Yup, I Was a Dirty Kid

I have a vivid memory of standing next to a pretty little girl in my 4th grade classroom. As I glanced down at our hands, my fingernails were not as white as hers and my arms still showed the dirt remnants of my latest adventures on the ball field.

Two years later, at a new elementary school, I learned the devastating truth, that apparently, I dressed all wrong. “Why do you wear summer clothes in the winter?” The perfectly dressed classmate asked me?

Seasonal clothing – that concept eluded me. But the shame of not fitting in didn’t, it stuck for years.

There’s a grei8opez3yna8118yat scene in Betty Smith’s book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, where seven-year-old Francine has to take her little brother, Neeley for their vaccines. To take his mind off what she perceives is impending torture; Francine spends the morning with Neeley making mud pies. Forgetting to wash up like their mother told them, Francine drags her brother, mud and all, to the local health department.

Francine goes in first where a nurse scrubs a nice clean white spot on her arm. In disgust a Harvard trained intern who was obligated to work a few hours a week at the clinic says,

“Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they’re poor but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap. Just look at that arm…”

Francine is so angry she doesn’t even feel the needle jab. And while the nurse is bandaging her up, Francine blurts out,

“My brother is next. His arm is just as dirty as mine so don’t be surprised. And you don’t have to tell him. You told me…besides, it won’t do no good. He’s a boy and he don’t care if he is dirty.”

I anguished reading that scene.

For years my shame would pop up it’s ugly head. It drove me to overcompensate in many ways. Kelly and Daniel

And when I had children of my own, I overcompensated by keeping them clean. No dirt would gather under their fingernails. And of course, they had the best clothes, even if it meant sewing them myself from scraps purchased at Ben Franklin’s.

But then a funny thing happened. One day, in casual conversation my Aunt Jeanne Marie said,

“After your father died, when I was living with you guys in Arlington, I used to watch the little girl next door as she left for school. Her clothes were always pressed and her hair neatly done. Then I’d look at you guys and my heart would just break. There was so much to do and your Mother and I were doing the best we could. But I always wanted better for you guys.”

Suddenly, all those years of stored up pain melted away. Somehow, just knowing she saw my need made it better. There was comfort in knowing I didn’t suffer alone.

Aunt Jeanne Marie knew. And that knowledge was like cool water to a thirsty soul.

And to think, He sees it all…

He has searched me, and He knows me.
He knows when I sit and when I rise;
He perceives my thoughts from afar.
He discerns my going out and my lying down;
He is familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue, He knows it completely.
He hems me in behind and before, and He lays His hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain…

Praise be the Lord.


Lexi Could Rule the World

My nose was deep in a freezer at Publix when I heard a small voice behind me say,

“Hey lady, get out da way.”

I closed the door and looked over at a tiny little girl about three, attempting to maneuver a loaded shopping cart around me. Her long blond hair was pulled back, and she was dressed in the most adorable white linen top and pink shorts. She instantly reminded of Kay Thompson’s character Eloise.eloise 2

Immediately a man walked over and scolded her, “Lexi, that’s rude. You don’t talk to people like that.”

I couldn’t help myself, I laughed a little too out loud.

Several minutes later, a woman came down the aisle dragging Lexi by the hand.

“Excuse me ma’am,” she said. “Lexi has something to say to you. Lexi you apologize to this lady right now.”

But Lexi stood there as determined as when she tried getting past me. The woman again coaxed her to apologize but Lexi would not budge.

“I’m sorry, Lexi is a little bit stubborn.”

I said I understood. But what I really wanted to do was lean down to Lexi, look her in the eye and say,

“I love the fire in your soul. And don’t ever let anyone put it out. By all means, listen to the adults around you. Learn when to speak and when not to. But don’t ever let anyone tell you not to show your passion.

“Oh they’ll call you bossy, or that other dreaded “B” word. But don’t you let that get in your way.

“You see, I get it. That in your three-year-old world, you were on a mission. And nothing, not even this ole gal, was going to hold you back. And that’s a good trait to have. Cause too often in this messed up world, people don’t appreciate passion. They’ll want you to just follow the crowd. To not make any waves.

“But this world needs more girls like you. Fearless, motivated, and determined to get the job done. Girls who aren’t afraid to be strong, and yet feminine. Girls who understand that women have a kind of strength that’s nothing like a man’s.

“So keep at it Lexi. Keep running out in front of the crowd. And don’t let anyone hold you back.

“Because don’t you know, that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? So why not run in such a way as to get that prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Hey, Mr. Bloomberg, You’re Not Even Close

As Christians around the world prepare for Holy Week, former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, after telling a reporter about the millions he’s getting ready to donate to gun control, made this observation,

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.“I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

The quote was so bizarre I googled it just to make sure it was true. I found the reporters explanation from the original New York Times article,

“Mr. Bloomberg was introspective as he spoke, and seemed both restless and wistful. When he sat down for the interview, it was a few days before his 50th college reunion. His mortality has started dawning on him, at 72. And he admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the “in memoriam” pages of his school newsletter. But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation.”

I don’t know how Bloomberg earned his money. And I’m certain he worked hard for it. And he apparently has given a lot of it away to the causes he feels are important.

Now, If I’d read this at any other time of the year, I would have shook my head and moved on. But I read it after listening over and over to the Leeland song Via Dolorosa. And these words were fresh on my heart,

He traded His crown for a crown of thorns
He picked up His cross and laid down His sword
He stumbled down the road, bruised and beaten for me
Jesus walked the way of grief, Hallelujah
On the Via Dolorosa
All my sin was carried away
And the power of Hell was broken
As He gave His life away

Jesus had it all. And He gave it all for me. I’m sorry Mr. Bloomberg, you’re not even close.

I’m so glad I don’t have to compete with the generosity of Mr. Bloomberg. And as I reflect on this most holy time of year, I’m once again humbled by how little Jesus asks of me. And by how much He gave to save me from my sin.

And I pray Mr. Bloomberg finds his way to the cross.


Just Don’t Do It

MartinsEvery week it seems, a celebrity couple announces they are divorcing. The press releases all sound the same,

“We still love each other. And since we have children together, we’re still a family. But…we’ve chosen to live apart.”

The latest of course was the sage Gwyneth Paltrow. She classed it up a bit by using the fancy term uncoupling, but she’s nonetheless, getting a divorce.

Cocoa Beach

Tim and Me at Cocoa Beach

It’s hard to watch from the sidelines and not think these people have it all. That beauty, a delicious figure, and tons of money somehow makes life easier.

But, some things never change. And no matter how many statistics point to the devastation divorce causes our society, our nation continues to tear apart our families at an epic rate.

Back when Tim and I struggled to get along, divorce always seemed just around the corner. But every time I came to the brink, I looked at the couples we knew who were separating, and their lives didn’t look any easier. In fact, they seemed to have more problems after the divorce than Tim and I did staying married.

To me the reality was, nobody was ever going to love my kids as much as me, except Tim. The only person who would could possibly share the same passion I had for their futures, was Tim. The only person whose heart would break for them as deeply as mine, was Tim. And the only person who could ever be as excited as me over their successes, you guessed it, was Tim.

Kelly and Dan

Our daughter Kelly and her husband Dan

Now I know there are exceptions to that rule. That there are stepparents out there who love deeply, care passionately, and do an amazing job raising someone else’s kids. And they deserve a lot of credit. But frankly, they’re rare. Far too rare considering America’s divorce rate.

I also know there are some relationships that are dangerous. That you can’t make people treat you right. But those are rare as well.

Daniel and Heather

Our son Daniel and his wife Heather

Both my children know my standard – Stay married like your father and I did. That gives them a wide path to stumble on. Just persevere, hang in there and never give up. Fight for your family. Offer grace often. Keep on picking up the pieces and putting your relationship back together. Your children’s well-being depends upon it.

Marriage is hard. And clearly having it all doesn’t make it any easier. Otherwise, Gwyneth and Chris would not be…ummm…uncoupling.

To All Comfort Handlers

A few months after my father died, Aunt Jeanne Marie dropped me off at a Sunday school class at New York Avenue Presbyterian church in Washington DC.
As I sat down in the small room with lots of little girls in frilly dresses, I immediately knew I didn’t belong. My tomboy pixie was no match for their bouncy curls. I vividly remember the stares and whispers as quick glances shot across the room at me.
At that moment, I knew I wasn’t enough for these girls. I wasn’t sure what I needed to add, but I knew I was lacking. And that lacking made me uncomfortable.
It can consume us, this need to fit in. It can cause us to shun any who are different. To create little circles of friends with rules that are easy for us inside the lines to follow. Aren’t we really just more comfortable when things are the same?
It seems weekly, a firestorm erupts because a famous Christian speaker says something outside the circle of some group or another. DonaldMiller confessed he got nothing out of going to church. Andy Stanley, oh my, dared weigh in on bakers and photographers providing services for gay and lesbian weddings. Suddenly, their faith was put under a microscope. Bloggers and their commenters chimed in from all over the world.
Any more, I’m hesitant to state my point of view. Not because I’m afraid of rejection. I’m proud to say I’ve moved past that childhood incident.

The reason – I may disagree with say, Anne Lamott’s stance on abortion. She’s very pro, and I’m very anti. But I believe we both serve a God whose death on a cross provides the grace for us both to be wrong. And yet, abortion rates have steadily declined. And not because pro-lifers stood on street corners holding signs. But because advanced technology has proven Gods truth, that we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.

It all swings around to our need to feel comfortable. But isn’t that just really putting our faith more in our rules and less in the God who saves us?
Ann Voskamp, in a blog post written from a trash heap in Guatemala,  summed it up best,
“We all like being comfort-handlers but let a comfortable life wrap itself around you and that’s what ends up being the snake that snaps it’s head and poisons your life with pointlessness.”
Jesus, when he walked this earth, made the religious leaders uncomfortable. And they were the only people he called out.
As a Christian, I want those around me to be stunned by the grace of my loving God. And I know that requires me to put myself inside circles of uncomfortableness. But I am confident that the God I serve is the only God who can set people free. And leading others to that freedom should always be worth being made uncomfortable.