Please Don’t

Words fascinate me. I play with them both in my mind and on paper. I enjoy learning of a specific word’s origin, of its potential functions in sentence structures, and of its many forms. At baby and bridal showers, I tend to do well with word games. I like to play with rhyme, and I work hard to make words flow coherently and smoothly into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into full-length articles. In more ways than one, it can be said of me that I am a wordy person.

This week I began pondering common proverbs that begin with the word Don’t. It won’t surprise you to learn that I made a list of over 60 such admonitions. These included “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” “Don’t spend all your money in one place,” and “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Used in proper context, all of these proverbs have some merit and almost without exception, each one is intended to provide protection against some potentially negative occurrence.

Some people believe the Bible to be primarily a long list of commands beginning with the word Don’t. That seems to me a negative approach to take toward the Good Book. I strongly suspect that among all the words printed upon its sacred pages, the word Do outnumbers the word Don’t. Besides, the word Don’t is not always negative. My minister asserts that every time God says to His people, “Don’t,” He is trying to protect them. What He is actually saying is, “Don’t hurt yourself by doing that.” We can all agree that avoiding causing hurt to oneself is a positive thing.

Can you think of any offense that does not hurt the offender as much as it hurts the offended? Does not the thief lose as much in the whole sordid transaction as the victim loses? The act will cost the thief dearly in terms of self-respect and freedom from guilt. He will never look at a police officer or patrol car without feeling apprehensive.   His enjoyment of the items he stole will not be as great as it would have been if he had acquired them through honest means. His act of thievery will rob him of contentment, peace and restful sleep all his life.

The murderer who takes the life of another person in a fit of blind rage or out of retaliation kills his own chances of living a whole and rich life. The adulterer betrays not only his spouse, but also himself. The cheater, likewise, swindles himself. The person who lies, who practices deceit, who is lazy, arrogant, selfish, or greedy, or who places his own interests above the interests of others probably hurts no one more than he hurts himself. In many cases, the price the offender pays is greater than the price paid by the one he offended.

As you read and meditate upon God’s Word, try looking at all of the commands beginning with the word Don’t as cautions intended to protect you, not necessarily someone else, from harm. Yes, of course God cares about the person who is wronged, but He cares equally about the person who causes the wrong. He does not want either of them to be hurt.

When you work to bring about what is best for others, you will ultimately bring about what is best for you. Choosing to live your life by any other formula will result in your violating this silly-sounding but practical piece of conventional wisdom: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

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You’ll Be Glad You Did

In Luke 2:19, near the end of the story of the birth of Jesus, these words are recorded: But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. It is only natural that this young woman would, for the rest of her life, remember every detail surrounding the conception, pregnancy and delivery of her firstborn son, our Lord.

All the mothers I know carry in their hearts priceless and private memories of their babies. My children’s births did not come about by divine intervention, as Jesus’ birth did. As far as I know, they were not born to fulfill prophecy or to bring about radical, earthshaking changes. However, they were the most special children on earth to me and, like Mary, I treasured up memories of their childhoods and still ponder them in my heart.

I was not and am not a perfect mother. Upon reflection, I would have done some things differently when raising my children. Many things, however, I do not regret. In fact, a few of my mothering practices turned out to be spectacular successes. For the benefit of newer moms, here is a bit of advice offered by this older, gently used mom.

Shower your kids with exorbitant love. Cuddle, hug, kiss and physically and emotionally stroke your kids every single day. No child ever gets too much love or affirmation. Look for opportunities to praise advancements they make and successes they achieve. Tell them often that they are wonderful, special and incredibly cherished simply for the fact that they exist and belong to you.

Involve God in all that you do. Talk with your children openly and unashamedly of God and the supreme role He plays in your life and theirs. Pray over them and with them often. Draw attention daily to the wonderful marvels of His creation. Never vacillate on Sunday about whether or not you and your family will be going to church. Make that a given for your household. If God is important to you, make sure your children know it.

Live a disciplined life. You will not model a perfect life for your children, but hold yourself to a high standard. Be honest and kind. Show love, patience and respect to everyone. Practice what you preach. Spread forgiveness and compassion wherever you go. Tend to the sick, encourage the struggling, and openly support good causes. Don’t merely tell your kids how they should live. Show them.

Give your kids your full attention. Participate happily in your children’s tea parties and pirate adventures. Take them outside to play in the sun and the snow. When they ask you to play school, play doctor or play church, play it. Sing and dance with them and read to them every single day. Turn off your phone and be fully present and engaged with your kids.

Down the road, you will probably regret some of the things you did or did not do when your kids were young. You will never regret doing these four things. In fact, you’ll be glad you did them. They will be the things you ponder in your heart for years to come.

Life Is a Game of Euchre

I have spent the past 40 years wandering in the land of euchre. When I married Dan in 1973 and moved to Indiana, I quickly learned that many get-togethers to which we were invited involved playing this card game. Having never heard of euchre previously and being quite shy, I was intimidated for the first several years of playing the game. Now, though it is not my favorite activity, I do play it on occasion more or less without fear.

These are some of the things I have learned about euchre. Whether I enjoy the game or simply endure it depends primarily upon the nature of the people with whom I am playing. If they are cutthroat euchre players, intent upon catching newbies making a wrong move, pointing out obscure and intricate strategies and gloating over their own expertise, then the game is no fun.   If, however, they tolerate and occasionally even commit an offense and move along without raising too much of a fuss, I can relax and enjoy it. The same is true of life; I like playing that game with people who make the best of their mistakes and mine and move along without being preachy, condemnatory or condescending.

If I am holding both the left and right bower and an off-suit ace, I feel decidedly more confident than I do when I am holding all 9s and 10s. On a rare occasion in a euchre game, I have even chosen to “go alone” and have scored four points for my partner and me. As it is in euchre, so it is in life; temerity has its place, but opportunities are missed when people fail to recognize and act upon good fortune when it presents itself.

Common offenses a person may commit while playing this game include playing out of turn, failing to follow suit, unnecessarily trumping his or her partner’s ace, and forgetting which cards have already been played. I confess to having made all of those mistakes more than once. Upon reflection, I realize that the cause of such blunders was almost always a failure on my part to pay attention to the game. Although I was holding cards in my hand and appeared to be studying them, I was more interested in something else. My true focus was on a funny story another player was telling, the lovely decor of my hostess’s home, or the bowl of peanut M & M’s in the middle of the table.

So it is in life. The importance of paying attention to that game cannot be overstated. Let down your guard even for a short time and a relationship crumbles, your career veers off course, a fortune is lost, or you’re blindsided by an adversity that you should have seen coming.

A high price is paid when we fail to give our full attention to the task at hand. Consider the deadly consequences that result when a person tries both to text and to drive. On a lesser level, how many stitches have I had to rip out of a cross-stitch project because my attention was drawn to a TV program? How many trays of cookies have I burned because I was engrossed in reading a novel or solving a crossword puzzle?

Winning at the game of life is not a trivial pursuit. Keep your ears open, your eyes on the prize, your hand to the plow, your feet on the path, your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone, your pedal to the metal, your rear in gear and your head in the game. Otherwise, you’re likely to be euchred.

Writers Write?

Singers sing and teachers teach.

Fighters fight and preachers preach.

Tailors sew and smokers puff.

Catwalk models strut their stuff.

Writers think and rant and scribble,

Find their thoughts are merely drivel.

 

Cleaners clean and painters paint.

Gossips slur and smear and taint.

Bakers stir and spread and mix.

Gymnasts show off springs and kicks.

Writers stew and sweat and swear,

Chew their nails and pull their hair.

 

Sculptors sculpt and tenors sing.

Rappers dance and show off bling.

Builders measure, pound and saw.

Dentists put shots in your jaw.

Writers ponder, walk the floor,

Scratch their heads until they’re sore.

 

Doctors doctor, drivers race.

Cosmeticians fix your face.

Lawyers argue, cowboys rope.

Moms and dads find ways to cope.

Writers grimace, growl and drool,

Practice much self-ridicule.

 

Tourists visit, nurses tend.

Pavers pave and fixers mend.

Suitors woo and hackers hack.

Chiropractors fix your back.

Writers quarrel, fret and stress,

Find their efforts are a mess.

 

Politicians plot and speak.

Plumbers come to stop your leak.

NASA workers study Mars.

Golfers concentrate on pars.

Writers whine and writhe and weep.

Stand on ledges, poised to leap.

 

When one struggles to compose

A story, poem, theme or prose.

All ideas leave her head.

Her creativity is dead.

Though she tries with all her might,

She can’t think of a thing to write.

Sunday Morning 1962

In 1962 I was a 10-year-old girl, spending my time doing the same things my contemporaries were doing in rural Arkansas. It was the year Chubby Checker’s The Twist hit the radio waves and a Catholic sat in the White House. My dad declared that the whole country had gone plumb crazy.

Nine months of the year I went to school, riding the bus about an hour each direction and reading my way through the miles. My favorite books included Island of the Blue Dolphins, Heidi, and Old Yeller. I was a master at hopscotch and jacks and also excelled at spelling, hula-hooping, and jumping rope. I could beat anyone who challenged me in the best card game ever: Authors. Television shows I routinely watched included Dr. Kildare (I had a secret crush on Richard Chamberlain.), Bonanza, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The Disney show aired on Sunday nights, so usually I saw only half of it before having to leave for evening church.

Sunday mornings at our house were as predictable as the muddy roads that followed a big rain. I was the oldest of four children and therefore was responsible for helping my mother get my younger siblings ready for church. My 5-year-old brother was the easiest to get ready on Sunday morning but the hardest to keep ready. Mom or I helped him get into his Sunday pants, shirt and shoes, rubbed a little Butch wax into his flat-top haircut, and searched his person for contraband such as frogs, whistles, and paper rolls of caps from his cap gun. In decent weather, he was then sent outside with strict instructions: “Stay on the porch and don’t get dirty until the rest of us are ready to leave.”

My baby sister had to be wriggled into lacy anklets and shiny Sunday shoes (black in winter and white starting on Easter Sunday) and then wrestled into a frilly dress with tiny buttons down the back and a big bow that had to be tied to perfection. Matching short bloomers were pulled on over a fresh diaper and plastic pants; barrettes were fastened into her fine blonde hair. Her hands and face were wiped again and her pink cheeks were kissed repeatedly. We couldn’t resist.

Then my 7-year-old sister and I concentrated on getting ourselves ready. Baths and shampoos had been taken care of the night before. We had also chosen the next morning’s outfit, shined our patent leather shoes with the middle torn out of a biscuit, and washed any needed hair ribbons. The ribbons had dried overnight wrapped around a drinking glass so they would be wrinkle-free and ready for use the next morning.

After washing my face and hands, brushing my teeth, and “fixing” my hair, I then chose the appropriate slip to wear. Selecting the right slip required a certain amount of deliberation. If my dress had a full skirt, I chose a can-can, also called a crinoline, a stiff, heavily starched, birdcage-type affair that assured that the skirt would flare appropriately. For slimmer-fitting dresses, I had a half-slip, which was made of nylon, had an elastic waistband and simply prevented anyone from “seeing through my skirt.” If I chose a full-slip, my mother used a needle and thread to tack the slip’s straps to the inside of my dress at the shoulders, lest anyone get a glimpse of the straps.

Exposing a slip strap was a social faux pas equivalent to letting one’s slip show beneath the hem of her skirt. A girl was discreetly informed that this breach of etiquette had occurred by hearing whispered into her ear the words, “It’s snowing down south.” I as yet had no need for a bra but was certainly looking forward to the day when I would. Those Jane Russell Cross-Your-Heart bra commercials on TV were not wasted on this pre-adolescent girl. I also eagerly anticipated owning my first pair of nylon stockings, which wouldn’t come for several more years. We had never heard of pantyhose.

As we left the house, I checked my mom’s stockings for runs and her hair for any “holes” in the back. She checked the corners of each child’s eyes for sleep, the edges of their mouths for crusted food and their fingernails for dirt. We then stepped out onto the front porch. There Mom persuaded my brother that he could not take with him those things he had been playing with for the past half hour: an old boat anchor, his safari helmet, his cap gun, and Dad’s hunting dog. She then re-tucked his shirt, wiped the dust off his shoes, and gave his face a good spit bath. After patting him down once more for concealed objects, Mom herded the four of us into the family vehicle for the two-minute ride to church. She deserved a gold medal.

1 Samuel 16:7 tells us, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In 1962, my mother had a genuine concern for both the inside and outside of each of her children. I am glad she did.

Today Mom still worships in the same stone building whose every cranny I investigated as a child. She sits on the same wooden pew that has on its back the marks left by her teething babies. The faith she instilled in my siblings and me resides in our hearts to this day.

We still clean up pretty nicely, too.

You Call That Fun?

I did a little research before writing this article and Googled “unusual hobbies.” One of the largest sub-categories in my Google hits was “Strange Collections.” I learned that some people make a hobby of collecting air sickness bags, handcuffs, cigar wrappers, and (it sickens me to type this) navel fluff. Other people engage in unbelievable competitive sports such as “extreme ironing,” in which participants find the most challenging places on earth, such as on the side of a mountain, to accomplish removing wrinkles from a shirt using a traditional iron and ironing board. Others make a hobby of following the “fighting beetle circuit” or they create art by carving egg shells. Members of one enthusiastic hobbyist group practice the art of catching thrown javelins. Some of the photos I saw still haunt me.

It was not necessary for me to consult Google to come up with pastimes that seem to me more like torture than fun. One of these is the putting together of 2000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Why would anyone find it relaxing to put together a puzzle whose pieces are the size of baby teeth? In addition, who can suspend the use of their dining room table for the six years it takes to complete one? I suspect that the overcrowding of our prisons might be eliminated if, instead of being sentenced to serving a certain number of years behind bars, convicts were sentenced to completing ten to twenty 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Surely, the very threat of such a penalty would scare straight even the most hardened criminal.

I refuse to participate in any activity that involves being out in the cold. Thus, ice skating, sledding, snow skiing, snowboarding or polar bear swimming are not options for me. A few years ago a group of friends asked me to accompany them to Chicago in December for a day of Christmas shopping. Were they kidding me? Had those people never heard the term “lake effect winds?” I declined, stating that instead I would just crawl inside my freezer and spend the day gnawing on raw meat.

I want no part of any pastime that involves mathematics. Therefore, playing Sudoku is out of the question for me, as is the solving of riddles, especially those beginning with the words, “Two trains left separate stations . . .”

Please do not ask me to meet you at the gym for a workout. I don’t like to sweat, lift heavy objects, put on leotards, experience leg cramps or push the envelope on my occasional urinary incontinence.

I can no longer see well enough to attempt intricate embroidery projects; plus, I got tired of finding lost needles by stepping on them with bare feet. I tried my hand at quilting, but when I spread my project out on the floor so my husband could admire it, he asked, “Did you intend for it to be in the shape of a parallelogram?”

It seems that I am left with only one viable hobby option: writing. I do sometimes get eyestrain from staring at the computer monitor and headaches from trying to retrieve from my brain the exact word I am looking for, and yes, I may occasionally be embarrassed by letting such errors as split infinitives, dangling participles, comma splices, pronoun-antecedent disagreements, and run-on sentences like this one creep in, but my readers generally forgive me if the article makes them smile.

Thus, whether it is collecting four-leaf clovers or flying remote control planes, here’s to your success in finding the perfect pastime for you! Cheers!

People, Places and Things

The word “vacation” means different things to different people. When we travel, Dan loves to visit famous geographical and historical landmarks and take in all that they have to offer.  I, on the other hand, like to talk to the people I encounter, read, nap, linger over meals, get up late, go to bed early, and relax.

Dan and I have made two extended tours of the West and have traveled in the East more than once.  We have seen all of the main attractions in Washington, D.C.; visited Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg; walked along various beaches; toured multiple national parks; and viewed many deserts, canyons, mountains, forests, rivers and plains.  It is just that “seeing” these things means something different to Dan from what it means to me.  He cannot get enough; I fill up quickly.

When we travel, Dan spends weeks preparing an itinerary.  He knows in advance the order in which we will visit our selected destinations and the exact routes we will follow to get to them.  He knows how early (very) we need to leave our motel each morning and how late (very) we will return to a motel that evening. He leaves very little wiggle room in his scheduling because there is much to see and he doesn’t want to miss a thing.

Dan cannot understand why I might choose to spend time chatting with local people or other tourists we meet along the way.  In Yosemite I came across a man with two sweet dogs on leashes.  I struck up a conversation and, according to Dan, we stood and listened to the man tell us his dogs’ complete life histories, plus the histories of the dogs he owned before he got those two.  All of this took place while Half Dome stood only several hundred feet away, begging to be admired.

In Arches National Park, while waiting for Dan to make the long and difficult trek to photograph Landscape Arch, I met a recently widowed English woman.  She and I shared the one tiny area of shade that exists in the park while she told me how she and her husband had planned a trip to the American West for many years and when he died, she decided to brave it on her own.  I admired her courage.  Besides, I will talk to anyone with a British accent in the hope that he or she will say the word “bottle” (bo’ ul) or mention the trunk of a car (boot), riding in an elevator (lift) or using a flashlight (torch).

At the Lincoln Memorial, Dan was incredulous that I preferred visiting with a Japanese woman near the Reflection Pool to climbing (again) the memorial’s steps and reading (again) famous quotations of our sixteenth President.  Afterward, I told Dan that even though the foreign woman and I struggled with a definite language barrier, I learned quickly that the words “children” and “grandchildren” are spoken with the same facial expression in any language.  I laughed as I told him that when I asked the woman if she had experienced Washington D.C.’s subway system, she at first looked confused.  Then she smiled in comprehension, spread her hands about one foot apart from each other and asked, “Subway?  Sandwich?  No like.  Too much bread.”

Of course the natural and manmade wonders that Dan exults in seeing never disappoint him.  They are predictable and safe.  Conversely, the people I meet along the way may or may not be pleasant and entertaining.  In Arlington National Cemetery, I declined walking up the steep slope to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (again), telling Dan that I would rest in the shade of a large tree while he did his thing.

The day was clear and breezy and the cemetery was peaceful.  Soon, using my purse as a pillow, I stretched out to nap for a minute and recover from a day of hiking.  I awakened to see a stern-faced, official-looking man wearing a black suit and sunglasses looking down at me.  He asked, “Are you ill, Ma’am?”  I replied, “No.”  “Have you been injured?” he queried.  Again, I assured him that I was fine.  Then he asked me, “Have you been drinking?”  At this point I sat straight up and declared that I was entirely sober.  “In that case,” the man said, “I must ask you to remove yourself from this area.  We cannot have people lying around in Arlington National Cemetery.”  As I stood, embarrassed, I was tempted to tell the man that, in truth, most of the people in Arlington National Cemetery were lying around, but the eyes behind the dark glasses did not invite humor.  I removed myself.

That’s about it for people and places.  As for things, the main thing that must be remembered is that every long-term relationship is a give-and-take business.  Dan and I, each giving and taking a bit, always enjoy our trips together.  He relishes the places he sees; I savor experiences with the people I meet.  I’m sure you get the picture.

In case, however, you don’t “get the picture,” Dan has a well organized collection of over 700 picturesque vacation slides that he will happily show you if you come to our house.  Don’t expect me to be present for the slideshow, though; I’ll be out somewhere with friends.

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.