Out of the Box

Some things look really, really good.

Rex in the box

Rex in the box

Chloe near the box

Chloe near the box

Both cats adored this box.  Rex spent at least 10 minutes trying to fit inside.  He managed to get his round head and broad shoulders into the narrow opening.  Failing to fit the rest of his bulk into the cavern, he sniffed around the box. He circled the box, searching for another, easier entrance. He rubbed his furry face all over the outside, anointing every flap with his scent.

Chloe, on the other hand, sniffed the box daintily.  She poked her small head inside, then realized it wasn’t for her.  Perhaps Rex’s scent put her off.  Anyway, she had better things to do with her time.  Like lie in the sunshine, purring.

I think of how many boxes I’ve tried to fit into in my life.  The ideal wife – “an angel in the kitchen, and a tiger in the bedroom” – to quote “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.  The perfect, selfless, nurturing yet firm mother who exemplifies godliness and grace with every breath.  The hardworking employee, meeting deadlines right and left, perpetual cheerful smile and attitude firmly in place.  The hardcore athlete, always up for a new challenge, facing sore muscles and mental fatigue with grit and determination.  And last but not least, the superstar Christian, serving until exhaustion overtakes.

These human-imposed standards are tough to reach.  Yet we put them on ourselves and others all the time.  Frankly, I simply don’t measure up.  But I excel at being myself.  I win at listening to the still, small voice of Jesus and following His lead.  I finish well when my heart is free of bitterness and I serve in His strength, not my own.  The beauty  in all of us lies in our uniqueness.  Squelching it, over and over, only frustrates us and those we love. Living in rebellion won’t do, either.  Only letting God work in us will.

So I’m leaving these old, empty boxes behind.  They never held any goodies for me, anyway.  One thing about boxes:  they cover very little real estate.  They’re cramped, dark and lonely.  And they were only full when I crawled inside them.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.2 Corinthians 3:17

 

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Lonely Banana

Ruby and I did some food shopping before school this morning.  Her school, that is, not mine.  We also needed to put gas in the car.  She helped me pump it. I like Ruby’s company, and this way I took care of one of several chores listed for today.

We strolled the store. We looked at cereal.  We picked out soda.  We also got meat, honey, and a bunch of other stuff.

Rounding into the produce aisle, we hit up the banana stand.  I’ve become more of a banana convert since getting serious about running.

I picked up a bunch, held it and estimated its weight, then put it in the cart.

“Mom, look at that banana,” Ruby said. She pointed at the display.

I looked.  One banana sat alone, not attached to any pack.  A rare sight indeed.

“It looks…lonely,”Ruby mused.  She didn’t like the banana, off by itself.  It disturbed her somehow.

She picked up the singular banana and placed it on top of another grouping.  Of course, anyone grabbing up the bundle would know it didn’t belong.  But this way the crescent-shaped loner could at least *look* like it was part of a large family.

I chuckled.  I don’t think of my food having feelings.  Ruby does.

I immediately thought of the scripture: God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. – Psalm 68:6

I don’t think bananas are rebellious.  Usually.  And they thrive in sunny climes.  I don’t think the prisoner part applies to this situation, either.  But the lonely acquiring a family, yes! Everyone has value and deserves to be included. However, not everyone has a natural family.  I’m blessed to have all my parents and in-laws still around.  I’ve got siblings and nieces and nephews, not to mention a husband and kids of my own.

Are you an only banana?  Look and see if there isn’t a family who would love to add you to their cluster. For those of us who already belong to a tribe, who needs to be in our family?  Who are the “lone wolves” who could use companionship? Are we so busy taking care of “us four and no more” that we fail to look outside? As believers, we get to be God’s hands and feet here on earth. With the Lord’s help, I know I can do better.

May Mishmash

I’m all done working for the month.  Huzzah! It sounds really, really good.  Until you realize June 1 is Sunday.  Back to work on Monday, folks.

I thought I’d update you on a couple of things.

I’m still putting molasses in my morning coffee.  I rather like it now.  Sugar seems too sweet, at least in that particular beverage.  I do drink mochas, hot or iced, every now and then.  Not sugar-free ones, either.  The flavor left a coating on my teeth.

I’m also still oil pulling.  I’ve used coconut oil – refined and unrefined, with a short stint swishing olive oil.  I prefer the coconut oil for the skin-improving properties.  It’s also cleared up most of the sensitivity in my teeth.  Plaque appears less able to adhere to my chompers.  However, once I started doing this, I made a commitment to myself to brush and floss regularly.  I brush after swishing in the morning and brush and floss at night.  So, cleaner teeth could be due to my improved oral hygiene.  Time will tell.

I’m getting caught up on payroll issues and site interviews.  I’ve accomplished something.  It’s a good feeling.

In other news, there’s a bare mattress just on the other side of the fence at Loop Field.  Sometimes a hobo sleeps on said mattress.  The kids running laps yesterday brought it to our attention.  They would run past him, stop, turn around and go back to gawk.  Then they’d point him out to the other kids, sleeping in public constituting a rarity here.  Nothing against the hobo, but getting rid of the mattress is a priority.  I spoke to my boss at the city about it today.

“Hey, I have a weird question.” I outlined the mattress situation.

“Do you guys take care of things like that?”

His mouth quirked up ever so slightly into a smile.

“Indeed we do. And now you’ve initiated the process to get the mattress removed.”

If only everything in life were so easy.

Take geometry for example.  Hamiltonian.  Euclidean.  The language itself feels alien.

“Mom, can you help me with this?” Zac asked the other day.

I came and crouched over his shoulder.

If you were to intersect Point A with Point B, would the triangle formed be isosceles or acute?  Show your work.

Uh…

If Jimmy is 14, and Johnny is 10, Janey is 1/2 the age of both of them together.  How will Junior be on his next birthday?

I know, it’s a trick question.  Junior hasn’t been born yet. Ta da!  What do I win?

Needless to say, I don’t help with math.

What have you been up to?

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of Bias

I helped out during Lap Club again today.  I wandered into the lunchroom.  The low roar of little kid voices could be heard down the hallway.  I crept up behind Ruby, sitting at her class table, as she finished eating her baby corn.  Her salad lay untouched.

“Mom!” she turned and hugged me, eyes alight.  She held my hand and didn’t let go.  When she was very small, she used to hold my hand as we ate.  She’d enfold my fingers in her tiny hand and chow down.  She wanted me close. My presence comforted her. I loved it, though eating left-handed proved a little challenging at times.

This afternoon, I stood behind her, waiting for the kids to get dismissed.  Coach, the PE teacher, reminded the kids to run on the trail *only* not on the grass or the bleachers on the back half of the .29-mile loop. The kids nodded, swinging their feet as they chewed. They all knew this, but cheerfully absorbed the reminder.

I thought about how biased I am towards my own kids.  Ruby loves having me at her school because she knows, no matter what, I’m on her side.  Sure, we may discover she needs to behave differently.  She might need to apologize for something she said or did.  Yet in the end, I’m always for her, loving her.

Zac, even if he did attend a brick-and-mortar school, wouldn’t want me there.  He does love me.  But the threat of me embarrassing him is very real. I’m the wild card. I might bust out my tired dance moves or sing a line or two from a musical.  Not cool, Mom.  Ev-er.  We butt heads sometimes.  I know, though, he gets how much I love him and that I always wanting the best for him.  Even if it looks very much like nagging.

Isn’t our heavenly Father the same? People, the pinnacle of creation, have ever been His priority. He’s always for us.  He constantly looks out for us.  Nothing we face in this life fazes Him.  He’s not put off by our sullenness, our sin or our cynicism.  He keeps on loving us and wooing us back.  He will never leave us or forsake us.

In this way, I’d say God is biased towards His kids.  He is close to you, all the time. Consider this your reminder from your “Coach” today.  He knows Your name, my friend. And He is for you.

 

 

Aside

Lavender vs Ivy

 

Photo courtesy of livingonless.com

Photo courtesy of livingonless.com

Today, we worked outside.  The sun played peekaboo.  The wind blew.  Clouds collected in the sky.  We dug, pulled weeds, watered and generally cleaned up the front yard.  We contained Ruby, Jonathon and I.

I concentrated my efforts on weeding out the roses lining the large picture window on the side of the house.  We have yucca plants that volunteer everywhere.  Those had to go, too.  Sometimes I grit my teeth about them.  I wonder about the former owner.  What were they thinking when they planted this viral plant?! They pop up everywhere.  The hostas, growing at the base of the rose bushes, get to stay.  The dandelions like to insert themselves right next to the rose bushes, making them hard to yank out.  I carefully screened each bush, looking for interlopers.

The sun warmed my back.  I bent over stiffly, stretching out my hamstrings.  Dirt gathered under my nails. I felt a sense of accomplishment as I finished.

I’ve written about pulling weeds before, long ago.  To add to my grandiose gardening renovation, I tackled the ivy twining around the lavender bushes out front. Lavender grows well here.  We have sandy, rock-filled soil.  It’s ideal for drainage.  The lavender we planted two springs ago now dominates its cement planter area.

But the ivy, bright and green, wound its tentacles around the lavender’s branches.  It threatened to suffocate the plant.  Ivy is a parasite.  It takes from its host in order to ensure its survival.  It steals water.  It sucks up vital nutrients.  Full of sass, it points its glossy leaves right into the sunshine the other plant needs.

I ripped out the ivy with extreme prejudice.  I carefully unwound the green vines from the spiky gray branches.  Ivy has a tenacious nature.  It stays alive, ready to re-root itself, for at least a day once plucked from the earth.  You have to set it aside and let it dry out.  I tossed each near-lifeless vine onto the ground.  A growing pile mounted at my feet.

At last, I cleared the bush.  I will need to watch this bush, and the one on the other side, all summer.  Ivy is sneaky.  It slips right in, underneath the good plant.  The best plan is to catch it before it gets rooted in too deep an takes over the universe.

It made me think of our thoughts and attitudes.  We might start out well, a big beautiful plant full of possibility, drinking up the light of life.  One day, we find ourselves bogged down with bitterness.  Somebody – or somebodies – did us wrong, big time.  We struggle against the bonds we unknowingly allowed to entangle us. The poisonous ivy of resentment chokes out our joy.  We become more and more isolated, cut off from the true Source of health.

It is then that we must allow the Master Gardener to come in and strip us clean.  He shows us where we’ve allowed sin into our heart. We play a part in surrendering our unforgiveness and bitterness.  He cleans us up and allows us to receive His light again, to be in fellowship with the Father.  He waits for us.  Personal pruning is always in season.  The fragrant lavender of our lives will win out if we let it.

Definition of Happy

This is a unique feeling.  This week was the.longest.ever.  I’m so ready for today.  Pizza and a movie, coming right up! Every day I kept thinking, It’s only Wednesday?  Thursday?  How do people *work* 40 hours a week?!  I’m so out of the habit.

I want to talk about happiness today.  I believe our cats feel happiness.  Chloe, while lying on my chest, purrs and smiles dreamily.  Rex smirks after catching and eating a fly.  Oh, and after intimidating Chloe.

People can experience happiness, too. Living in this body, in this space in time, happiness gets glossed over.  I remember Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words:  “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the Declaration of Independence. Savoring the small pleasures of life fosters happiness.  Taking time to notice the little things like buds on the trees or a colorful sunset inspires us. These things are, by their very nature, transient.  Does that make them any less valuable? I might raise some hackles here, but I don’t think fundamentalist Christianity does happiness much justice. We’re always looking forward to heaven. We’re good at sharing our woes along this trail of tears called life. “Oh, Jesus, I know you have a mansion for me in glory! Can’t wait to leave this heap.” Or, us women, we spend a good amount of time lamenting how skinny we were in our teens and 20s. “I used to be able to wear a size 0!” That’s not my story, but some of you can relate.

Christians use the word joy instead.  I like joy.  I don’t want to mix up joy and happiness.  Joy, in our particular sect, is something you put on and choose no matter your circumstances.  It’s an attitude, a continual meditation.  It’s a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5). As Christians, we live in joy because Christ, the “hope of glory”, lives in us.  Joy is defined as exceeding gladness at possessing your heart’s desire.  It can be brought on by great success or serendipity, too.

For clarification, the definition of happiness is – wait for it – the state of being happy.  Insightful.  Which leads us back to the root word, happy.  The definition of happy is:

  1. feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.
  2. having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with (a person, arrangement, or situation).
  3. fortunate and convenient.

But we’re here, now.  I don’t think we do God any favors by griping and complaining about our lot. Walking around with frowns helps no one. In fact, there are admonitions against this:  Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world – Philippians 2:14-15

I’m going to admit I fall down on this one.  Not as often as I used to, but enough. I need to focus on the happy things. “Happy thoughts”, I guess you’d call them.  Dark chocolate.  Zac crafting a pun. Cats purring.  Ruby dancing. Running outside just before the sun crests the horizon. Jonathon’s laugh. Hot coffee with half-and-half and molasses.  I might be alone on that last one.

What makes you happy?  Can you choose to be happy or is it all based on externals aligning?  What do you think?

Pacing Myself

 

So, I meant to run early.  Best laid plans and all that foiled by weariness and a headache.  After I dropped Ruby off for school, I made it up to the gym.  Got my favorite machine (if there is such a thing) and the fan blowing on my torso.  I felt sort of silly, as the day outside turned sunny and warml.  But, hopefully we’ll have more, and an actual summer.  One can dream.

I started out at my “slow” pace.  I planned to do a mile or two there.  In the interest of posterity, that’s 5.5 mph.  I’m not fast, but I’m consistent.  Which sounds bad, taken out of context.  I counted 40 paces, which multiplies out to 160 paces in one minute.  That’s counting both feet.

I did have to keep stopping between miles after mile 2 in order to stretch out said hip.  Yet another reason why I like running outside better:  each footstep  hits differently, due to terrain.  Anyway. Each time I took a break from the treadmill to stretch, I came back with a faster tempo.

When I ramped up to 6 mph, I counted 176 paces per minute.  Strangely, this was my training pace before I got injured.  It felt good here, less strain on my cranky hip.  Running slower hurts me more.  Ironic, that. I topped out the day at 6.4 mph, which still only netted me 176ish steps per minute.

What did I gather from this information?  It’s time to run faster, go harder and have fun.  Simultaneously.  I’m finding this is true in other areas of my life as well during this season. No more holding back. I get it.

Yes, it’s official.  Meb and Ryan have nothing to fear from me.  Hurtling that last 1/4 mile, streaking for the finish line, I could do close to 7 mph.  Somebody loose the tigers first, though. Or at least a yeti.