Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Graduation Reception

The graduation reception for the school was last Thursday. A friend of mine and I coordinated this event...which meant that I can now die happy having finally been able to chair something at Trinity Presbyterian School. See, I am one of those mothers who is normally called to do the job that few really enjoy or will even consider doing...games at Christmas when everybody is jacked up on sugar and artificial coloring...that kind of thing. Or doing a scrapbook for fifth graders where the only picture most of the boys brought also included a dead deer on the back of a pickup truck.

I've enjoyed (or at worst survived) all of these jobs, but as one of the "working mothers" it was apparently assumed that I wouldn't have time, interest, or ability to pull something together of the importance of the Trinity Graduation Reception. My sweet friend - who chaired it the year before - thought I could handle it and nominated me. I love her faith! I'm pretty sure that she was praying the entire time that her daughter's reception wouldn't be a disaster of unspeakable magnitude. And thankfully, her prayers were answered. Lord knows that if it had been a colossal failure, mention of it would one day appear in my obituary followed by..."bless her heart..."

The graduation reception is chaired each year by two junior class mothers and is worked by all of the mothers in the junior class. You get out of reception duty if you have a child graduating, but you have to be critically ill, hospitalized or severly contagious otherwise. I do love that one of our mothers with four children has just worked her second and last reception as she has children graduating in each of the next three years. She does not advise this method for getting out of working the reception. On the other hand, my friend and I worked last year as trainees...so for our two children...we have both worked (or will work) three receptions each. Something is wrong with this picture...

Thankfully, my friend who co-chaired it with me is also the one that co-chaired the 3rd grade Easter Egg Hunt and numerous joint birthday parties for our sons through the years. She has complementary "skill sets" with me...and that totally rocks. We work well together because we aren't bossy, type A, overachieving banshees by the end of the event. Nobody wants to slap anybody and it always gets done well. Oh, well, I assume that she didn't want to slap me at the end of the event. I suppose I might be speaking out of turn. At least she was still speaking to me...so there's that...

She checked that the budget was in line, that the people with jobs requiring lead times were contacted, that work got done earlier than scheduled the day of the reception, and that all of the boxes were checked in the twenty five pound manual of words of wisdom from the ghosts of receptions past. I wrote the letter to the Moms, did the public speaking, got the tables straightened out, and made quick decisions. I even guarded the silver for 45 minutes...something that rates as #1 on the boring-o-meter in my humble opinion. It is worse than waiting for your toenails to dry after a pedicure, sitting through a cantata, and suffering through any book of required reading that my children have ever had assigned. I know this because I have read them all. Even "Kim" by Rudyard Kipling...a book from the Library of Hades if I've ever read one...

We also had a dozen totally awesome Graduation Fairies who did the next level of work so well that they made us look really good. They were perky, knew how to delegate, pulled it together, and begged favors from the people on their committees to get it all taken care of with gusto. You just have to love people like that. We tried to pick people that we could count on...but women who weren't called to do everything normally. We felt like it would be far more fun to have people who made us laugh but were reliable than people who were no fun but highly efficient. In my opinion, highly efficient is seriously overrated.

I'm happy to say, though, that we truly didn't have a group of slackers. You know...women who pay people to do everything for them so that they lose touch with the concept of grunt work. Because if the graduation reception is anything...it is grunt work...on steroids. I'm not knocking those women by the way...lest you think I am being unkind or insanely jealous. I'm just saying that it might be a little difficult to relate to being asked to take out a bag of garbage, wipe off trays, or pick up stray cups when they haven't actually done this since 1985...or, possibly...EVER.

One year, I remember one of the mothers was in mid-story with one of her friends stopped me as I was going from Point A to Point B to tell me that the trash can needed to be emptied. Funny thing, though, she wasn't "in charge" and I wasn't on the Clean-up Committee. Apparently I have that "I once worked at McDonald's" look going on or something.

And no, I didn't kick her in the face. I just took out the trash. I wasn't going to try to trump her in the Tackiness Department.

This reception marking the celebration of the milestone of high school graduation is meticulously planned, organized, worked, and managed each year on a budget that is adequate, but far less costly than one would guess. Using the junior mothers to work is actually quite ingenious on many levels. Not only is there an army of 60-75 women who are a captive group of workers, but they get the opportunity to reconnect with other mothers that they haven't seen since the children began driving...or have even met at all. That senior year is quite a ride...and it is nice to know or reconnect with those who are in the boat with you. It also makes one truly appreciate all of the effort that goes into YOUR child's graduation reception when they are seniors...because pretty much...that night is a blur otherwise.

Yes...a blur. I've been in the "mother of the graduate" role once already, and I'll be back there again next year. I've found that there are Mamas that are incredulous that they are there in that role...they can't believe that their "baby" is finally through with school, and others who are just grateful that their son or daughter has actually graduated...and will be going somewhere - ANYWHERE - to continue his or her education in the Fall. The first group walks around looking dazed and teary. The second group would be doing back handsprings if there was adequate space in the sea of humanity...but there is not.

I ran into examples of both last week. I even had meaningful conversations with them while checking with one eye to make sure that we weren't out of cheese cubes on table 5. Amazingly, we WERE out of cheese cubes. After years of ordering less and less...we finally hit on the exact amount of cheese cubes that one needs to offer instead of insanely ordering way too much and then returning half of the order every year once the reception is over. We took the crackers away this year because nobody eats crackers at the reception, and they seemed to just enjoy the cheese with the fruit. Or maybe we had an extraordinary number of people on the Atkins diet with it being nearly swimsuit season and all.

We found that ordering four kinds of rock-star cookies was better than having eight kinds of semi-icky ones. One of the mothers of a class of 2008 graduate was kind enough to bake six pans of her amazing brownies for graduation. They were totally awesome and also totally gone. The thumbprint cookies were also inhaled. Not a big shock there...as they cost over sixty cents each in the bakery. The other two offerings had some leftovers, but not the trays and trays that marked past receptions I've seen.

However, there were so many leftover cheese straws that it was truly amazing. When did people start being anti-cheese straws? Isn't failure to consume cheese straws against some unwritten Southern law of formal gatherings? I don't think that we overordered...but then again...perhaps folks loaded up on real cheese instead. Who knows?

The fruit was amazing...as it always is. In 2007, I was on a committee that carved swans out of honeydew melons and baskets out of watermelons. It took us hours, and those trays were truly a sight to behold. But this year rivaled that year in beauty, creativity, and "wow" factor. Plus, the strawberries were ridiculously huge but tasty as well.

Our punch chairman made ice rings that worked well, and our flower chairman and committee outdid themselves. Nametags were made, tablecloths were arranged, and silver was gathered and cleanup handled. All did their jobs...and did them well.

The graduation reception is thankfully over for another year. However, attending it reminds me each year that time marches on. Last week was the sixth graduation reception in a row that I've attended. Next year will be my seventh...and my last for a few years...or so I think right now. Next year, I not only am the mother of a graduate...but I'm "graduating" from Trinity as well. I'm trying not to dwell on that.

I'll be making the final tuition payment in December, Lord willing, and I'm having that moment photographed. In reality, I've been paying what amounts to college tuition since 1996. If making that final payment doesn't constitute a Kodak moment...I don't know what does.

And I have that wonderful reception to look forward to next year...because I already know that it will be wonderful. I also know that as of right now...in the realm of graduation receptions...I AM RETIRED. :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Several years ago, one of my employers paid for me to attend a Dale Carnegie class. It taught me to be less self conscious speaking in public, that my natural enthusiasm needn't be kept under a bushel, and for a temporary period of time...the names of the original thirteen colonies in order. It is a pretty neat course that has its cheesy moments...but also has some pretty incredible "aha!" moments as you are memorizing everybody's name and figuring out what it is that you are going to talk about next. In fact, ten years later...I still have the pen I won for being voted "best speech" one night. I also learned that you will never be as horrible speaking in front of people as you think. Or even if you aer...people are forgiving.

One of the other important things I learned...other than "if you want to be enthusiastic...you have to act enthusiastic" was "expect ingratitude." The first one gave me the courage to just be myself and the latter gave me permission to let other people be who they are as well.

Let me say that again..."expect ingratitude."

Just to say consider how hard this is to master...let me throw out some scenarios I've witnessed lately on various "walls" around Facebook, in my inbox, or in conversations with friends. I am not suggesting that people are not entitled to be hurt, offended, or angry. I'm just saying that they would be a lot happier if they expected nothing out of other people.

Because if you expect ingratitude...people just might surprise you. And not only may they surprise you...but you might even surprise yourself by enjoying serving just for the joy of serving.

Or not.

I mean, there are some people that we pretty much expect some gratitude from...at least at Christmas, Mothers'/Fathers' Day and our birthday. We have birth to them or adopted them into our family, we've endured much and hoped even more. But outside of our children...we really cannot demand that people appreciate us. And even with our kids...it's not even possible sometimes. At times, teenagers are heinous...self-centered and downright annoying. And some people never outgrow that.

How many times have we signed up to do something at church, school, at the ballfield, or in the community and had our ideas shot down, our offering snubbed, or the plum assignments given to the people who do everything? If you answered "never" - then consider yourself lucky...or totally uninvolved. The rest of us normally enthusiastically take something on...only to find that we don't really know the rules of the game. And often, we will do something that we think is pretty great...and find that nobody cares. Or it wasn't as awesome as the year before. Or it will be discontinued for lack of interest the year after. Hey, it happens.

Other times, we are sick or have experienced a loss, and we wonder why people don't take the time to figure out that we might need some support. We are the ones there with the casseroles, the cards, or the shoulder, and when it is our turn...everyone is AWOL. We expect people to value us enough to pick up a phone, send a line, or try to provide some comfort. The truth is...people are often doing all that they can to survive what is in their immediate environment. Private people will try to deal with it personally before broadcasting. So, someone's lack of interest in your problem, issue, or illness...may be because they have bigger fish to fry.

Or it could be that they are just insensitive jerks. But more often than not, they mean well.

So, when you do something for someone else...do it because you want to do it...not so they will take care of you at some later date. And don't assume that because they are silent that they do not care. Everyone is different...and some people don't really know what to say...what to do...or how to interact with you.

Or they are just boneheads.

Just remember to do what you do for the sole purpose of desiring to do something. Don't expect anyone to care, comment, be there, send a thank you note, be eternally grateful, or to even notice. I mean...brides and graduates should send thank you notes. Not to do so is tacky. But, for everything else...change your audience.

If you do everything "unto the Lord" - you will receive the applause of heaven. You may not hear words or praise or encouragement here, but you are being granted treasure in heaven. And you'll find that you are happier when you quit noticing where other people fail you, fall short, or are apathetic.

A LOT happier.

So, forgive people their shortcomings...yes, even family. It is sometimes the hardest to forgive...but to not do so means that you are only hurting yourself. Don't think that it means that your friends aren't true, don't care, or aren't worthy of your continued friendship. It means that all of us have different gifts...and sometimes the person who will go to bat for you to receive justice is nowhere to be found when you need mercy, care, or understanding. You just have to decide if you want to keep the relationship. If you don't...in some cases, it will be your loss. And in others...not so much a loss as a reality check.

Expect ingratitude. Expect that people will fall short. Understand that nobody is perfect. And then prepare to be surprised when people are thankful, caring, and loving. But even if they aren't...know that God may not see that you get everything you want...but He will see to it that you get everything you need.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Today I just want to write something that makes people comment. I don't care if the comment is "well, THAT was interesting" or "well, that was ten minutes of my life I just invested that I will never get back..." I mean, I'd love something more positive, but frankly, some days you just want to know that someone is on the other end.

It is why we will call our children/parents/spouses fifteen times when they won't pick up their cell phones and we know that they should. We will then start calling anyone that we believe is in the vicinity of that person until some poor victim picks up. Never mind that they are in the boss' office, having a conversation with someone that really needs all their attention, or in the bathroom. If they don't pick up, we will start leaving voice or text messages asking "where are you?"

My mother is famous for just calling every one of our cell phones, work numbers, and the house until someone picks up. Never mind that Jill is sometimes the lucky winner of Mom's dial-a-rama, normally in Tuscaloosa, and not only does she not know where we are...she frankly couldn't care less.

Sometimes we just crave human interaction.

This is why we tell our hairdressers exactly what is going on in our lives - knowing full well that they really aren't that interested. Unless, of course, our lives are...well...interesting. Mine is not. So, sometimes I think that Greg cuts my hair a little "off" sometimes so that I won't come back for at least three months. Or at all. I mean, surely he has more interesting clients.

Or why some supermarket cashiers tell us exactly what is going on with the bagboy and the cashier two aisles over, their sinus infection, and why they hate their employer. And why you'll offer relationship advice to them in return as they check out your 20 items or less.

We all love feedback. We'd prefer positive feedback, but in its absence, we will accept any kind of feedback or interaction. We'll have conversations with tellers, people on customer service lines, the mailman, coworkers, or people that we don't even especially like.

And if all else fails...we'll have conversations with ourselves...and we will answer our own questions. It is disconcerting to other people to hear these exchanges.

Or we'll start writing a blog. Wait! That was too close to home.

Anyway, I love the days where people comment on something I've written, or will tell me what is going on in their lives enough for me to spawn that off into something other people might benefit from...or not. I suppose it makes me feel like I didn't waste people's time. Or because I love investing and getting a return. Don't we all?

Anyway, I realize that I've written on quite a diversity of subjects over the past year. Where other writers have something to say on a more narrowed set of topics...I'll just talk about anything...anytime. I suppose that makes me a Walmart kind of writer. I just hope that I provide better service.

Today is Monday, and I'm headed out to have more human interaction than I'm going to be able to stand. And if not, I have the graduation reception I'll be coordinating on Thursday to give me a lot to write about if something goes wrong. Because if there's one thing I know...mess that puppy up and I'll have enough interaction to last me a lifetime.

So, for those of you who make comments on something I've written...thank you. For those of you who call, text, e-mail and verbally give me feedback...that is appreciated as well. I mean...I'm going to write anyway...but it really does help to know what works and what doesn't. Who knows, maybe one day, I'll be able to narrow my focus. But for now, I'm really enjoying turning cartwheels in the outfield, so to speak.

That was a scary visual, wasn't it?

Anyway, off for interaction galore. Have a great day! :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Yesterday, I planted some vincas in a flower bed right outside the back patio door. I have been doing this for a number of years because not only do they seem to like that particular spot, but because I love the pop of color outside my window during the summer months. Where some flowers I've had out there have curled up in the fetal position and begged for mercy from the unrelenting Alabama sunshine, the vincas seem to thrive. So, being the creature of habit that I am...I made the trek to Lowe's and bought four flats...two white and two hot pink. (Of COURSE, I bought pink! :))

Yesterday was the big day for getting them in the ground. I bought new garden soil, planted them, and then watered and fertilized them. I even barricaded them from the big lab/rottweiler/setter mix from next door...affectionately known as "Black Dog" because he likes to lay in the dirt there in the winter months. I expect that they will do much like their older cousins did in that spot...be low maintenance and will even warn me that they need water by looking a little pitiful. After a good soaking, they will bounce back amazingly.

I have high expectations for these flowers because I have seen how this particular variety does in the conditions I have to offer. I expect to be pleased because I have a history of being satisfied with them, and I always enjoy the compliments I get on how beautiful they are. I like seeing them as I float around the pool on a lazy summer day. I appreciate knowing that at least one section of my yard looks somewhat landscaped.

It reminded me, though, as I dug holes in the dirt, that sometimes our children are like flowers in the garden. They are planted in good soil, are fed and nourished properly, receive the sunshine of our praise, and are protected from what we think is detrimental to their survival. We nurture them, enjoy them, and have expectations for their performance. We try to weed out the bad influences, keep the pests from devouring their spirits, and try to balance the elements.

Many mothers understand instinctively what their children need. In fact, a friend of mine states that a mother is "only as happy as her most unhappy child." True words. We tend to feel what they feel, do all that is within our power to smooth the path, and applaud the loudest when things are going well. We provide shoulders to cry on, incentives to perform, and prayers on their behalf...but we also want them building muscle to survive setbacks and cultivating the inner strength to endure adulthood. We give them family roots to build on and spiritual wings to soar into heaven. Or at least that's what most of us are trying to do.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we do all that we can and something tragic intervenes. Or we feel that the stork got lost in flight and dropped a child at the wrong house. Sometimes we feel like we have failed because we pushed one too hard...or another one not hard enough. There is competition between siblings that turns into a battle royale. We look at the performance of other parents and are envious that they have dodged the problems that we live with every day. We feel a gnawing disappointment in ourselves for not seeing warning signs, making poor choices because we didn't invest the time to think things through, or by being too strict or too permissive.

We have to remember that we can't control the outcome...we can only control the environment. We can only do the best that we can do. We can't be someone we are not, can't provide what we don't have, and or be prepared for everything life throws our way. But much like I did with planting my vincas...we can do a few things that have proven to be successful.

We can let our children feel the weight of their bad decisions. I don't mean that we should let those decisions break them...but they should understand that if they don't study...they come home from the college of their choice. If they spend all of their money at a bar...they figure out how to wrangle meals for the next week...or two. If they loan out their clothes or their car and something happens to them...that they either lose those items or figure out how to replace them on their own. Far too many parents hire a lawyer, write a check, or chalk it up to youth...instead of understanding that they really do have to grow up sometime. Unless, of course, you want them dependent on you for life.

We can encourage our husbands to model the husband they want their daughter to marry one day. A girl's impressions of herself primarily come from her father. If she is loved and valued...she expects that out of a man. If she is criticized or unaccepted...she will almost always settle for less. Men with teenage daughters especially should be taking them to dinner...buying them a new dress...opening the lines of communication. A daughter knows her mother and other female family members will always be there. She also realizes that her father can ignore her, walk away, or teach her by his apathy that she isn't worth his time. It is not enough to provide for her...although that certainly is his responsibility. It is his job to prepare her heart for marriage. To uncover her uniqueness. To convince her of her beauty and her worth. Too many fathers assume that their responsibility ends at the paycheck. No. His attention, admiration, and acceptance are critical to making her the woman she is meant to be.

We can show up. Most of us have no problem with sitting in the stands, being on the other end of the phone or attending the high points of life. But what about when things aren't going well? When they need to hear the truth? When we have to bite our tongue when "I told you so" is just screaming to get out? We sometimes just need to be there. Not preaching, teaching, or helping. Just being. Talking about anything and everything but the elephant in the living room. We serve them best by being a haven that they run to when the world or someone significant has let them down.

We can trust God with them. Often, we try to steer them in the direction that will bring them what we believe is best. We fail to understand that the verse "train up a child in the way he should go..." is really more complex than it looks. Yes, you must train a child to do the right things. That's fairly obvious. What isn't as obvious is the "way he should go" part. We emphasize the "way" and I believe that God means for us to emphasize the "should" instead. We try to send them down the path that will give them a decent shot at success. What we need to be focused on is sending them down the road using the unique gifts and inspirations that God gives them. Of course, they are extensions of our family. But they are also wonderful creations of God that may or may not exceed our expectations for them on an overall basis. But if we accept that they may be wired for success differently than we anticipate...and enthusiastically support them...we will be amazed at what God's plan is for their lives.

We can teach them what is truly important. People...not things...matter. Too many kids today think the reverse. Too many parents today teach the reverse.

We can pray for them...their friends...and their future spouses. After all, these people will somewhat set the course of their lives. We will always be in their heads...but these people are in their day to day interactions. Pray diligently.

I hope that the garden of your family blooms beyond your expectations just like I am expecting my vincas to make me proud over the next few months. We have such a short time as parents to make an impression, relatively speaking. Don't waste a moment.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


May is a busy month for most of us. Teachers are trying to get every crumb of the bread of knowledge into students and celebrations such as Mothers' Day, graduation, and Memorial Day grab our attention and our schedules...and you may even have a family wedding thrown in there for good measure. I certainly do. The weather improves, the pollen decreases, and life awaits the kickoff of summer. Children come home from college...and are instantly bored by the not-so-exciting existence we live in; one that they shared not too terribly long ago...back when they didn't know any better.

Toenails get polished, bleachers are occupied with baseball and softball, and every conceivable charity event is in full swing. Church Wednesday night suppers begin to wind down, and two months of perceived wonderful stretch before us like a banquet table of delight. It is too cold to get into the pool, but hot enough to keep the convertible top down as we ride down the highway of life. The tomato plants are in the ground and the flowers have retired after the big show in April...just waiting in the wings for the next major production.

Time passes like this...and we are always somewhat aware of it. May comes and goes...and it is generally welcome...because we're usually looking forward to getting the children through the horror of last minute term papers, finals, and Field Day at school. May marks the end of much and the beginning of more.

Lives change in May. Perhaps a student becomes a graduate...or simply is promoted to another grade. Maybe two single people become a unit after waiting a lifetime for each other...even if the lifetime equates to a span of twenty-something years. It could be the reunion of a family unit when the child rejoins the family of origin in that space between semesters. Or the beginning of a magical summer adventure that will live in the memory forever...or one that we will follow diligently as friends enjoy the life that we have on hold until the children get out of our checkbook.

I have always liked transition months...such as September when school starts...or January when a new year begins. Maybe that's because I have such optimism that something wonderful is about to happen. I try not to put that out there that often because I've often found that I'll be disappointed and I'll make my Mother worry. I used to be thought of as negative...but that was just a front for playing a game of "worst case scenario" in my mind along with the celebration going on in my mind. Frankly, it is difficult to be disappointed, though, when everything screams promise and newness and fun. Especially now that we know that Jill survived Statistics with a better grade than her Mama made. I love May for that.

In a couple of weeks, two people that I'm pretty crazy about will stand up before God and everybody and repeat their vows to each other. Our family is expanding again. I'll watch a man that I have known since before he was born confirm an excellent choice as I did three years ago with his cousin. I'll also, hopefully, be sitting in a baby shower for my cousin as she anticipates welcoming a new son into our family circle. Next week, I will be working with a good friend to coordinate the school's graduation reception. Hilarity will likely ensue as no good party is without its minor disasters. I just hope that it isn't something socially tragic or so noteworthy that it shows up in my obituary one day...or whispered behind my back as I attend school functions. I will also go to stand in front of a group of sisters to beg one of them to take the position of President of our group because I honestly don't know how to manage it...and I'm normally fairly competent at such.

So, it is a month of hellos and goodbyes...of expectation and closure...of pages turning and new pages being written. It is a time of hope, reunion, and plans being made. It is in a word...May. I hope that everyone has time to really smell the flowers this month, so to speak. I know that our cameras are clicking, many dreams are fulfilled and lots of changes are accepted during this month. The appreciation of sacrifices and the love that is shared make it a uniquely special month. At least it is for me.

Friday, May 7, 2010


I read a quote on someone's Facebook wall the other day that said something to the effect of "Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh." (W.H. Auden) I really like that. And in my life at least...it is certainly true.

I've enjoyed friendships with people who were dour...for a season. I've learned what I've needed to learn and moved on. Maybe they were coworkers or people who just could never quite see that their whining or incessant wound licking drove people away in droves. Oh, I don't mean the temporary complaint about something awful or a brief period when they were understandably down and out over somebody's raging stupidity...but a true commitment to being miserable...as if there was no alternative.

I find that the people that really get close to my heart are the ones who can make me laugh. They see the hilarious even in the mundane. Have a problem? You can count on this type of friend to point out the ridiculous so that you are laughing through your tears. Every day to them is an adventure...they start out in one direction, and before they know it end up somewhere totally unique and different. These people take you along for the ride and make the road of life much more fun to travel in the process. Anything can spark a story...a trip to the grocery store, a baby shower gone bad, or a trip of any kind. They seem to be distant relatives of the Griswolds and they end up with almost certain disaster in any given situation...without even trying.

We have all sat as family members and laughed at something that only we understand...such as the time when we lived in a one bathroom apartment, my parents were staying with us, and all four of us had a raging stomach virus. Granted, it wasn't funny at the time, but now to recall the fact that we weren't sure if the awfulness of the situation or the Lysol poisoning (if such a thing exists) was worse...is dang hilarious.

Or the trip to Europe that included freezing rain and granted me the wish of seeing (for the first time in my entire life) my mother just giving it it up on the hair and wearing a hat. She looks like Gilligan in some of the pictures. Or a particularly ill-fated trip that involved rowing on the same European vacation that almost ended in a brawl as six competent adults could not figure out how to get a canoe down a stream without bouncing off the creek banks.

I still smile when I think of that.

I think that laughter is an important component to endearing us to one another. When we have any family dinner...my nieces and nephews jab each other verbally, and one of my nephews has such a sense of fun that he pretty much keeps us rolling with laughter. He's getting married in a couple of weeks, by the way, and I'm pretty sure that he'll be on his best behavior. But then again...knowing him...if something even remotely funny happens...we will all be embarrassing his future in-laws during the reception or something equally horrible. I mean, sometimes you just have to laugh when he gets wound up...and he certainly is a master at stirring things up.

Kind of like he did while we were waiting what seemed like an eternity during "family photos" at the other nephew's wedding. I thought for a few minutes that we might actually get evicted from our pew into the parking lot.

My daughter says things to me sometimes that just crack me up. She doesn't always mean to...but just the way she will say something is beyond hilarious. And my husband laughs so much while he is telling you a story, that it takes all of your powers of concentration to get past that so you can hear what he has to say. My son just makes me smile because he's 17 and feels that it is incumbent upon him to argue every point I ever make...for no other reason than because he's 17 and awful in ways that only a 17 year old can be.

My family loves to laugh, and I have an uncle that can remember more jokes than anyone I've ever seen. He will pop them to you rapid fire and keep you laughing. He used to drive my grandmother absolutely nuts because she was trying to do something like get dinner on the table and couldn't get him to shut up long enough to get any help out of the rest of us.

The people in our lives who makes us think, who inspire us, and who show us great mercy or love are wonderful. But the people who make us laugh move right into our hearts. They don't wait for an invitation. They just make themselves at home.

One day - probably right about the time we are beginning to think that we might survive getting these children of ours educated and out of this house - some young man and young lady will show up at our door...hopefully wanting to join the family circle. I just hope that they make me laugh.

Life can be difficult sometimes, and we all know people that can use our prayers or a helping hand. But sometimes, the gift that they really need is the ability to see the lighter side of life...and the reminder that as much as we'd like to map our destinies...sometimes we make God laugh by telling Him our plans. Because I'm such a planner...I can almost swear that sometimes I hear Him laugh hysterically.

I hope that today we will be more aware of those people who cross our path that make us happy to be in their presence. Who make life a little easier by just letting us drop the burdens for awhile. And to those people who take life so seriously that they can't ever relax enough to have any fun...my advice is to lay it down. Quit exhausting yourself. Smile more...worry less. We'll all be better for it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Piles of Despair

A friend of mine who is normally upbeat was painfully honest last night. She said that things had not been going well and hadn't been for some time. Not knowing what is going on in her life, and assuming just a little from what she said, I determined that it must be just a collection of little miseries that had combined into one big pile of despair. A pile of despair will knock you off of your game no matter how much you try to put on a happy face.

Believing that everything turns out for our good is definitely something to hold onto, but it sometimes feels like we are standing out in the driving rain with a flat tire on a dark and deserted stretch of the highway of life with no cell service. We know what it is we need to do, and may even have some idea about how to be practical...we just yearn for someone to come along and tell us to get in the warm car while they change our tire.

I hope that my friend knows that doctors are amazingly smart to have gotten through medical school...but they are no match for the Great Physician. Recoveries often defy logic...and medical precedent. But even if the prayers for the 1 in 100 odds for improvement aren't answered and hope isn't riding shotgun...know that with a negative answer often comes a truckload of grace and comfort.

Most of us spend the first half of our lives speeding up everything...wanting to blow through milestones...driving...dating...graduation...21...trips...jobs...marriage...children...success...without really thinking of how special the mundane moments really are in retrospect. All of the time that we spent wishing away is granted in the second half of our life as we see time spinning faster and faster each year. We have to stop where we are and look around and know that we aren't passing this way again. And we have to be grateful for this recognition. For it is knowing this that not only makes us mature...but gives us a way to fully appreciate our lives.

Even as we don't particularly appreciate the pile of despair that has gathered around our feet.

The pile of despair is a collection of unmet expectations, bad news, hassles and tears that just seems to sit in our lives like the oft described 800 pound gorilla in the room. We want it gone, but can't seem to get it to budge. We chip away at it, will it away, and pray that it will move when we really get determined, but sometimes it seems destined to live with us forever. Not so. We have to have faith that we can move that mountain with God's help...and then we have to tell it to go.

And one day, in God's time, it will comply, and we will find that it has disappeared completely. It just sometimes takes longer than we believe it should. Also, we may see progress and then find that the thing has grown roots again. We then have to dig really deeply into our faith to know that this battle is not just ours...it is the Lord's. And it is a battle that He is going to win.

I hope that my friend will look up today and see that He has His eye on her today and knows that where she is right now is temporary. In fact, the knowledge that one is actually in the pit generally means that one is surely on your way out. Much like economists look back and tell us that we were in a recession long before we actually knew it. So, on blind faith, I hope that she will believe that God has already delivered her and that she is sitting in the car...warm and dry...as He changes the tire.

I wish for her and for all of us days where it is possible to see the rainbow instead of the rain, the roses instead of the thorns and the good instead of the pain. I didn't necessarily intend to rhyme there, but whatever...you get the point. Those of you who see someone stranded on the side of the road...stop and help. Pray. Send a card. Take them to dinner. Make them smile. I mean...that's why we're really all here anyway. To serve each other in love. We just forget that because we are staring at the pile of despair in our own lives.

Hang in there, my friend. Whatever it is...I know that He can make that mountain move. And when He does, you'll be stronger and prepared to walk alongside others who are out there stranded right now. Keep believing that better days are ahead. I'll be praying for you.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


One of the more delightful parts of aging is that you become prone to moments of Towanda...almost without notice. You know TOWANDA...the inner assertive woman of "Fried Green Tomatoes" fame who allows the Kathy Bates character to cross over from being a doormat to being a force to be reckoned with over the course of the movie.

All Southern women have a touch of Towanda...it appears to be in our DNA. It may be true for Northern women as well...but I think that as a general rule they are usually more direct...and so the unspoken words don't get swallowed only to be regurgitated into pure 100% Towanda. We Southern girls will appear to be handling a situation well, and then another, and another...until some yahoo acts like a horse's behind, and all hell breaks loose.

A Towanda moment is normally - but not always - done quietly but firmly. The sorry excuse for a human being that has encountered a woman channeling her inner Towanda is well aware that there really is no argument. The safest bet is just to say "yes ma'am" as one runs in a serpentine fashion out of the immediate vicinity.

A notable Towanda moment of mine that got supressed and shouldn't have included a luncheon where I wanted to tell a rail thin woman who was complaining about her thighs that she ought to quit eating junk and drinking Diet Coke like it is the only beverage on earth. I ate my salad instead of telling her to just shut her skinny piehole about her five pound "excessive" weight gain. This woman should have been calling every living member of her gene pool and thanking them profusely. I mean...I can gain five pounds in a sitting...not over a lifetime, for heaven's sake. I think that everyone has the right to mull over issues with her friends. But if skinny women want to keep friends, my suggestion is that they find something else to whine about.

Sadly, I have the metabolism of Jabba the Hut. Where other people can eat anything in moderation, I can't even binge on broccoli. I would love to tell you that there is a medical reason for this, but it is just my cross to bear. I dream of days where my attire doesn't include something that is black. Black is the dominant color in the "women's" department. This is because someone decided that black is slimming. The slimming rule only applies to women with a metabolism. The rest of us look like we are working at Bonefish Grill or an Aveda salon...just without the weird hair.

Last week, Towanda and I had a meltdown in an Office Depot over their new checkout line configuration. I was apparently the only person in the store who was unaware of this horrific setup. I railed at a manager for ten solid minutes because they this whole next available cashier line thing that wrapped around and made absolutely no sense. Well, not to me anyway. To participate in checkout, you had to A) know it was there and enter at the proper point around a few shelves trying to sell you last minute must-have items and B) wait forever for the one cashier that they had to do what she was doing. I didn't see the proper way to enter the line...primarily because it wasn't marked or partitioned...and inadvertently jumped in front of someone because the cashier didn't look busy.

I was embarrassed to be told that I was not going to be served next and so I just threw a fit at the injustice of it all right there. Oh, the guy I jumped in front of was PERFECTLY willing to let me go right on with my two items. I declined. So after wearing out a junior manager, I got to talk to the Neanderthal that set this line up with no barriers in the first place. He saw my point, but I'd be willing to bet that nothing has changed. Primarily because somewhere in there I said that I would not be shopping there anymore. And I won't...until the next time I need something. Then I'll send Big Dave in to get it for me.

I had Towanda accompany me to the grocery store the other night when I was in search of a Mojo rotisserie chicken for the bargain price of $5.99. I had been thinking about it all day...and when you are on a restricted diet...it is extraordinarily important that you get food when you need food...for everyone's sake. I walked into the deli at approximately 5:30 p.m. and there was NO CHICKEN. None. No lemon-pepper chicken, barbecue chicken, plain chicken, or other chicken. There were about thirty chickens being cooked...but none would be ready for an hour...or so I was told by "new boy". So, I completed my shopping, checked out, whined about it to the cashier and then took my groceries to the car. And as I turned to leave, Towanda and I decided to go back into the store...

The manager ended up giving me a complimentary chicken that day after he realized that "new boy" couldn't read the timer and that there was only ten minutes remaining. I had to wait and ended up chatting with the manager about advertised items being available during the dinner hour. I had to wait and ended up chatting with the manager about advertised items being available during the dinner hour. I mean, if you are going to have in-house demonstrations and other programs to ensure that people come by your store to pick up dinner...you might want to have dinner available in the form of a $5.99 mojo rotisserie chicken. Oh, he saw my point...and somehow just knew that I was crazy enough to call corporate. And of course...he was right.

I think that for most of us, what sets us off is something that make no sense to a normal person but is presented in a way that assumes that we are going to comply no matter how ridiculous the idea might be. This is my biggest complaint with the current President's administration, the people who dream up coupons that have exclusions on the very item that you want to buy, bills that have a Sunday due date...which means that you have to pay it on Friday or risk a late fee on Monday, closed playgrounds at McDonald's in the morning hours (the things should be cleaned at night or before 8 a.m.), term papers that are due the last week of school when a teacher has had a whole year to teach this but chose to procrastinate (as much as I love teachers), and home based businesses that charge tax on shipping (wrong...just wrong).

Towanda is always a threat with people stuck on stupid (to use a Dave Ramsey saying). You know...those people who ask your opinion...you give it...and then they spend the remaining time arguing why they can't follow the advice that they begged you to give. (Wait, I've done that. But you know what I mean.)

Towanda is that inner woman who just wants a little peace and quiet, a little bit of joy and wonder and a large helping of love and understanding...except that everyone around her keeps acting like complete boneheads.

This week has already been challenging and it is Tuesday morning at 4:22 a.m. as I write this. I don't know why I am up at this particular hour listening to Big Dave's alarm clock going off as he repeatedly hits the snooze button. Oh, I know that there are so many people in this world dealing with much larger issues than the normal aggravations of life. I just feel that I need to do my part to correct what is in my path. Or go down trying.

But this morning I woke up because there is no Tylenol PM at the local CVS and my body thought that six hours of sleep was gracious plenty. I beg to differ. However, I'm tracking down some Tylenol PM from some corner of the universe today...or I will not be responsible for what happens next.

One of the most difficult tasks is to keep Towanda from living in the driver's seat of life in just about everything these days. While she might be effective, she is also occasionally a wee bit extreme. She acts first and thinks later. She sometimes states her view without knowing all of the facts. It is during these moments that we are reminded that she doesn't always represent who God wants us to be.

But there is a place for her sometimes when the obvious needs to be stated and people need to understand that excellent service shouldn't be limited to Ruth's Chris Steak House and Chick-fil-A. When we need to express ourselves in a way that other people can respect...even if they don't necessarily agree with us. When they realize that we don't like their ridiculous policy and we aren't playing the game. And where we can interact with our heads held high instead of feeling like the doormat that some people feel compelled to bring out in us.

I love my inner Towanda. She can make my life a little more difficult than it needs to be sometimes, and she can - and does - occasionally embarrass my children when I am trying to make a point about something to someone in retail. It generally involves coupons, by the way. But I also know that stuffing down one's emotions can eventually turn into a raging volcano inside that is far more destructive than any havoc Towanda might wreak. It is this volcano that causes people to go off the deep end and start losing their ball in the weeds so to speak.

I've taken steps to keep her somewhat in line by trying to do what Jesus would have me do...but even He had a Towanda moment with the moneychangers in the temple. I just hope that I can be assertive without losing what remains of a quiet and gentle spirit that is so pleasing to Him.

But that being said...if Big Dave doesn't deal with that clock...he may meet Towanda this morning. Just sayin'...

Monday, May 3, 2010


It is Monday morning, it is raining, and I am sitting here at 5:45 a.m. with two wet dogs running through my house. Some days just start out with a general understanding that on some level there is a high probability that they are going to totally suck. Maybe not...but probably so.

We all have a probability meter...something that tells us from our experience how likely we are to be in "Danger! Will Robinson!" territory based on any number of factors. I mean, we can be strangers in a town...and can pass by numerous places to eat or get gas based solely on what we assume the likelihood is of getting e-coli or being mugged in the parking lot.

We will avoid classes with certain teachers because we know that they have a reputation of being impossible. We won't use certain contractors because they are known to be reliable. We won't attend certain functions because we believe that we will be uncomfortable.

Or will we?

I've found that a lot that is on the surface is accurate...but a lot of it is not. Our most beloved places to eat appear to be "dumps" from the outside. The nicest people with the biggest hearts sometimes look like they could be in the ring for WWE. Sometimes the teachers we avoid are the ones that are meant to change the world through those that are fearless enough to give it a whirl.

Life is like that. We are constantly surprised by how wrong our impressions are...and yet we are still often surprised when they were right. Well, maybe we are surprised that we had the audacity to assume that another possibility existed. It is one of those interesting things that is difficult to explain and impossible to accurately analyze. You just know. You just trust your gut.

Yesterday, someone I know was surprised by someone she thought she had figured out. Based on the facts, and 47 years of experience, I thought that she was probably on the right track. But sometimes people will surprise you in a good way. Not often...at least in matters of the heart. But sometimes just often enough to keep life interesting.

I know that for me, I've more often than not drawn the short stick in getting what I really wanted when something didn't truly matter. But when something really did matter...I've come out far better than I deserve. So little annoyances like not being included in this or that, not being able to see every one of my dreams come true and not winning the lottery really don't matter in the grand scheme of things.

Right now, I am just happy that life has its little surprises. Rosebushes that bloom profusely with very little encouragement. Children that turned out more wonderful and beautiful than I had dared to hope. Friends who have not only stood by me when I've needed it, but who have now come from the distant past to enrich my present life. A husband that has tolerated me for the better part of twenty seven years (including being married nearly twenty five of those).

I don't know why we live our lives suspended between getting what we expect from people and getting more or less. We do the best that we can to figure it all out, and then we just have to assume that God has it under control. Even those times that we are hanging on by a thread and know that there is no net below us. We put our hearts and our trust out there hoping against hope that it will all work out in the end. Sometimes it does, and other times it doesn't. But if it doesn't...we pick ourselves up and learn from the experience.

All I know is that I was surprised that there is a young man who did the right thing this week. He could have been who I thought he was and that would have been fine. He may turn out to be what I expect in the end...but for now...I'm enjoying the fact that he surprised me. There's a lot to be said for that. Primarily because I tend to think the worst and go up from there. Call it a defense mechanism or a survival strategy if you want...but it is just my way.

We all love to be wrong about people in a good way. It certainly beats the alternative of thinking the best and being brutally disappointed. I know that particular road well. Don't we all?

Some of life's sweetest joys are borne of surprises. New babies, proposals, a litter of puppies, a long-lost friend, a winning raffle ticket, an unspeakably beautiful sunset or a National Championship. We'd like for our lives to reflect the positive surprises...but sometimes the not so positive ones seem to take center stage for a season. But if we hold on long enough...or if we open our eyes and look around...we will find surprises to balance the disappointments of life. Sometimes in incredible ways.

I hope that you will be surprised in a good way today. Not with a speeding ticket, a series or red lights when you can't afford to be late or a storm warning that puts you in a closet in the center of your house. I hope that you will be surprised by the goodness of people, the grace of God, and the wonder of life. There's a strong probability that you will...if you look closely enough.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Yard Sale

Today was my church's annual extravaganza...a combination barbecue for the youth, bake sale for various groups, and a flea market to benefit the singles ministry. Although rain was predicted at some point in time, we were blessed by having nothing more unbearable than a couple of wind gusts that knocked off a ten cent item off the table and shattered it. Oh, the horror! (not)

Frankly, the term "flea market" is really just a fancy name for "yard sale" although I'm not sure how more uptown it really is in actuality with the word "flea" in the title. I'm sure that someone will go to great pains to consult the oracle (Wikipedia) to tell me the difference...but let me just save you the trouble by telling you that I honestly couldn't care less. But I digress...

Some backstory into how we ended up in booth 87 this morning is not terribly interesting but I won't let that stop me. I have been in a "stuff eradication program" since 2008. When Jill went off to college, I repainted her room and gave away anything that she could not justify being in her life anymore. Some of it was sold on eBay and that only caused me to keep selling anything that wasn't nailed down in this house and probably some that was on there. A few sad little items were left, and I took those and put them in a box to begin a yard sale pile. Stuff has been breeding in there ever since.

Today we rid ourselves of a variety of stuff that was not only no longer useful to our family...but was just completely random. I won't elaborate, but I was quite amazed at what sold and what did not. The items that I thought for sure would be gone within the first hour were sitting there to be picked up by Goodwill at the end of the day. Other things that I thought were a crapshoot were gone within seconds. Amazing.

There were a gazillion other booths sold and there was more stuff in that parking lot than I imagined. People all had that "yardsale look" going on...you know it...hair is weird looking, makeup is hit or miss - mostly miss - and the attire is vintage "whatever was in reach at 5:00 a.m." Or in our case...5:30 a.m.

Yeah...Big Dave "overslept" this morning...an occurrence that has happened fewer than five times in the nearly 25 years I've been married to him. And who says that passive-aggressive behavior isn't alive and well?

We raced to the truck, loaded up our stuff and headed out to the parking lot to set up our tables. People who were obviously professionals were already sitting down and staring at us as we unloaded box after box of "another man's treasure." I found it so much nicer to think of it that way instead of what it really was..."crap we didn't want."

And then the buying public started coming along...asking how much was this or that and trying to pay less than what I stated. There is a lot under assault in the world of capitalism these days...but at a yard sale...it is as cut-throat as anything I've seen short of cheerleading tryouts and the Miss America pageant.

I found out that people don't like things for free at a yard sale...except bags. (Would have been nice if I'd remembered those.) Getting something for truly nothing takes all of the fun out of it apparently. I suppose it's too much like charity. Me? I have no problem with free.

Anyway, we had some shoes that Brian had not only outgrown...but had also pretty much worn out. When we were giving them away...nobody wanted them. I finally sold a pair for a quarter. And those were the best pair. Big Dave unloaded the rest of them...as heinous as they looked and probably smelled...for a dollar a pair including a pair of Rainbows that were handed down to Brian after which he promptly wore 99% of the conceivable wear out of prior to outgrowing them. I was flabbergasted.

I deduced that learned that spandex is a popular fabric for those attending yard sales. It is apparently breathable and gives the wearer the sense that they are competing in a sport...which to watch some of them...it was abundantly clear that they were. After three hours of watching the spandex go by our booth, Big Dave announced that he had added rule #3 to his "guidelines for life" lecture. His take on it..."if I look better in what they are wearing than they do...they probably shouldn't be wearing it." As scary as that sounds...the man has a point.

(And for those of you who want to know what rule #1 is...it is "Because I said so is a perfectly adequate response to the question 'why' if the person asking is living under his roof, eating his food and causing him to forego enjoyment because he is supporting his/her sorry behind." Rule #2 is "No. See, you didn't die from that, did you?")

After the delivery of the barbecue (including losing one of the tickets and having to buy another one because somebody came home from college for the weekend (we are not complaining)...and a trip to the bathroom (where the lack of toilet paper was noted)...life settled in to just hoping that someone would come along and buy everything so that we could move on to something else today. Like dealing with the whole sleep deprivation thing.
Eventually, the time to clean up came...and we counted the $100 we made for our efforts. It is going into Brian's senior trip fund. Yay!

Anyway, I have found that the yard sale is a microcosm of life. There are those who are prepared, and those who show up once the party has started (like our neighbors who came AT seven o'clock and wondered why people wouldn't move to let them unload) and expect the royal treatment. There are folks who will hide their true feelings and try to get the best purchase price or sale price possible. But the only real winners are those who are grateful to just be rid of their junk and folks who find something that they have been praying for in booth #44 for $5.

I am not a big fan of the yard sale...as I tend to only be able to convince Big Dave to let me participate about once a decade. Anything more frequent than that...and he balks. Or sleeps in. But as I was there today amid the bad hair and the spandex I realize how blessed each of us was to have an abundance. We store up our treasures in storage units, attics, and backyard buildings. We continue to bring home more and more and enjoy it less and less.

Tonight, I have less junk cluttering up my house. I also had a great lunch, time to talk to friends, and some really quality time with my children and husband. Although I only brought home $100 and a receipt from Goodwill, I certainly got a whole lot more than what appears on the surface. And I'd like to think that several somebodies in the area got a pretty good deal on what they bought...and are glad that they stopped by booth #87.

Except possibly the shoe purchasers. They might be a little less enchanted...bless their hearts.