Tag Archives: life lessons

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

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On Tuesday Grace and I headed over to the movie theater to enjoy a noon showing of a film we have both been eagerly anticipating for months:

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Knowing the boys probably wouldn’t enjoy this documentary on Mr. Rogers, we decided to make it on of our girls’ week activities. We were doubly excited for this particular viewing because we were watching it from the comfort of Robinson Cinemark’s luxury loungers. I had never experienced anything like it before. Leather recliners had replaced the traditional upright movie seats and each chair came with a tray for those who opted to order dinner from the concession stand. Talk about fancy shmancy! And all for the discounted Tuesday price of $5.25 per ticket!

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Grace and I found our seats and settled in for the show.

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Fred Rogers is one of my personal heroes. I loved him as a child but as an adult, especially as the mother of hurt children, I look to his example as the epitome of powerful parenting, loving acceptance, and Christ-like living.

The older I get the more I desire to be a “Mr. Rogers” in a world of chaos, unkindness, judgement, and cynicism.

It has been said that Mr. Rogers often carried around a note in his pocket that was given to him by a friend of his who was a social worker. The note read, ” Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” He carried these words with him as a reminder of that truth and his life was a reflection of that philosophy.

Mr. Rogers was my childhood friend. Every day during “arsenic hour,” as my mother called it…that fragile hour before dinner when everyone was hungry and tired and emotional..my mom would place us in the care of Mr. Rogers while she went to get dinner on the table. She walked away knowing that we were in good hands and for a half an hour we learned the most important of life lessons.

From our television neighbor I learned some of the most powerful and poignant of life’s lessons…

1. I learned the key to success:
“There are 3 ways to ultimate success. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

2. I learned what it meant to be a hero:
“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”

3. I learned the value of play:
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves we are helping them to feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit.”

4. I learned the power of words:
“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person…One kind word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”

5. I learned that it takes a neighborhood:
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It is easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

6. I learned that we are important:
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

7. I learned that love is a choice:
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

8. But the main lessons I learned as I sat and watched him change his shoes were…   I had value, I was loved, and I was okay just the way I was:
“I am just so proud of all of you who have grown up with us, and I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger…I like you just the way you are.”

What a profound lesson. I think the greatest lesson I have learned during this adoption journey is the importance of loving people (particularly children) as they are, rather than trying to make them into more “loveable” children.

It is a lesson that so many need to hear. Your value has nothing to do with what you have, how you look, the choices you’ve made, the life you’ve lived, or the talents you possess. Like Mr. Rogers would say, “You have value because of who you are.”

“It’s you I like.

It’s not the things you wear,

it’s not the way you do your hair.

It’s you I like…”

Soon the lights dimmed and everyone’s favorite Pittsburgh neighbor appeared on the screen.

“From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination.”

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It was amazing and moving and Grace and I both left the theater inspired to be more, to do more, and to love more..

In a world filled with judgement and hate let us be a loving light of acceptance.

Perhaps we all need to ponder on the wisdom of Mr. Rogers more often. The world would probably be a much nicer place..

“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day.

Since we’re together we might as well say:

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won’t you be my neighbor..”

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Grace posing with the Mr. Rogers memorial statue in Pittsburgh on the 4th of July.

Jesus, take the Wheel

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I get the feeling God is trying to teach me something.

I have felt this way all year.

This has been the most trying, challenging, exhausting, tear-inducing, fear-inducing year of my life.

We have spent the last 9 months trying to resurface as wave after wave has crashed over us, pushing us back down.

And as I have struggled to regain my footing and make sense of each trial, I have begun to understand the purpose behind the struggle.

This year has been a year of learning to let go, trust God, and give up control…

and obviously I still haven’t learned because, well, here we go again.

I recognize that one of my greatest sins is control and pride. My perceived worth is rooted in my ability to do and manage. I struggle with trusting more in my own management ability over my Heavenly Father’s, and I know that to be true by the complete feeling of panic I have when He leads me down a path I haven’t signed off on.

And the more out of control my life becomes the worse I get.

It seems that the more precarious our stability is as a family the more iron clad my grip on control becomes, certain that if I loosen my hold even a little this already unstable house of cards in going down!

And it is an exhausting way to live.

I find God responding by slowly and deliberately peeling my white-knuckled fingers off the situation as He asks me once again to trust Him.

And the irony in all of this is that I have no reason to trust my plan over His plan. He has proven time and time again that He makes a far better God over my life than I do. He has shown me that His ways are always better and that I can trust in His plan…and yet I continue to battle for control.

Which inevitably leads to “Jesus, take the wheel” moments…

those moments in life when God allows complete powerlessness so as to allow for complete trust and dependence.

It always begins with a tap on the shoulder, followed by a shake and then a shove, and when all efforts are ignored the Lord then lets me fall so that I will reach out for His hands to catch me.

My life has felt incredibly out of control these last few months. In addition to real, hard, heartbreaking trials, we have also been adjusting to the coming waves of change as Grace graduates high school and begins college. All these situations have resulted in sleepless nights and anxiety as I feel my grip of control loosening and the reality that I can’t fix, protect, or ensure anything about the future that is coming hits me.

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And the harder I grip, the more God works on me,

providing experiences and testimony building moments that force me to throw up my hands, trusting that His plan is better than mine, and surrender my control with the simple statement of faith:

“Jesus, take the wheel!”

Now while I have been using that faith statement metaphorically these last few months, this past week it became quite literal and breathtakingly real.

The time had come to register Grace for her fall classes. We had been putting this off due in large part to the unpredictability and instability of our lives right now (and maybe a little of that iron grip issue I was talking about) but we finally committed to make it happen and after breakfast climbed into the van to drive to CCAC.

We were traveling on the turnpike at a good clip, sandwiched between the cement barrier and a tractor trailer going 65 mph in the lane to our right, when I heard a sonic “BOOM.”

My first thought was that there had been an accident just behind us. A quick look in the rearview mirror negated this possibility. My second thought was that the tractor trailer to our right blew a tire.

Within a second or two I knew it wasn’t the tractor trailer, it was us, as I fought to keep control of my van as the shreds of tire ricocheted of the wheel well against the cement barrier.

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It was a true “Jesus, take the wheel” moment.

With strength beyond my own and clarity of mind that was God-driven, I somehow managed to keep the van in the lane, so as to avoid what could have been a fatal collision with a concrete barrier or a speeding semi, and then pull the van over through two lanes of traffic, and off the road without being hit.

Talk about adrenaline!

I could have probably picked up the van and carried it the rest of the way with the amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins.

But, I didn’t.

Instead I called my knight who arrived in his white charger with a spare tire and saved me from a long hike home.

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The force of the tire explosion was evident by the fair amount of damage done by the flying tire pieces, including bent metal around the wheel well and my step’s cover being torn off.

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All was well in the end. We were all safe. The tire was replaced. We made it to registration and Grace locked in her place in the ASL program and eagerly anticipates what promises to be an exciting adventure in the fall.

As for my little “control issue,”

God, your message is coming through strong and clear.

No need for more object lessons.

I surrender.

“Jesus, take the Wheel.”

“Balloon Bonanza!”

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The easy road…

what a temptation it is to the busy, the tired, the stressed out, and weary.

In the midst of a busy life the easy road can look “So good!”

But rarely does it take you where you think it will.

I have been raised to understand that there are no “short cuts” in life. In the long run we always pay for those time-saving detours we are tempted by. Whether speaking of child rearing, marriages, school, employment, exercise, hobbies, or water balloons (yes, water balloons) the short cut never pays.

I know this, and yet as I stood in the checkout line next to the “As Seen on TV” display I caved.

Tomorrow Gracie is having a Storybook Day at our home and one of her activities is a water balloon fight. I knew I had an unopened pack of 500 water balloons at home so when I saw the package reading:

“Balloon Bonanza- the new way to fill and seal water balloons in just seconds!”

I didn’t plan on making a purchase,

but I did move in for a closer look.

First I glanced around to make sure there was no one I knew nearby.

The “As Seen on TV” aisle of the supermarket is just one of those spots in the store that no one admits to browsing.

It’s like the gossip magazines we all claim we don’t read while waiting in line behind the woman with 20 cat food coupons.

“I only open them to check out the recipes, I swear!” 🙂

We all know the “As Seen on TV” products are overpriced, “Made in China” gimmicks, but the pull is still there.

So I moved in for a closer look (once I was sure the coast was clear.)

I picked up the package and read about the features and benefits:

“Fill and seal 40 water balloons in seconds.”

“They automatically tie themselves.”

“No assembly required.”

“Compact design so you can take it anywhere!”

“Surely this is too good to be true,” I thought to myself.

I glanced at the price…

$9.99

Yikes! I knew I shouldn’t. I couldn’t believe I was even contemplating this unnecessary and crazy purchase,

but all I could think was:

“Fill 40 water balloons in just seconds!”

No more exploding balloons. No more drenched clothes. No more numb fingers and thumbs.

I took a quick look around, pulled the package off the shelf, and hid it under the cereal boxes in my cart, just in case I ran into someone I knew. I headed for the self-checkout aisle, not wanting to deal with the pitying, self-righteous looks I was bound to get from the cashier who would never make such a foolish purchase. 🙂

I came home and after a day filled with preparations for Gracie’s Storybook Day it was time to tackle the last item on the “to do” list: the filling of the water balloons.

Rusty offered to take one for the team and help Mom with the dreaded task of filling and tying 500 water balloons.

Well, you can imagine the look of delight that came over his 13-year-old face when his cool Momma pulled out

“Balloon Bonanza!”

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“I’ve always wanted to try these!” he exclaimed with excitement.

We read the “easy to follow” instructions, attached the “no assembly needed” balloon-filler to the hose, and watched as the 40 balloons filled at one time and then popped off the end of the tubes, already sealed shut with small rubber bands.

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“Wow…amazing!” we exclaimed like the cheesy actors on the infomercial.

In a matter of minutes 120 balloons were filled.

And about 10 minutes later they were empty again.

We couldn’t believe it ( well maybe we could a little) when the balloons leaked all their water out, leaving 120 empty water balloons floating in a pool of water.

I should have known better but the pull of “easy” was too great.

The next 2 hours were spent hand-filling 300 of the 500 water balloons I already had in the closet.

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They stayed filled,

and while we filled, and tied, and filled, and tied

we talked.

We talked until our thumbs were numb and our clothes were dripping.

For two hours Rusty and I sat in the yard, watching the sun set on a perfect summer evening, and had uninterrupted mother/son bonding time.

It wasn’t the quickest solution, but it was the longest lasting. Our water balloons stayed filled and we made memories that will outlast the tedious task of filling 300 water balloons.

It was also a perfect opportunity to teach a valuable life lesson:

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

and

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

and most importantly…

“ALWAYS avoid the ‘As seen on TV’ aisle at the grocery store.”

If you have to hide it under the cereal in your shopping cart

you probably shouldn’t be buying it. 😉

Lesson learned.

If I die young…

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It is the middle of the night.

We leave in 2 1/2 hours, at 3:00am to board a bus for Mount Vernon, Virginia.

I should be sleeping but I can’t turn my brain off.

Oh, how I envy my sweet husband, snoring next to me, who can simply shut off the worries of his day and sleep.

This week a friend passed away.

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We haven’t talked in a few years but this friend had a life changing effect on my life. This friend was the one who started our home school co-op group. She saw a need and worked to meet that need by creating a venue for our children to gather, and learn, and for friendships (kids and mommas) to be forged. Meeting her on a cyber school field trip put me on a path that forever changed my life. Her effort has blessed my life abundantly. My children have blossomed, learning has taken place, memories have been made, and friendships have been formed. I owe her so much.

It is funny how the Lord uses us to answer the prayers of others…

and uses others to put us on the paths we need to be on.

Sometime friendships are life-long, but so often friendships are seasonal. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t real, or deep, or special, or valuable, it just means they are there to meet a need or serve a purpose, and then the Lord sends us on to the next friend that needs us.

Or the next friend that we need.

This friend came into my life during a season of transition when I needed support and encouragement. I was graduating from MOPS and moving out of the toddler/ preschool phase of life and entering the world of home schooling. I was nervous, insecure, and lacked a support system. I joined co-op just as it was beginning and immediately felt like I had come home. The past 10 years have been all the sweeter as a result.

I look at the profound role this dear friend played in my life. She affected the lives of so many, far more than she probably ever realized. We haven’t talked in a few years but I was heartbroken to hear of her tragic passing. It has affected me profoundly…

Perhaps because the loss feels so personal. She is me. She was living my life, she was my peer, with kids the same age. In a moment their lives were changed forever. It makes me all the more aware of my own mortality and the fleeting nature of life. In a moment it can be over.

The reality of these thoughts have been all-consuming this week as I consider my own life…

as I look at my own children…

as I listen to my husband snore next to me in the dark.

What would I say if tomorrow were my last day? What would I want my children to know?

So here it is. My words to my babies…

If I die young:

1. I love you. Oh, how I love you. I never understood the power of love until I held you in my arms. In loving you I better understand how my Father in Heaven feels about me, and I am humbled. I worried, with each addition, that I wouldn’t have enough love in me to go around, but I discovered love is sort of magical. It grows and multiplies until it is spilling out of your very soul. There is no limit to it.

I can’t wait until you each hold your first baby and feel the love I’m talking about. Then you will understand the love I have for you.

2. Being kind is the most important thing. More than being pretty or smart or talented. It is important to remember that everyone you will meet in your life is fighting a hard battle. It could be sickness, infertility, the loss of a loved one, financial struggles, a loss of faith, addiction. Everyone has a burden they carry. Most of these burdens are hidden and you will probably not even know they are there, so it is imperative that you be kind to everyone. Be kind to those who deserve it, but more importantly be kind to those who don’t. They are the ones who need it most.

Nothing has greater value in this world than kindness and if you can be nothing else, be kind.

3. The answer to life is found in JOY. The acronym is simple. Jesus first, Others second, then Yourself. By following this blueprint you will always have joy, because contrary to what the world is shouting at you, real joy comes from forgetting yourself and serving others.

4. Build a relationship with your Father…earthy and heavenly. They both love you dearly and want the best for you. These relationships are built from TIME. Your relationship will grow and sweeten as you spend time together, communicate, listen, and follow their guidance.

5. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, only how you are doing it. I don’t care what vocation you choose. I see no more value in being a doctor than a handyman. I only hope you will let God lead your steps as you seek out your life’s path…

and whatever you find yourself doing, do it well. Work hard, give it 100%, do your best. If you can learn early the enjoyment that comes from a job well done you will always find life enjoyable…for there will always be work to do.

6. How you treat someone who can do nothing for you says more about your character than anything else. Remember this when choosing friends or considering a future spouse.

How do they treat animals, children, the janitor, the homeless man on the corner, or the man behind the counter waiting on them? That is the real test of character.

7. Embrace plan B. Your life will be full of plan Bs. Those unexpected roads and course changes that go against your plans. They are often disappointing and it can be hard to embrace plan B when you are struggling to let go of the dream you had. Just remember that your plan B is often God’s plan A…

and His plan is always better!

8. Be grateful. Gratitude is the  father of all other virtues and the key to growth and happiness. Count your blessings and change your life. Something as simple as listing your blessings can change everything…

it may not change the circumstances, but it will change you.

Say thank you. Express gratitude to your Heavenly Father and to others. Take the time to write a thank you note when someone does something kind.

Please be grateful.

9. When it comes to relationships you get what you think you deserve in life. This is a hard one and its root is found in the way you see yourself. You have divine worth and you must believe that. For when you truly understand your great value in the eyes of your Heavenly Father you will attract a spouse who also sees that value in you. Unfortunately, I have also seen the opposite be true.

Believe you are a royal daughter or son of a Heavenly King and you will attract royalty.

10. Live today…really live! So often we postpone the important for the urgent, spending our days racing around “putting out fires,” and never really living. Each day is a gift from God and how you use that day is your gift to Him. So for today be present. Stop and see. Experience the world around you. Listen to the words of those you love, really listen. Work, and pray, and laugh, and love a little more. Practice patience.  Say your sorry and forgive…

Forgive others. Forgive yourself.

Give that compliment, and hug those you love a little tighter for a little longer. Share your testimony. Dream big dreams…

and enjoy the journey,

every twist and turn,

because it is an amazing ride!

“If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present…Gratefully.” – Maya Angelou