program is anything but that.  This is a story of finding $20 dollars in your pocket–you didn’t expect it, you don’t deserve it, you don’t know where it came from or why, but, man, isn’t it AWESOME?  What an amazing season…and just like that it’s all over.

Some people will read this and think I’m going over the top (and those who know me well, know that I’m known for such things.)  Still the whole experience reminds me of something I read once about tribal affiliation.  Many think that tribes are part of the past.  We’re civilized now, right?.  Advanced even.  Yet our thinking, our brain wiring retains some ties to ancient society  Years ago our survival depended upon being part of a tribe.  The tribe was our family.  It was a source of pride.  People were grateful for their tribe.  Nowadays, people equate tribes with regions of the country, brand loyalty, and of course, sport team affiliations.  Today’s tribalism is a source of social recognition, socialization and symbolism.  For myself, being a Jayhawk is not just about belonging to the tribe of my family (yes, we’re ALL Jayhawk fans!), but it’s a reminder of my personal opportunity to grow in education and life knowledge.  The time that I spent in Lawrence taught me so much about who I am and what I believe.  It prepared me for so many different experiences.  It opened doors and took me places that I couldn’t have imagined.  I’m part of the Tribe Jayhawk.  And so here’s where my personal gratitude to a school that I love comes full circle with the gratitude that I feel has infiltrated the hearts of so many Jayhawk basketball fans this season.

In this life, nothing is promised.  In the big scheme of things, college basketball (and sports in general) are like the wind—fleeting.  So when you have the opportunity to see gratitude (even if it’s in something as commonplace as sports), I hope that you’ll recognize it.  More than that I hope you make gratitude part of your every day life.  Nothing makes my heart sing like seeing those around me recognize the blessings in their lives–they are abundant if you just take a moment to look for them.

I don’t know what next’s year basketball season will be like.  Early reports show that the Jayhawks will have a good team.  I know that there are many fans who EXPECT the KU basketball team to be top-rated every year.  Regardless of early predictions, I hope that we will remember this season–and the spirit of gratitude that it brought with it!  A gratitude that made the Jayhawks a better team and the rest of us better fans.

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud and grateful Jayhawk!

The Birthday Sister

My Mom used to dress my sister and I up in the same outfits.  This looks cute on twins, but when you’re four years apart one of you is bound to look WRONG!  Case in point, a twelve-year-old in footie-pajamas and an infant wearing a belt.  Okay, it wasn’t quite that ridiculous, but it was pretty close. 

Today is my little sister’s birthday.  Whenever I think about her a few things (other than our wacky forced wardrobes) come to mind.  First, I think about how blessed we are that we did not grow up fighting.  I’m sure that we had our squabbles and  a few tiffs come to mind, but nothing major.  The lack of fighting left room for laughter and lots of good times.  I remember sharing a bedroom and staying up talking and telling stories.  One Christmas season we decided to change our pre-bedtime ritual into a singing contest.  We would each pick a favorite Christmas song and start singing it at the same time.  Whoever could get the other sister to start singing their song first was the winner.  It was a lot of fun and I have to admit that as the older sister I had the advantage.  You see, at the time my little sister only knew two songs all the way through–Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  She always sang one and if I sang the other and sang loud enough she would always end up joining in.  Before you start thinking I’m the bad guy, I must confess that it took me several nights of singing “complicated” songs like the Twelve Days of Christmas before I finally realized I could save myself a lot of breath and time by simply singing one of her faves.

We did all the fun things sisters do, like playing dolls, playing house, playing Barbies (which is like dolls, but different), playing store, playing school and even playing adoption agency!  I know what you’re thinking, “WHO plays adoption agency?”  But you should keep in mind that it was at the height of the Cabbage Patch Kid rage thus adoption agency makes perfect sense.  Speaking of Cabbage Patch Kids…boy did we LOVE those dolls!  I remember when we got them for Christmas.  My Mom could only snag boy Cabbage Patch Dolls (the height of the rage remember) so my sister ended up with Ramsey and I had Peyton.  Hers came in a cute little non-gender outfit with short curly hair and, after attaching a hairbow, she immediately reassigned Ramsey’s gender and he became a she.  I on the other hand, felt obligated to keep Peyton a boy–after all he came in a sporty little blue and white sweatpant suit and was bald.  Nonetheless, we loved those dolls and took them everywhere.  In the winter we bundled them up in blankets and carried them around like real babies, in warmer weather they could be found tagging along to Grandma’s, the grocery store, etc… like real babies.

If you asked my Mom to share some of her favorite memories, I wonder if she would remember the time we were playing “K-Mart.”  Yes, we weren’t just playing store on that particular afternoon, we were playing “K-Mart.”  And when you play K-mart you must have layaway and of course, blue light specials.  We arranged the living room, and calculator in hand, we took turns being the shopper and the cashier.  We tape recorded the specials (trying to make our voices sound like the coolio K-Mart managers) and played them back all afternoon.  Oh, those were the days.  Purses full of fake money and the ability to “purchase” things we already owned.  We sure knew how to have fun!

In many ways my sister and I are very different.  She has loads of dark, curly hair and I have loads of lighter, straight-ish hair (that’s code for boring and constantly permed!)  For a little sister she ended up taller than me (a family curse where the eldest daughter ends up the smallest in the bunch.)  She has always had perfect teeth and long, slender fingers which I always envied.  She’ll pay money to see a scary movie and I have to turn the channel when a horror pic trailer makes its way onto a TV screen.  She truly LOVES children whereas I would say that I like most kids.  She is the favorite aunt, hip to all the new fashion trends, music and kid-slang and I’m the aunt who you’re not sure if you want to show up at your graduation (can you say group t-shirts and caricature signs!)

We’re also similar in my ways.  We both love comedies, Mexican food, the Donna Reed Show and to shop.  It’s funny how we’ll like the same scent of perfume without consulting one another.  We both try to “lay low” at family events to avoid getting picked on by our brothers.  We also know exactly when to roll our eyes and shoot a “here we go again” glance at larger, extended family functions.  And we both love to laugh.  As little kids we would  get the giggles and hardly be able to contain ourselves (even on the rare occasions when we were in church.)  As teens we laughed through the dishes and the Uno games that determined who was going to have to sweep or wash!  We laughed when our Mom called us Frick and Frack (I’m Frick), Ding and Dong (I’m Ding) or Mutt and Jeff (I’m Jeff.)  We could hardly contain ourselves the one afternoon when we decided to cover every photo in the house with post-it notes (adorned with a smiley face), all the while waiting to see how long it would take our Mom to notice when she got home from work!  (Ha ha, Mom, it took you a while….) 

So many good times.  I love my sister for all of these fun memories and so much more, but recently I’ve come to love her in a new way.  In the last few years I have seen a strength in my sister that makes my heart burst.  While she has always been a key figure in the lives our nieces and nephew, I saw her finally put herself first and  fight through a difficult personal situation…and come out the winner.  I know that she still has her good and bad days, and most people wouldn’t believe all that she’s had to deal with and the challenges that she’s been through.  Still, I’ve seen her take steps to become more independent, I’ve seen her change her course, I’ve seen her make realizations and discoveries that have deeply impacted her life.  I’ve seen her come from a place of brokenness and rise up to a place of responsibility and change for the better.  I’m so proud of her and all that she has accomplished so far.  I pray for her daily and I know that God has a wonderful future for her, one with promise and hope.  She is special and this birthday marks a tremendous turning point for her. 

So my darling, sister, here’s to a year unlike any other.  One with less worries and stress.  One with more happiness and success.  And one with courage and loads of side-splitting laughter and joy!  Happy birthday, sis…may God bless you today and everyday.  YOU ARE LOVED!

A sister is a forever friend.  Author Unknown

Just Say NO! (And Why Yes Can Leave You Feeling Blessed)

The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you’ve lost it.  Anonymous

Balance.  Very few have it, everyone wants it, and there are a zillion resources out there for how YOU can achieve it.  If only it were that easy.  For me the idea of a balanced life is like trying to catch the wind with a butterfly net.  I keep telling myself that things will all fall into place when I learn to balance my life more effectively.  Like millions of others, I just don’t have the time to make a plan, read all the books or the money to acquire a life coach.  Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of obligations and commitments and not only do I not have a life jacket, I don’t even know how to swim!

For weeks now I’ve been whining (what me whine?  I know you can hardly believe it.) and complaining about being too busy.  I have a list a mile long of things that I “need” to do in addition to the things that I “have” to do.  I am weighed down with housework, parenting, grocery shopping, cooking, organizing, etc….  I am buried beneath books that I promised myself I would read.  I am surrounded by commitments I had made to my kids’ school and our church.  I felt pressure to eat right and get back on track with an exercise routine.  The days were getting longer and nights were getting shorter and I found myself moving further and further away from any trace of balance in my life.  I had so many good intentions, but I was losing the battle.  In sharing these thoughts with family and friends it seems this lack of balance had become some kind of common malady for the masses.  The real kicker was that I felt like I had created all of this imbalance on my own.  I felt like it was all my fault because I hadn’t mastered the art of saying “no.” 

“Just say NO when the requests come.  You can do it,” I kept trying to tell myself.  You don’t have to make cookies for every school event.  Every birthday party doesn’t have to be a big blow out.  You don’t have to get it all done in one day.  No one said you had to be perfect.  I began to think that the key to finding balance was to guard my yeses and carefully weigh my noes.  Simple right?  I was certain that I had stumbled across the answer of a lifetime.  The ultimate trick to achieving balance.  In my mind’s eye I  could picture the scale coming into perfect balance.  I was a genius.

My genius was short-lived.  It wasn’t long before I was back in the pit.  I hadn’t guarded my yeses enough and I weighed only one “no” and that “no” was rebuffed.  I hadn’t thought about that.  I naively thought that if you told someone “no” that they would politely back off.  Note to self–that’s not always the case.  

I was feeling pretty low and right on cue, the guilt crept in (and sometimes that’s the worst part.)  The guilt that reminds you that you have everything that you need and so much more.  The guilt that says stop bellyaching and look around…you have a home, food, money in the bank, good health, a wonderful husband and family, and great friends.  The guilt that prompts you to realize that your life is better than so many others and that you have NOTHING to complain about.  The guilt that says maybe they asked because you can….  Uggg!  Now I was completely out of balance and racked with guilt. 

I was starting to feel nauseous.  I can’t win here.  Life started piling up.  Can you plan the class party?  Can you bake cupcakes?  Can you organize this?  Can you volunteer for that?  Would you mind doing (fill in the blank)?  It was getting to the point where I wanted to stop answering the phone and venture out of the house only in disguise.  My life scale wasn’t just unbalanced, it was on the verge of collapsing.  And that’s when it happened.  Right on time and in His time, the weight began to lift.  I saw the whole situation with fresh eyes. 

I had burdened myself with countless projects and obligations and I asked God to help me honor my commitments.  I asked him to forgive me of the pride that fooled me into thinking I could take on so much.  The Holy Spirit put into my heart a reminder that I “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  I clearly need His help and I needed to ask for it.  I prayed for discernment and that God would help me weigh my yeses and noes.  What I received was something that I didn’t expect.  In every project that I had dreaded or wished that I had said “no” to, I found God’s love.  In my commitment to teach, I found willing and joyful students.  In my commitment to lead, I found dedicated and giving volunteers.  In my obligation to help a friend, I found time to talk and share life stories.  In mundane office work, I found community.  In tedious organizing, I found a renewed sense of purpose.  In class, I was reminded that God calls us to serve.  As it turns out, I was blessed when I said “yes.” 

My house is still a disaster.  The laundry pile grows in the dark.  I dread making dinner every night.  I’m still not sure that I want to answer the phone.  Obviously, as I write this my life scale remains lopsided (I am human after all.)  But I’m beginning to wonder if the idea of balance is a box we chain ourselves to or an imaginary oasis we’re not meant to find.  In the meantime, I have resolved to keep one eye on the scale, the other eye fixed on God, and my hands ready to serve…when asked.