Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Last Week of Summer

It is a hot and muggy day.  This morning as I checked the weather, it was an incredible 96 percent humidity.  Summer is waning fast.

A sweet friend Julie texted me this morning, "This is the last week of summer," before the kids go back to school.  "I am determining today to take any chance that comes my way to laugh with my kids."

I texted her back, "As they say in Chicago about voting, laugh early and often."

"And take them to get Slushies.  The bluer the better."

For those who have a week left (or more), I am republishing a post from 2011 entitled "Bored With Nothing To Do."  Because that is when the real FUN begins.


Bored – Nothing To Do! is a delightful picture book about two brothers who undertake an adventure on a summer day when there was “nothing to do.”  I was reminded of it last night when I read an article  in the Wall Street Journal focused on a new “underserved” marketing niche:  boys 6 to 11 years old.  Why?  Because, “boys watch more animated series than girls and represent a lucrative sales opportunity for videogames, toys and sports merchandise.”  Put into a nutshell:   it is the middle of summer, there are A LOT of kids passively watching a screen in front of them, and they are bored to death.

Boredom seems to reign supreme in this new generation of kids.  And that is a shame.  Children of this generation – boys and girls alike – are so pre-programmed, over-scheduled, and pushed, even in the earliest months, that “spare time” is filled with a bizillion channels of cable tv, endless video games, DVD players even in the SUV, and i-pads to soak up every bit of their remaining attention.

Addictive behaviors begin early.  And so does a lack of creative initiative.  Indeed, a couple of years ago, when I was taking care of a friend’s children, her kids were excited to find Lego’s in the toy closet.  They quickly became frustrated, though, trying to follow the pre-planned instructions, and began squabbling over the pieces.  “You know,” I interrupted, “You don’t have to follow the directions.  You can make ANYTHING you want.” 

“We can?” they replied, incredulous.

The next two hours flew past, each of the kids building and rebuilding the “best rocket ship ever,” and the “best fighter jet ever,” and the “best castle ever,” from the pile of tiny plastic pieces.  And they GLOWED when their mom came, so proud of what they had made.  Their faces, in turn, fell when their mom replied, “Ok, time to pick up the toys.  We need to go.”

The next time they came, the oldest child made cookies with me.  For the first time ever.
One summer in Kansas City when our girls were elementary and middle school age, we challenged them to not watch tv for the entire summer.   It was like they were released from jail.   They put on plays in the basement, they ripped up the sideyard playing with a Slip N Slide that they bought for a quarter at a garage sale, they rode bikes to the neighborhood pool, and one of them started a “mold garden” under her sink to “see what happens.”  They figured out how to sew simple things for their American Girl dolls using scraps of cloth and yarn…and much to his horror, constructed outfits for our dog Jack.  Each of the girls had “mud clothes” and an old pair of shoes for exploring the undeveloped field behind our house.  And that summer began their adventures in cooking--with recipes and without –a pursuit that continues to this day as adults in their own kitchens.
Quite frankly, they made a big mess.
And they had the time of their lives.

When the summer ended, tv wasn’t even mentioned until November.   C. S. Lewis was once asked how he developed such a vivid imagination.  He replied that he and his brother were left with large amounts of time on their hands.  Creativity took over from there. 

Our oldest daughter Beth, now the mother of two small children, has a wise friend who advised her, “You have 18 summers with your kids.  That’s it.  Make the most of that time.”
So tonight, let them pitch a tent in the backyard and sleep under the stars.  Let them come up with ideas for supper…and make it.   Let them run through the sprinklers in the yard, and draw with colored chalk on the driveway, and make forts with pillows and quilts in the family room, and research and plan a family outing somewhere in, let’s say, a 100 mile radius of home.  And yea, they WILL get dirty.  They might even have so much fun you will have to throw out their clothes.  They can film their own movies or create a video scavenger hunt or play Capture the Flag at dusk.  You may even discover latent talents in them.  As a poor Brooklyn kid back in the Great Depression, my father built a miniature golf course in their tiny yard – and made money with it.  He charged a few clothes-pins a game, and then sold them back to the neighborhood moms on laundry day.

And when it comes time for your kids to write the perennial essay What I Did On My Summer Vacation, your kids will smile at the thought of it.  “You wouldn’t believe…”
Let them make it the “best summer ever.”   It’s not too late.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

That which comes up out of the ground

In our daughter's beautiful backyard, there is gradually appearing amidst the grass all manner of rocks and debris coming to the surface.  As it turns out, several years ago now, the previous owner plowed over an in-ground pool that he didn't want to fix.  

By all appearances, you would never know it existed. But now, the evidence is emerging out of the very ground.

Truth floats.

...for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.
               Matthew 10. 26

This past week, two videos have emerged that reveal deep atrocities that are a regular practice at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. It is so unspeakable that I could only listen to a few moments before it made me nauseous. Tiny lives are not just being snuffed out, but harvested for money. I can barely even type these words.

"A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying," stated Pope John Paul II. 

I am old enough that I can remember the onset of Roe vs. Wade.  At the time, abortion was both advocated and justified as the means to make every child wanted, every woman protected, reduce child abuse, and furthermore be both safe and rare. 

We have come to a time when this long slow deception is brimming over and showing itself for what it truly is.  

With this news, the tide has turned. The world is disgusted by this grimness. My heart goes out not just to the cries of children in those grey shadows of death, but their mothers, forever haunted by it, ironically feeling that they had no other choice -- either by coercion, desperation or deception. 

And now, a deeper wounding.

When it comes down to it, we are all responsible for our own moral choices. None of us can cover up our wrongdoing for long, we cannot make up for what we have done, nor rewind the actions of our lives.

That is why God invented forgiveness.

And that is what He redeems.

In the same broadcast about the first video, the evening news concluded with a story about a 72 year old man and his wife who have fostered 29 children, adopted two, established educational scholarships, and provided adoption legal services without charge for thousands of families.  

These two stories were the bookends of the broadcast.

Both brought tears to my eyes.

While what is not true will come to the surface, so will that which is good and right.

Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.

                        Psalm 85.11

Thursday, July 23, 2015

All over everything like chocolate on a hot summer day

Even when we didn't think we were doing it, we all watched our moms.  The power of imitation is how we learned to do things. Even when we were looking the other way, even when we claimed we were not listening, moms have a sneaky way of getting through our defenses.

My mom defined kindness that way for me.

Mom was kind to everyone.  It didn't matter if she knew them or not.  We used to say that she would speak with no less respect to the girl who cleared the table at Old Country Buffet than to the Queen of England.  Poor had nothing to do with economics, but anyone in need, obvious or not.

Mom could inherently sense need in people.  She knew that some of the neediest people on earth were the ones who least appeared that way.  Loneliness, isolation, and broken hearts are readily disguised.  She also knew how it felt to be invisible, when no one even acknowledges you are there.

And so, mom traveled through her life with X-ray vision and surprising people with kindness. To the woman cleaning toilets in the restroom, she would stop and thank her for her hard work. And to a wealthy socialite at a large party, she would embrace with the same warmth, knowing that under the layers there are deep and hidden heartaches. I remember her habitually talking with housekeepers in motels when we traveled, asking about their day and their families. She took great delight in loving on people, whether she knew them or not.

In one of the last times I was with her before she passed away, we were stopped by construction workers fixing the road on a sweltering Florida afternoon.  "Here, here," she called frantically from the backseat, handing me her well-worn sun hat.  "That man has nothing to cover his head.  It is so hot outside. Please give it to him!"

Whatever she had, whenever she could.  Kindness was not something she did.  It was how she saw everything around her.

And like chocolate on a hot summer's day, kindness gets all over everyone.

No act of kindness is ever random.
No act of kindness is ever in vain.
It is intentional,
       it multiplies exponentially,
and it reverberates forever.

He who is kind to the poor
        lends to the LORD,
and He will repay him
                for his deed.

               Proverbs 19. 17

Monday, July 20, 2015

From the Earth to the Moon

Forty-six years ago today, I was just shy of my sixteenth birthday.  It was a hot humid day in Chicago. And for some reason, I had the evening off from my job.  My brothers and I took refuge in the basement where it seemed all the cool air in the house had hidden. We turned on our black and white television to see what was on. The dogs all stretched out themselves on the linoleum tile in an effort to cool off.

And suddenly on the screen was Neil Armstrong in a huge moonsuit taking bounding steps on the surface of the moon, as if an awkward dancer at a junior high party.

It was not some low budget science fiction movie. A man was walking on the moon.  "How many things have been denied one day, only to become realities the next!"  stated author Jules Verne in his novel From the Earth to the Moon, which was written remarkably in 1865.

We needed that celebration that summer of 1969 more than we could know, that ray of moonlight in a very dark year. Our country was knee deep in a miry bog of trouble and bad news on all sides.  Just a year before, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were each assassinated.  Deep tension exploded in big cities and small towns over civil rights. People marched in the streets. Sit ins and protests against the VietNam War simultaneously rocked the nation.  Even on the high school campus across the street from our house, student unrest kept everyone on edge.  The war was escalating.  My brother had just graduated from high school. What he could be doing this next year hung on a lottery that no one wanted to win.

Death dominated the headlines.  People were so afraid.  How could our country make it through this desperation?

Wandering over from the washer and dryer, my grandmother hobbled across and sat next to me.  "To think that I went from covered wagon to seeing a man walk on the moon," she declared.  This old woman had survived the pain of stillbirth, early widowhood, the Great Depression, two world wars, fifty years of rheumatoid arthritis, and not a dime to her name.

And yet, she exuded joy more than anyone I have ever known.  "Sometimes you just have to trust the LORD," she told me on more than one occasion, "even when you don't understand."  The radical hope of Christ abounded in her.

That is how she walked through desperate times to the other side.

And so, I was the one doing laundry today, now a grandmother myself, not quite as old and not hobbling as much.  I celebrate that the moon is still there, shining down every evening.  We also live in desperate times. And we will make it through this too.

The moon is just a reminder
           of who God is,
faithful and real.

Thus says the LORD,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon
    and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar --
            the LORD of hosts is His name.

                          Jeremiah 31. 35

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A little reminder in an unusual place

Last year at this time, our house was full of boxes as we sorted through what we wanted to move ...and what we wanted to leave behind.  Not a day went by that there was not at least one person coming to pick up a Craigslist item.  They were joyful for the bargains.  We were joyful because we did not have to move more stuff.  Win-win situation.

Everything we moved, we had to touch, because we packed it all ourselves. Some things were obvious keepers.  Some things easy to discard, like an entire box of old Christmas cards that the girls had saved at some point to make Christmas crafts.

But I got nervous the closer and closer we inched toward my desk.  Some of my writing stuff was filed and clearly marked, but there was my infamous pile of papers, clipped articles, and ideas written down on backs of envelopes, sticky notes, and even napkins.  When crunchtime came, I scooped up those papers and put them in an old backpack which I transported to our daughter's house for safe keeping in the transition.  I wanted to sift through them without the pressure of an impending move.

It has been almost a year since we packed the house, and the other day as I was searching for a notebook, I chuckled when I found a folder marked, "I dreamed my entire desk was clean."

Inside that folder was a fellowship of papers of all shapes and sizes, notes written down in my comings and goings, hurriedly scribbled on whatever piece of paper I found at the time, words that flew quickly through my thoughts.  Amidst that conglomeration of papers, my eyes were drawn to a few words inscribed on the back of an old rumpled post-it note.  This is what I saw:

"If you are not praying,
    you are not listening."

Those words stopped me in my tracks that afternoon.

God reminded me with a scrap of paper
                       in an unusual place
of the ongoing conversation
that makes the most significant difference
                    in what I do
                              and who I am.
If I want things to be different
in my life
and in my relationship with God,
                            start right here.

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses
                         face to face,
as a man speaks to his friend.

                                    Exodus 33.11

...as he came down from the mountain,
Moses did not know
that the skin of his face shone
because he had been talking with God.

                                     Exodus 34. 29