Sunday, December 30, 2007

Discarded Christmas Trees

Today I saw a discarded Christmas tree – still trimmed with tinsel – lying in the gutter near my house. The Christmas tree is the focal point of the Christmas decorations and once it has served its purpose it is unceremoniously discarded. I don’t know…that fact struck me as a bit sad.

I know that the dumping of the Christmas tree is as much a part of the holiday tradition as carols, shopping, and for many of us – celebrating the birth of Christ. However, today I was reminded of just how short the life expectancy of the Christmas tree really is.

The life cycle of the Christmas tree (once it becomes a full grown tree of course) begins with the searching out and discovery of the perfect evergreen. Each and every year our family piles into the car and makes the extremely short trek to our favorite tree lot. Okay, so it doesn’t have the same romantic appeal as cross country skiing into the wilderness to chop down our own pine tree, but the tree hunt and purchase is a cherished family tradition. This year only two of the three grown children were in on the tree buying, the lot had moved a mile east, and we each drove our own car to the lot (no piling this year), but the sacred tradition lives on.

The Christmas tree is special because it’s branches hold more than lights and glass balls – those branches hold memories. Who doesn’t love the Rudolf ornament made from a light bulb and topped off with pipe cleaner antlers? I own several macaroni snowflakes and tiny red felt Santa hats, and for many, many years those hand made creations adorned each and every Christmas tree that made it into our home. After all, tiny hands lovingly glued those macaroni pieces together and those ornaments are priceless to me! Once the tree is decorated we display the brightly colored packages beneath its branches and on Christmas morning we gather around the evergreen centerpiece and make new memories. Yes, the tree has an important and unique role to play in the holiday spectacle.

As soon as the crinkled paper is ripped of the presents, the sugar cookies are inhaled, and “A Christmas Story” is watched for the 42nd time, the Christmas tree’s importance comes to an end. There’s no place for it to go now…except the gutter. Kinda sad, don’t ya think?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Epidemic of Aloneness

Turn on any daytime talk show or morning news show, and it won't be long before some professional is talking about the latest epidemic to strike our nation - depression, obesity, pornography, drug and alcohol abuse, overspending, video games.... and the list goes on and on. I submit to you that the epidemic at the core of most all the other ills among the human race is the epidemic of aloneness. Aloneness is different from loneliness. One can be lonely while surrounded by many, but aloneness happens when life is devoid of human interaction.

Technology is wonderful, but I don't think there's any doubt that technology has led to more and more of us spending time away from the company of other humans. According to a 2001 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics there were 19.8 million Americans working from home (teleworkers) in non-agricultural jobs. In that study it was estimated that by the end of 2004 there would be over 30 million American teleworkers. Given the way tech jobs have exploded, I would guess that we surpassed that estimation. I would further guess that by now there must be 40+ million people working from home in a non-agricultural tech business.

So, all those teleworkers are spending the majority of their day with little, if any, human interaction. Of course many of the at-home workers may have a spouse and children, but kids go to school and the spouse may work outside of the home. I believe that even those with families spend the majority of their day alone. Besides, it's so easy to return to the work and ignore the family when work and home happen under the same roof.

Every few years a study is done to find the happiest people on earth. We always discover that the most happy, most content people are those who have little in the way of monetary wealth, but are surrounded by families and communities of people. The happiest people on the planet are those who work hard, share much, and are rarely alone.

Is it any wonder that we are addicted to drugs, food, pornography, and many and varied forms of media and technology? Many of us are alone for much of our day and we are trying to fill the natural need for human interaction with unhealthy substitutes. Aloneness stinks!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Relationship Precedes Truth

I once knew someone who was a master at dispensing little tidbits of Spiritual truth, gold nuggets of wisdom, or annoying bumper sticker-isms. I will say, however, that his wife was even better at it then he was. Pearls of Wisdom would flow from her mouth like a chocolate waterfall at the Willy Wonka Factory. I was recently reminded of one of “Mr. Gold Nugget’s” favorites; Relationship precedes Truth.

I get that - relationship precedes truth. If you have a really good friend and someone comes to you and tells you your friend has done something questionable, your experience with that person - your relationship – will help you decide whether to accept or reject what you’ve heard about them. If you know someone who has never been anything other than open and honest with you, then you will most likely have trouble believing that person is capable of lying or manipulating you – or anyone else. If you hear some gossip about someone you are close to, you will dig deep into your memory bank, withdraw from the vast wealth of deposits you each have made into your relationship, and you will either accept or deny the validity of the gossip. We’ve all known people who exaggerate and stretch the truth, so it’s easy to take what they say with a small grain of salt because we know them - Relationship Precedes Truth.

Well, I got to thinking, what would supercede truth? What blinds us to truth? It seems to me that the list is so long that all relationships are in danger of being broken. No matter how valid or important a relationship is or has been, it can be shattered when truth is crushed by greed, sexual desire, jealousy, blind ambition, insecurities, or any number of the myriad of human traits that cause us problems!

I have trusted what I thought was truth in a number of broken relationships. I hung on for a very long time to the fact that the love I had known was “truth” and could not be broken. But, the fact is, truth can be crushed. Why do we allow it? Because humans are faulty? That's a cop-out. Again, why do we allow it?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Sometimes People Are Just Mean

Some people have jobs where they are required to be mean to people - cops, administrators, bill collectors. I understand this, I accept this, and I acknowledge that it is sometimes necessary to draw a line in the sand and say, "that's the way it is"...period!

An excruciatingly painful thing happened to my daughter (and thus the whole family) six years ago. I just got off the phone with a very cold and heartless woman who brought every ounce of pain back to the surface. I am a completely innocent party who was just trying to get through my life one day at a time and suddenly I'm faced with having to deal with something that I thought was done six years ago! And sadly, the "human being" on the other end of the phone read the lines of her script beautifully and with just the right mix of loathing and disdain.

Maybe it is the job that has made people mean. Maybe some people are just mean!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Friend - No Longer There

People come and go in and out of our lives. Sometimes we hold the people who are gone from our lives as a comfortable memory or we see their smiling face in the photo album we keep tucked away in the cobwebs of the gray matter between our ears. I call some from my past a "hard learned lesson" and am hopeful they remain there - in the past. Throughout my life there have been a small number of people who may not be a constant in the present, but the fact that they...just are, brings me comfort.

One such person is very, very sick and I doubt I'll ever see her again. Rose is a woman of strength and character who has been a beautiful example of wife, mother, woman of God, and friend. I am happy to say that Rose is a person I once gratefully called "friend", but our paths have moved in different directions and we haven't seen one another in a few years.

When I learned Rose had cancer and was so ill I contacted her and told her how thankful I was to have her as a part of my life. We've exchanged a couple of nice emails, but today her husband writes that Rose isn't doing too well. The prognosis isn't good, and barring a miracle Rose's family will lose her all too soon. Knowing that some people are just "there" brings comfort. Knowing that Rose may one day no longer be there makes me sad.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Children and Birth-control, part 2

Clearly I am still disturbed by the choices being given to children, especially as they relate to sex. The school board in Portland, Maine has voted to allow middle school students to receive birth control from the school nurse. The middle school students range in age from 11-14. Eleven to fourteen years old!!!

Okay, so here's a scenario for you: 11 year-old "Mary" starts having sex with 14-year old "John". They are in love (stick with me) and they vow to stay together forever. Condoms, birth control pills and patches are being given to Mary and John regularly, because the worse thing that could happen to these crazy kids is that Mary gets pregnant, right?

Let's imagine that Mary and John's magical love affair actually endures for an unbelievable four years, and they celebrate John's 18th birthday just as they have always celebrated special events (like the changing of seasons, full moons, Mondays, double coupon days) - they have sex. The unthinkable happens the next day when John decides he's ready to move on. Seriously, four years is a long time to spend with just one girl! Mary's 15 year-old heart is broken and she knows exactly how to make John pay for dumping her. Mary's been making grown up decisions since she was 11 years old and now this child has the power to destroy a young man's life.

Mary goes to the police and tells them that John had sex with her. Now that John is a legal adult, everything they'd been doing for the past four years is suddenly against the law. John goes to prison for statutory rape and spends the rest of his life as a registered sex offender. John will never be allowed to become a teacher, a minister, a police officer, a mayor, or any other number of respectable occupations. John will never be able to volunteer in his child's classroom, accompany his son on a school field trip, or teach Sunday School.

But hey, at least Mary and John used birth control!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Children and Birth-control

I am broken hearted about the fact that we as a society find ourselves in a place where we are debating the idea of giving birth control to 6th graders! The school board in Portland, Maine has voted 7 to 2 in favor of dispensing the birth control pill and the birth control patch to middle school students who visit the school health clinic. Yes, there's a problem with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. Yes, we can argue that the kids are going to have sex anyway, so let's help keep children from having children. But please tell me there's another way.

I am a mother whose daughter had unplanned sex at the very tender age of 13. She was very afraid to admit to us that she had gone to a birthday party as a virgin and came home changed forever. The whole experience was very confusing for her and it took her a couple of years (yes years) to admit the encounter with the 16-year old boy had actually been a rape. I guess I should be grateful that condoms had been made available to him and he had worn one before he forced himself on my daughter.

I do believe that making birth control available to kids makes them more likely to think it must be okay - after all, adults wouldn't give them something that's bad for them. Isn't that what we want them to believe? My daughter felt that since she was no longer a virgin, it wouldn't matter how many more guys she had sex with. She acted out not only with sex, but when that didn't fix her brokenness she turned to drugs. Her life nearly ended with a drug overdose in a sleazy motel room before it had even begun. My daughter was NOT emotionally ready for sex at the age of 13, and I shudder to think how much worse things could have turned out for her if she had started having sex at age 11.

In one of the CNN articles I read about the Portland, Maine school board decision, one mother's quote caught my eye. Sarah Thompson, the mother of an 8th grader said she supported the decision to make birth control available to the middle school students even though it made her "uncomfortable". She said, "I know I've done my job as a parent, but there may be a time when she doesn't feel comfortable coming to me....and not all these kids have a strong parental advocate at home."

Well, my daughter had two strong parental advocates at home, but everyone else and everything else told her sex was okay! We should all be looking out for the safety - emotional and physical safety - of our children! What's wrong with the school board, the teachers, the school counselors, the coaches, and the after school support staff joining forces with the parents to say to our very, very young children, "DON'T HAVE SEX!"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Breathing The Blogoshpere

Why do we write these blogs? What motivates a person to put their most intimate thoughts, feelings, and rants out where the whole world can see them? My personal hope is that I will fling questions into the vast blogosphere and they will return to me in the form of clear-cut answers. Hey…a girl can dream.

I know a couple of people who are using their online diaries to keep friends and family abreast of the latest happenings in their on-going battles with cancer. When their bodies are begging for rest, but their hearts are yearning for contact, they can share the good and the bad with many at once. They then can – at their own pace and in their own time – read the myriad of good wishes that have been sent out to them via the web. What a great way for the disconnected to stay connected.

I am very aware of the fact that words can absolutely bring joy and healing, but I know too that words can slice through the thickest skin and bring pain. Once that magical “send” button on the laptop has been tapped, there is no taking back the words – good or bad. In the past few months I have stumbled across a couple of blogs that have stirred unwanted passion in me. A pastor who was once my mentor, leader, and dear friend posted one of the blogs and his words saddened me. You see, he writes beautifully and his thoughts, words of encouragement, and advice are solid. So why does his blog make me sad? Because if his blog is a reflection of what’s in his heart, then how could he treat someone the way he treated me? I’m not sure I’ll return to his on-line journal.

One Myspace I probably will go back to belongs to another person who also was once a very, very important part of my life. You see, each time I visit his personal My-space I’m reminded of all the reasons that I really, really don’t want that guy in my life! We all tend to romanticize people and times from our past and sometimes missing them can make us down right sick. However, it can be a good thing to visit a memory every now and again via the web and be able to say, “Wow, what was I thinking?”

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Family Resemblance

We’ve all seen them. They’re in the mall, in the grocery store, in the car sitting next to us at the red light, in church, even at family functions. They are kids – other people’s children – who misbehave, throw tantrums, scream, and just generally act obnoxious. When we encounter these obviously undisciplined little monsters, we’ve all done it…..we’ve asked ourselves, “what is wrong with the parents and why aren’t they fixing that kid?”

Lately we’ve heard all the stories about “young Hollywood” running amok – Britney, Paris, Lyndsay, Nicole – these girls provide seemingly never-ending fodder for gossip papers, newspapers, and late night talk show comedians. The daytime talk shows have been asking the question, “Where are their parents and what did they do wrong?”

I’m a mom whose own children were challenging (to say the least) and my kids have made more than their fair share of mistakes. I’ve heard many a condemning whisper from so-called friends about my parenting skills and my children have been the topic of hushed conversation among the busy bodies in my world. My kids are now young adults and they are the first to tell you that my husband and I were very present and were indeed tough but fair disciplinarians. My children will tell you that they themselves are responsible for the poor and dangerous choices they made. But…the judgmental whispers about me – the mom - rattle about.

So, using the same logic – that the missteps of a child are a direct reflection of poor parenting, I submit a question for you to ponder today. For those among us who claim to be Christians, how often do you think people look at our behavior and judge The Father? Don’t you know that when we treat one another callously, thoughtlessly, selfishly, judgmentally, or rudely, we are a reflection of God the father? Wait! That’s not fair! Well, fair or not, why would people want God for a Father when they see His kids battling one another in word and deed every single day?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I Need A New Dream

So, how does one live with the prospect of being a broken person for the rest of one's life? The self-help books that address the subject - if lined up end to end - would most certainly build a bridge to Hawaii, back, and beyond a hundred times. I particularly love the titles of the spiritual based books about healing, "God Uses Broken Pots", "When Life Gives You Manure, Stick A Flower In It", "Joy Comes In The Morning" (or is it "mourning"?), etc.... I actually really like the visual picture painted by the author who points out that kaleidoscopes are created from broken pieces of glass, which are then exposed to the light. She suggests we just need to expose our broken glass to the light and allow the beauty to be revealed.

I wasn't broken all at once, from one merciful blow, but rather I was chipped away at. At first the ax fell on my outer, thicker shell and I didn't notice the losses too terribly much. In the beginning I lost things I could always replace - a job, a church, acquaintances. Then the losses were far more painful - hobbies, close The hardest loss - the one that finally broke me - was the loss of not one or two, but actually several dreams. Dreams are held and nurtured for most of one's life. We dream dreams for our self, our family, our children, for what we hope to accomplish, for all the good we hope to leave behind. Dreams are at the very core of what and who we are.

Okay, so who are we when the dreams we once dreamed have died? Letting go is hard for me because my dreams have been so deeply a part of who I am for my whole life. Without my dreams I am not ME anymore - I am someone else.

So....I guess I should get to know this new person I see in the mirror. Perhaps I should allow myself to meet and greet some new dreams and invite them to set up residence for a time - get to know them. Maybe I'll step into the dream closet and try a few on for size. I need a new dream.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Throwaway Culture

I read a most disturbing article in my local paper, The Fresno Bee yesterday. The article, "Dorms expose a throwaway culture" was written by Larry Gordon, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. The article exposed the fact that "college campuses become junkyards of abandoned stuff" - belongings left behind by graduating seniors. Accompanying the article was a photo showing just a small portion of the mountain of lamps, chairs, computers, printers, small dressers, storage containers, bedding, and clothing left behind by exiting college students.

What has happened? These students are a part of the generation who more so than any other generation in history has been taught the importance of recycling, reusing, and keeping the earth "green" in every possible way. These young people have been encouraged to stand in the city squares and student unions to promote environmental friendliness and to warn the world of certain doom due to global warming. And yet, it appears, this same generation is perfectly fine with the idea of contributing generously to trash landfills.

Mr. Gordon points out in the article that students are perfectly willing to leave items behind when they leave college for good, or even for just the summer, because their parents are just fine with buying another clock radio, pillow, printer, or wardrobe for whatever and wherever the next step takes them. These indulgent parents are the same people who are generously supporting the Al Gores and Michael Moores of the world. They drive with pride their hybrid vehicles, and they gladly funnel their donations into all things "green". They then turn around and support their spoiled child's decision to trash perfectly usable electronics and clothing by replacing the "trash" with newer, better...MORE!!

Does this kind of decadence really surprise us? We live in a world where unwanted, unborn children are trashed just as easily as yesterday's newspaper. What makes us think that we can teach our children the importance of saving the planet when we put zero importance on saving lives?

Thankfully many colleges have found ways to keep the unwanted, but still usable discards out of the landfills. They are donating the items to various charities, or they are holding massive yard sales and donating the proceeds to worthy causes.

Until we start putting at least as much importance on saving the unborn as we do on saving the planet we will never really convince anyone to save anything. We are absolutely living in a "throwaway culture".

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Living With Roaches

Last night I drove south on G Street as I have done many times in the past. I've had the privilege of taking part in programs that minister to homeless men at the Fresno Rescue Mission located on G Street, just south of Ventura. It is the Rescue Mission that has most often drawn me to what is for most Fresno residents a VERY undesirable part of town - to say the least.

However, it wasn't the Fresno Rescue Mission that called me to drive to the dark, filthy, drug infested neighborhood that is G Street - it was my son. My oldest son is home from prison on parole. Well, he's not actually at home since the great California Parole System in their wisdom have decided my son shouldn't be around my daughter - who also lives at home. I won't even discuss the rationale behind their decision, as it is in fact irrational, but it is what it is. So, in order to deliver a few bags of groceries to my son I drove past the rescue mission, past too many to count shopping carts, and past the little village known as "tent city" - homes built out of camping tents, garbage bags, and building scraps. Finally I arrived at the small, roach infested motel that the State of California has demanded my son call home for now.

The room my son is living in was everything I expected it would be. There was a bed to the left and a worn, splintering cabinet on the right that cradled a barely working television set with a 15 inch screen. My son pulled back the covers on the bed to reveal holes in the bottom sheet that appeared to have been put there by repeated stabbings from a knife of some sort.

Where is the hope? A newly paroled young man who wants to turn his life around is put in the darkest part of town, surrounded by drug addicts, alcoholics, and the mentally deranged. He is forced to spend at least 14 hours a day in this place and is expected to find a job, stay out of trouble, and find reasons to believe in himself and to have hope.