Friday, October 30, 2015

Prayer



I've been thinking about this post for a long time. Or maybe putting it off might be more accurate. 

Prayer is such a personal thing. And something I have never begun to understand. Other than the above quote, which somehow makes sense to me, I'm not sure what I think about prayer. Which is probably why I've never done bedtime prayers with my kids and little more than the annual Thanksgiving prayer-ish thing of going around and saying what you are thankful for before digging into a meal.

I was taken aback a few months ago when a well-meaning church friend approached me about my youngest son's lack of knowledge about prayer. The other children were shocked, apparently. I didn't worry too much. I already know I'm no supermom and have a somewhat unconventional approach to the whole parenting thing, based in humor, individual choice, respect, and incessant nagging through which I am working out my own insecurities and perceived failures.

Which brings me back to my recent thoughts about prayer. What is it? How are you supposed to do it? Do you ask for stuff and consider your prayers answered if you get what you ordered?

Is it way more complicated than that? Or way simpler? Is it, "Thy will be done"? Is it not being afraid to pray big and having confidence you'll receive the needed (demanded) answer? Is it just being silent and listening? Is it fear in times of desperation? Groaning? Anger? Thanks in times of joy? Awe in moments of overwhelming beauty?

Is it formal or informal? Is it something you set aside time for or something purely spontaneous? All of the above? Or none of it?

And is it any wonder I have no confidence in my ability to impart any sort of wisdom or guidance to my children in this area?

I do it. Often. When I need to be reminded of my place in the world. That I am a tiny speck in the universe, yet God is familiar with every hair on my head and mindful of the fall of the sparrow. When I need to remember that I am not all-knowing or all-powerful. That I am not in charge. When I am overwhelmed by grace. When I am grateful for something simple and small that contains everything that matters. When I am trying to find my way in the dark yet am certain I am not alone. When I need guidance and the strength to act.

Prayer is so very personal. A mystery. I would have no idea how to have that conversation with my kids. I can't reduce it to, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." or "God is great and God is good..." or even the Lord's Prayer or the Hail, Mary that my sweet mom taught to me when I was a little girl.

I think the best I can do is wonder aloud and be open to discussion. Willing to share. Willing to listen. Ponder and reconsider. That's all I've got.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Memes by Me

Thanks to Justin Townes Earle for these words from his song, Mama's Eyes.
Thanks to Connie Schultz for this awesome picture of her mom.
My friend, David Carter...
My Benjamin.

Jack.
Ben again.
SAMMER!!!

Jack in the Greenbrier River...photo credit to Mark Burnette.

Opposites Attract

Mark and I have the same fundamentals, which are the foundation of our marriage. Family, kids, political views. And we've come together in other areas over the years--he reads more now; I now enjoy watching baseball. But some of our details are polar opposites, and that can be fun, if baffling at times.

The most recent thing I was pondering was food. He's a meat eater. I could easily be a vegetarian. He likes sweets for breakfast. If I eat breakfast, I like cereal or oatmeal. Which leads to...I must drink coffee in the morning...he never touches the stuff. 

And then, last night. He made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but I'm the one who ate them. Because, hello, fresh, hot out of the oven, late at night cookie eating is my definition of heaven. He didn't eat any, saying, "Those are for you and the kids...if there are any left, I'll have them for breakfast."

I can't claim to understand him all the time, but I sure do love him.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Really?!

So.  Crystal Blue Persuasion is a song about Jesus, but One Toe (ok, Toke) Over the Line, Sweet Jesus, is about drugs?  Really?!  I am 44 years old, and I've been confused all of these years, apparently.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ghostwriting and Bacon...

Here is a random, light-hearted blog about bacon. "Why bacon?" you may ask. Well, I have long wanted to be a "real" writer, and I have somehow bought into this notion that you can't call yourself a writer unless you have actually published and been paid for your work. Which is completely stupid...yet, there it is.

So, recently, I heard about this interesting website called BlogMutt. The process for writing for them is pretty simple, so I signed up and am giving it a try. In my first week, I submitted two blogs (you are basically a ghostwriter for BlogMutt's clients, who will pay you for blogs you write that they post on their own websites.).

One of them was immediately viewed and put in the queue. Then, on February 12, 2015, it was posted. "Poof," I am a writer--published and paid, albeit only eight bucks and for a piece that will never be attributed to me. But still, it feels pretty cool.

The other piece I submitted was viewed and then sat in the queue to be posted for several days, but it was then "withdrawn" and assigned a symbol indicating I could recycle it if I wanted to. I discovered that in the case of this submission, the client I wrote for is no longer using BlogMutt's services and so is no longer buying this sort of blog post.

This turns out to be a good thing because from the moment I submitted this particular piece, it didn't feel right. It was my very first effort, and I had not fully comprehended that I was ghostwriting for a client. I made the rookie mistake of submitting a first person blog, which really doesn't work too well in the BlogMutt forum. A helpful BlogMutt admin gave me some great constructive feedback, and I edited the submission to include this opening line, "We received this fun note from a customer and wanted to share the words of wisdom...enjoy!"  But it still felt wrong.

So, now that it has been "withdrawn," it's mine again, and I'm publishing it now on my own blog, where it actually belonged all along.  Enjoy!

(Oh, and I'm still on the fence about how far to go with this BlogMutt thing, but they have a neat business model, and thinking about ideas for BlogMutt clients has had the bonus effect of stimulating my thinking and ideas generally--I've been motivated to write more in the last two weeks than any time in recent memory. How cool is that? And I will always credit BlogMutt for making me feel like the real writer I have always wanted to be. Applying for acceptance as a BlogMutt writer--$0; amount paid for first BlogMutt blog post--$8; finally feeling like a real writer--priceless.) 


Confession: I like bacon just fine, but I am not a bacon fanatic. I did, however, marry a bacon lover, and over the last 15 plus years, we have produced and are raising three bacon-inhaling boys. It's fair to say, I've made a lot of bacon, and I've gotten good at it.

The secret to perfect bacon is micromanagement:

First, know your audience. My family loves their bacon crispy. Though I once had to make bacon at a camp-out for an entire scout pack, where some liked it crispy and others were of the "just-kill-the-salmonella-then-feed-it-to-me" variety. Either way, micromanagement is the key.

For a good bacon outcome (as opposed to half-raw-half-burned, or some unrecognizable strip permanently adhered to your frying pan), you must micromanage your bacon. I fully recognize this approach doesn't work well in other aspects of your life, but in the world of bacon-making, it's the only way.

Next, lay your bacon out in an orderly fashion (though I must admit, on that scout camp-out, I was able to successfully micromanage three pans of very haphazard bacon, resulting in a variety of outcomes from crisp to underdone, which made all my bacon-eaters happy; but I am extremely experienced and would not recommend this to the inexperienced, albeit enthusiastic and possibly lucky, beginner).

Then...and this is the trick...TURN YOUR BACON OFTEN! This will prevent early sticking, as well as uneven cooking patterns. And by "often," I do mean, "OFTEN"! Seriously, the pan you use (though I prefer a large, non-stick dealio) and your choice of turning implement (though I prefer a long fork as opposed to a spatula or other special what-have-you), aren't that important, so long as the bacon is your focus and you are turning often--according to the bacon's needs, not your own.

Finally, manage your heat. Yes, of course, you want a medium-high heat, but pay attention and adjust according to the needs of your particular bacon. Thick cut is particularly finicky, but SO worth it.

This technique works well for all bacon, but you cannot turn your back, not even for a minute. You must not get distracted by bacon conversation, or posting bacon photos, or dancing to whatever bacon-making tunes you may be jamming out to. 

The bacon is your focus. You cannot turn it too many times, and if you are paying attention, you can transfer it from pan to plate at precisely the perfect point.

Go forth and micromanage your bacon. The bacon-eaters in your life will thank you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ben and I ponder the big stuff

Yesterday evening, my seven-year-old said, "Mommy, I am having trouble understanding what makes people die." I try to take this sort of thing in stride, and we had what I thought was an honest and age-appropriate conversation about old age, illness, and accidents. He still seemed troubled, though I thought I was being the perfect combination of honesty, calmness, and reassurance.

A few minutes later, he approached me again, saying, "Mommy, I'm worried about Grandaddy...when is the last time I hugged him?"

Oh, that's what this is about....

My Dad was diagnosed with Post Cortical Atrophy more than ten years ago. First his visual processing deteriorated, and then, sadly, his disease progressed to the memory loss and other aspects of dementia or Alzheimer's.

All of which can be challenging to explain to kids. 

So, Ben knows that Grandaddy is "sick" and has trouble remembering things. And being the kid that Ben is, he adores his Grandaddy and has spent countless hours thinking up stories to tell him, jokes to share with him, hand-drawn pictures to send to him, and other great ideas for how to help Grandaddy feel better. 

Have I mentioned how much I love this kiddo?

All of it is made more challenging by the fact that we live more than 800 miles from my folks, so Ben doesn't get to see them anywhere near as often as he would prefer.

Anyway, I need to change my technique and try to give my little guy some better information about his Grandaddy. He is declining, but physically he's not in bad shape, and Ben should have plenty more opportunities for hugs.

And for all my kids, it's so important that they understand that Grandaddy is so much more than just this hideous disease that steals him from us bit by agonizing bit.

He is the man so eloquently described in an honor he received from the Cathedral Choral Society: "Hospitable mentor, generous long-term donor of his time and many talents, decisive yet ever diplomatic, he is that rarest of all creatures--an officer and a gentleman."


He is every terrible pun you have ever groaned over, every song you've ever loved, and all the bikes you've ever ridden. He's every old clock that ticks too loud. He's the smell of wood shavings.

He is Jack: the Boy Scout; the ROTC cadet; the handsome, funny, smart, kind young man.

He is Sam's mischievous grin and brilliant brain.

He is Ben's uncommon sweetness and deep sense of responsibility for others.

The good news is, every time I laugh and smile and say, "You know who that reminds me of?" my kids know the answer..."Grandaddy!"

I had hoped they would have the chance to learn so many things directly from him, but I truly think they are getting the picture anyway.

Most days...they are the picture.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

More Lessons in Love...at the Hair Salon

Yesterday was a happy day. A Saturday. Bright and sunny after a chilly and somewhat gloomy-weather week. And I had plans for some girl time, as I headed out for a haircut and pedicure.

My first stop was Sheer Drama, where Gaye has been cutting my hair ever since we moved to Ocala in 2006. She also cuts Mark's hair and Sam's and sometimes Ben's as well. Rarely Jack's however because he is one of those spur-of-the-moment-I-need-my-hair-cut-NOW kinda guys.

Things are usually quiet when I go for my Saturday morning cuts, and this morning was no different, but after I settled into the chair and Gaye began working her magic on my locks, her next customer arrived early. No big deal. Sweet older lady. We're often on the same hairdo schedule, so we've seen each other before. All is well.

Then the door opens again. Enter elderly lady number two. Um, apparently someone got the schedule mixed up, but no worries, Gaye can manage it. It's a relaxed Saturday, and all is well.

Enter teenage boy with charming mop of hair in desperate need of a trim. Greets Gaye and the rest of us ladies with a big grin and plops down in a vacant hair chair to wait his turn.

Almost immediately, the door opens again, and another handsome young man (late teens, maybe 20) joins the rapidly growing gathering. This fellow has military-style short hair that just needs to be shaped up. He is not alarmed by how many others are waiting for Gaye, and he takes a seat in the corner--you know, the chair with the built in hair dryer where you sit while waiting for your color to set in the proper amount of time?

And as I'm sitting there, feeling relieved that I managed to arrive first, I realized how much I like Gaye, and Sheer Drama, and the diverse crowd they serve. The two boys were entirely comfortable in this hair salon, and they immediately began chatting with the two 70-something, grandmotherly women waiting for their cut and colors. These ladies clearly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with these well-mannered and friendly young men, who started helping them figure out a few things about their cell phones. 

And I just sat back, smiled, and took it all in. No one was upset that Gaye was quadruple-booked. We were all just happy to be there.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

De-railed

A few months ago, I was faced with a big decision. Accept a new job that would require our family to relocate back up north, or remain in my current position here in Florida.

I was excited and flattered by the opportunity but kept getting teary-eyed every time I thought seriously about what it would mean to move.

My pastor once gave a great sermon in which he talked about not being afraid to "pray big." So, my prayer was to know clearly which path was the right one.

I spent a girls' weekend with my step-mother, who listened and encouraged and acknowledged my conflicting feelings. I received regular words of wisdom and support from my friends, Becky and Ed. I was blessed by my family's love and loyalty.

Then, right before I was to receive the official offer from the new employer, I was offered a lateral transfer by my current agency, which would mean being based in an office 10 minutes from home rather than the 60 minute each way commute I'd been doing for the last six and a half years.

Although the new job would be more money and new challenges in the private sector, it would also mean a lot of travel, very cold winters, and the many challenges of moving and adjusting to living in an unfamiliar area. 

What I'd really been craving was a change of pace, less travel, and the chance to work and contribute in the community where I live, where my family is happily settled, and where we have developed a home, friends, a church family, and a sense of belonging.

The right path was pretty clear to me at that point, and then the offer came in quite a bit lower than what we had calculated it would have taken to make such a big move financially feasible.

And to top it all off, when I said good-bye to my beloved friends on my last day before beginning my new gig so much closer to home, my friend, Esmerie, presented me with this beautiful hand-carved nativity from her native Belize, saying, "I finally figured out that the reason I couldn't find a place for this in my house is because it belongs to you."


This truly felt like the ultimate blessing and the final word: you have chosen wisely...now go forth and make the most of it...be positive, serve, appreciate.

This big decision temporarily de-railed me in many ways, but it was a gift. A gift of the opportunity to reflect upon and appreciate all of my many blessings. A gift of the opportunity for a fresh start in the new year. And I am truly grateful.