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Family Life | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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We Made It Through the Rain – A Christmas Misadventure

Our journey over the river and through the states to Grandmother’s house we went turned out to have more adventures than we bargained for last weekend.

We live in southwestern Indiana, 10 minutes from Kentucky and 30 minutes from Illinois. My family is an hour’s drive away in Illinois, and we planned a family gathering last weekend. Flash flood warnings had been issued because of pouring rain.

Our 19 year old daughter was visiting friends in Central Illinois and planned to meet us there. Her route to my mother’s home would take her 3 hours, including driving through the town where she was in a car wreck last summer that didn’t hurt her but totaled the car.

As we prepared to go last Saturday, I worried about the downpour, flooding, and risk to our basement. So I prayed if our basement were at risk, for something to stop us from going to Illinois. It didn’t. We learned our daughter not only was dealing with rain but also was scraping ice from her car further up north.

Great. So she was going to drive to meet us not only through flooding but also ice. But she assured us the ice was not on the roads. I prayed for her safety. Like all mothers, I wanted her drive to be in perfect weather, under a sky filled with rainbows and unicorns.

We arrived in Illinois and she wasn’t there. We hadn’t heard from her in 3 hours, and it was a 3-hour car trip. I got a call from a different Illinois number, and my heart began to pound. I called it, and it was a gas station on her route – she wasn’t sure where her cell phone was but wanted us to know she was on her way but had had to re-route because of flooding. She was about a 30 minute drive away. She told us which route she was taking and hung up. Then I checked roads and learned her route had closed roads because of flooding. I called the number she called us from again – a Verizon store in Illinois – and they told me she had already left. But the clerk assured me there would be detours.

Great.  Thirty minutes later, she called us again – she had found her phone under her car seat. She was in another town, another half hour away – several roads had closed due to flooding. But she was on her way. A friend of mine I work with was close to her, and I called her with the frantic mom call. She assured me if she got lost or had a problem, we could each meet her half way and find her.

Finally, she arrived. After an hour or so, we left to go home. The rain still poured. We wanted to get home before it got dark, and our son needed to get to work. Our son opted to ride with his sister, and I rode with Richard. As we prepped to leave, I gave the Worried Mother Mantra to her of highway safety tips in driving in rain.

Fifteen minutes after we left, the rain got worse. We were on a two-lane road trying to reach the highway, with no shoulder or place to get off the road. The road was elevated, with farmland on either side, except the farmland was no flooded.

Suddenly, we had almost no visibility. The wind picked up, and it was raining sideways. We could barely see the road, but there was no place to go but forward. I half-expected to see a cow fly across the road like in the movie Twister.  I was afraid to call our son because I thought the ring might distract Elizabeth as she tried to follow us through the typhoon-like conditions. All I could do was pray. And watch the headlights of her behind us. If we went off the road, we would land in the flooded fields beside us.

There was a truck ahead of us that slowed, and we couldn’t tell why until we got there. It was dodging and driving over fallen tree limbs. We did the same.  There was no place to go but forward, through the sideways rain and over the tree limbs. We drove over more tree limbs. Water poured sideways and pounded our car as we drove through the rain.

Finally, we got to the highway. And we drove over more tree limbs. As the rain got a little better, my husband said it was the worst storm he had driven through in his life.  We crossed the bridge into Indiana and debated pulling off at the first place we could find. I was posting on Facebook about our conditions and talking with friends.

Traffic suddenly stopped as emergency vehicles blocked the road in front of us. We couldn’t tell what the problem was. A friend on my Facebook wall told us a house had just exploded. I called my son to tell them a house had exploded. We sat for 30 minutes with a blocked highway. A car in front of us turned around – we saw no reason to do the same because all there was behind us was a road covered in tree limbs. Our son called his boss and told him he might run late for work.

The road cleared, and we resumed our journey. The rain lightened up, and we opted to continue to get our son to work as soon as we could. He was only 5 minutes late. When we got home, we breathed a sigh of relief. It had taken us 2 hours of driving to make a 1-hour trip. We could see water pooling around us on roads, along the side of roads.

Then we started to go inside and realized our power was out. Our backup sump battery had exhausted itself, and our basement had begun to flood. I rushed to a neighbor’s house with a generator to ask if we could connect. Richard and Elizabeth raced to find flashlights to get our outdoor extension cords. We hurried to connect the cords and ran cords from our basement sump pump, through the rain, to our neighbor’s power source. As we stood in the rain, trying to get it connected, our neighbor moved his truck in the street to shine his headlights on us as we raced to save our basement. It was still pouring.

I had misunderstood my daughter and thought we had 6 inches of water in our whole basement. It turned out it only had an inch in a couple of rooms. Had we run 30 minutes later, it would have been a terrible mess.

The sump pump began to work again, and we scrambled in the dark to find candles to spend the evening at home in the dark. I went out to get fast food and hot coffee for our dinner. Elizabeth told us as she followed us in the rain, it felt like she was driving through the Dante’s Peak movie where things kept getting in their way. No matter what, they kept going, and so did we.

After 2 hours, our power came back on. We had no damage in our basement.

Neither Richard nor I could relax until our son got home from work. We hoped the roads wouldn’t be more flooded. He got home with no misadventures.

The next morning, I realized we had made it through the rain. We kept our world intact.

Granted, my coat I had worn outside the night before took 2 days to dry. But we got through everything. Over the river and through the typhoon we had gone, and we came out on the other side.

Sometimes, there is nothing we can do to lower the stress around us. I don’t live in a perfect Sim world where people fit in their assigned roles and everything goes according to a simple plan. My world is messy, with imperfect people, and crazy stories.

There was a whole lot of praying going on to get us through the rain. The misadventures my family gets through together often become the tie that binds us. There’s a life lesson there somewhere that when the going gets tough, you just keep on going.

Our adventures also help me appreciate the quiet times when things actually go right.

Oh Christmas Tree!

A Christmas tree skirt my daughter made as a 4-H sewing project that won Special Merit at the Indiana State Fair.

A Christmas tree skirt my daughter made as a 4-H sewing project that won Special Merit at the Indiana State Fair.

“Real Christmas trees are better than fake ones,” Richard told me 24 years ago as we celebrated our first Christmas. I had grown up with artificial trees and mentally dismissed his comment. But I bought him a small artificial tree with ornaments for his apartment because he had none, and I insisted every home needed the Christmas spirit.

When we married 22 years ago, we continued to use the 5 foot artificial one I had had in my apartment, as well as the one I gave him, and the mini artificial trees. My husband missed the scent of real trees.

Some day, we would have a real one. Twenty years ago, when a local store called Phar Mor was closing, I bought a close out Christmas tree “so we would be ready.” It went into our ornament storage bins. But each year, we looked at the price of a real tree and compared it to just using what we had, and we chose the artificial tree.

When our home and business burned 13 years ago, we replaced that artificial tree with a bigger one I got on sale at 3 a.m. on Black Friday. So we had more room for our growing ornament collection. Most of our ornaments were either made by our kids or are keepsakes of them and about them. We also have a collection of Misfit Toy ornaments I adore.

Each year, we saw the tree stand and decided to “wait till next year” for the real tree. 

One year for a 4-H project, my daughter made a Christmas tree skirt which turned into the sewing project from hell. I sew with a staple gun, but her grandmother is a seamstress. It’s quilted, with beading, stitching, and tassels. It won a special merit. But the skirt was larger than our tree was wide. It was so nice we put it in a special box and put it away to “wait till we have a bigger tree.”

Last year, after my heart attack and surgery, I wasn’t up to putting up our tree. So I sat and watched our kids put up and decorate the tree. I couldn’t help but loved every minute of it. We got out Elizabeth’s tree skirt she had made. I realized there was no point in saving it for the some day perfect year.

This year, I wanted Christmas to be special after everything we went through. We had scraped border from our living room and kitchen to repaint them. I wanted them repainted so Christmas decorations would be beautiful. Except we hadn’t had time to get the painting done.

This year, I bought a can of pine spray to spray so Richard would be reminded of scents of Christmas childhood when he had a real tree.

I finally relented that the painting would happen after Christmas, and the tree needed to go up. So our kids again put up the Christmas tree and decorated it.

The Christmas tree after it was decorated.

The Christmas tree after it was decorated.

Then, two days ago, a friend posted on Facebook that her son’s Boy Scout troop (280 in Henderson, Kentucky) had a close out sale on real trees at their lot. They had 5 trees left. The price was too good to pass up. So I asked her to hold a 6 foot tree for us. Then I texted my kids to find the tree stand we’ve stored for 20 years. We worked out a plan that we would drive our 22-year-old station wagon to Kentucky after I got off work, strap it to the tree a la Christmas Vacation, and surprise Richard.

I had visions of getting the tree into the house, undecorating our artificial tree, and decorating the new, beautiful real tree as a family while watching Christmas Vacation.

The kids couldn’t find the tree stand. We planned via text because we wanted to keep the surprise. So when I got off work, Elizabeth went with me to Kentucky. We told Richard we were Christmas shopping. We slipped out in the old wagon, ready to begin our adventure.

Fifteen minutes later, we were in Kentucky at the Boy Scout tree lot. Three trees were left. When I got out, the guy said, “I haven’t seen that here before.”

“A crazy old lady driving here from Indiana?” I asked.

“No, a station wagon. You just don’t see those any more. I see crazy ladies all the time,” he answered. He suggested we try fitting the tree IN the car instead of ON the car. So I climbed in the car, knocked down the middle row of seats, and we tried putting the tree into the car. At the right angle, he was able to fit the tree into the wagon. It was just a bit inconvenient because the top of the tree came up into the divider between the front seats and covered the rear view mirror. But if we drove a straight show, and I didn’t have to change lanes or go backwards, we should be fine.

Except we didn’t have a tree stand. There was a Rural King a mile down the road in Henderson, so we stopped there next. I pulled all the way into a parking place so I wouldn’t have to back out afterwards. I didn’t want to waste time – we had a tree to decorate!  I felt like a reality show taping the Biever Christmas Vacation episode. I went to the counter and asked, “Do you have tree stands?”

The lady didn’t know, so she asked on the store’s public address system, “Do we have tree stands for a Christmas tree?”

One person called back on speaker phone. “There is ONE left in the store.”

“Where is it?” I asked. They gave us directions to the lone tree stand. When we found it in the Christmas decoration aisle, it looked bigger than the one I had stored for 20 years, and it had no price. No matter. I didn’t want to shop other places with a tree in my car.

My daughter discouraged my urge to buy new ornaments to celebrate the new tree. When I wanted to press the button on the Christmas duck that sang carols, she whispered to me, “Mom, stop it. Act right.”

I told her, “YOLO.”

She answered, “Can’t you at least say ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day)? You’re the one who taught us Latin when we were little.”

I told her, “When I’m in Rural King in Kentucky buying a tree stand while the station wagon’s full of tree, it’s YOLO.”

Elizabeth had to hold the tree stand in her lap while I drove home. Clark Griswold, eat your heart out.

When we got home, Nick came out and helped us get the tree into the house. In the driveway, he learned of my plan. We would move the decorated tree to the side, replace it with the real tree, and then take off all the lights and ornaments to decorate the real tree. He responded with the joy of Clark Griswold’s son.

When we got the tree into the house, we realized it wasn’t a 6 foot tree. It was about 6 inches taller than our 9 foot ceilings. So Nick got shears from the garage and trimmed off the tip to of it so it would fit in the room. I ordered pizza for our Christmas Vacation tree decoration party.

Richard ventured upstairs as he heard my laughter. Yes, he was astounded that we now had a real tree – and 2 trees in our living room.

Nick had helped friends put up a real tree and knew more about it than I did. He said we should get the tree put up and then let it set so the branches would go down. First I heard of that.

Well, the pizza was ordered. So we got the tree standing and had pizza without the tree decorations. Yesterday, while I was at work, they put the lights on the real tree and undecorated the fake tree. They took apart the fake tree and put it away.

Last night was a Friday night, and of course my teen-aged children weren’t home. So Richard and I had our own tree decoration party, complete with a fat free bean dip/salsa blend I made with just a sprinkle of light cheese on top. And yes, we watched Christmas Vacation. It was a perfect date night.

The real tree does smell nice. I’m enjoying watching Richard enjoy the real tree. He’s told me for the first time ever, our home smells like Christmas, even in the living room that will get painted after first of the year.

One of my Misfit Toy ornaments.

One of my Misfit Toy ornaments.

Our tree this year is wilder than in years past. It’s  not a perfect plastic tree. It took a little extra work to get it to stand straight, and it will shed a few needles each day. But it’s fuller and richer. There is no theme to our ornaments other than Misfit Toys made beautiful. Where others see misfits, I see potential. And it blends right in to the real life of all the ornaments from our family’s life the past 20 years.  And having the tree skirt our daughter made underneath just completes it.

The lesson behind all this is either YOLO or Carpe Christmas Tree. Seize the Christmas tree moments in your life right now. Don’t wait until things are perfect because perfect never gets here. What we have is now. Enjoy it in all its imperfection.

Life is beautiful!

The Benefit of Self Reliance. Or Why Using The Health Exchanges Would Be a Backward Step For Me

I do not want to use health insurance exchanges for many reasons. A fundamental reason is it would be a giant step backward for me in my version of the American dream.

In my version of the American dream, poverty was a chapter in the past. When my parents divorced, we had worse than nothing – we had lost our home, our dignity, and our sense of stability. My mother worked, and we struggled for everything. I worked a paper route starting in the 5th grade. We lived in a rental trailer on the wrong street. I remember in 7th grade, I had one outfit of clothes for school and a dress for church on Sunday. So we did laundry every night.

My mother worked, but government programs helped us. I was able to eat at school because of the free lunch program. We got the commodity cheese when it was distributed.  We used food stamps back in the day when they were booklets of stamps.

I hated having to rely on others to take care of our basic needs. When I was in elementary and middle schools, no one really knew who the free lunch kids were. When I hit high school, everyone knew because the only kids who ate lunch in the cafeteria were the free lunch kids. We had an open campus, so you could go out for lunch in high school. I chose not to eat the free lunches. I felt degraded by them. We didn’t have enough money to afford for me to go home and eat or bring a sack lunch. If I had money from babysitting, I would go out with my friends and eat. Otherwise, I just did without lunch. I would estimate that through high school, I did without lunch over half the time.

When I turned 18 and went to college, I was on my own financially. Government financial aid helped me with my schooling. I worked crazy jobs, lived in crazy places, and scrambled to survive. There were times I couch-surfed with friends in between having an actual apartment to live in.

Now flash to 30 years later. I beat the odds and worked my way out of where my life had been. My husband and I have been married for 21 years, and we have owned our own home for 19 years.  We have owned our own business for 13 years. Like any family or business owner, we have scrambled at times. We’ve done what it takes to keep our business running. We have done what it takes to pay for our own health insurance. That has meant extra part-time jobs and budget tightening in other areas.

But we often thought of ourselves as owners of a mom and pop business in a 21st century version of the American pioneers. Instead of working in the fields, we worked on our computers. Instead of harvesting crops to take to market, we used the Internet to send work to our clients. And like those early pioneers, our adventures, and our struggles have defined us and given meaning to our lives.

Having grown up with a helping hand, I savor the reward of a life well lived. I am more than thankful for my life and all we have been given by God. Never underestimate the emotional rewards of self-reliance. Life where I rely on my family’s hard work and trust in Divine Providence is a lot more enjoyable than hoping for a government handout.

I sincerely hope we will not be forced into a government-run health program. It would be a giant step backwards, to a time when my family was incapable of taking care of our financial needs. I am thankful those programs were there.

Nevertheless, having to go into a health exchange would be a giant step backwards for me emotionally. And I hope to have the freedom to move forward – not backward.

Peace on Earth

1513212_10152155050020439_134849796_n“The older I get, the less judgmental I am,” a friend told me during coffee yesterday. I understand what she meant.

I’m feeling older these days. And the older I feel, the more I think the Beatles were right with their song “All You Need is Love.”

When I see parents with young children, and the kids are ornery while the parents are frustrated, I just want to tell them to treasure these moments because they will soon pass.

Sometimes I see both sides of the family dynamic. Last night at a store, a tired father barked at his daughter down every aisle of the store. He was getting food for dinner. Each time she suggested something, he barked that they weren’t getting that and she was choosing the wrong things.

Once upon a lifetime ago, I was the little girl who could do no right. I know what the trickling stream of “You can’ts,” and “You aren’t good enough” do to a child’s soul. I saw myself in the little girl who just wanted a moment of affirmation. The greatest gift any father can give his children is affirmation and love. I know because I never had them and have spent a lifetime compensating for the Dad Gap.

And I’ve been the parent working too hard, maybe doing without sleep, and going through strains so hard that I don’t know how I will get through the evening. And if I’m asked one more question, it might be the one who makes the bubble pop.

The father and daughter happened to hit the checkout lane beside mine at the same time I did. His daughter tried to start to unload the cart while they waited in line, and the dad yelled at her to stop.

I prayed for wisdom to say something to help both the father and daughter. “You’ve got a great helper there,” I told the dad. Many times I’ve found a word of praise to a parent diffuses a tense situation.

“She could be if she wanted to be,” was his abrupt answer.

“I miss the days when my kids were helpers. Now they are grown and gone,” I continued.

“I can’t wait till the day she grows up and is gone,” he answered. My heart shrank as I thought of a young girl’s soul being seared without affirmations.

But slowly, as he checked out, the dad seemed less angry. I prayed for another chance. After I wished my cashier a Merry Christmas, and as I got my groceries bagged, I looked straight at the little girl and told her, “Merry Christmas.” And I told the father, “I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.” He may have been tired and angry, but at least he was still there trying, and that’s more than my dad did.

In the little girl’s eyes, I saw a reflection of my own soul as a little girl, just wanting someone to tell me I was good enough and was worthy of love. For just a moment, I saw a spark of hope. All she wanted was love.

The dad didn’t really respond, but there were no more verbally brutal exchanges with his daughter.

As we both left the store, I prayed for a host of angels to cover them last night. I prayed for them to remind him of his precious daughter’s heart, and I prayed for her heart to be protected. I prayed for someone to be able to give them the gift of joy.

So I ask you now. Please look at those around you, Maybe somewhere, you’ll see the father and daughter I saw last night. Or you’ll see someone else who is hurting and needs a moment of love. You can give it. You can share it.

And I reminded myself the first place I needed to start to share that was with my own family – with my husband and my own children.

And then, in our small corner of the world, we can spread the message of Peace on Earth.

Privacy, Free Will, and Subsidiarity

I love technology. Mail merges get me almost as excited as a good spreadsheet formula. So I thought nothing of having to enter my medical history online upon making an appointment to see a doctor.

Then I saw the questions being asked. Some were so offensive that I can’t type them. Others failed to acknowledge options for my situation; five years ago, I had a hysterectomy. So questions on my monthly cycles are irrelevant as there is no choice for no longer having them.  I refused to answer several questions on those topics, as well questions about my relationship with my children and my financial status.

When a question asked, what stress have you been under during the last 4 weeks, I answered, “I was asked intrusive questions for a medical database.”

HIPAA supposedly protects our healthcare privacy. However, the questions I was told to answer before I would be allowed to see my doctor invaded that privacy. After I completed the medical history, I called my doctor’s office, told them the questions were too invasive and if I were required to answer them before my appointment, I would cancel the appointment. They told me to answer the questions I wanted, and there were no problems when I arrived.

We have the right to say no.

However, it reminded me of an incident when I was pregnant with my son. I went through 4 PUBS during my pregnancy with him, where they inserted a needle into my stomach, into the umbilical cord in utero. My body was destroying his platelets, and they had to closely monitor his blood levels. Before the second PUBS, the anesthesiologist tied me to the operating table. I questioned her, and she said it was “policy.” I thought I had no choice. Afterwards, I spoke with the head of anesthesiology and asked if in future PUBS I could stay untied if I promised not to move.

The anesthesiology head told me, “If you didn’t want to be tied to the table, you should have just said no.”

I hadn’t realized I had the authority to just say no. Just because a database asks a question doesn’t mean I have to answer it.

I tell people in my social media classes that the best way to keep something from spreading online is not to share it. I believe the same to be true for medical privacy.

Coercing people to share things that make them uncomfortable is not only an invasion of their privacy but also negates their free will. As a friend of mine said yesterday, “God gave Adam and Eve free will and still gives us free will today. Health regulations shouldn’t take that from us.”

Finally, the creeping of big brother into every aspect of my life and that of my family violates the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. Under the principle of subsidiarity, social organizations exist for the benefit of the individual.  What individuals are able to do for themselves should not be taken over by society. If a small organization or unit can manage something, it should do so instead of being supplanted by larger organizations. In other words, my husband and I bear first responsibility for ourselves and our family. What we are unable to manage others can do instead.

Subsidiarity promotes a sense of personal responsibility. That in turn leads to greater self-reliance. And that in turn results in not only being able to care for our own family but being able to help others who cannot care for themselves.

The flip side of failing to honor the principle of subsidiarity is that when society takes over roles best handled by smaller groups or families, society will not do the job as efficiently. Further, it leads to a degeneration of personal responsibility and self reliance.

And when we lose our sense of personal responsibility and forget we can often solve many of our own problems, we will no longer recognize when our privacy has been invaded. Nor will we care. We will lose our ability to say no.

How We Teach Our Kids to Never Give Up, Never Surrender

I’m transitioning to a different phase of parenting as our nest grows closer to being empty. Now, I see the lessons I never knew I was teaching coming to fruition. The character lessons of the ones we teach by example, without realizing that’s what we’re doing.

Now I see the best lessons we taught were during the toughest times our family faced. As a mother who was homeschooling, I was concerned during crises how I would teach my kids their school work and struggled to find ways to make it happen. The schoolwork did happen. But now, I see the real life lessons that happened by doing are what really counted.

When Nick was 3 and in speech therapy 4 mornings a week, Elizabeth and I sat in waiting rooms waiting for him, and we made that our special reading time when she read to me each day. For variety, we played with a reading music board where she played with magnets and learned to read her music notes.

When Nick was 5 and Elizabeth was 7, 2 weeks into our school year, our home and business burned. By some miracle, their school books were saved. We lived in an apartment while our home was rebuilt. Maybe the first lesson we taught was the morning after the fire, when we knelt in prayer in church, with all of us wearing borrowed clothes and none of us knowing where we would live or how our family would survive or what would happen to our 1-year-old business.

During the rebuild, the kids’ school work was scaled back to basics – reading, math, and writing. Friends took them in and taught them the first two weeks of pack out and demolition. My heart broke as our kids lost their every toy and learning game I had so painstakingly purchased and organized.

Their school days began at 6:30 a.m. so I could work with them and then work with the contractors on the construction site. They played in the back yard each day while I supervised the rebuild. I remember working on a bedroom and telling Nick to read books aloud to me while I worked – both to keep him out of trouble and help him build his new reading skills. In the car each day, from our apartment to our home, I had the kids do mental math.

I pondered over putting them into traditional school because our schedule was so tough. A schoolteacher friend of mine reassured me, telling me that when kids go through such a tremendous loss, wherever they go to school, teachers try to just get them basics because their hearts and heads are completely filled with survival first and learning second.

At the same time I worked with that, the kids saw Richard, who converted our bedroom in the 2 bedroom, 800 square foot apartment insurance rented for us into a temporary office where he worked and we slept.

We continued violin lessons during the build as well. One week, as I drove the kids to their group lesson time, I hit a 12-point buck who rolled off my car and ran into the woods. I didn’t want to miss the violin time we had already paid for, so we continued to the lessons, with deer fur and blood on the front of my car.

To help with purchasing their books for future years, we took on selling historic fiction at homeschool conventions. The kids helped us set up, sell, tear down, and inventory books. They both learned at an early age to calculate sales tax and make change. Our sales gave us many adventures. One of my most memorable was waiting in line to unload our books at a large convention center. As our car was stopped, we decided to try unloading our cart on the sidewalk. The kids helped me push the cart, with all our books into the center,  while Richard waited for a place to park. Of course that was a 1-block adventure uphill. We got checked in and completely set up by the time Richard reached us.

Now, my kids are at an age where they increasingly make their own decisions. The flip side of that is I see them encounter their own set backs. It’s ten times harder to see my kids face a big blow and loss than it was to go through it ourselves. I hope their lives involve as few tough challenges as possible. I just want them to dance their way on a yellow brick road to happiness with sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.

But that’s not how life works.

When we searched for scholarships for my daughter, at one scholarship contest she faced some terrific setbacks. But she didn’t quit and kept going. The person awarding scholarships saw how hard she fought to keep going, and I wonder if that’s one of the reasons she won it.

Now, I see my son tackle challenges. He’s the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. If a glass has half an inch of water in it, he’ll say “It has just enough.” And with him, he’s right. He will take whatever hand he’s dealt, make the best of it, and good things come of it.

During those tough times, as I struggled for them to get the basics, they got them. I now see that the living, and the struggling, are the real lessons they learned while I fretted whether or not they were learning anything else.

When I see that, I think of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If.”

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

If you can keep going when parenting your kids through the toughest struggles, you’ll have taught them what they most need to handle life.

A Biker’s Mother’s Prayer

1097803_10151873672680439_312540868_oWhen you have a baby girl it’s easy to imagine firsts – first steps, First Communion, first time riding a bike, first dance, and more.

Then reality knocks on the door of our fantasies and sends us to unexpected firsts.

Like first motorcycle.

That was one I never imagined. But we live in the world that is real instead of a sand castle in the sky. God has called her on a different journey from mine.

So now each time I see a motorcyclist anywhere, I pray for the biker and for my daughter….

Please God keep them safe.

Let them exercise caution and make wise decisions while riding.

Help the other drivers around them see them and exercise caution.

And above all dear Lord,

Bring her home safely, without injury.

So when you see that biker on the road this Labor Day weekend, give extra room and leeway and consider it a personal favor to moms like me whose children ride motorcycles.

And if you’re so inclined, say a little prayer for those bikers. And their mothers who pray daily for their safe travels.



When Parents Volunteer

When parents volunteer within the same organizations in which their kids participate, they not only help the organizations but teach their kids countless lessons by example. Sometimes the lessons are harder than others. But the toughest ones are the most important…

How do you advocate for your kid and treat others fairly? How do you reach that balance between remembering a child’s heart and encouraging a process of continual improvement?

One way I’ve encountered this challenge is as a superintendent of 4-H projects. During project turn-in, when I took the role, I realized I could no longer help my kids through their own project check in. They were on their own – albeit with their dad and a checklist I helped them develop. While other parents helped their kids, I was helping them. Now, at the end of my 4-H parenting career, I see that that made my kids become more self-reliant and organized.

As a project superintendent, one of the first tasks – one of the unwritten ones – is to greet kids bringing in their projects and remembering that what is just a checkmark and project turn in to you is possibly their pride and joy. They have worked to learn new skills, and this is prime time for affirmation to encourage and compliment them. The kids  you inspire and encourage today will resolve to work harder, whatever ribbon they are awarded.

Then comes a trickier part which, like other good project superintendents, I hope to do well – quickly run through the project requirements and see if there are any technical errors that can be immediately fixed so a member isn’t penalized for a technicality. That happens best when we aren’t overwhelmed with entries and something gets missed.

As an example – when notebook displays are turned in with our computer projects, they are required to be submitted in hard cover binders, not flexible sheet covers. That’s because the notebooks may go on a display rack and must be able to stand on their own. To make it more confusing, I also supervise creative writing projects, which are turned in in flexible folders. That’s because we receive so many writing projects that they are placed flat on a table, and there isn’t enough room for over 100 hard cover binders. So if a creative writing entry is submitted in a hardcover binder, or a computer entry is submitted in a flexible folder, I give the same spiel:

“I can accept your project now, but I wanted to make you aware of the rules. Technically, your entry should be in ‘X’ folder. You have a choice – you can submit your entry now but should know that because it doesn’t follow the rules, you will lose points. If you can figure out a way to get the correct folder before the deadline, you could submit it and get those points. It’s your choice.”

Some parents appreciate my help. In one of the most ironic examples, a mother grew very angry with me and tried to argue with me. I just showed her and her child the rules and explained I was trying to help them. They chose to get the correct binder.

When the judging was complete, her child’s project beat mine and won the champion. Her child’s project was demonstrably better than my child’s.

Had I kept my mouth shut, my child would have won the champion.

But the point of 4-H isn’t how many champion ribbons you win. Instead, it’s about the skills that are acquired and the character that is developed.

It’s also about recognizing that when we encourage high standards in a positive way – instead of gloating on the penalty after the fact – we’re raising standards.

When we aspire to excellence, and we reach out our hand to help others along the same path, we all benefit. Rising tides raise all ships.

And my prayer is that, above all the things I taught my kids by lesson or example, they learned integrity in their thoughts and actions.

Singing Light In the Darkness

In old movies, when someone wandered or was lost, people often put a candle in the window to light the way if the lost turned towards home and was trying to find it.

My light in the window is my song, especially in church. When I sing praise and worship music, I sing with my whole heart and soul. Each note and phrase is a prayer. They are my candle, praying and calling you home so that when you see the light, you know which way to turn.

The journey back can be a lot shorter and easier than the one to venture away. Just turn towards the light, move towards it, and the darkness will dissipate. With each step, the shackles of pain and despair will weaken.

Until you turn and sing the light, I will sing and pray that each note will be the one that you hear that turns you back on the right path. And when you do make that turn, my song will burst with joy as I embrace and welcome you home.

See the light and come home soon.


Reach for the Stars

“Even with major interventions, your pregnancy is high risk of having a bad outcome. You should have an abortion,” I was told by my obstetrician 18 years ago during my pregnancy with my son. Richard and I immediately told the doctor that wasn’t an option.

I also told the doctor I was a mama bear who would do what it took to take care of our baby.  And then I went home and cried.

Richard had a dream during that pregnancy where people were telling us all the challenges we faced, and he told them, “I’ll stand up for my son.”

We believed in our son and his chances, before he was born. We changed doctors, and by the grace of God, both my son and I survived. There aren’t medical explanations for our survival other than Divine Providence.

Flash to three years after his birth, when he was diagnosed with significant speech impediments. We were told he might need 6 years of speech therapy to clearly communicate with others. I watched in frustration when he tried to play “Duck Duck Goose” with other preschoolers, even though he could say neither duck nor goose. Doubting Thomas friends and some relatives tried to tell us to accept our son’s “limitations.”

We didn’t believe the can’ts. We saw his potential instead. He and I worked together to practice what he did in his speech therapy, and he overcame those challenges in 2 years, instead of the predicted 6. As we worked to help him overcome his challenges, we also worked to nurture his strengths.

When he showed interest in robotics and computers, I helped our county start a 4-H robotics project and founded a 4-H Tech Club to teach kids about science and give him more science opportunities.

Flash to his freshman year of high school when he won a state 4-H demonstration contest in mechanical arts as he demonstrated how to build his own computer. This year, he led a team of younger 4-H Tech Club members as they gave a presentation on computer hardware at the Indiana 4-H Foundation’s Annual Meeting, as 1 of 4 clubs included in a state-wide science showcase.

And the boy who couldn’t say duck or goose has grown into a recreation leader extraordinaire, working to develop inclusive games for kids. He’s attended recreation conferences, serves on the board of an annual recreation workshop, has planned recreation activities for camps and retreats, and recently led a workshop to teach 4-H leaders how to introduce new games to their clubs.

So much for the kid they were concerned wouldn’t be able to talk clearly.

Today is his 17th birthday. If I knew where that doubting doctor was who urged us to push the panic button 18 years ago, I would show her the article in the paper last week where he was named a Star Student for our area. I would share with her that the high risk pregnancy resulted in a young man who started working pollinating corn in the summer when he was 15, has worked ever since, and who plans to work 2 different jobs, 6 days a week this summer – who used his earnings to first buy his own computer parts to build his own computer and then to buy his first car.

As Mary Kay Ash once said, “When children know their mothers believe in them, they develop self-confidence. On the other hand, if a parent repeatedly tells a child that he’s shy, he’s stupid, he’s mean or he’s going to grow up to be a bank robber, he’ll probably develop that quality or bring that vision to pass.”

In life, avoid the Debbie Downers who dwell in the can’ts and probably won’ts. Instead seek the people who see your potential and inspire you to reach for it. Encourage others to set high goals and reach them.

“If you shoot for the moon and you fall short you land among the stars.” - Mary Kay

So what’s stopping YOU from shooting for the moon and encouraging those around you to do the same?

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