Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Message from Marla

Dear Family of Friends,

It's been too long. The year is coming to a close in 11 short days. How many times I've headed for the computer or smart phone intending to dash off a note to you, but I always seem interrupted on the way. It's the story of my life. Goal for the New Year, slow down and smell the two day old tunafish in the garbage disposal--we have a serious lack of roses here. I can't grow anything because either a) Wyatt will pick all the flowers b) Owen swings at the bushes with a bat or golf club just because, or c) our one year old black lab Bo eats it rootball and all. This is a joke, not a lament, just in case you were wondering. 

We all decry busy-ness, but secretly we must crave it. After all, no one forces us to sign up for piano lessons and after school activities. There may be pressure to be the grade mom or PTA liaison, but nobody twisted our arm. Incidentally, nobody twisted mine at school this year. My reputation must precede me. Ha! I'm learning to say no to most things so I can say yes to what I truly care about. This is a difficult lesson, and one that is learned in baby-steps. 

In our house a year ago, Owen had his two front teeth, we could only understand Wyatt about 60% of the time, Andy has less silver in his hair, and the fine lines in my face, were, well, fine. This year, Owen would like his two front teeth, we understand Wyatt 98% of the time, Andy has a very attractive salt and pepper mane, and my fine lines are now character lines. Ha! Owen is our mathematician and word search extraordinaire. Wyatt is our artist in residence and quite the story teller. Andy continues to make beautiful smiles and is our ever present pillar of assurance and calm. Is it too cliche to say he is the love of my life? 

As I sit at my computer to write, I am reflecting on the increasing amounts of community tension that exist this season. I have decided that I am perfectly content to live in a world of confusion and clarity, tension and peace, joy and sorrow, doubt and certainty. I know many people get a little bent out of shape this time of year over what to celebrate or not celebrate, recognize or not recognize. I think that's too bad. Friendship and generosity are not limited to holidays. Come celebrate with me and I'll come celebrate with you. Maybe we'll make a new tradition all together, or revive an old one. 

Here is why I choose Christmas (in case you were curious, or just have time to read a lengthy pondering from me):

1. I love decorating my tree. After the tree is inside, the lights are on, and the boys have hung their ornaments, I spend the next couple of hours touching every ornament and remember its story. The year we bought this one in Phoenix to remind us of our trip. The year I bought that one to celebrate baby's first. The year mamma made that one for all of us in the choir. The thumbprint from preschool I made next to the thumb prints from preschool the boys made. It's one of the ways I remember all the good things I have in my life.

2. I love Christmas cards. Facebook is fabulous, but there is nothing like walking to my mailbox every day between the day after Thanksgiving and Epiphany. I can't wait for 2 o'clock when the rural carrier finally comes bringing my 947th Lands End catalog and my stack of cards. I've kept every Christmas card for the last 7 or 8 years. They've moved with me at least 3 and some 4 times. Each year, I put the cards on the mantle in a beautiful silver dish my roommate gave me for a wedding present. The year Andy's Mimi died, we put the cards in her silver bread bowl she left us. This year I put the cards in the center of our Advent wreath. After Christmas, the cards go into a silver tray in my bedroom that I keep on my dresser. I see them every morning and I am blessed by the presence you all maintain in my life. (Side note: I also need to use these beautiful pieces I received as wedding gifts since I obviously don't cook much and our entertaining runs towards backyard weenie roasts and pirate birthday parties at least for the present.) 

3. I'm an American and I'm very much into holidays. I love Christmas the way I love Halloween or Valentine's Day or Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. Christmas is a time to spend thinking of others and myself at the same time (present for all I say), and chowing down on good eats. It's a time to make obligatory phone calls to my family, post cute pictures on Facebook, and relish the homemade goopy gluey glittery works of art my darling boys bring home from school. I enjoy receiving flowers, eating candy, and watching fireworks. I love excuses for dressing up for parties--costume or couture. 

I love Santa, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Lucy and her siblings Susan, Edmund, and Peter, Disney World, and Jesus too. I think we can all co-exist. I have no problem celebrating make-believe along side my faith. I don't feel threatened by magic, allegory, fact, fiction, oral history, recorded history, or finding the same story told seven ways to Sunday in seven different faith traditions. We're all human beings and we are all in community with one another. 

I have no issue with the fact that many people don't celebrate Christmas. I don't worry about people who don't celebrate Halloween. I imagine lots of students studying abroad and other foreign nationals living in America don't celebrate Thanksgiving or 4th of July because it isn't a holiday celebrated in their home country (I could be wrong there; blanket statements usually are.). I'm okay with non-Halloween school parties. I love fall festivals, scarecrows, apples, and harvest time themes just fine. Corn mazes, candy apples, and hayrides are fun. We can do costumes at home and hit up the neighborhood for candy later on. And, I once dragged two of my girlfriends in Germany to an American army base for a 4th of July celebration because I was desperately homesick. They were kind enough to humor me. Maybe someday I can return the favor to someone else living far from home.

In my home, during the seasons of Advent and Lent we make special time to focus on our faith for a whole month at a time culminating in the two highest holy days on the Christian calendar, the birth and resurrection of Jesus. Hopefully these times build character and provide examples of how to practice our faith all year long and not just during the winter and spring solstice. So I'll be at church on Christmas Eve celebrating one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith, because that is when we celebrate it in our church calendar. On Christmas morning, I'll be in my living room watching my babies rejoice over Santa's visit and the pile of imported plastic. You are welcome to come hang out with us. Andy will make you pancakes and I'll wish you Merry Christmas. If you invite me to come to your house for your holy, holiday, or family traditions, I'll come and relish every moment. 

I hope you find joy and peace in the last two weeks of the year 2011. I hope an email or handmade craft warms your heart. I hope a Christmas Card, New Years Card, or Valentine's Family Greetings (I received all of the above last year) puts a smile on your face and a happy tear in your eye. 

I cherish each and every one of you today and every day.
Much love,

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Hero, Harry Potter

I feel like it's the end of an era. Tonight I watched the final movie of the Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows-2. My love affair with Harry Potter began in Memphis in 2000. On my birthday I received a book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from my dad. I called him and said something like, "what's this book? It looks great." And he said something like, "well, it's the best seller of the millennium and I know you like to read." So I started reading it and was hooked. Low and behold, I went to work one morning soon after starting the book and my boss had a picture of Harry and a Snitch taped to his office door. He explained that his son (who was 10 or 11 at the time) had created it. "He likes Harry Potter?" I exclaimed. Soon I was having a cryptic conversation with the young man. He quite plainly directed me to put down book 4 and go get the first three books so that the story would make much more sense (duh).
So off I went that afternoon to the public library to check out the books. There was a THREE month waiting list for them. All of them. I couldn't believe it. Piqued by this wait, I drove straight to the nearest book store and bought all three books. I purchased one and two in paperback, but had to buy book 3 in hardback because the store was out of the newly released paperback version. I have the rest of the books in hardback. All were pre-ordered and purchased on release day after waiting in long lines. I have never missed a movie. I own the first three movies, although I haven't yet purchased the rest. I'm waiting for the 8 disc set due out at Christmas time probably. JK is nothing if not good at amassing Galleons, eh? You probably get a rubber wand or some banging fizzbees if you are one of the first two million people to pre-order your digitally remastered un-cut scenes silver edition.  I digress...
I have had many literary heroes and heroines in my life. I was passionate about Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series for years. I still have the book set given to me by my parents. It is crumbling with age and many of the front covers are torn or missing.  I felt like Anne Shirley (aka Anne of Green Gables) was my best friend through all eight books chronicling her life story. Those books are so worn, the spines are completely broken. My sister and I have all 56 original Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene. Nancy, Bess, and George were the original triumphant trio before Harry, Hermione, and Ron.  Louisa May Alcott's Jo in Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys was beloved. And more recently, I had a brief, but intense love affair with Percy Jackson--you know, the Lightening Thief? (Incidentally, Rick Riordan saddled his wagon to Disney instead of Warner Brothers. I suppose the jury is still out, but I'm thinking JK is going to come out ahead in the long run.)
The reason I love books so much is because I love words. Never underestimate the power of a good story. We have had fables, fairy tales, sonnets, songs, psalms, proverbs, plays, eulogies, mysteries, legends, speeches, and slogans told and retold, written, and rewritten, throughout the course of history from firesides to battlefields, and every place in between. Words transport us to another time, another place, change our perspective, help us find ourselves, call us to action, bring us to despair, and most importantly express our love.
Harry Potter may not be literature in the strictest sense of the word--it hasn't been around long enough. It didn't win a Pulitzer Prize. You probably wouldn't want to write about it in your Advanced Placement English Essay as an example of the hero on the journey. I have it on good authority by someone who grades those exams that you definitely should stick to "The Iliad." However, JK Rowling has achieved something like immortality with Harry Potter. We love her books because they are about the essence of life seen in it's purest form--the eyes of a child. We learn as Harry learns. We mature as Harry matures. And by the time we leave that angst ridden middle/high youth, we have learned the secret of being a true wizard--the answer is there is no right answer, only love.
Is there a greater journey than discovering the value of love and loyalty and honor and truth? Is there a more bittersweet truth than learning that sometimes things are not what they seem? Truth is not as easy as "good magic" and "dark magic." And loyalty for some (namely the Malfoys in the Harry Potter series) does not extend beyond the boundaries of the nuclear family unit. Is that really wrong? Do you blame them for not having the same strength of character as Harry? We can't all be heroes; that's why we read. That's why we sit around campfires and listen to tall tales. Not all of us are brave enough to pull a sword out of a dirty old hat and slice the head off of a snake like Neville, but we want to believe that somebody is.
I think words are the magical glue that keeps humanity human. For every expression of hate there is a counter expression of love. For every call to bear arms against our neighbors there is a call to peace. For every word used to exercise power over the weak, there is another that liberates the oppressed. For the times when there are no words, we all have our own golden snitch with "I open at the close" written on it. Our memories of those who have gone before us are held in our mind by thoughts; their images drawn on our hearts by their words or deeds.
Perhaps I overreach. After all, the Harry Potter series is just a story. It is a huge blockbuster, money minting, never been anything like it success story; some even say it's now a franchise. While all of that is true, to me Harry Potter is as disarming as "Expelliarmus."  It is a lovely tale about a scrawny little boy with cowlicks (not unlike my son's) and glasses, living unloved in a closet under the stairs who one day grows up and saves the world from the most evil guy there ever was. This little boy braves unbelievable tasks for the love of his parents that he never met, with the help of his friends, the guidance of loving adults, and the belief in the goodness of others whether house elf, half-giant, goblin, muggle, squib, witch or wizard. Thank you Harry Potter for eleven years of beautiful magic.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Sweet Spot

In my sporadic attendance to my Companions group this spring, I have been learning about the sweet spot. We have been discussing the book, "Longing to Pray" and talking about our friendships and what our relationships tell us about our relationship with God. The sweet spot, is that time in which we set aside for God for prayer, listening, meditation, or conversation. In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that I do not find my sweet spot every day, nor do I necessarily find it on consecutive tries.
I am most often successful in finding my sweet spot when I am sitting in my special place. Where on earth would a busy mom's special place be? Mine is as simple as my front porch rocker. Oh how quaint. Oh how trite. Oh how southern grandma of me. Oh how like a country song. Oh seriously are you for real? Yes.
I feel the most at peace there in my rocker and I don't go there often without planning to sit there for some time. There is a purposefulness to my rocking. I deliberately go there when the children are asleep, or busy with something else, or at school, or off with their father on an adventure. I like to read there, but mostly I simply be.
I find simply being allows me to experience a full range of emotions about a full range of thoughts. I worry over the children. I take stock of my marriage. I  think about my family. I wonder about my friends. I ponder the possibilities.  I drink in the scenery and never fail to be grateful for the beauty around me in all four seasons. 
Experiencing the four seasons from my rocker is in essence how I channel my inner peace. While peace takes many forms, my inner peace starts with gratitude.  And for me, gratitude starts with a clear picture of something for which I am thankful. I am grateful for our beautiful world. I've been many fabulous places and experienced more wonderful things than most people. I appreciate beauty in a multitude of forms. The view from my front porch however, is where I am most grateful for the beauty of the earth. In the winter time I listen to what the wind has to say to me. In the spring I feel more alive somehow. In the summer I appreciate the heat and humidity pressing around me. In the fall, the air seems cleaner and sharper.
 Once my channeling is underway a welling up from somewhere deep within me inevitably causes the tears to flow. I am so overcome with thankfulness for my life and everything in it. For it takes everything--good, bad, ugly, pretty, simple, complicated, hurtful, or healing--in my life to make it a beautiful life. Here then, is the sweet spot. Now I am open to God. What does he want me to hear? What does he have to say to me? What in my life is really worth bringing to our joint attention? When I'm in my sweet spot, I seem to know what needs talking about. What I need to bring before God isn't always pretty, and is often ugly behavior on my part. But what is ugly about our actions reminds us what we need to do to make our lives beautiful again. So the tears come. And the repentance, and the forgiveness, and the grace to go on making mistakes.
I encourage you to take the time to find your special place. Where is your sweet spot? Where are you the most alive? The most attentive to the sound of silence? Go there and find your inner peace.

For the Beauty of the Earth
By John Rutter
(I'm writing this from memory...summer of 7th grade, Appalachian State University Choral Camp...so forgive me if I miss a word or two. I'm singing the alto line in my head just now trying to remember it all.)
For the beauty of the earth
For the beauty of the skies
For the love which from our birth
over and around us lies
over and around us lies
Lord of all to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn
of praise.
For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night
hill and vale
and tree and flower
sun and moon and stars of night
sun and moon and stars of night
Lord of all to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise.
This our joyful hymn, our hymn of praise.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

I am disappointed that I couldn't come up with anything profound to send to my friends this Mother's Day. But I'm not disappointed in how I have spent my day. I enjoyed lunch that I didn't have to make or clean up with the two mothers in my life--my own mother and my mother-in-law. I have spent time reading a new book (my favorite activity). I took a nap. I sat in my rocking chair on the front porch and drank in the beauty of the earth around me (until the bees and pollen sent me inside). Now I am typing while my husband makes dinner and the boys are "helping" him by generally being in the way. Not a bad way to celebrate a day that's all about me, right?
I decided that it was okay for me to do these somewhat selfish things because it gave me time to recharge my battery and refill my love tank. When my boys need me I want to fill the need. When my friends call me, I want to help. When the world needs action, I want to be able to heed the call. I cannot do these things if I am empty and used up. Hence the pause today to refill my cup. I am grateful that I have the opportunity in my life to do so and I am thankful to those around me who provided me with the time off--my husband and my father-in-law who so intuitively understand what I need and when I need it. It's uncanny in a man to find that, and I seem to have two men in my life who get it.
So to my family of friends (and my family members), I say with deep gratitude in my heart, Happy Mother's Day. Thank you for mothering me with your care. Thank you for mothering me with your love. Thank you for supporting me in my journey as a mother and helping me mother those around me. Thank you for the example of mothering you have brought into my life. Thank you to all the mothers who have blazed the trail before me and made my path easier. And to all those who love, shelter, and provide for mothers this day and all days, thank you for your devotion to us.

Friday, April 1, 2011


     I haven't blogged in a long time. It seems I'm going to have to return to my old schedule of actually scheduling time to write, because free time doesn't materialize on its own. I've been kicking this topic around for a long time in my head. I've been afraid to write about this subject, because putting it in print seems more daunting than an earnest conversation among friends on somebody's back porch. But I've been known to put myself out there. So here goes...
     Abstinence is such a no-no word in our culture and I don't know why. It is the single best piece of common sense I can think of to impart to my children. When you talk about abstinence with your children you can't just say, "Don't do it because it's wrong." Abstinence is a life style choice. Abstinence says, "this is who I am, what I stand for, and where my boundaries are." Abstinence is about so much more than "not doing it" (whatever doing "it" is anymore).
     When you teach abstinence you have to explain the concept of self-worth. Believe it or not, as a parent, you've been teaching abstinence your child's entire life. For example, "we don't say shut up in this house." or, "we don't hit our friends." or, "you don't talk to your mother that way." The list goes on. Abstinence, in a broad sense, is refraining from behaviors or actions with which you don't agree, or you find harmful or damaging in some way to yourself and others. For the most part, we as parents don't let our kids do something that could hurt them or their friends do we? (Please note, I do know there are instances where natural consequences come into play--I've told you twenty thousand times not to jump off the fence. I'm not going to tell you anymore and when you break your arm and are out of baseball all summer because you wouldn't listen, you'll learn.)
     I'm going to start with sex/intercourse/doing it/shagging--pick a current phrase. I would like to point out that sex is everywhere. Our culture is bombarded with it on almost every level in every medium every hour of the day and night. Sex is important to talk about because sex is so much more than the actual act of copulation. The advent of technology forces us as parents to be even more vigilant. It isn't just "fast girls" or "bad boys" or "provocative dressing" or "bad reputations"anymore. We have sexting and Facebook and YouTube.  Taking your clothes off for somebody may not be the act of intercourse, but you are well on your way to the murky choppy waters of sexual behavior.  Kids today know six ways to Sunday how to "do stuff that's everything but [intercourse]." That just plain scares the pants off of me. I don't care who you are, how old you are, or how hip you think you are, it should scare you too.
     How many times do we hear things like, "I just wanted him/her to love me." "I just wanted to fit in." "Everybody is doing it." Really? Are you going to jump off a bridge too? When you love another person or another person loves you, it is the essence of that person that is loved, not their body. Sex is an expression of love sanctioned by God for the end result of procreation among consenting adults who are usually married. You can take sex out of the picture and still have love and intimacy. If you take love out of the picture, all you've got is a short term athletic event. You can't make someone love you if you don't first love yourself. Loving yourself is the key to self-worth. This is an incredibly difficult thing for young adults to understand.  I didn't understand for years. It takes practice and work to figure out how to love yourself.
    And for my friends and foes alike who prefer not to put God in the mix when talking about sex, let me offer another explanation. When you love another person or another person loves you, it is the essence of that person that is loved, not their body. Sex is a consensual act between two people who trust each other. Sex is generally seen as an expression of love, but should not be confused with love. Sex is not intimacy. Sex is not proof of identity, or ownership, or relationship.
     For others who still grimace at my definitions, I'll give you another reason abstinence is still the best policy:  Education. Education. Education. The most reliable way to make sure you have a future is to learn a trade, a skill, or find a career path that will enable self sufficiency. Putting yourself at risk of derailing those plans with an unwanted pregnancy (sex), disease (sex or illicit intravenous drugs), or brain injury (drugs, driving under the influence) is an awfully big gamble. When you lose, you lose big. Again, the concept of self-worth arises. Aren't you worth planning a future for? What do you want to do? Where do you want to go? Who could you be if you thought it was really worth trying for?
      Dear readers, please don't think I don't believe in young love. I do actually think love at first sight and high school sweethearts are both real and highly romantic entities. Please don't think I find teenagers to be stupid, vapid, shallow, remorseless, mindless, or just plain dumb. I think teenagers are feisty, creative, independent, curious, interesting, and sometimes quite charming, but also very young, highly inexperienced, prone to impulse, and not well-practiced in self-denial, or patience. Just in case you're wondering, abstinence doesn't apply only to girls--I have two sons. Please don't think I believe pre-marital sex causes life-long damage or leads to a one-way ticket to hell. Not true.
     I was once a teenager. I did go to high school--with boys. I was once a college freshman. There were boys and parties and alcohol and drugs in college. I learned a few lessons the hard way. Sometimes learning the hard way is the only way, but that doesn't mean grown-ups should stop trying to teach the lesson.  If I can make some of those hard choices easier by preaching abstinence to my children early, I'm absolutely going to do it.
     As a young adult, I often said crushing things about my own parents. I thought they were old meanies who didn't want me to have any fun. I thought they didn't understand me. And sometimes, I thought they were more than unreasonable. What I didn't know then, but have appreciated for many years now, is that they gave me the gift of self-worth by helping me keep myself out of trouble. They gave me the gift of a long youth so that I had time to navigate the murky waters of adult behavior. They gave me the gift of boundaries so "just saying no" to impaired driving and experimenting with drugs and staying out of the backseat of cars was an easy choice. They were by no means perfect in this regard, but the message was clear. You don't have to be a hard-ass to make your message clear (although it's probably not a bad idea every now and then). In fact, most experts say flexibility is an unlikely ally here. There are ways to give a little to get a little from your child without compromising your message or the boundaries.
     I was by no means perfect, but I did know what I wanted for myself. I believed that a college education was mine for the taking if I wanted it. I believed that the right guy to love on every level would come along someday, but he would want an intelligent person to talk to when we weren't having sex! I believed that drugs was a bad idea period. I believed driving while impaired was just stupid and that if and when I chose to drink under age, I was going to have to be responsible for the risks I was taking. I believed all those things because I had a sense of self-worth. I believed my life was meaningful and I had something to offer other people. Incidentally, I still believe my life is meaningful. I still believe I have something to offer people. And I still believe that if and when I choose to drink, the alcohol is not responsible for my actions, I am.
    Believing your life is meaningful and that you have something to offer is basically the bottom line when you talk about abstinence.  I don't understand why we aren't preaching these ideas from the front of every middle/high school gymnasium and auditorium in the country. I don't understand how handing out condoms and explaining how birth control pills work to teenagers replaces the idea that keeping your eyes on the prize will keep you out of trouble.
     The accepted lamentation of "well they're just going to do it anyway and we might keep a few unwanted pregnancies from happening" is pathetic. It's a poor excuse. It's a lazy thought process and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We as a culture make a huge mistake and thoroughly under-mind our children's self-worth when we only preach "safer sex." The concept of safe sex implies sex is inherently unsafe. Wow, what a mixed message to send to a child. Let's make sex even harder to figure out. Where is the frank discussion of the emotional toll on your health and well-being? Where is the open dialogue to help our kids navigate their feelings and their fears and their questions? Why is it socially acceptable to talk about safe sex physically but not emotionally?
     Do I support wearing condoms among sexually active people--teenagers or adults? Absolutely. Am I going to give condoms to my teenage son with a "just in case buddy" and walk out of the room? Hell no. Am I going to sit him down at the kitchen table for a long and very uncomfortable talk about the responsibilities of unzipping his jeans? You're damned right. Am I going to tell him that girls will interrupt his college dreams? Yes. Will we talk about birth control and disease? Of course. Am I going to preach against any and all drugs? Every single solitary time. Am I going to enforce the legal drinking age in my home? You betcha. I'm his parent. That's my job. Am I going to be understanding and try my best to help him navigate true loves and false loves and just plain hormones? Yes, yes, yes. Why will I do all this heart-wrenching, gut-busting, terrifying, hard to talk about stuff? Because I believe in his worth as an individual.
     Self-worth is one of the greatest gifts we can instill in our children. We have to plant the seeds during their youth and hope that as they mature into adults, they become masters of their own self-worth. I believe self-worth begins with abstinence. Abstinence is not a dirty word. It's not old-fashioned. It's not frigid, naive, or unhealthy. Abstinence is the freedom to say, "this is where I draw my boundaries" on any activity from sky diving to sexting.  Abstinence is about believing that you, not pop culture, not your friends, not the crowd, choose the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your behavior. Abstinence is about so much more than "not doing it."