Once Again, A Memoriam

The following post is a reblog of my initial response to the shootings in Aurora earlier this year. Once again, my heart is aching with the same sentiments. Oh, America, what has happened?

Retro Wishes, Childhood Dreams

“Be home before the streetlights come on,” was the summertime rule in my house. Growing up in the small town of Plymouth, Michigan, during the 80’s was a real-life Sandlot experience. Between the large park around the block, the gas station with the Slurpee machine down the street, and the “downtown” movie theater only a quick bike ride away, my friends and I spent the bulk of our summers outside.  We rode bikes, climbed trees, flew kites, and built lemonade stands. Our parents knew that if we weren’t swimming in Jamie’s pool, we were probably in our tree forts in the park. We didn’t have cell phones or Ipods; we were blissfully entertained by the song of chirping crickets, the light show of dancing fireflies, and the tinkling sounds of the ice cream truck.

A school shooting wasn’t even a figment of my imagination. 

Today, not only do I mourn the loss of innocent life in Sandy Hook, but also the loss of the childhood innocence of a generation. Our children are growing up with the morbid possibility of school shootings, theater massacres, and terrorist bombings. The TV violence of the 80’s has become real-life breaking news. My heart is heavy.

Fighting the Darkness

It’s time for us to stand up for the future of our children, to champion the cause of preserving the innocence of childhood. Our country is not lost; there are still families who eat around a table, children who play in parks, and parents who diligently teach ethics and morals. We have not slipped into the reckless abandon of a lawless society; rather, we have parents, teachers, leaders, and civil servants who protect order and preserve peace.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.  ~Ambrose Redmoon

It is the duty of us all to promote courage within our society. We all have influence. I influence people you will never meet and vice versa. It is our civil responsibility to fight the darkness that is slowly descending upon our nation. Our children depend on us to preserve their childhood. Their childhood memories are weighed in the balance of our willingness to stand up for what is right. The cause of morality needs champions.

There isn’t enough darkness in all the world to snuff out the light of one little candle. ~Robert Alden

Morality Rises

This weekend, rather than going to see a movie or a ballgame, why not spend time with your family. Hug them a little tighter, tell them a story of courage in the face of fear, show them a memory of your own retro childhood. Be a child’s hero this weekend. Fly a kite, build a fort, read a book. Let’s make morality rise in our country once again.

The families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims are in my prayers.

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Eye Life: Living in the Eye of the Storm

In Florida, there are basically three seasons: Summer, Not-So-Hot Summer, and Rainy Season. This week, the eyes of countless weathermen have been watching the skies south of Florida as Tropical Storm Isaac makes its way toward our coastline. At the time of this writing, it is still a Tropical Storm and has yet to hit Puerto Rico. They predict that after passing over the Dominican Republic and Haiti, it will either slam into Florida’s western coast or gain speed in the Gulf of Mexico with a nebulous track toward the as yet undetermined southern states. Needless to say, the husband and I will be buying water and saltines tonight.

I’ve always loved storms. Even as a child, thunder and lightning only brought excitement and wonder. I think it may be because I grew up in a house not too far from railroad tracks; the feeling of thunder in a shaking house still reminds me of a train coming, never the possibility of the destruction from an impending storm. As a child, thunder was “God’s bowling league” and lightning was only “gigantic lightning bugs.” What can I say? I was an imaginative little tyke.

Travelling in Tampa Bay this weekend is going to be limited at best due to the Republican National Convention. It’s one of those weekends where staying home in pajamas is a delightfully rational idea. However, now that TS Isaac is in play, it’s an even better idea.

Defining the Eye of the Storm

According to ehow.com (you’d be amazed at how many sites didn’t have a usable definition of ‘eye of the storm’), “A hurricane (tropical cyclone) is a giant rotating storm with winds of 74 to 200 mph and heavy rain, which can cause high tides and waves. It is in the center of this activity that the eye of the storm is formed, an area clear of storm. The eye of the storm can be slightly cloudy or clear resulting in limited to no precipitation. If you were to stand directly in the center of the eye of the storm, you would notice that the weather is calm, there is a slight breeze and there is no precipitation. Blue skies are seen in the daytime and the stars at night. When viewed from helicopter, airplane or satellite, the eye of the storm appears circular.”

Living the Eye Life

In the eye of the storm is shelter from all-encompassing weather; in the Eye Life is shelter from all-encompassing worry. 

Life is hard. Sometimes it feels that the storm is too big, the resources to small, the trial too large, the escape hatch too far away. If we are to successfully navigate this thing called life, we must live in with the storm in view. The Eye Life. To me, it’s ok for the storms to rage, the winds to blow, I have an anchor safely secured in the eye of the storm. We should live inside the storm tethered to our anchor, affecting change upon our individual Eye.

My anchor is my family, my faith, my worldview. The world does not revolve around me; on the contrary, sometimes I feel as if the world is passing me by with people moving on into grand futures and me staying here, faithful about my duties. Working at a college does that to a person, I guess.  I do not live by focusing on my surroundings, but upon the stabilizing influence of my mentors and my faith. If I veer too far from my anchor, I enter proverbial “inclement weather” and lose my stand by shaky footing.

Stand upon the rock of your convictions, the resolution of your faith, the stability of your family and support system, and the balancing of your fear. Join me in living the Eye Life. 

Is today a day to gather strength from the storm –
a day to to learn life lessons for the next battle?
Or is today a day to sit by the fire
and watch the storm rage outside?
Either way, the storm is just life.
Give thanks for all of Life.
– Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Contentment: Wanting What I Have

My crown is in my heart, not in my head,
Nor decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen; my crown is called contentment;
A crown it is, that seldom kings enjoy.
~William Shakespeare, Henry VI

In this age of instant gratification, instant messaging, and instant coffee, living a life of contentment demands a delicate balance of ambition and apathy. Not only should we be content with such things as we have, but we should also strive to pursue excellence and personal growth. It is in the image of the proverbial scales that we find a visual definition of the fragility of contentment. I would dare  say that being content is a momentary pursuit, one that commands both dedication and repose.

The Equilibrium of Contentment

Equilibrium, defined as “a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced,” perfectly illustrates the necessity of both ambition and apathy as requirements for contentment. While ambition is the desire to achieve, apathy is the lack of desire.

Think about it: without the ambition to achieve goals, we attain nothing. Without the lack of desiring more than we have, we become restless and discontent with our lives. There has to be a balance between wanting what we have and pursuing what we want. We have to be content and visionary. It all comes down to being consumed by acquisition or consuming our life with contentment.

Charles Spurgeon said it best: “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”

The following is a clipping from Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner: “That same night, I wrote my first short story. It took me thirty minutes. It was a dark little tale about a man who found a magic cup and learned that if he wept into the cup, his tears turned into pearls. But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he found ways to make himself sad so that his tears could make him rich. As the pearls piled up, so did his greed grow. The story ended with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls, knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife’s slain body in his arms.”  

Taking it a Step Further

My husband and I went out to lunch with his boss (free pie day at Village Inn!) and discussed the issue of contentment. I brought up this blog post and how I was “gelling” my thoughts on the subject. As a parent of a five year old boy and a ten year old girl, he had an interesting perspective on contentment. “You have to have a balance between how you achieve contentment and how you teach your children to be content,” he said. “Hopefully, your life experiences have brought a sense of maturity; that maturity is defined by your contentment level.” He then described how his children see the fancy new toys, the extroverted personalities, and the height differences in their friends, but they have to learn how to be content with what they have, even at their young ages. Together with his wife, he is consistently teaching them to appreciate what they have and who they are. Contentment is not something to be achieved; contentment is a state of being.”

Parenting brought contentment to a whole new level for me. I was thinking of contentment as being happy with my career, my electronics, my house, I wasn’t even considering the fact of teaching contentment to a child! Being content with what you have is one thing; communicating how you came to be content is another. I can only pray that when our time comes, my husband and I will have this contentment thing down!

Making it Personal

  • I don’t have an iphone; I do have a cell phone that calls my loved ones.
  • I don’t have the latest fashionista must-haves; I do have a closet overflowing with colorful clothes that fit.
  • I don’t drive a Pontiac Sky (my favorite); I do have a car that gets awesome gas mileage and looks nice.
  • I don’t live in a Florida mansion; I do live in a comfortable house filled to the brim with love, laughter, and joy.
  • I do have a husband who loves me.
  • I do have a job that pays my bills and lets me save a bit each month.
  • I do have friends that love me.
  • I do have a church that meets my needs.
  • I truly do have a wonderful life

How do you define contentment? If someone asked you about contentment, what would you say?

Love Like Crazy: Reflections from a Song

From the moment I heard Lee Brice’s song Love Like CrazyI was captivated by the story of a lifetime of Crazy Love. The song tells the heartwarming tale of a couple celebrating 58 years of marriage and how they kept their Crazy Love alive. It reminds me of my grandparents and brings a smile to my face as I remember hearing the stories of how they met, fell in love, and lived out their own version of ‘happily ever after.’ 

My first experience with Crazy Love was at home. One of my most vivid memories of sacrificial love was a seemingly insignificant act by my Dad. Because his job demanded an endless schedule of international travel, he was overseas for a good portion of my childhood. One summer, he was scheduled to be gone for an entire month, setting up a telecommunications network for a company in Chile. After two weeks had passed, my Dad surprised Mom and I by showing up for a quick weekend. I remember being shocked that he was home, but he explained that when the option arose to take a vacation trip to Antarctica for the weekend or fly home to see us, he chose us. If my Dad had chosen the Arctic cruise, he would have reached his goal of travelling to every continent. Rather, he chose time with his family. To a seven-year old, choosing to come home rather than visit penguins defined Crazy Love.

Later, I watched my Mom care for my Dad through his horrible battle with cancer. Nothing epitomizes Crazy Love like supporting a spouse through sickness. Sacrificing her own schedule and plans, my Mom became the nurse, the comforter, and the supporter to a man slowly dying of cancer. To this day, she wrestles with back pain from the countless times she physically supported his weight. The night he passed away, she said, “Goodbye, my Love! You’re with Jesus now!”, but she still carries that Crazy Love in her heart. Crazy Love transcends death.

Lifetime Crazy Love isn’t old-fashioned… it still exists. Whether it is choosing between penguins and family, supporting an ailing spouse, or texting “I love you” at random times throughout the day, Crazy Love is possible. It takes commitment, perseverance, and a dedication to keeping the fires burning. Since my husband and I have only been married for a year and a half–we’re still writing our Crazy Love story–I plan to emulate the strong marriages around me, to guard my marriage with passionate resolve, and to exemplify the characteristics of true, enduring love found in I Corinthians 13.

To me, Lifetime Crazy Love is an attainable goal.

They called them crazy when they started out.
Said seventeen’s too young to know what love’s about.
They’ve been together fifty-eight years now.
That’s crazy.

He brought home sixty-seven bucks a week.
Bought a little 2 bedroom house on Maple Street
Where she blessed him with six more mouths to feed.
Now that’s crazy!

Just ask him how he did it; he’ll say pull up a seat.
It’ll only take a minute, to tell you everything.
Be a best friend, tell the truth, and overuse “I Love You!”
Go to work, do your best, don’t outsmart your common sense.
Never let your prayin’ knees get lazy,
And love like crazy!

They called him crazy when he quit his job.
They said them home computers, boy they’ll never take off.
Well, he sold his one man shop to Microsoft,
And they paid like crazy.

Just ask him how he made it,
He’ll tell you faith and sweat,
And the heart of a faithful woman,
Who never let him forget.

Be a best friend, tell the truth, and overuse “I Love You!”
Go to work, do your best, don’t outsmart your common sense.
Never let your prayin’ knees get lazy,
And love like crazy!

Always treat your woman like a lady.
Never get too old to call her baby.
Never let your prayin’ knees get lazy,
And love like crazy!

They called him crazy when they started out.
They’ve been together fifty-eight years now.

Aint that crazy?

True Friendships in a Barbie World: Revisited

The inevitable end of summer has arrived! Walmarts across the country are being overrun with back-to-school shoppers searching for number 2 pencils, composition books, and the perfect colored Postit note. In the spirit of new beginnings, this week’s blog is a delightful reblog of last year’s article dedicated to the formations of new friendships in the first few moments of the school year. Whether we’re passed a pen in class, selected for a fall sports team, or handed a cup of coffee in the break room, making friends is one of the most challenging and somewhat fearful events of life. Here’s to friendship!

If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends? ~Author Unknown

How do we choose our friends?

I think this question is answered according to where you are in life. Granted, I’m a thirty-something who looks back at her charmed childhood with rosy glasses, but I’m going to attempt to define friendship and/or popularity from my perspective.

  • Elementary: It was simple in elementary school. You wanted to be friends with the girl who had the most Lisa Frank items. Tell me you don’t remember those awesome trapper keepers and stickers! And folders. And pencils. And….
  • Junior High: Can we really take junior high popularity seriously? Hormones, pimples, bad hairstyles—let’s just skip to high school!
  • High School: Once you graduate from the upper elementary building and hit the lockered halls of high school, your world changes. Your Lisa Frank collection starts to gather dust, boys are a whole lot cuter, and every night you pray that your Clearasil works. Whatever circle you were in—athletics, drama, academics, pretty people—some were more popular than others.
  • College: In college, you fall into groups that possess similar majors, interests, or personalities. Honestly, I think that as we begin to form our own identity, we realize that our friends are an intregal part of who we are and who we will become.
  • Career: Everything changes once you hit the real world. Or, does it? Considering today’s world of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, online dating, and forum presence, I wonder if we have really outgrown high school mentality of popularity and friendship.

Actually, whatever stage of life we are in, do we really ever grow out of the “Lisa Frank” mentality? Do we surround ourselves with the people that make a difference in our lives, or do continually compare our proverbial trapper keepers? It’s the whole “keeping up with the Jones’” point of view. I don’t want to choose my friends based upon what they can do for me; rather, I want to surround myself with people that inspire me to go deeper into maturity. In contrast to “buying Barbie’s friends,” I’d rather describe my friendships as:

But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely.  Oh, the comfort – the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person – having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.  ~Dinah Craik

Whatever stage of life you are in, I hope that you can honestly say that you have this type of friend. True friendship in an increasingly Barbie world is rare; here’s hoping you have found your place in a circle of friends, and that you make a difference in your world together.

Objects in the Mirror

Due to my car accident in January, I have been avoiding driving. My husband would argue that this is a classic case of my bad diving habits catching up to me, but I choose to believe it is in direct correlation to my recent accident and the ensuing, lingering injury. When I do drive, I’m overly conscious of cars entering my lane, misused (or unused) blinkers, speeding summer vacationers (living in Florida isn’t always fun), and inanimate objects on missions to collide with my freshly repaired vehicle.

While sitting at a red light on my way to work minding my own business, I looked in my side mirror to see a barely-legal brunette applying what looked to be a second coat of mascara on her already made up face. “As long as she is behind me” used to be a valid argument… that is until a Toyota 4-runner rear T-boned me in the Target parking lot. She reached for eye liner, causing the wariness and anxiety to exponentially grow in my chest. Once again, I looked closer at the mirror and saw “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” Surprisingly, I smiled.

No longer was I anxiously watching a twenty-something apply another coat of makeup; I was mentally transported to a Father’s Day several years ago. Father’s Days are never good days for me. Long story short, my Dad lost his battle with cancer in 2003. On that particular rainy evening, I was sitting at a stoplight, on my way get a much-needed cup of coffee at my favorite Starbucks, when a quick glance into my side mirror changed my perspective forever.

A beautiful rainbow was suspended above the saying, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” 

Rainbows echo promises. Not only promises of Biblical proportions, but also reaffirming, stabilizing promises of new days, ends of tunnels, and smiles after tears. That night while sitting at a stoplight I was reminded that my Dad was just a whisper away, that one day I’d see him again… on a day that was much “closer than it appeared.” You may think it is a stretch, but I was encouraged. Because of that encouragement long ago, I was blessed today.

Taking it a Step Further

It’s the little things in life, isn’t it? The little reminders of a blessing discovered, a smile given, a dream realized. Don’t ever forget to look in the mirror of life; not just to see your reflection, but to reflect upon what has gone before. My past has made me who I am today. The battles fought and won have made me a stronger person. The people I’ve “lost” along the way will one day be found again in my home beyond the sky. The broken hearts, the broken dreams, and the broken promises have only served to mold a masterful collage, more beautiful from its healing than a pristine, undamaged, un-characterized whole. I wouldn’t change a thing.

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes even more beautiful.
Barbara Bloom

What in your mirror is closer than it appears?

Life’s Greatest Loss

Last week, a friend of mine posted a shocking quote in her facebook status that has sent me into a whirlwind of deep, introspective thought. While it is fascinating, it stands as a stark contrast to the societally accepted norm of reactionary emotions surrounding the event of a death.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live. ~Norman Cousins

This quote can be interpreted in many different ways; quite possibly, it is translated differently for each individual. To me, the fundamental definition of this quote is that my greatest personal loss did not occur when a battle with cancer ended my Dad’s life in 2003. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live. Very simply: the mountain of his death is irrevocably written upon the landscape of my past, but it should not define the outlook of my future.

Real Life Inspiration

Not nearly an expert on coping with death and loss, I’ve drawn upon the life of a childhood hero, Corrie tenBoom. A Dutch woman living in the Netherlands during World War II, Miss tenBoom and her family risked their lives to help Jewish refugees escape invading Nazi troops by hiding them in a secret room built in the walls of their home. Their activity was discovered and Corrie and her family were sent to various concentration camps. Her father, sister, brother, and nephew died as a result of their imprisonment, but she survived and was released due to a clerical error in Ravensbrück Prison. Before her sister died, she said, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

Imagine that. The unfathomable torture received in Ravensbrück, and she still knew that God was in control. While at times it is difficult to bear the loss of my father, it is in no way comparable to the ever-present suffering of the tenBoom family at the hands of their captors. My Dad suffered greatly during his battle with cancer and I would never belittle his courageous survival, but we all know that prison camps held unspeakable horrors. Despite all of that, Corie and her family had somehow figured out that death is not life’s greatest loss.

When she was a little girl, Corrie asked her father about death:

I burst into tears, “I need you!” I sobbed. “You can’t die! You can’t!” “Corrie,” he began gently. “When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?” “Why, just before we get on the train.” “Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.”~excerpt from The Hiding Place, by Corrie tenBoom

Real Life Application

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live. To respect those we love, to hold their memory in our hearts, to live in honor of their memory is to go forth into the future with abandon. It is not living in the past or dwelling on the loss. We must choose to exist, to conquer, to “be” despite the pain, despite the loss, despite the tragedy. Loss is inevitable; living within its imprisonment is a choice.

So, I guess this blog is a charge to you who have lost. It is an encouragement and a challenge to not lose a single moment of possibility. To take the pain, the heartache, and the loss and morph it into resolution. I know my Dad would be so pleased with where I am in life. I know he would love my husband, encourage our dreams, and champion our goals. Yes, I would like to consult him for advice, but I know what he stood for and how he responded to adversity; he lived an example for me to follow. I choose not to dwell on the fact that he is gone; rather, I choose to capture my moments, embrace the possibilities, and strive for excellence. By doing so, I will honor his memory. We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.  ~Kenji Miyazawa

National Coffee Day? Hello, Gorgeous!

Evidently, Dunkin’ Donuts and Career Builder are teaming up to inform me that my addiction to coffee came with my career choice. According to a recent survey, the top ten professions likely to “need coffee to get through the work day the most” are:

  1. Scientist/Lab Technician
  2. Marketing/Public Relations Professional (Strike 1 – current job)
  3. Educator/Administrator (Strike 2 – 2 years teaching at North Eastern University in Dalian, China)
  4. Editor/Writer (Strike 3 – current job)
  5. Healthcare Administrator
  6. Physician
  7. Food Preparer
  8. Professor (Strike 4 – again, English professor at NEU)
  9. Social Worker
  10. Financial Professional

Blaming my career for my addiction is a nice concept, but since today is National Coffee Day, I began to reminisce about my early years of caffeine addiction–before I chose a career. As I said in a previous post, my Dad traveled the world slaying corporate dragons. While on his adventures, clients would take him to world-renown, five-star restaurants, those tiny bistros that served heavenly nuggets of delight, and secret coffee headquarters located in tropical paradises. At least that’s what my underage, overactive, highly imaginitive brain told me. His carry-on bags always held treasures from far-away places; treasures that sometimes, if I was lucky, included dark roasted coffee beans.

My first taste of “the good stuff” came during a trip to Venezuela when I was six years old. Enrique, my Dad’s buisness partner at the time, met us at the airport and took us to his home in the hills of Caracas. Surrounded by the lush Venezuelan landscape of our friend’s home, we were served dark brewed coffee, sweet cream, and raw sugar. It was divine and I was utterly, unreservedly in love. At the close of our trip, Enrique loaded down our bags with his magic beans and sent us on our way. Every time he would fly to the States, his breifcase would be laden with pounds of coffee; he was one of my favorite grown ups. To this day, our Venezuelan friend maintains hero status in my book.

Honestly, I think this experience is what ruined me for Folgers and turned me into the coffee snob that I am. Once you fly first class, you seriously loathe coach, right?  So, here’s to all of you coffee snobs, caffeine addicts, and social muggers. I raise my steamy cup of brew to you!

Reader Response: How do you take your coffee?