Monthly Archives: March 2014

What I Write When No One Is Looking

“Your blog must be very therapeutic for you.” I hear that often, and it is, but perhaps not for the reason people might think. For me, it has been an exercise in writing for an audience. It forces me to take whatever is on my mind or happening in my life and mold it into something cohesive—a main idea with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yep, just like we all learned to do in school. My goal with the blog is always to keep it very honest while being mindful of the reader—and so, it’s all true, but it is also filtered. Poorly edited, but always filtered.

Writing in a blog or anything else that will be read by others can be tricky because I am just so used to writing for no one but myself. That personal writing is the truly “therapeutic” stuff. If you want to know what I really feel and think, please, go through the mountain of 70-page, college-rule, spiral-bound notebooks I have accumulated over the past 30 years. Actually, it’s some pretty boring stuff—a lot of time-lines, plans for the day ahead, to-do lists…a lot of fragmented, incomplete thoughts. And yet, this type of writing is so important to me that I am frequently stunned when other people tell me they don’t write. It’s like saying, “I don’t breathe.” Really? How is that possible? I don’t know I could get through a full week without my journal. Actually, have you ever been around a runner who can’t run—maybe due to an injury? Yeah, I get like that when I can’t write.

It's been a long time since I wrote the words "Dear Diary" or dotted an i with a circle--or a heart or a flower or a smiley-face.

It’s been a long time since I wrote the words “Dear Diary” or dotted an i with a circle–or a heart or a flower or a smiley-face.

The following is an actual journal entry that I wrote recently. I’m sharing it because—what the hell? I’ve written over 100 blog entries now and I’ve had over 7000 hits. Why not show you what my real writing looks like?

“Since last night, I’ve been uncomfortably obsessed with H dying. Yes, more than usual and different from what is usual, too.

Normally when I think of her dying, I anticipate how relieved I will feel when it happens. I anticipate a sense of freedom and I mentally make plans to move on. I hope that death will come quickly with no physical pain even though I suspect she is always in some sort of pain now.

Last night and even now as I write, I’m not focused on her pain or my freedom, but really just a sense that it could happen tonight. We could be in her final days. Then, I stop myself and think, “Is that just wishful thinking?” Um, no. I don’t think that it is. I’m really not wishing anything right now.

Over the past few days, H has been out of it. And yes, we have been there before—repeatedly. Somehow, this out-of-it is different, more peaceful. I’d be surprised if she weighs more than 80 lbs. and she has lost all desire to eat. Still, no matter what I write here, I don’t think I can fully explain what I mean. Something has turned here. Something has changed.

Will I be disappointed if H is still alive a week from now? If she made it through the night? I don’t know. I say I experience disappointment daily when I go into her room and discover she is still breathing. What?!?! No visit from the Grim Reaper last night?

And I’ve been trying to remember her in happier times. She came to my graduation ceremony. She threw us an engagement party. She was at the hospital when both of my children were born. She threw us a rehearsal dinner—although I suspect that and the engagement party were really the work of Alex.

I remember her holding E on her first birthday and taking pictures on the front porch. I remember our trip to Williamsburg. We played putt-putt and she made a hole-in-one.

I used to worry that my children’s happy memories of Grandma would be obscured by the memory of how she is now. Now, I realize that my own memories are in the same kind of danger. I keep replaying the memory of when she first moved in with us. There was this one time when she was lucid, but not pissed off and I was helping her in the bathroom. She said, “Thank you.” She told me that I was good to her and she didn’t know how I could be so good and that she was sorry that she couldn’t take care of herself. That had to be September or October of 2012. I don’t know that she has really spoken to me since then. Or at least she hasn’t said much to me since then. We did have that one conversation about not being afraid to die and another one about her wedding china and she laughed at something E said. When was that? Last month? No, around Christmas. I remember telling A that she laughed and I’m not sure he believed me.

I remember holding her hand in the hospital while she was still in ICU and she recognized me. Isn’t that weird? She’s been calling me “Isabelle” so long that I had almost forgotten that she still knew my name right after she fell. The nurses kept saying that she was pulling out her IV at night and trying to get out of bed, and I told them that I would expect no less from her. Who in the hell wants to stay in the hospital, right? She “fired” my father-in-law when he refused to take her home and we all laughed. It was the kind of little inside joke she was always making. We were optimistic back then. We all thought that she and Bob would recover enough to have more happy memories in the making.

Of course, by the time she came home, it was all pretty clear that the level of care she would require…that’s hard, isn’t it? Knowing how quickly it all changed? And how nothing has been the same since then. Nothing. You see a picture of a person all smiles, dressed up and happy and think, “She will stay this way” and then something happens and everything changes.

And so last night I tossed and turned and I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about her and wondering if we have done her a disservice by bringing her into our home—as if we had a choice. Have we kept her alive artificially? I mean, I keep making soup. It’s all she eats—except watery oatmeal, fruit puree and yogurt and sometimes ice cream. If I hadn’t made the decision to make soup while she was in the hospital in May, if I had just put regular food in front of her and expected her to feed herself—like the hospital did—would she still be alive? Or would she have starved? And isn’t that a horrible thought? So little of what she was eating up until then was making it down. And of course, I will continue to make soup right up until she loses the ability to swallow. It would be cruel not to.

And when I thought of her dying in our home, I thought about the logistics, too. Who do you call when something like that happens? A funeral home? I think that’s right. I think that is what Greta told me. I know enough not to dial 9-1-1. And then what? I know she wants to be cremated. I guess we would just hold onto the ashes until Rich, Silje and Emil are here this summer.

I used to have a hard time understanding how or why a family would choose to have a private service at a later date, but now, I get it. Man, oh, man, I get it. I do. I’m pretty sure that is what we would do. Of course, ultimately, A and his sibs are going to be the ones making that decision and I will go along with whatever they want. I really can just remove myself from that whole decision making process.

But yes, I was up at night thinking about all this, and whether it happens today, next week or a year from now, there is a damn good chance H is going to die in my house. She won’t be the first. This is an old house and it’s seen a lot of life and death, and from time to time, I feel the house telling me that. Floor boards were creaking last night. I didn’t hear actual foot-steps this time, just the creaking of boards. I go back and forth as to whether I believe the house is haunted in the traditional sense. I thought about H being one more soul passing through. As morbid as it sounds, I have every intention of dying in this house, too, and so does A. Of course, if one of our children were to die here…well, I don’t know how anyone stays or leaves after something like that happens even if you know that death—everyone’s death—is just a part of life. Born to die, right?

Even when I went to sleep, I dreamt of H dying. Yes, this is what I mean by obsessed. Crazy, huh? And again, it wasn’t a big celebration of “Hooray, I get my life back!” It was more of a “what does it all really mean? Did we do our best?” Contemplative. Sad, but also happy or at least peaceful. Sad, but peaceful, but with an uneasy acceptance of our world falling into a new order.

I think I will always wonder if we handled this all the right way. What could we have done differently? And I suppose we all do the best we can with what we are given. I’m a very forgiving person when I believe that of myself and of others. We are all doing the best we can.

Really, I’ve got to move on. I’ve got to think of something else. For all I know, nothing extraordinary will happen this week. Deborah will be here Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I’ll be home with H on Tuesday and Thursday while both kids are in school.

T and I have a PMAH thing today. That’s if it is still on. I think we are looking at another really cold week. Where is spring? Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow. God, I do not want another day trapped in-doors with H and the kids. No, no, no.

And see? That’s the optimism. I don’t think I will be trapped in-doors with H and the children because I AM expecting something big to happen. I just don’t know what. I can’t shake that weird feeling of anticipation. I know. It’s crazy.”

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Pippi Hair & The Six Million Dollar Chair

See? She looks just like she's attending a National Book Day event as Pippi Longstocking ...or she is auditioning for a Wendy's Hamburger commercial.

See? She looks just like she’s attending a National Book Day event as Pippi Longstocking …or she is auditioning for a Wendy’s Hamburger commercial.

My daughter dressed as Pippi Longstocking for the National Book Day celebration at her school. When she selected that character, I felt a certain amount of pride because Pippi is a genuine literary icon, unlike Barbie or the Disney Princesses. No, I don’t think that playing with Barbie leads to anorexia or that Disney Princesses encourage domestic violence. It’s just that I find them dull and uninteresting because they have all but commandeered the collective imaginations of little girls. Besides, Pippi is from a real book—not a comic book or some other piece of mass marketing copy-righted image that is packaged and sold as literature.

Best of all, my daughter already had a Pippi costume left over from Halloween. Basically, it’s just a jumper with other mismatched clothes, a toy monkey pinned into her pocket, boots, and a bright red wig with wiry braids that can be positioned to sticks straight out at 90 degree angles. Without the wig, my daughter just looked like someone who got dressed in the dark. The wig is what pulls it all together and transforms my rather delicate-looking blonde girl into the rough-and-tumble Pippi Longstocking, the daughter of a pirate king!

Yet, I was hesitant to let her wear the wig to school. Seven hours is a long time for a Kindergartener to wear a wig. What if something happened to it? What if she left it on the back of the toilet in the girls’ restroom? What if she agreed to let the other kids use it as second base at recess? What if it proved to be too distracting and the teacher confiscated it? Honestly, you can’t guarantee anything that you send to school with a child is going to come home with them. Just think of all the gloves they lose in the course of one winter. There is a reason frugal and cautious parents pin the gloves to the ends of their jacket sleeves. I can’t very well pin a wig to the top of my child’s head.

I almost said, “You can be Pippi, but I don’t think wearing the wig to school is a good idea. You might ruin it or lose it.” But I stopped myself.

“A wig is a thing,” I reminded myself. “And it is meant to be worn as a part of a costume. If something happens to it, what have I really lost? A thing. If I don’t let her wear it, she loses a potential memory or worse, it reinforces this silly idea that I can’t trust her with a thing. I bought it for her. I’ll let her have her fun.”

So, I helped her dress in striped tights, scuffy boots, and a corduroy jumper over a long-sleeved t-shirt. Then, I helped her tuck her very fine hair under the scratchy wig, and I drew freckles on her face with eye-liner. She was mistakenly Pippi Longstocking!

“Mom, I have to bring a Pippi book, too!” she said as she ran into her bedroom to retrieve one of three books featuring her favorite character.

Now, I spoke up. “I don’t know that I want you taking MY Pippi books to school,” I said. “They are very old.”

Old, indeed. The inscription in the cover of each book reads, “Happy Birthday! Love, Grandmama. 1975.” So, you see, they were a gift and I’ve had them for nearly 40 years and so that makes them special. They aren’t something that should be taken to school by a 6-year-old.

“But mom, the flyer said to dress as a character AND bring a book!” Yes, the flyer announcing this event DID say that students were encouraged to bring the book that features their character, and my daughter has no Pippi books of her own.

“I swear it’s like a six-million dollar chair,” I said under my breath referencing a story from my own distant past.

Years ago, I had a friend who worked at a large art museum. He was the Curator of Decorative Arts and therefore, his museum’s resident expert on furniture. One day, one of the museum’s board members invited him to his house to see his latest acquisition—a six million dollar chair.

“What does one do with a six million dollar chair?” I asked.

“Sit in it,” he answered with a hint of sarcasm.

“Did you?” I asked as I imagined the gazillionaire board member just inviting random people to his home and saying, “Please, make yourself comfortable in my six million dollar chair.” Perhaps over cocktails, there would be a joke comparing the chair to Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.

“No,” my friend answered. “I flipped it over. I looked at it from every angle, but I didn’t sit in it.”

“And?”

“It’s a fine piece of furniture.”

“But does anyone sit in it?”

“I doubt it. He keeps it roped off with the rest of his collection.”

Having worked in museums for most of my adult life, I have no desire to live in one. I see no reason to hold onto the things that aren’t serving their purpose, that aren’t in some way functional. So, when I find that I become overly concerned about the fate of a thing, I remind myself of the six million dollar chair and it snaps me back into the reality of knowing that what I have is for my family and me to use, not to merely admire from the other side of a velvet rope stanchion.

I don’t, however, criticize the board member for spending six million dollars on a chair. I know there are people who get outraged about that sort of thing and like to go on and on about how many malaria vaccines six million dollars can buy, but really, whether we are rich or poor, I believe we have the right to do with our own money as we choose. I went to Target last week and spent $50 on a tablecloth, white patent-leather mary janes, and two chocolate Easter bunnies—hardly necessities. That $50 could have been used to better the world in some way, but I spent it at Target. I am as guilty of being wasteful as a guy who spends millions on one piece of furniture. That’s just it—regardless of the size of one’s bank account, we all get to decide what is special to us.

And what makes my Pippi books special to me? Is it the age? Um, no, I have quite a few things that are more than forty years old. Is it because my grandmother gave them to me? Not really. She and I weren’t terribly close and I don’t remember even reading them as a child. What I mostly remember about Pippi Longstocking is the short-lived, Swedish TV series with the dubbed-in English.

What is special about my Pippi books is that I read them to my children and that my daughter loves Pippi so much that she wants to dress like her and show her friends a Pippi book on National Book Day.

“Okay,” I said. “You can take the book to school, but you must promise me to take very good care of it. Do you understand?”

“Thank you, Mama! I promise!”

And we headed to the bus stop. It’s a Pippi book, not a Gutenberg Bible or a six million dollar chair.

Note: Should you decide to read Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking books to your own children, keep in mind they were written a long time ago and aren’t what we now consider PC. Pippi and her friends buy candy cigarettes and cap guns when they go into town. Barbie and the Disney Princesses would never engage in such behavior.

 

 

The Gravity & The Levity

A minivan. I have nothing against them. I just doubt that having one would really make my life that much easier.

A minivan. I have nothing against them. I just doubt that having one would really make my life that much easier.

I spent days in a really bad mood, but it didn’t surprise me. I’ve noticed that my feelings towards my mother-in-law and her condition cycle. I go through periods in which I really resent having her live with us and that every day I have to take her care into consideration. Even on those days in which her care-giver is here, I have to race home by 2 pm, and someone—either my husband or me—will have to feed her, change her and put her to bed. It’s exhausting.

I resent that her care is the reason that we can’t get a teenage girl to babysit kids at only $10 an hour so that he and I can have time together.

I resent saying “no” to my kids when they want to go somewhere and we have no granny-care.

I resent that my house smells like a nursing home.

I resent that the biggest and best bathroom in this house is hers while I have to fish the bath-toys out of the tub that the rest of the family uses.

I resent that every morning when I walk into her bedroom and see her breathing, I think, “Oh, crap. Grim Reaper didn’t come last night either.” Yeah, I hate that, but on a daily basis, I am disappointed that she is still alive—and I feel that disappointment for her as much as for myself.

And when I am like this, I get terribly jealous of people who aren’t faced with my particular set of challenges. It’s all a part of self-pity—comparing oneself to others. It’s the quickest route to unhappiness. I know this and yet…

The other day, I saw a minivan commercial in which some cute, young mommy-person was talking about how her minivan makes “the job of being a mom” so much easier. “Oh, vomit!” I thought. “I bet she uses that van to drop her kids off at her mother-in-law’s house so that she can get a manicure before date-night. Women who whine about ‘how hard it is to be a mommy’ have no eff-ing idea!”

Yeah, I’m yelling at the TV in my head. Sane people do that all the time.

But you see the theme here, right? Resent, resent, resent…and it’s only made worse by the fact that no matter how kind I am to my mother-in-law, she is nasty to me. She glares at me. She waves the back of her hand at me. She refuses to speak to me.  I hear her converse with my husband and her care-giver writes “very verbal” in her notes, but for me—someone who is not a blood relative and not being paid to put up with her—she says nothing.

Remember how I wrote about treating others as if they were Christ? This is the challenging part. Other people don’t behave like Christ. Other people treat me like Christ. So, why haven’t I wheeled her to the top of the Bay Bridge and sent her sailing over the edge? Because it’s not about what others do, it’s about how I choose to respond. I know that. So, there you go, I’m not as crazy as one might think.

Besides, I also go through very sweet, serene periods in which I do not resent her, her care, or her behavior. I’m able to accept it all as just is and even see being with her as a gift—an opportunity to learn and grow. She has given me so much more to write about. My children have experienced life in a multi-generational home and I think they are kinder people for having had this experience. So, yeah, there’s an up-side, and I have weeks in which that little bit of up makes all the down worth it.

What’s interesting to me—and really very amusing—is that events that transition me from resentment to acceptance tend to be the more problematic moments of everyday life. It’s not the happy, good stuff you might think:

Friday, I woke in a vicious mood. I had spent Thursday trapped at home doing granny-care for the world’s most ungrateful old bat, and thinking how incredibly unfair it is that I’m the one whose life has changed the most as the result of her head-injury and just general dementia because she is old. Me—not someone who is paid to take care of her. Me—not some blood relative. Me! Me! Me!

And of course, I know this whole line of thinking—the expectation that anything in life be fair—is unrealistic. If you expect life to be fair, you are going to be disappointed a lot. I seem to say that daily to my children.

So, there I was in my witchy-bitchy mood when I got caught in traffic—the kind that doesn’t move at all unless the driver in front of you gives up and turns around. I was already running late and knew that my mother-in-law’s care-giver needed to leave by 2:30. I reached for my cell-phone. Oh, wait, I had taken it out of my purse and placed it on the nightstand the night before. Our power had gone out, and I had wanted my only link to the outside world in a place where I could easily find it. I guess I just forgot about it and left it there. And so, I turned my car around and re-routed my journey home.

On a narrow, hilly country road, I found myself in a second traffic jam. A truck had gone off road and was stuck on an embankment. A tow truck was pulling it to safety. The tow driver approached my vehicle and I rolled down the window. “If you are in a hurry, you might want to find another way to go. We are going to be a while. He’s stuck good.”

Okay. I couldn’t turn around on this narrow, hilly road and so I backed up to the nearest driveway and turned around there and I was on my way again…until I hit a third traffic jam? Yes. This time some drainage pipes had fallen off the back of a truck and two guys were scrambling to pick it up. Deep sigh.

I arrived home at almost 3:30. “I’ve been calling you and calling you, but you didn’t answer,” the care-giver said as she reached for her coat.

“I know. I left my phone here. Sorry about that.”

“I called my other job and told them I would be late.”

“Thank you.”

And because it was now 3:30, I had to head up to the bus stop to pick up my daughter. Because my son was still in the car and napping, I drove the half mile to the stop, instead of walking. And there, we waited and waited and waited and I began to wonder if I had missed her, but no, I knew I was at the stop earlier than usual. What was going on?

At around 4 pm, a bus—not my daughter’s—sped past me, and I realized that it was the first school bus I had seen. Usually, I get passed by four before my daughter’s bus arrives. Hmmm…odd.

A car flew past me, but then, stopped and backed up. The driver told me that traffic problems had caused a school bus shortage and that it would be at least on hour before all the kids were home, but we could go to the school to pick them up.

Okay, so I drove to the school—from the bus stop, I was half-way there anyway, but they wouldn’t release my daughter to me  because I didn’t have ID–I had left my wallet at home when I went to the corner to wait for her bus. So, I drove home. I got my wallet and headed back to the school.

When I got there, I was told she had just left on the bus. Because I wasn’t at the bus stop, the driver kept her on the bus and returned her to the school, but not until I raced back to the bus stop thinking I could catch her.

We finally arrived home at 5 pm. Upon getting out of the car, my son wet his pants–his first accident since announcing he would no longer wear diapers—that was back in January. But this is the sort of thing that happens when you expect for be gone 5 minutes, but you end up in a car for an hour and a half.

And this, of course, meant that my mother-in-law napped an hour and a half longer and needed to have her diaper changed. I didn’t realize that she was actively going when I stood her up and pulled down her pants–and so, I had to clean her, change her, shower, clean the floor–all before starting dinner. My son kept coming into the bathroom and telling me that he was hungry–while holding his nose. “Not now, Sweetheart. Mama’s got poop up to her elbows.”

My husband didn’t get home until around 8 pm, and he said, “The school called to say the buses were delayed. I guess you got that message.” Um, no, no, I did not. But then I checked–messages were left on my home phone, my email, and my cell phone…only I didn’t get them.

And at some point in the middle of this, I burnt supper. A neighbor had knocked on my door as I was setting the timer to ask about a trashcan that had blown into his yard. I guess I forgot to press “start” on the timer.

Had I been in a good mood when this comedy of errors began, I would have described this as a rough day, a day in which nothing went my way, but because I was already feeling the gravity of life when this series of mishaps began, I found it all amusing. Instead of plunging me deeper into a funk, the events of the day pulled me away from the abyss. I had to laugh. None of what happened was anyone’s fault. It was just a whole lot of life happening at once. It was definitely the kind of day that could happen to the chick in the minivan commercial—at least the burnt supper and the botched school bus run–and she might have laughed it off, too or maybe it would have sent her sobbing about “the worst day ever!”

As for me, I’m back in that serene place of compassion and understanding. Nice.

 

A Prayer for the Boy with Black Hair and One for Me

I'm not a fan of tattoos. I'm anti-voluntary pain, but you are considering one, go with the praying hands. It's a good look and you don't have to be a biker to pull it off.

I’m not a fan of tattoos. I’m anti-voluntary pain, but you are considering one, go with the praying hands. It’s a good look and you don’t have to be a biker to pull it off.

I had both kids in the car and I was dropping off my daughter at school. As we inched our way forward in the “kiss and go” line, we said our usual school drop-off prayer in which we ask that all the students, teachers, aides, secretaries, the vice principal, the assistant principal, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and all who enter the school will be blessed with a safe and happy day.

My son, who was on his way to his second day of pre-school, said, “What about me? Let’s pray for everyone at my school.” And so we did. “God bless all the students and teachers at the pre-school with a wonderful, safe, happy day of learning. Amen.”

“Except for the bad kid. Don’t ‘God bless’ him,” my son added with his hands still folded and his head still bowed.

Before I could even open my mouth to address this, his sister intervened. “No, we should pray for the bad kid especially, Tom. Maybe if he has a good day, he won’t be so bad.”

“Okay, God bless the bad kid.”

“God bless with boy with the black hair,” I correctly him. I’m sure that either way, God knew who we were talking about.

Oh, yes, “the bad kid”—AKA “the boy with the black hair.” I have been hearing about him since I picked my son up from his first day of pre-school. I asked, “How did it go?” and he responded by relying the misadventures of one of the other students. Apparently, this child spit on the floor and was put in time-out where he spit on the floor again. He kicked a teacher’s assistant and was sent to time-out. He called my son a ‘baby’ and ended up in time-out—again.

The first time my son listed all the charges brought against the bad kid, I listened because I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t interested in hearing all about his first day of school, and apparently, this other child’s behavior was the dominate event of the day. When he was finished, I told him that I wanted to hear about what he did at school, not some other child. He talked about puzzles and worksheets and games and stories, but he kept coming around to the bad kid because it was at story-time that the spitting incident happened and while doing a puzzle, the names were called. At pick-up, I did hear the teacher tell a parent that she needed to speak with him privately. I’m presuming this was the bad kid’s father or grandfather.

“Let’s not call him ‘the bad kid,’” I said. “Maybe he was just having a bad day and bad feelings that cause him to behave badly. It doesn’t mean he is a bad kid. What’s his name?”

“I don’t know. He’s got black hair.” And thus, the bad kid became known as the boy with the black hair.

Honestly, I don’t know if the boy with the black hair was just having a bad day or if he has been spitting on the carpet, kicking aides, and calling the other students names since September. I do know that I felt especially proud of my daughter when she reminded her brother not to exclude anyone—even a person who had hurt him. Pray for your enemies.  For me, it was a moment in which the Heavens opened, a beam of light shown upon me, and a voice said, “Well, you must be doing something right.” No, it wasn’t “Well-done, good and faithful servant,” or “This is My Son with whom I am pleased,” but since I’m not yet dead and I’m certainly not Jesus, I will settle for “Well, you must be doing something right.”

For all the bully-awareness they do in school, I’m pretty sure the guidance counselor isn’t the one who taught my daughter to pray for her enemies. My husband and I taught her that. It’s an actual example of us sharing our faith and our beliefs with our children and it sticking. Woo-hoo! Score one for Team Parent!

Of course, I have a hard time with the word “enemy.” I mean, really, the boy with the black hair is hardly Kim Jong-un. He’s a child. He may have a behavior problem, but labeling him an enemy is pretty harsh.

On a personal level, I doubt many of us have true enemies. It would be a little paranoid of me to believe that anyone is out to get me. I’m not an underworld drug lord. No one has a reason to want to snuff me out. I’m sure I could be a victim of a random crime just as anyone could be—but random is the key word there, isn’t it? And then, there are the political and religious radicals around the world who may see me as an enemy just because I am an American, but I choose not to hate them back. Yeah, I’m praying for them instead.

No, in our comfortable, western world of convenience and a fairly high standard of living, most of us encounter unpleasant circumstances and attitudes. Those are our enemies. Sure, people sometimes embody those attitudes and contribute to those circumstances. On a regular basis, I encounter people whose comments or actions make me want to beat them with my shoe—or at the very least, my words. I’ll even confess that lately, I’ve been walking around with a can of whoop-ass that I’m ready to open. I have a chip on my shoulder and a hair trigger and slew of other clichés meant to tell you to stay out of my way.  In that respect, I am my own enemy.

And it makes me wonder—have to taught my children to pray for themselves? Have I taught them that in that moment when you think, “I just might lose it!” to say, “God bless me and comfort me so that I won’t say or do something I will regret?” I don’t know. Oops.

I’m reminded of my favorite prayer, the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

See? I read these words and I think, “Yeah, that’s how I want to be. That’s who I want to be” and it’s all about changing the petitioner, not other people—our perceived enemies. It’s all about how if we change ourselves, we can change the world and how we can be used to change the hearts of others by being that living, breathing extension of God’s love.

The next time my son mentions the boy with the black hair, we going to pray with him—more than just “God bless the boy with black hair.” We will ask God to show us a way in which we might help him have good behavior and we can ask that he be receptive to our help.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that it is exactly what we are called to do. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Ready or Not, Here We Come!

My son--scooping for salamander larvae at a nature center pre-school program. Notice how he is interacting with larvae, not people.

My son–scooping for salamander larvae at a nature center pre-school program. Notice how he is interacting with larvae, not people.

My daughter began her academic career when she was two-years-old. A local church had pre-school programs for three and four-year-olds and what they called “play-school” for the slightly younger set. It was only two days per week and it was only two and a half hours long.

Potty training was not pre-requisite for the play-school, but they followed the local school-system’s year, and so, students had to be two-years-old before September 1. My daughter has an October birthday. She started the two-year-old program and turned three a month later. When I ran into her teacher at the grocery store, she gushed over how smart my daughter was, “She can count and she knows the alphabet and the colors. There really isn’t anything left for us to teach her in the twos class.” As much as every parent wants to hear that her kid is a genius, I knew my daughter was ahead of the other students because she was almost a year older than some. There’s a big difference between being two and being three. Don’t we all know two-years-olds who aren’t yet speaking in full sentences and three-year-olds who can read? One is not necessarily delayed, and the other isn’t necessarily advanced.

Truthfully, I didn’t enroll her in play-school expecting her to learn much. I did so to give her a break from me—and from her little brother. She had always been a social child, and I knew she would love spending time with the other kids and with the teachers. On her first day, I dropped her off and there were no tears. She smiled and waved to me excitedly as I drove away. “So much for separation anxiety,” I thought. When I picked her up at 11 a.m., she proclaimed that “It was the best day ever!” Then, she hugged her baby brother and asked, “Did you miss me while I was away at school?”

So far, she has made it through three years of pre-school and ¾ of a kindergarten school-year loving everything about the educational experience—the teachers, the classroom, the students, the homework, the projects, the school bus. Just ask her, and she will tell you that it’s all good!

Now, it’s her brother’s turn. He starts a 4-year-old pre-K program on Tuesday. He will go two days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Despite his sister’s positive experiences, I am wrought with anxiety. He’s more than a year older than she was when she started pre-school, but he’s so baby-ish—and I mean that in the sweetest way.

Before he was born, moms of sons would tell me, “If you ever have a boy, get ready! They aren’t independent like girls. They want their mama to do everything for them. It’s exhausting, but boys are so sweet and affectionate.”  And how has that prophesy held up? Is my son unbelievably affectionate showering me with hugs, kisses, and snuggling? Yes! And does he expect me to do every little thing for him? Definitely.  Does he whine, pout and cry when I don’t? Uh-huh. So, would I describe him as clingy? Oh, yeah—especially when I compare him to his sister.

And yes, I know that you aren’t supposed to compare your children. I know that. But it is nearly impossible not to do so occasionally when you have only two kids and they are close in age. Still, I do my best not to label them. I try not to think of my daughter as the Independent, Confident One and my son as the Sensitive, Nurturing One because I don’t want her to ever feel she isn’t capable of sensitivity or for him to see himself as lacking confidence. Both are great kids with an equally valuable set of personality traits and their share of unique challenges. That they are siblings doesn’t mean that they are or even should be anything alike.

I have used my appreciation of their differences as part of my justification for not sending him to pre-school sooner. “She was ready at two. He’s not ready at three.” “She is the kind of kid who craves the company of other children while he loves his one-on-one time with me.”

Of course, some, if not most, of my reasons for keeping him home up until now were practical ones. The two-year-old play-school program at the church is expensive and he was eligible for the enrollment there at a time when we were first coming to realize the financial impact that my mother-in-law’s care would have on us. The money just wasn’t there. I rationalized that I would just wait a year and send him to the three-year-old pre-school at the rec center—the one his sister had attended at 3 and 4. When he was old enough for that program, he was not yet potty-trained.

Potty-training is the pre-requisition for almost every drop-off activity for pre-school aged children. I understand why some parents get stressed out about it and try to potty train as early as possible. I don’t judge them, but I don’t do it their way either—and I know I am risking harsh judgment for just sharing how I went about potty-training. With my children, I found it was best to just wait until they took off their own diaper and climbed up on the toilet on their own. My son did that shortly before his fourth birthday. He declared, “I will never wear a diaper again!” and he hasn’t. It didn’t take three weeks or even three days—it just happened without it being any extra work for me. The accidents have been very few. I’ve never had to clean out a little, un-flushable, toilet. I don’t have to ask, “Do you have to go? Are you sure? How ‘bout now? Do you have to go? Do you have to tinkle? Do ya? Do ya?”

Let’s be honest. If you have to carry around a plastic potty in the back of your car because your child isn’t ready to use a public restroom, how is that easier than keeping him/her in diapers? Sure, you may be saving money by not buying diapers and that is fantastic—I’m not belittling your methods or motives–but easier? I’m not seeing it.

So, my son could have/should have started pre-school in late August when all the other kids went back to school, but he wasn’t potty-trained. He could have/should have started in January after the Christmas break and at the beginning of a new semester, but he missed the potty-training deadline there, too. In fact, he made his famous “I will never wear diapers again!” declaration two days after the deadline! Two days!

And so, we waited for the spring quarter. March. He is transferring in in March.  I cringe when I think about the late start. That alone is the source of my ambivalence. These other kids have been together since late August, and my baby will be the new kid. For some, this would be no big deal, but for a sensitive soul who hasn’t had that much recent experience with his peer group, I am worried that it is going to feel awkward for him. I keep asking myself, “How much of a social disadvantage is this?”  and answering, “I don’t know. I guess we will find out.”

So, given my anxiety—and I am not by nature an anxious perso, why did I enroll him in the spring quarter? Why not just wait until fall? Wouldn’t that have been the best thing to do? Maybe, but I have my reasons.

I suspect that one of the reasons my son doesn’t take to a group setting is that socially he hasn’t had many outlets. Our weekly playgroup fell apart at the start of the school year because his friends were all going to different pre-schools and had different schedules. I’m still church-searching and so he doesn’t go to Sunday School with any regularity. We don’t live in a neighborhood with an abundance of kids, and this winter really hasn’t been one for playground meet-ups. Basically, he has spent months with me as his primary playmate and companion, and he needs a break from me.

I have been taking him to pre-school programs at the library, museums, and nature centers –when they weren’t cancelled due to inclement weather. If you live anywhere in the eastern half of the United States, you have probably gotten used to calling the weather “inclement” this winter.

We both love the Mommy & Me pre-school programs—they are fun and educational. However, they don’t require that children really interact with a peer-group for a sustained period of time. Kids mostly do the activities independent of one another.  Each child is there with a parent, grandparent, or nanny who acts as a social safety net, and it’s a different group of people at each program even if the program is held at the same time and same place every week. You don’t really make friends. You don’t get to know anyone—unless you are especially out-going.

Besides, if I am honest with myself, pre-school may be a better parent than I am right now. Between the months of inclement weather and life in our sandwichy household, we have developed some pretty bad habits concerning how we spend our time. On those days in which my mother-in-law’s care-giver comes and I feel the pressure to vacate even when we have nowhere to go, we end up eating fast food and hanging out at the fast food indoor playground where he may or may not interact with other kids. On those days in which we are home and I am caring for his grandmother, he watches too much television—way more than I ever thought I would allow my children to watch. Sometimes, he just plays alone, and that’s fine. He has a great imagination, but I can tell he is lonely, too. I am so tired of him asking, “Mommy, will you play with me?” and me answering, “I have to feed your grandma first” or “Not until Grandma is done in the bathroom.”

So, that’s why I enrolled him in pre-school—even though neither of us is as ready as I would like us to be. I am looking for pre-school to provide him with two days of structured, quality, supervised activities because I am not capable of providing that on my own right now. I want him to eat a sit-down lunch that isn’t comprised of chicken nuggets and fries. I want something in his weekly routine to be consistent—or, um, routine. I could feel guilty because I know that I am not providing him with all that, but I know I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances. Sometimes, good parenting is handing your kid off to someone else.

I also see pre-school as an introduction to a whole lot of activities he will enjoy in the future. Because he is four and potty-trained, he could go to nature camp this summer. He could take swimming lessons. He just has to get used to me not always being at his side. Pre-school, in his case, is a gateway to more independence and that’s a good thing.

It starts tomorrow. I am praying that this will be a beneficial and smooth transition. And if it isn’t smooth, may it at least be beneficial in the long run.

Signs of Recovery

Sign of recovery? I'll call it that since it is the first sign I saw when I pulled into the parking lot ready to volunteer at Wee-Sale!

Sign of recovery? I’ll call it that since it is the first sign I saw when I pulled into the parking lot ready to volunteer at Wee-Sale!

At the start of this year, I said, “In 2012, we were hit by a meteor. In 2013, we regained consciousness. This year, we crawl out of the crater and discover we have super-human strength.” In fact, I said this more than once. I may have said it to anyone who would listen, and yes, of course, I was likening my mother-in-law’s fall and my father-in-law’s death to being hit by a meteor. A meteor may have killed the last dinosaurs. We aren’t dinosaurs. We are more like cockroaches or super-heros.

Because I prefer super-heros over roaches, I began imagining my husband, my children, and myself wearing capes and red and blue leotards and lifting cars. A family of super-heros! Maybe I can sell that to Disney…oh, wait…I’m a little late on that idea.

So, here we are in March and I’m asking myself, “Are we recovering? If so, what are the signs? What proof do I have that our family is crawling out of the crater?” and I’m finding some answer in unexpected, ordinary places.

It was on March 19, 2012 that my mother-in-law fell—so, almost two years ago. I remember exactly what I was doing when the phone rang. I was sitting on the dining room floor pulling china and crystal from a chest because I had decided that we would use our wedding china, and not theirs,  for our slightly-belated St. Patrick’s Day supper. I had corned beef and cabbage in the Crock-pot and Guinness in the refrigerator—nothing fancy, but that’s me. I am the girl who liked to break out the fancy-schmancy dishes for a very ordinary meal.

Besides, I had received the wedding china as a gift from my in-law’s just two months earlier. You see, for the first five years of my marriage, my mother-in-law would ask me what I wanted for Christmas, my birthday, Mother’s Day, and our wedding anniversary, and I never had an answer. Finally, it occurred to me that she would enjoy buying china for me. She loved nice dishes. So, I told her, “We received only four settings of our wedding china as gifts. You could give me a setting or a bowl or a platter.” I figured that one place setting or one serving piece per holiday, and basically, that would take care of gifts for the next several years, but that is not how my mother-in-law worked. No, she ordered eight place settings and four serving pieces and had them delivered to my home for my birthday in January.

And now, it was March and we were going to use the new china for our St. Patrick’s Day feast. I’m not Irish. My mother-in-law is not Irish, but my father-in-law was, and he was a man who appreciated hearty, uncomplicated comfort-foods. The corned beef and cabbage was for him and in honor of his heritage.

Earlier that day, I had moved boxes of children’s clothing out of my dining room. I had been prepping for Wee-Sale, a local children’s consignment event in which parents—mostly moms—sell their children’s outgrown clothing, toys, and baby equipment to other parents looking for a bargain. It’s a big deal. I consigned, shopped, and volunteered at Wee-Sale. As a middle-class, stay-at-home-mother of two, it was a part of my life.

To prepare for Wee-Sale, I had been taking a break from my contract work editing event listings. I needed to iron the clothes, secure them onto hangars, enter inventory into a data base, and print tags.

So, that’s a snap-shot of my life when the phone rang: St. Patrick’s Day meal, sorting china, prepping for Wee-Sale, and doing contract work—when I wasn’t running children to playdates and doctor’s appointments, coloring, cleaning, disciplining, and doing all those other things that all parents do.

Then, the phone rang. I expected to hear my father-in-law’s voice telling me that they were running late. When were they ever on time? Instead, he told me that my mother-in-law had fallen and he had called the EMS, and they were en route to the hospital. I ran into the front yard and flagged down my husband who was mowing the lawn—that’s how I know we had a very mild winter in 2012. Lawns don’t usually need mowing in March—not here. I told him the news. He changed clothes quickly and headed to the hospital.

At the time, I didn’t understand how injured she was. It wasn’t her first fall. So, I put the china away with the belief that I would be cooking corned beef and cabbage again next week and that is when we would have our very belated St. Patrick’s Day meal.

What happened, however, was that she went from ICU to a head trauma unit to a rehabilitation center and to the rehab wing of a nursing home before it was determined that she wasn’t making progress. She was no longer in need of medical attention, but long-term care. Weeks went by before she was returned to her own home, and by then, my father-in-law’s health began failing. We lost him in July.

As deep as our grief has been for my father-in-law, the event that radically altered our day-to-day existance is my mother-in-law falling and sustaining a catastrophic brain injury. From that point on, every aspect of our day-to-day lives has been about her and her care. “All-consuming” is the word that comes to mind because we haven’t had a day in which her care isn’t a consideration.

As trivial as it may seem to mention, I didn’t seek another contract after the one I was working on expired, I cancelled my Wee-Sale registration, and the wedding china went back into the chest. My children have had far fewer playdates and have attended fewer social functions, like birthday parties. We stopped having people over.  How we spend our time was radically changed. Yes, on the surface level, you might think I am whining about missing the most mundane and routine parts of my life, and that all that has changed for me seems insignificant when you compare it to what my mother-in-law has been through—her husband died, she’s in a wheelchair, she’s never returning to her former life of independence. I get that, and I am very empathetic to her ordeal, but the fact remains, my husband, my children, and I were hit by a meteor, too.

I’ve often heard it said that “God is in the details” and “the Devil is in the details.” I suspect that depending upon the circumstances, both statements are true. For me, quality of life is in the details—like having enough time to myself to tag items for Wee-Sale or enough freedom to volunteer at my daughter’s school. So, being able to do these things really is a sign of recovery for me, proof that we are crawling out of the crater–at last. We are settling back into normalcy with the fragments of freedom that allow us the opportunity to do the most usual, mundane, and routine activities. It makes me feel hopeful—like this summer might include swimming lessons, vacation Bible school, and day camp for my children– the activities that their friends enjoyed last year, but they were denied due to the lack of reliable granny-care.

I’ve also come to understand that my mother-in-law’s condition and her care altered our lifestyle in some pretty fundamental ways, but my life—all the really big and important things about me—hasn’t changed. I still believe in and give thanks to the same God. I still love all the same people. I am still me. That’s where the super-human strength lies. We all go through hardships in life, but you don’t let the hardships steal your faith or your ability to love. It’s who you are that carries you, and it’s who you are that gives you the ability to find God in the details of an ordinary life.

I participated in Wee-Sale over the weekend. I consigned 87 items and sold all but 20. I shopped—I spent a little over $80 and bought three pairs of shoes, two dresses, and multiple casual shirts. I volunteered and spent Saturday morning assisting other shoppers and straightening the racks. I believe doing this, having the freedom to just participate in a children’s consignment event, is definitely a sign of recovery.

And it makes me feel even more hopeful. I may have to cook a big St. Patrick’s Day meal and invite friends to join us. Or what about a St. Patrick’s Day campfire? The New Year’s Eve Campfire was a success, and it, too, was a sign that our lives are returning to normal because we have the ability to entertain.

Yeah, I know it sounds funny, but I’m ready to don a cape and lift a car, but instead, I think I will just plan stuff, like picnics for sunny days ahead.

Editorial Note: If you are curious about children’s consignment events, check out Wee-Sale and Treasure Hunting Mommies. Here’s the disclaimer: If you shop Wee-Sale, yes, it may benefit me because you may buy one of the items I am consigning, but probably not since it features thousands and thousands of items.  And while I have yet to participate in Treasure Hunting Mommies, I really want to see them succeed because my college roommate/friend extraordinaire is one of the founders!

What If I Treated People The Way I Would Treat Christ?

King Cake. Yum. I'm buying mine, not making it this year.

King Cake. Yum. I’m buying mine, not making it this year.

About 15 years ago, I was given the task of buying a King Cake for a Mardi Gras party, and so I called a bakery and inquired, “Do you carry King Cake?”

“You mean, Martin Luther King, Junior Cake?”

“No, ma’am. King Cake. For Mardi Gras.”

“No, no! We can’t do no Mardi Gras, no Lion King, none of that Disney stuff.”

That’s a true story, and the only reason I am sharing it is that it’s that time of year again–and it’s funny. We are coming up on Lent, one of the most interesting and individually interpreted seasons of the Church year. In these days leading up to Ash Wednesday, I am usually thinking, “Am I giving anything up this year? If so, what? Do I want to replace a bad habit with a good one? How will that bring me into a closer relationship with God? What do I need to change about my present life to make me a better human being?” I know others are asking themselves similar questions, but many find the very idea of Lent silly, unnecessary, or too Catholic.

When I was younger, I typically approached Lent with the idea that I should give something up because others around me were. So, I would give up chocolate, red meat, or alcohol, but doing so never strengthened my Faith or changed my life in any way.

Then, I was introduced to the idea of doing something for Lent instead of not doing something—I might read Dietrich Bonnhoeffer’s Meditations on the Cross or making a donation to a charity or developing the habit of a morning walk and outdoor prayer. One year, I committed myself to writing a daily, spiritual journal entry that I would share with others. Most of what I wrote during those 40 days wasn’t worth sharing. I can’t force myself to write daily and produce anything worth reading. The creative process just doesn’t work that way for me.

Three years ago, I came back around to giving up something in order to replace it with something better. I gave up Facebook and all other forms of social media. And did it work? Did I replace it with something better? Yes. And no.

Because I couldn’t contact people via social media, I had to make an effort to reach out with a phone call. I had to speak with them and genuinely enjoy their company beyond the two seconds it takes to read and like a status update. If I couldn’t call at that moment, I would offer up a prayer that they be abundantly blessed. So, yes, abstaining from social media made me feel more connected in my personal relationships and made me more prayerful.

Did I use that time I would have spent on Facebook to do great things? Did I contemplate what it means to live a Christ-centered life? Did I love more deeply? No. Mostly, I surfed the Internet reading celebrity “news” and not comment because if social interaction resulted from the comment, it might violate my No Social Media Rule.

So, I was thinking about giving up the Internet all together this year. Then, I heard a radio interview with recording artist Danny Gokey. Frankly, I had never heard of the guy, but apparently, he placed third on American Idol a few years ago, and now, has a hit country song. I listen to country music sometimes, but I pay little attention to the names of recording artists. I don’t know who sings what. That I don’t know who this guy is or what he sings is no reflection on his musical talent. Yeah, for someone who just admitted to reading celebrity “news,” you would be surprised how little I know of popular culture.

Besides, he was not on the radio talking about his music career or promoting his latest album. No, he was discussing Sophia’s Heart, a  foundation he created in the memory of his late wife. Among other things, Sophia’s Heart has a homeless shelter, and the interviewing DJ said the rooms at the shelter looked more like a luxury hotel than temporary, emergency housing.

Gokey responded by explaining that he feels called to treat other people as he would treat Christ. “If Jesus were coming to your hometown and you had to find a place for Him to stay, you would want it to be the best. You would put him up at the Ritz-Carlton. That’s our goal at our shelter, to treat our residents as we would treat Jesus.” Okay, I hope that I would invite Jesus to stay in my home with me, but I do get his point!

Wow. To treat other people as you would treat Christ. That’s a lofty goal and an inspiring message. I got a little teary-eyed hearing him say that.

And I think Gokey is spot-on! We ARE to treat other people as we would treat God-on-Earth. I truly believe that we are all created in God’s image and so every human being, no matter where they are in their own spiritual walk, has something divine within their soul that should be honored.

And even if I didn’t believe that, the Bible commands us to love one another. COMMANDS. Repeatedly. If love came naturally to all human beings, no one would have to command us to do it. Love is an easy thing to talk about, but a hard thing to live—at least, that has been my experience.

While kindness is an outward act of love, loving others is a little deeper. It’s going above and beyond to give, to sacrifice, and to serve in the most selfless ways—as if each human being on this planet were God-on-Earth. And this is regardless of what they have done in the past or may be doing right now—and human beings do some pretty despicable things. I know this. This is regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, character, sexual orientation, education, and income. This is regardless of their political affiliation and ideology—and man, oh, man, that’s the biggie in the United States today. We are a politically divided nation and every freakin’ issue is so polarized! Have you noticed that people say they “hate” each other because they disagree on politics? Yeah, that’s gotta make God really happy. Think about that on a Sunday morning instead of watching news programs that intentionally fan the flames of hate. Okay, I’m sounding a little preachy. I’ll stop.

Ironically, I say that it’s easier for me to be kind to strangers than to be kind to members of my own household, but obviously, I love my family. I loved my children the moment I knew they were growing inside me. I’ve loved my sisters for as long as I can remember. I love my husband so much that I want to live with him for the rest of my life.

I have to work at loving my mother-in-law, and frankly, it is the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. When she fell almost two years ago, I didn’t have much of a relationship with her. We were never unkind to each other the way some mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are, but we didn’t have much in common and our conversations were never very deep. We were pleasant enough and cordial enough, but that’s about it.

Before I met my soon-to-be in-laws—and our relationship was so fast-paced that my husband and I were practically engaged before we met each other’s families—my husband told me his parents would love me. “My dad will love you because the two of you have a lot in common and I can see you getting along well. My mom will love you because (pause) she wants to see me married and you are an appropriate person for me to marry.” Um, yeah, “appropriate.” That sounds like a warm welcome to the family, doesn’t it?

He was right. His father and I became great friends right away. We enjoyed each other’s company and I genuinely looked forward to time spent with him. I hope he felt the same about me. I believe my mother-in-law does find me an appropriate mate for her son. I’m not too young or too old. My background isn’t too questionable. Her son seems happily married at last, and I’ve given her two more grandchildren, and so, that’s that.

No, it was never a warm-and-fuzzy relationship, and yet, I’ve been called to love her in a very personal way—even though it’s not what I want.

“I love my mother-in-law, but I could never care for her the way you care for yours.” Yeah, I’ve heard that about a gazillion times from a lot of very good-hearted, well-meaning, truly wonderful people. I always have two reactions to that statement: 1) Never say never. Believe me, I never expected to be in this position either. 2) You don’t really love your mother-in-law—at least not as you claim you do.

Take that sentence and replace the word “mother-in-law” with someone you really love.  Try “I love my children, but I could never care for them the way you care for yours.” Yeah, I’ve never heard anyone say that because most parents would run into a burning building for their own children. When you truly love someone you will do anything and everything to ensure their well-being. And when a stranger rushes into a burning building, jumps into a raging river, throws herself in front of a bullet, it’s a love so great and so rare that it makes the news, and we call that person a hero.

I have a friend whose son has allergies—the deadly kind. She watches what he eats, touches, and breathes with vigilance. Because of this, people say to her, “You are such a good mom.” And of course, she laughs it off because she knows that yes, she is a good mom, but really she’s just doing what is necessary to keep her kid alive. Keeping him away from peanuts is no different from feeding him, clothing him, or bathing him. It’s what she does because she is his mother, and part of being a parent is loving your child. Period. I liken her attention to her son’s allergies to my care of my mother-in-law. Sometimes, love means scooping the chewed food out of a person’s mouth—no matter what your relationship is to that person. It’s never a matter of being good.

So, what does any of this have to do with Lent? Well, if you are a Christian, Lent is the season leading up to what we celebrate and commemorate as the greatest act of love humankind has ever known—Christ dying on the Cross for us and our Salvation. As John 3:16 says, “God so LOVED the world…”

Most of us are never going to be called to give up our lives or even risk our lives in an act of love, and yet, we are commanded to love so that we would run into a burning building if that is what is asked of us. Jesus even said what we do to others—how we treat our fellow human beings—is ultimately how we are treating Him.

So, for my Lenten journey this year, I’m not going to give up Facebook or chocolate. I am not reading anything by Bonnhoeffer. I am going to follow Danny Gokey’s example and treat others as I would treat Christ. I don’t know that it will really change the way I behave towards other people because overall, I treat people well, but it will certainly be a change in attitude. Just think, if I am cooking a meal for my family and thinking, “I am preparing this meal for God-on-Earth,” am I not going to do it with a bit more enthusiasm? When I am dressing my mother-in-law and thinking of her body as the body of Christ, am I not going to do it with more care? When I hold a door open for someone I’ve never met and honor that sacred part of their soul that is Christ, can I possibly feel impatient should they move a little slower than I anticipated?

This commitment, although not something that will be obvious to the outside world, is huge to me. I have a long way to go in the attitude department, but it’s the little changes–the inward changes–that completely transform lives. So, I’m really going to work at treating others as I would treat Christ, and hopefully, it will take hold in a way that will continue beyond Easter 2014.