Friday, August 24, 2012


Here’s an email I sent to my college English students yesterday, and I thought I’d share it through my blog.

I have SOOO immensely enjoyed reading your introductions. In fact, I’ve made myself a little cheat sheet with notes about each one of you! (No, I’m not a stalker, but within the art of teaching, it sure helps to know a little bit about your students as well as what they are juggling!) 

One recurring theme that keeps popping up within the introductions is the fear of failure. I just want to shout it from the rooftops, DO NOT FEAR FAILURE!!! EVERYONE fails!  It's how you respond to failure that separates the successful ones from the UNsuccessful ones. Here’s a personal story.

In working on my doctorate degree, I had to complete 60 credit hours of coursework in education, over and above my two master’s degrees. Each master’s degree entailed 36 hours of coursework. I also have a couple of educational certifications (Library media specialist, 24 hours and special education, 24 hours) for which I do not have degrees.

So, by the time I completed the coursework for my Ed.D., I had amassed a whopping total of 180 hours of graduate work in literature and education. (I told you I had been going to school forever!) Having 180 hours’ worth of graduate work is ridiculous. (It’s quite stupid, actually. No one is going to pay you more for having two master’s degrees!) Nevertheless, that’s what I’ve got and most people would look at that and say, “Hmmm, she’s got enough education to know what she’s talking about.”

Well, here’s the point of my story. When I finally finished all of the coursework for my doctorate, I had to take something called a comprehensive exam at Liberty University. This was to be a timed exam consisting of 6 essay questions. I was to take the information I had learned in the 60 hours of coursework (they weren’t holding me accountable for all the Longwood and Marshall University hours) and answer THREE of the SIX questions. Three questions. Six hours. Open book. Piece of cake. Right? 

WRONG!! To make a long story short, I completely bombed the test. I got the essays back via email and they had rubrics attached to them. There were comments (like the ones you’ll receive from me on your essays) scattered amongst the margins of my paper. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Liberty University is a Christian university. The professors are Christians, which means that they SHOULD exude kindness and patience. Well, I guess that my three essays were so bad that those professors FORGOT they were Christians because I received some of the harshest, downright mean/cruel feedback I have ever seen in my life. To make matters worse, I knew that at least THREE professors had graded it. And ALL THREE agreed in their stinging assessment of my essays. 

There were three questions. I had to pass all three. If I failed a couple and then passed one, then I would simply have to re-take the sections that I had failed. Easy enough. Right?

WRONG!!! I failed ALL three questions! I not only failed them, I BOMBED them! According to the rubrics, to receive a passing grade, I had to accumulate a score of 10 (with 25 being the highest score possible) on each question. My highest question received a 5 and my lowest question received a 2. Yep, I had bombed it.

As I sat in my office and read that email and accompanying attachment back at the end of last September (2011), I just cried. I had to quickly pull it together, though, because I had a group of kindergarteners coming in that I had to read a story to. So, I pulled myself together, wiped my eyes, and went out there and gave the best “reading performance” I’ve ever given!

And then I returned to my office. And I cried. And I cried some more.

Then my friend (the assistant principal of the school; we were right in the same place with our doctorates) came in, singing her own Hallelujah song because she had just received an email that she had passed her comps. Now, you talk about pouring salt in someone’s wounds! But I told her how happy I was for her and how I was going to use this experience to “become the person that OTHER people come to when THEY need a shoulder to cry on.” I told her, “I want to be that person who encourages others to keep going when they hit a roadblock because I know that I can do this!”

So, I signed back up for the test, printed off my exam and feedback (a paper that literally looked like someone had bled to death on, with all the awful comments!), and set off to improving my answers. I retook that exam at the end of November. This time I passed. In the nine months that have passed since this experience, I have been able to share my “Study for Liberty’s Education Comps Exam” notes with 4-5 other folks, ALL who have passed their tests with flying colors.

The moral of the story? Failure hurts. Absolutely. Failure does NOT kill. It only makes you stronger. More determined. More motivated. 

Don’t fear failure. Fear unwillingness to try.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Our Week in Aruba

Sometimes life is funny.  I don’t really mean “funny” as in the strange, weird, coincidental funny.  I mean FUNNY.  Laughing your head off, stitch in your side, soda burning as it comes out your nose funny.  Sometimes I get the feeling that portions of my life serve as a sitcom for the folks in Heaven, and they are just up there laughing away at some of the situations we encounter. 

This past week, my life has been FUNNY, and all I can do is sit back and laugh. 

Several months ago, my husband and I decided that we were going to do something a little different for our vacation this year.  Having joined the millions who descend upon Myrtle Beach every year, we thought we’d change it up and take our children to Aruba this summer.  Not surprisingly, neither one was very excited about this Aruba trip, as they have both gotten used to having friends accompany them on vacation.  

Months went by and we never pursued the Aruba trip.  We still had the condo booked, and I still had it on my Outlook calendar, but we never got our passports and we never booked our flights.  Finally I cancelled our condo, opting instead for a week in Orlando.  Our week in Orlando was fun, but it wasn’t the Caribbean. 

The weeks of summer came and went.  We made other plans, thus forgetting about Aruba.  Last Saturday, as my husband and I crawled out of bed, I noticed that my phone light was blinking.  Emblazoned across my screen were the words “CHECK IN ARUBA.”  Yes, I had remembered to cancel our condo, but I had failed to remove our trip from my Outlook calendar.  What a cruel trick my Outlook account was playing on me, as I was preparing to go to a body of water.  Not the Caribbean Sea, but the James River. 

Yes, we had signed up to go canoeing with our church, a trip that would consist of three splendid hours rowing between the glorious banks of the James.  This trip turned out to be a fun-filled day shared with wonderful people, and we had a great time.  But I had to laugh when I woke up that morning, my Outlook calendar alerting me with “CHECK IN ARUBA.”

The days of the past week went by quickly, with everyone in my family working, practicing the various sports they play, and preparing for school.  It wasn’t long before I forgot all about the fact that we were supposed to be in Aruba.  Friday night, we got a call from our daughter, claiming she couldn’t get her Jeep started.   After picking her up in the darkened parking lot (she had been sitting in another friend’s car while waiting on us), Brian quickly decided that he needed some daylight to work on the Jeep, so we headed home, resolved to return to the Jeep in the morning, when it was light enough to see.

Feeling somewhat like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day,  I woke up Saturday morning to another Outlook message flashing on the screen of my phone.  This time, it read “CHECK OUT
ARUBA,” and I laughed, thinking, “Well, at least we’re checking OUT and not IN.  What else can we compare to Aruba today?”

The day proved to be crazy, and we didn’t return to the parking lot where the Jeep had been parked until that evening. 

When I saw that the Jeep had been parked not ten feet in front of Rachel’s Jeep, I had to laugh, thinking, “We are really on Candid Camera, Heaven’s Edition, because I know that the sitcom is going on right now!  Out of ALL the parking lots in Lynchburg, out of the HUNDREDS of parking spaces on Timberlake Road, the Jeep was parked right in front of Lynchburg’s own Bahama Sno Shack, which once again served as reminder of our defunct Caribbean vacation. 
One of the greatest gifts that God has given us is a sense of humor.  I love to laugh, and I am confident that the events of this week, combined with the reminders from my Outlook calendar have provided a good laugh for those onlookers from Heaven.


Friday, July 27, 2012

And Along Came Keek.

Just when I thought I had it all under control, along came Keek. 

I thought I had been doing a pretty good job of staying on top of all the social media outlets my children use.  There used to be Myspace.  Then Facebook.  And Twitter.  Then a brief Tumblr period.  And Pinterest (which I think most teens quickly decided they could live without!) Then Voxer. And Instagram.  As a self-professed nosey mother (often accused of being over-controlling by my now 17-year old), I have always had the policy of “If you’re gonna use it, you’re gonna agree that I am the keeper of the passwords, passwords that I will use in the event that you’re momentarily deranged, thus posting inappropriate things that may come back to haunt you.”  Such a policy has worked well for my family for the past seven years or so.  I’ve never had to assert my password power to change/delete potentially damaging things, thank Heavens, but I would  have and still will, if necessary.   (I’m definitely not one of those “I respect my kids’ privacy” type of parents.  Sorry, world, I know it’s not politically correct.  But I will spy on my kids.  I will stalk them online.  I will use every outlet available to gather information about their friends.  Besides, I’m 39 years old and I still don’t have privacy from my mother!  She’s as “up in my business” today as she was in 1991! And I wouldn’t want it any other way.)

And now along comes Keek – video sharing with friends.  WONDERFUL, I say sarcastically.  So glad to see that there’s ONE more site to learn, ONE more site to monitor, ONE more site to see kids acting crazy on. 

My Granny used to always say, “If your teenager doesn’t hate you at least once a week, you’re doing something wrong.”  Well,  I think I’ve got that one under control, because I’m sure mine meets that weekly quota!  I am most definitely not my children’s friend.  YET.  I hope to be one day, but not now, not when they need parents, not when social media has created so many pitfalls on their pathway to a successful future.  Not when so many teenage girls are using their bathroom mirrors as camera lenses for their string bikini poses in hopes of getting triple-digit likes.  Not when so many teenage boys are proudly posting the number of kegs that will be at Friday night’s get-together.  Not when so many teenage girls are bragging about their sexual conquests right on the Twitter newsfeed, so similar to what teenage boys once did in locker rooms years ago. 

No, for now anyway, I won’t try to be their friend.  Instead, I’ll learn how to use Twitter and Voxer and Instagram and Keek and whatever else comes down the social media pathway, all the while thinking “what comes around goes around” and wondering what kind of crazy sites they’ll be learning when they have teenagers.  (Okay, let’s be real.  I’m going to be one very nosey grandma in the FAR distant future, so I suppose I should switch the “they’ll” to “we’ll” in the preceding sentence!)

Often, in our permissive society, we parents are too engrossed in our own lives to truly pay attention to what’s going on in our children’s.  We all are susceptible to this.  It’s often much easier to say “Yeah, go ahead” than to go through the lengthy arguments that inevitably proceed a “no.”  Be that as it may, however, the Bible is clear that we parents are responsible for helping our children become good decision makers.  In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.  So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.  But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  (Matthew 18: 3-6)

Like it or not, we parents ultimately have a lot of responsibility in guiding our children’s choices.  I sure don’t want that millstone around my neck!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Luke's Story

In the spring of 2000, something so miraculous and amazing happened to my family that there could be no doubt it was the hand of God.  I’m going to warn you.  This is long.  And involved.  And loaded with medical jargon.  But most importantly, this entry reveals a situation in which, despite all rational explanations, God entered into a situation and took control.

About two weeks before Luke was born, I experienced some extremely high blood pressure.  My ob/gyn had warned me of the risks of toxemia/preeclampsia and told me that if I ever experienced any headaches or dizziness, I should come to his office immediately.  I was a high school English teacher at the time, so he also wanted me to have my blood pressure checked daily by our school nurse.

On Tuesday, March 28, 2000, I had a dizzy spell after teaching my first period class.  I went to the nurse, and she told me to get to my doctor’s office right away because my blood pressure was 164/112.  After obtaining  a similar reading, my doctor decided to send me over to our community hospital in Farmville, VA in order to induce labor.  After only five hours, Luke was born.  Brian and I got to hold him for just a few seconds before the nurse wheeled him away to clean him up.  A few minutes later, she came in and said that he was wheezing just a little bit, so she had put him under some oxygen.
That night, the nurses considered his “singing” noise significant enough to call in our pediatrician.  Arriving at the hospital around 10 pm, Dr. Dionisio said that she believed he just had some fluid in his lungs, which could have been caused by such a fast labor and delivery.  To be on the safe side, however, she wanted to run complete blood work and perform a spinal tap on him to check all of his fluids.  Luke did not improve at all in the 24 hours that he spent in Farmville’s hospital (a hospital that did not have an intensive care unit for infants, but only an incubator).

On Wednesday, March 29th,  Dr. Dionisio said that it was time to transfer him to another hospital.  She wanted to know if we preferred going to Richmond or Lynchburg, so we chose Virginia Baptist of Lynchburg, since it was only 35 minutes away.  Brian and I learned that a transport team would be sent from VA Baptist to take Luke there in an ambulance.  My doctor then discharged me so that Brian and I could run by our house before heading for the hospital.  We came home, picked up a few things, and were on our way.  Just before leaving, our pastor met us and followed us to the hospital. 

Luke finally arrived at VA Baptist about 2.5 hours after we did.  We were instructed to go to their NICU (neonatal intensive care unit).  The neonatologist on call came to speak to us and indicated that they had done x-rays, and it just looked like some fluid was on Luke’s lungs.  He said that they were going to continue his oxygen, then look at his blood levels in a few hours.  The family and friends who had gathered there with us left, and then Brian and I tried to get some rest in a parenting room.

We then got some bad news.  Luke’s condition was much worse than what Dr. Willinger had originally suspected.  He came in and told us that Luke’s lungs just were not functioning the way they should, and they were going to try to treat him with “suffactin,” a soap-like substance that opens up the lungs.  This is poured directly into the lungs, then the lungs should open up and begin doing what they are supposed to do.  

Unfortunately, this did not happen in Luke’s case.  Over the next couple of days, the doctors and nurses gave him three treatments of the drug, and during this period, everyone there was absolutely wonderful to us.  Brian and I spent nearly 48 hours continuously crying, wondering why this was happening to our baby.  We would sit by Luke’s bed and watch him struggle with every breath even while hooked up to the breathing machine.  Honestly, I struggled with thoughts of jealousy and even anger at the other infants in the NICU, many of whom were addicted to illegal drugs because of the poor choices their mothers had made during pregnancy.  In all cases, THEIR babies were doing 95% better than mine, even though I had done everything the doctors had told me to do during the nine months.

On Friday, March 31st, the doctors were ready to take more aggressive action on Luke.  Another neonatologist (known for being a bit more radical than his fellow colleagues), took us into a private room and told us that Luke had a 20% chance of survival if he stayed at VA Baptist.  He said that we needed to go to a Level III NICU, which would be a research facility, such as UVA, MCV, or Duke.  After giving us some literature on the treatment that Luke would need, Dr. Magesky started explaining the ECMO machine, or artificial lung machine.  At one of these hospitals, Luke would be placed on a machine that would serve as his heart and lungs for approximately two weeks, while his heart and lungs healed.  When we got to the hospital, there would be a team of surgeons standing by to insert two tubes into his heart.  All of his blood would leave his heart, go through the machine, pick up oxygen, and travel back to the various parts of his body.
Although this sounded like a radical procedure in 2000, the life expectancy of infants on it were pretty good.  Without it, Luke had a 20% chance of survival.  With it, his chances increased to 80%.  Of course we were ready to try the ECMO.  Unfortunately, however, it was not without risks.  Dr. Magesky told us that the very serious risks were:  (1) stroke, (2) bleeding from the brain resulting in brain damage, and (3) AIDS or hepatitis resulting from blood transfusions.  He also told us that there was one treatment that they could try at MCV that would come before the ECMO.  With this treatment, Luke’s lungs would be filled with Nitric Oxide, in an attempt to open them up and jumpstart them.  Brian found this funny since it’s a variation of the chemical put in carburetors.  Dr. Magesky warned us not to get our hopes up for this treatment, however, because it had a success rate of only 10%.

We learned Friday evening that MCV’s transport team was on its way to pick up Luke and should be at VA Baptist around 10 pm.  At 7:30 pm, Brian and I went down to the cafeteria to try to eat a sandwich.  We would be making the two hour trip to Richmond too, so we decided to try to get some energy.  When we had just sat down to dinner, Brian’s pager went off and we got the scare of a lifetime.  It was the NICU, so we left our food on the table and ran upstairs.  As soon as we entered the NICU, we knew something was terribly wrong.  There were about eight people standing around Luke’s bed with several machines that we had never seen before.  (He was already hooked up to around eight machines at that time).  Dr. Magesky came over and said, “Your son has me very worried.  He’s in a death spiral.” 

Those words will stay with me and Brian forever.  At that point, Luke’s heart rate had risen to 200 beats per minute and his blood pressure had dropped to almost nothing.  The specialists believed that either one of his lungs had burst or that part of his heart had burst.

At 8 pm, after hearing this devastating news, Brian and I went into the parenting room, where we dropped to our knees and prayed for one hour straight.  Neither Brian nor I have ever prayed as hard as we did that Friday night, from 8-9 pm, but I am convinced God granted us a miracle.  At 9 pm, we went back into the NICU, scared to death to see what we would find.  There was just one nurse by his bed, who said, “Come on over; he looks good!”  Dr. Magesky came over and said that he just couldn’t explain what had happened, but Luke had stabilized tremendously over the past hour.  All of the xrays and tests they had done on his lungs and heart showed that nothing had burst or collapsed.  MCV’s ECMO team was still on its way.
I can’t explain it, but from this point on a peace came over Brian and I about Luke’s survival.  We knew he was going to make it, no questions asked.  We were prepared, however, to do whatever was necessary for him to survive, but we knew at this point that we would be taking a baby home with us.  Unfortunately, we also knew that the lack of oxygen to his brain during the first 24 hours of his life could possibly have an enormous negative impact on his life.  We braced ourselves for the possibilities of mental handicaps, blindness, etc.  We just didn’t know what we would be dealing with down the road. 

The transport team arrived from MCV.  It included five people:  a doctor (who was on fellowship at MCV, becoming a specialist), three nurses, and a driver.  (Luke had two very expensive ambulance rides during this first week of life!) The doctor looked like she was about 17 years old and spoke broken English, but she was wonderful, as they all were.  They explained that the most dangerous period was going to be in the ambulance, since critical infants could die with the slightest amount of movement (which was the reason why they brought an ambulance and not a helicopter; helicopters experience too much turbulence).  We told that that we would meet them at MCV, since we had been warned several times during this whole ordeal not to attempt to follow an ambulance.

Around 12:30 am, we all left for Richmond.  We left first, then the ambulance past us, and we could see the little incubator in the back.  About an hour later, the ambulance passed us again.  This kind of worried us because we had not seen it on the side of the road, and we thought that they may have had to pull over to stabilize him or something.  We finally got to MCV at 3 am.  The doctor said that they were getting the ECMO team prepared and should be ready for surgery in a few minutes.  One of the nurses came in and said, “You all made really good time.”  Brian told her that the ambulance had passed us twice, and she replied, “Oh, we had to stop and get gas.”  We got a big chuckle out of that, since they had to stop for gas while carrying a critically ill infant.  It’s kind of nice to experience laughter through the tears.

At MCV, Brian and I got to go into another parenting room and lay down for a few minutes.  One of the neonatologists, Dr. Manali, came in and told us that Luke’s blood pressure had her very concerned and it looked like they would be proceeding with the ECMO.  Luke had been on Nitric Oxide in the ambulance, and it looked like his oxygen levels were improving, but they were all afraid that his heart would just ive out.
At 5:30 am, we got yet another knock on our door.  We were expecting to go out and see Luke hooked up to the ECMO machine and to watch all of his blood going through it to get oxygen.  Thankfully, we got a pleasant surprise.  With the entire ECMO team on hand, all the surgical supplies out by the bedside to cut his arteries and put the tubes into his heart, Luke decided to “start behaving,” as the nurses phrased it.  His blood pressure stabilized, his heart rate came down to normal, and his blood oxygen readings improved.  The pediatric cardiologist laughingly said that Luke just didn’t like him and didn’t want his services.

From that point on, Luke improved tremendously.  The doctors continued the Nitric Oxide, and he was weaned away from everything within a week.  Brian and I finally got to hold him when he was eight days old.  According to hospital policy, he should have been moved to a step down nursery, but those NICU gals decided they liked holding him and decided to keep him right there.  So by the time we brought Luke home, he was very accustomed to being held 24/7 (a practice that we continued, of course!)

Luke had been on numerous prayer chains during his hospital stay.  I have emails from numerous cities, states, and even countries.  Our next hurdle after getting him home was determining just what effects the lack of oxygen had upon his cognitive abilities.  We asked prayer warriors to specifically pray for him in this capacity.  We would have relied upon God’s faithfulness to help us through whatever problems may have been in Luke’s future, but we continued to pray for complete healing.  The doctors had told us to expect a minimum of three years’ worth of visits to the Children’s Hospital of VA in order to assess cognitive deficiencies and how to deal with them.  Well, needless to say, Luke passed all the tests with flying colors and was officially discharged from all future tests when he was 10 months old.  God had truly blessed us with more than we could ever imagine.

When you go through an experience such as this, the last thing you want to think about are the finances of it.  But ultimately the bills will start piling up.  We had three different hospitals, two different ambulance services, and countless specialists, all billing separately.  Just when we thought we were juggling our part of them all (they all totaled around $100,000, so our part was around $20K) successfully, we received devastating news from our insurance company.  Because the Nitric Oxide was an experimental treatment, our insurance company decided not to pay for ANY of the treatment received at MCV.  We were looking at astronomical bills totaling close to $75K.  By some amazing act of God, MCV decided to write Luke off as a “teaching project” and “educational experiment.”  Now, I understand that Nitric Oxide is widely used on infants, covered by insurance, and even available in Lynchburg.  That’s good news, but our experience truly serves as a reminder that God does answer prayer.  God has something special in mind for him, and my prayer for Luke is that he never stop until he discovers what that is.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Who the Heck Is Sue Heck?

Sue Heck – socially awkward 14 year old on ABC’s The Middle; habitual failure at everything.

Sue Heck is my hero.  Her whole-hearted optimism in the midst of a sea of failures forces even the most cynical of viewers to tone down their sarcasm, lower their all-too-cool guarded façade, and let this geeky teenager into their hearts.  I have yet to hear of anyone (blogs and forums included) who does not love Sue Heck.

Before you think I’m delusional, let me assure you that I do realize Sue Heck is a fictional character and does not actually exist.  Be that as it may, I think we can learn a lot from her.  Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Sue’s character is the fact that she’s completely oblivious to her own social awkwardness, despite the best efforts of her older brother Axl, who constantly reminds Sue of her own lameness, nerdiness, and weirdness. 

I wonder how many of us would have what it takes to be a good parent to Sue?  How many of us could set aside our own desires for living vicariously through our children and truly give Sue the support she needs to just be Sue?  As her mother, would I be emotionally secure enough to be seen in public with her dressed in her favorite strawberry sweater?  Or would I be trying to change her, trying to make her fit in with the rest of the crowd?  These are hard questions to answer, especially in today’s world, where it seems that we as parents experience such exhilaration through our children’s lives.  If your child was perfectly happy with being a badly-dressed, socially-awkward failure, would you still offer that child the same love you give your good-looking, athletic, popular kid?

I’m so very thankful that my own parents could.  And did.  While I will not claim that I was such an extreme case as Sue is, I definitely could be placed down toward the negative end of the adolescent popularity scale.  Yet, still my parents loved me unconditionally.  My parents encouraged me.  They never saw my name on a varsity (okay, not even a JV) sports roster.  They never saw my name on a class officers list.  My name never appeared on a homecoming ballot.  I never made straight A’s.  I never had the privilege (yes, this is sarcasm dripping from my lips) of attending the parties hosted by the popular kids in high school.  I’ve never appeared in a high school drama production. My picture was omitted from my 11th grade yearbook, and I can guarantee you that no one at my school even noticed. 

Even in the midst of all these negatives, I was a happy teenager!  My parents never made me feel like I was less of a person because of these things (even though they both could truthfully answer an affirmative YES to many of those items above, as they were BOTH popular, athletic leaders in their schools during the 1950’s. Thankfully, they did not automatically expect the same out of me!)

All in all, if MY parents had relied upon ME to relive their youth, they probably would have died of boredom by the age of 50.  Thankfully, they didn’t depend upon me for that.  Instead, they taught me valuable lessons (lessons that I hope and pray I’ve instilled in my daughter, who is so close to entering the world of adulthood herself).  One such lesson involved Al Bundy and began when I was around 14 or 15.  We all know that the subject of boys becomes very important in the lives of 15 year old girls.  Often young girls run the risk of being completely infatuated with the popular athletes of their schools. 

Through the character of Al Bundy, my parents taught me to look past the athleticism and good looks of such boys, for a good number of them grow up to become the Al Bundy’s of this world, who waste away their adult years reliving the glory days of the past.  (Remember Al Bundy’s famous line?  “I played high school football.”)  Now, as the mother of a very pretty teenage girl, I’m more thankful than ever for that lesson, delivered at the expense of Al Bundy, for now she has the common sense to look beyond the popularity façade, picking and choosing her dates wisely (even though I would prefer she not choose any at all, at least until after college!)

Ultimately, I believe that we can learn a lot from Sue Heck and her parents, who love her unconditionally despite her failures and disappointments.  When you think of encouraging your daughters to choose their dates based solely upon popularity, just remember Al Bundy!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Grass Is Always Greener. . . . Or Is It?

Around seven miles from where I live, this sign alerting cars to the probability of encountering Amish carriages can be seen on the side of the road.  The Amish population around route 47 has risen dramatically over the years, thus turning what was once a “possibility” of seeing those carriages into a definite “probability.”  Several years ago, when my now 17 year-old-daughter had entered the world of double digits, reaching the ripe old age of 10, a sassiness began to spew from her lips (a sassiness that, if truth be told, she inherited from me). I used to threaten to send her off to one of those Amish farms, where life seemed so idyllic, the fields picturesque, the adults even-tempered, and (perhaps most importantly) the children docile and mild-mannered.

These threats continued for the better part of six years and both my daughter and my son remained the targets of them.  When “Mini-Me” would spout off with smart aleck replies (replies that were so similar to ones I too had uttered to my mother twenty years prior, I simply couldn’t deny calling her my very own “Mini-Me”) or when a then 7 year old Luke would become so stubborn and bull-headed about something, I would pull out my arsenal of Amish threats once again with a “Do you think that sweet little Amish girl talks to her mother that way?” or “Would that little Amish boy disobey his mother and do something that she had told him not to?”  or “Maybe I can talk that nice Amish family into keeping you both this summer.  Maybe you’d then appreciate some of the things you have!”

Suffice it to say that, for most of my adulthood, I have idealized the Amish way of life.  I didn’t care about the lack of electricity, nor the lack of modern communication, nor even about the lack of modern fashions (after all, a woman can hide a lot of cellulite under those dresses!).  Having these Amish families so close to us, we have had the opportunities of seeing their superior workmanship, their peacefulness, their pride in their own simplicity.

Last summer, the National Geographic Channel ripped my idealistic mental Amish scrapbook to shreds, all with a show about the Amish rite of passage, Rumspringa.  I had always heard that Amish boys were given the opportunity to “sow their wild oats,” before officially joining the Church, but this National Geographic show portrayed it as much more than simple teenage rebellion.  To my horror, Amish girls were afforded the same opportunity to party as the boys were given.  And party they did!  I have never witnessed so many drunken teens experimenting with illegal drugs and having numerous wild sexual experiences.  My idea of an Amish utopia had been shattered.

To make matters worse, my children (then 16 and 11) sat wide-eyed, enthralled with every second of this 60-minute program.  As each segment of the show revealed more and more unspeakably heinous acts by these Amish teens, my mouth dropped a little farther, all while my daughter’s mouth grew a little wider into a broad smile.  At the apex of one party in particular,  the footage showed these teen girls (the majority of whom will return and accept their parents’ version of Amish conformity and simplicity) snorting cocaine, shooting up heroine, drinking more alcohol than a 300 lb man, and sharing details about their numerous sexual encounters. 

My heart was crushed.  I thought the Amish had it all together!  I thought they could do such a better job of parenting than I was doing! For years, I had held them in such high esteem when it came to virtue, morals, parenting skills, work ethic, etc.  I had seen  them around town, especially at auctions.  I had seen them utilizing their 19th century tools, working in the fields, etc. I had traveled behind their carriages, observing how their children rode with their feet dangling off the back of the carriage, coming face to face with approaching cars, and I often wondered, “What would it be like to ride in that carriage, with those children?  I bet they aren’t arguing over radio stations.  I bet that mother doesn’t try to quickly change the station when a perverted song by Lil Wayne comes on.  What I wouldn’t give to blink a “Freaky Friday” blink, transplanting my whole family into that carriage.”

As the Nat Geo show concluded and the credits began to roll, my daughter could no longer contain her sheepish grin and sarcastic humor.  Casting a devilish grin in my direction, she laughed, “Well now, I guess life with me doesn’t seem so bad, now does it?  You still want to send me over there with them?  Cause I’ve never even seen a party like that!” 

Yes, my idealism was destroyed, but a good lesson came out of it.  Those whose lives we think are perfect still face difficulties; no one is immune to problems.  It had been foolish of me to put the Amish on a pedestal.  After all, how many warnings against foolishness had my favorite Old Testament character King Solomon given us?  In my simple foolishness, I had looked to the Amish as a source of wisdom, even though we are told repeatedly that wisdom comes from the Lord, “1My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands.  2 Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.  3 Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding.  4 Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures.  5 Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God.  6 For the Lord grants wisdom!  From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  7 He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.  He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.  8 He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to Him.” (Proverbs 2: 1-8)

So, I’ve learned my lesson about putting people on pedestals.  I do not look at people and think, “He/she has it all together.”  I no longer threaten to send my children to those Amish farms (nor to the Muslim compound right down the road from those farms; yes, it is a very diversified road!)  Instead of wishing for a “Freaky Friday blink,” I choose to give thanks for the daily issues that arise with teenagers (sassiness, stubbornness, moodiness and all!) that seem so small in comparison to the Amish rite of Rumspringa.  Learning to choose my battles and letting my “yes’s” outweigh my “no’s” has served me well this past year, as it’s much easier to say “NO” to the Appomattox version of the Project X party when you’ve said “YES” to things like days at the lake with friends.  King Solomon was absolutely right.  The Lord really will give us wisdom when we ask for it!

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dealing With a Critical Spirit

WARNING – For those of us who tend to have a critical spirit from time to time, let me assure you of something.  The Lord will deal with us.  He will make sure that the very things that we are so very critical of come right back and bite us in our tails.  The bite will be hard.  The bite will be humbling.  The bite will most assuredly be painful.

This vacation has included a long list of misplaced items and lots of “Mom, have you seen my Ipod?” and “Sarah, do you have any idea where my wallet is?” On Friday, my daughter left her purse in a locker at Universal, which required from me a quick sprint (okay, truth be told, it was a “not so quick” sprint but more like a light jog) through the entire park to retrieve it since the rest of her group was waiting on us.  All the while, such thoughts were going through my mind,  “If she had only been more responsible” and “WHY didn’t she read the directions on those lockers before sticking her stuff in there?” (Notice that all these thoughts were going through my mind, not out my mouth, as my mouth was too busy gasping for air!)

So, suffice it to say that my spirit has been less than sympathetic this week.  I’ve been guilty of having thoughts such as “WHY can’t they ALL keep up with their stuff?” more than once daily (okay, more like hourly).  Rather than graciously offer to help my loved ones locate their lost items, I’d instead sigh, mumbling something like “Good grief, here we go again” when something turned up lost.

Well, I have been paid back ten-fold for those critical thoughts.  I have been humbled.  I have been frustrated.  I have been put in my place.  I have LOST my PURSE, along with my WALLET, along with my DRIVER’S LICENSE, along with my DEBIT CARDS, along with my CAMERA, along with my CAR KEYS (which are needed to start my car, which is at the Richmond International Airport), along with EVERY other card that identifies ME as ME (Sam’s club, YMCA, Planet Fitness, library cards, etc). 

So, in this post 9-11 world, where TSA officials are more vigilant than ever in screening passengers, I must humbly beg for their acceptance of a xerox copy of my license (praise the Lord that our resort made a copy!), the copy of the police report detailing how I lost my purse (I got that tip from a very nice security guard at the outlet mall; I simply filed the report online then printed it  out), and my family vouching for me, declaring that I am in fact me. (So thankful that so many of those critical thoughts had gone through my head this week, rather than coming out of my mouth!  If I had voiced each and every one of those thoughts, my family may very well say, during our interview with TSA officials tomorrow, “I have no idea WHO this woman is!  Never seen her before in my life!”)

The next time you get frustrated with others, the next time you feel like you’ve got it all together and everyone around you doesn’t, remember MY experience and be humbled.  None of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes.  We all need the grace of others. We all need to be uplifted by those closest to us.  And above all, remember that your critical spirit will most assuredly come back and bite you in your tail, for THAT is the way the Lord teaches us life’s most important lessons.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

G Forces & Loopdy-Loops

I have always loved rollercoasters.  This is one thing that I hope I will never lose my love for. As I age, I really don’t care if I lose my taste for spicy food, nor my obsession with the Steelers, nor my affinity for technology.  But Heaven help me if I ever lose my love for rollercoasters. 

Mere words cannot explain the rush of adrenaline that races throughout every inch of my body when I’m on a rollercoaster.  Unfortunately, I’m not intelligent enough to discuss the physics surrounding a good coaster ride.  I don’t know how the engineers utilize gravity and magnets to create such an experience.  But I’m so very thankful that there are people smart enough to design something that has given me so much unbridled JOY over the past 39 years (actually, probably the last 33 years because my mother is definitely NOT a coaster fan, and although I can’t quite recall, I’m sure that she would not have allowed me to ride them as a very young child.  I’m so thankful, however, that my daddy came to rescue my rollercoaster freedoms when I became of school age, because some of my earliest coaster memories involve HIM folding his legs up every which way in order to sink down into the seats of the Little Dipper, a small, wooden coaster housed at Camden Park, located in Huntington, WV.  And although daddy never complained about the tight quarters of the Little Dipper, I can only imagine how his heart leaped for joy when I finally graduated to the Big Dipper, equipped with adult-size cars).

Sadly, many people are scared to ride a rollercoaster.  They have sworn them off, adamantly declaring, “I do NOT like rollercoasters!”  Of those people who find themselves in this category, I would like to pose a question.  When is the LAST time you’ve ridden a rollercoaster?  I would venture a guess at the answer – never.  Or, let me give you the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe you do have memories of riding a rollercoaster, decades ago, when each board of the old wooden coasters would creak and strain under the weight of the cars.  Maybe you did try to ride one, back in 1986, and you swore that if you ever got off, you’d never get on one again.    Maybe you simply look at a modern rollercoaster today and think, “No way.  Not now.  Not tomorrow.  Not EVER!” In an effort to alleviate some of those fears, let me give you some statistics.

There are 900 million roller coaster rides in America each year.  Six of those rides will result in the death of the rider.  That’s SIX in 900 MILLION!  I’d venture to say that those are pretty good odds of surviving your coaster ride.  Even though these statistics should be reassuring, they will not make one bit of difference to most of you who have sworn off rollercoasters.  Instead, you will continue living in fear of something that you have no reason to fear.  Isn’t it sad how we let fear grip us, thus robbing us of blessings that God had originally planned for us?  You may say, “God doesn’t bless us with something as mundane and as literal as a rollercoaster!”  Well, I beg to differ with you.  There is no doubt in my mind that, when I am on a rollercoaster, God is up there smiling away, thrilled that I am living my life with unbridled enthusiasm, throwing caution to the wind, arms in the air, grin so wide I may swallow half the bugs in Orlando.  Yes, He has given me the blessings of rollercoasters, and I plan on blessing HIM by riding them with reckless abandon for as long as I can.  Here are a few I rode today (numerous times, by the way!).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Boy, You Are 30,000 Feet In the Air. . . Put the Ipad Up & Look Out the Window!

Hate to admit it but…. I am definitely not the most observant person in the world.  I can’t even imagine all the amazing things I’ve missed out on simply because I wasn’t paying attention.  Most of the time, my head has been buried too deeply in my phone, answering emails from frantic, non-traditional college students (that’s the polite way of saying “older college students” who have “been away from learnin’ for awhile”).  Other times, I may find myself completely preoccupied (that’s a polite way of saying  “wasting time on”) Facebook, scrolling through the newsfeeds to see what so-and-so is having for dinner, or whose relationship status has recently changed, or who has lost 100 pounds by drinking their weight in shakes, or whose child deserves a big “Congratulations” for making straight A’s.  (Have you ever noticed that we never see our friends post statuses about straight C’s?  The world may see me do just that one day.  I may say, “Congratulations to my two kids, for being fabulously average when it comes to academia.  Those C’s you got on your report card will serve you well one day, when you’re an adult, because you’ve already learned that you’re not right all the time and you’ll be willing to take risks.  Yes, I’m proud of those C’s you made because it means you know you’re not perfect, that you don’t need to be perfect, and that you are loved beyond measure anyway.”  Yes, that right there may appear as my Facebook status the next time I see anymore congratulations for straight A’s.)

I’m ashamed to admit just how much I have allowed technology to distract me over the years.  Those who are closest to me can attest that I am rarely without my cellphone (which does everything from serving as a flashlight to an online bank, to an HD camcorder/camera, to a ticket booth, to an audiobook player, to mobile television.  I’m just waiting for them to make an app that will shoot a laser through a can of pork and beans, thus eliminating the need for a can opener.)  This morning, my family flew to Florida and we experienced something different.  Since I’m an English teacher, I like to pick out examples of literary devices that may be lurking around every mundane bend, so here’s a picture that portrays an example of situational irony.  (I’ll let those of you who know me try to figure it out.  Just think of it as those “Spot the Difference” pictures that used to be in the comics section.

Have you spotted the situational irony yet?  Here is Luke, my sweet, lil country bumpkin of a 12-year-old boy, who actually does take the time to notice things.  He is not yet tied to his phone, he maybe plays a total of 2 hours’ worth of video games per week, his favorite channel is the Pursuit Channel (Direct TV, channel 609, a hunter & fisherman’s paradise),  he is mono-syllabic when texting, he would rather sit in a tree stand than in a recliner, and he will most likely die of suffocation if he ever takes a desk job as an adult.  My Luke notices God’s creation.  He listens to it.  He sees it.  He breathes it in and tastes it, so much more than his mother does.

So what is the situational irony in this picture?  Here we are, ascending to 37,000, close enough to the clouds that we could stick our tongues out and taste the cotton candy sweetness on our lips.  And what’s Luke doing?  He has his lap-table, down, completely tuned into his Ipod and Ipad, all the while missing out on the experience of soaring amidst the clouds!  It was at this point that I said, “Boy, You Are 30,000 Feet In the Air. . . Put the Ipad Up & Look Out the Window!”  It’s situational irony because he so rarely misses things, as he’s so in tune with nature.  Stay with me, reader.  I’m not going all Transcendentalist on you.  I promise I won’t quote Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, with their transparent eyeballs and utopian hermit status.  But normally Luke is saying things like that to me, even though I’m the parent.  Things like, “Mama, please stop texting for a minute and look at these tracks.  I think they’re from a coyote.” Or “Mama, please put down the Ipad and listen to this noise.  Are they cicadas or crickets?”  Or“Mama, can you please get off that computer and come out here and help me move this old fish aquarium.  I just dug up 100 worms and I want to make them a home so I can use them when I fish.” 

So yes, today, I got to experience a bit of situational irony with Luke, and I liked it.  It felt good for ME to be the one reminding HIM to turn off the gadgets and tune into nature.