Thursday, March 31, 2005

"I Fear Change"

On Today's Menu:
CLOSED for Renovations!

We have been a two-bathroom family "forever." This week, we are shower nomads, going to some friends' house to shower every night. I have never been out so much with wet hair and no make-up. The Teenage Drama Queen runs to the car, and says things like, "Oh, I hope no one I know drives by."

It took the contractor and his assistant less than an hour to gut our whole bathroom on Monday morning. I can't wait to see the end of this project. For nearly seven years, we've lived with a Pepto-Bismol pink tiled bathroom. Thank goodness they stopped the pink tiles halfway up the wall, or I would have really been nauseated every time I took a shower. The giant clunky vanity with drawers (pink, of course) might have been hip in its time. That time came and went about 20 years ago. I won't even get into the ugly tan shower surround.

Back to the contractor. After he tore up the linoleum--another feature I won't talk about--he realized how rotten the floor was. And, worst of all, someone in their not-so-infinite wisdom had cut out a floor joist years ago when they installed the drain line for the toilet. No wonder the floor kind of sagged a little in that part of the bathroom.

"This'll set us back an extra day." And, cha-ching, cost us more, of course. I had lain awake Sunday night wondering exactly how bad the bathroom floor was under all that linoleum glory. Now I knew. We couldn't just plunk down a new plywood floor, nice sturdy concrete board, and then lay our gorgeous slate tile floor. Underneath there would be nothing to hold up the beautiful new surface. So the contractor and his assistant spent most of a day building a new joist and putting a new beam in for under the floor. Now a 250-pound man can jump up and down on the floor and not get a trampoline sensation under his feet. It wasn't that bad before, but I'm horrified to realize how unstable the floor was.

Those of you who like analogies probably see where I'm going with this. Our contractor hasn't taken any shortcuts. In fact, he's a stickler for detail. I ought to know. I've never seen a tiled shower area go up so slowly. (Why does it look so fast and simple on HGTV?) But it's nice to hear him say, "Sweeeet!" when the tile cooperates, and not the crash of ceramic and, "Oh, no!"

I had closed my eyes to the pink tile, the clunky vanity, the icky linoleum, the shabby surround. Once you're used to something, it's easy to ignore. Our bathroom has served us well. There are some people who don't have bathrooms. So it's rough around the edges. Okay, going down the tubes--but I'll cut out the cliches.

We get comfortable in our same-old, same-old, possibly dangerous, often outdated, worn-out, rotten underneath, you-name-it stuff. Why make the change? I've wanted a new bathroom for ages. So my husband and I planned, dreamed, sketched, measured, and bought things here and there, storing them up in the hopes of maybe one day making that dream bathroom something real. Yet that still wasn't enough.

When our situation allowed, we called the contractor, got the estimate, counted the cost. We realized we'd be without our main bathroom for a week. In my mind, that's a small inconvenience. But we had to get to the point where we were prepared to see this project through to the end. We counted the cost. We knew it wouldn't be easy. We weren't happy at the extra cost.

Making changes in our lives is no easier. We can blind ourselves to what needs fixing or what is plain worn out. "Don't touch that, God, it's too much." Or, we could be like some friends of mine who tore up their bathroom themselves and seven years later it's still in a shambles. Really! Trusting can be difficult sometimes. Just remember:

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. (The Bible, Philippians 1:6)

That's what I love about God's contracting projects. He doesn't make it impossible. We never were promised ease, but peace. Even when the floor's ripped up and someone tore out the joist.

Bye, bye pink tiles! And on to that flourishing finish!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Prize in the Cereal Box

On Today's Menu:
A Bowl of Cocoa Puffs, well-soaked in Vitamin D milk

I admitted before that I can be a pretty cheap mom. Every once in a while, though, I surprise the kids by purchasing something other than generic cereal. Star Wars Episode III is coming out soon, and my 14-year-old practically froths at the mouth every time he sees the trailer. He always has a fact or tidbit to share repeatedly until our eyes glaze over. Well, last weekend my husband and I were performing our weekly grocery shopping ritual. (I hate grocery shopping. It's got to be the most boring shopping category. Get me to Ross, or another discount store, and I can bask among the racks for hours.) We stopped in the cereal aisle, and of course Episode III images were plastered all over the Kellogg's cereal boxes.

Back when I was a kid, cereal boxes always had cool FREE prizes. Remember? You'd open the box and scrounge to the bottom of the bag for the prize before you got caught for tearing the bag? The Frosted Flakes contained a FREE light saber spoon. Really, free! Of course I splurged and bought the box for my son. Even at nearly 15, he still likes little gadgets. He stayed home that day, and our daughter spent most of her time at Wal-Mart in the jewelry and nail polish sections. She bought herself some cute stretchy bracelets.

We arrived home, and our kids performed their weekly ritual of putting the groceries away. My son found the light-up spoon. My daughter promptly found me.

"Mom, why does Zach always get the prizes in the box?" As every parent of a teenage drama queen knows, the TDQ's two favorite words are "always" and "never."

"He doesn't always get the prizes, because for one thing, they don't just give out prizes all the time." Oops, I'd forgotten about the "Robots" game disk that came free in the Pop-Tarts. "Besides, it's not like you're into Star Wars."

"Just for once I'd like a prize." She played with the three stretchy bracelets on her left arm.

My 13-year-0ld daughter does NOT want a light-up Star Wars spoon. It's the principle of the thing. I remembered my one card to play.

"Hannah, remember when you didn't get to go bowling Wednesday night, and I'd given you four dollars for that?" (She'd kept the money, of course, and I hadn't bothered asking for it back.)


I pointed at her bracelets. "You used it to get those cute bracelets, didn't you?"

She looked a little sheepish. "Um, yeah, I did."

"We didn't buy him anything today. But I let you keep that money." Point made. She fell silent, which is an event in itself, nodded, and left the room.

I do the same thing. I sometimes forget the gifts I've been freely given, and complain when I see someone else get something I think I'd like. Even though I try to remain content, that old competitive nature rears up.

"I want my prize from the cereal box!" Even if it's something whose novelty will wear off, or I don't really want deep down.

A book contract would be nice. But not out of a cereal box! Although it is something I want very, very, very much. Yes, I mean to sound redundant. I'm being honest.

Thank you, God, for the gifts I've received. Always what I need, always very good, and somtimes even what I want. And if and/or when You send that contract, I'll take it too.

Friday, March 25, 2005

We're helping the orthodontist pay for gas for his SUV!

On Today's Menu:
Anything But Chewing Gum

"I've just gotta have my purse!" Hannah wailed after we get home from church last night.

"What is so important that can't wait until Mr. J drops it off tomorrow?" I was more concerned with taking a few minutes to relax, and getting to some fresh strawberry shortcake.

"MY GUM!" The teenage drama queen reached a fever pitch.

"There is plenty--of gum--in the pantry. Someone left that pack in there." I need a vacation, I thought to myself.

"But it's not sour apple. I won't get to taste that gum for TWO--WHOLE--YEARS!!!"

Oh, the immediacy of a teen's life. You see, Hannah got braces today. She really wanted to get them and over with before high school, so two years from now just as she finishes junior high, she'll be getting them off. At least that's the plan. Last night she went on a chew-all-the-gum-she-could binge before D-Day.

Earlier this week, she looked at me and sighed. "Two years, no gum. No Jolly Ranchers. No Tootsie Rolls."

"It's going to be worth it, though." I tried to encourage her. "You'll have a perfect smile to go with that perfect profile. Good-bye, Sowell gap." (She inherited the famed front tooth "gap" from my husband's side of the family.)

"But it's such a long time."

Today is Good Friday. Sometimes I think evangelical Christianity, at least from my experience outside many of the centuries-old divisions, glosses over Good Friday. It's more fun to get to the part about Easter, the resurrection, and CELEBRATE~!! Woo, hoo!

God made us all for a purpose. Many people have heard of the book, The Purpose Driven Life. I highly recommend it. But we can't fulfill our purpose if we're not on His wavelength and on His terms. Maybe to some people that doesn't sound fair, but God went through a lot of trouble to make us good enough. A lot more than giving up sour apple gum for two years (remember Hannah's urgency?). He let His Son take the blame for everything to pull us out of the rut we were born into (the whole live, die, pay taxes scenario). God saw the end result--and to Him, it was worth it.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Just Desserts (With a Chilled Side Order of Revenge)

On Today's Menu:
Brownie Sundae

I love watching people get something they deserve. Sometimes I tune in to Sunday evening's reality show, Extreme Home Makeover. Every time I watch it, I give thanks for where I am right now. Health, family, a good roof over my head that's mine, a place of peace on this earth. In the space of an hour, I see families get what they have long deserved and only dreamed--or never dared dream--of having.

You've got to wonder, though, how the networks screen applicants to find such deserving families. Nobody's perfect, and I wouldn't venture to guess at people's little secrets. But enough about those sweet families who receive places of beauty to brighten their lives.

Some people show their UN-deserving-ness for the world to see. Like the bozo who cuts you off in traffic and looks at you as if you did something wrong. Or the relative who for the past twenty years has managed to dig deep into you with her barbed comments, and knows exactly what she's doing. You're about ready to cancel family Thanksgiving dinner if you have to endure another holiday in her presence. Then there's the person who's a sneak, working every angle imaginable and never getting caught. You wish you could sell their story to the Enquirer.

"Oh, yes! I can think of things that they deserve." A nice traffic ticket. A look in the mirror of the heart to see their true nature. A public exposure of their secrets.

The natural response is to give--or hope someone receives--exactly what they deserve. So why are we amazed and touched when the good guys get something good? We all love winners; we root for the underdog, the less fortunate, the forgotten, the ones who've had a tough break for no real good reason--to get the prize.

Jesus said to His followers that if they do good to those who love them, they're no different than the other guy, the regular Joes and Janes who choose not to believe. He then commanded His followers to do good to those who hate them.

That doesn't sound very much like vengeance or just desserts, does it? Nor much fun, either, if you want to see the bad guy "get theirs" in a cinematic sort of way. I tell my husband that having a James Bond car that blasts idiot drivers will never be legal.

"But that person seems to exist only to make me miserable."

Those who say they're Christians, i.e., followers of Christ (the label "Christian has been applied to lots of people whom I'm sure Jesus would be ashamed of), are told to do the revolutionary. Do a loving act to those who don't deserve it. Wow, what a reality show that would make!

This Friday, millions of people will commemorate the time when Jesus didn't give us what we deserve, and instead gave us the ultimate act of love. Even those who will never appreciate or receive His gift. When I think about what He did for those of all time--for me, I feel like I've hit the Lotto.

Which is certainly much more than I deserve!

"Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him." The Bible, Romans 5, verses 6-8

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Queen of Absolutely Everything

On Today's Menu:
Forbidden Fruit Pie, a la mode

Wouldn't it be fun to fix everybody and their problems? I for one get so sick of people's bad habits and behavior patterns. I'm tired of hearing them bellyache about their kids, weight, finances, emotional life, relationships, spouse, dirty house, or --you fill in the blank. They're like hamsters on a wheel, galloping furiously for all they're worth, and wondering why they're not halfway to L.A. or wherever they'd like to be.

"Duh! Get off the stupid wheel!" I'd love to scream. "Change what you're doing if you don't like the direction you're going!"

"But, you see, I just don't know what to do." They shake their head.

"Didn't you hear what I just said?" By that point I'm ready to blow a gasket. Take a person who's tired of her children mouthing off. She's already been told not to argue with them. She's the mom, that's that. To see her spatting back and forth with her elementary age child makes me shake my head.

If I were to continue, I'd no longer be changing names to protect the "innocent." Who knows who might cruise by this blog and find themselves a perfect fit with the scenarios I'm describing?

So I point my fingers right back at myself. I'm tired of being overweight, for example. But am I tired enough to get off the hamster wheel and make the changes I need to make? Okay, maybe a treadmill in this instance is a good idea. I can boo-hoo to my friends about these extra pounds and the terrible time shopping and finding clothes that fit right--believe me, you can't camouflage everything. Yet my sob stories are for nothing if I won't make the changes I must make. I think of this now, as my aunt is in the hospital, gravely ill with congestive heart failure, with a poor prognosis. All because of choices.

Why do we do these things to ourselves? Here we go again, just like Eve who thought that forbidden fruit would make her happy. Did it taste just as sweet once she realized what she'd done? She never had another chance to go back to that tree after she got kicked out of Eden with her husband. I wonder if in her exile, she longed for the cool, green garden where all was provided for her and the world was at her feet. I wonder if she wished she could go back in time and run from the tree and what it represented. She had been the Queen of Absolutely Everything, and lost it all.

Choices, choices. Like a hamster on a wheel. We've never seen Eden, and yet forbidden fruit might as well be ripe for the picking in our backyards. We stay comfortable in our habits and behaviors, no matter how harmful. But we always have a choice.

I guess that's where God is far more merciful than I could ever be. If I were in charge, I don't think I'd be as kind and longsuffering. I'm working on those qualities, though. I suppose it's because of my own frustration at my shortcomings.

God is the King of Do-Overs. You want another chance, a do-over? He's the one to give it to you. Once we toss ourselves on the mercies of His court, we've got the biggest break imaginable.

So, get off the hamster wheel. Ending my rant for today!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fairy Tales and Marsh-wiggles

On Today's Menu:
Krab Salad Sandwich (hold the crab)

According to Bill Maher, I as a "religious person" have a serious neurological disorder. However, I don't think his statement is truly a question of neurosis, but the big question is: What's real, and what's the fairy tale? Noah and the Ark, or Jack and the Beanstalk? Krab salad won't ever be real crab, not matter if the fish is painted red, bleached white, and flavored. Crab is crab. Painted-and-flavored fish is still painted-and-flavored fish.

Self-delusion is very powerful stuff. We can persuade ourselves nearly anything. I once had a friend who persuaded herself that having a fling with a young man she wasn't married to was the answer to her heart problem, and that God above was surely "working in her life." The same kind of self-delusion caused a dozen men to carry out a plot and bring down two buildings in New York for the glory of their god. Frightening, isn't it, that our hearts can deceive us just like terrorists'? And there I can see Mr. Maher's point.

Yet experience is much more concrete than delusion, or fooling ourselves. Part of me can see how it would be easy to think religions provide a salve for people's empty spots, that they are just making something up to help make the whole sorry trip make sense. Along the road of life, it would be very easy to think we are trudging through on our own, enjoying mountaintops of glory, and relying on our human "spirit" to pull us through our struggles and triumph.

I am reminded of one of my favorite characters in literature, Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle, from The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. He and his human friends are held captive by the Queen of Underland. She's trying to convince them through words and magic that world above doesn't exist, and is but a dream. Puddleglum, always the realist (to the children's dismay), counters her incantations with this:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.

Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it.

We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world.

I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.

So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

Way to go, Puddleglum! He had experienced Narnia and the world above. No one could take that from him or charm him into thinking what he'd experienced was fake.

Mr. Maher and I have had religious upbringings. His lacked one thing, I think, from what he says: Experience. I did more than believe in God and His Words just because my parents hammered into my head (no, they didn't) for years and years. Is it any wonder children either a: leave their faith or b: become fanatics without experience (like our brainwashed terrorists) or c: discover their faith on their own. I sought for God and met Him on my own. That's where the truth comes alive. That's where faith comes in. I will not be charmed into thinking my experience is based on mere fairy tale.