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Choosing to believe

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I found this note to Santa Claus taped to the refrigerator, penned by my 9 year old daughter:

Dear Santa/Saint Nick,

A lot of people I know don’t believe in you, but I do because of your jolly cheer and happiness. I wish I could let everyone have jolly cheer. I know I’ve changed, but my heart will always believe. I don’t need much, but this is my list…

My husband and I struggled with perpetuating the Santa Claus myth after our first child was born. We had many Christian friends who felt that allowing your children to believe in Santa sent the wrong message. Christmas was about the birth of Jesus, and St. Nick took away from that, not the mention the moral dilemma of knowingly lying to your children, and I completely understand and respect those who choose to forego Santa Claus. But then I remembered my childhood–believing in Santa made Christmas a magical time full of hope and promise. I wanted my own kids to experience what I had, even if just for a little while.

Besides, just like Santa Claus, there are things in life we choose to believe in that don’t always turn out to be true.

The childhood friend who promised you’d be friends forever? That may have proved untrue, but that doesn’t mean the friendship wasn’t real and true…

That special boy or girl–your first love (or your second, or your fifth)–who promised to love you forever only to break your heart? Also untrue, but that doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of love…

And just because I no longer believe a jolly fat man will be visiting our house on Christmas Eve, doesn’t mean we won’t be leaving cookies and milk for him, even if this is the last year we’ll be doing so.

I imagine that this time next year the myth will be busted and I will explain that even if her idea of Santa Claus wasn’t real, the spirit of him — of “jolly and cheer and happiness” — can remain alive in her heart as long as she chooses to believe.

George and Carl

This is George. I was introduced to him by some fishermen on the beach down in Gulf Shores, Alabama. I walked within 3 feet of him. He barely noticed me.

It seems George is in the habit of getting his meals by standing behind fishermen on the beach looking friendly until someone invariably throws him some bait or a fish that’s too small to be considered a keeper. Essentially, George has found an easy way to sustain himself. And since blue herons are typically solitary feeders, he’s not in competition with other herons for the fishermen’s generosity. Like his cousin Carl, for example…

This is Carl.

Unlike his cousin George, Carl’s not particularly fond of fishermen, or any humans for that matter.

Carl obtains his sustenance the way you might expect a large water bird to–from doing his own fishing. You won’t find Carl on the beach teaming with humans. No, he prefers the quiet bay across the highway. There are houses here, yes. But not nearly as many people. As it should be. To him, anyway. When he needs to eat, Carl goes fishing. If he doesn’t, he dies. It’s a fairly simple concept. Not necessarily easy all the time, but simple and easy are often more mutually exclusive than we tend to think they are.

But back to the beach…

George didn’t always depend on the handouts given to him by bemused fishermen. Like his cousin Carl, he went fishing when he was hungry. Physiologically speaking, he is still every bit as capable of surviving as Carl does–by doing for himself. But after years of being fed, what he once considered a gift has become in his mind an entitlement. He views those fishermen as a necessity, and if they all packed up and went away tomorrow, would George be able to survive again on his own? He may not like it, but I tend to think he would do what was necessary to survive. But let us assume for the sake of discussion that this is not George, not George, Jr., but George, III, who has never in his life fished for himself; who has lived his entire bird life being fed by the fishermen. What do you think his chances for survival are?

What do you think? If you had to choose between the life of George and the life of Carl, which makes more sense to you?

(I realize the pics are rather small. You can click on the image to enlarge.)

Overheard on the way to Alabama

Happy day after Thanksgiving everyone! I’m enjoying a very relaxing extended weekend at one of my favorite places in the world: the beach. It matters not which beach, as long as I can sink my feet in where earth meets water, I’m happy. On this particular occassion, I find myself in Gulf Shores, Alabama. It is beautiful and relaxing and wonderful. It’s also a 9 hour drive from my house.

Despite the DVD player, gameboys, iPods and books, nine hours is a long time for four people and a dog to spend in a car together without some interesting bits of conversations arising. The following are just a few snippets from said conversation on Wednesday:

“I have to go to the bathroom.” (Baytown, TX)

“I have to go to the bathroom.” (Beaumont, TX)

“I have to go to the bathroom.” (Orange, TX)

“You just went to the bathroom.”

“I couldn’t go last time.”

“I hope he’s not getting a bladder infection.”

“OH MY GOSH! I’m fine. How embarrassing…”

“Are we in Louisiana yet?”

“We’ll be in Louisiana in about 10 miles.”

“Are we in Louisiana yet?”

“In about 8 miles.”

“We’re in Louisiana.”

“How long until we get to Mississippi?”


“I have to go to the bathroom.”

“You’ll have to wait awhile. There’s no place to stop.”

“Were you able to pee the last time we stopped?”

“OH MY GOSH! Yes, Mom! How embarrassing.”

“Okay. Just checking. I wish you and your sister would coordinate your bathroom breaks a little better.”

“We’re in Mississippi.”

“Why is it called Mississippi?”

“I’m not sure. You should Google that on the computer.”

“What’s the state bird of Mississippi?”

“Don’t know.”

“What’s the state tree of Mississippi?”

“Don’t know.”

“What’s the…”

“Don’t know anything about Mississippi. Google it.”

“How long until we get to Alabama?”

“When we get there. And we’re playing the quiet game until we do.”

“What are we doing for dinner?”

“We’re going to Bea’s condo. She’s making dinner, but we’re going to drop off our stuff at the cottage we’re staying at first.”

“How long until we get to Bea’s condom?”





So, what did y’all do for Thanksgiving?

If turkeys could talk

The following post contains a class project my daughter wrote 2 years ago. I’ve posted it here before, but since this is Thanksgiving week, I thought it might be a good time to revisit it, as it helps me remember how grateful I am for my kids. Even if they’re a little weird…

As a parent, I secretly delight when I see my children take interest in or excel at something that I’m into. Just as I cringe when I see a less desirable trait that I share rear its ugly head. But in all honesty, as long as they are true to who they are, I’m good with it. But sometimes my kids surprise me and make me wonder how much (whether through nurture or nature), I have influenced the way their minds work. Such was the case at my daughter’s 2rd grade class open house.

When I walked into my daughter’s classroom, her teacher greeted my husband and me, then immediately asked if we had seen her turkey. Typically, kids this age and younger make a paper turkey, and on each feather write something they are thankful for. On this particular turkey, their instructions were to imagine the turkey could talk and write some of the things that he or she would say. Many of the kids had things like, “Gobble, gobble” and “Happy Thanksgiving”, or even “My name is Tom”. Imagine my surprise when I read the following on my daughter’s turkey:

  • Please do not eat me because I am pregnant.
  • Please do not eat me because I am krazy!
  • Please do not eat me because I am too big for your oven.
  • Please do not eat me because I will explode in your oven and cover it with blood.
  • Please do not eat me because I have diarrhea.

Perhaps the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree after all…

Philemon: Biblical goodness for the short attention span

If you’ve never read Philemon, you should. Go get your bible and read it. I’ll wait right here………………Pretty good stuff, huh? Wedged between bible heavyweights Titus and Hebrews, Philemon is a short letter from the Apostle Paul that packs a punch. Now, Philemon is a friend of Paul’s, a model Christian, an active worker for Christ, and a slave owner. While imprisoned, Paul meets Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus. Onesimus has apparently stolen something from his master and has fled to Rome. Under Roman law, Philemon had every right to put Onesimus to death.

Paul writes this letter to his friend to convince him not only to forgive this runaway slave, but to welcome him home as a brother in Christ. There are a whole lotta lessons in this short letter, but to keep me on task, I’m going to focus on one train of thought.

“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul — an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus — I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and me.” (2:8-11)

Because Paul was an elder and an apostle, he could have commanded that Philemon welcome Onesimus home with open arms. But instead, he chooses to appeal to his friend’s Christian commitment. He wanted him to want to take Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as an equal in the Body of Christ. I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me I have to do something, my mind goes into overdrive coming up with all the reasons why I don’t have to. When you counsel a friend about overcoming sinful behavior, do you blast them with bible verses, or do you appeal to what you see as their strengths? Do you give them some wiggle room and trust that the Holy Spirit will have a say in the matter? I hope we all do that.

“I am sending him — who is my very heart — back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good — no longer a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.” (2:12-16)

Paul is saying, “This is a great guy, I’d love for him to stay with me, but because I love you both, I’m sending him back so that you can be blessed by what he has become. You haven’t lost a slave, you’ve gained a loyal friend and a brother in Christ. But hey, the ball’s in your court.” Again — ample wiggle room.

“So, if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back — not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.” (2:17-21)

When you know someone that’s new to the faith, do you personally invest in their lives? Do you “cover their bets”, so to speak? Or do you give them a big hug, welcome to the family and say, “Good luck with all of THAT!”? You wouldn’t teach your child to swim one day and then let them go to the pool by themselves the next. You hang out in the shallow end, cheer them on as they tread water, and make sure you’re there in case they get into trouble. Which, by the way, they usually do. Trust that people will do the right thing, but don’t be offended or surprised when they don’t. Forgive them as Christ forgives you, help them up and get them back on track.

There’s a whole bunch of good stuff in this little letter; many rabbit trails I could go down, but for now, It’s enough for me to reflect on just a few of them. We never learn how the homecoming turns out, but I imagine a really cool reunion, where we see Onesimus walking toward Philemon (whose hoping that Onesimus will find his way back, but doesn’t know for sure). Philemon looks up from what he’s doing, recognizes Onesimus from a distance, stands up, starts walking toward his old slave and new friend. The camera zooms out for a wide shot, then fades to black….think last scene in The Shawshank Redemption.

Fall in Southeast Texas

A walk around the neighborhood.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I live in Texas, and proudly so. Even though I’ve lived here most of my life, I do remember and miss the four seasons of my home state of Virginia, which technically is a commonwealth, but I digress…

In many parts of America, people have been enjoying cooler temperatures and the changing of the leaves from green to beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red. And while we’ve had a few days here of cooler weather, I’m still wearing my flip flops in the middle of November, and things don’t look particularly “fallish”. No matter;  I set out yesterday to look for signs of fall in my neighborhood.

The vast majority of the trees in the neighborhood are green, and will remain so year round,

but there are some trees that are beginning give way to their fall colors.

Besides, who’s to say that one must only enjoy the colors of fall if they happen to fall from a tree? Sure, I had to pay close attention, but there were fall colors all around:

The orange clay that made up the latest infestation of fire ant mounds...

The orange plastic bag which holds the yellow pages is quite striking against the green grass, don't you think?

Lots of beautiful bursts of yellow:

And my favorite color any time of year, red:

Okay, so maybe we don’t have bus loads of tourists heading our way to behold the beautiful fall color, but did I mention I’m still wearing flip flops? In November?

And there truly is beauty to be found if you just slow down long enough to notice it:

Understanding honor

Like many 13 year old boys, my son plays video games. Much to my dismay, most of them are somewhat violent, and we’ve gone round and round about what is appropriate and what isn’t. The games he is allowed to play (and honestly, the only ones he’s interested in) are military games. We’ve discussed at length the difference between warfare and gratuitous violence. He’s a smart kid and I honestly think he understands the difference.

More recently, he has told us that he wants to enter the military after high school. And while the mother in me is wary of that, I’m also proud of him. My heart tells me he understands the concept of honor; that there are some things worth fighting for. Even dying for.

Then I found this poem he wrote in the 4th grade, which I’ve posted here before. Yes, I think he understands.

I am William B. Travis
I wonder when this war will end
I hear screams of dead men
I see death
I want this war to end
I am William B. Travis
I pretend I am not here
I feel confident
I touch my rifle
I worry I might die
I cry to God I will be alive
I am William B. Travis
I understand that I must do my duty
I say I want freedom
I dream that I will see my family again
I try not to worry
I hope this war will end soon
I am William B. Travis

Today is Veteran's Day. Take time to say thank you to someone who has served their country and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In a miracle

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Several years ago, before the days of ipods and music downloads, I bought a CD on a whim. I’d never heard of the artist before, but something drew me to that CD. I now own 4 CDs by Jonathan Butler. He’s an amazingly talented acoustic guitarist with a voice like butter. He’s also a Christian, although not all of his work would be categorized in that genre.

I came across this song again recently and recalled how listening to it helped me through some difficult times. I share it today along with a prayer for anyone stumbling through the dark to look up. Miracles really do happen.

In a Miracle (by Jonathan Butler)

I know you feel like letting go
You’ve suffered more than I could know
But if you’d seen the things that I’ve seen
Hold on my brother now,
It wont be long

Don’t think that He’s forgotten you
He’s by your side within you too
Through your worst fears
He’s right there
Waiting for you now
Waiting for you

He can make any desert bloom
In a heart like yours there’s room
for changes
and the change is coming soon
Don’t you know it’s just begun?
We’ll move that mountain with love

In a miracle

And all the things you used to know
Like skies of blue and fields of snow
With my hand on my heart
I promise they are
waiting for you now
waiting for you

He can make any desert bloom
in a heart like yours there’s room
for changes
and the change is coming soon
Don’t you know it’s just begun?
We’ll move that mountain with love

In a miracle

There’s no limt to
all the things He can do
Imagine what He can do for you
He’ll rescue you safe
from the prison of pain
and back to your life again

Tears bring Him closer
closer to you

He can make any desert bloom
in a heart like yours there’s room
for changes
and the change is coming soon
Don’t you know it’s just begun?
We’ll move that mountain with love

In a miracle

Pardon me while I rant incessantly: Martha Stewart (repost)

Hey y’all. I apologize for the leftovers. I’ve been a little overwhelmed this week. This was originally posted in March of last year, so it may be new to some of you.

There are many reasons why I don’t watch Martha Stewart on television. Here’s another one. The following is an excerpt from the opening of her show yesterday. I recorded it and typed what she said verbatim, with the exception of a few uhs and ums. The comments in parentheses are my thoughts as I’m watching this touching little dog tribute.

“I think all of you have heard this already. There was a tragic propane tank explosion at the Pazazz Pet Boarding Kennel in Carbon County, PA. (Actually no. My satellite provider does not offer the 24 hour All Dogs News Network.) And it resulted in the death of at least 17, probably a few more dogs. Among those who perished was Paw Paw’s grandson, Ghenghis Khan who I picked to become one of my own dogs. (Who is Paw Paw?) And fortunately Karen Tracy the co-owner and trusted Chow breeder of the kennel did not sustain any injuries, but her home was very badly damaged. (Well, praise God that she is not injured.) She is currently living with her brother nearby. I spoke with Karen yesterday and she told me that three of her Chows are at the veterinarian in intensive care. I think two more died yesterday of injuries. But the good news is that there are still a few dogs remaining from Paw Paw’s lineage, and I’m very grateful for that. Paw Paw was such a great dog. (Oh, Martha! That’s great. We need to keep breeding lots and lots of dogs, especially dogs with bloodlines from a dog that was special enough to be owned by you. It’s not like thousands of dogs are being euthanized everyday because nobody wants them.) Despite the horrific tragedy, Karen remains hopeful and optimistic and plans to rebuild her kennels. (By the way, what happened to the driver of the propane tanker? I’m sure he’s okay, since you haven’t mentioned him yet.) So I’d like to wish a speedy recovery, also to Timothy Kleinhagen, who was the truck driver who was delivering the propane that somehow exploded, and he is in critical condition since the explosion. So, anyway (SO, ANYWAY?!?) – Timothy courageously attempted to remove the dogs from harm’s way before narrowly escaping very serious tragedy himself. (You mean he’s still not out of the woods, and will probably spend several months in the hospital undergoing painful rehabilitation? Well, that sucks. But at least he saved some of your precious dogs.) So, Karen wanted me to tell you how touched and grateful she is by the tremendous outpouring from the public. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah…”

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a dog hater. Dogs are great. And I was actually sympathetic as I watched and listened to her outpouring of sadness and regret about the loss of her puppy and the other dogs. That is, until she mentioned a HUMAN BEING who is in intensive care as a result of this tragedy almost as an afterthought! Give me a freaking break! If you check out her blog, there are more tributes to dogs past and present with lots of pictures, and approximately one sentence devoted to the man who risked his life in an attempt to save them. Ridiculous! Almost as ridiculous as that stupid woman who publicly mourned the loss of her pet chimp while her friend clings to life in the hospital with her face torn off. (But don’t get me started…)

Cleaning up our messes

Lately I’ve been having what seems to be a never ending struggle with my daughter and her room. Every day I ask her to clean it up and every day she assures me she will. I believe she believes herself when she promises to do so, but I think she suffers from what I often suffer from. The feeling of being overwhelmed by all the stuff. So rather than taking on small tasks and doing a little at a time, she gives up and simply lives in the mess. I’ve been tempted to clean it for her on several occasions. Have done so, actually. But I want her to take ownership of her space.

Alas, we are at an impass. Because if I allow her to take ownership of it, I must also accept that her room will never be as neat as I want it to be. I have to surrender control to her. Lately, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve simply avoided being in her room for any extended period of time.

Until this morning.

After she had left for school, I took a deep breath, promised myself I would not come unglued, and ventured into the land of unseen carpet. It was bad, but I’ve seen it in worse shape. I decided that rather than doing a major overhaul, I would simply put everything into manageable piles.

I’ve decided on a new plan of attack. Rather than demanding that she keep it clean all by herself, rather than getting fed up and doing it all myself, we’re going to sort through the mess together.

Because sometimes little girls get overwhelmed. Small messes become bigger messes and try as they might, they can’t ever seem to get to a place where things are right again all by themselves. They need someone who has been where they are to say, “It’s okay. You don’t have to do this all by yourself. I’m here to help you find your way out of this mess, and once it’s clean again you can manage it on your own again. But just remember, you’re never really alone. I’m always here to lend a helping hand. All you have to do is ask.”

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