Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Broken Arrow

Down in the depths of our storage room are boxed-up pieces of our childhoods. There’s a blue Rubbermaid filled with my memorabilia: a sticker book, drawing notebooks, and an enormous key chain collection. There’s also a box with Kurt’s treasures: a jersey, medals, and ribbons.

That's a broadhead.
Over the years we’ve added to the collection, but the keepsakes don’t always fit in the box. For instance, I have gigantic vintage pompoms that roll around the storage room, making their annual appearance at Halloween. Kurt has a broken broadhead arrow memorializing his first successful archery hunt. It was displayed prominently (or not) on the inside of our storage room wall, for all the other keepsakes to admire.

Three little boys also admired its prominence. All those treasures from another time, and another life, are so intriguing. Especially my key chain collection and that wicked broadhead. Awesome!

One day this summer, the boys asked if I would take them spear fishing. There were several problems with their request:

1) I know little about fishing. 
2) I know nothing about spear fishing. 
3) I think it requires a spear gun, and we don’t have one. 
4) These are elementary aged boys. A spear in their hands seems unsafe.

They assured me we did not need a spear gun as they planned to fashion a fishing spear out of scrap wood. I was skeptical and somewhat humored. It struck me as cute. So I said, “Tell you what…if you make a spear out of wood, I will take you to the dock to go spear fishing.”

They sprinted to the garage. I imagined them whittling away on a 2x4, and I chuckled.

Unfortunately, I greatly underestimated their appetite for spear fishing. They appeared in my kitchen an hour later. And instead of the whittled club I imagined, they had fashioned an honest-to-goodness weapon. On the end of an old broom handle they had J-B Welded a broadhead.

They were ready for me to make good on my promise.

Unfortunately, I could not.

It would have been risky at best, and I think it would have been illegal. (Not that beating a fish with a whittled club would have been a good idea either. What was I thinking?)

They were mad, and I felt bad. So we went fishing anyway, but without the scary spear. Just the regular poles with little hooks and stinky rubber worms, which, on this occasion, was "lame."

I chuckled when I relayed the story to Kurt later. But when I finished, he asked, “Where’d they get the broadhead?”

I had no idea and suddenly felt stupid and irresponsible. They had fashioned a weapon after all!!

A little investigation revealed the broadhead was none other than the prized keepsake from the storage room. It had been severed from its broken shaft with a hacksaw.

That evening, a repentant boy quietly repaired a broken arrow with electrical tape and placed it on our dresser. It was laid on the frayed page of a spiral notebook. Written above it: “I love you.”

The note and the arrow still sit on our dresser. What could have been an ugly reminder of an emotionally charged evening is now a sweet keepsake of repentance and love.

He makes beautiful things out of dust…and broken arrows.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Giving Thanks for Beautiful Things

A couple years ago my friend and fellow music-lover lent me a CD and introduced me to Gungor. If you've listened to Christian radio for five minutes in the past year, you've probably heard their song "Beautiful Things." If not, here are the lyrics and a link to the song. Listen. You'll like it.

I brought the CD home, tossed the cover on the counter, and eagerly consumed their work. The title track was an immediate favorite. It's sung as a prayer: 
You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.
Later as I was wiping the counter I picked up the CD cover and finally noticed the cover art. It reinforced the song's message and made an unforgettable impression.

I loved it. 

Artist Ben De Rienzo 
The artist does himself a disservice by making it so easy to overlook. But he rewards the close observer.

Look closely and you'll see the flowers, leaves and stems are a mosaic of tiny symbols representing a sin-sick world. But the artist has arranged them so perfectly, you might not notice the horrific things at first glance.

I think it’s a poignant metaphor. 

It seems a lot of life is made up of hardships. Even in striving for good, there is sometimes pain. Jesus himself gave us the guarantee that nobody wants: “In this life you will have trouble…”

Artist Ben De Rienzo

That’s what those tiny images symbolize. The guaranteed trouble. Sometimes it’s our own doing, sometimes the blame falls to others, but sometimes it’s just because we live in a world poisoned by sin.

Thankfully, the story and the picture don’t end with trouble. 

Jesus finished that troubling statement by saying, “Take heart! I have overcome the world." I have sometimes failed to receive that encouragement because I've mistakenly thought He'd magically make all the bad stuff nice. 

And although He can do anything, God is an artist for His glory and our good, not a magician for our comfort and entertainment. He did not promise to abracadabra handcuffs into gumdrops.

Instead, Jesus the Great Artist has an unfathomable way of arranging all that trouble into something beautiful. And when we finally stand back to view the Artist’s work we look to Him and say, “Wow. That’s kind of unbelievable what you did with all that trouble.”

Sometimes I'm too close to the artwork He's making of my life. I see the ugly mistakes, bad decisions and painful loss. And it all seems broken. But the Great Artist takes the broken pieces. He arranges each one so when the work is done, the masterpiece causes careful observers to admire the Artist who’s great specialty is making something beautiful out of something that wasn't.

It’s really just a long way of saying the word redemption. To redeem is to buy back, to exchange, to recover, to convert. And redemption is the great work of God. 

This November, I want to give thanks to the Great Artist for making beautiful things out of dust…even out of us.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mystery Injury

Once upon a time, but not that long ago...

I was cleaning up dishes to the tune of all kinds of boy-ish commotion in the basement. It was that borderline kind of commotion where after every slap-like noise I flinched and waited to hear someone bawling or pounding up the stairs.

Instead, the slaps and whaps were followed by silence, the kind induced by riotous laughter. I peeked down to see all three boys doubled over laughing. The couch was tipped over, draped in blankets and pillows, and Nerf dart shrapnel littered the floor.

I went back to my bubbly water…in the kitchen sink, that is. For a couple of minutes I heard a succession of strange noises followed by laughing and screams and doubled-over silence.

After one such silence they all three appeared in the kitchen looking bewildered.

There stood Zach with a bloody forehead. But more peculiar than the dripping blood was their demeanor.

No crying.
No accusing.
No denials.

Just plain old confusion.

Naturally I asked, “What happened?”

I leaned his head over the sink and waited for an answer, but no one, including Zach, could explain the head wound.  The usual suspects were innocent.

Didn’t know when.
Didn’t know what.
Didn’t know how.

Just saw the blood.

So I shook my head, cleaned him up, offered an icepack and said, “Maybe you guys should take a rest.”

How, I ask you, do you cut your head and not remember when, or how, or on what?

I called it a Mystery Injury.

This week I had my own Mystery Injury

I went for a walk around our gravel loop with the boys riding bikes in front of me. As they experimented with shifting gears and pedaling downhill, I recalled those rugged toddler years when I strolled those three boys in one stroller around that same loop. “The days are long but the years are short,” I reminded myself, and a little parental panic bore into my chest.

I had about 90 seconds to feel all sentimental when two of them flagrantly disregarded my instruction about riding on the highway—the one where pickups haul boats at 65mph and 18-wheelers carry everything from hay bales, to combines.

And somewhere between nostalgia and anger, I just started whimpering. You know when your inhale gets all chopped up by your quivering diaphragm? Weirdness.

Normally the first might make me smile and the second might make me yell, but neither usually produces tears.

Perhaps it was a toxic hormonal cocktail brewing inside me. One mental jolt by memories or disobedience knocked that bubbling concoction, and it spilled out my tear ducts.

When I arrived back at the house, I had “pulled it together,” but the bike riders detected the watery eyes. And I saw that same bewildered look.

Didn’t know when.
Didn’t know what.
Didn’t know how.

The usual suspects were innocent. But blood and tears are often proof that something hurts, and without a doubt, we could use a little rest.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Well, I didn’t get a nap that day, or a massage or a vacation.

But later that week I got the kind of rest where Christ extracts the panic from my chest. He assures me I am not solely responsible for every decision, good or bad, that my children make. His holiness reveals the mistakes made in the long days, but His grace calms the fright caused by short years and failure to do what I had hoped.

Perhaps the best rest is not a massage, or a pedicure, but instead a mind transformed by grace.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Foodie Faux Pas

Many bloggers have some sort of culinary element on their blog, and I can appreciate that. All the experts say bloggers must offer their readers something of value. And many culinary artist bloggers offer recipes, instructions and sometimes even videos explaining how to assemble delectable dishes!

My culinary element is a little more bland. The value I offer is the “low bar.”

The “low bar” value is meant to help you feel better about what you’re already doing. And to be honest, I didn’t realize I even had a cooking element until I sat down to confess my most recent foodie faux pas.

I’ve written about the time I salvaged the melted cheese, and the time I abandoned cooking altogether. I was initially too ashamed to blog about a distasteful incident where I left frozen chicken breasts in the 147°F vehicle overnight. When I went to fix supper the next day I realized my blunder. The good news is, no one got sick.

But my culinary standards have reached an all-time low…even at a subconscious level.

Last night I dreamed I was attending a formal dinner. I donned my royal blue 10th grade prom dress which bore all the landmarks of 1990s fashion—rhinestones, large bow, drop waist and tapered hem. (In my defense, the tapered hem is making a comeback).

Whatever the occasion, I was asked to bring one course of the meal.

Photo courtesy Microsoft Office Clip Art.
Apparently there's been no demand for photos
of french cut green beans. 

With all the finesse of a middle aged woman in a 10th grade prom dress, I handed the host my savory contribution.

A can of “French Cut Green Beans.”

Then I woke up.

What the…?

Why not a can of mushy sweat peas, or corn kernels?

Well, if I’m analyzing my dream correctly, it was a formal dinner, and nothing says fancy like an exquisite French word. For example, “julienned squash,” “petite carrots” and “Lean Cusine.” Sounds so fancy doesn’t it?

Chopped squash, little carrots and microwaveable dinners might be dressed up with French words, but it doesn’t make them any tastier. Perhaps a Parisian chef accidentally put the food processor on “shred” instead of “slice” and when the green beans came out looking like a pile of wet grass clippings they declared, “Ahhh, Oui! French Cut Green Beans!” Zee Americans vill eat it up!”

And subconsciously, I have.

“French Cut Green Beans” are an unfortunate culinary nightmare. But kudos to the French, or American marketers, who concocted the idea to embrace their mistake.

It would be like me embracing my chicken incident and calling it Shauna’s Super Slow Sans Salmonella Chicken. (See that French word sans? It means “without.” Sounds fancy!) And if I embrace my mistake and give it a fancy French flavored name, it will probably be pinned on Pinterest.

So just in case, here are the instructions:

Defrost chicken breasts in packaging at 147°F in the back of a preheated vehicle. Do not remove from vehicle until chicken has become dangerously warm. When the danger of food poisoning is immanent, remove from vehicle. Open packaging, and inspect chicken for salmonella. If none is visible, continue cooking using traditional methods (ie. stove, oven, crock pot…anything but a vehicle). 

Bon Appetite!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Weekend Word Problems

When I was in school we used to call them “story problems.” The textbook people tricked you into thinking you were going to hear a story, when behind their clever words lay an evil math problem.

And I hated them.

Almost every math concept could be forced into a story problem. To make matters worse, the textbook people added extra information or purposely left out necessary facts just to make you sweat!

Perhaps I spent too much time substitute teaching this year because it’s all coming back to haunt me, and I’m starting to describe events in terms of story problems. So here are a few math exercises disguised as weekend highlights.

  1. On Wednesday Little Letellier and his mother were packing for a 3 day 2 night summer camp. His mother packed two pairs of clean underwear, one for each night. At the last minute she packed one more pair “just in case.” Little Letellier was wearing one clean pair of underwear when he left for camp. When Little Letellier returned from camp on Friday he had three clean pair of underwear in his backpack. He was also wearing one pair. How many times did Little Letellier change his undies while at camp? How do you know? Explain your answer.

  1. Mr. Letellier had been training for The Big Mick—a 109 mile bike ride through the Black Hills. He and two friends started the ride at 5:45 AM MST and made four stops. If they averaged 14 mph and arrived at the finish at 5:45PM CST, did they burn all the calories they consumed at the pancake breakfast? Approximately how long did they linger at each stop? What is the probability that Mr. Letellier will ride the same race next year? How long will it be before Mr. Letellier gets on a bicycle again?

  1. While Mr. Letellier was riding his bike Mrs. Letellier went to the mall. She stopped first at The Buckle.  She was the oldest one in the store and nothing struck her fashion fancy. The last time Mrs. Letellier shopped at The Buckle it was actually called The Brass Buckle. Approximately how old is Mrs. Letellier? How ridiculous do you suppose Mrs. Letellier felt asking a 15 year-old about jeans sizes? Is it immoral to charge $62 for a pair of shorts? Based on what you know about Mrs. Letellier’s spending habits, do you think she paid $62 for a pair of shorts?

Please show your work in the comments.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dirty Laundry

It happened again. We were in a tizzy collecting hats, shirts, cleats, water bottles, gloves, mitts, bats and balls from the far corners of the house and garage.

Unfortunately, clean baseball pants could not be found.

A little digging, literally, revealed that the best and favorite baseball pants were in the damp and dirty heap of laundry which I had been conveniently ignoring.

In the rush to get out the door, I urged the boys to wear clean baseball pants, even if they were the ones with a hole or didn't fit quite right.

“Mom, these fall down when I run!” one of them said incredulously. It was a tough point to argue, so I consented in a huff!

“Fine. Wear the dirty ones.”

He quickly changed into the dirty ones that fit. When he stood, I saw that the pants were grass stained from mid-thigh to below the knee. A huge probably-never-gonna-get-it-out-anyway grass stain.

I looked him over and shook my head still wishing he would wear the ill-fitting, clean ones. He saw it in my expression. Trying to draw me back to reality he asked, “Does it really matter which pants I wear?”

I turned for the door and answered correctly, “No. I guess it doesn't.”

It doesn't matter if you wear grass stained baseball pants to a baseball game where you’re going to get grass stains. I repeated it to convince myself, “No. It doesn't matter.”

As we headed toward the ball diamond they joined the team around the pitcher’s mound. My boys are walking hampers. A declaration of my laundry laziness.

I was almost ready to high-five myself for “getting over it” when I realized there was someone new on the field.

A photographer.

Oh yeah.

Team pictures.

So I asked myself again, “Does it matter?” And with disappointment I answered, “No.”

Shouldn't I feel relived that it doesn't matter? Of course I should. But I was disappointed because my laundry neglect was about to be memorialized in a glossy, full color, 5x7 print. Alas, I had pre-ordered a “sports folder photo package” to display at home, wear as a button on my jacket, and place as a magnet on our fridge.

As I watched the photographer arrange the boys by height, kneeling just right, in the dirt, I finally looked past the grass stains and saw the boy inside the dirty laundry.

He posed confidently with grass-stained knees bent in a batting stance. His photogenic smile was proof he had not wasted one second wondering what other people think about his mom’s laundry schedule.

Then she snapped the photo.

It will be a few weeks before I see how it turned out. But when I get that “sports folder photo package” I’m going to display the dirty grass stained picture. I’m going to put the magnet on my fridge, and if I’m feelin’ the team spirit, I might even wear the button.

Because the grass stained pants are worn by a boy who showed his mom what mattered.

And that is worth displaying.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Teachers: We Salute You!!

After spending approximately 18 weeks as a substitute teacher in my local school district, my participation in Teacher Appreciation Week is not optional. I've had an extended close-up view of this little community called a classroom, and I’m amazed there are humans (I might argue they are super-human) who teach full-time, year after year.

I owe them all some sort of salute. I did my best to salute them publicly in our local newspaper, and you can read that article by clicking here
Whether you know it or not, you owe teachers a salute too. Here are some practical ways to salute a teacher this week, or any time of the year.

  1. Help your child study: Children learn best when education is viewed as a partnership between teachers and parents. Teachers guide students through a systematic curriculum, and any support parents can offer—helping to memorize math facts, memorize “sight words,” studying spelling words and reading aloud—only benefits the student. And when students learn those basics, everyone in the classroom benefits.
  2. Volunteer in the classroom: You could read with a student, help with math assignments, and review multiplication flash cards. Sure, there are computer programs for all of these skills, but there’s something about a human smile and a genuine “attaboy” that instills confidence that a computer simply cannot duplicate.
  3. Pencil sharpening: Honestly, I feel like this deserves an entirely separate post. Pencil sharpening is a noisy classroom distraction, and for some unexplainable reason, students LOVE to sharpen pencils. It’s like a special kind of music which is particularly soothing when a teacher is talking. I can’t explain it. It’s just a universal fact. So, if you really want to salute a teacher, stop in after school and sharpen all the pencils. You can also purchase good pencils that actually sharpen, like Ticonderoga brand. There are pencils (often the cheap ones we parents buy to save a dime—I’m guilty) that never actually sharpen so students just stand there at the sharpener grinding their pencil all the way down to the eraser. Hint: Dixon brand and basically anything glittery never sharpen well.
  4. Personalize your salute: Ask a teacher what they want or need in the classroom. Perhaps the teacher does a novel study and could use extra copies of a particular book. Perhaps you could donate a copy of a classic the teacher uses in the classroom like Sara Plain & Tall, Little House on the Prairie, or a Dr. Seuss classic (For example: Green Eggs & Ham, Bartholomew & the Oobleck, Oh the Places You’ll Go just to name a few).
  5. Give a gift: I don’t know of a teacher who wouldn't be elated to receive a restaurant gift certificate. After being on her feet all day and tending to all manner of emotional, physical and academic needs, she might just want to sit down and eat what someone else has prepared.

So happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all of you who are in the trenches daily cultivating and nurturing our children.

We salute you!!!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Java De-icer

It was frosty this morning!

At the YMCA I overheard two moms apologizing to one another for their late arrival. With ice on the ground, carting kids and all their paraphernalia out the door was even more difficult than usual. To make matters worse, they had both forgotten they’d need to scrape their windshields.

I snickered to myself on the other side of the row of lockers. Partly because I know the drill, partly because I’m an eavesdropper and partly because they don’t know the trick I know—the ace-up-your-sleeve that will rescue you when time is running out; the quick fix that will befuddle all the other windshield scraping moms on your street; the trick revealed to me by my dear friend Kristie.

On a frosty morning, such as this one, Kristie was running behind. If it were a ballet we might have called it “Departure Adagio” (Slow Departure). Balancing a baby on her hip and a thermos of coffee in her other hand she swirled and twirled in and among her daughters. She tossed hats and scarves hither and nigh with her free pinkie all while maintaining the balance, poise, and grace, of a dancer—because she is one.

The daily Departure Adagio dance was practically choreographed by this point in the school year. Out the door, and into the van they flitted until the dance came to a screeching halt.

Three millimeters of frosty crystals adorned the windshield.

Show stopper!!

With mere minutes before the ominous school-bell, Kristie had to make a decision--drive blindly, or scrape and be late. But in that instant inspiration was born anew. She threw open the van door, gazed wistfully at her coffee thermos, removed the lid and dumped that entire thermos of steaming coffee on the windshield.


Java de-icer! 

With a mostly clear windshield, they beat the school bell, and Kristie hurried home to brew another cup.

And since I couldn’t tell that story to the two moms without betraying my eavesdropping, I decided to tell it to you.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Need Some (In)couragement?

Ever heard of that debilitating emotional ailment called Tryer’s Remorse?

Probably not because I just made up that term. But the condition is not made up! It's real.

My first bout with “Tryer’s Remorse” involved a cheerleading uniform and visions of grandeur. And I blogged about it over at (in)courage. (In)courage is sponsored by Day Spring and they've graciously allowed me to share some words at their place today!

Would you help me thank the (in)courage team by sharing the link on your facebook page? You can click here, then click the facebook  icon in the top right corner to share. You can also share it from my blog or facebook page. Thanks so much!!

Click over and have a giggle…and hopefully a dose of (in)couragement!