Monthly Archives: November 2005

Cold Weather Survival Tip #11

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Just a little word of caution:

If you ever move from Georgia to nothern Idaho, there’s a chance that one day you will drop your car keys deep into the snow and have to fish them out with your bare hand because, being a southern girl, you will forget to bring your gloves, despite the fact that there are tiny icicles hanging from the hairs inside of your nose.

When you do, be sure to dry the key off completely before you stick it into your door lock. Otherwise, the melted snow will seep into the lock and refreeze at a later time, leaving you standing, coatless (because you never learn, do you?), in the middle of the mall parking lot twenty minutes after it closes, balancing packages on both hips, bent over awkwardly at the waist, huffing and puffing into the keyhole to melt the ice so that you can get home.

Hypothetically.

A Moment of Thanks

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It’s Thanksgiving Day, and before the tryptophan kicks in, leaving me sprawled and snoring in front of the Broncos game, I thought I’d take a moment to remember what this holiday is all about.

Dressing.

Or maybe you call it stuffing, depending on whether you bake it in a pan (as I do), or indelicately cram it into the abdominal cavity of a plucked and beheaded turkey. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not some sort of PETA nut, bent on liberating fruit flies or turning McDonald’s into a salad bar. I can put away roast turkey like a Viking wench with a drumstick in each hand, but for me, the whole stuffing of the bird sort of crosses the line into poultry violation.

Either way, all I’m saying is that dressing is a central feature of any holiday dinner, and it definitely inspires a certain thankfulness in my heart.

Speaking of thankfulness, because we probably should, we have a sweet Thanksgiving tradition in my family in which we go around the table and take turns, between bites of cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, sharing what we’re most thankful for. Obviously, the big four always feature prominently: God, family, friends, health. In fact, next year I’m considering passing out a top ten “Things I’m Thankful For” list with those four already filled in. Because I’m interested in hearing those other six, the little unsung blessings of each life which, taken together, add the flavoring of gratitude to our everyday experiences. For example:

I’m thankful for…

…the five french fries that fall to the bottom of the fast food bag, allowing me to claim them for my own, despite the fact that I didn’t order any fries. “No-man’s-fries” I call them. They taste exquisite with my salad, and I still feel faintly righteous.

…”elegant” days, when all my clothes fit just right, and I glide around with my back straight and my head high, smiling archly over my shoulder and feeling just a teeny, tiny bit like Audrey Hepburn.

…Judy at the Chevron, who remembers my name and my poison (a 52 oz. Extreme Gulp refill of Diet Coke), and manages to really see every customer, engaging each one personally beyond the digital total on the gas pump.

…300 thread count sheets, a small indulgence that makes slipping into bed beside my love even more delicious than it already is.

…the year’s first snowfall which delights the senses no matter how many times you’ve seen it before. It blankets the landscape, brings a hush to the woods, and gives me a chance to whitewash* Paul.

…my giant desk, the wide, flat surface that collects the flotsam of my thoughts and endeavors and holds my favorite things secreted in its drawers and cubbies. It takes up space, and I love to take up space.

I could keep going, but I think I’d like to hear yours.

*”A typical whitewash consists of rubbing a handful of snow into someone’s face causing severe coldness and temporary blindness.” –Oliver Sharpe, Aspen Daily News

Good News

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I’ve got it all, but I feel so deprived
I go up, I come down and I’m emptier inside
Tell me what is this thing that I feel like I’m missing
And why can’t I let go

[Chorus]
There’s gotta be more to life…
Than chasing down every temporary high to satisfy me
Cause the more that I’m…
Tripping out thinking there must be more to life
Well it’s life, but I’m sure…
there’s gotta be more
Than wanting more

I’ve got the time and I’m wasting it slowly
Here in this moment I’m half way out the door
Onto the next thing, I’m searching for something that’s missing

[repeat chorus]
Than waiting on something other than this
Why am I feelin’ like there’s something I missed…..

Stacie Orrico, More To Life

***

Looking back through my past entries, I realized that I’ve made vague references to my faith in God, but I’ve never been clear about what I believe to be true. And it’s so important to be clear. It’s the one greatest gift I have to share, and I can’t count myself a friend to anyone I haven’t told.

***

I guess I can’t share my faith without first telling you that I believe the Bible to be the absolute truth—the unimpeachable, inspired words of God to humanity. It’s a love story—THE love story—and we are the beloved.

I was born into a believing family—a non-denominational group—and grew up going to services every Sunday and Wednesday. Being raised by Christians was a mixed blessing. I memorized a lot of scriptures and knew a lot of Bible stories. I know that even then the seed of truth was being planted by my parents’ prayerful efforts, but growing up in the church made it easy to let the language of faith flow over me without ever really sinking in and penetrating my heart. I knew all the “answers”, but a relationship with God eluded me—not that I was searching very hard.

I did all the typical flirting with disaster when I was a teenager, and then, suddenly, I was on my own, in college, free to find my own way. The background noise of “faith by default” receded, and I had to open my eyes and discover whether what I’d been taught had any value, any truth. And that’s the thing about the truth. It is unchanging, absolute, but every person is responsible for finding it for herself—no matter who her family is or what the name on the sign outside her church building says. (II Corinthians 13:5, I Timothy 2:3-4, I Thessalonians 5:21)

Do you ever have the feeling that there’s got to be more to this life than what we see and have and do and buy? That there’s a whole layer of reality that we’re just missing because we’re limited to what we can take in with our five senses? Well, there is. There’s a much bigger story here, and our place in it is not small—but many of us are asleep to it, wrapped up as we are in the busy daily details of our existence.

I’m happy to say that after years of listening to the gospel message expounded, elaborated upon, and dissected, the simple truth of the good news of Jesus Christ finally touched me and became real to me. Here it is:

God created us for a relationship with Him. He loves us, and nothing can change that. Ever. (Romans 8:37-39)

Our sin separates us from God. All of us. Every single one. The sin of the liar, the prideful, or the gossip is no less than the sin of the murderer. And the punishment for sin is death. (Romans 3:22-24, Romans 6:23)

God came down and walked among us, lived a blameless life, died a painful death willingly in our place, and was raised on the third day, all to reconcile us to Himself. Because of His love, He broke the power sin and death had over us. If we accept his gift, He washes our guilt away, no matter what we’ve done. (Romans 5:8-11, I Corinthians 15:3-5)

We can know (know!!!) that we have the gift of eternal life—no second guessing, no hoping that things will somehow manage to turn out all right in the end, no wondering if we’ve made the right choices. We can have complete confidence in the future and even face death with peace and joy if we are in Christ. (I John 5:11-13)

Here is how to accept the free gift of God:

*Hear the truth. (Romans 10:17 –If you’ve actually read this all the way through, you’ve done it already.)
*Believe and confess that Jesus is the Son of God, who came to earth as a man and was raised from the dead. (Romans 3:22, Romans 10:9)
*Repent and turn away from your old sins. (Romans 6:6-7, II Corinthians 7:10)
*Be baptized, by immersion, into Christ, receiving forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-4, Acts 22:16)
*Live for Him. (Colossians 1:9-14)

Without having the back and forth of dialogue, I’m trying to imagine what you might be thinking as you read this. Maybe “I’ve heard all this before,” or “Katrina’s a nice girl, but she obviously doesn’t live in the real world!” Or any one of a hundred other things…I don’t know. I don’t know what makes some people meet the truth with hostility or defensiveness, while others recognize it and hold fast to it. All I can do is give you what I have, and send it out with a prayer that it will find you with your heart open to searching out the truth for yourself. A lot of people have closed the door on what God wants to say to them, with one excuse or another as their shield against what might be uncomfortable to them in the message of Christ. The Bible even says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” Many won’t respond to Christ’s invitation, but I still need to—want to—share it! “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)

Because of Christ, we have hope, we have a family, and we can experience joy even in our trials—while all around us despair—because we realize that this life, with all its ups and downs, will seem like just a dream when we get home. (II Corinthians 4:16-18, Romans 8:28) Christ is the answer to life’s biggest question marks. What is my purpose? Where am I going? Does anyone truly know me, or love me? When Jesus enters your life, that nagging sense of emptiness leaves it. Following Him is not the easy road, but it’s the right one, the true one, filled with adventure and meaning and a place in the biggest story of all.

***

There’s a lot more I’d love to talk to you about—what God has done in my life and Paul’s, the struggles and victories I’ve had in my walk with the Lord, amazing things I’ve realized, stuff I don’t understand yet about God’s plan—but I feel like I’ve talked enough for now, and I’d like to hear more of your thoughts. Besides, I’ve already told you what’s most important.

By the way, I’m sure you noticed I used a lot of scripture references—I hope you look them up. Sometimes people wonder how we know that the Bible is really God’s word, and why we should trust it. After all, it’s useless to point out scripture to teach the truth if the person you’re talking to doesn’t believe the Bible is real! If that is where you are, tell me! When I finally decided to start from the beginning and figure out what I believed, I wondered the same thing. I searched and found so much evidence supporting the Bible’s claims that it blew me away…there is no book in the world like it! I’d be glad to point out the resources I found.

Anyway, I’m signing off for now—thank you so much for letting me share what really matters to me. You’re all in my prayers.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

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It’s that time again! Time to dig out the ornaments, unearth the endless strings of lights (each with exactly one bad bulb in it), and root through the storage boxes in search of caroling snowmen and handmade stockings! I have, once again, won the Christmas decorating showdown!

It starts every year on the first of November. Just when everyone else is groaning over the sudden appearance of Christmas trees at Walmart–before the Halloween candy is even put on clearance–I start to feel a little tingle in my skin and a lightness to my step, signaling the rush of cinnamon-scented holiday hormones into my system. I hear those sleigh bells jingling–ring-ting-tingling, too–and I get out my scarf and mittens, even if it’s still sixty degrees outside. I find myself humming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as I do the grocery shopping, and the endless lists of what to buy for whom pleasantly consume my waking thoughts. I buy ingredients for pounds of homemade peanut butter fudge and gallons of spiced cider, and I light enough candles to make the apartment smell like pine trees and gingerbread until next summer. I prod Katie to start her letter to Santa, a missive which I know from experience will be written, edited, and rewritten several times before it reaches its final destination in my file of Christmas memorabilia.

And I start to work on Paul.

Let me start by saying that I am not crazy. Clearly, the idea of putting up Christmas decorations before Halloween is patently ridiculous.

But what’s wrong with starting in November? Christmas isn’t just a holiday, after all; it’s a season. I believe, of course, that the ideals of love, family, giving, and joy are meant to saturate our lives throughout the year. But for a couple of months every year, Hallmark and Toys ‘R’ Us happily join in on the fun–shouldn’t that fun start as soon as possible?

Not long after we were married, I discovered that Paul, like many others, doesn’t feel a need to decorate for Christmas until the weekend after Thanksgiving. Very logical. Very reasonable. Very sensible.

The woman he married, on the other hand, is really none of those things. I want Christmas–and the earlier the better!

The first time I got Paul to budge on his holiday decorating timetable was in 1998, when I was (extremely) pregnant with Katie. When I announced on the first weekend of November that I intended to decorate the house for Christmas that Saturday, Paul didn’t protest, possibly out of fear of provoking a 200-pound woman with buckets of progesterone coursing wildly through her veins. We invited some friends over, played Christmas CDs, and drank mulled cider while I directed the decking of the halls from my very comfortable rocker. It was wonderful.

Since that year, we’ve been back-and-forth on the whole holiday decorating issue, both of us compromising and capitulating in turn when the holiday approaches. As October gives way to November, we each jot our respective talking points down on notecards and get ready to enter the fray.

It’s not just a matter of throwing some decorations up, of course. If that were all, I could drag out the boxes and shower jingle bells around the place whenever I liked. No, I want the event. The hot-cocoa-drinking, carol-singing, popcorn-stringing family fun night of Official Christmas Spirit. I want to gather around in warm sweaters and slippered feet to watch the deeply traditional Assembling of the Tree (don’t get me started on the “fake tree vs. real tree” debate–we lived in the heart of Oregon timber country when we bought it and had to beat back a lynch mob to even get it out of the store.) I want to videotape while my kids hang ornaments and talk about where and when we got each one. I want to lovingly place my decorative snowmen and Santas on the shelves and string the holly garland over the window. I want to hang the Christmas stockings I made myself high on the wall, where they will oversee the Christmas season in all their stately, crookedly-stitched glory. I want to turn the lights off in anticipation of the moment Paul will flip the switch and bathe the living room in the soft, warm lights of the tree, holding Katie up so she can put the star on the top like she’s been doing since she was old enough to hold it. I want to bask in the glow of Christmas tradition and stretch the most delicious of holidays out for as long as possible, so I can savor it through the rest of the year.

It occurs to me, as I write this, that our merry tussling over Christmas decorating has become a sort of family tradition in itself, a sweet-spirited inside joke that only adds to the laughter and the fun of the season.

So think of us this Friday, November 18th, when our little corner of Idaho will be decorating for Christmas. Drop by, if you like. Come for the crazy people and stay for the goodies. I’m sure there will be plenty of hot cocoa.

The Day After

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One Halloween back in the eighties (you know, the eighties–that time period when otherwise normal people wore a sparkly glove on only one hand and the world was separated into two groups: those who could actually solve the Rubik’s Cube and those who just cheated and moved the stickers around) a friend of mine came to school dressed as a nuclear fallout victim. This was the year that “The Day After”, a disturbing cinematic glimpse into the horror of a post-apocalyptic small American town, first appeared on television and ramped up the dread level on the cold war a few notches.

His costume was excellent; I could tell he’d really put some thought into it. The open sores, the jaundiced skin and the purpling bruises under the eyes could all have come right out of the movie. The best part, though, was his hair. Or, more accurately, his not-hair. It stuck out from his scalp in a few ragged patches and scraggly tufts, like weeds poking sadly up through the cracks in an abandoned parking lot. It was so forlornly awful and pitiful, it brought tears to your eyes. For some reason, that stark image of beauty lost was the one that seemed to haunt viewers of “The Day After” the most.

This post, however, is not about nuclear war, or Halloween, or even the eighties.

It’s about Caleb. More specifically, it’s about his head–because after we finished cutting his hair yesterday afternoon, he looked almost exactly like my memory of that kid in the fallout costume.

I say “we” because it takes two people to cut Caleb’s hair–although three would be preferable, so that when one of them takes a swift kick in the chin with a size nine Adidas, another would be right there to take his place. Imagine sitting in a chair with a panicked young wolverine in your lap, trying to keep your eyes and fingers out of the reach of those sharp teeth and flailing claws while using your arms and legs to contain the roiling frenzy.

Now…imagine trying to give the wolverine a shave.

We used the clippers, because scissors are deadly when coupled with the contortions of our thoroughly harassed Houdini. When we were finally done (“done” is a subjective word–here I use it to describe the moment when Caleb finally slipped loose of my grip and neither Paul nor I had the strength left to chase him), all three of us were sweating and crying, and Caleb’s hair lay in little blonde drifts on the carpet. Here and there some longer stragglers still cling for dear life to his otherwise bald head–over his ears, in a couple of patches on the top–but it doesn’t matter.

I’m leaving it that way.

We’ll just tell the Little Old Ladies* that he has mange.

*a flock of sweet, well-meaning elderly women of our acquaintance who came after us with loaded canes when we first committed the heinous crime of snipping off Caleb’s precious little baby ringlets. (A.K.A. The Vintage Vigilantes)

Mama Bear

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“All female bears defend their cubs. If a female with cubs is surprised at close range or is separated from her cubs, she may attack. An aggressive response is the mother grizzly’s natural defense against danger to her young.” –British Columbia Ministry of Environment

***

Oh, how I wanted to be a mama bear, and with one swipe of my massive paw knock down the creature who was threatening to hurt my precious cub. But I wasn’t a bear, and all I could do was stand there, unseen, and listen to this scornful eight year-old girl tell my Katie, who had run up, all smiles, and asked to sit next to her in class, “No! I don’t want to sit with you! Go sit somewhere else!”

Holding my breath, I waited to see how Katie would react. She mounted a feeble protest: “But you’re my friend, Jana, and I want to sit with you.”

“Well, Sadie is my best friend, and we don’t want you sitting with us!” And with that pronouncement and a flip of her blonde hair, she trounced away arm in arm with the favored Sadie, leaving my heart in my throat and my eyes full of tears as I watched Katie try to find a seat in the classroom. Fortunately, there was an empty chair next to another friend, and when I had seen Katie sit down and had satisfied myself that she was all right, I stepped out, feeling shaken and heartsick.

***

I know, I know. That’s what girls do. I remember, not just from my own growing up days, but from years of watching and teaching other people’s children and observing the tiny kingdoms and alliances that form and reform as they feel their way along the slippery social ladder to adulthood. But Katie is special, and I’m only just now aware of how frightened I am for her as I watch her grow and navigate her way through a world she may not ever fully understand.

Man, this is hard to write. But…do you remember that one kid in school? The one who, though he was really smart in book ways, just didn’t get it when it came to what really mattered to the rank-and-file school aged set, the one who never mastered the complex steps and turns in the dance of social survival? He was the kid who always wanted to be friends, but didn’t quite know how. The one who sat by himself at lunch and read, because books were a lot easier to understand than people. At best, the others gave him a wide berth. At worst, well…you remember the worst.

I’m afraid that Katie is that kid.

And when I think of what that kid goes through, it makes me want to cry.

***

I think I’ve told you before that Katie has Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s a disorder that falls somewhere on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum. Children with Asperger’s are often highly intelligent and focused, but they lack the innate ability to negotiate social interactions. Most of us are naturally, almost unconsciously, able to interpret the emotions and motivations of others through a broad range of nonverbal cues–facial expressions, tone of voice, body language–the indefinable factors telling you that someone is bored with your story, or irritated under their polite words. But for those with Asperger’s, there is nothing natural or easy about it. They think concretely, not abstractly, so things like subtexts and double meanings and implications are completely unknown to them. Unspoken cues and their many interpretations have to be memorized. Even “common sense” issues like personal space, reciprocal conversation, and coping with their own emotions are challenges.

On the surface, the waters are still. My beautiful girl is smiling, happy, and a delight to be around. No one who meets Katie for the first time would even suspect that there was anything different about her. But the kids know…they always do.

I’ve met many other parents and their children who are dealing with more severe disabilities than Katie’s. Believe me, I know how blessed I am to have a healthy child, whole and happy and able to say “I love you, Mom!” and mean it. Sometimes I am amazed at how far God has brought Katie–from the toddler who didn’t speak, or even seem to know we were there, to an affectionate, intelligent first-grader who barely stops talking for long enough to breathe! From the first moment we heard the phrase “autistic spectrum” all the way up to today, a day that Katie spends completely mainstreamed in a “normal” first grade classroom, I have been witness to so many glimpses of grace and the miraculous that it would take a great leap of logic not to have faith. So I hope it doesn’t sound horribly ungrateful to say that, in rare moments, when I’m looking at the hard line between Katie’s dreamy world and the sometimes harsh reality that the rest of us live in, I wish for a more visible manifestation of Katie’s challenges–something I could point to and say, “Here’s my wonderful girl, world! See? She’s special. She’s different. So, please, be gentle with her spirit; don’t break her.”

And some days, in prayer, I ask Him why. He always answers.

***

I returned when it was time for Katie’s class to end and slipped quietly in through the back door. It turned out it was Katie’s turn to be the special helper that day, and she was finishing up the helper’s last and most important job: to pick the student who had behaved the best to receive an extra treat to take home. She considered it for a moment, and then, to my shock, she pointed at Jana, who grinned broadly and stepped forward to claim her prize. Parents flooded in to pick up their kids a moment later; I collected Katie and started making my way out through the crowd.

When we got to the car, I kneeled down to look into Katie’s eyes and said, “Honey, I saw the way Jana treated you when you got to class.” She hadn’t cried at the time, but now a freshet of tears burst forth as she confessed, “She didn’t want to sit with me, Mom!” I hugged her for a for a few moments while she sobbed and then dried her face and asked her the question that was on my mind, “Katie, why did you choose Jana to get the treat after she was so mean to you?”

She just looked at me as if I was the one who didn’t get it and said, simply, “Because I like her.”

***

Thank You, Lord. I can’t imagine what you saw in me that you thought made me worthy of raising this astonishing girl. In four words, she reminded me of the way You love, absolutely and without conditions, even when we are pushing You away with a surly “No! I don’t want You around!” While the mama bear in me was growling, Katie was reaching out with kindness to someone who had hurt her. Sounds like something a carpenter I know would do.

I think I get it now, Lord. Or at least I’m starting to.

I have a feeling the lessons have just begun.

It’s All in the Presentation

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Yesterday I gave Caleb Cheerios, a cereal which, remarkably, he’s never had before. I set it down in front of him and said cheerfully, “Look, Caleb! I got you a new kind of cereal! It’s yummy!”

He took one suspicious look at it, turned up his nose, and said, “No! No new cereal! Wanna graham cracker.” Well, he didn’t get the cracker, but neither did he touch the Cheerios. It was a stalemate.

This morning, I poured him another bowl of Cheerios and set them down in front of him. I said, “Here, Caleb. Have some baby donuts!”

He’s in there eating them now.

***

Mommy–1 Toddler–427