A Good Spin On a Bad Day

A Good Spin On a Bad Day

It seemed to have been a bad day.

My teenage son sat at dinner and told me he’d walked to the bus that morning in the slush and rain, soaking his shoes right through. He felt just mediocre about how his classes had gone and then said,

“Coach was yelling at me a lot during practice.”

“What about?” I asked.

“Keeping my back straighter.”

My son is a novice rower, and learning the correct technique is what this year is all about.

“Was he disparaging or encouraging?”

“Mmm. Encouraging,” he admitted.

“He wants you to get better?”

My son nodded.

“And did he single you out, or was he yelling at others too?”

“He was yelling at others too.”

“Right. I see. You know, I heard on the radio today that the average American has 60 bad days a year. That’s slightly more than 1 per week.”

My son looked up from his plate and gave me a begrudging grin.

I left it at that.

Sometimes we need to hear a few well-placed questions and a relevant tidbit to help us turn our perspective slightly, from a jaded to a more positive point of view.

The same is true in the spiritual life. If I consider all my trials as personal attacks, I will become disheartened.

But if I recognize that in my human condition I am not alone in my suffering, I can take a step toward seeing things more clearly.

There is Someone Who is willing to carry my burdens for me and give me His strength in return for my trust in Him. I can draw new strength from Him to carry on, and someday He will show me the reasons for my trials.

Cast your care upon the Lord,
Who will give you support.
God will never allow
The righteous one to stumble.
(Psalm 55:23)

A Small Tribute to Philadelphia: My (Other) Hometown

A Small Tribute to Philadelphia: My (Other) Hometown
Me. Ready for Sunday’s game. Do you know who to cheer for?

Two nights ago our 7-year old son asked the question of the moment.

“Dad,” he said, “Who do you think will win the Super Bowl?”

My husband made eye contact with him.

“The Eagles.”

“Why?” the boy asked. I knew he was looking for an answer about strategy or tactics; our little guy is into that sort of thing.

My husband narrowed his eyes.

“It is the will of God.”

There was a pause.

Then – raucous laughter from our son, along with the rest of us.

My husband smirked and went back to eating his soup.

That exchange?

Something about it strikes me as…

Oh. So. Philadelphia.

Do we really believe it is the will of God for the Eagles to win?

Not exactly.

But will they?

Darn right.

In our home, we are loyal to Philadelphia.

It’s a family tradition.

Philadelphia is often misunderstood. Some people just don’t get the mix of wry, sardonic humor and subtle faith. They call it brusque and cold, but however you see it, the city and its people are the genuine article, a place unto itself. And it’s a place I love, because it loved me first.

I spent my high school years in the suburbs of Philly, having moved there from Florida, and upon my arrival I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Blessedly, I was warmly welcomed by my peers, and that was important for me at a time when life didn’t feel so stable.

You find that when you’re “inside” Philadelphia – when you enter its homes, schools, and neighborhoods long enough to take your coat off and hang around for awhile. There might not be many newcomers, but a newcomer can be accepted. You can read a little about that here – where I also briefly talk about Philly’s famous food – the cheese steak.

Philly also gave me my partner for life – my husband of almost 20 years – as well as his entire loving family, and many friends who are close enough to be family too.

And so, without getting mushy and listing each person individually (a very long list), I’ll just say this: I cheer for the Eagles because I am loyal to MY Philadelphia – all of the people in and around that particular city who have shared with me the formative experiences that over many decades have created the life I cherish today.

How about you? Where do your loyalties lie and WHY?

I’m willing to bet that if you have an allegiance, it’s to a person, or people, or a place, that nurtured you and gave you hope. And that’s a good reason to continue to be faithful.

So consider Who you ally yourself with. And choose well.

Oh – and on Sunday – choose VERY well. Fly Eagles Fly!

How to Help Your Kid With Homework

How to Help Your Kid With Homework
Photo by Angelina Litvin, Unsplash.com

My oldest is a high school freshman, and since it’s September, we’re in a transition time. Last night things got pretty intense. The workload reached a crescendo and there was a math test scheduled for this morning. He got home from crew practice at 6:30, plunged right into his work, and was cursing loudly in frustration – way up in his room – by the time dinner was ready at 7:30. I knew we were in for a long night.

But rather than let him tough it out, I proposed a different solution. “Bring it down to the kitchen,” I said. “Let’s look at it together.”

He knew I wouldn’t do it for him. And the truth was, the content was not at all beyond his capability. And I told him so.

“You know this stuff. You can do it. You just don’t like the quantity or the methodology.”

All in all – across two subjects – it was about 8 pages, required to be handwritten, and admittedly, his handwriting is abysmal.

What to do for him?

Just BE with him.

I fell back on a lesson I learned fourteen years ago.

In 2003, our extended family lost a precious member, my husband’s cousin, P.J.. I’ve written about the loss of him before. After the funeral, P.J.’s mother (my husband’s aunt) asked us to bring our son (the same one now doing homework) to their home where the family was gathering informally. We ended up being the last guests there. Our infant son fell asleep on Aunt Karen and Uncle Jim’s bed while the four of us stood over him watching – for what may have been 15 minutes – in silence.

I called my mom the next day.

“I didn’t know what to say,” I told her, “The grief is unimaginable. They just lost their son. I can only imagine they were thinking about him as they looked at ours. I had no words to console them.”

My mom replied, “Just being present is a ministry.”

I have never forgotten that.

Just being present to someone in need is a ministry.

So last night, I was fully present to my son.

No phone.

No books.

Nothing but him and me.

I made tea for him – with lemon and honey.

Gave him cookies.

Reminded him to breathe.

Read the directions to him again and again, but didn’t do the work for him.

Told him stories from my high school days to make him smile and reassure him that yes, he will survive even this.

And I lasted with him until bedtime at 11:00 – 1 1/2 hours later than usual for him.

Being present is a ministry.

And you are fully equipped for the job.

Who needs your ministry now?

What If We Spoke The Way We Signed Yearbooks?

What If We Spoke The Way We Signed Yearbooks?

Two weeks ago I was reunited with a friend from high school I hadn’t seen in 27 years. We had reconnected through Facebook, but the second I saw her in person I knew I would have recognized her anywhere. She was the same engaging, intelligent, self-possessed, and kind woman I knew so long ago, and I felt privileged to hear about her life between then and now, and to meet two of her five children. Conversation was easy as we quickly found common ground. My only regret is that I can’t see more of her; I think we’d be good friends once again if given the chance. But she lives in Alabama and I’m in Maryland and that’s the way life goes.

Before our meeting, I pulled out my yearbook from senior year to see if she’d signed it. Tragically, she hadn’t. (Her daughters seemed especially disappointed when I mentioned this cosmic oversight.) As I searched for her non-existent words to me, I read through the others – scrawled across pages that hadn’t seen light in well over two decades. My spirit soared from the generosity bestowed by so many good, and young, souls. We were, after all, just 17 or 18 years old.

“Talking with you was always a high point of my days…”

“You are one of the nicest people I have ever met…”

“I have always been a distant admirer of yours…”

“I’m happy to have had you cheering for me…”

“I love this pen. It writes so smooth!”

“Cheering made you a leader and it shows…”

“Thanks so much for putting up with all my whining…”

“I’ve always been able to tell you just about anything and always felt safe in telling you…”

“You were a real inspiration to me…”

“I’ll always love you.”

Now – having read these excerpts from my friends’ notes to me, let’s consider…

Today, how often do we encourage one another in our everyday lives?

When did you last tell a colleague:

“You know, you really are brilliant at _____.”

“I’m impressed with your commitment.”

“Thanks for making my job easier and more pleasant, too.”

How about your children? When did they last hear you say:

“I like your observations. You are smart.”

“I love your enthusiasm. You will succeed.”

“You’re the best kid around. I am cheering for you.”

When was the last time you looked your spouse/significant other in the eye and said one of the following:

“Thank you for listening to me.”

“I respect you, appreciate you, and admire you. Thank you for being you.”

“I’m so happy with the life we’re making together.”

“I’ll always love you.”

If this seems silly or trite (and it is mushy, I’ll give you that) consider this simple idea we generally accept as truth … What we do becomes who we are. Therefore, think before you speak. Say nice words with good intentions, and become a nicer person with even better intentions.

Imagine if everything each of us said (and wrote) reflected the best parts of our spirits, rather than whatever’s gotten the best of us.

It’d be like graduation day – every day. Sunshine and rainbows, everywhere we looked.

Pleasing words are a honeycomb,
Sweet to the taste and healthful to the body.
-Proverbs 16:24

Day 20 – Thunderbird Pizza

Day 20 – Thunderbird Pizza
Photo credit: Thomas Schweighofer, www.unsplash.com
Photo credit: Thomas Schweighofer, www.unsplash.com

If you’re from Philadelphia you have your favorite place to go for a cheesesteak (which you probably just call a ‘steak’), and you know whether that’s a ‘whiz’ place or not; you also have a favorite place for hoagies; and you have a favorite place for pizza. These places may or may not be one and the same. Philadelphians are VERY particular about these foods, and VERY loyal to their neighborhoods. There is no “best place to get a cheesesteak” in the city. Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t lived there.

I went to high school in the western Philly suburbs, in a town called Broomall to be precise, and my family’s one-and-only for all three of these staple weekend foods was Thunderbird. If we weren’t squeezing into one of the tiny booths in this very basic building, we were having Thunderbird delivered – and I knew all the delivery guys.  Each one was either a friend, or a friend of a friend. To a kid who grew up moving around a lot, and then having moved to Broomall in 10th grade, it was exciting to open my front door and know the person carrying my dinner. I think that’s what made me smile so much when I saw the Facebook post. That and the memories of celebrations that involved Thunderbird food – lighthearted moments – like eating the 6-foot long hoagie with my cheerleading squad over my dining room table after we won the regional championships.

High school is a difficult time for many people and for lots of different reasons. I was no exception. My parents had divorced and remarried, and although I think I held it together on the surface, I was churning inside – learning to navigate relationships and deal with pain that would take years of searching and prayer to heal from and understand. But it wasn’t all bad – not nearly so.  I was blessed with very good friends, and was accepted in the community enough to feel some sense of ownership in it.  I was very proud of the service my dad gave to our country as a military officer, but it meant that until that point I had never lived in one place longer than a couple years, so I had never been “from” anywhere.  Feeling linked to the town through the high school and friends who worked at Thunderbird made it feel more like a permanent home.

I’ve heard it said that, more and more, people feel worse about themselves after they look at Facebook. So, reflecting on my own happy reaction to this post about my favorite pizza joint, I offer this: I can use Facebook as a spiritual barometer. It can tell me how the weather is in my soul. If I look at a post and feel uneasy, jealous, resentful, angry, haughty, proud, or greedy, I know that there’s trouble brewing with me.  If, on the other hand, I read posts and feel genuinely joyful for others’ success and loving toward them, and my demeanor remains happy, peaceful, tolerant, kind, gentle, good, and rooted in faith and self-control, I’m on the right track and will not leave Facebook feeling worse than when I got on it. And given how far I’ve come in the nearly 25 years since high school, that’s certainly where I want to be today.

 

Me in my "Thunderbird" (i.e. high school) years.
Me in my “Thunderbird” (i.e. high school) years.