Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hiatus Haiku

A haiku is a particular form of Japanese poetry. It is supposed to express a scene or feeling with an action or observation. The format takes three lines: the first has five syllables, the second has seven, and the third has five. Here is mine as I take a break from blogging to put together some special things for my students in the last week of school (which ends Friday) as well as to help Sarah prepare to go away for the summer. (I drive her up to PA on Thursday.)

The blog break is necessary for my productivity. The school break is necessary for my sanity. The mother-daughter break? There are no words. If I start talking about it, my throat gets tight, my eyes water, and I just ...well... yeh...there are no words.

Taking a blog break
To wrap up school year, I'm glad.
But "Bye, Sarah"? Sad.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mountain Branch--Excellent Wednesday Night Fare

I post this with ambivalence. Therefore I'll begin with a disclaimer: The last two times I recommended restaurants to people, I regretted it. One was Roy's, the other Amicci's. So, for what it's worth, here's my review of our charming experience at a local upscale feed trough.

Paul took me to Mountain Branch in Fallston on Wednesday night. Being a frugal guy, he remembered their marquis about the Wednesday night prix fix menu for $19.99 a person. He dressed in business casual, I in a get-up similar to the one that left me, quite involuntarily, on my classroom floor recently. Believe me, traversing the flagstone entryway at this restaurant was enough to make me hold my breath and Paul's strong arm at the same time. I even started misquoting scripture in my head, something about "even your enemies will become your footwear

We were seated almost immediately at a lovely table near the window, overlooking the terrace filled with a bevy of chatty women who appeared to be celebrating a special occasion, as they passed a small book around for autographs. They were a giggling gaggle, but thankfully (for my hubby's sake) the window blocked the sound of their jocularity. The scene, framed by the window, reminded me of my favorite Renoir painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party, sans men.

On Wednesday nights, Mountain Branch also has a 15-4-15 wine list. Choose one of any of the 15 bottles for $15. We tried Blue Fish riesling (the only part of the meal I didn't care for). It tasted flat and tangy. With it was served a warm , crusty mini-loaf of bread, pre-buttered, nothing memorable. Normally Paul and I decide from the bread alone how the rest of the food will deliver; to our joy, the meal improved with each course.

From the prix fix menu, Paul chose a salad of lettuce wedges and bleu cheese, and the filet of beef. The meat was tender and deliciously seasoned, though he thought it was slightly more done than he requested. I chose the baby spinach salad with roasted strawberries, pecans, and bleu cheese. (Yes, I went over into my Weekly Points Allowance, which means I need extra time in the gym, but it was worth it.) Next time I would ask they not roast the strawberries; the texture was mushy and I just don't like warm fruit except in dessert. My mahi mahi, accompanied by angel hair zucchini, looked beautiful on the plate and pronounced an exceptionally satisfying gastric delight from the first bite to the last. (Don't I sound like I've been writing food reviews for a hoity-toity magazine or something? This is too much fun.)

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, Mountain Branch's famous Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding was set before us. Oh. My. Word. No bread pudding I've ever tasted even comes close. The pudding itself was warm with a topping of (I think?) lemon sauce and a dollop of real whipped cream that was perfect--very light and not too sweet. It just melts in your mouth. (Pictures here are not actual. MB's presentation of the pudding is far superior.)
I forced myself to quit after just half the dessert, which Paul gladly pounced on as I pushed the plate away. (He doesn't like raisins, but they were easy to get rid of.) The decaf coffee was nothing special.
But the mahi and bread pudding would definitely bring me back. Heck, I would save half a day's caloric allotment to go to Mountain Branch for only the bread pudding. Good thing it's not "right around the corner" like Dunkin Donuts or I'd have to call in extra accountability troops.

So if you and your best friend would like a meal for $20 each plus drink and tip, try Mountain Branch on Wednesday. If you like the weather, ask to sit on the terrace. Otherwise, sit by the window and enjoy the indoor/outdoor ambience in the air conditioning. But whenever you go, save me a bite--just one bite with whipped cream--of their famous Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding.

Chime in, Ladies

Here's your chance to help a young man in a practical way with nothing more than your two cents. We love to give advice, don't we--tell people our opinions and how we feel? This is an open opportunity for you.

My son, Stephen, has just written two posts. Read the first one first ("Modesty and Deference Admired") to get the "theoretical" and then his "Paradoxical Preference" where you get to chime in on ways a man shows his care for you. It would help that he hears from a variety of women, not just his mom. I am only one person with one set of preferences; he needs a variety.

May I also say I do believe Stephen will never lack for young women standing in line to be his wife? I mean, come on! The guy made a Greek Christmas dinner for us, plays Sorry with his little brother, knows how to clean house, sponsors and writes to a Compassion child, and writes sweet things in cards for dear ole Mom. That's just skimming the proverbial surface. Stop me before I launch an all-out brag fest.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Husband Just Asked Me Out

I got home from school today and Stephen told me right away, "Dad wants you to call him. He said something about going out for dinner."

Who-ee! I don't care how old I get or how many years we've been married, there's still a giddy high-school girl in me that loves to be asked out by my honey.

I called him and he said, "So, are you available tonight?"

"Well, letmecheckmyscheduleyes!"


"Where are we going?"

"I can't tell you."

"Hmm, a surprise?"

"Well, not really. Here's the deal," he explained. Apparently his female boss was to meet three women from out of town for dinner tomorrow, and now can't, so she asked Paul's only male co-worker to fill in for her. The co-worker, in turn, asked Paul to come along and keep him company tomorrow evening with these women, and Paul said yes, on one condition. "I can't say yes unless I take Zo out tonight."

Good answer. Good man.

Sure, I could be upset that he didn't just think of all this date stuff spontaneously, but I am choosing to rejoice that he has prioritized a nice dinner with me in the name of pleasure (self-preservation?) before entertaining strangers in the name of business.

"Then, should I keep my school dress on?"

"Well, it's Mountain Branch. You don't need to, but you can."
I will. Dressing up makes it feel all the more special.

Lalalallalalaallaa. I'm so excited. It's been a while since we had a nice romantic evening.

Weight Weport #4: Four Week Update

Well, it ain't great, but it's better than gaining.
I lost .2 pounds this week. That's a total of 8.4 so far, which is just over 2 a week-- a good, healthy, doable way to lose it.

I know exactly what went wrong (that is, why I didn't drop more). Three things:
1) I didn't track my points. Lousy guesswork.
2) I had a defeat at the very battleground where I had a victory not long ago--Dunkin Donuts. I made the mistake of taking Joel there on Friday as a reward for his long, hard week. Who am I kidding? MINE was hard, and I fell back into the "I deserve a reward" mentality. And it's not like I made one bad decision to go to DD, I made several. I went in, not through or past. I bought Joel an ice cream cone and shut my wallet, but then scanned the ice cream case because our DD (maybe all of them?) shares space with Baskin Robbins. I saw all those 31derful flavors and it made me reminisce about my Granny Tola who owned a Baskins store in Lawrence, KS, when I was a kid. Naturally she gave us grandkids whatever flavor we wanted whenever we wanted ( a rarity since we lived a few hours away and seldom visited). My rationale was "I'm eating in remembrance of Granny." Stupid. Mind you, if I were partaking of a half ounce of grape juice and a morsel o' matzah in remembrance of Jesus, I'd have nothing to ask forgiveness for. But I was not only eating out of nostalgia, I was also mourning the loss of Denise, and decided to add to God's comfort a scoop of jamocha almond fudge.
3) I was lax about exercise. I really need 5-6 days of it every week. I did 3.5. That's not enough to offset the chocolate chip Teacher Appreciation cookies given by two different students, nor the ice cream, the pasta, and the extra sleep I got over the long weekend.

This week I start again. I am going to ask for your prayers for motivation. Losing just a pound in two weeks is hard on my motivation. I am feeling stronger, am seeing definition in my forearms, and am easily able to walk 15 more minutes on the treadmill than I could a month ago, and have less chin than I did when I started.

So those are my victories. And that's my weight weport for this week.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prayer Walking Proposal

The Lord has been spotlighting my lack of prayer and calling me to a greater devotion to the practice of prayer. He hasn't been saying to read about it, study it, or anything else. Just do it.

Seems everywhere I turn and ask another sister in the Lord what God is speaking to her about, prayer comes up. Or it's an addendum to a character issue (self-control in my case).

So I've been swishing an idea around in my mind, especially since Denise's last day and my subsequent dwelling on her lasting influence on my memory bank. The idea is a plan to have a women's weekly prayer walk. It would mean showing up at my driveway at the same time every week and linking up with another sister. Not always the same sister, but to walk in pairs doing nothing but praying. It would be half hour to focus on God, not distracted by kiddoes and phone and household chores. It would take place in the evening so as to accommodate the schedules of women employed during the day, and also let moms leave kids home with dads. I'm thinking 7:30. If it's raining a little, we could sit on my covered front porch to pray.

I'm thinking of starting two Tuesdays from now, but am open to an alternative night of the week. I'll be doing some prayer walking regardless of company, but I'd love the fellowship.

Once around my neighborhood "loop" (which is strenuous with its hills) is a mile and takes me a half hour.

I was thinking we could do the loop twice and call it (Sweet Hour of Praying). Even if you did the loop once, it'd be SHHOPping (Sweet Half Hour of Praying). Attention SHOPpers: if you're interested, please leave a note or email me. The main difference between SHOPping and shopping is that you can leave your money at home and know that your time has been well spent.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What's the Problem?

A few different times I have wanted to repost something by simply changing the date and time under Post Options in Blogger.

It lets me make the change, but when I hit "Publish," nothing happens. What's the problem?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Denise Left a Legacy of Hope

My friend Denise Villani went Home to Jesus a few days ago, after battling cancer. It was her second time around with the fatal disease, but the first time God healed her body with a bone marrow transplant. This time he healed her by transplanting her.

She and I weren't what you'd call close friends for very long, but what I remember is that God brought her onto my path in life's journey when it was rocky and dry, when I had begun to lose hope that God would bless me with another baby. She was that "older woman" that Titus speaks of, one who had wisdom from walking with God longer than I had.

I don't even remember exactly how we met. Besides being in the same church, I don't recall the details. All I know is that I was wanting an older woman in my life on a regular basis who would
pray a lot, share her life, be full of scripture, and have a good sense of humor. I just don't survive long around people who take themselves too seriously or are overly self-conscious or perfectionistic in a way that makes them dull. But when people take God seriously while laughing at themselves, they are utterly winsome to me. Denise was such a person.

My memories take to me two places with Denise. One was the track at Bel Air High School, and the other was my living room floor. At least once a week in the early spring and summer of 2001, she and I would meet at the track to walk while Paul ran and Ben, Sarah, and Stephen played around in the midfield or did their own thing within sight. We were both trying to lose weight (a theme of my life since age 28). Both high achievers, we'd set goals. "Okay, we'll do 8 laps today. Ready?" But no matter how hard we tried to keep a mental record of our laps, we would talk right through the quarter miles. We figured we'd quit when Paul quit and summoned me to the car.

At the time, Denise's two sons, Mike and Gabe, were in high school and oh how she loved them. She so enjoyed them and that gave me hope that teenagers could be lovable. Though she was a single mom and had accompanying hardships, I never once heard her badmouth her ex-husband. Never. Her lack of bitterness was real, not a show for a fellow believer. She had quite obviously forgiven him and refused to let negative feelings rule her. You can't fake that when you're being truthful in every other way.

While we walked, we talked and we prayed. Prayed for our children, our church, our nation, ourselves. I especially remember the fervor with which she prayed for me to conceive. It was as if she'd were the child's own grandmother. Yet, in all her praying and understanding ways, she made sure to ask me about my relationship with God in the midst. Was I going to praise Him regardless of the answer to my prayers or was God only God when He acted according to my wants and wishes?

As I said, Denise joined me in a leg of my spiritual path when it was dry and rocky. I was in the valley of the shadow of death--the deaths of two babies overshadowed all my good impressions of God for awhile, and Satan was accusing me that it was all my fault and that God couldn't be trusted. Depression was hitting hard. Misery loves company, but seldom vice versa. Few are the people who spend hours listening to the perpetual moans of another's spirit, let alone offer to rinse and repeat as necessary. My husband had grown weary of my condition. My children couldn't understand. My dearest friend in Kansas empathized and I talked her ear off, crying, but she Kansas. I needed someone right here. God brought Denise for an intense season. Looking back it seems so selfish; was I doing anything to ease Denise's burdens? I had a heart for single moms, but never did more than pray and listen. Maybe that's what she needed from me?

Denise came over one evening near the end of May and sat on the living room floor. I offered her the comfy chair to sit in, but she preferred to lean against it instead. It was during our conversation that she introduced me to a little book that ministered to me more than any book besides the Bible could have. It's called Beside Still Waters by Charles Spurgeon. She told me that Spurgeon himself had battled severe depression and yet knew how to counsel his own soul in such a way as to bring God glory eventually. No formulas, no twelve-step programs, but by meditating on God's character and Word. To make more of Him and less of me was exactly the counsel I needed. I read the book over and over. My spirit was changing and I was starting to say things like, "Yes, Lord, even if You never bless with a baby again, still I will bless you."

We walked and walked most of the summer. I was slimming down and firming up little by little. She was feeling more vibrant, enjoyed the increased stamina and the lower numbers on the scale. I wasn't looking forward to summer ending. Our walking prayer times had become precious. About a month later, though, at the track, I told her that I'd have to take some time off. I wouldn't be losing weight, I could practically predict it. In fact, it could be a challenge to keep food down. She laughed out loud and hugged me. "You're pregnant!" We danced around. What joy! Seven months later on a day that celebrates love, God placed His answer to my prayers in my arms. We named him Joel which means "The Lord is God."

Denise and I never shared our lives so personally or regularly again, but mine was the richer for that season. What started out as a dark winter in my soul became a golden summer when Denise infused it with hope. That's what made Denise such a wonderful traveling companion. It's what makes any believer in Jesus Christ a terrific "walking partner" in this life. No matter how many times you go around the same track, a good friend won't keep record of it, but instead will hold one of your hands while reminding you of the big, big God Who is holding your other one.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Want to be Named Among My Marigolds?

Today I planted our vegetable garden. We have tomatoes called Big Zac and Goliath (which, ironically, is the smallest guy in the lot). We have a pablano pepper I've named Pablo (because my Paul chose him) and we have some straightneck squash and cucumbers in as well, but they're unnamed. I will put the lettuce in a deck planter and do the same with limas for extra TLC. They are too tender to trust to the ground just yet.

Once all my toms and pablos and their amigos were firmly palnted, I surrounded the garden with marigolds, an old tried-and-true natural insect repellant. The variety I chose have brick red and orange flat petals and is called Durango Flame.

When I saw all those Catholic-Jewish flowers (Mary Gold), I knew I had been blogging too long: I thought of naming each of them after blogging friends. I secretly started naming them, beginnign alphabetically in the southwest corner of my 36 foot square produce patch.

If you would like to be named among my Mary Golds, leave me a comment. At the end of next Saturday, I'll try to post a picture of my veggies surrounded by marigolds, and if you want one named after you, I'll show everyone where their namesake is in my little piece of God's great earth.

By the way, the Mary Golds with a middle name (ie Mary Amy, Mary Betty, Mary Laurie Lynn) will get more attention than the nameless ones, so have a heart. :)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wednesday Weight Weport 3

I'm not happy. It was only a loss of .8 . I thought for sure I would be down closer to 2.0. Fighting anger right now because all the self-control didn't show up the way I wanted it to--on the scale. I must have more to learn about the big picture. The WW lady did encourage me by saying that I've averaged a loss of 2.5 pounds a week. Still, though, I feel like it's been a blow to my hard work of exercising and journaling my food intake.

Maybe I didn't journal everything correctly that I didn't have exact points for. Maybe I guessed really poorly on some things. Maybe I need more sleep. The lady said maybe I need more food if I'm exercising so much. I said, "No, because if I subtract for the activity points, I even them out with food." It's not like I'm going into a starvation mode, I promise. I don't think I could ever do that to myself personally because I love food. Always have, always will, unless God kills my taste buds, hacks out my eyes, stops my nose, and keeps pushing me to the gym.

But to be positive, I am recounting the victory that God gave me grace to keep my commitment to myself to exercise six times in one week. That's a huge change in my lifestyle. Huge. You're reading the blog of a gal who used to congratulate herself if she worked out six times a month, which I rarely did. Remember, I hated to sweat? I still am not enamored of the smell, nor the clothes that I put on when I work it up, but the results are worth it.

And still, a wonderful feeling to believe deep down that I'm finally starting to eat like a healthy person and think like a person with self-control. I haven't felt like quitting once in the past four weeks. All the other times I've only lasted 11 days. I am looking at next April 29 as probably the grandest Ebenezer celebration in my life.

Monday, May 18, 2009

He Might not Give me Grandchildren

Unless Joel changes his mind, he probably won't make me a grandmom. Ever. Read why.

Coming Attractions

The past five days have been full of good stuff. I am sure all the things I want to post about are far more important in my pea brain than they are to any of my readers. Nonetheless, twin features called Twaddle Dee and Twaddle Dum(b?) will be coming to a computer screen near you:

-my pantry reorganization project
-the making of our veggie garden

and something that's not twaddle to me: pictures of my students (once all the parents have agreed to let me post their kids' faces online).

Is it just me or is doing a project more fun when you know you can blog about it? :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Did You Pray, Mom?

"And a little child shall lead them." --Isaiah 11:6 c

Last night I got home around 6:30 from a long and wonderful afternoon at Black Rock with my class. They are there on a 3-day science retreat. (I don't teach science, but they wanted me to come up for at least part of the time. How sweet.) Went on a long hike through the beautiful Pennsylvania forest, down a muddy, rocky, 45-degree slope to the creek where I snapped tons of pictures as the kids scooped up critters from the rocks and water to examine. Sixty minutes later climbed back up that steep hill for a half hour and, of course, was hot, sweaty, icky, but feeling happy and refreshed.

Came home, took a long, hot bath and accidentally got shampoo in my right eye. It burned like crazy. After getting dressed, it still smarted like the dickens. I couldn't look at the computer screen or the TV or even bear the lamp light. I kept my eye covered with a kleenex and told Joel I couldn't find Waldo with him right now. My eye hurt too much. I just needed to keep it closed and rest awhile is what I told him.

"Did you pray, Mom?"

Gulp. Why, after 33 years as a Christian, does it still not occur to me first thing to pray in a situation? Why? Yes, in a major crisis I do. When I'm stuck for answers or feeling helpless, I cry out to God. But when I think I can fix it myself, it doesn't even occur to me. I don't get it. God has been raising his megaphone because whispers of my self-sufficiency don't always penetrate the spiritual wax build-up in my ears.

"Mom," Joel repeated, snapping me out of my guilty pondering, "did you pray?"

"No, honey, I didn't."

"You should, " he said, "You should always pray." And then he added some sage advice for a 7-year-old. "And keep your eyes open. Keeping them closed makes it worse."

That last line could be its own sermonette.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wednesday Weight Weport #2

I'll probably start blogging my progress in the health arena of self-control each Wednesday since that's the day I go to Weight Watchers with Karen . First the stats, or should I say "stat" since I'm not measuring inches lost or having medical tests of any kind to assess.

So, this week I lost 1.6 pounds. Yay, right? Yes and no was my reaction. What I know about myself is that I set high goals, sometimes too high. I started out with a goal of losing 9 pounds in the first 2 weeks. Last week I dropped 5.8, so this week was shooting for 3.2 . To only get halfway to my weekly goal was a disappointment to me, but at least I didn't gain back and at least it was closer to 2 than 1. I'm headed in the right direction, but to counter my disappointment, I will recount the victories the Lord gave me this week. It's been mostly about exercise.

1. I set a goal to move 5x/week. Accomplished.
2. It used to be that my warm-up walk on the treadmill started at 1.0 mile/hr for 2 minutes and I needed to "run" (I use the term flabbily) at 2.8. Now my "warm up" pace is 1.8 for 1 minute and I don't need to "run" till 4.0.
3. Several times I've exceeded my 20 minutes or 100 calories/session goal.
4. Monday night came and I had not exercised all day. I prayed to God for strength and felt He said, "Put your tennis shoes on." Well, He's smart, God is, because now that the weather's warm and my feet are 90% pain-free, I don't need tenners in the house anymore except on the treadmill. Where does that leave me to go? Outside. So I headed up the hill and around the loop of our n'hood which is exactly one mile, and I did that in 29 minutes.
5. Tuesday morning came and I was stiff and saw no time in my day I would want to exercise. I was telling myself I wouldn't feel like it after school or in the evening. Negative talk is a health menace. Again I asked God for motivation to just move. Again I felt a little heavenly push to do just ten minutes of higher intensity to loosen up. Did that and felt much better.
6. Today I needed Karen's "atta girl" to reassure me, to help me see the big picture. By April 29 of next year , I want to lose 100 pounds total --a daunting figure (pun intended)--and when I called her, she said "If you only lost one pound a week, in a year that's 52 pounds. If you lose 2 a week, you'll definitely have your 100 off." Thanks, Karen.
7. I didn't feed my sadness yesterday. In fact, after two sad bits in my school day , plus literally falling down on the job, I normally would have comforted myself with ice cream or a pastry. However, within minutes of getting news that made me want to cry, I started sensing God's comfort and peace. I controlled my emotions rather than let them control me. And I used fat-free prayer instead of highly calorie food.
8. This morning I ate a 4 point breakfast and then walked it all off in 20 intense minutes even with cheesy music on.

Okay, now I feel better. God has given me 8 graces to share in my Wednesday Weport. There are more, but they're in my paper journal.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When the Two Should Not Become One

So those cute little shoes that I was wearing when I ran out of gas? I wore them again today. No, I didn't run out of gas again, but I had them on my feet when I encountered another little problem. My pride is only now a little smaller than the bruise forming on my shin.

Knowing I wouldn't be having a messy art project today, I decided to go a little dressier than usual. I chose to wear a gauzy cobalt blue dress and a little lime half-jacket (whatever you call it) and pearly bling. I also decided those silver slides would do just fine with my girlie ensemble.

All was hunky-dory until 1:03. I was just finishing a review game in the leftover time while I waited for Cheryl, my co-teacher, to return for Bible class.

The scenario: I'm standing at the board, chalk in hand, asking questions.

Me: "Okay, for 200 points, name the artist who is most often associated with pointillism."
Student: Georges Seurat.
Me: Good! For 200 points, which artist lived to be 98 and painted huge flowers that make you feel you can climb into them?
Student: Georgia O'Keeffe.
Me: Right! For 200 points, what is the name of the museum in France...

and while I spoke, I crossed my ankles,
and when I crossed my ankles, I didn't realize
that the buckle on my right shoe
proposed marriage to my left
and they decided on the spot to
exchange vows
and consummate the union.

Their public display of affection being

most inappropriate,
they needed a copulation cop.
I tried to separate them by
pulling my ankles apart
but-- like lovers in covenant--
they would let no one
put asunder
that which was joined.

And thus began a wild dance on my part

to force the divorce,
but they were stronger than a cord of three strands .

And I?
I floundered like a ...well, like a flounder out of water,
waving my fins in the air to keep my balance,

but lost it anyway.

Down I went,
right on my

I quickly gathered my skirting around me,
but STILL those darn shoes stayed together
at the buckle.
I had to wiggle and jiggle and nearly taze them before
they broke their commitment to each other.

Then the peals of laughter. I don't know whose came first,
mine or my students'
but three of the boys were howling into their hands .

Cheryl had just come in, having seen me fall as she entered,
thought I'd fainted,
and when she saw I was conscious,
asked if I was all right.
"Yes," I said, "just my pride took a beating, but that's okay, it needs it."

I got up much more gracefully than I'd gone down, and decided it's probably
time I trade my silver slides in
for ruby slippers.

Because , at the moment,
I was thinking
I'd rather be home.
There's no place like home

Darling Analogy

Kids come up with the best analogies. Here's a winner that Joel proclaimed today.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Blood Song

I'd love to have this little girl sing on our worship team. What a cutie with passion to spare!
I've listened to what she says at the end but can't make it out. Can you? Does she say, "Let 'em play?" or what? Anyway, I laughed and wept imagining our Father's heart when we sing for Him, hand motions and all.

How to Have Your Crow and Eat it, Too: Part 3

The old couple drove off and I approached the busy intersection alone. Twelve lanes of traffic, some stopped, some going, some turning. Normally I would be scared, but I felt a complete peace as I stood there waiting for an all-clear. My only fear was that a car would zip down the turn lane and not see me coming, but I prayed for a safe crossing. I slipped off my shoes, picked them up, took one final look in every direction and hurried to the other side. Then I trekked up a steep grassy knoll to the shopping center, becoming a bit more self-conscious of the abnormality of it, wondering if I looked like the female version of Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive." (I may have been panting as hard, but I think he had more facial hair.)

At long last I spotted a chrome box with an attached phone. Wow. They do exist in modern suburbia. I fed it fifty cents and dialed the church. Sarah picked up. It was nice to hear her voice. I explained my predicament and she wasn't fazed. (Do I really not surprise anyone anymore with my stupidity?) "I figured you had just gotten to yakking with Miss Karen after Weight Watchers and forgot all about school and that you had let your cell die again." She had already picked up Joel from his classroom.

Since I had only fifty cents left to my name, I asked her if she'd call Kelly, the closest person I could think of (three minutes away). Sarah balked. "And make her pack up four kids? Mom!" She was right. That would be a bother.

"Okay, then," I ventured, mentally pressing the 'bother family' button. "Can YOU come get me?"

"I'd rather not," she said, tying her time at work with finals and forcing me to come up with a new option. (She apologized later.)

"Sarah, is there anyone there still in the parking lot who lives around here? Mitzy? Someone?"

It ended up Mitzy could come get me but it would take an hour after her carpool drop-offs. I would wait. I honestly thought of getting a massage at the tanning place. Wouldn't that beat all? Then wisdom took the reins back and I sat inside the grocery store on a hard bench. It was like doing penance, which made me feel better for inconveniencing someone. All I knew was that Mitzy, Sarah, and I all wanted to go to the ladies' meeting that night and hear Laurie speak, and I didn't want to make Mitzy late for that.

She arrived at 4:00 sharp and we drove to her place to the can of mower gas. Drove to my van, put the gas in, but it wasn't enough to start the engine. Went to the station, put more gas in the can (which I kind of spilled on those cute new shoes of mine) , returned to the van and fed it more. Finally. The sound of a working engine! It didn't sound 100% normal, though, and I asked if Mitzy would follow me to her house. I would sit and wait for Sarah to get off work and follow me home. Didn't want to chance another mishap without a cell phone. She agreed and we arrived at her home around 5. Poor gal had to skip her choir rehearsal, change her dinner plans from baked chicken to scrambled eggs, and needed a shower to get the gasoline smell off herself.
She wouldn't take help in the kitchen, wouldn't let me stay in my van (even though I smelled) but insisted I have a seat on her couch and relax. She refused letting me spring for pizza and gave me an ice cold water to drink. Completely hospitable, in spite of her many dashed plans.

Sarah arrived at 5:20 with Joel in tow, and followed me the nearest gas station to get a complete fill-up. She then had to drive to her school for a meeting and back to the ladies' meeting, skipping dinner. Boy, had I really messed up. Meanwhile, I threw a meal together and took a shower, set my stinky shoes on the porch to air out, and donned a new set of threads.

I got to the ladies' meeting just in time to grab a cold drink and a seat with friends. A feeling of safety and belonging rushed over me and I wanted to cry a river of relief, but it would've been inappropriate. The Holy Spirit gave me self-control to hold in my tears, a trick I didn't believe could be taught to an old dog. I've been a crier all my life, but I must credit the Lord for training me through training my students that emotions must be controlled. It "just so happened" that Laurie's talk was on self-control, and I was glad I had already realized victories in self-control with my appetite and emotions before she came back to town. Otherwise, I am pretty sure I would have refused the chocolate at our table out of guilt and not because it was a fruit of self-control. The Lord was kind to me in so many ways in my Out of Gas experience.

The day after God sent me a crow for reassurance, I had to "eat crow" in front of my coworkers and students. Some laughed, some admitted they were concerned, some played right into Sarah's assumption that I had forgotten about school. One thing I learned: if you're gonna run out of gas, keep your cell phone charged. If you're gonna let your cell die, keep gas in your car. But even if you're stupid again--which you will be--God will be there.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

'Tis a Happy Mother's Day This Year

Best wishes to all moms reading this. I realize that for some, this is a very difficult day. Perhaps your mother has passed away and you miss her terribly. Perhaps your relationship with her is strained, and this day brings mixed emotions and unmet longings. Still others reading this are wondering if this is the last Mother's Day your mom will live to see. Mother's Day can also be difficult for women who have miscarried, lost children, or who haven't been able to conceive. Maybe you have also struggled with guilt and depression in your mothering that this day is one you wish to pull back from or just skip altogether. May I tell you that you are on my heart?

I personally have not always enjoyed Mother's Day. I have experienced much of what I wrote above, but this year has been different, by God's grace.

My mom is still alive and I thank God she is. She is not in the best of health, but she is my dad's lifelong love and together they shepherd a small Messianic congregation near here. I wanted to have lunch out with Mama today, but she says that she and Daddy aren't much fun to eat with anymore since they are on such a restricted diet. (My dad was just diagnosed with diabetes, so they both have it.) She says she would much prefer to have the grandkids over for snacks and game playing when their finals are over. (I noticed she didn't say, "I'd like to have my children here..." --no, she goes straight for the grandkids!)

My mom is a wiz at Monopoly and my fiercest competitor in Balderdash. She taught Joel to love Upwords and beats my dad every time at Scrabble. My children are probably among the few Jewish-by-heritage-Protestant-by-upbringing kids out there nowadays and they can play a mean game of dreidel at Hanukkah, courtesy of Ima (which is what my mom goes by; it means "mother" in Hebrew, a term she liked better than the word for grandmother).

She also loves to watch children perform, not just her own, but others, and has a knack for encouraging children in their God-given bents. At the school musical this past Friday, she and Daddy attended the dress rehearsal. The musical was called "Kings, Dreams, and Schemes," about the faith of Daniel. Our little Joel had two parts: a "Wise Guy" whose only line was, "I don't want to read it!" (the handwriting on the wall) and a lion in the den. He was adorable in both parts. (Pictures coming.) The title role was played by one of my students. Mama leaned over during the play and said of him, "That kid has a future in acting." I whispered back,"He wants to be a professional actor when he grows up. He's already told me so." I had the opportunity later to tell the boy what my mom said. He beamed and jumped off the ground. "Really?! Me?! That's so cool. Thanks!" She also stopped in to the debriefing afterwards where the director was coaching the cast on what went well and what needed improving for the evening show. My mom came in and said, "Excuse me, I'd just like to tell all of you that you did a WONderful job. I'm Joel's grandma and I'm so proud of all of you!" I think the kids appreciated having a "real" audience member (i.e. from the outside) giving them kudoes. She was a very good acting coach when I played the part of Amaryllis in community theatre when I was eleven. Her encouragement gave me the boost I needed to face huge crowds and to be more comfortable than awkward in public speaking situations. I think it helped these young thespians as well.

God made this a lovely day for me. In the past, I've stayed home from church some years, my depression was that bad. But this year, I was quite happy, so take it from me: there is hope for you. Someday the cloud will lift. This morning I showered and then came to the breakfast table. Potted stargazer lilies--my favorite-- welcomed me, along with a greeting card organizer tied with a MOM balloon, a Beth Moore book, and lots of lovely cards, made and bought. Joel could barely contain his excitement over what he made for me in school--a huge card with the acrostic "MOTHER" written on it and the things he loves about me. (The best part of the day was Joel's hug; for the first time in years I have a waist that he can put his arms all the way around!! Paul had fixed a yummy batch of egg and sausage burritos. (Mother's Day food doesn't have points, right?) And after church, I got to ride in the convertible on this gorgeous sunny afternoon and they took me out for Chinese. (Again, no points to track, huh?) Came home, took a snooze, and here I am. Rested and happy and thanking God for his goodness and mercy to me as a mother, wife, and daughter.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Saying Yes, Saying No: Thought Life and Weight Loss (AKA Wednesday Weight Weport #1

I joined Weight Watcher's last week and the gym two weeks ago. I had reached and surpassed a number on the scale I said I never would. My joints, all of them, hurt. It winded me to go up a flight of steps. I was starting to see a third chin. I couldn't rise gracefully from a sofa or chair, I didn't want to be in any pictures, felt huge and yet invisible in public, as if only the thin and beautiful were being sought out for conversation. I was saying no to a lot of social activities and yes to a lot of sitting on my derriere, hiding. I began to feel, as I felt toward overweight women when I was young, that I had no right to speak about spiritual disciplines when I obviously had no physical ones.

In short, my identity had become my size, and my appetite for food had long since spiraled out of control. I even got to believing the lie that my weight problem was out of God's control.

Then came Lauren. She is a single girl in our care group who battled in the same areas. In fact, so do all but one woman in our little huddle. The difference with Lauren is that I could see her literally walking in repentance. Mile after mile, day after day, she was at the gym. Every time we gathered as a care group, there were sweets. Like the Babdists say, Where two or three are gathered in My name, there is food in the midst of them. The rest of us cowered to chocolate cake, banana nut bread, and assorted cookies. Lauren always said no. ("No thanks," I mean, ever so politely and simply. Not a finger wagging, self-seeking, "Oh, no, not me. I can't imagine all the fat grams and calories and how hard I had to work to get this far this week." Simply (to my ears it was simply) a "no thanks."

Then came Karen. She joined Weight Watchers and encouraged me to join her. I needed the accountability , to plunk down money, to see a scale, to get encouragement and education, to find out how other people are doing little things to make big changes.

Joining the gym was a harder decision. Paul and the kids went, but not me. I thought it would be a pick-up place, and I wasn't there to pick or be picked. I am a married woman with a big fat butt. I didn't want to be surrounded by "collegers" shaking their bitty booties. My kids wouldn't let me off the hook. "We'll go, Mom. You'll see it's not like that. " But I said no. Time and again. Finally one night my two olders went to the gym and scoped it out. When they got home, Sarah said, "Mom, you don't have a thing to worry about. There's a lot of fat butts over there." To which Ben added, "Old fat butts."

Believe it or not, that was the turningpoint. God used my kids' so-called encouragement to get me off my old, fat butt and into the gym.

Over the past week I have said no to Dunkin Donuts, extra mashed potatoes, fruit juice, cream in my coffee, and other staples from my soon-to-be-former diet. I can have them, but so far they still prove my chief weaknesses. All things are lawful, but not all are expedient, writes Paul the Apostle. I have also said yes to the treadmill and bike at the gym, yes to sticking with it each time for at least 30 minutes or 100 calories.

But the key has been saying yes and no from a position on my knees. This is too hard on my own. I am not a "runner's high" seeker. I have no ambitions to be a model or even an aerobics instructor like my sister. Every "yes" to good choices and every "no" to bad (or not so good) choices has been after putting on the whole armor of God. Battling my thoughts. Asking God to be my comfort when I'm sad or lonely, my refuge when I'm afraid, my Hope in despondence, my Victor in the battle against food and laziness. He has proven Himself able--more than able--to help me drive past (not through) fast food places, to move for ten minutes and 20 when I'd rather nap, to satisfy my longings for conversation with His Word which is speaking to me daily!

And He gave me a visible result on the scale: 5.8 pounds my first week, looser skirts, thinner ankles, an ability to walk up stairs without heavy breathing, and people in my path to show me what "walking in repentance" looks like physically. To Him be the glory! He is--He IS-- in control of my weight loss, one thought at a time.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Sarah's Accident

This morning was like most mornings except that I was to have a 9 a.m. appointment at the gym with someone who would teach me about FitLinx, a way to track your fitness goals electronically. But at 8 this morning I didn't have a peace about keeping the appointment. I am still quite sore from last night's workout and have a housework goal looming as large as my backside.

Stephen's Jeep was blocked into our driveway by the fleet that we have as five drivers. So he took the convertible and would switch later with Sarah. I thought no more of it; it barely registered as an oddity.

On the way out the door at 9:00, Sarah plopped a paper on the table and asked if I'd check over it and mark it up. She'd be home before work to fix it. Praying for the kids is the most I can do;marking their papers is the least.

The phone rang about ten minutes after she left. Her voice was shaking and she was crying. I knew. "Mom...I've been hit!... Can you come?" I asked where she was and if she was okay. Then I called Paul who said, "Was it her fault?" and a couple other questions and I said "I don't think so, I need to go." He said, "Don't do anything stupid," which is his code way of saying, "Don't say much on the scene, admit fault or say everything's fine." (He keeps it simple and I usually understand him.)

I threw on a decent shirt and made a couple calls for prayer and to let the school know what happened in case I didn't show up today. (Rainy Wednesday. Car problems...Hmm....sound familiar? I was tempted to superstition but instead chose to thank God for his protection two rainy Wednesdays in a row.)

"Be her peace, her Prince of Peace," I said. "and the other person who hit her. For that matter, be mine, too, Lord," I prayed as my heart picked up tempo.

I saw flashing cop car lights but only a dark SUV on the other side of the road, Oh, Lord, she got hit by a big one. where is she? I wondered. Maybe she's behind that SUV in a ditch? Then where's the ambulance? How could she have called me if she was flipped over in a ditch?

The cop was in his vehicle filling out paperwork. I asked him through his window, "I'm looking for my daughter, She was driving the convertible?"

"Convertible?" He looked dumbfounded, or like I was an apparition. He pointed to the Jeep.

Then it clicked. She was in Steve's Jeep! Thank God! Oh, thank you, God! Stephen took the convertible to school!

Sarah was sitting in the front seat with her cell phone, calm and smiling, She got out and hugged me and told me the details. I walked around the right side of the Jeep and saw the big dent in the back door. The lady had pulled out apparently from her housing development in her SUV. Oh, Lord, had Sarah been hit by that,,, I don't want to think about it.

Part of me wanted to cross the street and ask the lady if she was okay and to reassure her. It must feel so terrible to be the one at fault.

But Paul's words,"Don't do anything stupid" came back to me. It could be stupid to cross this busy, wet road. It could be stupid to open my mouth in the name of calming someone else." So I simply told Sarah I wanted to drive her to school. She balked, said she was okay, but I insisted I at least follow her to campus. Driving after an accident can be nerve wracking, but she was already nervous because she en route to give a presentation at school. "All the more reason I follow you to school," said, the Mother Hen I am .

She arrived safely and I thanked God as she parked the Jeep that He had been merciful to her, to us, in arranging (or from my perspective, rearranging) the details and outcomes of this rainy Wednesday.

Monday, May 04, 2009

How to Have Your Crow and Eat it, Too: Part 2

The drizzle continued, and my hazard lights were still on, but after a half hour, no one had stopped. A cop car had passed without so much as slowing down. I got out, propped up the hood and opened the gas tank door to show I was having engine trouble. Got back in and began to pray once more, asking God for wisdom.

"Lord, I know You hear me, I do. Even though humans don't seem to care a bit, I know You do. Would You be so kind as to give me a sign that You are here with me?"

I kid you not, when I checked my rearview mirror, I saw a crow fly down onto the side of the road, close to the van. Like Elijah's raven! It's my Baltimore raven--er, crow. I didn't need food, Lord, but I needed assurance, and You've done that for me. I smiled at God's kindness. The bird took off and I began planning something besides waiting for help.

Another cop car passed but didn't slow down. I was too afraid to stand on the edge of a busy highway. I've heard of too many pedestrian accidents. In the next hour, off and on, I would start to wonder if Paul or the kids had been notified that I hadn't shown up for work, and were they worried? Did Paul get a call? Was anyone out looking for me? I would have been out looking for any of them had they not reported to work as scheduled. Self-pity and a slight bit of anger gripped me, but when I was rational, I realized it hadn't been all that long.

Cars continued to zoom on by, including a third cop car. No help. On and off for an hour, however, that plain, black crow alighted on the road behind me. Even in my sin, God is reassuring me of His love. At 2:37 I decided to walk. I took a dirty, white art smock from my trunk and tied it to the side mirror. Then, I took off my brand new silver wedges, grabbed an umbrella and my purse, locked the van, and dashed across the highway. I put my shoes back on and trudged in the damp and somewhat muddy grassy area between jersey walls. I felt totally at peace most of the time when I was thanking God for cool air, that this was 2:30 p.m. not a.m., that I wasn't lost, that my destination was only a half mile away or so, and that I had started getting in shape a month ago so that I was up to the task. But when my mind went to thoughts like, "I hope nobody recognizes me, I hope I don't twist my ankle, I probably look kooky in semi-professional clothes carrying an umbrella, walking between jersey walls,' that's when I felt my heart race.

God, would you send an old couple along, someone I could outrun if I had to? I don't want a
capable young or strong man to offer help. But I would love a ride. A short time later I heard honking from what sounded like a big ole Chevy car. I turned around. A big ole car (Chevy, I'll never know) stopped, but it was headed the opposite direction. I kept walking. Two minutes later it was back, going my way. They pulled over. It was a couple about 80 years old. I didn't get any closer to them; I stayed right where I was, panting from my brisk walk.

"Do you need help?" the old man asked, his wife next to him.

And what did I say? "No, thanks. I ran out of gas, but the station's right up there."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure. Thanks."

So they drove away and I approached the hectic, dangerous intersection on foot. It was the
independent streak in me, the fool. Even after asking God for an old couple who stopped not once but twice for me, I didn't want to bother them to take me all the way home, but honestly had no intention of buying a gas can, filling it up, and carrying it back to the van. I only hoped to find a pay phone still in existence so I wouldn't have to ask someone for a cell. My only thought was getting through to Sarah to ask her to pick up Joel and maybe come bail me out.